Monday, November 27, 2006

Oh yeah, I had a blog

Happy belated Thanksgiving, people.

I spent the holiday in Somerset, Kentucky, with a buddy of mine and his family who graciously invited me to have the Turkey Day meal with them. It was a nice break -- we ate well, and Saturday hiked around Cumberland Falls for a few hours.

Now it's back into the last throes of the 2006 working year. I'm planning on taking a couple weeks off for Christmas, which means I'll be heading home to New York for even more R&R.

This was the fifth (and last, hopefully) Thanksgiving I spent in the Army, and the fifth I've been away from home. It's funny the way holidays take on a different character when you're away from family -- really, Thanksgiving has always been "just another day." Since it's a day off, historically I've used it as an opportunity to go out drinking the night before, since there's nobody expecting any conversation out of you when you go the the "Thanksgiving Dinner" at the post dining facility, and gravy is good for hangovers.

Instead, this year I just enjoyed taking it easy. I really must be softening up -- I mean, read this sentimental dreck I concocted for last week's paper.

On the U.S. politics side, once Bush announced that SECDEF Rumsfeld was being "asked to leave," I decided to revisit Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," which I'd picked up when it came out but never really got into.

While I was away for Thanksgiving, a woman noticed it while I was carrying it outside to read. She said, "Oh, I wouldn't read that. I used to like Bob Woodward, but this book is all untrue."

Apparently, she enjoyed Woodward's two previous Bush books, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," which were widely considered to be at least sympathetic to the current administration. In "State of Denial," that is not the case.

In college, I took a survey course in psychology as an elective, since I switched majors too late to get into any journalism classes my freshman year. I remember reading something about "ego defense mechanisms," and while I understood the concept in the class however many years ago, I hadn't seen one jump out at me quite so blatantly and advertise itself.

Then again, I guess I have -- it's a pandemic across the country, and you can see it in that tenacious minority that still clings to the idea of George W. Bush being the saviour of the American way of life and the stalwart defender of freedom and apple pie he's painted himself as. If Mr. Bush says we need to go to war to beat bad guys who want to steal our babies and keep us from voting, then, by God, that's the way it has to be. Besides, what better way to restore our faith in the American youth than by having a couple thousand of them die in the desert, defending "freedom"?

In psychology, it's called creating ego defense mechanisms -- those ideas you construct so you can keep from believing that something awful or unacceptable is actually true. In art -- movies and literature, usually -- it's called suspension of disbelief. When you watch a movie, you need to temporarily ignore the knowledge that what's going on on the screen is fake; that way, you can become involved with the story line and experience the thrill ride the director is trying to take you on.

But in both ego defense and suspension of disbelief, there can come a time where the burden of evidence becomes so great that these are shattered, and the real world is left there unadorned, staring brutely back at you.

Many conservatives in America have been able to maintain their suspension of disbelief through a series of fantastic events -- the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S.' s utter failure to rebuild Iraq, the thieving and war-profiteering going on in Washington, just to name a few -- and one wonders what exactly it will take to bring them all crashing back down to reality.

When they do, it'll be a good day, and those of us who have already left Candyland should welcome them with open arms. It won't be until then that we can actually make any real progress.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Soldier pleads guilty to raping and killing 14-year-old Iraqi girl

I used to be a member of the official "milblogs" ring, but I tendered my resignation after I noticed that the milblog community at large was eager to defend the actions of U.S. Marines at Haditha, Iraq.

I saw the story below as it came up on the AP wire yesterday. Before I posted this, I stopped by a couple prominent milblogs, looking for a reaction. There was none.

Apparently I made the correct choice when I quit the ring.

Soldier pleads in Iraq rape, murder case

From the Associated Press: (FORT CAMPBELL, KY) -- One of four U.S. soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl last spring and killing her and her family pleaded guilty Wednesday, and agreed to testify against the others.

Spc. James P. Barker agreed to the plea deal to avoid the death penalty, said his civilian attorney, David Sheldon.

The military judge presiding over the case, Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, asked Barker why he participated in the attack in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad. It was among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by military personnel in Iraq.

"I hated Iraqis, your honor," Barker answered. "They can smile at you, then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."

Anderson accepted the plea agreement, which calls for Barker to serve at least life in prison. The judge will decide in a hearing Thursday whether Barker should be allowed to seek parole.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, members of the 101st Airborne Division with Barker, also are charged in the case. Cortez deferred entering a plea during his arraignment Wednesday morning. Spielman will be arraigned in December. The fourth soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, also deferred entering a plea at his arraignment in October.

