Monday, January 30, 2006

Great free stuff

Did your computer come with a lousy, bargain bin wordprocessor like mine did? Don't feel like shelling out the cabbage for an equally-lousy office suite (offered, say, by Microsoft), but still need to open PowerPoint crap and author documents?

Well, check this out: OpenOffice. It's free, and it has equivalents of Microsoft's PowerPoint, Word, Excell, database, and some drawing utility. It's also relatively small -- about 72 MB.

Damn the man. Download open-source stuff.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Joel Stein doesn't support the troops?

The LA Times' Joel Stein stirred up quite a nasty anthill with this column, which starts off with this lede:

I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.
Well, Stein did not win too many friends in the flag-waving community with that line. Uncle Jimbo over at Blackfive's place had this to say:
Hugh Hewitt had the little Stein twit on his show and he assassinated the ghost that lived where Stein's character should be. He did so without bombast, or vitriol, or belittlement. He did so like a wise elder showing a smart ass punk just how much of a smart ass punk he actually is.
Stroll through the trackbacks in that entry and you'll find gems like this:

My Newz 'n Ideas: Let him hide behind the protection of the US Military that is keeping him alive while he spreads this dribble. On the other hand, I'm tired of giving these traitors a pass. I think he ought to be shot for treason.

Or check out a Technorati search for Joel Stein, and find this sentiment:

A Sailor in the Desert: The fact of the matter is, Mr. Stein, you have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.

I can't even accuse these folks of not reading the entire article -- many quote it at length. But I'm going to go out on a limb here -- perhaps far enough to get my MilBlogger membership yanked and shredded -- and say that Stein has a couple very valid points:
If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.
He goes on:
The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.
I've often felt the same way. I see yellow ribbon magnets on cars everywhere around here -- sometimes a dozen or so on a single pickup truck. And guess what? They don't mean a damn thing. Stein's right -- troops don't need yellow ribbon magnets (which are even less of a commitment than actual bumper stickers), they need pensions and body armor and better vehicles and hospitals and shorter tours and old-fashioned Bob Hope USO shows.

But question someone's thoughtless "display of patriotism," and as Joel Stein knows very well by now, you're liable to get sniped at by some folks who are very attached to those meaningless symbols.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

From the Vault: Phoenix Hill Redux

This was originally posted in the original "Healthy Alternative to Work" on August 8, 2004. It's called Phoenix Hill Redux. In all fairness to my friend Numb-nuts, he's calmed down considerably (though, not completely) in the time since I wrote this.


Friday night I volunteered to be the Designated Driver for two guys in the barracks who wanted to hit up Phoenix Hill. One of them, Tim, had just gotten in from my old unit, the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. Nowadays, I'm always up for a drive in the Road Shark, so I was more than happy to drive them up to the club.

Both of them were a bit in the bag already. The other fellow - who I'm having trouble coming up with a name for, other than "numb-nuts" - was most of the way through a handle of Captain Morgan, and was continually talking about the tricks and schemes he'd learned from Maxim Magazine to pick up "hot chicks" with.

Numb-nuts (I'm just going to go with this) is what I'd consider the prime club specimen. He's built like a football player and has an Italian complexion. Unfortunately, he's about as clever as a sack of hammers.

At any rate, Numb-nuts claimed that he could snag any woman at the bar, and made several statements during the ride up that illustrated his distaste for overweight females.

"They're revolting," he said. "I wouldn't touch one."

The rest of the ride was spent devising "cover stories" to use on unsuspecting female clientele at Phoenix Hill. Numb-nuts had decided that he was a first-round draft pick for the Carolina Panthers, and had worn a football jersey as evidence. Tim seemed to like this idea.

Once we got into the bar, I followed the two around, somewhat curious as to how they were going to set about seducing the creme-de-la-creme of the Louisville bar scene. Maybe, I thought, I could learn something from these two.

I was wrong.

Numb-nuts' strategy was to spot a pair or threesome of ladies and yell, "Hey! Hey! Hey!" Once he had their attention, he'd motion them over to the table we were standing at, which was near the center of Phoenix Hill's upstairs conservatory area. Sometimes, the women would come over, and Numb-nuts, football jersey and all, would say, "My friend here wants to talk to you," and pass them off onto Tim.

Tim would speak with them for a couple minutes, and then they'd invariably leave.

On one occasion, the dynamic duo decided that our cover story would be that we're in the Army (which is true) and that we're going to be sent to Iraq this week (which is patently false). I had been sipping water and smoking cigarettes at my side of the table for a while now, and this idea, aside from being morally repugnant, also struck me as incredibly bad.

Which it was.

The two ladies they first tried this line on turned out to be graduate students at the University of Louisville. They were spectacularly unimpressed by Numb-nuts' line.

"Why would you be telling us this right now?" one asked with a sneer. "You must think we're really dumb," said the other.

Numb-nuts was at a loss for words, fortunately.

The two women obliged Tim and his compatriot with conversation for a little while, while I put my face in my hands and desperately wished for it to be over. Eventually, I lit another Camel and listened to the mediocre rock cover band thrashing around on the stage.

One of the women eventually posed a pointed question to me.

"Why do you associate yourself with people like these?" she asked from across the table.

I shrugged. "That's a good question. I'm just the driver tonight."

"Are you really in the service?"

I produced my Army ID card, and she seemed surprised to learn that any part of Numb-nuts' story was actually true.

