Update: My War, Over and Out

29 08 2004

Those of you who began reading this blog with my review of CBFTW’s My War–Fear and Loathing in Iraq (CBFTW is a Hunter Thompson fan) and got thoroughly hooked on it in the days and weeks afterward most likely already know this, but for those of you who may be tuning in late, My War has been shut down–maybe by CBFTW himself, but maybe by the Army, and for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Ron Brynaert at Why Are We Back in Iraq? has done a nice job summarizing the story, some of which I didn’t know.

[O]ne day he posted a story which claimed that he just fought a battle with Al Qaeda…bad enough…but he also claimed (mostly based upon the word of one of his Commanding Officers) that the enemies were Al Qaeda that had come into Iraq from Iran.

That seems to have been the beginning of his difficulties (although Ron mentions that right-wing commenters had begun using My War as a platform for supporting the SGW and attacking anyone who didn’t or whose support was less than enthusiastic), though why it should have been is a mystery. The battle was reported in the press, as was the participation of AQ which came straight from official Army statements; C was merely repeating what we already knew. The Army also didn’t seem to have a problem with it since they left it up. They did, however, decide that from then on they wanted to see what he wrote before he posted it. And they wanted some changes.

The first noticable change was that the title was shortened to “My War.” I guess the Military don’t do irony. Then he started to become annoyed with the myriad of posters on his blog. He was trying to sanitize his site for the brass…but posters were copy-and-pasting and resubmitting some of his posts.

No, Ron, the military doesn’t do ‘irony’. They don’t know what it is but they’re pretty sure it must be a way of making fun of them.

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The Wooden O: Bard-Blogging

16 08 2004

Ever wonder what William Shakespeare would have to say about today’s world? No, me neither, but that’s an oversight that can be repaired with a single click. Through the miracle of cyberspace (which appears to have more dimensions than we thought), Master Shakespeare has returned to us–sort of–in the form of a disembodied voice at The Wooden O, his own personal blog.

I kid you not.

Will isn’t exactly a prolific blogger. There have been as few as two entries in a whole month, and long lags between them (as I write this, there hasn’t been a post since July 20–nearly a month). Yet what they lack in frequency, they make up in piquancy.

Master Will seems incredibly well-informed on current events, despite the excessive time he spends carousing at The Staggering Seraph–‘for those who would know, ’tis an inn on the borders of this world and the next, whither the best brewers of strong drink do repair on their death’–with the likes of Ben Jonson, Kit Marlowe, Larry Olivier, Peter Ustinov, and many other famous theatrical personages who have shuffled off this mortal coil. (As we shall see in a moment, Will is an inveterate and positively shameless name-dropper.) For instance, in ‘The Most Lamentable Comedy of King George II’, Master Will ruminates on what a fine–if dark–comedy Bush’s ascension to power would make.

[T]his same great fool of America maketh me much to wish that old Will Kempe were yet here to play him.Think on it, gentles: Bottom, in his dream, made an emperor! Or Dogberry, from police constable, become a great man, prince of a nation. Such a play I could make! Being no longer living, I need fear no Master of the Revels to stay me: but alas, being dead, my playmaking days are done.

Perchance it is for the best. For though this same Prince Shrublet is himself excellent matter for a comedy, yet ‘twould be a marvellous dark one, and some years must pass before the tragedies he hath wrought be not felt so near.

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Nonsense Verse: Very Little Verse But Some Inspired Nonsense

13 08 2004

Jennifer Balderama is a professional journalist on the business beat, but she’s also a real writer. Real writers are rarely satisfied with developing only a single aspect of their talent, which is why I assume this one created Nonsense Verse–to have a place to ply her comic skills. They don’t give you much chance to be funny in business journalism, and Jennifer is a very funny writer when she wants to be, although she is more likely to provoke sly, behind-the-hand chuckles of recognition than outright belly-laughs. Not that she won’t get those too, but Jennifer–or ‘J’, as she refers to herself–specializes in a kind of humor we might call ‘oblique’.

