Why I will see "Hercules" starring The Rock

The Nemean Lion with an invulnerable hide. OH MY FUCKING GODS, HERCULES, LOOK OUT!

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is awesome. He always elevates whatever material he's given. Brett Ratner is a mediocre director and a dimwit. Despite Ratner, I will probably go see "Hercules". Why? Four big reasons:

1.) "Conan the Barbarian" is one of the best, knowingly dumb, macho muscle movies ever made. The DVD commentary between director John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger is hilarious. The world needs a successor. I doubt it will be this movie, but it's important to keep hope alive.

2.) I had no interest in the OTHER Hercules movie that came out. Its trailer didn't seem to have anything to do with the Hercules myths at all.

Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion, which apparently shrinks in the wash.

3.) In contrast, while this looks, at best, dorky - I was pleased to see the trailer showed ACTUAL ELEMENTS from Hercules' myths including Cerebus, the Hydra, The Erymanthian Boar and Nemean Lion. ("Ah! Good!" I said aloud as these things showed up in the trailer.) Will this Hercules also clean the shit of thousands of animals that fill the Augean Stables by changing the course of a river? I HOPE SO!

4.) Way back in elementary school, I scripted out a film strip rendition of Hercules' story that I didn't complete in gifted mutant class (we called it PACE back then, later it was TAG. I don't know what PACE stood for.) so I have a desire to read/tell his story to this day. He has a reputation as a brute, but actually his saga is more about the wit and might of man overcoming the chthonic amorality of nature. And kicking ass.

Inferno, cannibalism, Taylor Swift, public employee pensions

Detail of "Ugoilno and Archbishop Ruggieri" by Gustave Doré (yes, I have this book).

Two recent dreams the same night. I hope they were separate dreams.

1.) Two men laying on the ground, caked in blood, one gnawing off the ear of the other person who lies passive and closes his eyes every few seconds yielding or savoring getting devoured. Reminiscent of (I had the visual but had to look this up) Ugolino perpetually gnawing on the skull of his nemesis Archbishop Ruggieri in Dante's Inferno (XXXII, 128-9).

2.) I duck out of a music show in a dignified theater with my dream-logic friend Taylor Swift. We get to the lobby, after a quick commiseration how BORING that show is, Swift starts peppering me with questions about how the public employee pension system works in California. I explain California is not my state, but I can send some info along. We decide a direct message via Twitter will be the best way to convey those links so she'll see them.

Snort if you want, as if YOU have never had a dream about perpetual cannibalism and chatting economics with Taylor Swift.

(Left) Ugolino snacking on Archbiship Ruggieri, illustration by Barry Moser. (Right) Taylor Swift.

(Left) Ugolino snacking on Archbiship Ruggieri, illustration by Barry Moser. (Right) Taylor Swift.

Righteous mic drop at NPR

Neal Conan mastered the soft NPR tone, but roared like a lion at the end.

Neal Conan mastered the soft NPR tone, but roared like a lion at the end.

I had been wondering what the hell happened to Talk of the Nation over the last few months, and why it seemed to be gone. Tonight I looked it up, and listened to the host Neal Conan's sign-off for the show and his career at NPR. It's spicy! [listen here, it's worth it]

So right here, I form my own private compact with NPR and my member stations. I will listen and, yes, I will open my checkbook, but I need some services in return. Go and tell me the stories behind everything that happened in the world today. Explain why it happened, and how it affects our lives. Do it every day. Tell me what's important, and don't waste my time with stupid stuff.

I listened devotedly to Talk of the Nation for more than 10 years. I recorded many programs from the radio and recorded them to my hard drive before podcasts were invented. Every day at work it was Howard Stern then Talk of the Nation. Ray Suarez was a good host, occasionally getting exasperated with the topic and/or guest with hilarious results. Juan Williams followed Suarez and was less interesting. Suarez went to Newshour, Williams went to Fox News and pretty much lost his mind.

Neal Conan didn't have much flavor to him, but I stuck with the program for years into his tenure. Then, between progressive radio starting up (R.I.P. Air America) and then podcasts I stopped listening to TOTN. Also, TOTN shifted to shorter segments. Instead of an hour spent on a single topic, an hour show was split into 2-3 topics. I liked the depth and the meandering that an hour on a single topic would sometime lead to. Kooks started creeping into the discussion. That made the program more fun.