The rest of the night progressed in similar fashion. Numb-nuts would holler, and Tim would try to back him up. Numb-nuts eventually ran into trouble identifying attractive women. Apparently, he lost the ability to discern beauty unless it was under five feet away from him. This would cause serious problems for him later on.

During the evening, one of the bands' frontman informed us that Rick James (of "Superfreak" and now Dave Chappelle fame) had died. He urged us all to raise our glasses and repeat with him, "I'm Rick James, biatch!" I wasn't sure that it was a fitting tribute.

Numb-nuts found himself a friend later on, as the three of us were leaning on the main bar. She was - how shall I say this - of the variety that Numb-nuts had been disparaging of during the car ride up to Louisville. He struck up a conversation, and when Tim and I said we were heading upstairs fifteen minutes later, he said he would stay where he was.

Tim and I wandered through Phoenix Hill's many passageways, bars, and performance areas for over an hour, trading stories from Korea and watching unselfconscious girls in schoolgirl uniforms dance seductively in cages. Eventually, we decided it was quitting time, and set out to find old Numb-nuts.

We found him just where we'd left him. I saw the garish football jersey from across the crowded downstairs bar, and then I spotted the faux cowboy hat that his large new friend had been wearing. They were lip-locked, playing tonsil hockey, right there at the bar in the middle of the room.

Tim and I slunk over to a nearby table, covering our mouths to keep from howling with laughter.

After a while, we decided to collect the drunken bastard and take him home. Tim went over and informed him that we were leaving in five minutes, with or without him. He seemed to indicate that this was fine, he'd be right out.

We waited by the exit for a good ten. "We can't go home without him," Tim said. I agreed, and Tim went back in to convince Numb-nuts to come with us.

He came back to the exit shortly, and said, "Let's go." We walked outside and I asked him what had happened.

"He kept saying, 'I'm good, man,'" Tim said. "Then the fat chick said, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of him.'"

I hooted. "Well, let's hit the road."

* * * * * * * *

The next day, it turned out that Numb-nuts had eventually made it home, and had begun spreading the rumor that he had gone home with two women that night. To Tim and me, he said, "I totally didn't sleep with her, dudes."

Lesson learned -- stick with what works, Ian.


Monday, January 23, 2006

My last sports column

I've relinquished the reins of the Turret sports section to an old hand at the job who's hired on as a DA civilian. While I'm happy to be moving back into straight news, it isn't without a strong hint of nostalgia that I leave the sports section -- and my weekly column -- behind. That came through in the final column I did last week. Here it is.

Sports beat has been an education

Turret Sports Editor

Farewell columns are -- apparently -- difficult to write, and they have a tendency toward being blatantly self-serving.

That's probably why I've been sitting here staring at a blank screen for quite some time, trying to come up with something appropriate to say.

Here goes.

Before I arrived at the Turret in April 2004, sports writing had never been something I'd considered as a career option. But timing worked out in my favor, and I wound up with an entire section and a column of my own each week.

The problem was, as I saw it, that I'd never written sports before.

In my first column I mistakenly tipped my hand to the fact that I was a newcomer to the sports beat -- a misstep that would have consequences later. Sports fans, I learned, have long memories.

The prospect of taking on the section was intimidating, to say the least. But the assignment has proven to be one I'll value for the rest of my career.

It's not difficult to gain entrance to a football game or use a press pass to get a ringside seat at a Mike Tyson fight. But how exactly do you take that experience and translate it into a story that will bring readers to that same front-row seat?

The learning curve is on the steep side, and the hours could be considered long and less-than-predictable. However, figuring out how to adapt to these challenges has been an opportunity that I know will have benefits in the long run.

Sometimes in conversations during off-hours I'll be asked what I do for a living, and I've been proud to say that I'm the sports editor for the Turret, which I can legitimately claim is one of the -- if not THE -- best newspapers the Army has. I'll also usually say that I have one of the best jobs the Army offers. I don't think that's an exaggeration.

Columns are traditionally reserved for veterans in the business, and it's thanks to the Army's public affairs program -- and the continuing good faith of Turret editor Larry Barnes -- that I've had the chance to have one of my own.

I've learned a lot here, too.

The fact that my tenure as sports editor has been a crucible is well-taken; I'm as keenly aware of my mistakes and omissions as I am proud of the pieces and projects that have worked out well.

With that, I thank everyone I've had the pleasure of meeting, interviewing, photographing, and writing about over the course of my time as sports editor. It's been a great experience -- and a genuine education.

I'm handing the reins over to William "Ski" Wilczewski, who many of our readers will remember as a Turret sports editor himself in days of yore. Since leaving the Turret in 2002, he's worked for newspapers in Alaska and Arizona, and now he's returning as an extremely well-qualified DA civilian employee.

In addition to his skills as a sports writer, Wilczewski will also provide a more permanent fill for the position. As the last Soldier on the Turret staff, it's anybody's guess as to when I might wind up on orders.

So, once again, thanks to everyone who's helped me through this amazing past year and a half. I won't be leaving the paper, but I'll still miss the sports beat -- especially on those still-warm autumn Friday nights when I know there will be bright lights and cheering crowds above football games all across the state.


UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Heading for the Super Bowl

A week's worth of anxiety... over what? Clearly, beard length does not directly correspond to passing skill.

When the dust settled from the mass exodus of Broncos fans streaming out of their home stadium, the visiting Steelers had soundly thrashed the homestanding Denver team. Trailing by three touchdowns at the half, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer just couldn't lead his team out of the hole. And he was trailing Roethlisberger, too -- Plummer racked up two fumbles and two interceptions by the end of the game, while Big Ben earned a passer rating of 124.9... no interceptions, two touchdown passes and a rushing TD.

