Stan Lee, age 95, has died and with him goes a portion of my heart. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, he apparently always wanted to be a storyteller. And he worked a few odd jobs until finding himself an assistant at Timely Comics. He worked his way up at Timely Comics which, in 1950 rebranded as Atlas Comics. He worked his way up at Atlas Comics which, in 1961 rebranded as Marvel Comics. And from that point on, as you know - history was made.
Stan received his first writing assignment in 1941 for a Captain America comic and used the pen name - Stan Lee. He said, at the time, that he wanted to use a pen name for comics and his real name for novels. As it turned out the novel career never quite got off the ground. Regardless of that, I believe his storytelling prowess was put to fine use.
And then, after decades in the comic business Stan, “The Man” Lee became Marvel’s first Editor-in-Chief and he really did revolutionize comics. In 61’ there were a host of comic heroes we recognize today; a lot of the DC core folks from the Justice League - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc, etc. But DC comics, and comics in general, were mainly marketed to children. Lee pushed Marvel founder Martin Goodman, and publisher John Nee to market to an older audience. And they listened. And so Lee and his co-plotter and artist Jack Kirby turned in Fantastic Four #1. According to wikipedia:
“...broke convention with other comic book archetypes of the time by squabbling, holding grudges both deep and petty, and eschewing anonymity or secret identities in favor of celebrity status. Subsequently, Marvel comics developed a reputation for focusing on characterization and adult issues to a greater extent than most superhero comics before them, a quality which the new generation of older readers appreciated. This applied to The Amazing Spider-Man title in particular, which turned out to be Marvel's most successful book. Its young hero suffered from self-doubt and mundane problems like any other teenager, something with which many readers could identify.”
Lee, along with Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Romata created many of the comic book legends we recognize today: Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thanos, Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Loki, Green Goblin, Magneto. The list goes on and on.
Personally, I was a huge Spider-Man fan. I don’t quite recall exactly my first Spider-Man comic but it was sometime around kindergarten so - 1977? Which means, I probably fell in love with Spider-Man the exact same year I fell in love with Star Wars.
Actually, I think I just found it. Spider-Man #168, “Murder on the Wind,” featuring little seen since villain Will-o-the-wisp. In fact, I believe he died in that issue. But, it is Marvel comics so he probably came back, eventually. I would certainly not suggest that was the best Spider-Man comic in history (in fact, it’s not that good) but it certainly captivated my heart and soul and from that moment on I was hooked. Pretty sure I still have the comic.
I would even go so far as to suggest that much of my young morality was shaped and formed by Spider-Man’s struggles, actions and choices. “With great power comes great responsibility.” To coin the famous phrase by Peter Parker’s uncle. To me, Spider-Man and Peter Parker will always be the greatest of all super heroes.
And that’s all because of Stan Lee. I know there was controversy about ownership of some of the characters and the historic lessening the roles Ditko, Kirby and a few others played. It’s true. A lot of it played out behind closed doors and in legal corners. I hope it all worked out but I honestly don’t know. But for more on that, I will leave you with these very fine and true words by author Lance Parkin who tweeted, “There's a time for cynicism, there's a time for a more jaded, footnoted, analysis of Stan Lee's contribution and impact.
One of the great creative powerhouses of our era is dead. One of the great creators of children's characters is dead. One of the most important, influential and talented editors and publishing promoters of all time is dead. An artist whose audience, for over half a century, has been measured in billions is dead.”
Stanley Martin Lieber, the scrappy Jewish writer from NYC was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (1994), the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame (1995), given the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush (2008), nominated for a Hugo Award for Iron Man in 2009, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Saturn Awards (2002), the Visual Effects Society Awards, and the Producers Guild of America. May he rest in peace.
Thirteen people were killed and two are still missing (and presumed dead) after an irate female passenger attacked a bus driver. The driver hit back but lost control of the bus. It veered into oncoming traffic, smashed another car and plunged off a bridge into the Yangtze River in China.
