Sunday, March 29, 2009

A family of heroes without everyone having a tragic flaw... what a concept.

Lately I've been picking up some collections of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez The New Teen Titans stories. I recently described them to someone as being the best that mainstream superhero stories could do. In the past I've heard it said that George Perez is more of an illustrator than a storyteller, but between "The Judas Contract," "Who is Donna Troy?" and "A Lonely Place of Dying" I'd have to say that I disagree. He uses multiple page layouts to maximum effect and his detail-oriented style really makes the most of all the emoting these characters have to do.

But that leads me back to the title. The Teen Titans started out the same way that a number of things at DC comics did, as a form of brand expansion. The teen sidekicks who comprised the group were all brought in as a way for children to more closely relate to the stories, and team books were a natural extension once a company had enough characters that putting in the same book would be a good way to enjoy the windfall of the character's combined audiences. The Teen Titans, under Wolfman and Perez, represented one of the first examples of trying to do something great with characters and situations that were created for primarily financial reasons. The attitude the pair took was to give these characters real depth for the first time.

These characters all had different and strange relationships with their mentors that only others in their situation would understand. Roy Harper was left alone to turn to drugs while his mentor took a road trip with his buddy. Dick Grayson's father figure didn't really know how to be a father himself since he was an orphan as well. Donna's mentor was more of a big sister than a mother so she didn't have someone around to really show her the ropes. Beyond that you might notice that I'm not saying Speedy, or Wondergirl or Nightwing/Robin. That's because they took the attitude that these characters were so close they all shared their identities with each other, and, when by themselves or facing some menacing but extraworldly threat, they felt no need for masks or codenames.

They were all like a family. Granted all the boys had a crush on Donna when they first met her, and Dick Grayson would later go on to fall in love with Koriand'r. But you still had brotherly rivalries like Beast Boy/Changling/Gar Logan aggravating the hell out of Cyborg/Vic Stone.

For a long time I've thought the "flawed heroes" approach taken by Marvel is a simple way to add the impression of depth without actually doing it; Wolfman/Perez's Teen Titans proved that. Bickering and character flaws give you the surface of a family, but you'll never see the immature Human Torch put all that aside for one day just to make sure that Reed and Sue's wedding goes perfectly like Gar Logan did for Donna Troy. That wedding even got bonus points because I think it's the only superhero wedding that wasn't interrupted by a villain. It was little touches like that, or having Dick Grayson using all his detection skill that he learned from Batman to help his fellow orphan "sister" find her real parents, or a whole team coming together when one of their own develops a drug problem while his mentor was MIA. These people cared so strongly for each other that they'd go to the end of the universe if one of them needed it, no questions asked, and when someone actually did betray that circle of trust the heartbreak was palpable.

To put it quite simply, they were a family of real people and they were heroes and this didn't need to be a contradiction.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Post-Watchmen World

I don’t think that this movie could have had the impact that many felt it should’ve in the wake of movies like “The Dark Knight.” We already live in a world that has a post-”Watchmen” attitude towards comic book heroes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Entertainment Weekly's HEROES AND VILLAINS

Fanboy/Geek alert! 20 Scariest Villains! 20 Coolest Heroes! Why We love them Both! This isn't just a popcorn piece, though. Some highlights from the main article at

 Nearly a century later, stories about heroes and villains have never been more popular. Kids and parents alike have been mesmerized by the literary and cinematic clashes between Harry Potter and his nemesis, Voldemort. And then there's Spider-Man, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean24Lost...even American Idol.... And yet, so many of our heroes these days are unheroic: Showtime's Dexter is a vigilnte who kills criminals, because he happens to be a serial killer. Jason Bourne is a cipher to himself who can't understand why he reflexively snaps people's necks. 24's Jack Bauer often acts like a terrorist so he can catch one. Do drastic times make for drastic heroes, like Christian Bale's Batman — or was Heath Ledger's Joker correct in arguing that ''good'' and ''evil'' are meaningless concepts? ...