To get belly-laughs, you usually have to come straight at your reader, like Wodehouse or Fafblog. Jennifer doesn’t often do that. Her humor comes more from the odd angle, the surprising POV. It’s almost like she’s sneaking up on it–and you–from behind some trees, and if she doesn’t play it soft she’ll scare you both away. That approach requires a lot of understatement, and understatement is usually the enemy of B-L’s. B-L’s come from slapstick, from overstatement (but not too over–a fine line), from direct confrontation. Jennifer’s style is not to confront but to slip up on her subject when it’s not looking. Like this:

That’s ‘The Boy’, as Jennifer unfailingly refers to her Significant Other, caught at a moment he would probably rather not have been. There you have a graphic depiction of Jennifer’s thang–Do what they’re not expecting, and do it when they’re not expecting it. In the matter of the cicadas, for instance. Read the rest of this entry »





Cyclopatra: Milking the Moment

9 08 2004

Cyclopatra is one of those blogs where everything is on the table, from family news to complaints about her work to politics to philosophy to– Well, you get the idea. I’ve seen dozens like this but rarely are they as well-written, as honest, as funny, or as perceptive as this one.

Cyclopatra (the blogger’s handle is the same as the name of her site) is a free-lance programmer with a client-list that is from Hell, and some of my favorite posts are the ones where she vents on this or that management style/technique/ploy designed to drive her nuts and give them an excuse for not paying her at the same time. Perhaps that’s because it warms the cockles of my working-class heart to know that these bozos don’t treat the professionals they deal with any better than they treat us, but it might also be because Cyclopatra is rarely in better form than when she’s ripping their entrails out by the roots and stomping all over them.

He disapproved of my database design, despite not knowing what it is or how to design a database, and despite my assurances that I could report on the data therein in any format he pleased, if he would only deign to whisper that format to my eager ears. He rejected one almost-invisbly-changed screen as too ugly, despite the fact that he designed it himself and demanded the change that I made. And he accused me of not testing my code (for the 15 millionth time; you would think this man had never enountered Windows before, considering his expectation that he should never encounter so much as a hiccup in his software usage, even of beta software) without ever describing a single bug he had enountered – apparently I was too breezy in my description of moving new code to the beta site. Now, I’ll grant that ‘let’s hope nothing explodes’ was a fanciful construction, and that my intended joshing tone was probably not adequately conveyed by the too, too stark screen-text that it was printed in, but is it too much to ask that he wait until he actually finds a bug before he excoriates me for failing to test the code that I write?

Sarcasm as beautifully placed as the knife of an expert between the fourth and fifth ribs at an upward angle is always a pleasure to read, let’s face it; we can dream about saying such things to our own private Nemesis and watching them wilt. It’s as satisfying as a hot fudge sundae on a hot summer day, and one settles into the fantasy with a long, happy sigh. ‘If only I could say that and get away with it….’

But her talent and her interests go further than slicing her enemies up in pieces so small you could feed them to Japanese tourists on a bed of brown rice, pleasant as that is to behold. She is remarkably candid in discussing her life and relationships, even for an anonymous blog. Read the rest of this entry »





.Mused: PhotoBlogs Take a Step Up

8 08 2004

Most of the photo-blogs I’ve seen have been little more than glorified family albums. There’s nothing wrong with that, but photography is more than just a memory-saver. Years ago, when I had a little money for a while, I took pictures as a hobby and discovered how difficult it was to get what you were looking for: the right composition, the right colorization, the right texture, the right light. It was relatively easy to succeed at one or the other, a little harder to get a two or three combo going, but practically impossible to capture it all. Great photographers seem to do this routinely, but for the rest of us it’s a struggle that can take years to develop (no pun intended).

I did grow to love photography and appreciate the people who can take great pictures, however rare. Photoblogs has lots of good ones on its list, but one in particular caught my eye because unlike most of the others, it seems to be dedicated to art photos alone.