Police released dash cam footage from another car that caught the moment the bus went off the bridge, as well as footage from inside the bus right before the crash. The video is as crazy as it is sad.
Witness that got off the bus before the crash, told investigators that the woman was angry because she had missed her stop. The bus driver advised her to get off at another stop and walk back. She refused. A fight ensued which led to the crash.
The video is intense. I mean, this is (probably) an accident. A negligent accident to be sure, but probably an accident. But if you watch that video it really, really looks like the driver just turns the wheel to the left and takes the bus off the bridge. Most likely, he was distracted by the woman slapping him in the face with her cell phone, but still, I can’t stop noticing the driver actively cranking the wheel to the left. And then, he doesn’t appear to be shocked when the bus goes off the bridge.
The woman, identified by her surname of Liu and the driver with his surname of Ran were both thought to be alive at first and authorities said they would prosecute both of them for endangering the lives of the passengers. Now, we know that everyone on board died including the irate passenger and the driver.
As a really odd aside, the crash brought out a wave of sexist comments. Notice if you will, the red car that gets hit by the bus as it swerves. Well, that specific red car was driven by a woman. And police and media received a large amount of complaints that the woman driving the red car - caused the accident. And therefore all women drivers should be banned.
Anyway. The woman driving the red car suffered from minor injuries, was taken to the hospital and released. The police, obviously, do not think she did anything wrong.
Chinese police didn’t really comment on the sexist attacks on the innocent driver but released the following statement about the crash: “Fifteen fresh lives have vanished and the lessons are extremely painful. May the dead rest in peace and the living be warned.”
The crash in China made me a little depressed and so I searched the web for good stories about buses drivers. And I found one. Over in France, a bus driver pulled up to a stop where a man in a wheelchair was waiting. The man in the wheelchair has been identified as Francois Le Berre, who has multiple sclerosis.
Anyway, the bus pulls over and the driver turns to the other passengers and asks them to make room so he can get Francois on the bus. But every single passenger on the bus refused to make room for the man in the wheelchair. So the bus driver stood up and told everyone to get the F off his bus. A few folks grumbled about it but they complied and got off the bus. Then the driver said to Francois, “You and your helper can get on the bus. Everyone else can wait for the next one.”
And that’s what happened. The French driver is universally being praised on social media. And I have to agree. Well done.
Quite recently, and accidentally, I came across this six year old video about a photographers wild encounter with a family of mountain gorilla. It’s already been viewed almost 12 million times so it’s not like I am the first person to find it. That being said, it immediately charmed even my dark soul and made me wonder who the folks in the video are.
Which lead me to The Common Flat Project, the blog of John and Pam King. So who are these wildlife humanitarians? According to their site:
“In recent years John and Pam King have been pursuing a lifelong passion to experience and record the earth’s wild places and wild things through their photography. They co-founded The Common Flat Project in 2011 to foster a message of conservation and raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity on our planet especially on Cape Cod.”
The Common Flat, I have found out, is a tidal area off the elbow of Cape Cod and is part of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. That appears to be where John and Pam King spend the majority of their time and life. Their online gallery of the area is lovely and has landscapes, flora and fauna from all four seasons. They’ve also brought their photographic eye to all corners of the world and have captured images, as far as I can tell, on just about every continent.
Which is how, sometime in 2011, they ended up in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda. The National Park, from John and Pam’s blog - is remote and very difficult to get to and at the time of the blog post was home to some 350 mountain gorilla. Several years later, that number has remained about the same, which means it houses roughly, half the known mountain gorilla population. The rest of the several hundred known surviving mountain gorilla population is in the nearby Virunga Mountains, a volcano region on the border of Uganda.
Anyway, as the Kings point out in their blog, “... young gorillas are curious about humans and may approach, this is very rare. Adult gorilla to human interactions are virtually unheard of among the local rangers.”
Well, the Kings had a three day permit within the Park and imagine their utter shock when, on day three they find the one of the gorilla families had tracked them down just to - well, hang out with them for a while! You can read the Kings' full account of their experience here.