All from the kid who opposing teams pinned their hopes on. "Make Ben pass, contain the run" was the defensive mantra of most teams facing Pitt this year. So that's what they did. They contained the run -- Willie Parker's opening performance was never repeated. They made Roethlisberger pass -- and pass he did. He passed so well that he made teams wish they'd kept the ball on the ground.

While Ben sat on the bench watching his team's defense work, Plummer was having a very bad day. Bearded and rattled, and apparently coming off a case of the 'flu, he looked harried and frustrated through all of regulation. Glum Broncos fans in the stands sat with their chins in their hands, wondering why they'd paid $250 for tickets to what wound up being an embarrassing game.

I've never seen the Steelers this good.

Icing on the cake was seeing former Steel Curtain member Terry Bradshaw sitting at the commentators' desk as the Carolina Panters and Seattle Seahawks prepared to battle over the NFC title. He started by congratulating Bettis, Roethlisberger, and coach Bill Cowher... and then loosed a bomb:

"I tell you what, they can beat either of these teams here."

Bradshaw's three cohosts looked at him as if to say, "Uh, Terry? I don't think we're supposed to say shit like that."

I may be wrong, and Bradshaw might, too. But I think the hard part is over.



It's halftime, and the Steelers are thrashing the Broncos 24-3. Ben Roethlisberger is near-perfect... calm under pressure, throwing like he's a Marine sniper, and opening the field up to let the Running Game make some big plays. We're taking the Bus to Detroit, where he can retire with a ring.


It's game day. I didn't anticipate being this involved in the AFC Championship game this year -- earlier this season, it looked as if the Pittsburgh Steelers had lost their shot at a playoffs berth, after heart-breaking injuries put the creaky Tommy Maddox in the starting quarterback slot and he proceeded to do everything in one man's power to scuttle their season... much the way he did as a rookie, when he stepped into QB for the Denver Broncos, who had been on a six-game winning streak. The Broncos couldn't win a game after that, and what had looked like a sure lock for the playoffs was dashed between the slippery fingers of a guy who now has to wear a black Abu Ghraib style hood when he goes out for groceries in Pittsburgh.

But here we are, and it's the Steelers facing off against Maddox's first NFL team at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The air up there is thinner, it's harder to maintain an all-out push or sprint with the same ferocity as one might muster in stadiums closer to sea level.

I'm going to Applebees to watch at least the first half. There are few other places where I can order drinks and smoke at the same time without being relegated to some plexiglass fishbowl that smells like an airport smoking "lounge" or a chilly outdoor "designated smoking area," which usually have no overhead cover. And when it's raining like it is today, smoking in a place like that could be a miserable experience anyway.

We smokers will go there anyway, though, if that's the last option we've got. I saw a "Truth" ad on television a couple years ago that said that nicotine was more addictive than heroin -- which as far as I'm concerned is as good an excuse as any to keep puffing away. I saw "Trainspotting," and I know heroin's a tough one to break. If my coffin-nails are worse than that, well... I can hardly be blamed for facing the elements for a puff.

This is going to be a good football game. But after so many trips to the AFC Championships without a win, it's hard not to feel a very distinct sense of dread in the background. It's the playoffs, and I seriously don't know what will happen. Even ESPN's Bill Simmons (who I've been a little more skeptical about since only now has he decided to give the Steelers some well-earned respect; before this, if he mentioned them, it would only be to say how unimpressed he was by the team or how fat Jerome Bettis has gotten) has decided to take his years-in-development Playoffs Gambling Manifesto out behind his garage and burn it.

Before I head out, at least one more point: as the darkhorse team who have beaten AFC favorites Cincinatti and Indianapolis, the Steelers have amassed quite a backlash sentiment -- bitter Colts and Bengals fans who now are rooting for Denver just so they can see the Steelers lose. Stupid. If you're going to lose to someone, I'd say it's better to be knocked off by the Super Bowl champions... or at least a team that makes it there. Choke on the ashes, you turncoats... it wasn't your year. Just like it wasn't the Patriots' year. Or the Giants'.

With that, I'm off. To Applebees, like I said... which makes me feel slightly guilty, because in theory I hate everything about that place. In large neon letters out front it says "Neighborhood Grill & Bar." Telling that it's right next to the Super Wal-Mart -- which could just as legitimately be described as a "Neighborhood General Store." But I'm not heading out to think about how corporate conglomerates have ruined American culture... what I want to see is some football.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Steelers-Colts game too much for one fan

ABC News reports that a 50-year-old Steelers fan, watching Sunday's Steelers versus Colts game in a Pittsburgh bar, had a heart attack after watching Jerome Bettis fumble a would-be two-yard touchdown run.

"I wasn't upset that the Steelers might lose," he said. "I was upset because I
didn't want to see him end his career like that. A guy like that deserves
better. I guess it was a little too much for me to handle."

The fan, one Terry O'Neill, is recovering in an area hospital, and said that he'll probably watch the rest of the playoffs at home.

File this one under: Steady diet of beer and sausage grease can cause heart attack.


Chevy unveils Camaro concept

We knew they were going to do it. After Ford cashed in on retro styling with the 2005 Mustang, other manufacturers followed suit -- including Pontiac, with the powerful but poorly-styled 2005 GTO, and Dodge with the atrocity they're calling a Charger.