A fifth person, former Army private Steve Green, 21, pleaded not guilty last week to civilian charges including murder and sexual assault.

Green was discharged from the Army for a "personality disorder" before the allegations became known, and prosecutors have yet to say if they will pursue the death penalty against him.

The group is accused of raping the girl and burning her body to conceal their crimes, then killing the girl's father, mother and 6-year-old sister.

After entering his plea Wednesday, Barker gave the court a vivid account of the events.

Barker said he and the others were drinking and playing cards while they manned a traffic checkpoint. Green brought up the idea of raping the girl and killing her family, he said.

"He brought it up to me and asked me what I thought about it. At a couple of points, I told him he was crazy," Barker said.

Barker said he and Green then approached the others with the idea, but there never was a verbal agreement to do it.

"Things just got set in motion, we just started changing (clothes), myself, Cortez and Green," Barker said. "By the time we started changing clothes, it was more or less a nonverbal agreement that we were going to go along with what we were discussing."

Barker said he, Green and Cortez raped the girl, and Green killed the girl, her parents and her sister.

Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and slayings, though he said they were at the house when the assault occurred and had come knowing what the others intended to do.

Under military law, soldiers who are present when a crime is committed can be charged with that crime even if they did not play an active role.

Cortez, who could face the death penalty if convicted, and Howard watched from the audience as Barker described the assault. They were accompanied by their defense attorneys and declined to comment.

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In other news, the Army's new advertising slogan is "Army Strong."


Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Something's loosened me up, that's for sure. Suddenly, I'm wanting to write again -- no grand ambitions, of course; just enough to get me to browse on over to Blogger and click the "New Post" icon.

I don't know who came up with the phrase, "familiarity breeds contempt," but it's true... and I'm not about to go looking around Google and Wikipedia to see if I can find a footnote. I might ruin this new spate of inspiration I've inexplicably discovered.

It might be the Palahniuk book I told you about last time. The man has a singular tone -- he constructs his sentences so carefully that you're at once disarmed by the casual tone and entranced by the hypnotic, progressing narrative. There's something about his economy of words and punctuation. Something rhythmic. Like you're approaching the second movement of a sonata, the one that introduces the pace, the sense of rushing toward the end. Sentence fragments. Beginning paragraphs with words like "and" or "but."

Did I catch you there? That last paragraph that starts out normal but steadily quickens with progressively shorter sentences, moving inexorably toward the italicized rhythmic? Did it work? You see, I'm just working things out at this point. I'm not versed enough in the theory of English prose to know if I'm doing it well or if I'm just ham-handedly muddling my way through each paragraph.

I'm at the point now where I'm easily influenced by powerful writers I'm fortunate enough to stumble across. Steinbeck changed the way I wrote. Thompson did, too. And this latest little horror novel of Palahniuk's... well, that's made me realize writing never has to be boring.

Looking back on what I've just composed, I can see the bad parts. There are too many adverbs (too many words ending in "y"), and too much self-referential focus. Too many gratuitous sentence fragments.

Who cares, though? This whole site is just an experiment. It's just a place for me to vent or whine or work out personal issues or see what kinds of things I can actually do with the languag or figure out the difference between me as a writer and me as a writer who's had too many beers.

Pay me, and I'll make it worth your while. Otherwise, if you don't like it, leave.


UPDATE: Holy shit, six beers make me an intolerable read.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is there a muse in the house? Anywhere?

November's almost halfway through, and I'm still wandering my way through a crippling case of blog-boredom that's been plaguing me for months. Where I once watched eagerly for evidence of lies or sensationalism on television, now I can only manage to turn the set on for Sunday football games. I used to be an avid politics junkie, and now, even the recent mid-term elections barely elicited a peep as far as writing goes.

While on TDY, I watched the relentless election coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and even FOX. When the results came in showing the Democrats had wrested control of the house from the Republicans, who have led what has been arguably the worst congress in the history of the United States, I hardly even cared. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- who was, in some way, my boss -- was shown the door shortly afterwards, I shrugged. Thursday, when the Virginia Republican incumbent conceded his senate seat to the challenging democrat, handing the DNC a one-seat lead there, I was just glad it was over.

