This morning, I finally finished reading Bob Woodward's "State of Denial." I had read it in spurts, basically absorbing large chunks of it whenever I had some real time off, and then ignoring it for several weeks.
If you haven't read it, go ahead and pick it up. It's a revealing look at a dysfunctional administration and a disastrous war, as described by the very people who are involved at the top levels. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are interviewed, as are Condoleeza Rice, former Coalition Provisional Authority Director Paul Bremer. Donald Rumsfled speaks on the record, and Woodward includes an interview he conducted with the president in 2003 (as the war waged on and his approval ratings plummeted, Bush refused further interview requests from Woodward).
It's aptly-titled. Throughout the book, which is "Part III" of Woodward's "Bush at War" series, there is a systematic denial of the facts on the ground in Iraq. The White House's very atmosphere prevented the kinds of factual reports in many cases from even reaching the president, and when they did, they were glossed over and reworked in order to fit into the kinds of rosy platitudes Bush felt the nation needed to hear.
Bush's former chief of staff, Andrew Card, is quoted as saying he felt that the presidency and administration had come to be recognized by two key distinguising characteristics: arrogance and ignorance.
And the mess goes on today.
Or at least, it did last time I checked. For the past week, I've been home in upstate New York on leave. Christmas has been a wonderful break, even though I took the Graduate Records Examination Wednesday. Despite how much I procrastinated in studying for the test, I think I did pretty well. No word yet on the analytical writing portion of the exam, but I got a 690 on the verbal section, just 10 points shy of the 700 I was hoping for, for insurance purposes.
Other than that, it's been reading and spending time with the family. For Christmas, my parents gave me an XM radio, so I've been stealing away to listen to Opie & Anthony and the Fungus channel (it plays punk, exclusively, and good punk: Ramones, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, etc.) when I can.
So that's it from me at the moment. What's left to do is visit Syracuse University and find out about how to best apply for their graduate program in political science. Wish me luck...
Friday, December 29, 2006
This morning, I finally finished reading Bob Woodward's "State of Denial." I had read it in spurts, basically absorbing large chunks of it whenever I had some real time off, and then ignoring it for several weeks.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I put this on the wall in a punk bar I went to in downtown Louisville.
It's called the Third Street Dive. Great place for live music and Smithwick's draughts.
UPDATE: Just in case you can't make it out, next to the dagger I wrote, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn Pro. -- HST"
Posted by brogonzo at 1:34 PM
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I got yelled at by Santa Claus today.
Nope, I'm not kidding.
Here's the set up: In my ongoing quest to leave no journalistic stone unturned, I spoke with a Santa impersonator from Louisville this week for a seasonal feature story. For those who aren't familiar with the business, "seasonal feature stories" are the newspaper field's equivalent of HIV. They're those pieces on Easter egg hunts, beach openings, and of course, Santa Claus impersonators.
For what it was, the story turned out okay. Here's the link you won't click on:
Santa Claus? He's a 1960 graduate of Knox High
Anyway, I had laid the story out on page A2, but my editor liked it and moved the beginning to the front, with the story jumping to page A2.
Our paper's A-section is now split into two sections thanks to the evil advertising department's collaboration with our lazy pressmen. On the front page of the second A section, which begins on page 17, I laid in a standalone photo from the post's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. The photo shows the "guest of honor," Santa Claus, giving candy canes to two young girls. Definitely your standard, non-threatening Christmas fare. The paper hit the racks this morning.
So after a soul-stirring staff meeting this morning, I was sitting at my desk handling my normal Thursday afternoon workload, which generally consists of browsing CNN, Wikipedia, and various messageboards while trying to earn a positive balance in Vegas-style Windows solitaire.
My phone rang. It was an older gentleman on the phone, and he didn't sound pleased.
"I'm Mr. So-and-so," he said. "And I saw that you ran a story about a fellow who dresses as Santa Claus on page 1."
I looked at my as-yet-unopened copy of the paper.
"Right," I said. I was waiting for him to launch into some irrelevant explanation of a perceived mistake in the story.
"Well, it goes to page alpha-two," he said. Okay, he was probably prior military.
"Um, yes," I said. I checked -- the jump on the front said to turn to page two, and the jump indeed started on page two. No mistakes yet.
"Okay, now if you turn to page 17, there's a photo of Santa Claus," he said.
I picked up the second section of the paper, and there was the standalone I'd laid out. Still, I wasn't seeing a problem. But the man on the other end of the phone was becoming increasingly excited.
"Yes, sir, there it is..."
He cut me off.
"Well, why doesn't it explain that this is a different Santa than the one in the story on your page one?"
I didn't have an answer. There were 15 pages of newsprint between the end of my Santa story and the standalone photo of the other Santa.
"Uh, sir, I don't think..."
"I'm that Santa!" he said, beginning to raise his voice. "Any normal person would think that this was the same Santa you wrote about in the story on page one! I think it was in very poor taste that you didn't differentiate between the two! I... I... I can't believe this! I feel like I've been kicked in the shorts!"
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bastard sometimes. But I really wasn't trying to be a jerk to this guy on the phone. It's just that I couldn't believe that I was being yelled at by a guy who dresses up as Santa Claus and hands candy canes to young children after they tell him what they want for Christmas. I had no idea what to tell the guy, and I was beginning to think he was insane.
So I laughed at him. It wasn't a belly laugh -- just a nervous chuckle that sort of slipped out. I really was becoming convinced that the man I was talking to was either joking, or was a cellmate of the Chief's in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
"DON'T YOU LAUGH AT ME!" His voice went up an octave. "THIS IS SERIOUS! I'M SERIOUS! YOU... Put me back on with the first person I spoke with!"
I could hear my editor just outside the newsroom. He was giggling. The bastard had gotten the call, realized the guy was a nutter, and suggested he speak with "The Guy Who Did the Layout."
I shot the call back to his office, and listened while Santa Claus chewed out my editor for 15 more minutes -- as it turns out, the ass-chewing was about me, the young ingrate who had the gall to laugh at the "Post Santa," who's been doing this Saint Nick gig for some eight years.
I looked around the newsroom, and the two other writers in the room had stopped what they were doing to watch the show. Both had huge shit-eating grins on their faces.
"You just got bitched at by Santa?" John asked.
"Yeah," I said. "I guess I'm getting coal in my stocking this year."
I paused, and then cursed.
"Damn. I wish I'd thought to say that on the phone," I said.
My editor had finished up the call and walked into the room.
"That's a new one," he said. "In 26 years of editing this paper, I've never gotten yelled at by Santa Claus."
Posted by brogonzo at 9:49 PM
Monday, November 27, 2006
Happy belated Thanksgiving, people.
I spent the holiday in Somerset, Kentucky, with a buddy of mine and his family who graciously invited me to have the Turkey Day meal with them. It was a nice break -- we ate well, and Saturday hiked around Cumberland Falls for a few hours.
Now it's back into the last throes of the 2006 working year. I'm planning on taking a couple weeks off for Christmas, which means I'll be heading home to New York for even more R&R.
This was the fifth (and last, hopefully) Thanksgiving I spent in the Army, and the fifth I've been away from home. It's funny the way holidays take on a different character when you're away from family -- really, Thanksgiving has always been "just another day." Since it's a day off, historically I've used it as an opportunity to go out drinking the night before, since there's nobody expecting any conversation out of you when you go the the "Thanksgiving Dinner" at the post dining facility, and gravy is good for hangovers.
Instead, this year I just enjoyed taking it easy. I really must be softening up -- I mean, read this sentimental dreck I concocted for last week's paper.
On the U.S. politics side, once Bush announced that SECDEF Rumsfeld was being "asked to leave," I decided to revisit Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," which I'd picked up when it came out but never really got into.
While I was away for Thanksgiving, a woman noticed it while I was carrying it outside to read. She said, "Oh, I wouldn't read that. I used to like Bob Woodward, but this book is all untrue."
Apparently, she enjoyed Woodward's two previous Bush books, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," which were widely considered to be at least sympathetic to the current administration. In "State of Denial," that is not the case.
In college, I took a survey course in psychology as an elective, since I switched majors too late to get into any journalism classes my freshman year. I remember reading something about "ego defense mechanisms," and while I understood the concept in the class however many years ago, I hadn't seen one jump out at me quite so blatantly and advertise itself.
Then again, I guess I have -- it's a pandemic across the country, and you can see it in that tenacious minority that still clings to the idea of George W. Bush being the saviour of the American way of life and the stalwart defender of freedom and apple pie he's painted himself as. If Mr. Bush says we need to go to war to beat bad guys who want to steal our babies and keep us from voting, then, by God, that's the way it has to be. Besides, what better way to restore our faith in the American youth than by having a couple thousand of them die in the desert, defending "freedom"?
In psychology, it's called creating ego defense mechanisms -- those ideas you construct so you can keep from believing that something awful or unacceptable is actually true. In art -- movies and literature, usually -- it's called suspension of disbelief. When you watch a movie, you need to temporarily ignore the knowledge that what's going on on the screen is fake; that way, you can become involved with the story line and experience the thrill ride the director is trying to take you on.
