Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sippin' on Gin and Juice

That's a Snoop Dogg song. I don't listen to him, but I've got a little glass of Woodford Reserve here, and it's a nice way to wind down.

I don't post much these days, and I'm sort of sorry about that. Only a little, though -- because it wasn't for any of you that I ever posted in the first place, really. This is just a little space on the Internet where I can rant about something I think is relevant at any given time, and there's no financial interest in it, so it's not like I'm letting down the people who sign my paycheck or anything.

The trouble is, I think, that I've got short-timer's disease pretty bad. For those of you who haven't been in the military or served a prison sentence, "short-timer's" is the malaise that creeps over someone who's got their mind completely preoccupied with getting out... When you can almost taste it, it's hard to focus on the present with any kind of drive or clarity.

I'm looking forward to too much, you see. Once I'm through with this Army stint, I'll be hopefully checking into a graduate school for some studies in political science. I'm not sure which excites me more, the coming return to an academic environment or another shot at civilian life.

I've never been a very good soldier. Soldiers, to me, are the guys who carry around weapons in dangerous places, who stand in line, and who keep their hair cut out of a sheer desire to maintain the Standard.

Good soldiers always do well on their physical fitness tests. They march out of the wire in strictly-kept formation spacing. They study Army regulations religiously, readying themselves for the next board. They keep their class A uniforms sharp and up-to-date. Soldiers are men who carry weapons and look for hostile fire.

I'm not one of them. I wear a camouflage uniform to work every day, and it has an American flag on the right shoulder... but I'm not one of those guys. I do my job, but really, it's just a job. I have a lot of what they call cognitive dissonance when I hear "Soldiers died in Iraq today" followed by, "You're a soldier."

God bless those of you who do that dirty work. I'm not among your number. And that's why I'm not long for the Army. Next summer, here I come.


Monday, September 25, 2006

I hate Us Weekly, and Doug Stanhope rocks.

While it was monsooning here Friday, I dug up some angry feelings toward pop culture magazines and put this together. It's tentatively running in the paper this week, because my editor seemed to like it. It's still a draft, and I've got more messing around with it to do... but see what you think.

To the owners, publishers, editors, and writers of Us Weekly:

I'm writing to address a few concerns I have about the publication Us Weekly. I have several problems with the magazine, so I figure I'll begin with the nameplate.

Why on earth did you decide to name the publication "Us Weekly"? The second word is clear, but "Us"? Us is a personal, first person, plural pronoun meaning "you and me," where "you" can either be singular or plural. The word insinuates that the magazine is about you and me, and nothing more. This couldn't be further from the truth. It would be more accurate for Penthouse to call itself Better Homes & Gardens.

Your magazine is filled with the intimate details of the lives of Hollywood stars and media darlings. When Paris Hilton lost the runt she calls her dog, you were on the story. When we needed a faster way to say "Brad and Angelina," you provided us with "Brangelina." Whenever Nicole Richie drops five more pounds off her hideously emaciated frame and decides to hit the beach, your photographers are on the scene.

Thanks to "Us" Weekly, we can keep track of who Jennifer Aniston is dating. We know which Simpson sister is seeing who. We now can look forward every week to a new picture of Britney Spears looking like a social services disaster.

Nowhere in your magazine, however, have I ever been able to find even a single inch of editorial copy that pertains to me. You, perhaps; but certainly not me. Instead, it's all about other people--people who certainly have better things to do than read your publication. For example, they might make anti-Semitic remarks during a DUI stop, or secretly cheat on their significant other with someone we've seen on a "reality show."

Therefore, I suggest you change the name of your magazine to "Them Weekly." It's much clearer, and it takes away the disingenuous nature of your current flag.

Then again, I should probably ask why people read your magazine in the first place. After all, it's filled with nothing but the personal details of the lives of people more interesting than you and me, and presumably the rest of your readership. These facts and speculations couldn't possibly have any practical relevance to my life--or anyone else's, really. So why does anyone read them?

