Sunday, February 26, 2006

"The Aristocrats"

Just watched "The Aristocrats," and I suppose I can see why some people didn't like it.

They're the people who buy tickets to Bill Engvall shows, and there are a hell of a lot of them.

Me, I loved it. The premise is this -- comedians explain their love of a vaudeville-era joke that is something of a secret handshake between professional comics. The joke begins, "A man walks into a talent agent's office and says, 'I've got a great act for you.' " The punchline is "The talent agent asks the guy, 'What do you call yourselves?' And the man says, 'The Aristocrats!' "

In between the set up and punchline is a string of the filthiest material whoever is telling the joke can come up with. Depraved acts, bodily fluids, animals, and violence are used variously depending on who's relating "The Aristocrats."

And the movie is basically comedians breaking it down and explaining why it's funny -- which is almost a cardinal sin, since explanation always ruins a joke. But the magic of "The Aristocrats" is that each comic is identifiable merely by his or her performance of the joke. George Carlin, who opens the film, has a very matter-of-fact, technical delivery -- he has the man sort of breeze through the most unimaginably depraved things as if they're nothing out of the ordinary. Gilbert Gottfried, who performed the Aristocrats at the Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner three weeks after 9/11, has a violent, manic, and increasingly loud delivery.

I'm a huge fan of comedy, but not the hack stuff. So it's refreshing to see comedians "in their element"... the film is sort of a Jane Goodall/Gorillas in the Mist for comics. Noticably absent from the film are folks like Larry the Cable Guy and every comedian whose act is an hour's worth of race jokes. No, instead you have people who have really worked hard at being original -- Bob Saget and Stephen Wright, for example.

Anyway -- if Bill Hicks makes you angry, or Dane Cook offends you, or if you can't get a chuckle if men vs. women isn't brought into a bit, skip "The Aristocrats." But for serious comedy lovers out there, give this one a go. It's worth it just to see Howie Mandell use incredibly foul language.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Trying to wrap my mind around FCS

This week, I've been assigned a story on a "rock drill" that was conducted this afternoon by the command and staff of Fort Knox's Future Combat Systems Brigade Combat Team, Experimental Element. I've never understood in any tangible sense what it is they do -- only that it involves an incredible number of officers and computers and has something to do with the 3D graphics of robots and satellites from Boeing and other companies I've seen on the Army network.

The "rock drill" -- something I've always heard referred to as a "sand table exercise" -- was a scale mock-up of a BLUEFOR vs. REDFOR engagement. It was held in the Close Combat Tactical Trainer. If that term makes no sense to you, think of it as networked "Halo" for tanks.

Behind the rows of tank simulators, a few unlucky staffers had taken several days to lay out the terrain model. It was marked off in black yarn grid squares, with wood chip piles marking hills, blue tape for rivers, tiny black blocks as buildings, and burlap canvas covering boxes to make mountains. Inside the huge model were cardboard stand-ups decorated with unit symbols, many of which I'd never seen.

A smiling female captain walked up to me. She'd been designated by The Boss as the ad hoc Public Affairs Officer for the exercise, and while she was new to the unit, she'd cheerfully found an entire gauntlet of senior officers for me to talk to about the experimental unit and the "rock drill" they were conducting.

I met the commander first -- a lieutenant colonel with orders for promotion to full bird. He'd typed up a sheet of "talking points" on the exercise and distributed it to his staff. I got a copy and scanned it. I realized quickly I'd have to sit down with it later to decipher the many acronyms involved.

Going into a story like this, I normally have a few specific questions I want to ask. I avoid making lists of questions, since most stories will take twists and turns the average reporter won't necessarily anticipate while sitting in the newsroom, but I do like to get at least a vague idea of what answers I'm going to need to make the story make sense. Since all I'd heard about this one was the cryptic phrase "Omni Fusion," my approach was simple.

"Sir, I have no idea what Omni Fusion is, so..."

He gladly obliged. Per military courtesy, enlisted soldiers are normally expected to stand at attention when listening to a senior officer. This is problematic for reporters, since they're also expected to be taking note of everything said. I usually solve this problem by taking out my Nikon before getting close -- it establishes our relationship quickly. He's a source, I'm a reporter, and I will be taking notes on what he says instead of smartly snapping my heels together.

Things were going fine until the exercise started. The deputy commanding general was unable to attend for some reason or the other, which left a vacant seat next to the colonel at the command table. He figured it would be a good place for me to sit. Not exactly my preference, but I certainly couldn't complain about the view.

