First Black Female Superhero

Who was the first black female superhero? Surprisingly, the answer to this question isn’t well-documented. Marvel’s Storm and DC’s Vixen are early black female superheroes, appearing in 1975 and 1981 respectively, but neither is the first. So who was?

In 1971, Skywald Publications published two issues of Hell-Rider, a comic focusing on a male crime-fighting motorcyclist. However, each issue also carried a story about Marian Michaels, aka The Butterfly, a Las Vegas lounge singer who fought organized crime. Her butterfly costume had suction cups, bright lights, and a jet pack that allowed her to fly. Appearing in the early 1970s, she apparently is the first black female superhero. The article below discusses her history and contains page scans from Hell-Rider.

Meet Butterfly: the first black female superhero

Also see “Female Superheroes Before Wonder Woman.”

Top Five Breakfast Cereals of My Childhood

Even though the Internet is chock full of listicles on every subject imaginable, it needs one more: my five favorite breakfast cereals as a little Billwulf. I say “breakfast” but I sometimes ate cereal for dinner.

5. Fruity/Cocoa Pebbles

I must admit that I ate the Pebbles cereals more for the shock value of the unnatural colors they imparted to the milk. This is breakfast cereal at its finest trashiness.

4. Freakies

How could a kid resist a cereal promoted by seven freakish cartoon mascots with names such as Gargle, Hamhose, and Cowmumble? I certainly couldn’t, even though the cereal itself was, shall we say, jejune. At any rate, according to the backstory, the Freakies cereal rings grew on trees, and that was good enough for me. Freakies also had the best toy: a balloon-propelled car in the shape of each mascot. My favorite was the car based on the purple mascot, Gargle.

3. Quisp

Quisp is my earliest cold cereal memory. The cereal was named after a short extraterrestrial who flew by means of a propeller on his head. The box had a pleasing sky blue background, which I think is one of the reasons I favored it. I also enjoyed the texture of the saucer-shaped corn meal pieces, if not the taste.

2. The Monster Cereals: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and Fruit Bruite

As soon as I saw Count Chocula and Frankenberry on the grocery store shelf, there was no way that I was not going to eat them. C’mon, cartoon monsters and chocolate-flavored cereal with marshmallows? Someone at General Mills had a deep understanding of kid psychology. I can say that even though I enjoyed the milk turning brown or pink or blue, I also enjoyed the taste of the monster cereals, even the more obscure Fruit Bruite. Count Chocula is the best of the lot because the mascot is a chocolate vampire—again, marketing genius. This Halloween, I intend to mix Count Chocula and Frankenberry. I can’t believe that I didn’t think of that when I was a child.

1. Corn Flakes with Marshmallows and Hershey’s Chocolate

OK, this isn’t actually a cereal that you can buy, and I didn’t eat it as a child. This is a cereal I invented as an adult. Just break a Hershey’s chocolate bar into pieces and put them into a bowl of Corn Flakes. Then add marshmallows, and maybe almonds or walnuts. This is a decadent cereal that should not be eaten by children under any circumstances. It probably shouldn’t be eaten by adults, but neither should haggis. I advise against using Frosted Flakes in place of Corn Flakes because the resulting sugar high would only be followed by a hard crash and possibly a coma. Likewise with using chocolate milk instead of regular milk.

Honorable mentions go to Rice Krispies, although RK treats are much better than the cereal; Sugar Smacks, now known less honestly as Honey Smacks; and Corn Pops. I was never a Cap’n Crunch aficionado, although I certainly ate my fair share.

"Angel Baby" Covers on YouTube

1960’s “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals is one of the most famous songs of the Doo-wop era. Here’s Rosie singing it live sometime in the 2000s:

Here are some excellent covers of “Angel Baby” on YouTube. This first one is by Victoria Matthews.

Olivia Garcia:


In Defense of Robust Free Speech

An increasingly common response to speech deemed as intolerant is to punish the speaker. For example, the Miami Dolphins suspended player Don Jones for his response to a celebratory kiss between NFL draftee Michael Sam and Sam’s boyfriend. Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible.” The Dolphins also fined Jones and ordered him to attend “educational training.”

The reasoning behind punishing speech deemed as intolerant seems to be as follows. “Yes, we have free speech, but free speech sometimes has consequences. Some speech acts represent hateful attitudes towards certain groups. Those speech acts shouldn’t be tolerated, and the speakers should be punished. This doesn’t violate the first amendment because the government does not carry out the punishment.” On this view, punishing Don Jones is consistent with a free and open society because his speech is of the sort that warrants punishment by non-government forces.

