Saturday, June 29, 2019

Top 10 Unbuilt Disney Themed Restaurants or Shops

We have been watching the Toy Story films and cartoons this week to prep for Toy Story 4.  In doing so, I was struck by a few things in Toy Story.  First, it's amazing how far the animation has progressed.  The film seemed so amazing when it appeared over 25 years ago, but it definitely looks cruder and rougher compared to today's computer animation, and it's very noticeable. 

Second, I was struck by a number of places I'd like to visit in those films.  As the trend in theme parks and themed design has moved to exact recreations of places from film and television, it would seem these would be a license to print money for the Disney company.  But as of yet, they have not been created anywhere.

That got me to thinking, what other restaurants or stores have been drawn or placed in Disney/Pixar/etc. films that would be wonderfully translated into real places to experience or visit?  What other examples can be named of such a missed opportunity?

So, without further ado, the Top 10 Disney restaurants or shops that need to be built as soon as possible.
  1. Pizza Planet (Toy Story)- yes, Disneyland has renamed Rocket Red's Pizza Port to Alien Pizza Planet, but it is no recreation.  Why has there not been a Pizza Planet restaurant, with the exact designed exterior?  With a Whack an Alien Machine, the Alien Slime Slushes, an exact replica Alien Claw machine with the three-eyed aliens in it?  Pizza Planet Truck parked outside?  This would be amazing.
  2. Al’s Toy Barn (Toy Story 2) - again, a play-set version of this has been built in Shanghai, but a real version of the Toy Barn is just begging to be implemented.  This would be the perfect place for Toy Story merchandise. And it's very surprising it has not yet been done.  
  3. Poultry Palace (Small Fry, Toy Story Toon) - A fast-food, castle themed poultry place from the Toy Story Toons.  I know I want the Fry Gauntlet and the Nuggets of the Round Table advertised in the short.  This would seem to be a great opportunity for Disney to create their own kids meals for sale in their theme parks.
  4. Harryhausen’s (Monsters, Inc.) - A Monster themed Japanese/sushi restaurant named for the pioneer of stop-motion monsters.  It would be such a perfect addition to a Monsters Inc./University/At Work section.
  5. Cars Drive In (Cars)- The proposed addition to Cars Land that has not yet been built.  An interior drive-in style restaurant like the Sci-Fi Dine In, but with Cars style vehicles and Cars universe clips on the drive in screen.  Again, it seems like an addition that should have already been built long ago.
  6. Ink & Paint Club (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) - A toon speakeasy, with the password "Walt sent me" for access.  Classic toon craziness combined with an art deco club.  Would be a perfect addition for Hollywoodland in Disney California Adventure or Sunset Boulevard in Disney Hollywood Studios.
  7. Tiana’s Place (The Princess and the Frog) - A beautiful jazz kitchen from Disney's New Orleans based film.  The food and music alone would make this worth it.
  8. Flynn’s Arcade (Tron) -  An epic arcade with 80s games and music blaring, especially Journey. Make this a barcade and this would be a great addition to Disney Springs.
  9. Lucky Cat Cafe (Big Hero 6) - An interesting cafe with smoothies, macarons, and sandwiches, with a San Franciscan/Japanese hybrid looking fitting for San Fransokyo.  Would be a great addition to Disney California Adventure. 
  10. Shawarma Palace (Avengers) - A perfect addition to a Marvel land, with the opportunity to join the Avengers in trying shawarma.  A little piece of the MCU realized in this world.
I think each of these options would be great additions to Disney's theme parks and regional entertainment centers.  Each would be a bit of themed design, each would represent a popular IP or location that Disney has created, and each would round out existing locations Disney has created.

What locations from film have you always wanted to visit? What fictional restaurants have you wanted to partake at?

Friday, June 28, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 43 - Further Acquisitions

For the last entry in the If I Were Disney CEO series before the conclusion, I wanted to turn a focus to additional companies and assets that I believe Disney should acquire to add to their stable.  Of late,  Disney has seemed to be on a purchasing spree with ABC/Cap Cities, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Fox.  These acquisitions have all either stemmed from an existing partnership or filled a whole in Disney's perceived reach.

The acquisitions below fall into different categories.  First, a certain set springs from a naturally occurring partnership that could only be strengthened by bringing the partner company in house.  The next set is comprised of individual assets that need to be acquired in order to fully monetize an existing Disney property.  Finally,  there are a handful of resort adjacent experiences that should be acquired to round out particular parks and resorts.

Natural Partnerships:
  • The Jim Henson Company - This is the deal that should have been reached by Eisner when the Muppets were acquired, but there were too many missteps along the way.  This would seem to be mutually beneficial to both the Muppets and to the Jim Henson Company.  The Muppets have suffered from not having a creative lead and Brian and Lisa Henson would be excellent fits.  The Jim Henson Company has struggled to establish an identity apart from their most successful creations.  The two parts should be reunited under the Disney umbrella, to allow for full utilization.  Disney now would even have a branch for the more adult humor projects of the Jim Henson Company through 20th Century Fox.  True, this deal would not include the Sesame Street characters, but it is needed.
  • Studio Ghibli - The Japanese masters of hand drawn animation.  As addressed in the post on Walt Disney Feature Animation, I believe that Disney should be unmatched in all forms of animation, and to that goal, having an anime studio would be a great asset.  Ghibli is the undisputed king of anime film and Disney has had a previous partnership thanks to Pixar's appreciation of Miyazaki.  This arrangement would provide Ghibli an international distribution arm and would give Disney access to incredible content for the Tokyo parks.  A match made in heaven.
  • Aardman Animatnion - Under similar reasoning as Studio Ghibli, Disney needs a stop-motion animation arm.  Aardman carries very unique sensibilities and very British sensibilities, which would be beneficial in continuing to foster the international company that Disney has become.  Laika would also be a good fit here, but they have much stronger ties to Universal.  Aardman has always been and fought to be independent and it's that streak that sealed their choice for me.
  • MGM - It's no secret that the once great MGM has been struggling in recent years.  And while this deal is not as sweet as it could have been in years past thanks to the sale of its pre-1986 assets, it is still fairly impressive with the post-1986 library, the United Artists Library, and the Orion library.  In particular, this would get access to the Bond, Rocky, and Robocop franchises.    It would also restore the possibility of the Disney MGM Studios branding.  With 20th Century Fox added to the stable, this is not as important of an acquisition, but a possibility nonetheless. 
  • Feld Entertainment - Feld Entertainment is the producer of the Disney on Ice and Disney Arena shows.  That alone would be reason to bring this in house.  But the real reason I would seek to acquire Feld is the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  I know the circus has stopped touring, but the cache of the name recognition of this circus, tied into the the themed areas that Disney makes famous like Main Street, would make this a no brainer.  Imagine being able to have an official Barnum and Bailey Circus off Main Street.  Or to combine production styles to have Lion King Broadway style puppets to represent the animals in the historic shows, with the aerialists, gymnasts, and other entertainers in the current circus.  
  • Hasbro - This is a combination of Hasbro already having the major Disney licenses like Marvel, Star Wars, etc.  and Hasbro being home to some classic properties that were classic Marvel comics.  GI Joe, Transformers, and ROM Space Knight all had classic runs as Marvel Comics and have never quite reached that success in subsequent runs.  As we've seen with Star Wars and Conan, it's been good when these properties come back home to Marvel.  This would be a great synergy to achieve this and would also provide great additional fodder for future Toy Story movies.