But in both ego defense and suspension of disbelief, there can come a time where the burden of evidence becomes so great that these are shattered, and the real world is left there unadorned, staring brutely back at you.
Many conservatives in America have been able to maintain their suspension of disbelief through a series of fantastic events -- the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S.' s utter failure to rebuild Iraq, the thieving and war-profiteering going on in Washington, just to name a few -- and one wonders what exactly it will take to bring them all crashing back down to reality.
When they do, it'll be a good day, and those of us who have already left Candyland should welcome them with open arms. It won't be until then that we can actually make any real progress.
Posted by brogonzo at 9:29 AM
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I used to be a member of the official "milblogs" ring, but I tendered my resignation after I noticed that the milblog community at large was eager to defend the actions of U.S. Marines at Haditha, Iraq.
I saw the story below as it came up on the AP wire yesterday. Before I posted this, I stopped by a couple prominent milblogs, looking for a reaction. There was none.
Apparently I made the correct choice when I quit the ring.
In other news, the Army's new advertising slogan is "Army Strong."
From the Associated Press: (FORT CAMPBELL, KY) -- One of four U.S. soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl last spring and killing her and her family pleaded guilty Wednesday, and agreed to testify against the others.
Spc. James P. Barker agreed to the plea deal to avoid the death penalty, said his civilian attorney, David Sheldon.
The military judge presiding over the case, Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, asked Barker why he participated in the attack in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad. It was among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by military personnel in Iraq.
"I hated Iraqis, your honor," Barker answered. "They can smile at you, then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."
Anderson accepted the plea agreement, which calls for Barker to serve at least life in prison. The judge will decide in a hearing Thursday whether Barker should be allowed to seek parole.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, members of the 101st Airborne Division with Barker, also are charged in the case. Cortez deferred entering a plea during his arraignment Wednesday morning. Spielman will be arraigned in December. The fourth soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, also deferred entering a plea at his arraignment in October.
A fifth person, former Army private Steve Green, 21, pleaded not guilty last week to civilian charges including murder and sexual assault.
Green was discharged from the Army for a "personality disorder" before the allegations became known, and prosecutors have yet to say if they will pursue the death penalty against him.
The group is accused of raping the girl and burning her body to conceal their crimes, then killing the girl's father, mother and 6-year-old sister.
After entering his plea Wednesday, Barker gave the court a vivid account of the events.
Barker said he and the others were drinking and playing cards while they manned a traffic checkpoint. Green brought up the idea of raping the girl and killing her family, he said.
"He brought it up to me and asked me what I thought about it. At a couple of points, I told him he was crazy," Barker said.
Barker said he and Green then approached the others with the idea, but there never was a verbal agreement to do it.
"Things just got set in motion, we just started changing (clothes), myself, Cortez and Green," Barker said. "By the time we started changing clothes, it was more or less a nonverbal agreement that we were going to go along with what we were discussing."
Barker said he, Green and Cortez raped the girl, and Green killed the girl, her parents and her sister.
Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and slayings, though he said they were at the house when the assault occurred and had come knowing what the others intended to do.
Under military law, soldiers who are present when a crime is committed can be charged with that crime even if they did not play an active role.
Cortez, who could face the death penalty if convicted, and Howard watched from the audience as Barker described the assault. They were accompanied by their defense attorneys and declined to comment.
# # # # # #
Posted by brogonzo at 1:47 PM
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Something's loosened me up, that's for sure. Suddenly, I'm wanting to write again -- no grand ambitions, of course; just enough to get me to browse on over to Blogger and click the "New Post" icon.
I don't know who came up with the phrase, "familiarity breeds contempt," but it's true... and I'm not about to go looking around Google and Wikipedia to see if I can find a footnote. I might ruin this new spate of inspiration I've inexplicably discovered.
It might be the Palahniuk book I told you about last time. The man has a singular tone -- he constructs his sentences so carefully that you're at once disarmed by the casual tone and entranced by the hypnotic, progressing narrative. There's something about his economy of words and punctuation. Something rhythmic. Like you're approaching the second movement of a sonata, the one that introduces the pace, the sense of rushing toward the end. Sentence fragments. Beginning paragraphs with words like "and" or "but."
Did I catch you there? That last paragraph that starts out normal but steadily quickens with progressively shorter sentences, moving inexorably toward the italicized rhythmic? Did it work? You see, I'm just working things out at this point. I'm not versed enough in the theory of English prose to know if I'm doing it well or if I'm just ham-handedly muddling my way through each paragraph.
I'm at the point now where I'm easily influenced by powerful writers I'm fortunate enough to stumble across. Steinbeck changed the way I wrote. Thompson did, too. And this latest little horror novel of Palahniuk's... well, that's made me realize writing never has to be boring.
Looking back on what I've just composed, I can see the bad parts. There are too many adverbs (too many words ending in "y"), and too much self-referential focus. Too many gratuitous sentence fragments.
Who cares, though? This whole site is just an experiment. It's just a place for me to vent or whine or work out personal issues or see what kinds of things I can actually do with the languag or figure out the difference between me as a writer and me as a writer who's had too many beers.
Pay me, and I'll make it worth your while. Otherwise, if you don't like it, leave.
UPDATE: Holy shit, six beers make me an intolerable read.
Posted by brogonzo at 11:41 PM
Monday, November 13, 2006
November's almost halfway through, and I'm still wandering my way through a crippling case of blog-boredom that's been plaguing me for months. Where I once watched eagerly for evidence of lies or sensationalism on television, now I can only manage to turn the set on for Sunday football games. I used to be an avid politics junkie, and now, even the recent mid-term elections barely elicited a peep as far as writing goes.
While on TDY, I watched the relentless election coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and even FOX. When the results came in showing the Democrats had wrested control of the house from the Republicans, who have led what has been arguably the worst congress in the history of the United States, I hardly even cared. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- who was, in some way, my boss -- was shown the door shortly afterwards, I shrugged. Thursday, when the Virginia Republican incumbent conceded his senate seat to the challenging democrat, handing the DNC a one-seat lead there, I was just glad it was over.
To be honest, at this point, I'm actually excited to see the U.S. government come to a screeching halt. If you meet anyone who claims to believe the bullshit about "a new need for bipartisanship" or "civility in government," ask them which American-flag-pin-wearing creep is paying them. You don't need a long memory to know that while opposition feeds growth in the market, it creates screaming stalemates in our government.
Bush is having lunch with the soon-to-be speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi. He's appearing in press conferences and cracking lame jokes about "thumpin's." The winners are expansively praising the losers, and only a couple weeks ago, both were running television ads claiming their opponents were taking naturalization applications for suicide bombers and flag-burning pedophiles. The losers are pledging not to leave their former constituencies behind, and meanwhile are even now settling into new lobbying offices from which they'll launch new smear campaigns on different fronts.
Entropy is the tendency of any system to become more disorderly and chaotic as time passes. The more independent factors that are involved, the faster the system reduces to chaos. There have been civilizations in the world that have lasted for hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands. But could it be that this huge, free country of ours just has too many independent variables at work? Is our inherent entropy spinning us toward chaos and destruction faster than any empire before us?
There's a part of me that's desperately hoping so. If it's true, the next few years could be very interesting, and I wouldn't want to miss out.
Postscript: I'm not actually reading that Kurt Vonnegut book anymore. I picked up a copy of Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted in the airport, and I've been devouring it this weekend. It's really a collection of ghost stories -- but instead of ghosts, Palahniuk uses the mundane and ordinary things we're accustomed to... and in twisting them, makes them more horrifying than any vampire or Frankenstein's monster ever committed to the page.
It's filled with the kind of obsessive research that characterizes Palahniuk's work, and it's also incredibly gory. If you're struggling to make it through a Dean Koontz, give Haunted a wide, wide berth. If you giggle when the helicopter lops off the top of the zombie's head in the original "Dawn of the Dead," then this one's for you.
Posted by brogonzo at 7:31 PM
Sunday, November 12, 2006
As usual, it's been a while since I wrote anything for this godawful blog. Again, though, I have an excuse: I was on Temporary Duty.
Evidently, it all started when someone at the Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion thought it would be a good idea to get a couple Army broadcast journalists up to talk to area high schools about how cool the job was. A couple months ago, I got a copy of the request, and, since broadcasters are technically in the same career field as I am, the sender asked if I'd be interested. They wanted two broadcast journalists to speak to high school classes in the Detroit area about their jobs. Instead, they just got one of me: a singular 46Q.
Some background: Since the Army (and, presumably the military in general) has moved to civilianize the post journalism field, there have been fewer and fewer journalists (Career field 46) back in garrison environments. When I arrived at Knox, the entire staff of the paper was soldiers... now, I'm the last one left, and I work with a gang of civilians. We used to run the TV station here, and now the all broadcasters (46Rs) have since left and moved on to presumably better things.