As far as I can tell the Common Flat Project is still going strong and John and Pam are still neck deep in nature photography and wildlife conservation and I’m thankful to both of them for sharing their photos with the world.
John and Pam King’s hardcover book, Wild Cape Cod: Free by Nature (2012) can be purchased here.
A few weeks ago construction workers in the Sidi Garber district in Alexandria, Egypt accidentally unearthed a massive nine foot long, five foot wide, black sarcophagus. Construction laws in Egypt, I have recently learned, require developers to excavate the ground beneath any planned building developments. I guess they know their history and are always on the lookout for something - well … just like this. And man, did they hit the Mummy-licious creepy jackpot this time.
Some fifteen feet down, workers found the 30 ton black granite sarcophagus and an alongside an eerie alabaster head and both dated to approx. 305-30 BC. The head, presumably representing whoever was mummified within the sarcophagus. But a sarcophagus this large had to contain someone of great import - right?
Well, at the time of the excavation, no one at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had any idea who could be buried within; however speculation and twitter went wild. The tomb was, after all found in Alexandria. So - Alexander the Great? Maybe?
Of course, twitter took the high road with endless jokes about the curse of a mummy. Hey, I’m a fan of Brendan Fraser’s Mummy (1999), and I really liked The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) when I was a kid and I hated Tom Cruise’s The Mummy (2017). So all this means is that I’m pretty much an expert on the mummy topic and here’s what I have to say about the ordeal - do not open the black sarcophagus! You will doom us all to locust plagues and withering mummy rot!
Actually, they already opened the sarcophagus.
Oh. Well. That’s fine too then. Really it is. =)
Alas, to the thrill seekers - the opening was curse-less. found exactly what they were expecting - a mainly intact but rotten mummified man. They are currently looking into identifying the corpse but that may prove difficult as there were no inscriptions inside the tomb to point researches in the right direction.
As to who is buried within the 2000 year old tomb … well, the answer to that question will all come down to forensic science.
Or - maybe, Indy.
In a Tokyo detention house, Friday morning (7/6/18) Japan executed seven members of the notorious Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attacks that killed thirteen and injured thousands.
Cult leader, Shoko Asahara, along with six followers were executed by hanging. They will not be missed.
Amnesty International said the executions “do not deliver justice.” In general, I understand their policy of clemency but in this particular case, I am 100% on the side of - these people didn’t deserve to live.
The cult members of Aum are not martyrs or heroes. They were murdering, lunatic, fanatic cultists molded from a time of the dark ages.
And I’m glad they’re dead.
What was the Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult?
Well, it all started out innocuous enough. Shoko Asahara started a yoga and meditation class in his apartment. It steadily grew. By 1989 they gained official status as a religious organization and had attracted quite a few college graduates and alums from Japan’s elite universities, and gained the “religion for the elite” moniker.
Their religion blended ancient Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, taking Shiva (the God of Destruction) as their main deity and finally incorporating doomsday ideas from Revelations and Nostradamus.
Its founding member changed his name from Chizuo Matsumoto to Shoko Asahara and then, as these things often do, he declared himself a messiah and claimed all sorts of supernatural healing powers up to and including - that he would be able to protect and save all members of the from the upcoming apocalypse. This “survival protection,” somehow convinced really, really smart people - doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers - to join the cult. And somehow, at one point they had ten thousand members in Japan and thirty thousand members in Russia!
Oh, and “what apocalypse?” - you ask?
Basically, their doomsday cult involved the “original” idea that in 1997 (remember this was in the early 90’s) a nuclear holocaust would wipe out humanity and the attack would originate from the U.S.. They also, “originally,” decided that Jews, the British Royal Family, the Freemasons and all rival religions had labyrinthine plots working against Aum’s holy doctrine.
And for some reason they hated the Dutch.
Like I said, these folks were lunatics. And if that wasn’t apparent, yet - check this out - Aum Shinrikyo followers believed that the entire world was to be cursed with bad karma and upon death all souls would end up in some hellish limbo (or something like that).