Brigade staff officers took turns presenting each piece of the first move into the engagement area. The sustainment officer took her place in the center of the map and discussed the amount of fuel that would be available in the staging areas. The signal officer talked about deploying flying drones in places where enemy activity would be likely, and the commanders of the two combat battalions quickly described their moves into the area. Acronyms were thrown around like they were going out of style, but I think I got the gist of what was going on. I wrote down as many as I could to look up later.

Looking at the map and listening to each officer give his or her update on the action, I was reminded of George C. Scott as Patton watching a column of tanks in Sicily. "Look at that," he says to General Bradley. "Compared to war, all other human endeavor shrinks to insignificance."

Even minor engagements and movements, it seems, encompass more elements than the human mind can accomodate at any single instant. This should make for an interesting -- if hairy -- story.


UPDATE: Open post at Argghhh!

Are the Olympics over yet?

Wayne Gretzky says it's his fault that Team Canada blew its shot at an Olympic hockey medal. Now that that's over, can we move on to something less ear-bleedingly boring than the Winter Olympics?

Most of the Winter Olympic events that even qualify as legitimate sports aren't all that much fun to watch, and there are far more hours devoted to the ones that don't qualify, anyway.

Figure skating, for example, is not a sport. No one actually cares about figure skating during the four intevening years between Winter Games, but a lot of pretending goes on when they actually roll around. Here's the rule -- any performance in which a score is determined by a panel of subjective judges is not a sport. It may be athletic, but it's not a sport. Figure skating is an athletic performance, and the fact that participants wear sequins and makeup is proof positive of this.

In the summer, the same goes for gymnastics. Nobody gives them a single thought for four yearas, but for some reason, whichever androgynous teenager the United States sends to the games becomes an instant "America's Sweetheart." Whatever.

Some of the events don't even make any sense. I was on CQ duty a couple weekends ago, and around 7 a.m. Saturday I watched about an hour's worth of Olympic biathlon. Okay, marathons are about running. Triathlons are running, bicycling, and swimming. Biathlon? It's cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Something clearly went wrong.

Okay, sure, it's probably rooted in some ancient Nordic military training. That doesn't mean it's something I care to watch. But to listen to the guys giving color commentary, you'd think Stephen Hawking had just caught the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Someone came in tenth and these dudes were screaming.

I love watching freestyle snowboarding, but I think it's better in the Winter X-Games.

South Korea held the 1988 Olympic Summer Games. I was stationed there 15 years later in the northern city of Uijeongbu, and right outside the back gate of Camp Red Cloud are two arenas constructed for the games -- a huge sports arena and a velodrome (for bicycling). We used to run loops around them in the mornings, but not once did I ever see them being used.

So I don't watch the Olympics. The individual events are boring, and, being me, I'm not much into "pageantry." If that was what I was after, I'd just be re-reading Dr. Seuss books, anyway.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Who ya gonna call?

Here's a headline you definitely don't see every day:

Mystery blob eating downtown Los Angeles.

It's not a joke.

A mysterious black blob attacked downtown Los Angeles on Monday with a tar-like goo that oozed from manholes, buckled a street and unmoored a Raymond Chandler-era brick building, firefighters said.

About 200 residents were forced to flee as a hazardous materials team and dozens of firefighters worked throughout the day to identify what was first deemed "a black tarry substance" and later morphed into a "watery mud." ...

They returned at 1 p.m. to find a Slimer-like ooze lurking beneath central Los Angeles.

Ironically, this weekend I rented John Carpenter's The Thing, which leads me to believe that the nightmarish substance seeping through manhole covers in downtown L.A. is nothing less than a hostile alien entity hell-bent on consuming the entire human race. Anyone infected by this being could explode into a disgusting mass of twisted limbs and teeth at any moment, so if you have a ticket to LAX for the immediate future, call and ask for a refund.

The emergence of this black blob may or may not have anything to do with the Supreme Court's decision to allow a church in New Mexico to use hallucinogenic tea as part of its bi-monthly ritual. The tea reportedly contains DMT, which leads users to see things like "Self-Transforming Machine Elves" and experience alien abduction.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Forbidden Zone.


Monday, February 20, 2006

RIP, Dr. Thompson -- One Year

I would have expected myself to come up with some sentimental, maudlin one-year-anniversary post in memory of Hunter S. Thompson's suicide one year ago today. But for whatever reason, the urge isn't there now that the moment is.

