Lessons in inflation

Comic books taught me everything I needed to know about inflation.

It cost more than it used to to make a 10-cent comic book, so they had to charge 12 cents. They had been 10 cents for more than 25 years, although as costs rose, they held the 10-cent price by cutting pages. The standard length of a comic book went from 64 pages to 48 pages to 32 pages. Finally they decided 32 pages was the minimum, and so the price had to give.

Twelve cents held for about seven years, but then inflation kicked in and they went up to 15 cents. There was a little experimentation with offering 48 pages for 25 cents, but that was quickly abandoned and it settled back to 32 pages for 20 cents, and then 25 and 30 and 35 and 40 cents. By 1980 a 32-page comic book was 50 cents.

Eventually other factors than inflation affected the price — the starving writers and artists won the right to be paid as if they were writers and artists, and better paper and printing techniques became the standard — so it’s not fair to say the 10-cent comic book of 1960 morphed into today’s $3.99 product, but inflation was the main culprit in the 1960s and 1970s.

I want to show you something about percentages and inflation.

That first price increase, from 10 cents to 12 cents, inflated the price by 20%.

When it went to 15 cents, that was a 25% increase.

The rise to 20 cents was 33%. Yikes!

Going to 25 cents was a 25% increase.

Going to 30 cents? Only 20%.

And 35 cents represented a 16.7% raise.

The hike to 40 cents raised the price by 14.3%.

Do you see? After a while, the inflation rate went down. But make no mistake, the price never went back. You could buy 10 comic books for $1 in 1960. By 1980 you could buy only two.

Don’t ever be fooled when the politicians announce that the inflation rate is down as if that’s wonderful news. The damage is already done.

The 10-cent comic book is gone forever.

Early-morning musings on art and censorship

Is it “writing” when you stare at the page for a full minute, looking at the leaves the dogs sprawled on the floor, the bits of leaves they’ve tracked in from outside, and the toys, and wondering if you should be vacuuming instead of sitting with a pen grasped between your fingers?

I have Folk Alley in the background this morning. Music is an improvement over predawn silence or the litany of woes, tribulation, evil and unhappiness in the TV news.

We choose every day whether to dwell on death or to dwell on life. Both forces roam the earth in equal portions, but only life offers hope and redemption and a tomorrow.

The musicians explore beauty and the rhythms of life — sometimes they experiment with discord, but even then they are seeking patterns and beauty in odd nooks and crannies. There is an order to things, and artists shine lights on that order in new and surprising ways, and also old and familiar ways. 

Art — poetry, music, imagery — is a uniquely human thing, arranging sounds and images in delightful ways to bring a smile and a surge of emotion.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry” — Oh, but I did, the purging relief of tears, the exhalation of laughter, the emotion of it all, the awe and the joy — I was hoping to bottle it for you to relive and rediscover in the times when you need it again.

And so this is art — an attempt to capture a feeling to be tapped as needed over and over, the past reassuring the future that a time came when all was well, and it can be again.

(“For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her” came across the Folk Alley feed just then, two minutes of sheer beauty and exactly the reassurance I was writing about.)

The words and music relay ancient emotions snatched from the heart of yes, reassurance, peace, and hope for a better future.

Why would someone want to remove such aspirations from anyone? Tyrants are puzzling creatures: Once they were children with innocent questions and open minds and hearts, and along the way they found answers in oppressing and leashing their neighbors. 

I wonder how they reached those conclusions. I wonder if they realize they are tyrants. Don’t each of us aspire to the best in us? How do you find the best by chaining us? Only by flying free do you discover the view from the sky.

7 O’Clock News/Silent Night

Good morning and welcome to the news. We have a remarkable list of terrible things that humans have done to each other over the last 24 hours or so, for your entertainment.

Four people were killed and several others wounded when an angry young man with a gun opened fire on a crowd of people 573 miles from here. A warning, some people may find this video disturbing, but you should look. Go ahead, you can handle it.

Here’s a conversation with the leader of a group that says the latest gun deaths are another example of why people should not be entrusted with weapons to defend themselves from personal attack.

Here in our hometown, a person got drunk and rolled her car down an embankment. She later died of her injuries at a local hospital.

Overseas, the death toll is now in the tens of thousands from that war that has been going on for nearly two years, and things are just as bleak in the new war. In Washington, debate is underway over whether the U.S. should send millions, billions or trillions of dollars worth of weaponry to the two war zones to ensure that the killing is safe, effective, ongoing, and benefits our preferred warlords.

People are homeless and starving after a natural disaster a few states over from here, and one political party is chastising the other for not voting in favor of more federal government spending in the disaster zone. The main point of contention is whether to raise the debt ceiling again to pay for it all. 

After the break, a special report about ways the government is working to protect innocent humans from the ravages that the government wrought in their lives in the first place. And folks around here are bracing for cold; we’ll tell you why.

But first, a selection of messages about magic pills that adjust the chemical composition of your body to make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser. You won’t want to miss this.

Peace, love and Godzilla

Last night, with my Godzilla geek rising in advance of the U.S. release of the new film Godzilla Minus One, I took another of my occasional looks at the film that started it all, the 1954 Japanese classic Gojira, and was again struck by what an awesome film it is and still so relevant in this crazy world of ours.

The crux of the film is convincing research scientist Dr. Serizawa to employ the horrible weapon he accidentally discovered to kill the 150-meter-tall monster that has ravaged Tokyo — an ancient dinosaur made even more dangerous due to the radiation from H-bomb tests in the Pacific. 