Chevrolet quit making Camaros in 2002, and there's been speculation ever since as to what the "New Camaro" would look like. At this year's Detroit Auto Show, spectators got a glimpse.

Thankfully, the New Camaro has been designed by a different crew than the one that designed the new Malibu, a line that has gotten progressively worse with each restyling.

The concept Camaro isn't just stylistic flash... under the hood, it's got a 6.0-liter, 400 horsepower V8 LS-2 engine. The mean looking front end has balls to match, in other words.

Reps say the car will be "astonishingly affordable," probably meaning a baseline pricetag of around $20,000. We'll see how well that works out.

Sadly, this thing probably won't be rolling off any production lines until the 2009 model year, so I guess I'll just have to go ahead and keep paying my '97 Z28 off.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Monkeys given booze to fight Russian cold

Via FARK, here we have an Associated Press story about the Russian winter temperatures dropping to 24 degrees below zero:

Seven people died of exposure in the Russian capital in the previous 24 hours, city emergency officials said, pushing the nationwide death toll from the Siberian cold wave that swept into Moscow late Monday to at least 31.

At a zoo in Lipetsk, south of Moscow, director Alexander Osipov said monkeys would be given wine three times day, "to protect against colds," the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

According to officials, the wine doesn't warm the monkeys up, it just makes them not care that they're freezing their red monkey asses off.

This post is dedicated to Recon.


Vick II won't do NFL any good

In this week's Turret, we're printing one of the first letters to the editor we've had in a while... and, as it turns out, it's a piece of hatemail directed toward me. It was for this column, and it brands me a "racist." Read at your own risk.

Vick II won't do the NFL any good


Turret Sports Editor

It's odd that the National Football League isn't subjected to the same scrutiny as that of Major League Baseball. If it were, then Marcus Vick would have scuttled his hopes of going pro more than a year ago.

Tuesday's sports section of "USA Today" carried headlines both of the younger Vick's latest scrape with the law--brandishing a handgun to scare three teenagers in a McDonald's parking lot--and of the latest adventures of Pete Rose, baseball's "greatest dirtball," who is currently living in Las Vegas and making more than $1 million annually by selling his signature.

Rose, of course, was cast out of the league for making baseball bets, including some on the Cincinnati Reds, whom he was managing at the time. With Vick's colorful history of offenses and misbehavior, any pro team still willing to draft him is going to get exactly what it deserves: a liability that'll make Terrell Owens seem like Momma McNabb.

Drug possession, supplying alcohol to minors, contributing to the delinquency of minors, speeding, driving on a suspended license... and these are just the missteps Vick's taken while off the field.

As a football player, Vick is undoubtedly talented--but as Owens was more trouble than he was worth to the Philadelphia Eagles, so too will Vick be more trouble than he's worth to any team he plays for following his dismissal from Virginia Tech.

Stomping on the left calf of Louisville defensive end and first team All-American Elvis Dumervil during the Gator Bowl Jan. 2 is only the most recent of Vick's displays of poor sportsmanship. On Oct. 1, he was caught making an "obscene gesture" to fans during VT's game at West Virginia.

It should also be noted that Vick's poor sportsmanship is the only thing anyone remembers the Gator Bowl for. That Virginia Tech beat the Cardinals 35-28 is largely irrelevant. And Vick didn't earn any new friends in Louisville when Dumervil said he'd never received the apology Vick claimed to have made.

It was enough to finally earn him the boot from Virginia Tech, which had already seen fit to suspend him on several other occasions. Unfazed, Vick declared he would simply take his game "to the next level," announcing his intention to go pro.

That took a certain amount of gall--but not as much as it did to follow up his announcement by pulling a pistol on three teens in a parking lot in Suffolk, Va. The teenagers reportedly were making fun of Vick's legal problems, so it's not as if Vick could have possibly thought he'd get away with it unrecognized.

Suffolk also happens to be the town where Vick's mother lives, so it's probably safe to say that he's a bit of a "local celebrity" -- for good or ill.

It wasn't as if former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett could get away with armed robbery in Columbus, the town he had helped earn the 2002 championship title for.

Vick has proven that he's got the makings of a professional--but not a professional athlete. With a rap sheet like his, it would seem that he's more cut out to be a professional thug.

Any NFL team that sees fit to draft him will deserve whatever will undoubtedly happen as a result.


UPDATE: Here's the letter I got in response.

Use of certain words keeps racism alive

I read the column of Spc. Ian Boudreau in last week's Turret. Most of it was fact.

I have only one question for him. Can he tell me why he in particular and the media in general always refer to black athletes who get into a little trouble as "thugs?"

I enjoy mostly all sports and have seen my share of poor sportmanship in most of them. Let's not forget that the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, and even the good ol' boys in NASCAR have all had altercations on television. Yet Boudreau or the local media never refer to these people as thugs.

I am equally ashamed of the University of Louisville and its coaching staff. They could not win the Gator Bowl on the field, so they succeeded in getting the local media to advertise the poor sportmanship of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. That was done in hopes of getting revenge for a lead that the Cards once again could not secure to win the game.

These coaches need to work on keeping their players motivated for 60 minutes.

Using words like "thug" helps keep racism alive. You don't refer to your own race as thugs when they misbehave in sports.

I can only hope that God will help Boudreau to grow wiser as a young journalist and to show equal representation to all.


Editor's Note: The term thug is derived from "thuggee," a member of a 19th century group in India that murdered and robbed in the name of the Hindu goddess Kali.

