Friday, March 02, 2007

 

RAG on NPR

Thursday's installment co-starring my old Hill pal, Ron Christie, and my old CNN Late Edition "Final Round" sparring partner, Julianne Malveaux.

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Liberal Arts Torture?

It was a little disturbing to read this:
Born in Chicago to restless parents (his father worked for a chain of hotels), Lagouranis guesses he attended 10 or 11 schools before graduating from high school in 1987 in New York City. After a year of college he took off, picking up construction and short-order cook jobs as he traveled the country. He kept coming back to Santa Fe, however, and in 1994 he enrolled in its St. John’s College, whose curriculum is based entirely on the Great Books, read in roughly chronological order. Lagouranis discovered he had a facility for languages: he enjoyed ancient Greek and found Hebrew easy. He tried to learn Arabic on his own, but without a class and a regular teacher he found it more difficult. [Emphasis added.]
He relates how he joined the Army, mastered Arabic and eventually became an interrogator -- and confessed torturer:

Asked how he explains himself, Lagouranis says, “It’s tough. I can say I was following orders, and that is partly true. I was wondering, ‘At what point do I put my foot down?’ and there were definitely times when I said I wasn’t going to cross this or that line.” Lagouranis refused, he says, to engage in sexual humiliation, electric shock, or mock execution (though he admits that he once failed to assure a blindfolded prisoner he was escorting past some soldiers at target practice that this was not a firing squad). He also says he never hit a prisoner, though he admits that hitting someone “might do less damage to him than hypothermia or stress positions or things like that. It just seemed like that was completely taboo. I didn’t really think that through—it seemed to me like that was where the line was legally and morally.

“But there are other answers, too. You are in a war zone and things get blurred. We wanted intelligence. It really became absolutely morally impossible for me to continue when I realized that most of the people we were dealing with were innocent. And that was tough. So it made it easier if I thought that I was actually dealing with a real-life bad guy. Another thing that made it easier was that I felt—and I think this is a flawed argument too—that it was all environmental things that were happening to this person. Like it was gravity that was making his knees hurt, it was the fact that it was cold outside that was making him uncomfortable, it wasn’t me, you know what I mean? As I said, those are flawed arguments, but it makes it easier to do it if you think of it that way.

“Then, also, you’re in an environment where everybody is telling you that this is OK, and it’s hard to be the only person saying, ‘This is wrong.’ And I really was, even as I was doing it, I was the only person saying, ‘We’ve got to put the brakes on. What’s going too far here?’

“You might think this is not a good defense either, but the things that I did weren’t really that horrible. I mean, I saw some really horrible torture. And I’m sure like every torturer would say this—‘Other people are doing worse things.’ I didn’t carry the things that I was doing as far as I could have. Like the guys that we were leaving out in the cold, I was always the one who went out and checked on them all the time. Most of the other people would just sit in the office and watch DVDs while these guys were out in the cold. I was bringing them in and warming them up. So I didn’t go as far as I might have.

“I don’t think people can imagine what it’s like. In Mosul we were wide open. There was [only] concertina wire separating us from the town and we were getting mortared all the time. You’d be laying in bed and mortars were going off all over the place. The infantry brings you somebody and they tell you that this is the guy who’s shooting mortars at you. Scaring him with a muzzled dog doesn’t seem like the worst thing in that situation. . . . I mean I was willing to try it. I didn’t know that it wasn’t going to work.”
I don't think Lagouranis and I have ever met, given that he was at SJC many years after me. Then again, I've met many students as the years have gone by as I've been involved informally and officially with alumni program. It shouldn't really be a surprise to run into someone who attended one's alma mater -- and more than a few Johnnies have joined the military over the years. But, it is still a jolt to read about it in this context. However, the sense of internal conflict he had about his actions seems very Johnny-esque.

Read the entire piece, as most of it is in Lagouranis' own voice.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for catching this.

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24 Politics

Is the Kiefer Sutherland suspense-drama as politically "conservative" as some claim? Michael Rosen surveys the evidence.