Last month, I scrapped together this piece on Thompson and originality, which is titled "On Originality." There's not much I can add to that at the moment, and it sums up what I think Thompson had to add to American literature.

But while Thompson thought of himself as a literary writer and often found himself working on those roots in fiction (see The Rum Diary), he is remembered primarily as a "Gonzo Journalist." What were his contributions to journalism?

That's trickier to pin down. But I'm pretty sure it has something to do with his ability to take his literary vocabulary and sense of storytelling and combine them with reporting on issues of the day and from the two craft a wide variety of amazing tales, many of them winding up remarkably prophetic -- read Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 for evidence.

He had a singular and encyclopedic head for politics, which led him not only to campaign for sheriff in 1971, but also to follow the doomed George McGovern campaign the following year, and to keep current with political figures until his death. He was, unjournalistically, idealistic, but what separated him from other political activists and junkies was the fact that he was uncompromising. Journalists today can at least take something from that.

I haven't done any re-reading or research for this, but since it's the anniversary of his death, I feel compelled to write something while wrapped in a blanket and sipping a tall glass of bourbon.

To all you who have either written Thompson off as a drug-addled loon or have yet to even give him a chance, please read Hell's Angels tomorrow. You'll change your mind.


UPDATE: By the way -- if you're interested in HST merchandise, check out the store his widow Anita is currently running: The Gonzo Store. Lots of great stuff.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Rock's Retards appear in sex tape

Mentally-handicapped rockers Scott Stapp (formerly the frontman of the awesomely-bad band Creed) and Kid Rock (frontman of the awesomely-bad band Kid Rock) have apparently pulled a Paris Hilton and appeared in a sex video. Together.

Sadly, they are not having sex with each other. That would have been perfect.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Ann Coulter has the tact of a demented boar

Ann Coulter is such a hideous caricature of American conservatives that I'm beginning to wonder if she's not some sort of radical left-wing mole planted within the movement to bring it down by wholesale discreditation.

Witness this latest bon mot I culled from her current column, titled "Muslim bites Dog":

Perhaps we could put aside our national, ongoing, post-9/11 Muslim butt-kissing contest and get on with the business at hand: Bombing Syria back to the stone age and then permanently disarming Iran.
Ha, ha! Funny joke, right? Sure, Syria's a bad place full of bad people. But nobody could seriously be thinking that we should extend our military operations there right now, right?

Ann Coulter is not joking:
I believe we are legally required to be bombing Syria right now. And unlike the Quran's alleged prohibition on depictions of Muhammad, I've got documentation to back that up!
Okay, this is a column she's apparently published, and in one sentence, she not only begins with the word "And," but finishes with an exclamation point. Apparently she's not aiming to be running in the same league as the Bronte sisters.

But stylistic quibbles aside (and Ms. Coulter can be forgiven for playing fast and loose with the English language now and again), and ignoring her ringing of the war gong for bombs over Syria, Coulter uses language that demonizes all Muslims:
The "offense to Islam" ruse is merely an excuse for Muslims to revert to their default mode: rioting and setting things on fire. These people have a serious anger management problem.
Ann, if you want us to take you seriously, you're going to have to put a finer point on that oh-so-sharp pen of yours. I'm sure she's keen to piss off the folks who have so clearly demonstrated their displeasure over the publication of the Infamous Danish Cartoons, but come on. Cat Stevens wrote "Peace Train." It can't be all of them.

It isn't all of them, in fact. Muhammad Ali (and a bunch of friends) just opened the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, which is devoted basically to diplomacy and crisis mediation, at least according to its founders. Before I hear any rabid conservatives eager to disparage the former Cassius Clay as a "draft dodger," let me pre-empt them by saying that they're full of shit. Ali declined to go to Vietnam, saying he was a conscientious objecter. He didn't run away to Canada, he stayed in the U.S. and suffered the consequences of a moral decision he made.

As much as I loathe the fact that the cultural problems that have provided breeding grounds for the "Cartoon Riots" have been largely ignored, I'm unwilling to make the kinds of sweeping, racist generalizations that Coulter is so eager to scribble:
If you don't want to get shot by the police, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then don't point a toy gun at them. Or, as I believe our motto should be after 9/11: Jihad monkey talks tough; jihad monkey takes the consequences. Sorry, I realize that's offensive. How about "camel jockey"? What? Now what'd I say? Boy, you tent merchants sure are touchy. Grow up, would you? [Emphasis mine]
Sadly, the less the rest of the world looks like Coulter -- blonde-haired and lily-white -- the more willing she is to bomb them into oblivion. If she's so eager to kill Muslims, I'd suggest she take a walk down to the recruiter's office. They've got plenty of opportunities left.