I blamed that format change on Neal Conan, but given that NPR has dropped TOTN entirely (I don't think the ratings were bad) for a magazine format, it may have been a top-down decision.

Thank you Ray Suarez, Juan Williams, and Neal Conan. Talk of the Nation was a good program and the work of your teams was an important centerpoint of many days.

Oscar Wilde and pride and love and hard art

I re-read Richard Ellmann's biography Oscar Wilde for the first time since the late 1980s. It was Oxford professor (though born in the USA!) Ellmann's last book and inspiring and depressing to read then. It had the same effect on me now. It is well-researched and won a Pulitzer prize in 1989 for biography, though not as beloved as Ellmann's biography James Joyce. It ends shortly after Wilde's head oozes with a syphilitic pop.

Wilde did a lot of inspiring work, was a master of epigram and paradoxes, wrote a severe, perfect play with a hard, gem-like flame (The Importance of Being Earnest), a pretty good novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray), a heart-rending work from jail (De Profundis), many enjoyable essays (The Soul of Man Under Socialism is a favorite).

Oscar Wilde (left) and Lord Alfred Douglas "Bosie".

But knowing Wilde's fall from grace was coming, that it would come somewhat from his inescapable love with a petulant dolt (Lord Alfred Douglas aka "Bosie"), made even the happy parts laden with dread. Times were unfair. Wilde was put in jail for sodomy and served two years hard labor. His imagination and reputation broken, he could never write as well again. The social esteem and artistic crowd he relied on so much shunned him. Life was less stimulating, and left him destitute in many phases, though admittedly he had extravagant habits.

Some highlights from the book. Wilde's curtain speech after the premiere of Lady Windermere's Fan in 1892:

"Ladies and gentlemen: I have enjoyed this evening immensely. The actors have given us a charming rendering of a delightful play, and your appreciation has been most intelligent. I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me that you think almost as highly of the play as I do myself."

A former lover of Wilde's and a devoted lifelong friend (and dutiful friend after Wilde's death), Robbie Ross, asked Wilde in 1895 about people finding fault with his curtain speeches. Wilde replied:

"Yes, the old-fashioned idea was that the dramatist should appear and merely thank his kind friends for their patronage and presence. I am glad to say I have altered all that. The artist cannot be degraded into the servant of the public. While I have always recognised the cultural appreciation that actors and audience have shown for my work, I have equally recognised that humility is for the hypocrite, modesty for the incompetent. Assertion is at once the duty and privilege of the artist."

Despite this posture held regarding art, Wilde was a compassionate man. His aristos (Greek for "best") attitude about art and beauty did not hold in concerns for fellow people. And he found beauty often in common things. But it's thrilling to read from Wilde such heightened and astringent regard for art and others when he sustains it.

Degeneration by Max Nordau (Entartung in the original German, Fin de siècle in French). Looks like a charmer, right?

In 1892, Max Nordau wrote Degeneration, a book bewailing the declining status of society and morality. Wilde, playwright Henrik Ibsen, composer Richard Wagner, and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche were all examined closely as emblems of madness and humanity's ruin. I've not read the book, but it must have been a howler. I like all of those figures and it's fun to ponder how much thought and angst was put into wanting to prophesy humanity's downfall over 100 years ago. Of course, ruination DID arrive in the form of Miley Cyrus' clumsy attempts at twerking in 2013. But let us cluck delightedly at the foolishness of our ancestors before scrambling once more for provisions to return back to our post-Cyrusian shelters.

Degeneration treated all men of genius as mad. True, at least, in Nietzsche's case. Wilde's comment: "I quite agree with Dr Nordau’s assertion that all men of genius are insane, but Dr Nordau forgets that all sane people are idiots."

As 1900 came to a close (Wilde was not to live to 1901), in his death room, body revolting against itself, possibly from symptoms related to syphilis which he contracted in his 20s, Wilde said to a visitor: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go."

Wilde died and his bodily integrity gave out and possibly granted that both his body and the room's wallpaper would need to be removed. Ellmann describes:

At 5:30 a.m., to the consternation of Ross and Turner, a loud, strong death rattle began, like the turning of a crank. Foam and blood came from his mouth during the morning, and at ten minutes to two in the afternoon Wilde died. (The death certificate says the time was 2:00 p.m. on 30 November.) He had scarcely breathed his last breath when the body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth, and other orifices. The debris was appalling.