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Obama & the Black Left

This isn't an attempt to get on any Barack Obama bandwagon. But in discussing his broadbased appeal, Laura Washington vividly outs the hypocrisy of the buppie left:
There has been a backlash. While Obama was announcing in Springfield, PBS host Tavis Smiley was honchoing his annual State of the Black Union conference at Hampton University in Virginia. Coverage of the all-day event on C-Span was interrupted for the Obama announcement.

Smiley said that Obama had called him to apologize for missing the event. The Rev. Al Sharpton scolded Obama for making his announcement before a predominantly white crowd in Springfield, rather than at the forum. He added that he is looking for Obama to explain “what’s his embrace of our agenda.”

Cornel West, the Princeton University professor and black intellectual, said African Americans should ask Obama, “How deep is your love for the people” and “Where is your money coming from?” In the background were a blinding array of banner logos trumpeting the “sponsors” of Smiley’s conference: ExxonMobil, Verizon, Wells-Fargo, McDonald’s, Allstate Insurance, etc.
That is a great "gotcha."

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The Blackout of Paris

Normally, I leave the "hard news" items to Robert George, but in this case I couldn't resist.

It seems the Associated Press tried an experiment recently: a week with no news items on Paris Hilton. Apparently, no one noticed. From an AP editorial at CNN.com:
So you may have heard: Paris Hilton was ticketed the other day for driving with a suspended license.

Not huge news, even by celebrity-gossip standards. Here at The Associated Press, we put out an initial item of some 300 words. But it actually meant more to us than that.

It meant the end of our experimental blackout on news about Paris Hilton.

It was only meant to be a weeklong ban -- not the boldest of journalistic initiatives, and one, we realized, that might seem hypocritical once it ended. And it wasn't based on a view of what the public should be focusing on -- the war in Iraq, for example, or the upcoming election of the next leader of the free world, as opposed to the doings of a partygoing celebrity heiress/reality TV star most famous for a grainy sex video.

No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?

It turned out that people noticed plenty -- but not in the way that might have been expected. None of the thousands of media outlets that depend on AP called in asking for a Paris Hilton story. No one felt a newsworthy event had been ignored.

So why would I bother posting this? Simply for the end of the editorial:
So what have we learned from the ban? "It's hard to tell what this really changes, since we didn't have to make any hard decisions," says Jesse Washington, AP's entertainment editor. "So we'll continue to use our news judgment on each item, individually."

Which means that for the immediate future, if not always, we'll still have Paris.

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Prosecutorial "Abuse"

A few weeks back, we discussed the firings of various U.S. attorneys around the country. At the time, the blatant politics of the issue seemed to be around the fact that the administration wanted to push aside the professional prosecutors in favor of padding the resumes of some political flunkies.

Well, of course, it turns out that
it's worse than that:


Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico pressured the U.S. attorney in their state to speed up indictments in a federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator, according to two people familiar with the contacts.

The alleged involvement of the two Republican lawmakers raises questions about possible violations of House of Representatives and Senate ethics rules and could taint the criminal investigation into the award of an $82 million courthouse contract.

The two people with knowledge of the incident said Domenici and Wilson intervened in mid-October, when Wilson was in a competitive re-election campaign that she won by 875 votes out of nearly 211,000 cast.

David Iglesias, who stepped down as U.S. attorney in New Mexico on Wednesday, told McClatchy Newspapers that he believed the Bush administration fired him Dec. 7 because he resisted the pressure to rush an indictment.

According to the two individuals, Domenici and Wilson called to press Iglesias for details of the case.

Wilson was curt after Iglesias was "non-responsive" to her questions about whether an indictment would be unsealed, said the two individuals, who asked not to be identified because they feared possible political repercussions. Rumors had spread throughout the New Mexico legal community that an indictment of at least one Democrat was sealed.

Domenici, who wasn't up for re-election, called about a week and a half later and was more persistent than Wilson, the people said. When Iglesias said an indictment wouldn't be handed down until at least December, the line went dead.
Meanwhile, job evaluations of the other canned prosecutors were all seemingly positive.

