Wartime poem - "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Listening & reading stories about the increase of veterans committing suicide evoked the phrase "guttering, choking, drowning" from a poem I could not fully recall. So I looked it up. It's below. Wilfred Owen was a World War I era poet who died in 1918, killed on the front lines at the age of 25 in the last week of the War.

To save you the trouble (as I had to look it up to verify) "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is from Horace's Odes and means "It is sweet and good form to die for your country."

Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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.

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

Being the hottest bitch in this place

I knew Alan Thicke's kid was a singer. Hadn't heard any song by him before (or at least connected any song with him). His photo would show up here and there, then his name. I'd think "Ah. Alan Thicke's kid. Bet that's a steep climb, or a career boost. Whatever. Looks like a dullard. Like an even-blander Enrique Iglesias." 

This week, I discovered the name of that song I've heard 300 times this summer ("Blurred Lines)", and that it was Alan Thicke singing it. Great production. Not surprised Pharrell is involved.  The video is causing a stir, due to the presence of naked female models (let's all of us clothed primates gasp in horror). Even so, only Pharrell and T.I. come across like the only humans within worth hanging out with. Even better, though, is the parody video. Unfortunately, getting many of the jokes in the parody require seeing the original. Here you go [Not Safe For Work unless you work someplace awesome]:

The funnier, more personality-driven parody by Mod Carousel that swaps the genders:

Bet the group in the parody video had more fun than the pretend-fun in the first video. 

Why does same-sex marriage get me emotional?

A few times in recent years I've been asked why I get emotional about marriage equality. There's typically a zest gap: the other person is rational, I'm on the verge of berserker rage. For my part, it's a mix of religion and accrued anecdotes. Let's start with anecdotes:

1985 - The Times of Harvey Milk
Saw this documentary when it aired on PBS. The existence of gay people was still a foreign concept to me (so was going outside, or a city with more than 100,000 people in it). But Harvey Milk's story was a moving one. This film stuck in my head, although it did not save me from being a dipshit (see below). 

High school & college
In high school I had a close friend who had a strong gay vibe. Yet he was dating girls. Our 16-18 year-old brains thought it was so funny that people kept thinking he was gay. This was an ongoing joke for years. "Ha ha, you are so not gay, yet people keep calling you gay. Isn't that hilarious?" You can see where this is going.

In college I had another friend who had a strong gay vibe.  Yet he also dated girls. Similar thing, but with the extra smarm that early college years can bring. Whispering/hissing cattily to my friend things like: "Ha! I feel so gay around you" during errands in the grocery store. This was the pinnacle of wit, as he was not gay, right?

In both cases, both friends eventually came out as gay in their late teens or early twenties. Thankfully. Knowing that for years I was a close friend to each yet part of an environment that reinforced that gayness was wrong, that I was part of the sense of oppression, still has me ill at ease decades later. 

Eugene, Oregon - Kinko's, 1992
On the Oregon ballot in 1992 was Measure 9, a vile piece of hateful shit from the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA). For openers:

This state shall not recognize any categorical provision such as "sexual orientation," "sexual preference," and similar phrases that include homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. Quotas, minority status, affirmative action, or any similar concepts, shall not apply to these forms of conduct, nor shall government promote these behaviors.

Scott Lively & Long Mabon. Source: The Oregonian 

The two point people, Lon Mabon and Scott Lively, were pervy-looking dudes. As you can guess, there was propaganda equating homosexuality to dog fucking, child molesters, and an intense preoccupation with other people's sexual activities. These hate-mongering ding-a-lings mentioned "water sports" in the Oregon Voters Guide as something homosexuals like to do. I had to ask around what that meant. Thanks for making the Voters Guide into pornography, guys!

The Kinko's store I worked in was chock full of smarty pantses struggling to find jobs because of those Reagan and Bush sonsofbitches. Taking a tally of staff members, more than half were homosexual or bisexual. A socially awkward guy, this made my dating prospects dim. 

Two of the buttons we made in 1992 (above), my teeny-seeming slipper-shod feet (below).

We were fired up about Measure 9. Some of us started wearing buttons at work. The manager, a lesbian, initially and sensibly disapproved. Why should a copy shop get involved in politics? The Kinko's store was one of the few left in the U.S. still owned by an individual. We had decent relations with the owner. The Anti-Measure 9 campaign was a significant store customer. The vibe reached a point where we asked the manager if we could make buttons for free for that campaign. Finally, happily, she said yes. That was a triumphant feeling. 

Measure 9 failed (Fuck off, OCA!). As did the similar Measure 13 years after (double fuck off, OCA!). Then when the ballot measure numbers cycled around, a new anti-gay Measure 9 failed yet again (many people still had their '92 anti-Measure 9 bumper stickers - handy! Also: triple fuck-off, OCA!). Disappointingly, in 2004 Oregon voters passed a "one man, one woman" definition of marriage still in Oregon's books. Scott Lively is now part of anti-gay hate fomenting in Uganda the last few years, and people are dying because of it. No doubt Lively travels with a Bible.