Aum cult members knew how to save us all!
They would bring about the end of the world and therefor save everyone from their inevitable sins! You see, we were all going to bad karma hell but if we were killed by members of Aum - well, that act of generous murder by their holy hands would prevent our souls from accumulating bad karma and - save our eternal souls in the afterlife!
So, we are all going to hell unless we are murdered by cult members in Aum. So they have to end the world. And kill us all. To save us.
I have to admit that’s kind of a genius level super villain plot. It’s also, obviously - totally, batshit insane.
To make a long story short, over several years they kidnapped and murdered and prevented people from leaving the cult by torture, fear and … well, more murder. They assassinated rival religious figures and targeted politicians working against them. No one really knows how many people they killed. But it was a lot.
Then on March 20th, 1995 Aum released sarin gas on the subway in Tokyo, the cult’s most infamous attack. In the months after they had several more failed terrorist attacks. Eventually, authorities zeroed in on their compounds and rounded them up. A few fugitives escaped and remained at large for years after, but they too soon ended up in jail.
While cult members have not actively confessed to everything or accepted responsibility for their crimes there was plenty of evidence to convict and all top Aum cult members, ended up on death row.
And, get this, when authorities breached Aum’s main compound they found not just more sarin gas but they also found Ebola and anthrax cultures, thousands of automatic weapons, and a stolen Russian military helicopter!
This was a legitimate doomsday cult. These fools were not playing around. They wanted us all dead. You know, in order to save us.
How these lunatics remained at large for so long is beyond me. And you would think that that was the end of their cult. Right? But, no. They just changed their name and become Aleph. And then Aleph split into two factions with one keeping said name and the second branching off to be called Hikari no Wa.
But don’t worry, they’ve made it clear that the remaining members, approx. 1500 people - are just fine now. They even dropped the most of the “controversial texts” from their reading doctrine.
Thankfully, the Japanese government monitors the group now and will probably do so forever.
Interestingly, Japanese authorities do not notify any of an upcoming execution. And so, without fanfare, Aum’s leader and six of his cultist followers were hanged to death on the morning of June 6th, 2018. Seven more members of the cult remain on death row.
On Monday, June 23rd - the Wild Boar youth soccer team and their coach left their bikes chained at the entrance to the Tham Luang Nang Non in northern Thailand and ventured forth in what they expected to be a two(ish) hour adventure. But the cave flash flooded and the 12 young players and their coach vanished.
Nine days later rescuers from Thailand, China and Australia found them. Other than minor scrapes, miraculously, all 13 of them were safe. Here is the first video of rescuers reaching the boys. The boys didn’t have any food and were in complete darkness but stayed alive by drinking pooled rainwater.
Finding them was step one but rescuing them, it appears, is going to be a daunting task. The boys are estimated to be trapped about 2 kilometer into the cave and approx. 1 kilometer underground. Rescuers are trying to figure out the best way to get them through a labyrinthine series of flooded caves linked together by narrow passageways with zero visibility for most of the swim.
Thai Navy seals have even drained 120 million liters of water out of the caves in order to keep the water levels down to help the rescue. It appears as if rescuers have no great option in how to get the boys out. Some believe that the boys should be trained in underwater cave swimming, which is no easy feat. CNN spoke with Anmar Mirza, of the US National Cave Rescue Commission recently in this interview. From the interview:
"Cave diving is incredibly dangerous for people who are very experienced doing it. And now you're looking at taking people who have no experience or very little experience with diving, and putting them into a complete blackout situation, where they have to rely on a regulator and the tanks with them to breathe.”
Some believe that the boys should continue to be supplied until the rain season is over and the water levels drop and then rescued - something that could take four months.
For now Thai Navy SEALS, a doctor and a nurse are down with the boys. A communication director from the Navy told reporters:
"We have now given food to the boys, starting with the food which is easy to digest and provide high energy. Minerals are also provided. We have taken care of those boys following the doctor's recommendations, so do not worry. We will take care of them the best we can. We will bring all of them to safety. We are now planning how to do so.”