Serizawa is convinced his device — the oxygen destroyer — must remain a secret for humanity’s sake.

“If the oxygen destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course, they’ll want to use it as a weapon,” Serizawa explains. “Bombs vs. bombs, missiles vs. missiles, and now a new super weapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist — no, as human being, I can’t allow that to happen.” 

He is finally convinced by the televised images of the ruined Tokyo and a girls choir singing a mournful prayer for peace called “Oh Peace, Oh Light, Return”:

May we live without destruction
May we look to tomorrow with hope
May peace and light return to us

But Serizawa insists on operating the oxygen destroyer himself, burns all his notes, and after deploying the underwater weapon that destroys the giant monster, he cuts the hose that links him to the surface, choosing to die rather than to risk being coerced to share the secrets of the horrible device with the damned politicians.

As the story closes, Professor Yamane, who has served in the role of the scientist who wants to study Godzilla, not destroy him, says, “I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving members of its species, but if we keep on conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear, somewhere in the world, again.”

The film ends with a reprise of the prayer for peace. 

The story was sanitized when Gojira was recut for American audiences and titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Serizawa’s on-target description of political animals was excised. The words of the hymn were never shared, leaving only its mournful tone. And, of course, Yamane’s warning that we should stop testing nuclear weapons was nowhere to be heard.

In fact, the original Japanese version of the film was impossible to find in the U.S. outside of bootleg editions. I was one of the first in line to buy the DVD when it finally was released in America in 2004, the 50th anniversary of the movie.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters was one of the formative movies of my childhood, fueling my love of science fiction and the fantastic, but I was thunderstruck upon seeing the film its creators intended. 

Its message, nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is simple and powerful: May we live without destruction; may we look to tomorrow with hope. That U.S. citizens were not allowed to see that film for 50 years speaks volumes.

This week’s war

So another war is thrust into our consciousness and sides are chosen. There is our side and the wrong side and how dare you?

More indiscriminate slaughter of innocents who have no dispute with you — why? What is the point of all this? Where does it end? WHEN does it end?

The only winners are the weapons makers who profit from haters buying their wares. Everyone dies, but the manufacturers feed their families. What a business: Build things that are designed to destroy themselves and anyone in their path, and so there is an endless need to replenish the supply.

I am on the side that beats swords into plowshares, the side with a God who declares we should love one another including our supposed enemies.

I remember a meme from my youth, before memes were called memes: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” We’re still waiting for the answer, because eager young people still flock to join the new war, and the rest of us root from the sidelines, offering money, weapons, aid and comfort to the killers.

Please don’t ask me to take sides or declare my solidarity. I stand with the peacemakers. I stand with anyone and everyone who shouts, “Enough is enough.” I stand with anyone who, upon hearing that they’re giving a war, refuses to come.

What a dream I had

There’s the signpost up ahead — We’re entering the zone where not much can be explained rationally. How do such things happen? Only through explanations beyond the grasp of the average human. Of course, what is “average” anyway, and for that matter what is “human”?

We have all been dropped into a giant Candid Camera show, or perhaps a giant spy-op if you prefer sinister motives. “What can I get away with today?” asked the sociopath in charge, and he directed his minions to give his latest experiment a try.

Oh wait, I just woke up a few minutes ago. It was all a bad dream, wasn’t it? There aren’t really people out there acting as if the government ruled us instead of the other way around. There aren’t really people who are mixed up about what “by the people, of the people, for the people” means. I was just having a nightmare, and freedom of speech is still rocking and rolling, and no one is abusing freedom of the press to the point where the press is a parody of itself. What a dream I had! I’m glad I was asleep and all that goofy stuff wasn’t really coming down.

It was weird, though — up was down, good was evil, in was out, freedom was slavery, and ignorance was strength. The scariest part was when people started talking as if war was peace, as if peace was abnormal and kindness was a weakness. The lunatics were in charge of the proverbial asylum, and if you noticed, you were accused of being a lunatic yourself or a dupe of a foreign power.

Phew! The dream was so real I didn’t realize I was dreaming.

When we live despite the urge to fear

[Drawn from the archives, June 17, 2020 – now THAT was a year! Also reprinted in Echoes of Freedom Past, one of my 2022 books.]

Fear is an ugly thing. It contorts the face, boils the gut, and manifests in every unhealthy emotion – anger, worry, hatred. Fear can spread across the land, a virus more deadly than any microbe.

“Fear is the mind-killer,” Frank Herbert wrote: It robs us of our reason, strips love and compassion from our hearts, and brings out the monster in us.

The children of fear are slavery, tyranny and war.

When we overcome fear, we rise.

When we rise, we turn our faces to the sun.

When we turn our faces to the sun, we begin to live. The sun nourishes, warms, gives life to the dying. Without the sun, we die in darkness.

When we live despite the urge to fear, without loathing, without anger and hatred and all of that – when we stand instead of cowering, in other words – our spirits become invincible.

When our spirits are invincible, we have no need for the darkness.

The spirit of love is fragile and beautiful and strong and powerful all at once. It takes courage to shout love at the heart of darkness, but it’s lighter, more free, an antidote for terror, and healthier for the soul.

An ounce of love is more powerful than tons of gunpowder. Love slices souls more surely than the sharpest knife. Fear is a poison; love an elixir.

I would say that I loathe fear, and I do, but loathing is a byproduct of fear and the world has enough loathing.

Better to say that in my most sane moments, I set the anger and the hatred and the anxiety aside, burying them in a place where I am free to love and to live and to laugh and to cry with joy.