Individual Assets for full monetization:
  • Roger Rabbit - Currently the rights to this are shared with Amblin and Steven Spielberg, such that any future development requires Spielberg's sign off and approval.  Roger could be a great character to reintroduce, but Disney needs full control.  I would trade Spielberg the rights to his films made under the Dreamworks SKG/Disney Partnership in exchange for the Rabbit.  Perhaps then the sequel could get made using The Stooge as an inspiration for an Oswald/Roger pairing.
  • The Rocketeer - Dave Stevens character made a great 1990s Disney film, but has fallen into beloved obscurity due to Stevens untimely death.   While there have been subsequent comic adaptations by a host of great artists and writers, the Rocketeer has never quite soared to the heights that he could.  I would love to see Disney get control of this character to be able to explore the sequels that have been suggested both in film and television.
  • Dick Tracy - Another interesting movie from the 1990s whose sequel has languished in development hell.  The comic has continued, but even that has had the rights tied up forever.  I would have Disney work through the necessary untangling to see the classic detective in yellow brought under their stable.  Potential for a Marvel comic and further development in film and television, particularly with the great color aesthetic the Beatty film established.
  • Conan - While the comic has come home to Marvel, I'd like to see the rights fully utilized by the company.  This one is about making sure Conan is always a Marvel comic.  Further, the three properties above (Rocketeer, Dick Tracy, and Conan) would all make good pulp properties for development under Lucasfilm for television and film projects.  

Resort Adjacent Experiences:
  • Sports Teams around Anaheim - Disney previously owned the Anaheim Ducks and the Anaheim Angels.  Given the proximity to the Disneyland Resort, the Anaheim Angels made a large amount of sense.  With the Disneyland resort nearly completely locked into its current size and almost at full build out, rounding out the resort experience is going to take partnerships.  Arts and entertainment is easy to add - Downtown Disney has previously had live music opportunities and a movie theater.  A theater for live performance would be easy to add.  Sporting would require alternate arrangements.  Reinvesting in those previous properties as well as seeking to add perhaps one of the Los Angeles basketball and soccer teams with a new, Anaheim located stadium would seem to provide lots of opportunities to attract and keep tourists at the Disneyland resort longer.  Further, should a baseball team like the Anaheim Angels be acquired, perhaps Disney could arrange it so that their spring training is at the Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World, to replace the leaving Atlanta Braves.  If not the suggestion for Disney World would be to acquire a minor league ball team that could play a fuller season at the Walt Disney World complex.
  • Properties along Harbor in Anaheim - I know this is already happening, but Disney needs as much real estate along Harbor adjacent to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as possible.  If Disney wants to be able to create a real resort bubble in California, it needs as much of this land as it can acquire.
  • Mears Transportation - Mears is an Orlando based bus and taxi service that has expanded into several United States markets.  Mears has had a long standing relationship with the Walt Disney Company and has operated the Magical Express buses for the Walt Disney World Resort since their inception.  As Walt Disney World begins to grow and to truly develop the infrastructure needed to manage their city down there in Florida, it may be beneficial to have a master transportation company running the buses around the property.  Further, their connections in many other United States markets would be beneficial for the potential third Disney resort and Regional based entertainment.  It would be an increase in liability, but worth exploring.The list below is not exclusive, but is a fairly comprehensive list of the remaining assets I would see to acquire.  The rest of Disney's future would lie in its inherent ability to create.
This list is not exclusive, but fairly comprehensive in terms of my recommendations for further acquisitions.  After this list is completed, it would be time to focus on internal development.

Up next in the series - finally, a conclusion

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Not My Type"

President Trump has, yet again, been accused of sexual assault in his past.

E. Jean Carroll, a New York-based writer and longtime women’s advice columnist, accused President Trump of sexually assaulting her more than two decades ago in a dressing room of an upscale Manhattan department store.  The encounter was revealed in an excerpt of a book published Friday, June 21, 2019.  In an interview with The Washington Post on that afternoon, Carroll reiterated the allegations, saying that Trump attacked her in her dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in late 1995 or early 1996.  She described the attack in great detail.  

She chose to reveal her story now, hoping that it “will empower women to come forward and not feel bad … I blamed myself and I was silent and I felt guilty.  I beat up myself terrible.”  Carroll is one of 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the pasta several decades.  Most spoke out just weeks before the 2016 election after the revelation of the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

Trump for his part has of course denied the allegations, dubbing them fake news; that Carroll was “totally lying.”  “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type.  Number two, it never happened.  It never happened, OK?"