So as far as Fort Knox is concerned, I'm the only 46 left. I responded to the email explaining that I am by no means a broadcaster (but stay tuned for my upcoming Podcast), but that I'd be happy to talk about my job with the Detroit high schoolers.
The long and short of it is that the Army flew me to Detroit, hooked me up with a very nice rental car (a Chrysler Sebring with satellite radio) and a hotel room, and paid me somewhere around $100 a day to speak to area high school year book, English, and journalism classes about what I do for the Army.
I'm not used to being on the spot, expected to speak knowledgeably about anything. My job, really, is to come up with questions that get a subject matter expert or other point of contact talking... I'm always uncomfortable on the business end of an interview or photo shoot.
For the weekend that I was left to my own devices, I tried to come up with a coherent speech -- some kind of presentation that would highlight my own reasons for joining and the benefits I've gotten out of having been in the Army. After checking into my hotel (five miles north on Gratiot Avenue from the now-famous 8 Mile Road), I bought index cards, pens, scissors, superglue... hoping that my suddenly-squared away uniform and series of "key points" would get me through a week of high school class periords.
After the first presentation, I realized that I needed to ditch any semblance of a script. It made me feel awkward and staid, and the last thing I wanted was to talk at the kids. It was clear from the beginning that what I should really do was to tell them who I was, what my responsibilities were, and why I decided to take the route I did... and then to open it up to questions. I didn't want to presume about what the students wanted to know or hear, so the question period, in my mind, was the critical element.
Unfortunately. I'm not a natural stand up comic or teacher. When I spoke and moved to another point, I felt it was disjointed and awkward. Still, kids asked questions and wanted to know more about actually practicing the newspaper craft -- at least in the context of the military. I'm not sure if I got anyone more fired up about that... but the recruiters who escorted me certainly have a couple more leads now.
I got questions like, "Who advertises in your paper?" "Did you know you would be going into journalism when you joined?" "Could you be deployed?" "What's your favorite question to ask in an interview?" "Have you ever been 'in the Action?'" "Did the Army pay for your college loans?"
For me, it was at least a productive exercise. Have I accomplised what I hoped to do when I signed up? Has my career over the past four years stood out as much as I'd hoped? Have I done things that your average new reporter not had the chance to do?
I interviewed Twisted Sister. I crawled through the woods with an infantry squad, snapping pictures while they fired their rifles. I've felt a tank company roll by and shake me in my boots, and I've sat in the gunner's hatch of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during a 20-mile road march. I've penned two columns, and I've been responsible for the layout and design of a newspaper with a weekly 20,000 circulation.
I bitch about the Army a lot, and maybe there's good reason. But now, as my time is drawing to a close, it's becoming clearer that the things I wanted to accomplish by joining really have been accomplished, and that even though five years is a lot of time, the investment actually is going to have returns.
I'm looking foward to the next phase... but I certainly will never forget this one.
Posted by brogonzo at 12:56 AM
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Battle stations, fellow assholes! Batten down the hatches and prepare for war! Light up those Molotovs and make sure your powder's dry. No quarter can be given! No mercy for the weak! A whining, defeatist DEMOCRAT has made comments that could, maybe, sort of, be interpreted as a slam on the military, so naturally, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT!
For those of you who aren't knuckledraggers who get their news from Drudge or FOX, the word on the street is that Sen. John Kerry recently said something about education, success, and military service -- and how "one of these things is not like the other."
Here's what Ol' Ketchup Man said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well... If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
I got the quote from the Chicago Tribune's John Kass, who's convinced that Kerry's remark, multiplied by its timing, could easily be construed as a con-job by the GOP, who until the former presidential candidate's "joke," were about to lose the upcoming mid-term elections.
Republicans must be uncorking the champagne bottles they'd morosely stashed under the Pentagon's sub-basement (with labels reading "Do Not Open Till Doomsday" on the crates). The unconvinced need only watch a few of the party's disgraceful campaign ads, which have been in near-constant rotation for the past month. Republicans have basically been accusing their opponents of being kid-touchers.
Michael J. Fox, meanwhile, had the unmitigated gall to appear in a campaign ad for Democrat Ed Perlmutter in Colorado. In the ad, Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, shook visibly as he explained that Perlmutter would work to help overturn President Bush's veto on creating new lines of stem cells for research into possible cures for many degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's.
GOP shill Rush Limbaugh was quick to point out that Fox had probably neglected to take his Parkinson's medication in order to exaggerate the tremors associated with the disease. Limbaugh, of course, is something of a subject-matter expert in the field of perscription drugs -- but one might wonder if his gourmet taste in OxyContin qualifies him to diagnose symptoms of non-compliance in a Parkinson's patient.
It should be said that regardless of the frequency of Marty McFly's oscillations, the man does indeed have Parkinson's, and probably would prefer not to. The debate over stem cell research is one for another day; the fact at hand is that Limbaugh, like the party he shucks for, is a bag of shit who should be beaten with rubber hoses as he's chased over a cliff and into the sea.
Actually, what we were really talking about was John Kerry's ill-advised remark, which he's since explained was a botched joke. I suppose we know now why Kerry isn't doing Bill Burr's job(NSFW). What he should have said is, "Study hard and try to be smart, and you could succeed. Otherwise, you could get stuck in Iraq... or in the White House."
I've been in the Army for four years as an enlisted soldier. I haven't met many Ivy Leaguers here, believe me. There are a couple people I've met who've been degree holders, but a majority of enlisted soldiers come in with little or no college experience. The Army offers a means to get a degree (I'm personally planning on applying my education benefits toward a master's in political science, more on that some other time), and so, lacking the means with which to attend college otherwise, kids sign up and trade a few tours in Iraq for the chance to go to school.
Plus, I've met more drooling idiots in the Army than I had imagined existed in the world beforehand. So as far as I'm concerned, Senator Heinz was pretty much on target. Too bad his stupid comment is going to be so spun up by the GOP (one of their groups has spent about 80 percent on smear campaign ads) that the Democrats, this late in the game, can only really resort to collecting rabbits' feet and hoping for the best.
Have fun at the voting booths, kids. You won't catch me choosing between two soulless, stuff-suit used car salesmen.
Posted by brogonzo at 5:20 PM
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Holy crap, I've become an ex-blogger.
I guess it's a combination of things. I've been pretty busy, which is one excuse. Part of that has come from an intensive PT program I've been participating in for the past two months. After I left Korea, I gained something like 30 pounds -- none of which was good. But I'd gotten to a point where I felt like it was becoming a problem, and after busting tape a while back, it was clear I needed to do some more physical training.
That's come in the form of running four and five mile courses three times a week. It was murderous at first, in part because it was still hot and humid here, and in part because I had previously had no particular reason to focus on running. I was appalled at my two-mile time when I finally got around to having it measured, so I knew I needed to basically just run my ass off.
And a certain staff sergeant at HHC Garrison has been happy to help out, which is to his credit. My company holds PT three times a week, and generally it's a waste of time. Some pushups, crunches, and maybe a few laps on the quarter-mile track -- and then we're done. Generally, I'm home by 7:30, which is when the sessions are supposed to end.
We make up for it in the afternoons. We stretch out at 3:30 p.m., and then head off to various far-away points on Fort Knox. The most brutal is a five-mile jaunt over hill and dale, which takes us across Wilson Road and into the old basic training grounds -- out to the original water tower, which is usually covered in turkey vultures looking for roadkill, and around Triangle Motor Pool, then back down toward Wilson, down to Gold Vault Road, and a left turn up the steep hill to the company.
The first time we ran it, I didn't even make it to the water tower (which is at about the two-mile mark) without quitting and walking. I couldn't imagine being able to maintain a run -- even a shambling "airborne shuffle." I was pouring sweat and my shins felt like they were being sawed off.
Three weeks later, I was keeping pace with the other runners, and beating a couple of them back to the company. It's not fun, but I can do it now -- sucking air in through my nose (which dehydrates you less, since breathing through your mouth loses more water to respiration) and running from my hips instead of my knees, letting both feet roll from heel to toe on each step.
In the time since I started the additional PT, I've dropped nearly 20 pounds. I can see the lines delineating my calves again, and my ankles have narrowed down. My reflective PT belt started hanging loose around my waist two weeks ago, and last week I had to readjust it just to keep it from slipping down over my hips.
Don't let me make you think I've become a health nut. There has never been a single time when I've looked forward to our brutal afternoon runs -- I do them because I know I have to, and now that I'm seeing results, it's easier to force myself to attend. On the way there, I always hope something will happen that will cancel the session... but that never happens, and when I'm there, I put everything I've got into the exercise. At first, it was "don't quit!" Now, it's "how hard can I push this? Can I go faster?"
