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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Process

Not to make my blog all Vukovar, all the time, but this is the same passage as before, only with some edits.

You interested in a peak at the writing process? Okay, you're weird, but here you go!
Vukovar, Croatia - November 18, 1991


The constant air strikes and artillery bombardments had turned Vukovar into a city of ruins. The streets were paved with rubble and broken glass. Most of the buildings had been blasted to bits of crumbled concrete, tangles of twisted rebar, and heaps of scattered bricks. The ones that were still standing were pocked with shrapnel divots, their windows and doors blown out, roofs caved in.

“It’s beautiful, no?” Dmitri said, heaving for breath. His face was dripping with sweat and grime. He wiped his brow with his sleeve but it just smeared his forehead with streaks of dirt.

Monte stared out at the scarred landscape from atop the hill. The town’s water tower, still standing even though chunks had been blown out of it, caught his eye in the distance. It was such an obvious target, it must have been a point of honor among the JNA to destroy it. And yet it remained upright.

Monte found that beautiful. The willful destruction of a city was something else, certainly not beautiful.

“Stunning,” Monte said, though even that word failed to describe it. Heart-breaking, depressing, ugly, enraging. They would have qualified too, but stunning would do.

He detached the wide-angle lens from his camera and fitted it with a long lens from his satchel. From this viewpoint the town spread out before him, its winding streets and battered buildings appearing like miniatures in a diorama. War smoke filtered the light and cast everything with a desolate gloom.

Monte tried to make it beautiful through his viewfinder, marking each attempt with a click of his shutter. He finished the roll and popped it out, letting the camera dangle from a strap around his neck as he labeled the expended roll with a permanent marker. He had his own system, known only to himself and his agent in New York, Spencer. It made no sense to anyone else, but after over a decade in the hot zones of the world, he and Spencer somehow made it work.

He loaded another roll and considered shooting some more shots from the hill top –the climb was worth it—but he figured he had gotten enough. The only thing to see from up here was a dead city.

Just as he was turning around to start the climb back down the hill, an artillery battery started walking another bombardment down one of Vukovar’s streets, kicking up plumes of dust and smoke. The explosions echoed in the valley –boom, boom, boom.

Monte quickly snapped off a few shots with the camera, trying to capture the moment of detonation. He was always off a few seconds, but no doubt, Spencer would say the shots were beautiful when they got back from the lab. That one’s a magazine cover, and that one goes into your book. But Monte knew it wasn’t his best work.

A few blocks away from the explosions, Monte watched a few squads of lightly armed paramilitaries fan out amidst the rubble, following the artillery but trying to avoid getting directly under it. Most of them were in store-bought uniforms that indicated they were definitely not JNA, but even through the telephoto lens, Monte couldn’t read the patches on their sleeves. There were a few wearing the square shubara caps and double bandoliers typical of the Chetnik movement, so Monte guessed they were Serbs.

He pointed them out to Dmitri. “White Eagles?”

Dmitri squinted. “Nah, just hoodlums from Banja Luka.”

“Look at how they’re following those shells. You think they’re coordinating with the JNA? ”

“Would you follow shells if you were coordinating with the JNA? No. They’re hoodlums from Banja Luka, out for a weekend of fun and games. They’re following those shells because they think that’s where the action is. But as you can see from here, there is no action. Only shells. Come on, we’re too visible up here.”

He scrambled down from the crest of the hill and took refuge under a tree, leaving Monte alone at the top. Monte hadn’t felt exposed until that moment, but he saw Dmitri cowering under the tree and the hoodlums from Banja Luka, who were half-drunk on slivovitz and nationalist anthems and wouldn’t think twice about taking a shot at some man-shaped figures on the hillside.

“Come on, you fool,” Dmitri said. “You want to die for those pictures?” It was becoming a common question - you want to die for those pictures? - but the answer never changed.

No, Monte did not want to die out here in Croatia, not for pictures, not for anything. Want had nothing to do with it. Whether you live or die in a war zone relies on the vagaries of time and space. Some places will be, at different times, more deadly than others. One minute, a crowd of people are standing on a street corner. The next they are obliterated by flying metal as a mortar shell explodes at their feet. Fifteen minutes later, Monte is stooping over their bloody remains, taking snapshots. The same space, different times, different levels of danger.

So far he had been lucky. He had never been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was often, through the nature of his work, often in the right place at the right time. And when he went home, back to the states and the half-empty apartment he rented mostly for storage space for the few possessions he could not carry, he returned with nothing but bad memories, nightmares, and mild alcoholic tendencies.