Lest anyone think I'm letting radical Islam off the hook, here's the story I did for Scrawled this month:

Election of Hamas should serve as a cautionary tale to the West's efforts to democratize the Middle East


UPDATE: E&P reports that Coulter is also one of the reasons that voting tallies in Palm Beach are always so screwy.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentine's Day blows

The last time I can remember Valentine's Day being cool is probably when I was in the third grade, in 1988. When you're a kid, you spend the day cutting out red construction paper hearts and gluing them to doilies, or finding innocuous Peanuts mini-cards and practicing your crayon cursive skills. Each student has a box on his or her desk where other classmates can put crude works of elementary-school art.

When I think about it, actually, it sucked then, too. I was never a popular kid, and in the third grade, I wasn't particularly interested in girls. So the only great thing about the day was that it didn't require any multiplication tables or social studies. I usually wound up with about three cards on Valentine's Day. Those little candy hearts that have "I LUV U" written on them are disgusting, by the way.

Growing up Catholic, I learned early on that Valentine's Day was actually the feast day for Saint Valentine, who was one of those early-era Roman saints who may or may not have existed. The point is moot these days anyway, since what Valentine's Day really is is a chance for half of all couples in the world to royally blow it. And by half of all couples, I mean all guys.

Roses. Chocolates. Cards. Jewelry. Lingerie. Expensive restaurants. It's pretty disgusting, really. And it's another chance for Hallmark and Friends to rake in some of the most evil dollars they can get their filthy hands on every year.

When I was in high school, I bought my then-girlfriend a dozen roses for Valentine's Day at a local flower shop. Other times during the year, one can get his hands on a dozen roses for about $30, or $2.50 per flower. Once Valentine's Day rolls around, though, expect the same dozen to retail for $100 or higher. It's sort of like gas stations in Florida charging $5 per gallon for gasoline after a hurricane. When I left the shop, I felt like a gigantic chump, and I was right.

Part of this is because I'd just blown what for me was a week's pay on something that would be dead inside of a week. But it's not as if anything purchased on Valentine's Day serves any purpose in and of itself, right? Chocolates? I've heard they're an aphrodesiac, but good luck, fellas. For it to work, she'd have to eat close to her own body weight in them -- or at least that's what Al Pacino said in Devil's Advocate. Jewelry? Hmmm. About as useful as shiny rims on that new Explorer. Sparkly, but that's about it.

But guys have to go out and buy this useless shit on Valentine's Day, because if they don't -- well, they'll be getting the cold shoulder from whoever they're hooked up with.

Someone please explain to me why this is different than prostitution. Buy shiny things or suffer through her withholding affection? Yep, I'd say that qualifies. Seems like most people outside of Nevada could be arrested for participation in Valentine's Day. It's a massive outpouring of capital in the hopes of getting action from partners across the world. I'd like to change the name from Valentine's Day to International Whore-Out Day. It's like they say at Kay Jewelers: "Every kiss begins with Kay." At least they're straightforward.

Hallmark -- and all the other Valentine's Day junk-producers -- would have you believe that Valentine's Day is a chance to say "I love you" to "that special someone." Well, if you're willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks on a corny jewelry trinket, why the hell do you need a special day to say "I love you?" Is it "No, I really love you" because it's February 14?

Funny that this is what's become of a day originally designated as a feast day for a saint, even if he was imaginary.

For the last few years, my Valentine's Day date has been a bottle of Dewar's Scotch. No expectations from either one of us on the other, just the tacit understanding that the Scotch will get drunk, and so will I.

Valentine's Day can go to hell.


Support Free Speech this weekend

Yes, I know it's only Monday. But we've got a long weekend coming up in the United States, and it's called Presidents Day. If anyone reading this intends to tie one on in the name of extra time off (like I probably do), I'd suggest drinking Carlsberg Pilsner, which is brewed in Copenhagen, Denmark.

I'm suggesting this in lieu of writing what would undoubtedly be a lengthy entry on the insanity that has reared its head over the publication of several cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammed. Apparently, funny pictures of a religious figure are reason enough to incite riots and violence throughout the Arab world. No word yet on whether the subjugation of women, rampant disregard for human rights, and virulent racism are worthy of similar outrage -- but I have my guesses.