The only guess I can come up with is that people read your rotten magazine to get some kind of voyeuristic thrill out of peeking in at the "ugly" side of the lives of the stars, and by so doing vicariously become someone more "glamorous" and "fabulous" than they'll ever hope to be. You feed a desire many seem to have to be famous, but you do it without challenging them ever to leave the mind-numbing glow of the televisions they have tuned to the E! network (an organization equally as evil as yours).

So maybe calling yourselves "Us" Weekly works out in the end, in some horrible way. We can pick up your magazine, read about Tom Cruise's latest insane outburst, or the hottest Rodeo Drive couple, or who in TV-land might be pregnant, and think to ourselves, "Yes, I'm one of these people, too." And then we can turn back to our televisions, open a fresh package of Oreos, and continue to get dumber and fatter.

Thanks, after all.



In other news, I went to see Doug Stanhope at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville Friday. Awesome show -- and in a very close, old-school comedy club atmosphere. Doug stood by the door after his act and I got to shake his hand and exchange a couple words. I'd written him months ago asking him to come to Louisville, and whether that had any impact on his decision to come here or not, I thanked him profusely for having made the trip.

I was almost surprised after his brutal act that he was very gracious and seemed happy to see he had fans in the audience. Anyway... it's Monday, so time to get the old nose to the grindstone.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Advocacy is not good sports copy

Just so no one thinks I haven't been writing at all lately, here's a column I did last week as I was filling in for the sports editor, who was on leave.

COMMENTARY - Advocacy is not good sports copy

By Spc. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret Staff Writer

"Just the facts, ma'am."

Sgt. Joe Friday used to say that on "Dragnet," and the phrase is four words to live by for reporters today--including sports writers.

I followed the controversy over Sports Editor William "Ski" Wilczewski's alleged non-support of Knox sports teams with some interest, and it seemed to me that there was, at least in some cases, a substantial misunderstanding of what a sports writer's job is--which is, simply, to obtain and report the facts.

I heard the same complaints during my own tenure as sports editor. "You're not supporting the team." "Your negative headlines aren't doing our kids any favors." "Why can't you put a positive spin on this?"

Here's the deal--reporters aren't paid to engage in advocacy. When nations do that in print media, it's called propaganda. When sports writers do, it's called crummy reporting.

The use of words like "amazing" and "breathtaking" is discouraged outside spaces such as this. Editorializing, as it's called, is best left to restaurant critics, uninformed columnists, and amateurs who can't figure out how to make the facts speak for themselves. I don't need to say Xavier Bacon's 73-yard touchdown run Friday night was "awe-inspiring;" the reader can come to that
conclusion on his own.

The other major point here is the fact that if everyone's a winner, then everyone's also a loser. What's the point in reading a glowing account of a team's performance during a 60-point blowout? Doesn't that take the luster away from a well-earned legitimate victory? Who wants to clip out a praise-filled newspaper article about a stunning win when every defeat has been lauded in the
same gushing terms?

The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss reported in February that a youth basketball league in Framingham, Mass., distributed trophies to each participating player. One of Reiss' sources was Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University.

"The trophies should go to the winners," Baumeister said. "Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do, and sports can help teach those."

That's why there's a Stanley Cup, a Lombardi Trophy, Olympic gold medals, and Masters' green jackets--it's to honor those who have struggled and ultimately won. That's why there are sports games held all around the world in the first place--to determine who the winners are, and to give them the respect the losers rue.

If anyone is responsible for encouraging and praising athletes, it's not sports writers. That's the job of the parents, friends, and fans of the team--those people who can afford to be biased in their appraisal of the organization. Heck, if it was the newspaper's job to act as the cheerleader for
the team, then why have actual cheerleaders?

Here's the very simple formula needed to get "positive" headlines in the Turret: win games. I understand that Knox teams are currently struggling to even fill their rosters. I know there aren't as many students as there have been in years past.