Monte met Dmitri at the tree and grabbed one of the branches overhead. “So when can we get down there?” he asked. “I want to go into the city.”

“So do I,” Dmitri said.

Another round of artillery shells rained down on Vukovar in the distance. Monte felt the explosions in his bones.

Dmitri did too, but he quickly replaced the momentary dread that was on his face with a grin. “After they’re done bombing.”

“When do you think that will be?”

“Let me consult the Colonel,” Dmitri said. He held his thumb and pinky to the side of his head like he was talking on the phone. “Hallo, Colonel? Yes, Dmitri here. I was just wondering, uh, when will the assault take place? Yes, thank you.” He tilted his head and smirked. “He put me on hold.”

“Cut the shit, man,” Monte said. “I just don’t want to be up here when the city falls.”

“Then let’s get off this fucking hill.” He shouldered his M70 and started leading the way down the path.

What a Dummy

I will never forgive the GOP for trying to foist Sarah Palin on the rest of us. Hey, I get why they like her.

She's a living breathing personification of their wildest hopes and dreams. The GOP establishment likes her because she's a reliable line-tower. The base likes her because she tells them what they want to hear.

But at some point, even they must realize that the woman is just not cut out for the position they carved out for her.

I speak mostly of Visorgate. The gist: Sarah Palin, vacationing with her family in Hawaii, was spotted by the paparazzi. To "hide," she marked out the "McCain For President" on her visor.

Some people thought this might be a dig at her running mate. I happen to believe Palin's explanation:
"In an attempt to 'go incognito,' I Sharpied the logo out on my sun visor so photographers would be less likely to recognize me and bother my kids or other vacationers.
It doesn't impress me, of course, but I believe it.

Palin has shown she can be as petty and immature as any politician, but when did she start this passive-aggressive stuff? Hasn't she been mostly just aggressive with none of this passivity crap?

Aside from that, Palin strikes me as the type of idiot who would think conspicuously blacking out the logo on her visor would make her more "incognito" than just leaving it alone.

I mean, don't just take off the visor or anything. Just black it out with a Sharpie, you know, so the paps can get their before and after shots and start making uneducated guesses about your motives...

That Palin, she's quite a thinker!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something I'm Working On - Part 2

As alluded to in the previous post, a bit of a story I'm working on. Read it if you're bored, and if you want, give me some feedback. I'm still working on it, so I'm not so concerned with the language. Do you get what's going on? Who's involved and what they're doing?
Vukovar, Croatia - November 18, 1991

The constant air strikes and artillery bombardments had turned Vukovar into a city of ruins. The streets were paved with rubble and broken glass. Many of the buildings had been blasted to bits of crumbled concrete, tangles of twisted rebar, and heaps of scattered bricks. The ones that were still standing were pocked with divots from shrapnel, windows and doors blown out, roofs caved in.

“It’s beautiful, eh?” Dmitri said, heaving for breath. His face was dripping with sweat and grime. He wiped his brow with his sleeve but it just smeared his forehead with black streaks.

Monte stared out at the scarred landscape from atop the hill. The town’s water tower, still standing even though chunks had been blown out of it, caught his eye in the distance. It was such an obvious target, it must have been a point of honor among the JNA to destroy it. And yet it remained upright.

Monte found that beautiful. The willful destruction of a city was something else, certainly not beautiful.

“Stunning,” Monte said, though even that word failed to describe it. Heart-breaking, depressing, ugly, enraging. They would have qualified too, but stunning would do.

He detached the wide-angle lens from his camera and fitted it with a long lens from his satchel. From this viewpoint the town spread out before him, its winding streets and battered buildings appearing like miniatures in a diorama. War smoke filtered the light and cast everything with a desolate gloom.

Monte tried to make it beautiful through his viewfinder, marking each attempt with a click of his shutter. He finished the roll and popped it out, letting the camera dangle from a strap around his neck as he labeled the expended roll with a permanent market. He had his own system, known only to himself and his agent in New York, Spencer, but after over a decade in the hot zones of the world, he knew that it worked.

He loaded another roll and considered shooting some more shots from the hill top –the climb was worth it—but he figured he had gotten enough. The only thing to see from up here was a dead city.

Just as he was turning around to start the climb back down the hill, an artillery battery started walking a shell bombardment down one of Vukovar’s streets, kicking up plumes of dust and smoke. The explosions echoed in the valley –boom, boom, boom.

Monte grabbed the camera and quickly snapped off a few shots. He wanted to capture the moment of detonation, but he was always off a few seconds. No doubt, Spencer would find some way to salvage the prints when they came back from the lab but Monte knew it wasn’t his best work.

