Archive for October, 2006

Flickr Faves: Halloween

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

halloween1.jpgCan’t make it to New York City for the parade? We’ll take you there. SMITH photography editor Audrie Lawrence began a Flickr search for Halloween images and stumbled upon the work of Michael Smith, a 52-year-old photographer from Starrucca, PA, who only in the past few years started shooting digitally and whose birthday is in fact Halloween. “The moment I came across Michael’s image stream, I was transfixed,” says Lawrence. “His eerie and timeless images of the Halloween Parade transported me to the experience of the parade and the night of Halloween.”

SMITH asked Smith a few questions about himself and what inspires an aesthetic that one Flickr member calls “authentic echoes from old weird America.” View his stream here.

Name: Michael Reed Smith.

Camera: For these shots I used a Canon F1 with 24-, 35- and 85-mm lenses. My flash was an NVS-1 (a modified 283 Vivitar). Currently I still shoot with the F1, but also use a Fujica GW690, a Canon G5 digital and a Leica MP.

What first attracted you to photography?


I have always been interested in photographing people, and the street is the easiest way to do people pictures. I suppose the attraction to street photography comes from the photographers and photo books I admired most when I was young. The Farm Security Administration photographs come to mind, as well as photographers such as Robert Frank, Larry Clark, Danny Lyons, Phillip Jones Griffiths, and Susan Meiselas.

Is NYC’s Halloween parade something you attend and photograph every year, or are these images scenes you wanted to capture for the sake of recording them?
Actually, I only went to the NYC parade twice. The second time was with a camera.

What’s the most important quality of a photo for you?
My rule of thumb for any photograph, no matter what the subject, is whether it can hold my attention for more than five seconds.

What do you consider off-limits?
I don’t consider much off-limits as long as my subject is not overtly hostile to my picture taking.

Where do you derive inspiration?
A lot of photographers inspire me. Today I looked at some of Eugene Richards’s photos.

What are your other favorite Flickr streams?
John Brownlow is someone I discovered recently on Flickr. I think his street photography is amazing.

What are the sites, photocentric or not, that you most love online?
I’ve fallen in love with Joe Bageant’s writing lately. His site is called Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War.

The Vet Factor

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Does fighting in Iraq make you fit for office?
By Michael Slenske

Michael Slenske writes SMITH’s Back Home From Iraq column.

“You can’t tell me I don’t support the troops. I am the troops.”

Of the 1008 candidates running this election, six have a credential the others can’t match: they’ve served the U.S. armed forces in the war on terror. Among these, you’ll find an ex-Recon Marine whose unit rescued 31 wounded men during a firefight with Fedayeen militiamen, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both her legs to a rocket-propelled grenade, and a former vice admiral of the Navy. And if the “Iraq Factor” is as big a factor as the pundits and political strategists would have us believe, the incumbents facing these vets, none of whom have served in the military, should be hard-pressed to retain their seats in the midterm elections. But will serving on the front lines in the war on terror really offer anyone a political advantage this fall?

Clockwise from the top right: Van Taylor, Andrew Duck, and David Harris.

“Definitely,” says pioneering Netroots political strategist, Joe Trippi. “The Democrats have been positioned as soft on terror and weak on defense since 9/11. It takes the Republicans’ core argument and pulls the rug out from under it. I think they’ve got a huge advantage.” And with Iraq mired in civil war it would appear that Democrats own the “Vet Factor.” Why? According to Trippi, Republican vets—much like the president—simply can’t extract any more mileage from “stay the course” rhetoric. “There’s a combination of failed policy and things going badly in Iraq, so it doesn’t benefit a Republican to defend the president’s policies just because they’ve served in Iraq.”