I'll come up with something on it. I think there are a couple interesting points, though. First, it's strange that the "outrage" began several months after the cartoons were published, and stranger still that the riots began shortly after Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament. Further, it's odd -- but predictable, sadly -- that as Palestinians and Iranians take to the streets and call for the heads of the Danish editors, "balancing" stories about American "outrage" over other editorial cartoons (such as the Washington Post panel by Tom Toles, which featured a quadruple amputee sitting in a bed next to "Dr." Donald Rumsfeld) have been quick in the making.

For the record, setting up any kind of moral equivalency between one response (for example, burning down a Danish embassy) and the other (for example, the Joint Chiefs co-signing a letter to the Washington Post) is an exercise in weapons-grade stupidity. Stop it.

So yeah -- drink some Carlsberg this weekend in celebration of Free Speech... the kind that's free to piss off whoever it wants.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dick Cheney shot a dude

Honestly, I was thinking about writing a post predicting every joke to be made this week about Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally filling a hunting buddy's mug full of bird shot, but I don't have the energy at the moment. Half of that has been from pulling two consecutive charge-of-quarters shifts, and the other half has been from laughing myself stupid at the fact that it happened.

I will predict that someone, however, will inevitably make a Dick Cheney/Elmer Fudd joke this week (odds are even-up on the Daily Show), and that the phrase "Dead-eye Dick" will be used, and further that a Photoshop junkie will make a fake movie poster featuring the promotional materials for "Tombstone," Cheney's face, and a reference to his chronic angina.

We'll see how things pan out. I'll be taking bets c/o the Funny Farm, Fort Knox.


UPDATE: Turns out I'm the Photoshopper. I couldn't resist.

UPDATE 2: Editor & Publisher reports that the White House delayed release of the story for 18 hours, and only released it when they did because a local reporter in Corpus Christi, Texas, was tipped off and started asking questions. Great PR move, guys. Why is it that thanks to publications like Us Weekly and People I can know exactly when the last time was that Angelina Jolie took a shit, but when the vice president accidentally shoots (or "sprays," in the terminology of presidential staffers) someone, it takes 18 hours to find out?

Friday, February 10, 2006

A city united: in Pitt for Super Bowl XL

Here's the Turret version of the story on Super Bowl weekend in Pittsburgh. I'm going to eventually expand it into something a lot longer and crazier -- designed for the online/blog readership, and not subject to the same, er, thematic restrictions present in print. For now, see what you think.


Turret staff writer

I left the Ohio River behind as I crossed the bridge out of Kentucky and into Cincinnati on Interstate 71, which took me past the Reds Stadium, across the Buckeye State's farmlands, and into Columbus.

From there, it was another two hours to Bridgeport on I-70, where I met the Ohio again, driving across the water from Wheeling, West Virginia.

I was traveling to Pittsburgh to watch the Super Bowl with my brother Zach, who's lived there since we were in college. When the Steelers miraculously fought their way through three playoff road games--the first sixth-seeded team ever to make it through a championship game--he called and told me that I'd better get up to Steel Town.

I didn't need much convincing. Eight weeks earlier, Zach had read me the headlines of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the phone. The paper, after a spate of losses, was asking in the headline, "Is the season over?" The Steelers had found themselves at 7-5, and playoffs hopes were dwindling.

They responded by running the table and beating the top three seeded teams in the AFC to earn the unexpected berth in Super Bowl XL.

Near Pittsburgh, the Ohio's banks aren't nearly as inviting as they are in Louisville--the husks of ancient steel mills muddy the sides of the river and old railway trestles span the water, giving the region its rather unappealing nickname: the Rust Belt. Even though a decade-worth of stricter environmental regulations has cut down on noxious emissions from the mills, the air takes on a distinctly metallic odor near Highway 7.

From 7, I headed across the Ohio River again via Route 22 east-bound and Steubenville's distinctive "Wishbone Bridge." I passed through Weirton, Hankey Farms, and into Pennsylvania, then down Interstate 279 to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which opens onto the Fort Pitt Bridge and one of the most spectacular cityscapes I've ever seen--Three Rivers.

On the way into the city, the marquees which hung over the highway to advise travelers of traffic conditions had all been switched to read "GO STEELERS!!!" Steelers flags hung in the windows of restaurants, and bars had repainted their exteriors with team slogans like "In Ben we trust" and "One for the Thumb!"