There's something very telling that Trump's first dodge is to say "she's not my type."  It’s a downplaying of the crime.  It deflects by tying sexual assault to more traditional sexual relations.  The misconception that sexual assault happens because someone gets carried away by their sexual desires and/or hormones and loses control.  That the person is so captivated by attraction to the other person that they just have to have them.

While sex is undoubtedly part of sexual assault, such attraction is rarely a component part of the assault.  Sexual assault is first and foremost violence.  It’s a violent attack.  An attack based on power and control, happening because perpetrators put their desires over the other person’s.  

This is an important distinction.  Framing sexualized violence as about sex and not about violence puts the focus on the perpetrator’s narrative and not the survivor’s.  Focusing on the perpetrator’s narrative leads society to blame the victim or not hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions.  Or to be able to deny anything ever happened because the perpetrator could not possibly be attracted to the victim - to believe the perpetrator over the victim.  A part of the continued narcissism of the perpetrator that they are not the problem.  

The GOP for their part has decided to stand by Trump, choosing to believe him over Ms. Carroll.  All I would say: We live in an environment where people can come forward.  That’s good.  But allegations like this have to be cautiously reviewed,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham with a slight eye roll.  Trump was “firm.  Unequivocal.  I have no reason not to” believe him.  

Were this one accusation against Trump, it would be one thing.  But it's part of a series of accusations against him, including one from his former wife, Ivana.  Part of the televised bragging of sexual assault as a come on technique in the Access Hollywood tape.  

The pattern of a man who thinks he can takes what he wants.

At what point do the numbers tip the scales?  At what point do the number of victims give us pause?  Do they reveal a pattern of misconduct?  Paint the picture of a serial assaulter?   At what point do his own words trap him?

Every time you think we've hit bottom, we just keep digging further down.  

How much more is going to happen over the next year and a half?

Do I really want to know the answer to that question?

Monday, June 24, 2019

Safe and Sanitary

ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Treatment of Prisoners

Standard 23-3.5 Provision of Necessities

(a) Correctional authorities should maintain living quarters and associated common areas in a sanitary condition.  Correctional authorities should be permitted to require prisoners able to perform cleaning tasks to do so, with necessary materials and equipment provided to them regularly and without charge.

“'Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,’ the inspector general’s office said in its report, which noted that some detainees were observed standing on toilets in the cells ‘to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.’"

(b) Correctional authorities should provide prisoners with clean, appropriately sized clothing suited to the season and facility temperature and to the prisoner’s work assignment and general, in quantities sufficient to allow for a daily change of clothing.  Prisoners should receive opportunities to mend and machine launder their clothing if the facility does not provide these services.  Correctional authorities should implement procedures to permit prisoners to wear street clothes when they appear in court before a jury.

“Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said.  Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants.  Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk."

(c) Correctional authorities should provide prisoners, without charge, basic individual hygiene items appropriate for their gender, as well as towels and bedding, which should be exchanged or laundered at least weekly.  Prisoners should also be permitted to purchase hygiene supplies in a commissary.  

“Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said.  They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.

‘There is a stench,’ said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. ‘ The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.’”

Consider this one of the semi-regular reminders that we have a humanitarian crisis of our own creation at the border.  From descriptions from the lawyers who have been able to go into the detention facilities and speak with their immigrant clients, we have hundreds of children and young people detained in the most deplorable conditions possible. 

Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and one of the lawyers who has visited the facilities, said the conditions in the Clint facility were the worst she had seen in any facility in her twelve year career.  “So many children are sick, they have the flu, and they’re not being properly treated,” she said.

The children are locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long,” Ms. Mukherjee said.  “A few of the kids said they had some opportunities to go outside and play, but they said they can’t bring themselves to play because they are trying to stay alive in there.

The children told the lawyers that they were given the same meals every day, repetitive and not enough.  “Nearly every child I spoke with said that they were hungry.

Similar conditions have been discovered at six other facilities in Texas.  At the Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, the lawyers found a 17-year-old mother from Guatemala who couldn’t stand because of complications from an emergency C-section, and who was caring for a sick and dirty premature baby.  “They wouldn’t give her any water to wash her.

We know these conditions are deplorable, and yet our government is arguing that basic sanitation should not be mandated under the legal settlement governing the facilities.  The guidelines require that a facility for children must be “safe and sanitary.”  And our government has argued that soap and toothbrushes are not necessary for safe and sanitary. The Justice Department’s lawyer, Sarah Fabian, argued that the settlement agreement did not specify the need to supply hygienic items and that, therefore, the government did not need to do so.

Here’s the thing - as we can see above, we treat prisoners better than we are treating migrant children at the border.  We make sure that prisoners - murderers, thieves, rapists, predators - we make sure they have clean clothes, they have soap, the are able to wash, to make sure they are fed and clean.  To not do so would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

So why is it okay to forgo all those necessities at the border?

Is it just out of sight, out of mind?

Or have we really de-humanized them that much?  

Because they are not American?

Or, because they are brown?

Are we that callous as a society?

I know there is a part of society that assumes that everyone crossing the border deserves this fate because they are not coming the right way.  Despite the fact that illegal crossing was previously a misdemeanor - punished by a fine or very minimal incarceration.  Even if we were to treat these migrants as the most heinous criminals, we still see that our treatment of them does not match our traditional punishment for crimes.

That’s even overlooking the minor detail that these are children.  Children we are subjecting to the worst and most inhumane treatment we can offer.

‘Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you’ve got an aluminum foil blanket?’  Judge William Fletcher asked Ms. Fabian. ‘ I find it inconceivable that the government would say that is safe and sanitary.’

Me too.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 42 - Publishing: Marvel Comics

This transaction combines Marvel’s strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney’s creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories.  Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value.  We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney.

We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.
Bob Iger, Disney CEO, August 31, 2009

Disney Publishing Worldwide represents the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Company.  Incorporated in 1992 as the Disney Publishing Group, it contained the already created Disney Press, Hyperion Books, and Hyperion Books for Children.  It has covered the Disney Magazine and Disney book apps.  It also includes imprints for ESPN and Marvel, and can be expanded to include Lucasfilm and Fox.