It's been used as a common term for more than 100 years and refers to those of any race or nationality who behave as hoodlums.

Vick's cumulative behavioral problems on and off the football field over the past three years resulted in his dismissal from Virginia Tech following the Gator Bowl, and qualify him to be categorized as a thug.


Monday, January 16, 2006

On Originality

My family -- the ones in preceeding generations, anyway -- aren't exactly fond of my Gonzo fist tattoo, which means I'm occasionally called upon to act as an apologist for both tattooing and for the work of Hunter S. Thompson, "gonzo" journalist and political provocateur. These times usually emerge when I've had too much to drink or have decided to wear short sleeves.

We'll leave the tattoo issue aside for now. My mother has dismissed Thompson's writing -- she once read a random paragraph from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- as "pornography," and my father is less than impressed with the writer's involvement in the 1972 George McGovern campaign (as well as appearances at Thompson's home in Woody Creek, Colo., by democratic party bigwigs including, infamously, John Kerry).

So it's hard to explain to them that Thompson's work is luminary, not only in his usage of narrator/participant-style story-telling, but also in his usage of the English language. If you can stomach the foul language and casual usage of heavy drugs, Thompson's prose is more reminiscent of Hemingway, Kerouac, and Steinbeck than it is the editoral staff of "High Times."

It's a shame that this fact is lost not only on my parents, but on the majority of Thompson "fans" who are posting "gonzo screeds" on the Internet as fast as they can get their hands on a hit of speed. Just as my family is prone to focusing on the wrong elements of Thompson's life, so too are the legion of imitators who are hurriedly trying to take up the Gonzo mantle for themselves.

In a recent telephone conversation I had with a friend of mine, we spoke at length about would-be professional comedians who have failed miserably -- either at success or at being funny -- thanks to their insistence on emulation of their comedy heroes. One example we discussed at length was comedian-turned-actor Denis Leary, whose seminal album "No Cure for Cancer" spawned a host of angry, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking imitators.

None of them were funny, because each insisted on copying the wrong elements of Leary's act -- the anger, the beer, and the cigarettes. While each of these figures prominently into Leary's presentation, they are merely accidental qualities of a character he has cultivated to help the audience identify with his on-stage persona; to wit, a blue-collar wiseacre with almost instinctual Boston-bred street smarts. The audience may never have even met such a character in real life, but the critical fact is that they can identify Leary's character as this archetypical persona, and therefore can accept his sometimes outrageous comic claims as "going with the territory."

Whether or not Leary's on-stage persona reflects his real-life self is irrelevant as far as his act is concerned. When he's at home, he could very well be a meek, gentle family man. The point is that whether he is or not does not affect the character he projects while performing.

The same goes for Thompson. Drug-legalization advocates think of Thompson as a cause-celebre, and aspiring writers -- myself included, at least during one phase of my development -- try to adopt his apocalyptic vocabulary by sprinkling their confessorial rants with words like "beasts" and "doom." (It's worth noting tangentially that among his varied influences, Thompson cited the Book of Revelation prominently.)

Looking around for Thompson fanatics on the Internet will unearth some of the most insufferable writing available... second-year college students who think a handful of speed and a fresh Word document are all that stands between them and cult-hero status. They take the opening chapter of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas not as literature and narrative art, but more as an instructional manual:

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
What such would-be imitators miss, however, is passages further along in the book, as well as the main purpose of the story itself. For example, when Thompson's main character, Raoul Duke, reminisces about the 1960s drug boom and hippie movement, he realizes the ultimate futility of it all:
And that, I think, was the handle--that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting--on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark--that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
It's clear from Thompson's letters around the time (available in Fear and Loathing in America, the second collected anthology of his personal correspondence) that what he set out to do with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was to write about what he called the "death of the American dream." The idea was that the westward boom of American "manifest destiny" that sent Steinbeck's Okies to California had finally culminated and died on the beaches of Big Sur and the squalid apartments and slums of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district -- a fact that was made abundantly clear to Thompson by the 1972 election of President Richard Nixon. To Thompson, this was the touchstone that made him realize that the hippies and peaceniks and "freak power" supporters really were freaks -- freaks unwanted and unloved by the rest of America, who had settled down in their homes east of San Andreas into the peaceful and voluntary servitude described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

It would be an easy matter to go on at length and defend Thompson's thesis, but the fact essential at the moment is that the drugs, the vocabulary, and the lifestyle were all accidental qualities of Thompson the writer. This is why any attempt to "be like HST" by consuming psychedelics and writing like a '60s version of St. John will inevitably fail. Without some strong basis to start with, such ramblings come off exactly as they are: boring monologues by directionless drug-users who are momentarily fascinated by the possibilities that exist within the human fingernail.

But Thompson can be a genuine inspiration to writers. His great accomplishment was to take his influences -- Hemingway, Kerouac, and St. John's Apocalypse -- and to refuse to try to synthesize or bastardize them. He wrote with a unique voice, as a character in his own stories. And his personal involvement in his work is similar to Leary's character projection on-stage. Whether his appearances in his narratives have anything to do with the way the Real Hunter S. Thompson behaved or spoke has nothing to do with the validity of value of the story itself. He exists not only as the chronicler but also as provocateur, as an essential driving force in the aspect of the story he's telling. And somehow, through the use of brilliant description and narration, he's able to speak volumes about the specific moment in history his character (or that of Raoul Duke, his "alter-ego") finds himself in.