A few blocks away from the explosions, Monte could see a few squads of lightly armed paramilitaries fanning out amidst the rubble. They were following the artillery but trying to avoid getting directly under it. Most of them were in store-bought uniforms indicating they were definitely not JNA, but Monte couldn’t read the patches on their sleeves even through the telephoto lens. From the few wearing the square shubara caps and double bandoliers typical of the Chetnik movement, Monte knew they were Serbs.

“White Eagles?” Monte asked, pointing them out to Dmitri.

Dmitri squinted. “Nah, those are just hoodlums from Banja Luka.”

“You think they’re coordinating with the JNA? Look at how they’re following those shells.”

“Would you follow shells if you were coordinating with the JNA? They’re hoodlums from Banja Luka, out for a weekend of fun and games. They’re following those shells because they think that’s where the action is. But as you can see from here, there is no action. Only shells. Come on, we’re too visible up here.”

He scrambled down from the crest of the hill and waited for Monte under a tree. Until he saw Dmitri cowering under the tree, Monte hadn’t felt exposed. Vukovar’s defenders weren’t known for their crack snipers, but it occurred to him that the hoodlums from Banja Luka were more likely to get a shot off than any Croat sniper hiding in the rubble. If Dmitri was right about them, they were half-drunk on slivovitz and nationalist anthems and would have no qualms about taking a shot at some man-shaped figures on the hillside.

“Come on, you fool,” Dmitri said. “You want to die for those pictures?” It was becoming a common question from Dmitri but the answer never changed.

No, he did not want to die out here in Croatia, not for pictures, not for anything. But Monte had been in a lifetime of combat zones and came away from them with nothing but bad memories and nightmares, though there was that time he broke his ankle jumping off a helicopter in Beirut. Whether you live or die in combat is up to the vagaries of time and space, to chance. One minute, a crowd of people are standing on a street corner. The next they are obliterated by flying metal. Another minute, Monte is stooping over their bloody remains taking snapshots.

Monte met Dmitri at the tree and grabbed one of the branches overhead. “So when can we get down there?” he asked. “I want to go into the city.”

“So do I,” Dmitri said. Another round of artillery shells rained down on Vukovar in the distance. Monte felt the explosions in his bones. Dmitri did too, but he quickly replaced the momentary dread that was on his face with a grin. “After they’re done bombing.”

Just Something I'm Working On

An idea...

The epigraph:
October 30th, 1991

Spencer,

Thanks for the coffee and cigarettes. Maxwell House is fine, but next time: Folgers. The best part of waking up and all that. The cigarettes, keep them coming and keep them cheap. I’ll square up when I get back stateside, but those cigarettes are necessary with a capital N. A cigarette and a smile makes the locals act almost like friends. Speaking of, the JNA assigned me a bodyguard so maybe you can quit worrying about my safety. You’d like him, Spence. He’s a big Lakers fan, just like you. (Fuck Divac. Go Bulls!) We depart for Vukovar tomorrow, so this will be it for a while. I expect to be back in Osijek in a couple weeks, but Vukovar is going to be hot, hot, hot, so expect a lot of film to be coming your way. I just dropped a half dozen rolls with the UN , mostly stuff from the Krajina, so keep your eyes peeled. If Banja Luka was any indication, Vukovar is going to be bad. You bloodsuckers back home will squirt in your pants when you see the carnage.

My best,
Monte

PS. Remember: cigarettes and Folgers.



November 2nd, 1991

Dear Monte,

It’s probably too late, but DO NOT go to Vukovar. The State Department says the city’s fall is IMMINENT. There are even rumors that the HDZ is willing to sacrifice Vukovar for international sympathy. By all accounts, the next several weeks will be a BLOODBATH. Go back to Osijek IMMEDIATELY. We’ve arranged for travel to Sarajevo and want coverage of the peace demonstrations there. There are also parliamentary motions going on and we need eyes on the floor. You know what to do. All the necessary credentials are in Osijek, as are two cases of Chinese cigarettes and, I’m assured by hotel staff, a can of Folgers. For your sake and ours, stay out of Vukovar.

Spencer

PS. The Krajina pics just came from the lab. Stewart says you should do a book, they’re that good. Keep up the good work…in Sarajevo.
More later.

The Hebrew Hammer

I don't know how this movie was made. The concept is so ridiculous I can't imagine a roomful of people thinking it would be a good investment. A spoof movie of old blaxploitation flicks featuring a Jewish badass who must save Hanukkah from an evil Santa Claus bent on destroying it.

I watched the first ten minutes for free here, and let me tell you...this shit is funny.