Under this division, I would like to focus on Marvel Comics.

Marvel Comics started in 1939 as Timely Comics publishing characters such as Captain America and the Human Torch, as well as funny animal comics.  By the 1950s, the company had become known as Atlas Comics and had primarily become known for romance, western, humor, war, and adventure comics.  By 1961, Marvel Comics became the name imprint, introducing a wave of superhero throughout the 1960s that have become the popular movie heroes of today.  

Over the decades since, Marvel has experimented in various ways, with all forms of content and format.  It has gone from extreme highs to near bankruptcy.  On August 31, 2009, the Walt Disney Company announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.  

Though Marvel characters are at the forefront of modern pop culture, comics continue to be a dwindling medium.  Therefore, the recommendations below will be focused on regrowing the comics audience.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Expand out of the Direct Market - In the early years of comic books, comics were available in newsstands and drugstores.  They were a mass market publication, returnable like magazines.  This is why they sold millions in the golden age - comics were available at 10 cents on every street corner.  Since the 1980s, comics have moved almost exclusively to the direct market.  Comic book shops and the like.  Stores that sell only comics to comics fans.  This saved comics then, but it is time to move beyond the direct market to save them again. Digital is helping, particularly with tablets at the appropriate size for the comic form.  But comics need to move back to where the customers are.  Walmarts, Targets, grocery stores, convenience stores.  The Distinguished Competition has expanded into Wal-mart with exclusive reprint collections with new material from top creators.  Marvel needs a similar program to capitalize on the popularity of their characters now.
  • Continue to Explore the Boundaries of Digital - Digital above provides a great access to a large customer base, with no limitation on stock and lower production costs.  The exploration of digital only or digital premier series should be continued, though at a lower initial cost.  
  • Find ways to bring the price of an individual comic down - We’re approaching $5 for a single issue of a comic.  That’s not for a whole story, that’s for, often, one piece of a six part story.  The cost of comics has risen astronomically, from it’s 10 cent days.  And $5 is  getting extreme, when there are other companies and series that can keep the cost at $3 an issue.  The value ratio has to get back to a better level, whether through the lower cost at $3 or through more content in the single issue.  Maybe it's also time to explore new paper stock.
  • Bring all Disney imprints under Marvel Comics - Currently, the kid friendly comics containing Disney characters and even Marvel heroes are being licensed to and published by other comic companies.  There is no reason this should continue.  Any comic produced of a Disney property should run through Marvel Comics.  Disney characters like Scrooge McDuck, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy have had great success worldwide as comic books.  It just should be under the Marvel or Disney banner, not Joe Comics or IDW.  If it is production related cost issues, that should be addressed and fixed.
  • Limit the number of titles published a month - There is no need to overwhelm the racks with 52 titles like a month Distinguish Competitor did.  Forty titles still comes out to 10 a week.  It would be better to have a more focused line of titles that could be picked up in larger numbers by readers than a bunch of collectors that pick up only one a month.
  • Rethink the numbering schedule - It may be time to adapt a more "season based" schedule, starting over with a number one for each year, each storyline, etc.  Legacy numbering could be kept just for indicia and for legacy, but it does not convey any information to the reader.  Numbering based on a storyline would clearly indicate to readers how to follow the title, plus allowing for a greater number of jumping on points (given the already increasing number of new issue number ones).
  • Bring back the anthologies - It's time for continuing titles like Marvel Comics Presents, Journey Into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish.   Opportunities to try out new talent.  New stories.  Lesser known characters.  Perhaps digital only, or digital first.  A place for mini-series, or short stories.  A place to experiment.  I see this as the equivalent of the shorts program.  Every division needs an experiment division.
Imprints I would keep alive through Marvel Comics:
  • Marvel - for the well known superheroes, Lucasfilm properties
  • Disney - for Mickey and Friends, Pixar, Disney Animated, and Disney Kingdoms stories
  • Epic - for creator owned, experimental, and non-franchise related
  • Max - For the harder-edged, adult comics - crime, horror, and the like
Hopefully, with these adjustments, comics could begin to thrive again.  'Nuff said!

Next in the series - the penultimate entry, regarding other proposed acquisitions.

Friday, June 21, 2019

God's Work of Art

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
Ephesians 2:10

Growing up in church as long as I have, this verse has been well read and taught often.  Despite this, I've always had a flawed understanding of the reference to workmanship.  Perhaps its because of our modern manufacturing processes, but I've always seen the term workmanship just as a reference to creation.  That we're His work, his handiwork, the product of His hands.  A verse that indicates that God made us.  That's worthy of celebrating, but it's not all that the verse intends to convey.

The word for masterpiece in the original Greek is ποίημα or poiēma.  It's the word from which we derive poem.  We are God's poetry.  It's what leads translations like the New Living Translation to interpret this section as "For we are God's masterpiece."  And that is something that goes far beyond our traditional understanding of workmanship.

It connects us back to the days of the artisan craftsman.  When the builder, the carpenter was not someone who just built something functional, but someone who devoted their time and talent to create unique, one-of-a-kind creations and works of art.  Where each piece represented the best of their ability.

It would seem that treating this verse as referring to works of art would require us to remember a few things.

1. In works of art, each component has a purpose -   Each brushstroke, each chisel, each line, each dot, each color - everything has a purpose and it is part of the grand design of the artist.  It's this detail that draws the appreciation.  I think of the art of Jackson Pollock.  Though it may look like a mess, each drip, every line, every stroke has been placed there with a purpose.  It has been designed that way.  It may not seem like it, but this is the exact piece that Pollock intended to create.

One: Number 31, 1950
Have you been undervaluing the strokes and drips in your life and treating them as a mess, as opposed to part of God's artwork?