We met at Zach's girlfriend's apartment across the street from the Mellon Arena. Once we'd said our hellos and exchanged hugs, Zach reached into his coat pocket.

"I picked this up for you," he said, handing me one of Myron Cope's official Terrible Towels. "I figured you could use it."

The three of us walked through biting wind down to Pittsburgh's Strip District, a collection of bars and parking areas that are normally packed during the nightclub scene. It was 11:30 Sunday morning, though, and we weren't out to dance or socialize. We needed seats at the Sports Rock, a sprawling two-level sports bar that catered to Pittsburgh's fans.

We thought we were there in plenty of time--but so did the other 300 fans standing in line outside the Rock. The Super Bowl wouldn't kick off for another seven hours, but the fans were already out in force.

All wore Steelers gear of some description, from leather jackets to Terrible Towel tube-tops. Black and gold team jerseys were most prevalent, however; in line, there were countless Roethlisbergers, Bettises, and Wards, a crowd of Polamalus, and even a Krieder or two.

Once we got inside it took a couple hours to find a place to sit, but we managed eventually to secure some good real estate in one of the Rock's side bars.

The hawkers we'd seen outside had moved indoors with the crowd, and one was trying to sell "Roethlis-burger" hats shaped like floppy cheeseburgers along with black-and-gold bead necklaces to the Steelers faithful. When he made his way over to me, he saw my camera and thought I might be able to get him some press. He told me his name was Bob, and that selling Steelers merchandise was a "fun, weekend thing" for him--a side project from his weekday job of manufacturing custom leather jackets for Las Vegas casinos and, he claimed, Jay Leno. He told me he had a couple in the works for several Steelers players.

A girl in a pink and white Steelers jersey asked me to take her picture. She said her name was Missy and that she was Terry Bradshaw's cousin.

Long before the game started, members of the throng, at random intervals, started a cheer of "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!" Everyone joined in.

Zach told me that even in the off-season it wasn't uncommon in Pittsburgh to hear this cheer while standing in line at the grocery store or while out to eat.

The disc jockey eventually started playing Steelers songs, including "Here We Go," and everyone sang along at the tops of their lungs.

By the time the game started, the crowd was whipped into near frenzy. Past Super Bowl most valuable players paraded onto the field, and at the sights of Tom Brady and Troy Aikman the bar erupted into bloodthirsty choruses of boos and hisses. On the other hand, Lynn Swann, the MVP of Super Bowl X as a Steelers wide receiver in 1976, elicited a frenzy of cheering.

The game commenced, and every play was an emotional rollercoaster ride. When Seattle surged ahead for the opening score with a field goal, a somber pall began to settle over the crowd. As Pittsburgh struggled into three consecutive three-and-outs, things looked even more grim. This wasn't the team we'd watched barrel through the playoffs on the strength of a second-year quarterback's suddenly flawless throwing arm. Big Ben was choking, and we couldn't believe it. Zach looked ashen.

It was the second quarter before we had any good news. Finally in the Seahawks' red zone, Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, a 13-year NFL veteran and toast of Steel Town, punched the ball up to the Seattle one-yard line. Roethlisberger kept the ball on a quarterback sneak for the next play and dived for the end zone. The Sports Rock erupted in screams of joy.

It only got louder. In the third quarter, Willie Parker busted through the Seattle defensive line for a 75-yard touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. Pittsburgh led 14-3, and we were ecstatic.

A huge man who looked as if he could be a professional running back came hurtling out of nowhere and hoisted my brother up toward the ceiling with one arm, cheering wildly. He set Zach down and scooped me up, and we screamed at each other. Triumph was in sight.

When the game finally ended, the Steelers had emerged victorious 21-10, in one of the ugliest--but most emotional--games I can remember. We watched as coach Bill Cowher accepted the Vince Lombardi trophy from the NFL commissioner, and many held each other, cheering and crying, as Jerome Bettis, trophy hoisted high, declared that Detroit would be the last stop for the Bus. It was "One for the Thumb," Pittsburgh's fifth Super Bowl victory. The last one had been about two weeks before I was born.

Inside the Sports Rock and across the city of Pittsburgh, fans were cheering, weeping, and waving their Terrible Towels. Zach and I roared, embraced, and celebrated with the rest of them. Somewhere in the backs of our minds we knew that the game had been technically disappointing, but watching as the Steelers walked off Detroit's Ford Field as champions, we didn't care. Everyone was swept up in the joy of the win.