To be honest, at this point, I'm actually excited to see the U.S. government come to a screeching halt. If you meet anyone who claims to believe the bullshit about "a new need for bipartisanship" or "civility in government," ask them which American-flag-pin-wearing creep is paying them. You don't need a long memory to know that while opposition feeds growth in the market, it creates screaming stalemates in our government.

Bush is having lunch with the soon-to-be speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi. He's appearing in press conferences and cracking lame jokes about "thumpin's." The winners are expansively praising the losers, and only a couple weeks ago, both were running television ads claiming their opponents were taking naturalization applications for suicide bombers and flag-burning pedophiles. The losers are pledging not to leave their former constituencies behind, and meanwhile are even now settling into new lobbying offices from which they'll launch new smear campaigns on different fronts.

Entropy is the tendency of any system to become more disorderly and chaotic as time passes. The more independent factors that are involved, the faster the system reduces to chaos. There have been civilizations in the world that have lasted for hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands. But could it be that this huge, free country of ours just has too many independent variables at work? Is our inherent entropy spinning us toward chaos and destruction faster than any empire before us?

There's a part of me that's desperately hoping so. If it's true, the next few years could be very interesting, and I wouldn't want to miss out.


Postscript: I'm not actually reading that Kurt Vonnegut book anymore. I picked up a copy of Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted in the airport, and I've been devouring it this weekend. It's really a collection of ghost stories -- but instead of ghosts, Palahniuk uses the mundane and ordinary things we're accustomed to... and in twisting them, makes them more horrifying than any vampire or Frankenstein's monster ever committed to the page.

It's filled with the kind of obsessive research that characterizes Palahniuk's work, and it's also incredibly gory. If you're struggling to make it through a Dean Koontz, give Haunted a wide, wide berth. If you giggle when the helicopter lops off the top of the zombie's head in the original "Dawn of the Dead," then this one's for you.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Temporary Duty

As usual, it's been a while since I wrote anything for this godawful blog. Again, though, I have an excuse: I was on Temporary Duty.

Evidently, it all started when someone at the Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion thought it would be a good idea to get a couple Army broadcast journalists up to talk to area high schools about how cool the job was. A couple months ago, I got a copy of the request, and, since broadcasters are technically in the same career field as I am, the sender asked if I'd be interested. They wanted two broadcast journalists to speak to high school classes in the Detroit area about their jobs. Instead, they just got one of me: a singular 46Q.

Some background: Since the Army (and, presumably the military in general) has moved to civilianize the post journalism field, there have been fewer and fewer journalists (Career field 46) back in garrison environments. When I arrived at Knox, the entire staff of the paper was soldiers... now, I'm the last one left, and I work with a gang of civilians. We used to run the TV station here, and now the all broadcasters (46Rs) have since left and moved on to presumably better things.

So as far as Fort Knox is concerned, I'm the only 46 left. I responded to the email explaining that I am by no means a broadcaster (but stay tuned for my upcoming Podcast), but that I'd be happy to talk about my job with the Detroit high schoolers.

The long and short of it is that the Army flew me to Detroit, hooked me up with a very nice rental car (a Chrysler Sebring with satellite radio) and a hotel room, and paid me somewhere around $100 a day to speak to area high school year book, English, and journalism classes about what I do for the Army.

I'm not used to being on the spot, expected to speak knowledgeably about anything. My job, really, is to come up with questions that get a subject matter expert or other point of contact talking... I'm always uncomfortable on the business end of an interview or photo shoot.

For the weekend that I was left to my own devices, I tried to come up with a coherent speech -- some kind of presentation that would highlight my own reasons for joining and the benefits I've gotten out of having been in the Army. After checking into my hotel (five miles north on Gratiot Avenue from the now-famous 8 Mile Road), I bought index cards, pens, scissors, superglue... hoping that my suddenly-squared away uniform and series of "key points" would get me through a week of high school class periords.

After the first presentation, I realized that I needed to ditch any semblance of a script. It made me feel awkward and staid, and the last thing I wanted was to talk at the kids. It was clear from the beginning that what I should really do was to tell them who I was, what my responsibilities were, and why I decided to take the route I did... and then to open it up to questions. I didn't want to presume about what the students wanted to know or hear, so the question period, in my mind, was the critical element.

Unfortunately. I'm not a natural stand up comic or teacher. When I spoke and moved to another point, I felt it was disjointed and awkward. Still, kids asked questions and wanted to know more about actually practicing the newspaper craft -- at least in the context of the military. I'm not sure if I got anyone more fired up about that... but the recruiters who escorted me certainly have a couple more leads now.