With subpoenas sent out to
four of the dismissed attorneys, next week's congressional hearings could be rather intersting.

UPDATE: Slate's Dahlia Litwick assesses the major points in the controversy:
But there's one other theory worth putting out there—one I have heard from folks on the Hill who are following this battle quite closely. This was merely a monumental screw-up. The DOJ never expected these firings to turn into a scandal. Indeed, many folks there still can't quite figure out what they have done wrong.
A few data points:
1) The DOJ is currently staffed by its C team, all of its best members having left long ago for better-paid jobs in the private sector. And C teams, particularly C teams with little political
experience, make mistakes.
2) This scandal may not have gone anywhere had McNulty not testified that the U.S. attorneys were canned—with the exception of Cummins—for subpar "performance." This misstep forced Lam, Iglesias, and other very loyal Republicans to come forward and defend themselves. Had McNulty not publicly questioned their effectiveness, most would probably have packed up and
left without a word.
3) The White House is unaccustomed to real oversight. It's been virtually bulletproof for so long that it has almost forgotten how to account for its blatant ideological acts of jiggery-pokery. It wasn't until control of Congress changed over in November that anyone even began to look
askance at executive overreaching. As a result, this administration simply misjudged the amount of likely blowback from these firings.
The U.S. attorney purge probably exploded into a scandal as a result of a perfect storm that the
White House never anticipated: Players at the highest levels were making strategic, ideological decisions to consolidate executive power and reward party loyalists while folks on the ground at the Justice Department bungled the firings with inflammatory comments and false ("performance-related") statements.
Incumbent U.S. attorneys surprised the White House by punching back, just as a Congress under new Democratic control decided to exercise meaningful oversight.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the purge isn't that the Bush administration puts ideology above the rule of law. That isn't exactly news. The real point may be that between inexperienced fumblers at Justice, energized Democrats in Congress, and a public that seems finally to have awoken from its slumber, it's just become harder for the administration to
get away with it.
Still, the key strategic decision that led to this was not made by the "C team." It was by, at the least, the "B team" -- the premeditated plan to use the Patriot Act to inhibit the power of both the legislative and judicial branches in the U.S. attorney selection/replacement process. A tool supposedly used to enhance the power of the president in fighting terror has, shockingly, been used for narrow bureaucratic power games. And, inevitably, you reap what you sow.

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Friday Trivia! Movie Edition

Sorry folks. No clever answers this week. Just doing straight movie trivia. Enjoy!

1. Which actress starred in different films with the following actors: Orson Welles, Ray Liotta, Telly Savalas, and Stacy Keach?

2. Which Clint Eastwood film was originally titled
Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo?

3. What was the title of the 1986 made-for-tv sequel to the Academy Award winning film
Patton?

4. In which film did Linda Blair star with Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, as well as four other Oscar nominees? (Note: This film did NOT receive a single Academy Award nomination.)

5. In 1940, which of the following Best Picture nominees won the Academy Award:
Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, or Wuthering Heights?

ANSWERS:
1. Pia Zadora
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
3. The Last Days of Patton
4. Exorcist II: The Heretic
5. Gone with the Wind

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 

RAG on NPR

I participated in NPR' "News And Notes" roundtable on Monday: Two productions that went on for too long Sunday were the topics -- Louis Farrakhan (last?) major speech and the Oscars!

I will also appear on Thursday's roundtable segment. Tune if if yer around and able!

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Mario, Newt & Tim

The Cooper Union discussion featuring former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich, moderated by Tim Russert, can be seen by live webcast at 6:30 this evening.

I'll be in Cooper Union watching the proceedings live.

UPDATE: A mostly entertaining evening. Gingrich and Cuomo want to use the debate format to spark the official presidential candidates into having more debates, not fewer. In particular, Gingrich would like to see the eventual party nominees agree to nine weekly debates, ninety minutes each to get the electorate fully engaged in the complex issues facing the country.