That's not the issue. It's the athletes' and coaches' jobs to win games, and it's our job at the Turret to be there when they do--and to stick with "just the facts, ma'am."

# # # #

Had to get my cheerleader dig in there, by the way.


Great news, everyone! I've got horrible news!

I'm convinced now that I've been at least partially comatose for the past year. Otherwise, I would have noticed something like this when it happened:

Pentagon seeks greater immunity from Freedom of Information Act

May 6, 2005 -- The Department of Defense is pushing for a new rule that would make it easier for the Pentagon to withhold information on United States military operations from the public.

The provision, proposed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, would render so-called "operational files" fully immune from requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the main mechanism by which watchdog groups, journalists and individuals can access federal documents.

Open government advocates oppose the move, arguing that the proposed exemption is worded so vaguely that it could potentially enable the Pentagon to seal off large amounts of information, including evidence of abuse and misconduct, without proper justification.

The story was written by the New Standard's Michelle Chen. Any guesses as to why the Defense Department wanted to more easily evade reporters' FOIA requests?

Because responding honestly to those questions could threaten national security, you silly goose!
Of course that's why. That's why we do anything these days aside from tracking down pictures of Suri Cruise or pining for a new season of "American Idol."


Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later

It's been five years since that Tuesday morning when planes driven by terrorists slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon. I remember being rousted awake by my friend Louis, who burst into my room and shouted, "You need to come downstairs and watch the news, now."

We all did. At the time, I was living in the fraternity house on Oregon Avenue in Steubenville, Ohio. There were remnants of the weekend's partying, which had stretched into Monday evening, all around us, but our attention was locked on the television screen. The first tower to be hit was smoldering, and we watched as a second airplane full of people crashed into the second, sending out a huge plume of smoke, debris, and flame.

A year later I was standing in a remembrance ceremony at Fort Benning. I was in basic combat training, my head was shaved, and I was wearing thick Army-issue spectacles and a new set of BDUs. The ceremony was held in the still-dark dawn, and we watched the images from September 11 scroll across a huge projection screen, with inspirational music as accompaniment.

Sometimes people ask me if I joined the Army because of September 11. I've thought about it a lot, and my answer is usually, "I didn't join because of September 11. But if it hadn't been for September 11, I wouldn't have joined."

The anger I felt while I watched the twin towers collapse on live television was certainly the catalyst that drew me to the recruiter's office once I'd finished college. I suppose if that hadn't been there, I would probably have wound up with a job at some small-town newspaper, content to live out the next years covering city council meetings, school boards, and little league games.

As much as my life has changed due to 9/11, it's impossible to have been completely unaffected by what happened that day. For good or ill, that day set into motion the rapid changes in global society we're currently swept up in. The very word American has taken on new and strange meanings around the world, and our military is still engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The event has also served to further polarize our nation. Debate and discussion over national policy has been reduced to such pithy non-sayings such as "stay the course" and "fight or flight" and "cut and run." Gallup runs monthly polls asking American citizens if they "feel safer," we take our shoes off after waiting in huge lines at our airports, and politicians of all stripes cite 9/11 as a main reason they should be elected to whatever office.

Today, five years after the event itself, people across the country will take time to remember what happened that day and to think of the thousands who died. But I think it's also important to remember the fact that September 11 did not happen in a vacuum -- rather, 9/11 was one point on a continuum of world events. There were circumstances that led to it happening, and it has had an indelible mark on the time that has followed it. While we remember the victims who died that day, we should also be mindful of those who have died since, but no less directly because of it.

This includes the civilians and military working that day in the targeted wing of the Pentagon; the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93; the civilians, police officers, firefighters, and first-responders who perished at Ground Zero in Manhattan; Pat Tillman and all those who have died fighting in Afghanistan; and the more than 2,000 who have died in Iraq.