On the way back to Louisville the next day, I listened to sports radio talk show hosts bemoan the poor officiating and, especially as I neared Cincinnati, deride the Steelers--but none of that mattered.

As we walked back to Kristen's apartment through freezing wind and snow, we waved our towels at passing cars, which responded by honking their horns as passengers leaned out the windows, joyously proclaiming the victory. We were cold, exhausted, hoarse, and deliriously happy.

* * * * * * *

Monday morning, the game was turned over to the hands of the legion of sportscasters nationwide who proceeded to spear Super Bowl XL for lousy play, bad coaching, and worse officiating. Bengals fans were e-mailing the networks, saying that "the fix was in," and hosts were talking about the National Felony League.

I didn't care. When the controversy dies away, history will remember the 40th Super Bowl for Jerome Bettis walking into the sunset, for Willie Parker's amazing run, and for Bill Cowher giving the Lombardi trophy to Steelers owner Dan Rooney after 10 years of near-misses.

And nothing will ever take away the memory I'll have of being there, in Pittsburgh, when it happened--just one fan in the throng, swept up in the indescribable tide of joy and solidarity of the moment of victory with everyone who's ever loved the Steelers.


UPDATE: Open Post at Argghhh!
UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Photo, more blogging goodness to come

I shot this for a story on Master Sgt. Ernest Kouma, a Korean War Medal of Honor winner buried here at Fort Knox.

I had an amazing weekend in Pittsburgh, and I promise I'll have a story and photos posted on that shortly. Check out some of the Flickr images in the meantime (look in the right-hand column).


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Top soldier has big dreams

A story I did for last week's edition:

Knox's top soldier has big dreams

Turret staff writer

Jeff Heinrich started on his lunch in the seating area of Taco John's/Godfather's Pizza on Fort Knox's Eisenhower Avenue and chuckled about a recent accomplishment.

"They told me when I was going through the whole process, 'Yeah, you can win all this stuff, there's all these rewards that come with being the Soldier of the Year,'" he said, pausing between bites of pizza. "But I was just doing it because I wanted to get promoted."

It worked. Last year, on Sept. 7, then-Spc. Heinrich snapped to attention in front of the Fort Knox Soldier of the Year board. Surprisingly, he wasn't exactly happy to be there.

"I actually didn't want to go to the Soldier of the Year board, because it was the same day as my promotion board," he said.

Plus, Heinrich had already been to five competitive boards over the past three months.

"It's a lot of time in your Class A's," he said.

Fortunately for Heinrich, as soon as he was finished with the first board, he headed back to 16th Cavalry Regiment headquarters for his promotion board. Knowing Heinrich had just come from the post's highest competitive board for junior enlisted Soldiers, the president of the promotion board let him go without a single question.

After his brief appearance at the promotion board, Heinrich said, he headed back across post and found that he'd won Soldier of the Year. Turning right around and going back to 16th Cav, he learned once he arrived that he'd been promoted, too.

And while he did win some tangible rewards--$1,000 in savings bonds, about $400 in cash, and two Colt Peacemaker pistols--Heinrich's main goal had been a set of sergeant's stripes.

"I always thought I was a leader, and it's nice to be recognized--to have the stripes to back you up," he said.

Now 25 years old and a full-fledged sergeant, Heinrich, a New Jersey native who worked in St. Paul, Minn., as an investment representative before enlisting, has spent just over two years in the Army as a cavalry scout. He holds a bachelor's degree in business communications from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.

"I went in and joined up at the start of the war," he said, "but my friends all were like, 'Dude, you have a degree.' They thought I was crazy, they didn't get it.

"I'm not sure I exactly got it either when I signed up," he added. "I knew it was something I wanted to do, so I just had to pull the trigger. I was young, I didn't have any attachments. I knew if it got too late, I would never do it.

"It was about the time the war started. I wanted to go serve my country."

After his boards, Heinrich packed up for the Primary Leadership Development Course at Fort Knox's Noncommissioned Officers Academy--a four-week instruction period where experienced specialists and corporals and newly-promoted sergeants learn the basics of leading troops.

However, he had to leave the course briefly when the post Recognition of Excellence ceremony was held at Haszard Auditorium Dec. 9. Some of his instructors and fellow students were surprised.

"I got pulled out of PLDC to go to the ceremony," he said. "So everybody knew about it. I caught a lot a heat for that... (but) it was all in fun."