 This next part is very telling of the state that has driven our heroes into exile:

The current state of heroism can be summed up in a word: Lost. Like the castaways of ABC's mystery drama, today's would-be heroes are so flawed or messed up, they need to be saved from themselves before they save anyone else. Some succeed, like Iron Man's ethically murky Tony Stark. But many others — Anakin Skywalker; the meth-cooking cancer dad on Breaking Bad; almost anyone on HBO, Showtime, or FX — find it more empowering to embrace the dark side. These characters reflect a culture that feels powerless and pissed: We desperately want good to triumph over evil, but we can't staunch our doubts that good is up to the task. ''We want heroes to know the difference between good and bad, and we want them to be strong,'' says Lost exec producer Damon Lindelof. ''However, it's hard for such a person to be accessible unless they're also extremely effed up...because only a seriously disturbed individual would want to be a hero.''

  While I disagree with that last line, the ending of this essay is spot-on:

 We need more from pop culture than just seeing good guys and bad guys in action — we need to see how they're made. 
 I'd like to think that Superhero Babylon has done its share in that goal, and we're certainly glad to see these discussions being taking seriously in the mainstream. It's a good sign that a magazine called ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY can overcome the dichotomy between ideas and entertainment.

All Hail Our New Crocodile Masters

America, bow to your new master: the crocodile.

I'm sitting here, watching Animal Planet, which is showing documentaries about crocodiles. One such show is bemoaning the lack of crocodiles in Costa Rica or some such place, and how there is concern for their long-term survival. The solution: introduce them from America. Cut to a shot of some village children and a two-year old croc. As the kids tease and run, the narrator warns that "even at two years old, the croc may be more inclined to fight than to flee." The show closes after that with another lament for the future of this "noble predator."

Say it with me, people: Predator. PREDATOR.

This is what we've done in America. We've released predators into our habitat, to grow up and devour the children. These are no longer babies, but fully-grown, and running amok in Washington, in our economy. There are sharks and snakes and gators and every nasty sort of swamp-dwellers you can thing of. We feed them, but their insatiable appetites continue to grow.

WHY DO WE FEED THEM? We've been told, for so long, that these predators are part of the eco-system, that without them, the system would fall out of balance. So we continue to feed them, hoping that they don't bite the hand that feeds them. But they can never be domesticated.

Again, say it with me: PREDATOR.

The proper role of a hero is to hunt down a predator before they feed on the village children. Today, our heroes are in exile. Instead of Crocodile Dundee, our new Crocodile Hunters dangle out kids like bait. America, however, is guilty of much worse: the village children are not bait, but food, to be sacrificed to these predators. Where are the heroes today, and why do they allow this sacrifice? The Greeks sent Theseus into the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur to end the child sacrifices; today, modern cretins have Captain Hook. Hook would rather feed the Lost Boys to the crocodile, to stave off the truth: it's Hook that the crocodile really wants. The crocodile follows him around, with a tell-tale sign: a swallowed, ticking clock that tells Hook one thing: his time will soon be up. And so, the same is true for you, America. You can fear it, feed it, appease it all you want, but it will never be tamed. And unless you slay this predator, your time is up, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hero of the Day: John Galt

  So with all the economic turmoil and Bailout Bolshevism, it's easy to start wondering if this is the last hurrah for America (hell, I started thinking that when the last Superman movie refused to utter the phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," replacing the last part with "all that stuff.")  But there is a little bit of hope when you consider that Atlas Shrugged has been steadily climbing the bestseller list at Not bad for a book published in 1957. (And considering that one of its competitors is Watchmen, and Twilight, which are riding high on recent movie success. And considering that the former takes a swipe or two at Ayn Rand, we have ourselves a race!). Atlas is #1 on the fiction list, and moving around #16/#17 at last count on the overall list. It remains to be seen just how much of a real impact this will have, hopefully more than a symbolic teabagging of Washington. Ideas have to have application in reality, otherwise, we're just counting angels on pinheads. Will people really "Go Galt"? (We'll see what happens on April 15; I'm not holding my breath.) And since Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged so that it would NOT be prophetic, I'm not so happy that we had to get to this point for the book to have this kind of popularity; it's for all the wrong reasons. This, after allis the book that wrote the Bill of Rights for heroes. But since it is making an impact, there's a bit of hope. Hope floats, they say, but right now, I'll take what I can get, and fight for the rest. So with that in mind, here's to the Heroes of the Day: Ayn Rand, John Galt, Francisco D'anconia, Ragnar Djanneskold, Midas Mulligan, Richard Halley, Hugh Akston, Dagny Taggart, Hank Reardon, Eddie Willers, and the entire Galt's Gulch Orchestra...