Oscar Wilde photographed by Napoleon Sarony, a series of photos worth seeking out.

Gross, right? And having that image for more than 20 years after reading it meant that throughout re-reading Oscar Wilde I would imagine in a quiet moment Wilde's body gurgling corrosively, building and sometimes trembling with ooze, waiting for Wilde to give up. Yet he held on, deflated after his trial and imprisonment, but not entirely crushed and a husk until surrendering a few years afterward. A few years with many more rounds of spats with Lord Alfred Douglas and estrangements and reconciliations and money wasted and sourced and wasted again.

Richard Ellmann near the end of the Epilogue of Oscar Wilde writes:

Even more than the hopeless loves of Yeats or Dowson or A. E. Housman, Wilde’s love affair provides an example of berserk passion, of Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée. It could have occurred only in a world of partial disclosures, blackmail, and libel suits.

I only know a few oddball phrases in French (a mish-mash of French lessons, Cyrano de Bergerac, Villette by Charlotte Bronte, and movie quotes) and definitely do not specialize in 17th century French poetry. So I had to look up Ellmann's allusion en français. It's from Jean Racine's play Phèdre (1677):

Ce n'est plus une ardeur dans mes veines cachée:
C'est Vénus tout entière à sa proie attachée.

It is no longer a passion hidden in my heart:
It is Venus herself fastened to her prey.

Art needs an agon, a struggle to achieve its identity. Had Wilde lived in a time when homosexuality was not regarded almost as severe a crime as murder, I wonder if his art would have been as good. He most likely would have lived longer.

I am likely less Neanderthal than you, sez DNA test

I flushed away decades of membership dues to the ACLU and EFF and gave my DNA to a company to get ancestry and medical insights. The DNA was given as saliva in a vial. I had to tell you that because I know you sat there giggling while imagining me ejecting my baby batter into an envelope.

Like many (most? all?) white people I had hope of discovery of some exotic hereditary strain. A desperate mingling between a settler on the prairie and a native tribe member (who came from a people that migrated from Asia thousands of years before, but let's go with "native"). A forbidden love so powerful it overcame pigmentation prejudice and tribal loyalties!

Yeah, I hear you. I've read Howard Zinn, too. If there were such a mingling, chances are good it was under an oppressor/oppressed dynamic. Don't harsh my One World Romance, you consarned cynic!

Results came in. 100% European.

At least my ancestors traveled around the continent a bit.

I do tend to prefer being cold, as I run warm, compared to hot temperatures. And I can get motion sickness on boats. Coming from ancestors who were mostly homebodies makes sense, if totally pedestrian.

Nothing really alarming was revealed, health-wise. I have a higher than average likelihood of macular degeneration. So I've made my first-ever appointment with an opthamologist to get that checked out as a preventive measure.

Gladly I have less-than average Neanderthal DNA (not to seem species-ist or anything, okay, I did just go intra-hominid racist right there).

You (right), ready for action. Me (left) got a stick in my ass.

You (right), ready for action. Me (left) got a stick in my ass.

It doesn't mean I'm better than you. Heck, it means I walk around all snooty with my higher brow while YOU are more likely to have greater skull capacity. So, there Ms./Mr. Big Brain! Also, as your knuckles already drag on the ground it causes you less bodily stress to pick up things off the ground. Lucky you! I'm so jealous...

A weird trick for free testosterone. Thanks? Maybe?

Scrolling up and down this blog lately, there's a recurring theme of Facebook ads and potency/performance copulating/dating issues. Yet this is another ad Facebook served up that squicks me out. 

"Why men need more free testosterone" 

Not sure that's the lesson of world history in the West. Although many of our military adventures and empire-building MAY be based on older men needing to prove their studliness despite waning biochemistry. Free testosterone may help take the edge off there. But DO go on, ad... 

"Free Testosterone Boost" 

Administered how? Given those terrifying "Low T" ads marketed to men express mere physical contact with people who take their medicines may induce birth defects and cause early onset puberty to children, there's a strong chance a shoddily administered boost of testosterone may require complete human exile. Or maybe you could join The Avengers as new superhero 'Rone Hulk?