And just today, July 6th, the rescue operation has claimed it's first life, Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy diver tragically died while delivering air tanks down to the boys. This further illustrates how difficult it will be to get untrained divers, all kids mind you, out of the caves. And with monsoon season approaching, rescue workers don't really know how much time they have before the entire caves flood. A 3 mile oxygen line is now being rushed in along with power and phone cables.
Great news! On July 10th it has been reported via multiple sources that all 12 of the boys and their coach has been rescued. Fearing that the monsoon season would flood the rest of the caves rescuers had no choice but to move forward with a rescue operation. It took thousands of people rescuers more than a week to get them out safely. Here is the first video of the boys' rescue.
All of the boys and their coach have lost weight but are in pretty good shape. One of them has a lung infection but it sounds as if treatment is working well for him. The boys will be in quarantine for about 30 days to protect them from other people. Their immune systems have been weakened and doctors are taking no chances. It sounds as if they are all on the road to a full physical recovery.
UPDATED: July 11th.
UPDATED: July 10th.
UPDATED: July 6th 10:00 am.
Twenty five people have died, and 45 others are suspected to be infected with Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed and reported the outbreak of Ebola on May 8.
This latest outbreak began in villages near Bikoro. New cases later surfaced miles away in Mbandaka, an urban city with a reported population of 1.2 million, located along the banks of the Congo River.
Vaccination has begun with ZMapp, a treatment used in the 2014 outbreak that shows promise as a prophylactic measure.
Dr. Karen Duus, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Touro University Nevada, explains, “The vaccine is a recombinant Ebola virus protein vaccine that causes a similar type of neutralizing antibody response (as the ZMapp treatment). The neutralizing antibodies coat the virus particle and keep it from binding to the target cells and infecting them.” Its efficacy, however has not been extensively tested.
The DRC had a small outbreak last year but it was contained within 42 days.
The West African Ebola epidemic spanned from the end of December 2013 to 2016 infecting over 28,000 people and killing over 11,300. The epidemic was one of the worst in Ebola’s history and its high mortality rate took countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia by surprise. A vaccine was not available, and medications such as ZMapp were experimental and not in great supply. Hospitals were not stocked with protective clothing able to prevent the minutest of exposure to the deadly virus. Travel bans were difficult to institute and top that off with a lack of education on what we were dealing with and it was unfortunately the perfect storm for one of the deadliest outbreaks in recent history.
Ebola however emerged far before this. Ebola was named after the Ebola River in Zaire and was first recognized in 1976 when it caused two outbreaks affecting 318 and 284 people respectively. Multiple small outbreaks have occurred since then, according to the CDC:
1995 – Democratic Republic of Congo – infected 315
2000 – Uganda – infected 425
2007 – Democratic Republic of Congo – infected 264
And multiple smaller sporadic cases occurred in the years between.
In January 2016 health officials declared the Ebola outbreak had ended, however cases continued to smolder.
Why this occurs is the virus may not leave the body completely. Its been found to live in semen up to a year and some survivors can suffer a reinfection months later. For example, in 2015 Dr. Ian Crozier successfully fought Ebola but two months after discharge, suffered a severe eye infection which turned out to be Ebola lurking in his eye.
A study in 2015 found Ebola be able to survive outside a human body for days and longer if within a liquid such as water or blood. Mosquitoes are not known to transmit the virus however it can live in bats as well as monkeys and apes. Pets have not been known to contract Ebola from their sick owners but its been postulated that pigs could, if in contact with a victim.
Dr. Duus states that although the virus reservoirs are not clear, “people are most likely infected by butchering or eating infected animals.”
Ebola is a virus from the Flavivirus family that causes a hemorrhagic fever with symptoms of sudden fever, myalgias, headache and sore throat. It could then progress to nausea and vomiting, liver and kidney issues and internal and external bleeding, ultimately resulting in death in 90% of cases.