It's not the drugs, kids, it's the originality. Only Hunter S. Thompson could ever have written Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it would be a crime for anyone else to try to write a sequel.

UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Steelers beat Colts, 21-18

My phone rang shortly after 1 p.m. It was my pal, calling from his house off-post.

"Are you watching this?! The Steelers scored on their first possession! They're up seven-nothing!"

"The game's on?" I screamed. "I thought it wasn't till 4:30!"

We checked the proceedings in Mike's room and I ran and jumped in the shower. The next order of business was to jump into the Road Shark, pick up a new pack of smokes and some beer at the shoppette, and haul ass off post. Once I was outside the gates, I unrolled the engine, pushing the Camaro as fast as I could on the two-lane country road that led to my buddy's house.

Ease up on the gas going around the corners, then gun it coming out... burn it on the straightaways, look out for oncoming traffic...

I covered the six miles in about as many minutes, and ran inside and downstairs. It was a commercial, but I'd been listening to the ESPN broadcast on AM during the ride over. Pittsburgh was dominating in the very same arena they'd been blown out at only a few short weeks ago during Monday Night Football.

During the lead-up to the game, I'd looked forward to the Steelers' post-season trip to Indianapolis like I would the funeral of a friend. As much as I love the Steelers, the chances of victory in the RCA Dome looked remote. The Vegas oddsmakers agreed, most giving the advantage to the Colts, with a 9.5-point spread.

But those odds were not being reflected as the screen opened again in the RCA Dome. The Steelers' defense was frustrating everything Peyton Manning and company were trying to do -- keeping the homestanders to three-and-outs on three of their first four possessions. I was jubilant and incredulous... "Could this really be happening?"

At halftime, Pittsburgh led 21-3. Indy's first touchdown of the game didn't bother me. But 51 seconds into the fourth quarter, their second one started to make me nervous. A successful two-point conversion raised the odds futher -- at 21-18, the Colts would need only a field goal to tie the game and go into what would surely be a disasterous overtime period for the Steelers.

I screamed when Pittsburgh's 23-year-old Strong Safety Troy Polamalu dove and intercepted a pass by Manning. He hit the ground and rolled, and when he jumped back up, his left knee dislodged the ball from his arms. Tony Dungy threw his review flag, and after several torturous minutes, the referees overturned the interception call -- incomplete pass, giving the Colts another chance to salvage their game.

Things looked even grimmer on a later Colts possession, but screaming insued again when Manning was sacked on a fourth-down conversion attempt -- on his own two-yard line. We had it. We'd won.

But something went wrong. With seconds left and only two scant yards between the Steelers' offensive line and the final nail going into the Colts' collective coffin, veteran Jerome Bettis plowed into Indy's defense... but his head was up, the ball exposed... and suddenly, victory was gone. The ball flew backwards out of "The Bus's" hands, only to be snatched up by the Colts' Nick Harper, who'd been stabbed in the knee by his wife not 24 hours before. Harper was clear, he'd run the errant ball back into the endzone, sealing a victory for the Colts.

It was over... but... WAIT! Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger grabbed Harper by the ankles, bringing him down around midfield. How?! Quarterbacks don't tackle people. Could it be? Do we have a chance?

The final seconds of the game, and Manning is throwing again... looking more like The Real Manning, the one who led his team undefeated through 13 games this season. His team crossed the computer-generated Red Line, meaning the Colts were technically in field-goal range...

But they stalled, and the Colts kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, had 46 yards between him and the uprights. That's a long kick, even for someone in the runnings for the most accurate kicker in the league.

I held my breath as the ball was snapped. It's down on the ground, Vanderjagt is winding up for a kick...

The ball is up in the air... it's sailing toward the Steelers' uprights... time is standing still.

It looked certain... the ball was heading in.... wait, no? No! He shanked it hard to the right! It sailed outside the uprights, clearly a miss!

We'd been screaming the entire time, and I didn't even realize it. I'd paced, screamed, cursed at the officials (who apparently had money down on Indianapolis). Vanderjagt had missed, and thanks to Big Ben's hands and a critical final performance by the Pittsburgh defense, his team had failed to get him close enough to the goal. There would be no over time, and there would be no Indianapolis Colts in this year's Super Bowl.

I called my brother, who was at work in Pittsburgh. We gushed to each other, panting, relieved...

"What a game," he said finally. "That's one for the history books."

"Yeah," I said. "I think my emotions have been fucked with enough this weekend, though."


Saturday, January 14, 2006

A request to Massachusetts residents

Please get rid of Senator Edward Kennedy, unless you insist on keeping that huge-headed alcoholic clown around for laughs. He asked Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito about his membership in a club that later published an essay titled "In Defense of Elitism" (which turned out to be a satire, apparently unbeknownst to Kennedy), and has intimated that Alito is a "bigot." It seems the good senator would like to paint Alito as a woman-hater.

Funny, right? Especially coming from the guy who drowned one in a car, and didn't get around to notifying the authorities until almost a full day had gone by.

So yeah, it's time for Kennedy to leave. Could the eight of you who still take him seriously please quit doing that and help the rest of us send Old Ted to the Great Rehab Center in the Sky?


Friday, January 13, 2006

Family Guy quote of whatever

While watching FCC-censored television:

BRIAN: This must be the FCC overreacting to the David Hyde Pierce incident. They're censoring anything that might be viewed as unpleasant.

PETER: What the hell? They let Sarah Jessica Parker's face on TV, and she looks like a foot!


