Friday, December 29, 2006

Holidays and grim reading

This morning, I finally finished reading Bob Woodward's "State of Denial." I had read it in spurts, basically absorbing large chunks of it whenever I had some real time off, and then ignoring it for several weeks.

If you haven't read it, go ahead and pick it up. It's a revealing look at a dysfunctional administration and a disastrous war, as described by the very people who are involved at the top levels. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are interviewed, as are Condoleeza Rice, former Coalition Provisional Authority Director Paul Bremer. Donald Rumsfled speaks on the record, and Woodward includes an interview he conducted with the president in 2003 (as the war waged on and his approval ratings plummeted, Bush refused further interview requests from Woodward).

It's aptly-titled. Throughout the book, which is "Part III" of Woodward's "Bush at War" series, there is a systematic denial of the facts on the ground in Iraq. The White House's very atmosphere prevented the kinds of factual reports in many cases from even reaching the president, and when they did, they were glossed over and reworked in order to fit into the kinds of rosy platitudes Bush felt the nation needed to hear.

Bush's former chief of staff, Andrew Card, is quoted as saying he felt that the presidency and administration had come to be recognized by two key distinguising characteristics: arrogance and ignorance.

And the mess goes on today.

Or at least, it did last time I checked. For the past week, I've been home in upstate New York on leave. Christmas has been a wonderful break, even though I took the Graduate Records Examination Wednesday. Despite how much I procrastinated in studying for the test, I think I did pretty well. No word yet on the analytical writing portion of the exam, but I got a 690 on the verbal section, just 10 points shy of the 700 I was hoping for, for insurance purposes.

Other than that, it's been reading and spending time with the family. For Christmas, my parents gave me an XM radio, so I've been stealing away to listen to Opie & Anthony and the Fungus channel (it plays punk, exclusively, and good punk: Ramones, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, etc.) when I can.

So that's it from me at the moment. What's left to do is visit Syracuse University and find out about how to best apply for their graduate program in political science. Wish me luck...


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gonzo tagging

I put this on the wall in a punk bar I went to in downtown Louisville.

gonzo on third street

It's called the Third Street Dive. Great place for live music and Smithwick's draughts.

UPDATE: Just in case you can't make it out, next to the dagger I wrote, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn Pro. -- HST"


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Santa's surly

I got yelled at by Santa Claus today.

Nope, I'm not kidding.

Here's the set up: In my ongoing quest to leave no journalistic stone unturned, I spoke with a Santa impersonator from Louisville this week for a seasonal feature story. For those who aren't familiar with the business, "seasonal feature stories" are the newspaper field's equivalent of HIV. They're those pieces on Easter egg hunts, beach openings, and of course, Santa Claus impersonators.

For what it was, the story turned out okay. Here's the link you won't click on:
Santa Claus? He's a 1960 graduate of Knox High

Anyway, I had laid the story out on page A2, but my editor liked it and moved the beginning to the front, with the story jumping to page A2.

Our paper's A-section is now split into two sections thanks to the evil advertising department's collaboration with our lazy pressmen. On the front page of the second A section, which begins on page 17, I laid in a standalone photo from the post's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. The photo shows the "guest of honor," Santa Claus, giving candy canes to two young girls. Definitely your standard, non-threatening Christmas fare. The paper hit the racks this morning.

So after a soul-stirring staff meeting this morning, I was sitting at my desk handling my normal Thursday afternoon workload, which generally consists of browsing CNN, Wikipedia, and various messageboards while trying to earn a positive balance in Vegas-style Windows solitaire.

My phone rang. It was an older gentleman on the phone, and he didn't sound pleased.

"I'm Mr. So-and-so," he said. "And I saw that you ran a story about a fellow who dresses as Santa Claus on page 1."

I looked at my as-yet-unopened copy of the paper.

"Right," I said. I was waiting for him to launch into some irrelevant explanation of a perceived mistake in the story.

"Well, it goes to page alpha-two," he said. Okay, he was probably prior military.

"Um, yes," I said. I checked -- the jump on the front said to turn to page two, and the jump indeed started on page two. No mistakes yet.

"Okay, now if you turn to page 17, there's a photo of Santa Claus," he said.

I picked up the second section of the paper, and there was the standalone I'd laid out. Still, I wasn't seeing a problem. But the man on the other end of the phone was becoming increasingly excited.

"Yes, sir, there it is..."

He cut me off.

"Well, why doesn't it explain that this is a different Santa than the one in the story on your page one?"

I didn't have an answer. There were 15 pages of newsprint between the end of my Santa story and the standalone photo of the other Santa.

"Uh, sir, I don't think..."

"I'm that Santa!" he said, beginning to raise his voice. "Any normal person would think that this was the same Santa you wrote about in the story on page one! I think it was in very poor taste that you didn't differentiate between the two! I... I... I can't believe this! I feel like I've been kicked in the shorts!"

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bastard sometimes. But I really wasn't trying to be a jerk to this guy on the phone. It's just that I couldn't believe that I was being yelled at by a guy who dresses up as Santa Claus and hands candy canes to young children after they tell him what they want for Christmas. I had no idea what to tell the guy, and I was beginning to think he was insane.

So I laughed at him. It wasn't a belly laugh -- just a nervous chuckle that sort of slipped out. I really was becoming convinced that the man I was talking to was either joking, or was a cellmate of the Chief's in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"DON'T YOU LAUGH AT ME!" His voice went up an octave. "THIS IS SERIOUS! I'M SERIOUS! YOU... Put me back on with the first person I spoke with!"

I could hear my editor just outside the newsroom. He was giggling. The bastard had gotten the call, realized the guy was a nutter, and suggested he speak with "The Guy Who Did the Layout."

I shot the call back to his office, and listened while Santa Claus chewed out my editor for 15 more minutes -- as it turns out, the ass-chewing was about me, the young ingrate who had the gall to laugh at the "Post Santa," who's been doing this Saint Nick gig for some eight years.

I looked around the newsroom, and the two other writers in the room had stopped what they were doing to watch the show. Both had huge shit-eating grins on their faces.

"You just got bitched at by Santa?" John asked.

"Yeah," I said. "I guess I'm getting coal in my stocking this year."

I paused, and then cursed.

"Damn. I wish I'd thought to say that on the phone," I said.

My editor had finished up the call and walked into the room.

"That's a new one," he said. "In 26 years of editing this paper, I've never gotten yelled at by Santa Claus."