.Mused (that’s (dot) Mused) is an elegant blend of beautifully rendered photographs that have absolutely nothing in common except their perfection. A B&W of a musician

–lives next door to a color-symphony of a laboratory.

Photoblogger ‘pixelflake’ isn’t interested in photo-essays or documenting places and/or people; s/he’s only interested in great pictures and can apparently produce them effortlessly–at least s/he makes it look effortless. From the almost startling abstraction of an alley

–to the true abstraction of reflected light

–to the amusing if unintended juxtaposition of colliding messages

–to the deceptively simple color-study of a palm tree framed against a blue sky–

–the only thing these images have in common is pixelflake’s extraordinary eye for the telling detail, the accidental complimentation of form with texture, the sudden surprise of a graceful line where you’d least expect it. S/he seems particularly drawn to abstract lines, as here–

–and to incomplete, naked forms, as in the picture of reflected light above. S/he doesn’t try to impose form on them–s/he’s more courageous than that; s/he revels in them as they are, for what they are, and in the process draws from them an unexpected strength and the meaning at the core of each.

I spent more than an hour surfing .Mused and found only one shot I thought didn’t work–an astonishing success rate, to me, because I’m usually really quirky when it comes to photos–I nit-pick them to death: this should have been cropped, that should have been framed differently, the other one should have been in color instead of b&w (or vice versa). But surfing pixelflake’s photographs engendered almost none of that. I could flip from picture-to-picture, lingering on many (I find the picture of the guitar player haunting on a lot of different levels), without that nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that there was something either I was missing or the photographer had missed.

‘pixelflake’ missed zip. Do yourself a favor–if you like photography, don’t miss .Mused.





I am Eating My Husband’s Soul: Rank, Rude, and Hysterically Funny

6 08 2004

eRobin at Fact-esque turned me on to this one, and after reading it I have to wonder–was she trying to tell me something?

I am Eating My Husband’s Soul…and it isn’t my first–one of the great blog-titles of all time–is rude, raucous, scatalogical, and unrepentant about any or all of it. Think Erma Bombeck meets Tank Girl. Katy, the author, goes out on limbs I never knew existed and then uses them as platforms from which to launch water balloons filled with–well, NOT water. Or, you might say, water filtered through the human body. OK? And she wants to do it when you’re looking up–straight at her. And she gets away with it.

‘Eating My Husband’s Soul’ can be hysterically funny even as it challenges the whole notion of laughter–what it is, why we do it, and the kinds of things that provoke it. By rights, a lot of what she writes shouldn’t be funny; at least, you wonder why you’re laughing even as you’re rolling on the carpet ruining your new sweater with fur-balls and cat hair. I hope this is fiction–in fact, I’m putting it in the fiction category because I just can’t believe shit like this actually happened: it’s the 4th of July and the fireworks are about to start….

I had distinctly told Eric that I wanted this 4th of July to be Traditional: Only people we barely knew, especially from envious or hostile foreign countries. I invited all Jesus’ family and friends from Mexico, the Canadian family from down the street, and anyone browner than I like my toast with an accent. Sadly, we ended up with a yard crawling with Basques and their large entourage. Still, we didn’t know them and my dogs and I are truly sheep enthusiasts, so we had much in common.


The highlight was literally moments away, when we’d begin lighting fireworks.Eric doesn’t like his parents to see him naked with sparklers up his ass. Never has.

“NO, katy!” he pleaded.

The Canadian said, “I’ll do it! I don’t mind!”

“Sorry, this is an AMERICAN holiday, David.” I told him, not breaking eye contact with Eric who continued to back away.

“Katy! No! I’m Serious!” he hissed.

“Do you think the Native Americans wanted what they got?” I asked him, unwrapping a box of extra long burning Sparkle Plentys; some cones, a few fountains.