Running hurts. On Fridays, when we do our final run for the week, my knees scream in protest. My shins burn, and the soles of my feet feel like I've been running barefoot over gravel. My lower back aches, and my abdomen tightens and cramps. But that's not because I'm injured or particularly old -- it's just because I was in rotten shape, because I was irresponsible and let myself go. Everyone who devotes themselves to running goes through the same aches and pains.
There's not really any short cut to getting better at running -- you just have to do it, and as far as I'm concerned, it sucks -- at least to do it. But now that I'm seeing results, I want to keep at it. But I'm going to hate every moment of it.
In the meantime, I rocked the house this week at the paper. It comes out tomorrow (Thursday, October 19), so check it out once it updates here. I've got one in there on a Georgetown-educated professor giving our legal folks a class on the Middle East (which was riveting -- a great class), one on some guys who have an idea about how to re-route traffic around one of Knox's gates, a story about a World War II veteran who jumped into Operation Market Garden with the 82nd Airborne and is still the division's most decorated soldier, and a piece on the "Field of Screams" in nearby Brandenburg. The two photos on this week's front page are also mine, which is pretty nice, too. I liked how they all turned out, at least in general, so if you get a chance, check 'em out.
Okay, so that's an update. Peace out, bitches.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:25 PM
Monday, October 02, 2006
It took a while, but I finally broke down and bought a set of the Army's new ACU -- the strangely-colored, Velcro'ed, "great new thing."
I admit -- I was a detractor when the new uniform first came out. I didn't like the look, or the fact that patches were stuck on via velcro rather than sewing. I'm a convert, though... and maybe it has something to do with the fact that the uniforms I've worn for four years were initially thrown at me over a CIF counter in Georgia, but the new threads feel more like street clothes or pajamas... they actually fit me, and don't feel like garbage bags.
Saturday, I worked as designated driver for my stupid, fascist roommate. Considering my distaste for clubs, it was as good as can be expected. I'm sure a blog will be forthcoming once I've sobered up.
Anyway, folks, I'm through here. Stay semi-tuned for an amusing account of my weekend.
Posted by brogonzo at 8:42 PM
Thursday, September 28, 2006
That's a Snoop Dogg song. I don't listen to him, but I've got a little glass of Woodford Reserve here, and it's a nice way to wind down.
I don't post much these days, and I'm sort of sorry about that. Only a little, though -- because it wasn't for any of you that I ever posted in the first place, really. This is just a little space on the Internet where I can rant about something I think is relevant at any given time, and there's no financial interest in it, so it's not like I'm letting down the people who sign my paycheck or anything.
The trouble is, I think, that I've got short-timer's disease pretty bad. For those of you who haven't been in the military or served a prison sentence, "short-timer's" is the malaise that creeps over someone who's got their mind completely preoccupied with getting out... When you can almost taste it, it's hard to focus on the present with any kind of drive or clarity.
I'm looking forward to too much, you see. Once I'm through with this Army stint, I'll be hopefully checking into a graduate school for some studies in political science. I'm not sure which excites me more, the coming return to an academic environment or another shot at civilian life.
I've never been a very good soldier. Soldiers, to me, are the guys who carry around weapons in dangerous places, who stand in line, and who keep their hair cut out of a sheer desire to maintain the Standard.
Good soldiers always do well on their physical fitness tests. They march out of the wire in strictly-kept formation spacing. They study Army regulations religiously, readying themselves for the next board. They keep their class A uniforms sharp and up-to-date. Soldiers are men who carry weapons and look for hostile fire.
I'm not one of them. I wear a camouflage uniform to work every day, and it has an American flag on the right shoulder... but I'm not one of those guys. I do my job, but really, it's just a job. I have a lot of what they call cognitive dissonance when I hear "Soldiers died in Iraq today" followed by, "You're a soldier."
God bless those of you who do that dirty work. I'm not among your number. And that's why I'm not long for the Army. Next summer, here I come.
Posted by brogonzo at 8:27 PM
Monday, September 25, 2006
While it was monsooning here Friday, I dug up some angry feelings toward pop culture magazines and put this together. It's tentatively running in the paper this week, because my editor seemed to like it. It's still a draft, and I've got more messing around with it to do... but see what you think.
To the owners, publishers, editors, and writers of Us Weekly:
I'm writing to address a few concerns I have about the publication Us Weekly. I have several problems with the magazine, so I figure I'll begin with the nameplate.
Why on earth did you decide to name the publication "Us Weekly"? The second word is clear, but "Us"? Us is a personal, first person, plural pronoun meaning "you and me," where "you" can either be singular or plural. The word insinuates that the magazine is about you and me, and nothing more. This couldn't be further from the truth. It would be more accurate for Penthouse to call itself Better Homes & Gardens.
Your magazine is filled with the intimate details of the lives of Hollywood stars and media darlings. When Paris Hilton lost the runt she calls her dog, you were on the story. When we needed a faster way to say "Brad and Angelina," you provided us with "Brangelina." Whenever Nicole Richie drops five more pounds off her hideously emaciated frame and decides to hit the beach, your photographers are on the scene.
Thanks to "Us" Weekly, we can keep track of who Jennifer Aniston is dating. We know which Simpson sister is seeing who. We now can look forward every week to a new picture of Britney Spears looking like a social services disaster.
Nowhere in your magazine, however, have I ever been able to find even a single inch of editorial copy that pertains to me. You, perhaps; but certainly not me. Instead, it's all about other people--people who certainly have better things to do than read your publication. For example, they might make anti-Semitic remarks during a DUI stop, or secretly cheat on their significant other with someone we've seen on a "reality show."
Therefore, I suggest you change the name of your magazine to "Them Weekly." It's much clearer, and it takes away the disingenuous nature of your current flag.
Then again, I should probably ask why people read your magazine in the first place. After all, it's filled with nothing but the personal details of the lives of people more interesting than you and me, and presumably the rest of your readership. These facts and speculations couldn't possibly have any practical relevance to my life--or anyone else's, really. So why does anyone read them?
The only guess I can come up with is that people read your rotten magazine to get some kind of voyeuristic thrill out of peeking in at the "ugly" side of the lives of the stars, and by so doing vicariously become someone more "glamorous" and "fabulous" than they'll ever hope to be. You feed a desire many seem to have to be famous, but you do it without challenging them ever to leave the mind-numbing glow of the televisions they have tuned to the E! network (an organization equally as evil as yours).
So maybe calling yourselves "Us" Weekly works out in the end, in some horrible way. We can pick up your magazine, read about Tom Cruise's latest insane outburst, or the hottest Rodeo Drive couple, or who in TV-land might be pregnant, and think to ourselves, "Yes, I'm one of these people, too." And then we can turn back to our televisions, open a fresh package of Oreos, and continue to get dumber and fatter.
Thanks, after all.
In other news, I went to see Doug Stanhope at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville Friday. Awesome show -- and in a very close, old-school comedy club atmosphere. Doug stood by the door after his act and I got to shake his hand and exchange a couple words. I'd written him months ago asking him to come to Louisville, and whether that had any impact on his decision to come here or not, I thanked him profusely for having made the trip.
I was almost surprised after his brutal act that he was very gracious and seemed happy to see he had fans in the audience. Anyway... it's Monday, so time to get the old nose to the grindstone.
Posted by brogonzo at 9:26 AM
Monday, September 18, 2006
Just so no one thinks I haven't been writing at all lately, here's a column I did last week as I was filling in for the sports editor, who was on leave. COMMENTARY - Advocacy is not good sports copy # # # #
By Spc. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret Staff Writer
"Just the facts, ma'am."
Sgt. Joe Friday used to say that on "Dragnet," and the phrase is four words to live by for reporters today--including sports writers.
I followed the controversy over Sports Editor William "Ski" Wilczewski's alleged non-support of Knox sports teams with some interest, and it seemed to me that there was, at least in some cases, a substantial misunderstanding of what a sports writer's job is--which is, simply, to obtain and report the facts.
I heard the same complaints during my own tenure as sports editor. "You're not supporting the team." "Your negative headlines aren't doing our kids any favors." "Why can't you put a positive spin on this?"
Here's the deal--reporters aren't paid to engage in advocacy. When nations do that in print media, it's called propaganda. When sports writers do, it's called crummy reporting.
The use of words like "amazing" and "breathtaking" is discouraged outside spaces such as this. Editorializing, as it's called, is best left to restaurant critics, uninformed columnists, and amateurs who can't figure out how to make the facts speak for themselves. I don't need to say Xavier Bacon's 73-yard touchdown run Friday night was "awe-inspiring;" the reader can come to that
conclusion on his own.
The other major point here is the fact that if everyone's a winner, then everyone's also a loser. What's the point in reading a glowing account of a team's performance during a 60-point blowout? Doesn't that take the luster away from a well-earned legitimate victory? Who wants to clip out a praise-filled newspaper article about a stunning win when every defeat has been lauded in the
same gushing terms?
The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss reported in February that a youth basketball league in Framingham, Mass., distributed trophies to each participating player. One of Reiss' sources was Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University.