Not trying to be biased (though, as nearly every regular reader of this blog is fully aware, Gingrich is a former boss of mine), but I was very disappointed with Gov. Cuomo's contribution.

I charted my contrasting reactions to the two men's performances:

NG ----------------------------------------------------- MC

"non-partisan" ---------------------------------------- "partisan"
"2007-" ------------------------------------------------- "1993"
"engaging" ------------------------------------------ "accusatory"
"positive" ------------------------------------------ "negative"
"coherent" ------------------------------------------ "incoherent"
"funny" ------------------------------------------- "bitter"

The last adjective for Cuomo was supplied by a veteran New York journalist who has known the governor for nearly 30 years ago. Though not always agreeing with him politically, he respects Cuomo and is friendly with him. He was aghast.

I will admit that Cuomo seemed to get his groove back during the Q&A portion of the program with Tim Russert. He was much more gracious and truly talked up -- rather genuinely, in my opinion -- the idea of Newt being one of the better individuals Republicans could put up for president. And, while a pro-Iraq war person could disagree with his stance, Cuomo at least tried to put forward an honest analysis of some positive steps being made to getting Iraq's economics (sharing the oil wealth between Shiite, Sunni and Kurd) under control, which he saw as vital for any long-term solution.

In any event, if you have the time, watch the webcast, because it's difficult to simply summarize all comments expressed. And, in keeping with the spirit of the Lincoln address at Cooper Union after which this event was modeled, watch everything in its entirety. Don't let a simple summary or soundbite interpret the whole thing for you.

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Brother, Here For Art Thou

Well, well.

It looks like a clear winner emerged from that David Geffen-initiated Obama-Clinton dust up. Based on this new Washington Post poll, it is that certain ethnic candidate from Illinois. At least in terms of blacks, Obama has surged (so to speak) past Hillary.

I don't think that is simply a sudden "Oh, wow, he really is black" moment from African Americans for this switch (thought that may be a factor). Last week's war of words shine some intense light momentarily on the race.

The added light accrued to Obama's benefit, because he's the new kid on the block. Furthermore, the greater attention makes more people aware of his clear anti-Iraq war views -- and Hillary's more complicated position. It happens that African-Americans have been the most solidly anti-Iraq electoral group for some time.

Now, they have a candidate with whom they can coalesce their views.

The anti-war element in the country may also be a factor in McCain's losing support to Rudy Giuliani among Republicans. While the former New York mayor supports the war, McCain has attached himself to George W. Bush -- particularly with respect to the surge -- to such an extent that the war has now become "his." Yes, McCain has many problems with respect to the GOP base, but Iraq remains the predominant issue. And the news that McCain did make last week was all about the war: He went after Rumsfeld; Cheney went after him for going after Rumsfeld, etc. And Giuliani's lead increased: This suggests that Republican electorate is sick of the war as well, but want to vote for a clear, authoritative leader: Right now, that seems to be Rudy.

Both McCain and Hillary are losing support to candidates who have no fingerprints on either the authorization or strategic implementation of the Iraq war.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

NYC Noted & Notorious

It's been a while since we looked in on local (non-comic) matters:

1) If one needs a reason for why immigration is the most under-addressed current public policy issue, this article on Mount Vernon, NY, should provide it:

As immigrants increasingly settle away from large urban centers — New York’s suburbs have had a net gain of 225,000 since 2000, compared with 44,000 in the city — many are waiting months or even years to get into government-financed English classes, which are often overcrowded and lack textbooks.

A survey last year by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials found that in 12 states, 60 percent of the free English programs had waiting lists, ranging from a few months in Colorado and Nevada to as long as two years in New Mexico and Massachusetts, where the statewide list has about 16,000 names.

The United States Department of Education counted 1.2 million adults enrolled in public English programs in 2005 — about 1 in 10 of the 10.3 million foreign-born residents 16 and older who speak English “less than very well,” or not at all, according to census figures from the same year. Federal money for such classes is matched at varying rates from state to state, leaving an uneven patchwork of programs that advocates say nowhere meets the need.