I got questions like, "Who advertises in your paper?" "Did you know you would be going into journalism when you joined?" "Could you be deployed?" "What's your favorite question to ask in an interview?" "Have you ever been 'in the Action?'" "Did the Army pay for your college loans?"

For me, it was at least a productive exercise. Have I accomplised what I hoped to do when I signed up? Has my career over the past four years stood out as much as I'd hoped? Have I done things that your average new reporter not had the chance to do?

Well, yes.

I interviewed Twisted Sister. I crawled through the woods with an infantry squad, snapping pictures while they fired their rifles. I've felt a tank company roll by and shake me in my boots, and I've sat in the gunner's hatch of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during a 20-mile road march. I've penned two columns, and I've been responsible for the layout and design of a newspaper with a weekly 20,000 circulation.

I bitch about the Army a lot, and maybe there's good reason. But now, as my time is drawing to a close, it's becoming clearer that the things I wanted to accomplish by joining really have been accomplished, and that even though five years is a lot of time, the investment actually is going to have returns.

I'm looking foward to the next phase... but I certainly will never forget this one.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Battle stations, fellow assholes! Batten down the hatches and prepare for war! Light up those Molotovs and make sure your powder's dry. No quarter can be given! No mercy for the weak! A whining, defeatist DEMOCRAT has made comments that could, maybe, sort of, be interpreted as a slam on the military, so naturally, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT!

For those of you who aren't knuckledraggers who get their news from Drudge or FOX, the word on the street is that Sen. John Kerry recently said something about education, success, and military service -- and how "one of these things is not like the other."

Here's what Ol' Ketchup Man said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well... If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

I got the quote from the Chicago Tribune's John Kass, who's convinced that Kerry's remark, multiplied by its timing, could easily be construed as a con-job by the GOP, who until the former presidential candidate's "joke," were about to lose the upcoming mid-term elections.

Republicans must be uncorking the champagne bottles they'd morosely stashed under the Pentagon's sub-basement (with labels reading "Do Not Open Till Doomsday" on the crates). The unconvinced need only watch a few of the party's disgraceful campaign ads, which have been in near-constant rotation for the past month. Republicans have basically been accusing their opponents of being kid-touchers.

Michael J. Fox, meanwhile, had the unmitigated gall to appear in a campaign ad for Democrat Ed Perlmutter in Colorado. In the ad, Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, shook visibly as he explained that Perlmutter would work to help overturn President Bush's veto on creating new lines of stem cells for research into possible cures for many degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's.

GOP shill Rush Limbaugh was quick to point out that Fox had probably neglected to take his Parkinson's medication in order to exaggerate the tremors associated with the disease. Limbaugh, of course, is something of a subject-matter expert in the field of perscription drugs -- but one might wonder if his gourmet taste in OxyContin qualifies him to diagnose symptoms of non-compliance in a Parkinson's patient.

It should be said that regardless of the frequency of Marty McFly's oscillations, the man does indeed have Parkinson's, and probably would prefer not to. The debate over stem cell research is one for another day; the fact at hand is that Limbaugh, like the party he shucks for, is a bag of shit who should be beaten with rubber hoses as he's chased over a cliff and into the sea.

Actually, what we were really talking about was John Kerry's ill-advised remark, which he's since explained was a botched joke. I suppose we know now why Kerry isn't doing Bill Burr's job(NSFW). What he should have said is, "Study hard and try to be smart, and you could succeed. Otherwise, you could get stuck in Iraq... or in the White House."

I've been in the Army for four years as an enlisted soldier. I haven't met many Ivy Leaguers here, believe me. There are a couple people I've met who've been degree holders, but a majority of enlisted soldiers come in with little or no college experience. The Army offers a means to get a degree (I'm personally planning on applying my education benefits toward a master's in political science, more on that some other time), and so, lacking the means with which to attend college otherwise, kids sign up and trade a few tours in Iraq for the chance to go to school.

Plus, I've met more drooling idiots in the Army than I had imagined existed in the world beforehand. So as far as I'm concerned, Senator Heinz was pretty much on target. Too bad his stupid comment is going to be so spun up by the GOP (one of their groups has spent about 80 percent on smear campaign ads) that the Democrats, this late in the game, can only really resort to collecting rabbits' feet and hoping for the best.

Have fun at the voting booths, kids. You won't catch me choosing between two soulless, stuff-suit used car salesmen.