As Santa is betrayed and gored by his own reindeer, his last words are "Et tu, Blitzen?"

At the Jewish Justice League, which looks like the Pentagon in the shape of a Star of David, the Chairman of the Worldwide Jewish Media Conspiracy says to the Chairman of the Anti-Denegration League, "Frankly I think you're a putz!" To which, the Chairman of the Anti-Denegration League says, "Don't denigrate me! I'm against that!"

A high concept with lots of mass appeal? No. But there are worse ways to waste your time.

And I Thought I was Cynical

When Ross Douthat writes:
My column tried to make the substantive case for why Republicans should champion alternatives to mass incarceration. But bring the African-American vote into the equation, even on the margins, and you can make a politically self-interested case as well. In the age of Obama, in a country that will be majority-minority in a few short decades, the Republican Party needs to do something to alter its image with non-white voters. And championing criminal justice reform seems like a much more plausible way of changing how blacks think about the G.O.P. than all the “hip-hop” Republicanism that Michael Steele can muster.
Is he just being cynical? Or is he making a decent point?

I'm not sure.

The whole "reform prisons to win black votes" thing borders on cynicism, and yet... that whole "reform prisons" thing is a good idea, although not for the reasons Ross suggests.

I don't give a shit about the fortunes of the Republican party. If they weren't so stupid, I suspect they wouldn't need to champion an issue to change "how blacks think about the G.O.P." After all, it's not Republican ideas that keep black people out of the party, but racist Republicans.

But I do care about our society, and worry about bad things can get once we decide prison can solve all our problems.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sharing is Hard

We all know I'm a liberal asshole. I'm also the type of guy who lives in a, how shall we say, a multicultural neighborhood. I can't converse with most of my neighbors because we don't speak the same language. Not only that, but the neighborhood is full of every hue and color you can imagine.

There's a convenience store three blocks down that's run by guys from the Middle East who speak French, Spanish, English, and their native language, whatever that may be.

Some Koreans own the gas station in front of the Mex Mall but let a taco truck park in their lot and even run an extension cord into the building.

When I ride the bus, I'm often the only white face. On the 105 bus, which goes up and down Havana, it's amazing how many waves of civilization you cross through. From Colfax to Mississippi, it's Asians. I've seen people that looked like they just walked out of the jungles of Thailand get on that bus. Further down, you hit an East African part of town; Somalis, Ethiopians, all Muslim head dresses and poxy complexions. Then later, India. They're smartly dressed, professional types. Probably two times smarter than me, and paid half as much.

My point when I say all this is that sharing is hard, but it's worth it. We could be living in some shit hole, one side fighting the other, Palestine right here, but we don't. I get on the bus, they get on the bus. Who cares?

So whenever I write a post about all the divisive bullshit that goes on, I'm going to tag it with "Sharing is Hard." Because it is. But one you acknowledge that, you also have to remember that it's worth it.

PS. If you haven't seen the movie Invictus, I recommend it. Nothing ground-breaking or anything, but it is the work of a master (Clint Eastwood) and captures some pretty interesting performances, especially from Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and the guys who make up Mandela's security team.

The point of the movie? Sharing is hard. But it's worth it.

Glibertarian? Nah...

Wow. Matt Welch has it made. The basic thrust of this is this:

French healthcare is better than the US system, which I like because I use it, but it comes with a big welfare state, which I don't like because, well, I'm a glibertarian.

But what I don't get is, doesn't he live in the United States? And if he does, does he fly to France every time he needs to see a doctor?

Man, what a luxury. If I need to see a doctor, I've got to figure out which bus to take, sit around for a long time, wait four weeks for the test results, go down to Walgreen's for the prescription, and all this with premiums and co-pays.

But it must be nice to hop on a jet and get all that nice French healthcare...

Leave it to Krugman

Paul Krugman states the obvious:
Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.
The only thing I'd quibble with is this:

These people are not conservatives.

They are stooges for the Republican party. And "stooges for the Republican party" does not automatically equal "conservative."

What's conservative about self-delusion? Nothing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That's It

Two fucking hours. That's how long it took me to get home tonight.

Two hours...all because the train was a few minutes late.

So guess what, State of Colorado? This experiment in doing the right thing is over. Tomorrow, I'm driving to work.

Facebook Disasters

Facebook regrets to inform you...your parents are divorced.

Your Dad doesn't like "Yo Momma" jokes.

You and your stupid goatee...

Yippie Kai Yay, Motherfucker

This is kind of jokey, but it provides 5 good reasons why my favorite Christmas movie is the bestest Christmas movie ever made.

In Your Face!

Check out this dunk. It's Jordanesque.