 Shine on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quote of the Day: Crisis? What Crisis?

"Any idiot can face a crisis, it is this day-to-day living that wears you out." - Anton Chekhov

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Heroes: "Rebel, Rebel"

 I have to say, whatever it is that the creators of Heroes are taking, it's working. This season, so far, is MUCH better than the past couple of chapters. Sylar's evil again, Noah is just as sneaky, Nathan's an even bigger tool this time around, which means that the stakes are that much higher for the heroes. The story is based on X-men's Days of Future Past, but it's a relevant story, and this is no mere copycat. The premise of the government rounding up that which it fears as a threat to its authority is certainly timely...and there is some genuinely scary stuff going on, which makes Hiro and Ando's comic relief that much more appreciated this time around. (Although how that Hiro has limited time-power back, I'm starting to fear that all these events will be undone; the great thing about this chapter is that there are real consequences. Please, no "Deus Ex Machina" this time, otherwise, there's no challenge.)

 The one line that really caught my attention last night was in an exchange between Tracy Strauss and Micah. Tracy is a clone of Micah's mother, but without the (split) personality: she's a politician down to the bone. Micah tries to help her out of a misplaced devotion to his deceased mother, but she inadvertently sells him out; not knowing that her mystery rescuer was a child, she agrees to lead the authorities to "Rebel." He thought she was a hero, but she was really just a "politician." She responds, "who are you, Che Gueverra?", to which he replies that Gueverra was the leader of a rebellion; who's side are you on?" Of course, I had to chafe at the association of Gueverra as a rebellious hero; however, that aside, the principle here is correct: whether one's values leads to Che Gueverra or John Galt, you don't sell out your allies to save your own neck. But if you're a "politician," the implication is that pragmatism outweighs ideology. Ick.

 Fortunately, Tracy helps "Rebel" escape to continue his rebellion against the oppressive state, and gives her life in the process. This was not an act of self-sacrifice, it was an act of redemption for all those lives she sold for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver. And she took a few of the bastards down in the process. 

 In other words, she gave back her bonus.

 And you go, "Rebel."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roy Childs: Watching the Watchmen

Now that the Watchmen movie hype is dying down, it's time to get past the special effects and get to the questions asked of us by the movie. The primary question, of course, is, "Who Watches the Watcher?"

I've already discussed how Alan Moore's Rorschach is his response to what he identified as a "fascist" streak in Steve Ditko's characters, and Ayn Rand's Objectivism, which is the basis of Ditko's philosophy. Moore himself is an anarchist, as well as a "mystic," so its easy for fans of Rand (of which I am) to simply wave off Moore's objections. But, in the spirit of "checking premises," I'd like to play "devil's advocate" and offer up a critique of Rand's defense of government from a Libertarian standpoint.

Roy Childs was a Libertarian best known for his "Open Letter to Ayn Rand." Childs addresses Rand's objections to anarchy and defense of the government's monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. It's too long to print here, but here are the salient points in relation to the idea of Watchmen:

Rand: "The use of physical force – even its retaliatory use – cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens."

Childs: This contradicts your epistemological and ethical position. Man's mind – which means: the mind of the individual human being – is capable of knowing reality, and man is capable of coming to conclusions on the basis of his rational judgment and acting on the basis of his rational self-interest. You imply, without stating it, that if an individual decides to use retaliation, that that decision is somehow subjective and arbitrary. Rather, supposedly the individual should leave such a decision up to government which is – what? Collective and therefore objective? This is illogical. If man is not capable of making these decisions, then he isn't capable of making them, and no government made up of men is capable of making them, either. By what epistemological criterion is an individual's action classified as "arbitrary," while that of a group of individuals is somehow "objective"?