2. Works of art are unique creations, not mass produced - Works of art are individual creations of their creator. The crowds want to see the original Mona Lisa, not a print of it, no matter how high the quality.  They want to see the brush work, the original canvas.  This is a great distinction between God's masterpiece/poem/work of art and God's handiwork.  I think we today have an interpretation of handiwork being mass produced.  God may have made us, but he made everyone and used a similar mold.  When an artist creates in a similar motif, he creates variations, not copies.  Like Monet's series, such as Houses of Parliament.  The same subject is painted, but each one features different characteristics no matter how slight.

Houses of Parliament, London
Houses of Parliament, Sunset

Have you been trying to live as a high quality print of someone else's masterpiece instead of as your own unique variation?

3. Each work of art conveys a message - Art is supposed to move us.  It is supposed to make us feel something.  To learn something.  It can speak to our highest euphoria.  And can discuss our greatest tragedies.  Like Guernica, Picasso's most powerful anti-war painting.  The response to the Spanish Civil War destroyed the town of Guernica and Picasso's painting draws stark attention to it's horrors.

What message has God given your life?  What unique testimony has he given you?

4. Works of art are meant to be displayed - We recognize that art is meant to be seen.  Experienced.  Heard.  Art is sensory.  It's not meant to be hidden.  It's why we put it on display in a gallery.  On a stage.  In a concert hall.

Like our live's, meant to be on display.  To display God's power.  His holiness.  His grace.  His love.  His mercy.  Our marriages are meant to be a picture of Christ and the Church.  We as members of the Church are to be a picture of how love is supposed to work.

When thought of that way, it's a little easier to see how we are supposed to be God's work of art.  And that has the potential to be radically transforming.

I mean, think about it - how would your life change if you thought of yourself as God's masterpiece?  Is that something that could even enter your train of thought?  That God designed you to be a work of art displayed proudly for all to see?

I firmly believe, if we all recognized this, and believed it, we would live dramatically different lives.  We would live the unique life that He has designed us to have.  We would proclaim the testimony and purpose that He has given us to all the world.

And we would credit our creator with the beauty that He has given us.

One work of art to another.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Stare Decisis

"When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple:  We should not follow it."
Justice Thomas, Gamble v. United States, Concurrence

Stare decisis is Latin for "to stand by things decided."  It is one of the fundamental, governing principles of our judiciary.  The doctrine of precedent.  

The doctrine “promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.”  This results in a system in which the court need not continuously reevaluate the legal underpinnings of past decisions and doctrines.  It operates in a horizontal and vertical manner.  Horizontal stare decisis refers to a court following its own precedent.  In vertical stare decisis, the court applies precedent from a higher court.  

It is an important doctrine, but it is not all-controlling.  Judge Rehnquist explained that stare decisis is not an “inexorable command,” as the Court can overrule precedent, but does so with through an exercise of caution.  Precedent can be overruled if the prior decision is deemed unworkable or in the event of significant societal changes.  

Though the doctrine has been applied through our judicial history, comments by Justice Thomas made Monday, June 17, 2019, in his concurrence in the Gamble v. United States matter have brought the application of stare decisis into question.

My view of stare decisive requires adherence to the decisions made by the People - that is, to the original understanding of the relevant legal text - which may not align with decisions made by the Court,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas said the court should “restore” its jurisprudence relating to precedents to ensure it exercises “mere judgment” and focuses on the “correct, original meaning” of laws it interprets.  “In our constitutional structure, our rule of upholding the law’s original meaning is reason enough to correct course."

The late Justice Scalia told his biographer that Thomas “doesn’t believe in stare decisive, period,” and that “if a constitutional line of authority is wrong he would say let’s get it right.  I wouldn’t do that.

(And if the late Justice Scalia believes your view goes too far to the right, it probably goes too far.)

Other commentators go further.  “Thomas says legal questions have objectively correct answers, and judges should find them regardless of whether their colleagues or predecessors found different answers.”  Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The position is not unique.  There are many originalists who believe that the Constitution and legislation provide plain, unambiguous intent that should be followed.  And in several passages, that is true.  There are clear requirements that the President must be thirty-five years old, a senator will serve a six year term, and a representative will serve a two year term.

There are also several passages that are definitely ambiguous.  That need interpretation and adjustment.  What does "necessary and proper" really mean?  "High crimes and misdemeanors" has never really been defined.  "Equal protection under the law" in practice?

Even more troubling, what accounts for "demonstrably erroneous precedent?"  Thomas would expound that it refers to precedent that is "not a permissible interpretation of the text," but it raises the question of whose interpretation.  As an originalist, he would say, the founders, but that's not perfect.

Were we to follow Justice Thomas' repudiation of stare decisis to the letter, he would not be a person under the Constitution.  The founders certainly did not view African Americans as persons at the time.  That would take 90 years for a reinterpretation.  And another 90 years for Thomas to be able to wed his wife, with the court's decision in Loving.

What Thomas and other originalists really desire is to implement their interpretation.  To institute their vision of which cases have been decided correctly and to remove those cases which have been decided incorrectly according to their view.  To move away from a continually evolving recognition of rights and privileges back to a static set, locked in a pervious historical view.

That's the irony - they don't want to do away with precedent.  They want to focus on their particular choice of precedent.

That's no way to govern.  That's no way for the court to operate.

The doctrine of stare decisis already provides a method for improper decisions to be overturned.  It just makes it more difficult in order to ensure that changing settled and decided law is something that is warranted.  Something that is worked for.  Something that is not politically motivated, but is truly required by the spirit of jurisprudence.

It allows for Plessy v. Ferguson to be overturned by Brown v. the Board of Education, because separate is inherently unequal.  It allows for Bowers v. Hardwick to be overturned by Lawrence v. Texas, because what two consenting adults do in private affecting only the two of them should not be regulated by the state.  It allows Baker v. Nelson to be overturned by Obergefell v. Hodges, because sexual orientation does not invalidate equal protection of the law.

It's worth protecting and fighting for.  Not against.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

When Speech is Unacceptable

At what point is speech unacceptable in any form?

That is one of the underlying questions in the Kyle Kashuv-Harvard controversy.