"The trophies should go to the winners," Baumeister said. "Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do, and sports can help teach those."
That's why there's a Stanley Cup, a Lombardi Trophy, Olympic gold medals, and Masters' green jackets--it's to honor those who have struggled and ultimately won. That's why there are sports games held all around the world in the first place--to determine who the winners are, and to give them the respect the losers rue.
If anyone is responsible for encouraging and praising athletes, it's not sports writers. That's the job of the parents, friends, and fans of the team--those people who can afford to be biased in their appraisal of the organization. Heck, if it was the newspaper's job to act as the cheerleader for
the team, then why have actual cheerleaders?
Here's the very simple formula needed to get "positive" headlines in the Turret: win games. I understand that Knox teams are currently struggling to even fill their rosters. I know there aren't as many students as there have been in years past.
That's not the issue. It's the athletes' and coaches' jobs to win games, and it's our job at the Turret to be there when they do--and to stick with "just the facts, ma'am."
Had to get my cheerleader dig in there, by the way.
COMMENTARY - Advocacy is not good sports copy
# # # #
Posted by brogonzo at 1:55 PM
I'm convinced now that I've been at least partially comatose for the past year. Otherwise, I would have noticed something like this when it happened:
Pentagon seeks greater immunity from Freedom of Information Act
May 6, 2005 -- The Department of Defense is pushing for a new rule that would make it easier for the Pentagon to withhold information on United States military operations from the public.
The provision, proposed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, would render so-called "operational files" fully immune from requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the main mechanism by which watchdog groups, journalists and individuals can access federal documents.
Open government advocates oppose the move, arguing that the proposed exemption is worded so vaguely that it could potentially enable the Pentagon to seal off large amounts of information, including evidence of abuse and misconduct, without proper justification.
The story was written by the New Standard's Michelle Chen. Any guesses as to why the Defense Department wanted to more easily evade reporters' FOIA requests?
Because responding honestly to those questions could threaten national security, you silly goose!
Of course that's why. That's why we do anything these days aside from tracking down pictures of Suri Cruise or pining for a new season of "American Idol."
Posted by brogonzo at 10:11 AM
Monday, September 11, 2006
It's been five years since that Tuesday morning when planes driven by terrorists slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon. I remember being rousted awake by my friend Louis, who burst into my room and shouted, "You need to come downstairs and watch the news, now."
We all did. At the time, I was living in the fraternity house on Oregon Avenue in Steubenville, Ohio. There were remnants of the weekend's partying, which had stretched into Monday evening, all around us, but our attention was locked on the television screen. The first tower to be hit was smoldering, and we watched as a second airplane full of people crashed into the second, sending out a huge plume of smoke, debris, and flame.
A year later I was standing in a remembrance ceremony at Fort Benning. I was in basic combat training, my head was shaved, and I was wearing thick Army-issue spectacles and a new set of BDUs. The ceremony was held in the still-dark dawn, and we watched the images from September 11 scroll across a huge projection screen, with inspirational music as accompaniment.
Sometimes people ask me if I joined the Army because of September 11. I've thought about it a lot, and my answer is usually, "I didn't join because of September 11. But if it hadn't been for September 11, I wouldn't have joined."
The anger I felt while I watched the twin towers collapse on live television was certainly the catalyst that drew me to the recruiter's office once I'd finished college. I suppose if that hadn't been there, I would probably have wound up with a job at some small-town newspaper, content to live out the next years covering city council meetings, school boards, and little league games.
As much as my life has changed due to 9/11, it's impossible to have been completely unaffected by what happened that day. For good or ill, that day set into motion the rapid changes in global society we're currently swept up in. The very word American has taken on new and strange meanings around the world, and our military is still engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The event has also served to further polarize our nation. Debate and discussion over national policy has been reduced to such pithy non-sayings such as "stay the course" and "fight or flight" and "cut and run." Gallup runs monthly polls asking American citizens if they "feel safer," we take our shoes off after waiting in huge lines at our airports, and politicians of all stripes cite 9/11 as a main reason they should be elected to whatever office.
Today, five years after the event itself, people across the country will take time to remember what happened that day and to think of the thousands who died. But I think it's also important to remember the fact that September 11 did not happen in a vacuum -- rather, 9/11 was one point on a continuum of world events. There were circumstances that led to it happening, and it has had an indelible mark on the time that has followed it. While we remember the victims who died that day, we should also be mindful of those who have died since, but no less directly because of it.
This includes the civilians and military working that day in the targeted wing of the Pentagon; the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93; the civilians, police officers, firefighters, and first-responders who perished at Ground Zero in Manhattan; Pat Tillman and all those who have died fighting in Afghanistan; and the more than 2,000 who have died in Iraq.
In November 2001, Jean-Marie Colombani wrote in Paris' Le Monde: "We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin."
That sentiment has largely disappeared.
Today, when you remember where you were on 9/11, remember also what havoc that day has wreaked on our country and our world, and what we have spent in human lives in the years that have followed. In a very real sense, it's still September 11, 2001.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:40 AM
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Thank God football is back.
I don't have anything major against other professional sports -- at least, not seriously -- but I'm a football fan. Baseball is a nice thing to keep track of, but watching games doesn't have the same gravity when there are some hundred-odd of them to see over the course of the season. I've played baseball, and I loved playing it, but watching -- even as a weekend Yankees fan -- doesn't have the appeal.
Basketball I skip altogether. The pros are full of prima donnas, and the only school I hold any allegiance to -- Syracuse, because it's near home -- only shows up once in a while. I actually booked time to watch the Orange's appearance in the NCAA championship, only to find that our star, Gerry McNamara, decided not to show up. With a season average of somewhere near 20 points per game, the jackass decided he was only going to sink two lousy points in the championship run, and effectively booted Syracuse out of contention on his own.
Besides, it's rare for me to get emotional at all about basketball. When good college teams and pro teams regularly run up 90-110 points a game, where's the payoff after a score? Possession changes too quickly, and while teamwork is absolutely necessary, it still winds up feeling shallow -- at least to me.
Enter football. Every game matters, and every play is a chess match between two coaches. You get to see how each team adapts its plays to take better advantage of its opponent's weaknesses, and you recognize immediately how critical the pure physicality of your players is.
"Will they see this coming? Can we work our way out of this one?"
Incredibly deep questions, both; and they're asked routinely during each game of football played on American soil.
Superstition is not a football-unique phenomenon, and for a long while I thought I was immune -- at least until this past weekend. I'd gotten a bonus in my paycheck, so I splurged and bought a Ben Roethlisberger jersey I found on sale at a mall -- marked down from $79 to around $55. I'd wanted the (wide receiver) Hines Ward version, but they didn't have it in black, so I snagged the Big Ben.
Two days later, I find out the Steelers quarterback has been hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy. Ward, meanwhile, is out for the season opener thanks to a hamstring injury.
Is my buying of merchandise cursed? If so, then I could do well by snapping up Peyton Manning -- equipment. But maybe it's the fact that I got the jersey on sale... so should I make a point of paying full price from now on?
These are questions that are going to plague me while I watch Thusday's season opener of the Steelers versus the Dolphins. Years ago, I'd have given anyone with the same symptoms a free pass to the crazy ward, but now I'm too wrapped up in this thing to protest. Someone find me a bookie.
Posted by brogonzo at 8:56 PM
Monday, September 04, 2006
Geez. I've been treating this blog like a meth addict treats his kid. I've got little in the way of excuses -- which I'll go ahead and regale you with now.
First off, I've been picking at this book. It's not going too quickly, but at least it's fun when I get down to actually working on it. So far, we've got a healthy dose of gore and a curse word, and we're not even out the door from the coroner's office.
Second, there's work. It's been sapping most of the will I have to write anything lately, and that's about the long and short of what I'm about to say about it. I'm the only soldier left there, so suffice it to say it's a civilian issue, but it's had plenty of fallout, which even we Swiss are feeling.
I was actually saddened to hear about the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin today. I'm exactly the kind of mean-spirited, heartless bastard who'd be expected to make a joke about it, but I really was remorseful when I read the story this morning. He seemed to be a genuinely decent dude, even if he was resented by more Australians than Paul Hogan. Argh... there's the joke, I suppose -- which was inappropriate, but the point is that it's a shame to see him go.
At any rate, I figured I'd swing back by this Trainspotting baby just to let anyone left hanging around know that I'm still alive... again.
So please, enjoy yet another worthless update that I only wrote out of guilt for leaving the thing completely abandoned.
Posted by brogonzo at 11:23 PM
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Yep, I've been a rotten blogger. Normally after a hiatus like this, I'd feel a little guilty for not having posted anything for ages. At the moment, though, my conscience is clear.
About 10 days ago I came home to central New York for some leave. I hadn't been home since Christmas, and the family had been planning a beach-side vacation during August -- since that's about the only time all seven of us could get together. We headed down to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and spent the entirety of last week sprawled on the beach, swimming in the surf, or drinking the very tasty beer brewed by Rehoboth's own Dogfish Head brewery.