Religion & embarrassment in history
The Bible is not a good source of morality.  Both the Old and New Testaments are cited by anti-gay groups bashers as why homosexuals are sinners. The Bible was used to justify anti-miscegenation (mixed-race) laws. Both the Old and New Testament justify slavery. If that shoddy book cannot get right the easiest moral issue we have: whether we can own another human as property, what moral authority can it claim?

Yet the Bible is also used to justify ignorance more broadly. Those denying climate change likely rely on the Bible for their views. The Bible gets so much wrong about science and the nature of reality it's stupefying. It doesn't even reference lands beyond the middle east. Or understand diseases, thinking them curses instead or caused by demon possession. It's so embarrassing on these matters that most Christians have learned to largely ignore the bulk of its assertions on almost everything, focusing on a few lapidary phrases that reality hasn't entirely laughed away yet. Bible-thumpers are behind the misogyny trying to legislate what women should and should not be able to do with their own bodies. Women-as-chattel is throughout the Bible and the Koran.

Believing in magic books, magic institutions, or magic people always leads to trouble. It is a grave embarrassment to our species to take ultimate moral and scientific authority from an Iron Age compendium of shoddy writing repeatedly tampered with and clearly written by primate (not holy) hands. As we laugh at the ignorance of previous generations, so the future will laugh at us.

History never looks kindly on restricting the civil rights of citizens. We will eventually grant the right to marriage to all adult citizens, why delay it? Banning same-sex marriage is anti-family. Anti-gay laws block family hospital visits, family medical decisions, child custody, inheritance. Those laws hurt people. For no reason. "Marriage is about making babies!" Bible-thumpers yell. Then take away marriage from childless couples and old people. "Marriage is a sacred rite!" Sorry, but marriage carries federal and state rights and privileges.

What has happened in states and countries that have marriage equality?  Other than an occasional bigoted flip-out at the start: nothing. Gay marriage is boring there. Why? Because gay people are boring, like we straight people are boring. It is no fucking big deal to have it around!

So, along with the case against marriage equality being morally and metaphysically so fucking stupid, I get angry because we all will get there, the end result is within sight. Let's get it done and chill out! I feel embarrassment for our country and our species that it hasn't happened yet. I want to stop having to explain to my kids why some of our neighbors and friends can't get married.

Pride flags fly over Harvey Milk Plaza on Castro & Market in San Francisco. 

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!

N.Y. Times - Print Happens: Glamor Clowns

A print misalignment in the The New York Times resulted in blurry faces in a series of glamor photos in the SundayStyles section. I snapped examples:

Glen Close, Lena Dunham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amanda Seyfried all glamorous, all made clowns by an errant printing process. January Jones also a victim on the page.

Funny, right? Mistakes happen. January Jones was another victim. Naomi Campbell, on the same page, managed to look even better. Presumably these beautiful people will continue on, undeterred by what happened to a West Coast printing of the NYT. Having canceled by subscription to The Oregonian (its new publisher is an Orange County, California neocon jerk) and choosing the Sunday New York Times has been much more entertaining. Though I miss Doonesbury and the weekly pondering of what life would be like if my only information about the outside world was reading Parade magazine each Sunday (on my bucket list of experiments once I'm wealthy).

The NYT motto: "All the News That's Fit to Print" is vomitous. Not a boast the NYT has earned, and reminiscent of Sarah Palin's 2008 answer to which newspapers and magazines she read to stay informed: "All of them."

It was a funny answer, but I would have LOVED if this vision of Palin, a constantly-churning-information-Braniac-machine, had turned out to be true.

But every weekly opening of the The New York Times I am haunted by two ghosts. I hear Christopher Hitchens moan about the New York Times slogan, and Gore Vidal sneers and spits at the New York Times Sunday Book Review. It held a vendetta against him for decades, and even when it started reviewing his books again he thought it was sloppy and ramshackle. I'm glad to have those voices. They're good reminders that because something feels information-packed and sophisticated, doesn't mean it's true.

Marco Rubio's swallow heard 'round the world

If Marco Rubio and his people have half a brain, they will turn his thirst for water into a trademark. In public appearances, he'll be all "You know, me and my water" as he takes a sip of water. A nation shakes its head fondly, and with a sitcom posture of hands on hips or folded arms will say: "Oh, Rubio." And Rubio will look at the crowd or the camera with a "Hey, I gotta be me." Freeze frame. Credits roll.

But his State of the Union rebuttal was a disaster. Not only making up points to refute that weren't even in the State of the Union speech, but Rubio made a variety of claims contrary to reality.

An essential point was one Rubio made early on: "See, for much of human history, most people were trapped in stagnant societies where a tiny minority always stayed on top." He meant to say the U.S. is different from that. But it is not. U.S. class mobility does not really exist. The U.S. has record wealth but the lower 98% is not enjoying it, despite worker productivity nearly doubling as our earnings have stagnated due to corporate stooges of all parties, including Marco Rubio.

Poland Spring water, the brand Rubio desperately gulped, had better get on this moment. It's promotional gold for them. That's capitalism.