For those of you who have not kept up with the events surrounding the controversy, Kyle Kashuv is a recent graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a survivor of the 2018 shooting at the school.  Like several of his classmates, he became famous in the days following the shooting for his activism.  His activism, though, ran in stark contrast to many of his classmates, as he became known for opposing gun control measures after the attack.  

Kashuv became the high school outreach director for the conservative group Turning Point USA and lobbied in favor of a federal “school safety” bill that attempts to address the school shooting problem without gun control.  In particular, he has become a conservative Twitter darling, with more than 300,000 followers.  

As a graduate, Kashuv had hoped to get into his first choice for college - Harvard University.  And his extracurriculars, together with excellent grades and a high SAT score, earned him admission to the prestigious university.  In late May though, a series of offensive comments he made roughly two years ago came to light, prompting Harvard to initiate a formal review of his admission.  

According to the comments reported to Huffington Post, reportedly acquired by other Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, Kashuv made racist comments in a collaborative Google Doc and in text messages.  In the Google Doc, Kashuv typed a racial slur over and over again, even commenting that “im really good at typing ni**er ok like practice uhhhhhh makes perfect.”  In the text messages, he seemed to demean a female classmate by saying she only “goes for ni**erjocks,”  suggesting that she would prefer such black men sexually to a “pasty jew.”

After the comments were reported by the Huffington Post in May, Kashuv distanced himself from the comments, arguing that the comments did not reflect any specific animus towards black people on his part, instead reflecting merely “using callous and inflammatory language to be as extreme and shocking as possible.”  Further, he stated that the comments happened before the Parkland shooting, which transformed the way he sees the world and made him “embarrassed by the petty, flippant kid represented in those screenshots.”  In this initial statement, he omitted an unequivocal apology.  

He would later include a more forthright apology in his email to Harvard’s diversity office.  “I am deeply sorry for my comments,” he wrote in that letter.  “There is always more I can do to understand and learn about the struggle and pain of minority communities in America and worldwide."

After the publication of the story in Huffington Post, Harvard began an inquiry into Kashuv’s comments.  Following the investigation, William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions, sent Kashuv a letter on June 3, saying that Harvard “takes seriously the quality of maturity and moral character,” and that “after careful consideration the [Admissions] Committee voted to rescind your admission to Harvard College.”  Kashuv tried to appeal to no avail.  On Monday morning, June 17, 2019, Kashuv tweeted out the letter from the university, igniting a firestorm in conservative circles.

By Monday afternoon, his name was trending nationally on Twitter.  Conservative media went all out with allegations of liberal bias in academia and the dangerous power of social media.  Ben Shapiro, prominent right-wing pundit, accused Harvard of setting up “an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet,” citing the incident as evidence that “our universities may be irrevocably broken."

I'm not sure about the "insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet."  I think you could find a lot of students who do not have any racists comments documented in their past.  But maybe that's just me.  But, the controversy does raise a few questions.  Among those raised online and in the news are ones regarding free speech, liberal bias in academia, racism, and forgiveness.  

First, we can dispose of any free speech concerns.  There is no action by the government; the First Amendment is not implicated.  Harvard is a private institution and can do as it pleases in admissions (so long as it does not implicate prohibited classes - race, sex, religion, etc.).  As for liberal bias in admissions, conservative ideology is not a protected class, and even if Harvard is choosing only liberal leaning students and completely blocking conservative leaning students, it would be perfectly legal.  Though it would be damaging for  society as a whole, it would still be permissible.  We do not need to go this far, though, as Kashuv was admitted to Harvard, and was only denied admission when his racist comments were brought to light.

The issue of racism becomes very complicated.  The Vox article on the controversy contains a good summary of the problem, pointing out how the right and the left have different views on racism and how to address it.  Conservatives view racism as a personal failing, seen as a set of explicitly held ideas and beliefs that reflect outright animus toward a group of people.  It is corrected by repudiating it and striving to not let race affect the way you speak and act.  In this worldview, the real threat isn’t the comments, but the impulse to punish people for them, preventing them from having room to grow and change.

Liberals and leftists see racism as a structural problem, reflected in institutions and deeply ingrained biases that lead even people who firmly believe in the ideals of equal treatment to act or speak in prejudiced ways.  This makes addressing the problem a work of great societal work, effort, and vigilance.  It also puts the emphasis on stopping the statements themselves, in whatever form they take, as a symptom of the greater problem.  After all, even “ironic” racism, like the kind used to shock and outrage, is still racism.

The tragedy of the divide between the viewpoints, is that racism is both.  It is both a personal failing and a societal ill, that needs to be addressed on a personal level by repudiation and on a societal level by changing the ingrained biases and making certain speech and actions unacceptable.

Harvard has arguably tried to address the societal issue by having a zero tolerance policy.  Kashuv is not the first student to have been denied previously granted admission based on offensive statements in their past.  In 2017, Harvard rescinded 10 other students’ admissions after it found out they were participating in a Facebook group that involved swapping racist and anti-semitic memes.  These 10 kids weren’t celebrities, they weren’t Twitter darlings, they didn’t have national visibility.  This makes Kashuv’s denial appear to be merely a continuation of the policy already in affect.  Not a targeted denial in any form.

The bigger question surrounds the personal failing and any repudiation Kashuv may have undertaken, and this is where it gets sticky.  Kashuv’s initial response to the story regarding his past comments included a statement that he did not have a specific animus, that he was just trying to be outrageous, and that the Parkland shooting transformed him in a way to be embarrassed by those statements, but stopped short of making an apology for the statements.  Such an initial statement can be seen as someone dodging responsibility for the statements while refusing to address or apologize for it except when threatened with losing something he wants (as he did when Harvard communicated the denial).   This kind of viewpoint would raise questions about the sincerity of any repudiation.  

Further, there have been a lot of commentary regarding holding two year old statements against him, as if they had no bearing.  This is not a “when I was young and foolish, I did young and foolish things” scenario.  These statements would have been made during his application process, evidence of contemporaneous thoughts reflecting his beliefs at the time.  There may have been an intervening event leading to a change of heart, but as discussed above, his statements following the reveal can be seen as more of an issue with being caught than a change of mind and heart.