Rather, I assert that an individual must judge, and evaluate the facts of reality in accordance with logic and by the standard of his own rational self-interest. Are you here claiming that man's mind is not capable of knowing reality? That men must not judge, or act on the basis of their rational self-interest and perception of the facts of reality? To claim this is to smash the root of the Objectivist philosophy: the validity of reason, and the ability and right of man to think and judge for himself.

I am not, of course, claiming that a man must always personally use retaliation against those who initiate such against him – he has the right, though not the obligation, to delegate that right to any legitimate agency.

Rand objects to "competing defense agencies," but Childs points out that this situation already exists:
Another interesting argument against your position is this: there is now anarchy between citizens of different countries, i.e., between, say, a Canadian citizen on one side of the Canadian-American border and an American citizen on the other. There is, to be more precise, no single government which presides over both of them. If there is a need for government to settle disputes among individuals, as you state, then you should look at the logical implications of your argument: is there not then a need for a super-government to resolve disputes among governments? Of course the implications of this are obvious: theoretically, the ultimate end of this process of piling government on top of government is a government for the entire universe. And the practical end, for the moment, is at the very least world government.
The following argument is the parallel to Moore's question of "Who Watches the Watcher?":
One legitimate answer to your allegations is this: since you are, in effect, asking "what happens when the [competing defense agencies] decide to act irrationally?" allow me to ask the far more potent question: "What happens when your government acts irrationally?" – which is at least possible. And which is more likely, in addition, to occur: the violation of rights by a bureaucrat or politician who got his job by fooling people in elections, which are nothing but community-wide opinion-mongering contests (which are, presumably, a rational and objective manner of selecting the best people for a job), or the violation of rights by a hard-nosed businessman, who has had to earn his position? So your objection against competing agencies is even more effective against your own "limited government."
Childs claims that to follow Rand's logic leads to this inevitable conclusion:
Of course the implications of this are obvious: theoretically, the ultimate end of this process of piling government on top of government is a government for the entire universe. And the practical end, for the moment, is at the very least world government.
How does this relate to the concept of heroism? Well, if the idea of heroism is, by definition, related to the idea of defense, and if the concept of government is defined by defense, then, logic dictates that agents of government should be heroes. Looks great on paper, doesn't it? But I think we can point to way too many pricks in government to burst that bubble...So Childs' point relates to Watchmen this way: who holds the government accountable, when the government has the monopoly of force? As he states in his open letter, either the government opens itself, voluntarily, to a competing force, which removes the monopoly, or it has NO CHOICE but to retaliate against its own citizens should the citizens revolt, right or wrong. What about superheroes? Do they hold themselves accountable to those they protect, or do they evade the law like vigilantes? And how is a politician held accountable if they are found guilty by objective standards should the government disagree, if the government has a monopoly on force? Do the citizens, like Socrates, simply drink the poison? Do they, like the protaganist of Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, accept the death sentence as the logical consequence of the revolution for which they fought? Or, what if the hero finds himself defending himself against his "defenders?"


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Now Available: Bosch Fawstin's ProPiganda

Bosch Fawstin is moving forward with his Pigman project with the publication of ProPiganda: Drawing the Line Against Jihad. From the official website:

"My 'remastered' blog collection is now available. It's square-bound, 9 x 11, 128 pages, 75 color pages, the rest black & white for $20. The images and essays have been edited for print, so you'll be seeing new and improved versions of many of them in the book. This blog was meant to be a way to get myself out there while working on The Infidel, so the majority of these images are exclusive, though a few of them may end up as individual covers of the series.

"My blog posting will be sporadic from hereon as I am on a deadline to begin releasing The Infidel in serial form beginning this summer. I'll be around to give and take with blog visitors and I'll be posting story images every so often. Thanks for the support, everyone, here's to a big 2009."
Bosch is taking orders at his website, be sure to check out his limited-time special package deal: an autograph copy of both Propiganda and his Eisner-award nominated Table for One.