I'm now brown as a nut, my hair has grown far out of regulations, and my vacation is rapidly drawing to a close: I fly back to Louisville tomorrow afternoon, and it's times like these I dread. The last fleeting days and hours of a trip home are always melancholy, since I know that soon I'll be returning to Radcliff, Kentucky, which is a place God has forgotten about.
The good news, though, is that the break has given me some good perspective and focus in terms of this final year of Army service. I've visited some old friends -- one of whom lives in Ocean City, Maryland, and has a dock on the channel for a back yard -- and I've seen a little of what life will look like once I'm out.
I also got some ideas together for the zombie book, which I think will be a fun, violent romp through post-September 11 American schizophrenia. After the events of the past few years, how could a zombie apocalypse story not involve some systematic failure of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Write me now if you want to share in my millions.
It's really just an experiment, and I don't actually expect it to pay off in spades, if at all. But it'll be interesting to slog my way through the process of actually writing something that big, even if the content is going to be heavy on dreadful descriptions of undead cannibalism.
So, onward and upward, I suppose. I'll be back at the grindstone Tuesday, and while I'm not looking forward to it, at least it'll be the beginning of the last 365 days I have left in this business. After that, who knows?
Posted by brogonzo at 6:19 PM
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Sort of, anyway.
For those of you who have checked this space with any regularity, I'm sorry it's been so long. I just haven't had anything worthwhile to say.
For those of you who just happened upon this space while looking for Li'l Jon lyrics, go fuck yourselves and find some good music to listen to, because right now, you suck.
Now that that's out of the way, I might as well say that there's nothing interesting for me to talk about. No neat scenes ripe for description, no embarassing stories to tell, and nothing brewing on the professional side that warrants a retelling.
My latest plan is to write a crappy horror novel, which hopefully I can sell to someone who will eventually rid me of financial worry. We'll see how that goes.
Politics? I can't do them any more. It's too tiring. The headlines speak to an audience to dumb to understand what's actually going on, and I don't feel like I have the readership to make explication worthwhile. Figure it out on your own, I don't care anymore.
I just want this phase of my life to be done. I'm tired... it's been four godforsaken years already.
I'm not depressed, really. Just tired. Tired of the same old shit. It's definitely time to move on.
Posted by brogonzo at 1:06 AM
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I'm still foundering in the depths of uninspiration, but I thought I ought to drop by this old place and provide an update of sorts.
First, my old buddy-turned-NCO Josh Salmons has been interviewed over at CK's Blog. He was kind enough to give me a credit for getting his blogging career going. If you haven't been by there yet, definitely check out Talking Salmons. He's doing some great writing from Taji, Iraq.
Unlike the good sergeant, I've somehow managed to avoid deployment. And now that I'm about at the "year left" mark, it looks doubtful that I'll go. I joined the Army, and missed the war. I can't really say I'm that upset.
So now that I'm heading into the home stretch, I'm looking toward the next phase. I've settled, I think (at least for now), on going to graduate school, and Ohio State University seems to have the best program for journalism. I haven't made any firm decisions yet, but the general idea of going back to an academic environment is very appealing.
Anyway, that's it from me at this point. Maybe inspiration will strike this week.
Posted by brogonzo at 8:05 PM
Sunday, July 09, 2006
It was noon, today, and I was pushing the intercom button at the entrance to the post airfield. My first attempt hadn't raised a response, so I held the bastard down for a healthy spell the second time.
"Yeah?" a voice crackled. It was surely one of the civilians in the Ops hangar.
"I'm here for the Autocross event," I said. I ran my hand through my hair. It was too long, and greasy, since I hadn't showered since the day before.
"Not here," the Ops guy said. "You've got to go through the museum park."
"Great, thanks," I said.
I was heading to the airfield to cover the SCCA Autocross race. It's a low-key amateur racing event where anyone with a car and twenty bucks can strap into their vehicle and try winding around a slalom course at high speeds. Normally, this kind of thing would be exciting, but I'd been on 12-hour Charge of Quarters duty until six in the morning, and I was feeling a bit punchy.
The good -- and bad -- thing about CQ is that there's literally nothing to do other than watch television or read. I'd picked up a couple books this week, and at the beginning of the shift I cracked open J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye. I'd never read it in high school, because back then I'd been reading Greek and Roman stuff primarily -- Homer, Virgil, Caesar, Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon. The great books courses I took in college petered out after Communist Manifesto and Origin of Species.
I didn't know what to expect from Salinger. I was only really aware that his seminal work was apparently a favorite among assassins and conspiracy theorists.
I was immediately struck by the tone and language, which reminded me of some of Steinbeck's stuff. But the more resonant element was Holden Caulfield's general disgust for everything in his life, including, to a certain extent, himself. Considering the time it was written, I suppose Salinger published the first book about the modern angry teenage punk.
I'd finished it by 3 a.m. It's one of those books that ends somewhat abruptly, and it's difficult to put my initial reaction into words. I had several, I suppose -- including, "Damn, what a time to pick to read a book like this."
When it comes to the Army, I'd say it's safe to say I have a bit of a Holden Caulfield streak.
Back at the airfield, I turned the truck around and headed for Keyes Park. It was overcast, but still bright for my eyes. I found a narrow dirt access road onto the side of the airfield and turned in, heading eventually onto the tarmac where a guy with a clipboard was standing. He smiled and asked me to sign a waiver.
"I'm here with the paper," I said. He smiled again and handed me the clipboard. Waiver it was, I guessed.
I headed down the landing strip after taping on the paper SCCA bracelet. There were cars of all description lined up along the sides of the tarmac -- lots of Nissan Zs, late-model Mazdas, a few Acuras. There were kit cars with their tiny slicks, some dropped Hondas with loosened suspensions, even a Lotus. Toward the end of the parking area, near the coned-off course, several Corvettes, Cobras, and even a Dodge Viper or two sat waiting their turn to race.
The course headed down a side strip heading south, then veered north-west to the end of the runway I was standing on. Racers made another sharp right and headed straight back toward the beginning. The post commanding general was sitting there in a folding chair next to his wife, wearing civilian clothes and a stern-looking pair of aviators. By the time I'd noticed it was him, he'd noticed me, too, with my large tan Domke camera bag.
"Afternoon, sir," I said as he stood up to turn around.
"Oh, hey there," he said. I was surprised when he reached out to shake my hand. "How are ya?"
"Not bad, sir," I said. "Are you going to be taking your Viper out today?" I'd seen what he had parked in his garage at Quarters 1 during the cricket match several weeks before.
"No," he said. "But my son's taking his Mini-Cooper out."
The CG's kid wasn't driving one of those new Coopers you see everywhere these days... his was vintage, probably 1968 or 69, complete with steering column on the right-hand side for use on the streets of London.
I wished them good luck and headed off on my own. I snapped a few frames of drivers heading into the finish line. It seemed most of them were making it around the course in under 60 seconds... the timer's booth was announcing 58s, 57s, and 56s pretty regularly.
The parking side of the airstrip was littered with people. Some were looking into their engine compartments, others were wandering around looking for refreshments, while others sat under awnings, watching what they could see of the race. The Family Readiness Group from our new Engineer Battalion had set up a concession stand of sorts near where everyone was sitting and watching, and they were handing out Gatorades and candy bars to anyone with a sweaty dollar bill.
Eventually, a volunteer appeared and offered to hook me up with a spotter so I could get some pictures from the sidelines of the course. The spotter wound up knowing who I was -- he was a sergeant who'd sent in some nice words a few weeks ago about a vicious dog story I'd done. We chatted a bit on our way out along the side of the course. As we walked, a newcomer in a red BMW screamed past us, but cranked the steering wheel too hard going into his second turn. His car screeched into a donut and came to a halt.
"We can't all be 'Fast and the Furious,'" I said, trying to crack a lame joke.
"That's 'Too Fast, Too Furious,'" the sergeant said, completely outdoing me in corniness.
We stood a bit back from the first major turn, and I shot about 400 frames of drivers negotiating the curve with varying levels of skill. Some of them, you could tell, were old hands at autocross, while others, despite their flashy rides, stunk at it. Someone in a Mazda RX-8 wound his way around the turn as if he was driving Miss Daisy to church.
"Don't hurt yourself," I said to the back of his car as he meandered down the second leg of the track.
One of the fastest drivers around the track was in a silver Acura. His wasn't the most powerful car out there, but he was beating just about all the rest of the drivers in his division by at least five seconds. He was an 84-year-old dude named Charlie, the sergeant told me.
"Wow," I said. "And they say old people can't drive worth shit."
We watched Charlie hug the cones as his Acura rocketed around the turn and into the slalom section. He wove back and forth effortlessly, without once touching the brakes until he entered the next big turn.