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bird flu = bull shit

Yes, it's time to call bullshit on the avian influenza histrionics that have seemingly refused to go away. From the beginning, I was a professed disbeliever in the phenomenon, and the reason was that any time we start hearing gloom-and-doom predictions about a coming "killer pandemic" (whether it be in the form of 'flu, SARS, or bees), approximately nothing happens.

I could have just jumped on here and started spouting off about the relatively small number of people who have contracted -- and much less, died from -- the bird flu, but I decided that I'd do a little research. I turned to the Center for Disease Control.

Let's back up just a little, though, first. At some point, every year, usually beginning around November, the officially-recognized "flu season" begins. I've been very aware of this since I joined the Army, since each year, I've been required to receive an influenza vaccination. This year, like last year, it was administered nasally. Since nearly the entire dose that's squirted into my nostrils invariably has simply dribbled down the back of my throat, the benefits of nasal administration of the vaccine are lost on me, and I'm not inclined to change my mind about whatever benefits it's supposed to offer.

This year, after having received this critical vaccination, I went home to New York for Christmas and got the 'flu anyway. I stayed in bed, shivered, sneezed, and moaned for about 48 hours, and after that, I was fine. The CDC suggests that out of the 5-20 percent of Americans who will contract influenza this year, most will recover within one or two weeks.

That's not the case for everyone, however; in fact, this year alone, it's estimated by the Center that 36,000 Americans will die due to influenza-related symptoms. That's the entire population of a town.

If that sounds grim, bear in mind that it happens every year. 114,000-200,000 more will be hospitalized due to influenza symptoms and complications; again, a yearly occurrence.

It's interesting to note that there are three "regular" types of influenza virus: Influenzas A (which is subdivided into H1N1 and H3N2) and B (which is not subdivided), are included in each year's 'flu shot; and Influenza C, which is considered mild enough to be of little or no concern.

Avian Influenza A (H5N1) has been discovered a couple times in North America already. One case involved two workers involved in culling operations begun after a flock of chickens in British Columbia, Canada, was found to host the virus in 2004. According to the CDC:

Both patients developed conjunctivitis (eye infection) and other flu-like
symptoms. Their illnesses resolved after treatment with the antiviral medication

Ten others may have contracted avian flu after contact with the culled birds, the report says, but "[t]here is currently no evidence of person-to-person transmission of avian influenza from this outbreak."
In November 2003, a patient with serious underlying medical conditions was admitted to a hospital in New York with respiratory symptoms. One of the initial laboratory tests identified an influenza A virus that was thought to be H1N1. The patient recovered and went home after a few weeks. Subsequent confirmatory tests conducted in March showed that the patient had been infected with an H7N2 avian influenza A virus.

Curious that the report notes the patient's "serious underlying medical conditions," especially since, even after contracting the bird flu he seemed to have pulled through okay.

But that's just North America, where so far we haven't been "infected." What about Asia, where all these filthy diseases seem to come from?

Looking at the CDC's outbreak report on the region, it seems that since 1997, it's broken down something like this:

Hong Kong - 18 people contracted H5N1, six died.
Thailand and Vietnam - 35 reported cases of H5N1 infection resulted in 23 deaths.

Not exactly apocalyptic numbers -- that is, of course, unless you're an Asian chicken. In late 2003 to early 2004, eight Asian countries (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam) reported that more than 100 million of the birds either died from or were destroyed because of the disease.

The supposed Michael Crichton-esque "outbreak" of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -- someone needs help with their adjectives) in 2003 was a similar paper tiger. Despite dire predictions of what was purported to be something just short of a global population-annihilating plague, SARS infected a total of 8,098, of whom 774 died.

Assuredly, a larger number than have been killed by avian flu, but still a pittance compared to the number who lose their lives thanks to the "regular, old 'flu." Some perspective? If a similar "outbreak" of SARS was to hit the United States during a year whose influenza season was close to the yearly average in mortality rate, then influenza types A and B could be considered to be 46 times more deadly than SARS. And with avian influenza mortalities where they're at now, you could reasonably consider the "regular flu" to be more than 1,241 times as deadly.

Maybe the math is quick, dirty, and unfounded in scientific observation. But the point is that unless you're entering the next neighborhood cockfight as a contestant, you probably have nothing to worry about from the phantasm known as The Bird Flu.

Things that concern me more than avian influenza include:
- Alien mind control
- Being struck by lightning
- Paying my gambling debts (of which I have none)
- Spontaneous combustion
- Killer bees (which have reportedly killed 1,000 people in the Americas)


Monday, January 09, 2006

Thought Incubator: NSA domestic spying

I've only had an initial reaction to the business of the NSA monitoring domestic communications, and, needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled with the idea of our government "spying" on American citizens.

As near as I can tell, placing a "wiretap" on a phone line usually requires a warrant from a judge assigned that responsibility -- but Bush's post-9/11 authorization allows the NSA to bypass the warrant and listen in on any conversation deemed "suspicious."

Ideologically, it's pretty frightening, particularly to anyone who's read 1984 or All the President's Men. But, as usual, matters have been made less clear -- instead of more clear -- by media coverage of the issue.

So here's what I need to find out: the specific verbiage of the law the president is citing as backup for his decision (even though the presence of a law/clause/loophole doesn't necessarily make something ethically right), the "triggers" established to cause the NSA to initiate a "wiretap" (which is an increasingly less-applicable word), and, perhaps most importantly, an argument as to why this "domestic spying" issue isn't a threat to basic American freedoms.