“We have a lot of folks who need these services and who go unserved,” said Claudia Merkel-Keller of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, noting that her state has waiting lists in every county, “from beginner all the way through proficient level.” New Jersey, like New York and many other states, does not keep statewide figures on how many people are on waiting lists.

Luis Sanchez, 47, a Peruvian truck driver for a beer distributor in New Brunswick, has been in this country 10 years — and on the waiting list for English classes in Perth Amboy five months. “You live from day to day, waiting to get the call that you can come to class,” Mr. Sanchez said in Spanish, explaining that he knew a little English but wanted to improve his writing skills so he could apply for better jobs. “I keep on waiting.”

Mr. Sanchez is unlikely to get the call soon: Perth Amboy’s Adult Education Center recently discovered that it was operating in the red and canceled 9 of its 11 evening classes in English as a second language, including all at beginner and intermediate levels. In Orange County, N.Y., where the immigrant population doubled in the past 16 years, the Board of Cooperative Education Services’ adult education program has stopped advertising for fear its already overflowing beginner classes will be overwhelmed.

Put aside the classic Times-ian assumption of a negligent level of "government-financed English classes": The sheer numbers and variety of immigrants -- and their languages -- that are coming into the United States is creating incredible pressures on budgets across the board. The article points out that the number of " foreign-born residents 18 years or older in 2005" jumped 18 percent in just the last five years, to about 32.6 million. It is safe to assume that only a small minority of that figure have English as their first language. When competition for education funding is tight, it is no wonder that immigrants bear the brunt of taxpayer hostility: At the elementary school level, immigrant children who haven't mastered English are seen as taking away scarce dollars that might otherwise be going into math, science or extra-curricular. At the adult level, non- or poor-English speaking immigrants are seen as taking away dollars from, say, continuing-education programs increasingly needed for middle age Americans fearful of job-loss.
Don't expect a prescription here. This is just an observation about the roots of middle-class anxiety and, often, outright hostility toward open immigration.

2) On a somewhat lighter topic, the New York City Council debates the "N-word" and prepares a resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of it. Because, like, you know there is a virtual epidemic of public figures using it in official events. Well, in truth there wasn't -- until yesterday's New York City Council hearing on the use of the "N"-word. Please.

3) Memo to anyone planning on having a meeting with Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York: Check your home -- he may be sending some goons over to padlock the place. Egan scheduled a meeting with Father Eugene Sawicki, pastor of Our Lady of Vilnius in lower Manhattan, which was one of several parishes recently ordered closed down. Sawicki and Vilnius parishoners have been protesting the closure.

Well, Sawicki went to the meeting thinking that he might get a fair hearing from Egan. PSYCHE! Egan sent security ("Absolute Security" is the firms' name, believe it or not) to padlock the Our Lady of Vilnius! This raises two interesting points: First, scheduling the meeting so you can lure a protesting priest out of "his" home and locking the place up may not be technically a lie (which is a sin), but it does seem like an action more befitting a hard-hearted landlord rather than the local head of a church. Second, one wonders -- during the high point of the church's child abuse scandal -- how many U.S. churches were ever shut down with the offending priests permanently locked out?

Just asking.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

 

Oscar Blogging

UPDATE IV: Okay, so, it wasn't the mini-sweep for Pan's Labryinth that it seemed early on. Pan was upset for Best Foreign Film by the German entry, The Lives of Others. Meanwhile, the Academy's continued dissing of Dreamgirls (excepting Best Supporting Actress, Jennifer Hudson -- who did right by giving a shout to predecessor Jennifer Holliday who originated her role in the Broadway version) continued: Melissa Etheridge beat out three different entries from the faux Motown musical to win with her An Inconvenient Truth theme, "I Need To Wake Up." As an aside, I will admit to having a soft spot for Etheridge for some time, back to when she was just an all-out rock and roller. Given that she recovered from cancer over the last year (her showing up with a shaved head from chemotherapy at last year's Grammy Awards was a highlight) and that she had a song -- and person (Al Gore) -- that it was only too obvious that the Academy wanted to reward, her win shouldn't be considered that much of a surprise.