Eventually I headed home. I'd gotten all the shots I needed -- hell, out of about 500, there ought to be a couple good ones. It's a crutch for sub-standard photographers like myself who are lucky enough to have a digital to work with -- pros call it "spray and pray," which is apt, and they thumb their noses at the practice. I didn't care, though. I was sleepy and just wanted a chance to lay down and nap the afternoon away.
Posted by brogonzo at 5:58 PM
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Belated happy Independence Day to everyone, and a hearty congratulations to my old buddy Seth, who got hitched in Nashville this weekend past. I was fortunate enough to attend, and there were multiple episodes of craziness that preceeded the actual wedding.
For the sake of everyone involved, I've been sworn to absolute secrecy on some aspects of what happened. And as for the rest, it'll be a story for another time (which, if my past track record of following up stories is any indication, will probably never arrive).
I'm still pretty fed up with the daily newsreels and the color commentary that seems to go along with all of them, so I'm not in the mood to come up with any topical content.
So yeah -- basically what I'm saying is that I had an awesome weekend, but I'm not going to tell the story; and that I'm good and pissed about a lot of separate issues, but I'm not going to write anything about them. I'm the best, huh?
Anyhow, the suggestion box is open, so if anyone wants to step in and substitute for my erstwhile muse, please feel free. In the meantime, I'll be listening to Opie and Anthony.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:11 PM
Thursday, June 29, 2006
It seems that periods of blog inspiration come in waves, and I'm currently sitting in a valley.
It's not that there's nothing to talk or write about -- quite the contrary, really -- but getting into any news-related subject matter these days makes me far too angry to be of any use.
On the way in to work today, I noticed a headline in the local paper, which proclaimed that Elizabethtown had enacted a ban on pit bulls and Rottweilers following a dog attack incident.
"Just another example of the media over-hyping a story and ruining it for everybody," my roommate said.
I looked at him.
"That's about the stupidest thing I've ever heard," I said.
The ban, he seemed to feel, could be blamed on the media for their having reported on the dog bite story. The paper hyped it up and caused an outrage, which led to the city council passing the new ordinance.
I'm still working on a piece on this whole "shoot the messenger" phenomenon. It's ridiculous.
Update: Conservatives are so full of humor. I just never quit laughing at their constant comedy gold!
Posted by brogonzo at 11:01 AM
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I haven't blogged much, lately. Here's why.
I spent Monday riding around in this:
Why? Well, note the red plaque on the sides. It was with the guy on the right:
That's Maj. Gen. Robert Williams, the Army's chief of armor. While up in the Blackhawk, I took pictures of stuff. Like this unidentified Fort Knox structure, which I shot as per the direction of our new chief of staff (who I got to know while he was the G3):
What could that be? I have no idea. I think it's just a large, white, stone building guarded by guys from the Treasury Department.
Anyway, here's a shot of my company headquarters, as well as the godawful track we have to run around for our 2-mile run. The company is the low, white building that comes close to the right side of the frame:
Anyway, I've been busy. I've got three major stories in this week's edition, and I need to go finish the last one. Adios, muchachos.
Posted by brogonzo at 11:17 PM
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006
From today's Early Bird...
June 22, Pg. 1
8 Troops ChargedWho's to blame here? Clearly, it's Josh White and Sonya Geis, and their anti-U.S., terrorist-hugging employer, the Washington Post. They're the ones to hold responsible for this.
In Death Of Iraqi
All Are Accused of
By Josh White and Sonya Geis,
Washington Post Staff Writers
Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman have been charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with the April death of an Iraqi man in a small village west of Baghdad, Marine Corps officials announced yesterday.
The corps said that the eight sought out Hashim Ibrahim Awad in his Hamdaniyah home, dragged him into the street, bound his hands and feet, and shot him during a late-night operation, according to Marine criminal-charge sheets released yesterday. The troops are members of a fire team with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. It is unclear what motivated the incident.
The announcement marked the second time this week that the U.S. military has charged troops with murder in Iraq. Army officials announced Monday that three soldiers had been accused of killing three men their unit had captured near Samarra last month, and a fourth soldier was charged yesterday. The cases come as another investigation continues into allegations that a Marine unit gunned down as many as 24 civilians last November in Haditha.
The incidents have drawn widespread international criticism of the way U.S. troops are treating Iraqi civilians as they fight insurgents, and have caused the military to redouble efforts to remind troops of their moral and legal obligations on the battlefield. In announcing the murder charges yesterday, Col. Stewart Navarre said Marines are trained in the law of armed conflict and are expected to fully comply with it.
"The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," Stewart said at an afternoon news conference at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base north of San Diego. "The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."
Lawyers for several of the Marines and family members of the troops said yesterday that the men are innocent.
Gary Solis, a professor of the law of war at Georgetown University, said it is unfortunate that the cases have surfaced at the same time, because they provide an impression of a military run amok in Iraq. He said that fatal mistakes are common in war, and that the key to these investigations will probably be to determine whether the troops planned the alleged attacks.
"Where is the line? The line is premeditation," Solis said of wartime killings. "If you make a mistake, you're not going to be investigated. The only guys that have to be worried are those that have thought about doing it and then do it."
The eight service members charged in the Hamdaniyah incident are confined at Camp Pendleton. Stewart said four other Marines connected to the investigation are under no restrictions but could face charges in the future.
The Marine Corps identified the eight as Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Pfc. John J. Jodka and Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, who was attached to the Marines' unit as its medic. The four other Marines were not identified. The soldier charged yesterday in the killings near Samarra was identified as Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20.
Lawyers for the service members in the Hamdaniyah incident said yesterday that they have not had the opportunity to review much, if any, of the evidence against their clients.
"He's an all-American boy," said retired Marine Brig. Gen. David Brahms, who is representing Pennington, 21, of Washington state. "It's hard to imagine him conspiring with others to commit the dastardly deed."
Joseph Casas, a civilian lawyer representing Jodka, 20, of California, said his client believes he was taking part in a "legitimate, command-sanctioned ambush" in a location where insurgents are known to plant roadside bombs. Jodka, who was on his first tour in Iraq, was months out of boot camp.
"He does not believe that anything that happened that night was inappropriate, illegal or in contravention to Marine Corps rules," Casas said in an interview. "I will adamantly say that what the government believes happened did not happen on that night."
While the Marines have released few details about Awad's death, Iraqis who live in his neighborhood have told Washington Post reporters that the Marines shot him four times in the face before planting an AK-47 rifle and a shovel near his body to make it appear as though he had been trying to bury a roadside bomb.
He was known in the village as Awad the Lame because a metal bar was inserted in his leg several years ago.
An investigative statement obtained by The Post that appears to be signed by Hutchins says that the unit "spotted a man digging on the side of the road from our ambush site." It continues: "I made the call and engaged. He was pronounced dead at the scene with only a shovel and an AK-47."
It was unclear who shot Awad. All eight service members were charged with conspiracy, murder, assault and larceny -- the last count for allegedly stealing the rifle and the shovel before using them as props. Some of the men also were charged with lying to investigators and with obstruction of justice.
Navarre declined to discuss details of the incident and stressed that the accused are presumed innocent. All could face the death penalty if convicted.
Casas, Jodka's attorney, said his client was forced to sign a statement about the events that he knew to be incorrect after Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents kept him in a room at Camp Fallujah last month for more than seven hours without food, water or breaks. He said the agents threatened Jodka with the death penalty and scared him into signing the statement.
Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman in Washington, said that such statements are voluntary and that suspects are "given the opportunity to review the statement and make any changes to it before signing."
Reached by telephone in Massachusetts yesterday, a woman who identified herself as Hutchins's fiancee said she is standing by the sergeant, the highest-ranking member of the unit charged.
"We are heartbroken about the situation and we love him very much," she said. "We believe he is innocent."
Geis reported from Camp Pendleton. Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Posted by brogonzo at 9:33 AM
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Photo post today. I shot these out at a reflexive fire exercise the tankers and Cav scouts of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment were conducting at Browns Range. If you're familiar with Knox's "Misery, Agony, and Heartache" hills, this range is near there. Enjoy.
A dry-fire run through.
Bang. Notice the brass being ejected, and the position of the slide. He's not out of ammo, I'm just quick. And lucky.
Update: Open posting at The Castle.
Posted by brogonzo at 5:16 PM
I'm working on a post on informed dissent, and how it's becoming increasingly unwelcome in America's internal political debate. I'm trying to keep this one high-brow, so any citations you handful of faithfuls have that could help would be terrific.
Specifically, I'm looking for examples of blogs that attack the very idea of dissent, instead of taking a particular stance and supporting it rationally.
Posted by brogonzo at 12:34 AM
Monday, June 19, 2006
I don't understand people who enjoy running. To me, it's an activity you do when required to -- for instance, when you need to escape from something, or catch something... or, when some over-eager NCO tells you that's what you will be doing for an hour on Monday morning.
I'm not much good at it. I chug along while wiry-limbed privates lope by, seemingly immune from the rising burn in the lungs, calves, and hamstrings. I am the tortoise, but I have yet to win any races.