Additionally, I'd like to know what safeguards will be put in place to prevent the authorization from being used indiscriminately (and criminally) by this or any other administration. There must be oversight of some kind in order for this program to have any kind of legal legs, and if there isn't oversight (by an agency outside the Executive Branch), then I'd say the entire program is just waiting for corruption -- if it's not full of it already.

More specifics I need: who has been subjected to this surveillance and why? What has the intelligence gleaned from this surveillance accomplished? Why do I not need to worry about some NSA G-man listening in when I call home? And if I do, how can it be argued that my freedoms of speech and privacy have not been impinged?

Lots of research to do on this issue before I'll be willing to come down hard on either side. For now, I'm awfully leery of it, but I'm willing to reserve judgement until I get some unspun data on the subject.


Friday, January 06, 2006

God gave Ariel Sharon the stroke

Every so often I think to myself, "You know, I should probably write something about the state of affairs in this country -- the way I used to." I could hit up something like the NSA and domestic spying, the ongoing Supreme Court nomination scuffle, the strategic drawdown of troops in Iraq... but then something like this turns up, and I can't help but perk up and pay attention.

To wit: Pat Robertson, host and Grand Wizard of the 700 Club, has suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent stroke (and subsequent brain-hemorrhage) was God's punishment for Sharon's policy of "dividing [God's] land."

From MediaMatters:

ROBERTSON: I have said last year that Israel was entering into the most
dangerous period of its entire existence as a nation. That is intensifying this
year with the loss of Sharon. Sharon was personally a very likeable person. I am
sad to see him in this condition. But I think we need to look at the Bible and
the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity
against those who, quote, "divide my land."
Robertson, you'll remember, recently made headlines when he suggested the United States should probably just send in a couple Delta Force commandos and assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

His recent proclamation on Sharon's health, interestingly enough, puts Roberston in line with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is also fond of saying insane things about Israel.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Mr Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying he hoped Mr Sharon died. "Hopefully, the
news that the criminal of Sabra and Chatila has joined his ancestors is final,"
the news agency ISNA reported him telling Muslim clerics in Iran's holy city,

Do I need to make any further comment? I'd make jokes here, but I know there are countless wizened heads around the country, nodding solemnly to Robertson's pronouncements. He'd be hilarious if so many people didn't take him so seriously.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Your war"

I'm outside a bar in my hometown, taking a break from the enjoyment of beers with my brother to smoke a cigarette after a family dinner. It's illegal to smoke inside bars in the state of New York, for reasons that I'm sure would baffle the framers of the Constitution.

Next door is a bar reknowned for its party scene. Cortland is home to one of New York's many state university campuses, and the majority of its students attend for degrees in education and physical education, which leaves many (guess which) with lots of free time to drink it up downtown, which is only a few blocks down the hill from the serpentine campus.

This bar, called the Dark Horse, has a bouncer minding the door. He's not your typical bouncer -- in fact, I would have been less surprised to have seen him outside one of the neighborhood drugstores rooting through the trash cans.

We strike up a conversation while I suck down my Camel. He tells me about his dog and hollers at some of the girls walking by in the evening darkness.

Eventually he asks me what I do for a living, and I tell him I'm the sports editor for the newspaper on an Army post. He shakes his head.

"I have a cousin who just got back from that war you guys are having," he says. "It's such a shame."

That war you guys are having. His words offend me -- it is as if he blames me for what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. I pull harder on the Camel.

"Believe me," I say. "No one is more interested in having this thing over with than the people who are actually in the military."

What I mean is, members of the military are the only ones who actually have their asses on the line in this one. There's no draft; we're all volunteers, whether we signed on for this particular shitstorm or not. We didn't make the decision, we just followed orders.

It's odd to see the kind of patriotism that's so prevalent in the Army. Of course we're loyal to our country, and of course we love everything it stands for. But there's nothing in the contract that says we're supposed to be any more excited about the prospect of taking and losing lives than any other average citizen -- because that's what we are: average citizens.

Culture has painted the soldier into a rather strange corner. There's an expectation that the military is composed of some elite corps of supermen and women who can do no wrong and never err. No quarter is given for mistakes and missteps -- but, then again, none is ever asked, really.

The bouncer looks at me and shakes his head.

"Well," he shrugs, "good luck with that."

"Thanks," I say, and wonder who all this is for.

* * * * *

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout,

but there is no joy in Mudville --
mighty Casey has struck out.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Resolution time

I haven't made much good on the idea I expressed a couple posts ago about "inspiration." But it hasn't been because I've been uninspired; I've just been busy. The last thing I wanted to do while I was home was sit around on the computer, coming up with invective to spray at individuals and groups which I've labelled as "idiots."

... or about anything else. Point is, I've been preoccupied with other activities, and it'll take me a couple days to get back into the swing of things here at Knox. Tonight, for instance, I'll be at a high school basketball game in Elizabethtown, which infuriatingly begins at 8 p.m.

Oh well. As the Good Doctor might say, Selah. Or, Cazart. Either one works here.

Meanwhile - I've made at least one other resolution for the year: quit smoking. I'm not excited about the prospect, but it sort of ties in with a determination I've made to get into better shape. I'd like to cut my run time down a bit, and not having a couple pounds of tar floating around in my alveoli can only help.

Modest goals, perhaps. But it's important to make them attainable -- at least for me.

More later. I'm out for now.