Glad to see this out there, along with the news of publication of The Infidel. Shine on, Bosch!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Doomsday is coming...still...(Spoilers)

 Ok, so Smallville is back. And boy, was it back! Last night's return from midseason break was pretty damn good and tense. Clark is confronted by Tori Spelling (that's scary enough), who threatens to take his secret public unless he gives her the scoop on his red-blue blur bit in order to revive her stagnant career (life imitating art?). Anyway, Clark decides to "scoop" her instead, and reveals his secret to Lois, giving HER the scoop. He thinks the world is ready for a "Superman", um, super-alien. 

 It's all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows at first. Then TMZ shows up, paparazzi everywhere, girls throwing themselves off ledges to be caught...someone picked their nose, probably, as well. It's chaotic as everyone wants a piece of the action. Then, right on cue, everyone starts to turn, people start whining "where's Clark Kent when my husband died? Why does he decide who lives or dies?" Then Tori Spelling spreads a story that Clark killed Lex Luthor, "the real hero." Ugh. 

 This is all tense enough, with the moral and ethical implications of heroism and moral hazard being played out. Very philosophical stuff here, the kind of stuff we at Superhero Babylon mull over while eating our frosted mini-wheats. (Chocolate, when they're on sale.) Gotta have our fiber. But there are some things that can trump all this socio-political mental floss: big explosions, alien invaders, big robots, big monster showdowns, and DOOMSDAY!
 Yes, Doomsday is back, tracking down Chloe, making his sad puppy dog eyes. But Davis only thinks he is there for Chloe, who he learns does not remember that magical night they shared at the fortress. No, Davis, who is taking his anti-Doomsday meds, is there because of the revelation that Clark is the "other Kryptonian," the one he is destined to kill. He manages to get Chloe a warning to warn Clark, only to get her in the end as Doomsday. NOOOOO!!!!!!!!

 Meanwhile, back as the barn...Clark is being chased by the authorities, Lois shows up, and Clark reveals that he has the Legion ring, which enables him to turn back time, find a way, and dress up like Cher instead. He's going to undo the deed, which breaks Lois's heart. But that bitch Tori shows up again (I should mention at this point that she has a name, Lori Lake, or Lilly Lake, or Donna, or some other LL derivative of the LL alliteration in Superman comics. She has water powers, too, hence, Lake.) Anyway, Tori shows up, switches the ring with the rock (k-bomb, that is), but Lois stops her, gets the ring, and Clark is about to make the time trip. Right before he goes, Lois gets the message about Doomsday coming, but Clark doesn't hear, and goes back, stops Tori ahead of time and nails her on the murders of whoever she murdered. 

 All's well, right? Not quite. When Clark time travels, something has to change. This time, he breaks Lois's heart...again...but his secret is safe, for now. So what happens? It could only be Doomsday related! Doomsday is back at the hospital, talking to...Tori! It's always about Tori, Tori, Tori! She knows his Doomsday secret, and induces him to change, free her, and wreak havok. He starts to change, the best move of all, takes a pillow, smothers Tori, and walks away unchanged. Moral of the story? One doesn't have to be a spiky monster to want to do in Tori Spelling. Clark even sticks her with an electrical cord (she's water, remember, electricity is her Kryptonite.) Hey, if you saw how much a bitch Tori's character was, you'd know that this was the greatest love of all. (But, we kid, we kid. Tori Spelling is a fictional character kids, don't try this at home, but read all about it in sTORI Telling by Tori Spelling. I think she's earned this plug.)

 So in other words, the whole thing was a nail-biter, for nothing! (I am SO glad Heroes wrote out that power for the current chapter; there are consequences, this time.) I want the real thing! Clark versus Doomsday! Now we have to wait...AGAIN...gadummit.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Heroism in Music: Disposable Heroes

  I've been backing up my cd collection for the past few days, and when I got to Metallica, I kicked myself for not catching this one sooner: "Disposable Heroes." God, I feel old...

 Anyway, this one is a great companion piece to Landon's writings on Rambo, the demoralizing effect of war, dispelling the image of the "glory" of battle, and the resultant alienation of the hero from society. And a powerful screed against self-sacrifice, too boot. Master of Puppets: the title says it all.