This morning we headed up a usually-desolate stretch of road near the company building. There was a damp mist hanging in the air that made me think of all the earth science books I'd leafed through while I was a kid. It was like running through what I imaagine rainclouds are like at altitude -- dust particles clinging to the air while moisture condenses on them until they're heavy enough to fall.
Despite the cool, damp air, I was hot, sweaty, and aggravated to be once again slogging my way down some pockmarked Kentucky road. If it weren't for the Army, I thought, I wouldn't be doing this. I'd still be in bed, maybe clicking on "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC and cursing the old buzzard for trying to get by on three minutes of air time surrounded by 10-minute commercial segments.
I've been in the Army for just shy of four years, and I realized suddenly that most of the people who'd signed up around the same time were probably getting ready to get out, if they hadn't reenlisted. Four years is the average sentence, it seems. I know now that if I'd held out a little longer, the recruiter up in Syracuse would probably have cut my contract down to four years, and maybe even agreed to pay off my college loans. Alas, at the time I'd had no experience in dealing with used car salesmen, horse traders, or loan sharks, and I took the man at his word. So I have another year to go.
"Sorry, that's the shortest contract we've got available for that job," he told me.
Six months later I was sitting in public affairs classes at Fort Meade, Maryland, next to more wordly-wise soldiers who'd shaved their active-duty time down to four years by haggling with their recruiter. If that had been me, I'd be packing bags right now.
But as it stands, I'll be in for another year. It should be time to get some savings together and line up whatever the next Big Step is for old Brother Gonzo. So hey, maybe one more year isn't all that bad.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:48 AM
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Thursday, June 15, 2006
I've made a couple additions to the old Blogroll to make up for the cuts I made last week.
First, check out Spc. Freeman's "Calm Before the Sand." He's got a very interesting take on Army life, and thoughts on Haditha that don't involve jumping on any bandwagons. (Hat tip goes to Dr. Kenneth Noisewater.)
New York Hack is a female cabbie working the beat in the Big Apple. The nature of her job mandates that she runs into more than her fair share of asshats, who she dutifully photographs. However, sometimes they're not asshats at all...
Go over to my brother's place and harass him for not updating in more than a month.
As for me, I'm at work, but still suffering from acute headboogeritis, and when I cough it sounds like the death ward in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I've usually got a strong constitution, so it's weird that a bug like this is sticking around so long.
Frustrated earlier this week with the lack of results from the drugs I got from the hospital, I added a bracing dose of bourbon to the regimen. So far, it has only helped temporarily. Maybe I need to increase the dosage?
Update: A friend of mine, Jan Korda, does not work on the starship Enterprise, despite his moniker. He does, however, write messed-up short fiction when he's not too hung over.
Update: Go read this post over at Talking Salmons, right now.
Update: Because he whined in the comments box, here's another former coworker/NCO of mine, Sgt. Atticus "Longhorns" Finch, with a roundup of international sports action. Show him some love, Korean-style. Because he's in Korea.
Posted by brogonzo at 1:52 PM
Monday, June 12, 2006
Probably, yes. Joe Scarborough just asked:
"The Dixie Chicks... do slow sales mean the country trio should rethink their anti-Bush stance?"
Hmmm... it's a possibility. The other option would be to make music that doesn't suck.
Update: Oh lord, I'm watching "Scarborough Country" on MSNBC, and I'm almost to the point of tears of laughter. Joe's got two lawyers screaming at each other over the the following issue -- Some pervert in California is making "cheerleader videos" by going to high school football games and videotaping the cheerleaders, with special emphasis placed on their private areas. This guy's then selling the videos on eBay for around $70 a pop.
This one guy with a fake tan is yelling about how this guy should be made to pay -- pay, I tell you! -- for the damages he's inflicting on the girls and their families. He'd want triple damages, he said, if he was to prosecute the case.
Scarborough played a clip of one of the girls' families watching one of the videos. They were, shall we say, uncomfortable. Freeze frames during certain moves had to be blurred out for cable television.
"I'll never feel comfortable wearing my uniform again!" the suddenly-famous cheerleader sobbed.
Guess what, jackass: these videos were taken from the stands, where a couple thousand fans were sitting and watching. If you're upset with anonymous people seeing your underwear, quit doing the splits. If you've been around here for a while, you already know what I think of cheerleading. Quit pretending it's a sport -- it's just a titillation for the crowd, and a symbol for the rewards of athletic prowess for the team on the field. To the victor go the spoils, and that's got one hell of a historical precedent to back it up. Cheerleaders, I think it's safe to say, represent the spoils.
And if you don't like cheerleading being sexualized, quit cheerleading. Short skirts and shiny underpants aren't there to make you better at your job.
Another Update: If videotape of a varsity event can be construed as child pornography or child erotica, maybe it isn't the videotape parents should be worried about... maybe it's the varsity "event."
Posted by brogonzo at 9:29 PM
From Sports Illustrated, via Newsmap:
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured in motorcycle accident.
What did Pittsburgh do to deserve this?
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has said he dislikes wearing a motorcycle helmet, was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and taken to a hospital Monday.
Dr. Larry Jones, chief of trauma at Mercy Hospital, said Roethlisberger was in serious but stable condition in an operating room Monday afternoon. Roethlisberger was undergoing surgery, but Jones would not say for what.
"He was talking to me before he left for the operating room," Jones said. "He's coherent. He's making sense. He knows what happened. He knows where he is. From that standpoint, he's very stable."
Posted by brogonzo at 2:52 PM
I went to the post clinic this morning, because the goo coming out of my head hasn't abated. A major in very large jump boots and a lab coat said it could be allergies (I've never had those before) or a virus. He wrote me a perscription and sent me on my way with a slip that said I was confined to quarters for the next 24 hours.
That sounds bad, but it's just Army-speak for "stay home and get better." So now I'm chilling, blogsurfing, and alternating cigarettes and cough drops.
I've also been watching television. I've been sticking up for the news media lately, but it's always hilarious to watch them get all excited when a hurricane (or tropical depression, in this case) is on the way. "Tropical Storm Alberto" is on its way to Florida, and it seems that the worst it's going to do is make it rain a lot. No matter -- it certainly could turn into a cataclysmic Storm of Impending Bird-Flu Doom at any moment, so I'm sure I'll be treated to updates on its position, strength, and relationship to the Kyoto Accords every 15 minutes or so.
If I think of anything, I'll be sure to let you all know. Chances are slim, though.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:35 AM
Sunday, June 11, 2006
My enjoyment of the weekend was severely curtailed by catching some kind of upper-respiratory virus. I'll spare you most of the gory details, but I've spent a large amount of time making Chewbacca noises while trying to convince the crud in my throat to dislodge. However, I managed to have a productive weekend.
Saturday afternoon, I found myself staring at a table set up under an awning on one of Fort Knox's many sports fields. On it were the implements of cricket -- leg pads, chest protectors, gloves, and brutal looking bats. I once saw a special on the ancient Hawaiians, and apparently they used to make war clubs that looked like these things. All you need is a cricket bat and a set of mako shark teeth to set into the edge, and you'd be ready to wreak havoc on invading islanders.
Two different British liaison officers have tried to explain cricket to me, and they've made very little headway. The diagrams -- which show a large circle with a narrow rectangular strip in the middle and several dots scattered at random -- aren't much help, either.
A salty lieutenant I knew from one of the post's infantry battalions came up to me. He had been a senior non-com before going to Officer Candidate School, so he's a lot more grizzled than most looeys I've met.
"What's up, man?" he said from under a white boonie hat and sunglasses.
"Um, not much, sir. Trying to figure this weird-ass game out," I said. "You ever play before?"
"I came to the class they had this morning," he said. "It was... almost fun."
The match was between the English liaison's team and one organized by an Australian exchange student. The teams were both hodge-podges of children and adults, some with cricket experience, and some who just knew it was something like baseball.
The results were predictable, but at least I figured out the basic elements of the game. I snapped about 150 photos and headed out. I needed to pick up a new pair of running shoes, and talk to the mother of a 9-year-old who'd been attacked by a pit bull in one of the post's housing areas.
I'd already filled some of a notebook at Recruiting Command. They had been running a chat session where drill sergeants were talking to "future soldiers" -- guys who'd signed contracts and would soon be shipping out, eventually to wind up in the drills' training company. They were asking the usual questions -- "What can I bring," "Can we have cell phones," "How many push-ups do I have to do." I jotted down their names and made a mental note to call them on Monday.
By that evening, I was tired and starting to feel the effects of phlegm over-production.
I've just been reading and watching television, when I haven't been whacked out on the generic NyQuil knockoff I found in the bathroom.
But I'll leave you all with a worthwhile link. My dad called and recommended this piece by the inimicable James Lileks:
Self-Loathing and the Denial of Terrorism, at Newhouse News Service. Check it out, it's a hoot.
Posted by brogonzo at 10:39 PM