Let’s look at another example. In 2010, National Public Radio fired journalist Juan Williams after Williams said the following on The O’Reilly Factor:

Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Williams very carefully pointed out that we shouldn’t paint all Muslims as terrorists, but his remarks were nonetheless taken to be anti-Muslim. Thus, NPR terminated his contract.

Again, the view here is that some forms of speech ought to be punished. The right to free speech only limits the government’s power to punish speech that it deems to be unacceptable. Indeed, many proponents of this view deny that the incidents mentioned are free speech issues.

However, this view is incompatible with the classical liberal view of free expression. On this view, free speech is not just something that the government should respect; it is something to be respected by citizens of a free society. My neighbor may express all sorts of views that I disagree with, perhaps vehemently, but his right to express those views grants him protection not just from the government, but from me as well. I am not justified in punishing him for his free speech merely because I am not a government official; I am not justified in punishing him because I, too, wish to be able to speak my mind without fear of punishment. If I afford my neighbor a meager right to speak his mind, then I have no reason to complain when he likewise affords me a meager right to speak my mind.

It may be argued in response that a man can hold whatever views he wishes in the confines of his mind, but that when he speaks his mind, his conduct becomes public and hence is open potentially to non-governmental censure. However, this response hinges on the distinction between inward freedom of expression and outward freedom of expression—and this distinction is by no means clear. Of what use is my inward freedom of expression if it cannot be manifested outwardly? Indeed, the government can only put me in shackles for my exercise of speech, but it cannot stifle an idea; my fellow citizens, however, have the power to stifle ideas, to demand conformity to a majority opinion, to instill fear in those who would speak against the majority position, and to circumscribe the realm of human thought. Thus, the right to free speech should count against the tyranny of the majority, which can only shackle the mind, even more than against the tyranny of government, which can only shackle the body.

Let me end my argument with a thought experiment. Here are three possible societies. In Society 1, an openly gay man has very little chance of becoming a professional football player, and no one is punished for expressing distaste at the sight of two men kissing. In Society 2, an openly gay man with sufficient athletic talent has the same chance of becoming a professional football player as anyone else with his talent, but expressing distaste when he kisses his boyfriend is likely to incur punishment. In Society 3, an openly gay man with sufficient athletic talent has the same chance of becoming a professional football player as anyone else with his talent, and no one is punished for expressing distaste when he kisses his boyfriend.

Society 1 resembles the not-so-distant past. Society 2 resembles the present and probably the future. Society 3 resembles no current society. Now here’s a question: which of these three societies do we want to live in? Which of these societies maximizes freedom of expression?

My answer is this: I want to live in Society 3 because it maximizes freedom of expression. I think that an openly gay man with the requisite athletic talent should have an equal chance to play professional sports as anyone else, and I think that someone without penalty should be able to express disgust when he kisses his boyfriend. Society 3 is the only one consistent with a free and open society. On the other hand, Societies 1 and 2 cannot exist without some form of oppression, some tyranny of the majority that punishes people for not being who the majority thinks they should be or for saying what the majority thinks they should not say. A robust commitment to freedom of expression, even expression that we find loathsome, entails a desire to live in the third society.

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are the most famous novels in the dystopian genre. However, both novels were inspired by a 1921 Russian novel, We, by mathematician Yevgeny Zamyatin. Although Zamyatin belonged to the Bolshevik party, he soon became a bitter critic of Soviet oppression. We is a satire of Soviet totalitarianism and was the first novel to be banned in the Soviet Union. After angering Soviet authorities by smuggling We to the West, Zamyatin requested exile, which Stalin granted. We wasn’t published in Russia until 1988.

We depicts a society that emphasizes uniformity in all aspects of life. Citizens, called numbers, live in glass apartment buildings and go about their daily routine in accordance with timetables that choreograph their movements. They are permitted some private time and can draw curtains for privacy. Amorous visits require paperwork to be given to a clerk assigned to each building. Nature exists entirely outside the glass walls of the State, as do “primitive” humans with “fur.” We focuses on the experiences of D-503, the chief builder and engineer of a soon-to-be launched spaceship intended to introduce races on other planets to the glorious ways of the One State. Though he considers himself to be a loyal citizen, he falls in with a group of rebels who want to sabotage the spaceship and destroy the State.