Speaking of Gore, the schtick between the former VP and Leonardo DiCaprio was saved from being completely interminable by the gag at the end where going-on-too-long music played just as Gore was began to make a "major announcement."

Forest Whitaker gave a splendid acceptance speech for The Last King Of Scotland that was equal parts spiritual, philosophical and genuine -- very classy. Exactly how did a movie like Fast Times At Ridgemont High manage to "graduate" both Sean Penn and Whitaker?

And, a little under four hours, Martin Scorsese finally won his elusive Best Director Oscar -- delivered by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola (with an all-star group like that presenting, how could they not give it to Scorsese?). So what if The Departed was his least-deserving picture? The Academy has a history of these "make-up" awards. Denzel Washington should probably have won for either Malcolm X or The Hurricane; instead he got the Best Actor for Training Day. And, the year Washington was beaten out for Malcolm X, it was because the Academy had to give it to Al Pacino for Scent Of A Woman -- when he should have gotten it for, say, The Godfather, Pt II.

Finally, a word about Ellen DeGeneres: As mentioned before, her monologue wasn't hilarious, but her "crowd work" was great. Trying to get Scorsese to "read" a script she was pushing was funny. Even better was her "directing" Spielberg to take a digital camera picture of her and Clint Eastwood. DeGeneres clearly enjoyed being there and had a great interaction with everyone in the audience.

UPDATE III: Alan Arkin wins first big award of night -- Best Supporting Actor for Little Miss Sunshine. Pre-Oscar favorite Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) probably can thank Norbit for costing him the Oscar. The comedy brought in a lot of money in its opening week, but it was so poorly received critically, such a gross throwback to "old" Eddie Murphy and so damn ubiquitously advertised during the voting period, that there was no way the Academy could give him an award this year.

UPDATE II: Pan's Labyrinth, an avante-garde fantasy flick from Mexico wins both technical categories in which it was nominated. Expect it to win Best Foreign Film.

Best line in Ellen DeGeneres monologue (political content aside): "Jennifer Hudson -- on American Idol, America didn't vote for you, but you're nominated for an Oscar. Al Gore -- America DID vote for you, and you're also nominated for..."

Very funny (though the rest of her monologue was "cute", there were no knee-slapping lines).

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RAG on NPR

It's a rare Friday appearance pour moi on "News and Notes". The Hillary/Barack spat and Deval Patrick kerfuffle are the big topics. I'm on with former Civil Rights Commission Chair Mary Frances Berry and Washington Post editor Joe Davidson.

Oh, and I'll be back Monday for my regular N&N slot.

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NYC Comic Con Images

UPDATE: I don't remember who it was, but someone recently told me that the comic-book related posts had been somewhat infrequent of late -- particularly given that "comic books" is part of the mission statement of this blog. And they are quite correct. I have been slacking on the comic book stuff.

Well that stops this week. In addition to the Con coverage (of which there will be more later tonight and ongoing this week), we will get back to regular snapshots of what I consider to be important single issues or trade paperbacks -- and perhaps a profile or two of significant creator (probably of the Silver Age variety, since that is what I grew up with). Comics have been an important part of my life, so I think it fair that they be restored to their spot here!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these shots here. I took quite a few during my truncated two days at the Second Annual New York Comic Con. More to come.



The Star Wars "Empire" was in full effect at Comic Con!



Keith Giffen, primary artistic "auteur" on DC's weekly juggernaut, 52.




What would a convention be without fanboys drooling over Wonder Woman?



Joe Kelly, writer of the great revamped Space Ghost DC mini-series(among other projects).



Two Mistresses of Magic are better than one! Yup, double Zatannas (or perhaps I should say, "sannataZ elboud, puY!")



Great Silver Age artist (and former DC publisher) Carmine Infantino. Most famous for his work on the Barry Allen Flash's early years.

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