After graduating from PLDC, Heinrich moved to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop's weapons squad in the 2/16 Cavalry. He's currently training to certify as an instructor for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

"We teach lieutenants (in the Armor Officers Basic Course) how to operate the Bradley," he explained. "It's like basic training with lieutenants... except we don't yell at them."

For others interested in going through the selection board process, Heinrich said confidence is the critical element.

"You walk in, and you see a table full of five sergeants major staring at you... it's a little intimidating," he said. "That's the whole point of boards: they try to intimidate you, and you've just got to hold your ground and let them know that you think you have the confidence to be in that room with them."

It can be hard to maintain composure, he said, but that's even more important than answering questions correctly.

"They're going to give you funny looks, and they're going to try to make you nervous," he explained. "You've just got to not pay attention to it, just focus on what you're going in there for.

"Answer your questions. If you miss one, who cares?" he said. "Because you're going to miss questions. That's just going to happen when you go in there, because nobody knows everything... except those guys. And you've just got to not let it affect you. Because that's what they want to see happen: they want to see you miss a question and break down."

Appearing before boards is a good idea even for Soldiers who aren't so inclined, Heinrich said.

"Everybody says they don't want to go to these boards," he said. "The thing is, it can only help you."

Heinrich said he plans on leaving the Army once his initial enlistment is up in eight months. He wants to join one of the United States' top law enforcement agencies--the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Secret Service.

"That was always my goal in joining the military--to get my foot in the door to one for those agencies," he said. "It's not that I dislike the military--I respect it, and I love the time I've spent in. But I wanted to move on, and I always knew I did. I knew I wasn't going to make it a career. If I'd wanted to make it a career, I would have joined as an officer."

As Heinrich starts his new job as a Bradley instructor, he said he'd rather not have people form ideas about him based on his prestigious award. To him, it's not that big a deal.

"They say it is, and it's awesome, but I don't like drawing attention to myself," he said, finishing his pizza. "That's kind of why I didn't tell them about it at PLDC... I'd just as soon go about doing my job and let people think what they want to think about me by the way they interact with me socially or personally as opposed to the 'Soldier of the Year.'"


UPDATE: Open Post at Argghhh!

Light blogging apology... weekend plans

Due to changes in my rooming situation, I've had to disconnect the computer back in the barracks. I'm waiting to figure out where I'll wind up before I get the 'net hooked back up, and in the meantime, the Computer Security Wizards on post decided to make Blogger off-limits for the past few days. My friends' rooms are no good, since it's hard to write posts while cans of Coors are being shoved into my hands.

So here's an update for the past few days.

Saturday I linked up with another Turret staffer to see Ira Glass, host of WBEZ-Chicago's This American Life. It's probably the best thing on the radio right now, and Glass' presentation -- held in Louisville's historic Brown Theater -- was enlightening. He considers his job an equal mix of literary storytelling and journalism, and some of his insights into how best to accomplish that by engaging the reader I found very helpful.

I wrote it up for the paper, and the story is running in this week's edition. The online version will probably be up tomorrow (Friday) for anyone interested.

Also tomorrow, I'll be covering a court-martial. I believe it's for a soldier who has some strange, convoluted desertion/reintegration story, with added bonuses of forgery and housing allowance fraud thrown in for good measure. I can't wait to hear his testimony.

That afternoon, I'll be getting into the Road Shark and setting off for the Great White North... Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is not only home to my brother BroRizzo, but will also be one of the nation's Main Nerves this Super Bowl Sunday. If the Steelers win (as they're favored to, at the moment), then Steel City is going to be absolute bedlam, and I don't want to miss that. Since Rizzo isn't going to be off work until Sunday morning, I'll get to spend a little time at my alma mater 30 miles west, in Steubenville, Ohio.

I've secured a pass for Monday, which should give me plenty of time to get back to Knox after recovering from what's going to undoubtedly be a crazy scene in Pittsburgh.

It'll be nearly a seven-hour drive, so I'll be taking some time today to make sure that the Road Shark is up to the trip -- oil changed, new wiper blades, and new tires (it's slightly too much fun to have the tires scream and spin when the lights turn green at an intersection).

I usually pack pretty light -- a change of clothes, something warm, a shaving kit. That's usually about the extent of it. This time, I'll also be packing a camera, several reporter's notebooks, and a tape recorder (keeping a record of the weekend will be crucial -- if only to help justify my trip to the Boss).

And of course, a Steelers cap.