So whether Kashuv deserves any sympathy or whether his lack of admission to Harvard is a great injustice, it’s hard to say.  But it does point to a problem that has the potential to be a great issue going forward.  As we continue to put more and more digital content out there into the world, there is more and more opportunity for it to be used against us.  And with the racial makeup of the United States and the tensions that still exist, this is just a small snapshot of what can happen in the future.   Joel Anderson of Slate put it, “So many more people can relate to calling someone a ’ni**er’ than being called ’ni**er.’  

From here, there are several important lessons that can be learned, with two specific lessons that I would like to discuss.  

First, it is important to have control over what is put out for public consumption.  Ultimately, while there are many things about your digital life that you cannot control (thank you Cambridge Analytica), what you put in email, what you put on Facebook, what you put on Twitter, what photos you take and share, those are all choices fully in your control.  The privacy settings that you can adjust on your social media accounts are all in your hands.  Who you choose to friend or follow on social media, or more importantly to allow to follow you, is in your control.  Remember to take control of these things.  Be cognizant and conscientious regarding what you share and with whom.  Only friend and follow people you know and trust and interact with on social media, particularly those you could discuss in person or over the phone to confirm.  

Once information is out there, it is being used in ways you cannot imagine.  Interviewers look over the Facebook pages of interviewees and evaluate their fit for the company based on what they see in addition to the interview.  Colleges look at the pages of their applicants.  Any number of places can comb over your profiles to present background information on you.  A little Big Brother that we have all agreed to.  And accordingly, there is a benefit to being a little paranoid regarding what you have as your digital footprint.  

Particularly due to point number two.

Second, for something intangible, digital traces are surprisingly permanent.   Whatever you tweet, whatever you post, it is still very easy to find it online.  Screenshots, images, backups all still exist.  It does not matter what social media platform you discuss, the result is still the same whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even Snapchat where the message was supposed to exist for only six seconds.  All it takes is one person to screen capture the message before it deletes and it can exist forever.  

This is the problem with sending nude pictures, particularly among underage students.  The kids do not realize that the pictures can be shared, can exist forever, can come back to haunt them for years regardless of how they were shared in the first place.  This does not even get into the potential child pornography issues that arise through the sharing of such photographs.  Again, all it takes is one person to save and share and you have a scandal.

The files on your computer are likewise very, very difficult to destroy.  Even if you "delete" them, even if you run a purge program, even if you wipe the hard drive, they still likely exist in some form.  To clean a hard drive, you really need to soak it in bleach, run it over with a powerful magnet, burn it, beat it repeatedly with a sledgehammer, and submerge it in a lake for a few weeks.  Even then, forensics might still be able to recover parts of it.

So, BE CAREFUL what you put on your computer.  BE CAREFUL what you put in email.  BE CAREFUL what you post on social media.  BE CAREFUL what you put out there into the world.  And be EXTRA careful who you give access to it.

That joke you think is funny to post now could end your career down the road.  That attempt to be shocking and provocative may be decried as offensive.  The strongly held belief you have now may be something that you cringe at in the future and could likewise mean the end of a career or relationship.  That act you thought would be funny to video and share today may be something that is actionable in the future.

While these services help us keep a record of our lives, memories that popup in our feed, we forget they are also keeping an evidentiary record of our statements, actions, and beliefs.  And we are seeing more and more that it can and will be used against us.

Be safe out there.

Monday, June 17, 2019

And She's Off...

It has been a long day already.  We've been up since before 3:00 am this morning to see Jamie off on her annual EF Tour with her students.  This is her tenth tour with EF; three teachers only, seven with students.

For this trip, she's headed to Costa Rica.  With the 10 day trip, they will truly get to explore this beautiful country.  Touring the volcano, the rainforest, and the Pacific coast.  Zip-lining, kayaking, whitewater rafting.  An exposure to the natural beauty and culture of the country.  Jamie for one is very excited, because she's been dying to go back there since participating in mission trips down that way.

For our part, the kids and I will be enjoying the time together.  Trips to the park, seeing the kids weekly morning movie at the local theater, heading down to visit family.  And trying to keep up with applications and statuses.

I don't normally ask, but if you would, keep Jamie and her students in your thoughts and prayers.  Prayers for safe travel and a wonderful experience.  It should be a great adventure, I just hope they get to enjoy it to the fullest.

I know three of us that will be anxiously looking forward to late next Wednesday night to pick her up and hear all about it.  I'm sure there will be a series of posts following showing all the great things they got to do.

In the interim,
Bon Voyage, Gorgeous!  Have a great trip.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, Dad!  Thank you for everything!

Sailing down behind the sun,
Waiting for my prince to come.
Praying for the healing rain
To restore my soul again.

Just a toe rag on the run.
How did I get here?
What have I done?
When will all my hopes arise?
How will I know him?
When I look in my father’s eyes.
My father’s eyes.
When I look in my father’s eyes.
My father’s eyes.

Then the light begins to shine
And I hear those ancient lullabies.
And as I watch this seedling grow,
Feel my heart start to overflow.

Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized
That’s when I need them,
That’s when I need my father’s eyes.
My father’s eyes.
That’s when I need my father’s eyes.
My father’s eyes.

Friday, June 14, 2019

This is Us @ 10

It's hard to believe how quickly time flies.  A decade.  Ten years married, over eleven years together.

We've seen each other through a lot.  We've grown together, fought together, laughed and cried together.  Loved together.

That time together represents two apartments.  Seven funerals.  The birth of four nephews.  Attending three marriage celebrations.  The birth of our two wonderful children.  Two miscarriages.  Many great trips.

And now, Jamie's sabbatical and my job transition.  An open future.  A fresh start for the next decade of our life together.