The Canadian was beside himself with envy. “He doesn’t want to, though. I’m fine with it. I’ve lived in the states for 10 years now…”

“How about the buffalo? And Malibu Stacy?” I said to Eric.

I softly approached him, speaking in soothing tones, Pablo’s peppy accordion backing me up.

Eric tried to run, but he fell over the drunken sheep and Basque, landing with his perfect round rump in the air atop the pile.

I placed the Indian Uprising Rocket and the Freedom Fountain gently in between his unfortunately hairy butt cheeks and lit them.

What transpired for the next 60 seconds was truly breathtaking, followed by 5-10 minutes of jaw-dropping action.

Who could have predicted that “36 whistling whirl comets, aerial spinners and crackling colored pearls all flying like arrows towards the heavens” would meet up with gas from that sluggish burrito Eric had for dinner and start a war for independence that this time would not be won until David came to the rescue with my soaker hose. Slow but effective, the flames died down and left us all in silent reflection.

This has to be fiction. Doesn’t it?

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A Writing Program for Marines

4 08 2004

I’ve been roundly criticized for treating blogs written by soldiers from Iraq as if they were writing exercises. The responses ranged from a kind of motherly concern (‘Don’t you know what they’ve been going through? We don’t care how well they write! We’re just glad to hear from them.’) to freeper-style attacks (‘You disgust me. You’re a traitor to your country and I hope your server crashes.’)

Most of this criticism arose from a review I did of a blog called A Line in the Sand (good title, by the way; I didn’t say that before but it is) which, having a healthy suspicion of the internet, I suspected from the way it was written was an Army PR stunt. It wouldn’t be unprecedented. Not long ago I ran across a website run by an Air Force major that was aimed at getting adolescent boys interested in aviation. It was a charming site in many ways, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with engaging the enthusiasm of kids in a career, but in order to do that without setting up the wall that would inevitably be built between him and his audience if they knew what he was, the major pretends that he’s a 13-year-old boy (and does a pretty good job of it, too).

Well, A Line in the Sand turned out NOT to be a PR stunt but a genuine blog written by a Sgt Chris Missick, who wrote an amusing, tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to my suspicions. I answered by apologizing for the mistake and trying to explain why I had made it: that he relied on pat phrases and PR-style cliches to such a degree that the genuine point he was making was largely lost in a blizzard of standardized slogans. I also praised him for the passion and conviction in his writing and suggested it was much more persuasive on its own when he left out the sloganeering.

The response to that was bewildering. His defenders were far angrier than he was, and seemed to confuse a criticism of his writing style with a criticism of his service. I tried to make the point in my replies that these blogs were providing a real service, and that if their authors had the time and the inclination, getting better as writers would serve their cause and their purpose in writing their blogs. Sgt Missick, for example, had some excellent points to make in the post I criticized about the media charge that the people who go into the military do so because they have no other options open to them, saying, rather, that many have chosen their service deliberately despite the dangers and the disruption to their careers and home lives. But he had buried that important observation under a mountain of slogans and cliches that made the post hard to read and his point hard to get at.

There can be, if the authors want to pursue it, a much higher purpose for military writing than simply letting your friends and family know what’s going on where you are and how you’re doing. Sgt Missick had clearly aimed his blog at one of those higher purposes. There’s nothing wrong with using blogs as a sort of ‘letter home’ (see A Sailor’s Journey for a neat example of such a blog) but they have other uses: bringing a wider audience closer to their actual experiences, giving us a clearer understanding of the war from ground level, explaining for us what’s actually happening as opposed to what the media feeds us. MY WAR, for instance, takes us into the heart of what it’s like to serve in Iraq in a combat zone, while Iraq calling shows us the day-to-day details of military life in a war zone. Both are valuable if for different reasons, and both are well-written. Those are not separate values: they would each be less valuable if they were badly written.

The military, it would seem, agrees. The Marines, with the help of the National Endowment for the Arts, has begun sponsoring writing seminars at Camp Lejeune.

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