The ad has my attention, along with a woman who may have traveled from 1966 (a former model for Swiss Miss?)  and looks vaguely aware of my presence and ready/worried. She's ill-dressed for wilderness exploration.

"Researchers in Boston have found a natural way to boost testosterone."

Good for science! Wonder if the same researchers have done the same for estrogen and androgen. Wonder what Estrogen Hulk would look like. 

"Try this weird trick and take your performance to the next level."

Uhm, no. I'm willing to WATCH these researchers demonstrate this "weird trick" while I stand in safety behind bullet-proof glass. Otherwise, no. Thanks Facebook ad. And I hope that lady gets indoors before it turns cold. 

Testosterone Hulk enjoys life with more vigor. You can too!

Glad Facebook wasn't around when Diana died

Diana Memorial Tartan, for sale at the United Kingdom land at Epcot in Walt Disney World, 2009. 

The romance and swooning over the Windsor dynasty is disturbing. The family members have little to no merit given the amount of power they are born into. And almost to a person they seem miserable. Gross all the way around.

Was Lady Diana's death a sad one? Sure. Did it warrant an entire hemisphere seemingly crippled with grief in 1997? No way.

Sympathies to her family and friends, but she was not a magical creature and I can't recall any constructive thing she did other than take stands on issues like objecting to abandoned landmines blowing up children. Hardly daring stuff.

She was a crucial part of the big Royal Wedding industry that ramped up to her marriage to Prince Charles in the 1980s. Now we know Charles was in love with someone else at the time, Diana's happiness was doomed (recall the "miserable" point made above). 

Worst of all, as her family mourned and others projected their fantasies onto Diana's blankness, Elton John reworked the lyrics to "Candle in the Wind" and made it WORSE than its original tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Sure, his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin had a hand in it, but STILL. Is life better for anyone with words like "And your footsteps will always fall here / Along England's greenest hills"? One imagines a gigantic Diana patrolling England, a colossal stomping wraith wandering a Emily Brontë heath.

Actually, that would be marvelous

Red Lion over-catering to gays?

Red Lion has this ad directed at same-sex couples. "We look forward to playing an important part of your life and future." Sweet!

"Let's make history together." Very nice. We've all been in that spot, asking ourselves or our group of revolutionaries: "How're we gonna get some justice up in here?" The answer, always, is to call the Red Lion. When thinking of the front lines of civil rights, Red Lion is always there, picket signs and bullhorns blaring. Look in photos in history books - from the American Revolution to Selma to Occupy Wall Street you will always find Red Lion, po-faced and glorious mane flowing, pushing for social justice.

This ad is in a Portland alternative newspaper, Willamette Week. Sadly, our bigoted state of Oregon bans same-sex marriage. Washington doesn't, and its city Vancouver just over the Columbia River has a Red Lion staring back at us, a sentinel with its new open mindedness and legal pot. The Red Lion in Portland, literally across the river along the same longitude, looks northward in meek shame, knowing its state is on the wrong side of history.

All demographics deserve the right to be pandered to. But this line made me wince: "We offer on-site event specialists, group room rates and tasteful culinary experiences."

Red Lion as a destination for fussy foodies? Doubtful. As a privileged, white, probably straight male (I'll probably never know for sure - men are fucking boring and I lack the physical courage required of normal homosexual acts. How those fellas endure it is a marvel) I feel this ad somehow implies MY group doesn't give a shit about tasteful food or event details.

We don't, but STILL having that coarse stereotype shoved right into my face is darned offensive. I'm taking my rage to a Del Taco where I shall dine without using a napkin!

The N.R.A. stinks and doesn't represent gun owners

I've never owned a gun. Not a political statement or safety concern, just never been a part of what nearby family and friends are into. I have many responsible friends and relatives who are gun owners, and I trust them. Guns can be used responsibly for recreation, hunting, just-in-case safety. If I lived in an area where the local law enforcement was 30+ minutes away, I'd consider owning a gun. Except for time in the armed forces, to my knowledge no friend or family members have injured themselves or others with guns. No big whoop.

I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I used to be for the concept of "gun control" until the Bush Administration and Congress pushed its long-in-development (pre-9/11) PATRIOT Act and started breaking our civil rights on surveillance, absurd security policies, and interrogation (Obama Administration? Not much better). The concept of a government turning on its people became more vivid. So the wisdom of the 2nd Amendment became apparent and now I'm on board. Still deliberating on whether citizens should have the right to all types of firearms, and listening to all sides there.