I've discussed repeatedly with Jamie how time so paradoxical.  It feels both like we have always been together, like it was always meant to be, and that we're still in a honeymoon phase.  We've both felt as if the ten years just flew by and know each and every single day of the full ten years.

Through it all, there is no one I would rather have by my side.

Bigger than Godzilla...
All the way to the moon...
To infinity and beyond...
To the ends of the earth!

I love you Gorgeous!  Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Hardest Part

One week into the job search, one week post termination...

There are many things to actually enjoy about this time.  Getting to spend more time with Jamie and the kids.  Sleeping in.  Not spending two to three hours on the road every day.  Opportunities for lunch with friends.  More time to write.

Yes, it comes with the typical challenges you would expect and the general fear for the future, but it has been a bit of a break in some ways.

The hardest part of the transition, though, is the break of the routine.  The things that I developed just as a normal part of the day.  It could be a grind, but it brought things to look forward to.

The drive may have been grueling at times, but there were parts that were enjoyable.  The hour-plus gave me plenty of time to listen to long form podcasts.  To take in various interviews with creatives.

The position gave me an opportunity to have a routine on the computer.  I built a good rhythm with writing the blog and balancing everything.

Just getting out of the house on a regular basis.  Time alone with thoughts and inspiration.

The harder part here now is getting a little stir crazy.  Feeling a little cooped up, being constantly on.  We can and do get out of the house with the kids, to keep them from climbing the walls, but at times, everyone just needs their own break.

It's easier to manage now, and we have been.  Jamie takes the kids out of the house for a bit so I can focus.  I'll watch them in evenings for meetings that she has with friends and students.  It's still something I can see being a bigger issue as time goes on.

To everyone who commented regarding my attitude in how I'm approaching this, that's the trick right now.  It's easier to have that positive outlook now, especially since I was already planning an exit from the company.  I pray I can keep up that outlook as the weeks (or longer) go on.

Right now, it's just keeping that balance of time to apply and to search, as well as time just to invest in the family and to clear my head.  To use the opportunity that I have been given wisely.

Also, the focus is going to preparing for next week when Jamie will head out with her students for her yearly travel program trip.  That will be a series of posts in the future.

I thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and concerns and will keep you posted as things develop.

Onward and upward.  Hopefully.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 41 - Music: Disneyland Records

Walt Disney was not a musician, he was a cartoonist.  In fact, from all reports, he had no formal music education.  Yet, the music and songs that flowed from his studio have become a part of our American heritage.  These songs that evoke fond childhood memories - memories of being caught up in the magical fantasies created by Disney.  His music was cheerful, carrying a message of hope; appealing to all generations with a universal theme that life has much to offer.  Disney’s films were not children’s films but they touched the child in all of us.  As one Disney songwriter commented, ‘His most successful films had heart.  There was always something in them that would reach out and touch one of our human emotions.  This is what Walt added to each film he was personally involved with.'”  
David Tietyen, The Musical World of Walt Disney

Disneyland Records was originally conceived in 1954 due to the popularity of the Davy Crockett miniseries on the Disneyland anthology television series.  The label was intended to launch with the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” but could not be ramped up quickly enough.  The success of that record, though, enabled the full build out.  The label was finally founded as Disneyland Records in 1956, the recording unit of Walt Disney Productions.

The label focused on soundtracks for the Disney motion pictures, but also expanded into original recordings like the Children’s Garden of Verses.  Musician Tutti Camarata was brought in to head the artists and repertoire of the label, bringing forth jazz inspired Disney standards albums, with artists like Mary Martin, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Jerry Colonna, and Phil Harris.   The label also expanded into read-along albums, telling combining stories and music for popular Disney movies and other stories.

With the Mickey Mouse Club and Annette Funicello, the label also expanded into popular music.  Buena Vista Records was formed as a label for Anette’s music, to separate it from the more standard and children’s music of Disneyland.

The division was renamed Walt Disney Records in 1988.  With the Disney Channel and the stars it brought in, the youth acts and popular contemporary music offerings have been expanded. 

With the acquisitions Disney has added to its roster, Walt Disney Records now covers Lucasfilm properties including being the official label for all Star Wars related soundtracks.  Disney also has Marvel Records and 20th Century Fox Records, though its back catalog is owned by Universal Music Group.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Delineate and Maintain Distinct Divisions - Each label should have a distinct purpose and niche.  I envision a structure like this:
    • Walt Disney Records - soundtracks for Disney, Pixar, and Muppets branded movies and television, as well as related recordings.
    • Marvel Records - soundtracks for Marvel Studios films.
    • Lucasfilm Records - soundtracks for Lucasfilm films and television properties.
    • 20th Century Records - soundtracks for 20th Century Pictures films, as well as contemporary popular music artists.
    • Disneyland Records - soundtracks and music from the Parks and Resorts Division.
  • Digitize as Much as Possible - With the direction modern music is headed, there is no reason not to have the entire Disney music library digitize and available for streaming and purchase.  This includes everything previously recorded and all Disney parks music.  
  • Continue the Legacy Series - Disney had started releasing a collectible cd series called the Walt Disney Legacy Collection, starting with soundtracks of the animated features and important departments on anniversaries.  The package included new artwork and rare and lost recordings, as well as the full soundtrack for the project.  There were several important films that have already been completed, but many popular and important films have not yet been released.  This would be a great series to maintain.
  • Release More Vinyl - With the resurgence of vinyl and the importance of nostalgia to Disney's success, releasing more records from Disney's vault would play well.  Disney has experimented with some in the parks, but their choices have been limited to picture discs of popular films.  I would continue, but with more explicit re-releases of classic records, down to the packaging.  The picture discs and the Magic Mirror package would be a great start.
  • Add a Disney Record Shop at Disney Springs/Downtown Disney - Again, with the resurgence of vinyl, a record store would be a great addition to the Disney Springs area in Florida and Downtown Disney in California, particularly if Disney continues to release classic soundtracks and attraction music.
The above represents just a few initial thoughts for the division.  Music plays such an important part of Disney's success, this division should be well represented.

Up next in the series - Publishing - Marvel Comics