Bodies fill the fields I see, hungry heroes end/
No one to play soldier now, no one to pretend/
Running blind through killing fields, bred to kill them all/
Victim of what said should be/
A servant `til I fall

Soldier boy, made of clay/
Now an empty shell
Twenty one, only son/
but he served us well/
Bred to kill, not to care/
Do just as we say/
Finished here, Greeting Death/
He's yours to take away/

Back to the front/
You will do what I say, when I say
Back to the front/
You will die when I say, you must die/
Back to the front/
You coward/
You servant/
You blindman/
[End Chorus]

Barking of machinegun fire, does nothing to me now/
Sounding of the clock that ticks, get used to it somehow/
More a man, more stripes you wear, glory seeker trends /
Bodies fill the fields I see/
The slaughter never ends/


{Why, Am I dying?/
Kill, having no fear/
Lie, live off lying/
Hell, Hell is here} x2/

I was born for dying/

Life planned out before my birth, nothing could I say/
had no chance to see myself, molded day by day/
Looking back I realize, nothing have I done/
left to die with only friend/
Alone I clench my gun/

Monday, March 2, 2009

War Child-Heroes Vol. 1

Just released in February: Heroes, vol. 1 by War Child International, a charity that works to help children across the world affected by war. From the War Child Website:

War Child was founded upon a fundamental goal: to advance the cause of peace through investing hope in the lives of children caught up in the horrors of war. Our aims:
•To alleviate the suffering of children by bringing material aid into war zones
•To support those children who have been evacuated into refugee camps.
•To initiate rehabilitation programmes once children return safely to their homes.
•To be instrumental in healing the psychological damage caused to children by their experiences of war.
One of the ways that War Child promotes their cause is through the release of compilation albums by famous artists. (This is not to be confused with the Jethro Tull album of the same name.) The latest album is called Heroes, Vol. 1. According to the website,
The concept of “Heroes” is that the biggest legends in music, including Sir Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Brian Wilson and The Clash, select one of the classic tracks from their own songwriting canon, and nominate an artist from the next generation to create a modern reworking of that classic song.

Anything that gives children a fair shake in life is potentially a worthy goal, but there is one bit on the website that makes me slightly wary. War Child claims that it "stands on twin beliefs: • that we're not free to ignore an innocent victim's plea for help and • that children are the seedcorn of society, its future hope.
Now, I may be an Objectivist, but being Objectivist doesn't mean being a heartless bastard. I am not a heartless bastard, and I do believe that to ignore an innocent victim's plea for help is pretty heartless. But the wording of the "belief" leaves something to be desired, it is so vague and philosophically open to mean many things. Too often the plight of children is used as a shield for the erosion of civil liberties in other ways. But it's not just children, but "innocent victims," or the "concept of innocent victims," that is used as well. "A hungry man is never free" is one such slogan used to justify the Soviet dictatorship. And usually organizations such as this (as well as some of the "punky" left-leaning musicians) are anti-capitalist. But it's capitalism that provides the best opportunities for children, not a socialist dictatorship.
Ayn Rand addressed many of these issues of "the ethics of emergencies," such as in her essay, um..."The Ethics of Emergencies." And Rand herself could be considered a "war child," having escaped from the Soviet Union in her teens. As such a survivor, she asks us to consider the implications of the approach of defining ethics in emergencies by the standard of the "victim."
If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, the suffers the following consequences (in proportion to the degree of his acceptance):

1. Lack of self-esteem-since his first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.
2. Lack of respect for others-since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone's help.
3. A nightmare view of existence-since he believes that men are trapped in a "malevolent universe" where disasters are the constant and primary concern of their lives.
The issues above are certainly more complicated when it comes to victimized children, but the principle still stands. When someone claims they just want to "help the children," it's always important to ask "How? By what means? By what standard?" And if that answer includes "sacrifice," you can probably be sure that the real motive is not "the children" at all, but a grab for power. And when the word "hero" is involved, you can bet that the hero is expected to "sacrifice" himself for the greater good. Or, the other possibility is that the one who wants to play "hero" really wants to use guilt to force others to make the sacrifice, which is the case of the "benevolent dictator." Again, there is a difference between callow indifference and rational selfishness. I agree with Rand that "the principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others."

If you really want to "help the children," spread the message of reason, liberty, free, voluntary co-operation, and the uncompromised American ideal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."