The novel is challenging to read. It’s narrated by D-503 and takes the form of a journal intended to be read by alien races. However, D-503 becomes psychologically fractured as he tries to maintain his identity as a loyal citizen while falling in love with the mysterious I-330, one of the rebels. Moreover, We's prose is often lyrical and uses mathematical concepts poetically.

The Dutton paperback version of We is available here as a free PDF.

Wendy Davis and Personal Narrative

In regards to the the Wendy Davis affair, why do politicians try to cultivate a personal narrative about their struggles and triumphs? More often than not, the reality doesn’t match the narrative. I was raised by a single mother who, unlike Davis, didn’t go to college, let alone Harvard, and who, unlike Davis, didn’t have an ex-husband making six figures. So her claim that she was a struggling single mother rings hollow. Nonetheless, I don’t care that she didn’t have the same experience as my mother. Politics is about policy, not about a politician’s experiences. Whether we agree or disagree with her views on abortion, for example, has nothing to do with her personal narrative.

In general, politicians have different life experiences than most Americans. Every president has either gone to Harvard or Yale; hence, every president has experienced a certain level of privilege not experienced by most voters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because public policy is not about the experience of any one person or one demographic. Playing to a particular audience and claiming empathy with that audience is just another form of demagoguery.

Closing the Distance Between Ourselves and the World

It’s become common to see people peering at a computer screen in one form or another, heads drooping, whether they’re indoors or outdoors, working or walking, or relaxing in the sun. More than once, I’ve seen everyone within my sight peering down at a smartphone or tablet. More than once, I’ve been one of these people, and I even find it strange now to sit down in a coffee shop or restaurant without my tablet.

One way to look at this trend is to see it as an intrusion of technology into our daily life, one that isolates us from the external world and encourages solipsism. Technology, on this view, is alienating. However, I want to suggest an alternative view, namely, that recent technology, far from alienating us from others, closes the distance between us and the world.

Heidegger on Distance and De-Distancing

In Being and Time, Heidegger points out that distance and space are not just concepts about the physical, spatial distance between objects; they’re also concepts about the useful orientation of objects in relation to our wants and needs. For example, our terms for the various positions of the sun—sunrise, sunset, midday, midnight—do not refer to where the sun is in space, but to where the sun is as a useful object for telling the time. We humans engage in what Heidegger calls de-distancing, that is, we close the distance between objects in non-physical, as well as physical ways.

To make this clear, let’s start with the obvious: one way to close the distance between myself and an object is to grab the object and bring it closer. Thus, I grab a hammer from a shelf, and the distance between it and myself is closed. I’ve de-distanced the hammer. However, not all acts of de-distancing close the physical distance between myself and some object. Suppose that I call a close friend who lives in Siberia and that we have a long, rewarding conversation. I’ve closed the distance between myself and that friend in countless, non-physical ways. My friend may live thousands of miles away in a frozen tundra—whereas my hammer is right here—but my friend is closer to me than the hammer, despite the physical proximity of the hammer.

Heidegger thinks that humans are fundamentally de-distancing beings in the non-physical sense. Let’s apply this idea to the computer age. The network of our relationships between ourselves and other things and people is not merely physical, and it is not even primarily physical; it is, to use a more modern word, virtual. My friends may be scattered physically across the globe, but they are not scattered in my virtual network of relationships. Hence, they are de-distanced in my virtual network. If I’m the core node in that network, then they exist not as distal nodes, but as proximate nodes, perhaps only a virtual micron away.

Facebook is a De-Distancing Tool

This, then, is my thesis: social networking de-distances our fellow humans, brings them closer to our central node, and mitigates their distality. It closes the gap between us and them. To update Heidegger’s term, it de-distalizes others. For the first time in history, much of the world, though as physically distant as it ever was, is very close. The airplane closed the physical distance between us and the world, but the computer closes the virtual distance between us and the world. For each of us, the world moves closer to the core node of our virtual network.

Hence, when we see people drooping their heads and peering into a computer screen, they are de-distalizing their friends and loved ones; they are de-distalizing the world, bringing it closer at hand. On this view, recent technology doesn’t alienate, but rather draws physically distant core nodes virtually closer to our own core node. If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that this drawing near lacks elegance by encouraging bad posture and eye strain. This, however, will change as technology becomes wearable and screens become holographic. In this new era, the distance between ourselves and the world will become negligible. Nonetheless, should the world bother us, we can shut it off—because the easier it is to close the distance between us and the world, the easier it is to restore that distance in the blink, perhaps literal, of any eye.