But the National Rifle Association is a fear-mongering pusher of guns that sucks donkey dongs. I'm sure in the topsy-turvy world of many of their donors, where single-parented mixed-race corporate-friendly Barack Obama is a privileged elitist socialist who's gotten way too uppity, their recent ad resonates. The NRA ad is way over the top, and it's fun to watch/read the outrage. I don't agree with all of the hand-wringing below, but some of the reaction is on-the-nose:

The U.S. President has a tough job. That job includes death threats from outside and within the U.S. It's a job where there's close to a 10% chance of getting shot and killed. And the President is the Commander-in-Chief, the head of our military forces. Armed protection makes sense. Do school employees have a 1 in 10 chance of getting shot and killed? No. Do the majority of gun owners think arming our schools makes sense? Probably not. Does the gun lobby the N.R.A. represents have an interest in ginning up more out-of-proportion fear to sell millions of more guns? Yes.

And the N.R.A. ads are losing moderates who might otherwise consider what gun owners have to say. If the gubmint does end up taking away guns from citizens, the N.R.A. will deserve much of the blame.

Movie/social critic "poisoning nation's soul"

Caught a link to this pernicious, hand-wringing article by Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Violent media poisoning nation's soul"

Photo linked to the awful article, read at your moral peril!It's ignorant, muddled, terrible, and awful.

I understand some people feel there is a correlation between violent media and violent actions, and believe in the free choice people have to not see violent entertainment. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. take in these entertainments and do not behave violently.

Watching violence is cathartic, whether in theater, song, movies, video games. They are scapegoats for our fantasies, and for opportunistic politicians not wanting to look at true root causes. We're not far from the days of blaming Catcher in the Rye or Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson for the acts of people who have severe mental breakdowns or illnesses. In our Western history we had public executions, hangings, and gladiatorial combat as everyday occurrences. Shall we talk about human-written magic books promising eternal bliss to suicide bombers? No? Video games are easier political points? Uhm, yeah, okay.

The author compares marketers targeting the young male demographic to what the Taliban does. He pretends to be pro-free expression, but this section speculating on how a movie reviewer may soft-pedal a scene with a movie theater massacre smacks of Carry Nation hysterics:

And so the critic would end up writing something like this: "The movie contains a disturbing yet highly effective scene of violence transpiring at a movie theater." Forget any mention of the insidiousness of inserting such poison into the national mind, of the morality or decency of feeding audiences crack.

Barf. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds had a movie theater massacre as its climax. It was a fantasy piece about mowing down Nazis and the power of cinema. Jewish soldiers got to kill Hitler and other Nazi leaders years ahead of time. A hail of gunfire and a blazing inferno and it felt shocking and great. To my knowledge, no one tried to replicate that in real life. It was not treated as poison in the national mind. Art should not be required to have a moral or social obligation. When it does, people become tightly wound and societies get even more twisted and weird. Catharsis is necessary, imagination is necessary, otherwise we get sick inside.

I recently rewatched the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, which tries to get at why the U.S. seems to have so many more violent gun deaths compared to other nations. The film doesn't get into per capita statistics, but other things I've read still show the U.S. as significantly higher per capita, even though gun ownership rates are comparable in Canada. The movie throws a bunch of ideas into the air for consideration, fair enough as there aren't any tidy solutions, but compellingly speculates that heightened social anxiety drummed up by the news media may be a factor. Overrepresentation in the news of crimes by minorities, especially compared to white collar/corporate crimes and environmental crimes, makes us fear incipient personal criminal attack from the mysterious Other.

My feeling (the truth may be different) is that there's something to the movie's point about the news media. I make a distinction between social violence in the news portrayed as "real life" resonating differently with people and how those same people engage with art/entertainment, something they know is fake and not an imminent threat.

Growing up I remember adult media debate over whether television should air violent cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner on Saturday mornings. I don't recall anyone I knew ever dropping anvils in real life, or playing with dynamite, or running off a cliff to see whether flapping their arms could hold them up in the air. However the news media has recently flapped its arms over the "fiscal cliff crisis" as a real thing we all need to be concerned about and panic over. And we did.