In November 2001, Jean-Marie Colombani wrote in Paris' Le Monde: "We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin."

That sentiment has largely disappeared.

Today, when you remember where you were on 9/11, remember also what havoc that day has wreaked on our country and our world, and what we have spent in human lives in the years that have followed. In a very real sense, it's still September 11, 2001.


The Donovan has a 9/11 post round-up here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Football's back, and I stink

Thank God football is back.

I don't have anything major against other professional sports -- at least, not seriously -- but I'm a football fan. Baseball is a nice thing to keep track of, but watching games doesn't have the same gravity when there are some hundred-odd of them to see over the course of the season. I've played baseball, and I loved playing it, but watching -- even as a weekend Yankees fan -- doesn't have the appeal.

Basketball I skip altogether. The pros are full of prima donnas, and the only school I hold any allegiance to -- Syracuse, because it's near home -- only shows up once in a while. I actually booked time to watch the Orange's appearance in the NCAA championship, only to find that our star, Gerry McNamara, decided not to show up. With a season average of somewhere near 20 points per game, the jackass decided he was only going to sink two lousy points in the championship run, and effectively booted Syracuse out of contention on his own.

Besides, it's rare for me to get emotional at all about basketball. When good college teams and pro teams regularly run up 90-110 points a game, where's the payoff after a score? Possession changes too quickly, and while teamwork is absolutely necessary, it still winds up feeling shallow -- at least to me.

Enter football. Every game matters, and every play is a chess match between two coaches. You get to see how each team adapts its plays to take better advantage of its opponent's weaknesses, and you recognize immediately how critical the pure physicality of your players is.

"Will they see this coming? Can we work our way out of this one?"

Incredibly deep questions, both; and they're asked routinely during each game of football played on American soil.

Superstition is not a football-unique phenomenon, and for a long while I thought I was immune -- at least until this past weekend. I'd gotten a bonus in my paycheck, so I splurged and bought a Ben Roethlisberger jersey I found on sale at a mall -- marked down from $79 to around $55. I'd wanted the (wide receiver) Hines Ward version, but they didn't have it in black, so I snagged the Big Ben.

Two days later, I find out the Steelers quarterback has been hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy. Ward, meanwhile, is out for the season opener thanks to a hamstring injury.

Is my buying of merchandise cursed? If so, then I could do well by snapping up Peyton Manning -- equipment. But maybe it's the fact that I got the jersey on sale... so should I make a point of paying full price from now on?

These are questions that are going to plague me while I watch Thusday's season opener of the Steelers versus the Dolphins. Years ago, I'd have given anyone with the same symptoms a free pass to the crazy ward, but now I'm too wrapped up in this thing to protest. Someone find me a bookie.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Back again? Maybe.

Geez. I've been treating this blog like a meth addict treats his kid. I've got little in the way of excuses -- which I'll go ahead and regale you with now.

First off, I've been picking at this book. It's not going too quickly, but at least it's fun when I get down to actually working on it. So far, we've got a healthy dose of gore and a curse word, and we're not even out the door from the coroner's office.

Second, there's work. It's been sapping most of the will I have to write anything lately, and that's about the long and short of what I'm about to say about it. I'm the only soldier left there, so suffice it to say it's a civilian issue, but it's had plenty of fallout, which even we Swiss are feeling.

I was actually saddened to hear about the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin today. I'm exactly the kind of mean-spirited, heartless bastard who'd be expected to make a joke about it, but I really was remorseful when I read the story this morning. He seemed to be a genuinely decent dude, even if he was resented by more Australians than Paul Hogan. Argh... there's the joke, I suppose -- which was inappropriate, but the point is that it's a shame to see him go.

At any rate, I figured I'd swing back by this Trainspotting baby just to let anyone left hanging around know that I'm still alive... again.

So please, enjoy yet another worthless update that I only wrote out of guilt for leaving the thing completely abandoned.