Author and Iraq vet Nathaniel Fick isn’t so sure. “I’m not of the school that says you have to have served in uniform in order to be a good commander in chief,” says Fick, who wrote One Bullet Away, about the Marine Recon platoon he led in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. “Look at Lincoln and FDR—both exceptional wartime presidents who didn’t serve in the military but made a point of surrounding themselves by people who had.” As a member of the board of advisers for the PAC, Fick works to get vets elected from both parties, though he stresses that these candidates need to connect with voters on more than just the war if they want to win. “I think their constituents care more about jobs and health care than they do about Iraq. But combat service should mean something. Senior leaders are grown over decades—if we want to have people with credibility to stand up and make or question strategic decisions in twenty or thirty years, then we need to start grooming them now.”

SMITH wanted to find out how a politician’s personal war experience fuels his political philosophy, and desire to serve his country once again. We extended interview requests to every Iraq vet in the midterm elections. Maryland’s Andrew Duck, and Texas candidates Van Taylor and David Harris answered the call.

ANDREW DUCK (Maryland-6)
After serving over twenty years in the Army—including three tours in Bosnia and one in Iraq, where he acted as an intelligence liaison to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force—Democrat Andrew Duck, 43, returned to his hometown of Frederick to work as an adviser to the Pentagon on Army Intelligence issues for Northrop Grumman. He’s running against Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett.

How has your personal experience in Iraq shaped your political agenda as a Congressional candidate?
The fact that I served on the ground in Iraq gives me credibility and a great deal of latitude. You can’t tell me I don’t support the troops. I am the troops. I was the guy in the 120-degree heat. In the last year 14 years I’ve spent time in Bosnia, in Iraq, whereas the guy in office now spent the last 14 years behind a desk not getting things done. That presents a very stark choice.

What was the most surprising thing you saw at war?
The most surprising moment for me was when we first got word that we were not going to bring back the Iraqi regular army. I was in a tent in with a group of field grade Marines and we just looked at each other incredulous. We were told the Pentagon didn’t have a contractor to train them. That just doesn’t make sense to me. We have the greatest military instructors in the world, they’re called the Army Special Forces. In 2003, I also had a meeting with a guy from the Army Supply Board about getting up armored vehicles and he said the production line was full. I told him to build another production line, we’d use every one that came off the line and he just looked at me like I was crazy. That’s the level of corruption I personally witnessed.

What was the most surprising thing you saw when you came home?
I wouldn’t characterize much as being shocking. I came home and people were very supportive. You had people coming up to you at gas stations thanking you for your service. It’s America, there’s a bunch of different opinions.

Does being a veteran give you a better sense of the current political landscape?
Yes. And the gentleman I’m running against was of age during World War II and avoided service. The big question today is what can you do for national defense; I can speak not from a hypothetical-theoretical perspective, I can speak directly to the situation on the ground. I’ve looked into the eyes of Iraqis. There aren’t enough people with that body of knowledge. It’s unbelievable that the president signed a bill establishing one set of laws for enlisted men and another for the men in Washington, and the soldiers are being held accountable for the politicians’ decisions. It’s indefensible.

What is the most pressing issue facing vets in your district?
Health care. Providing access for vets who are already here and those coming back from Iraq. They’re creating thousands of more vets and Bush is cutting funding to the VA. How are we going to get by if we’re going to have an increasing need for these services? Right now, we screen every returning soldier for PTSD, but more than seventy percent of those who meet the criteria are not referred for treatment.

How do you plan to resolve that issue if you’re elected?
The first thing we need to do is adequately fund the VA and make sure they raise their requirement numbers. Right now, they’re saying Iraq and Afghanistan vets are an anomaly. We also need to have a more active screening program. Not only when they come home, but a six-month follow-up, a one-year follow-up, and we need to make sure that we’re paying these guys so they’re not losing money while they’re getting screened. And we need to build long-term care facilities for Vietnam and Korean vets alongside rehab centers for the young guys coming back. You’ve got two different patient populations, and they’d benefit each other—it’s a great synergy.

Would you go back to war if you were called up again? Why?
If my country needs me, of course. A large part of the reason I’m running is to not leave behind the guys I served with. We created a mess. America is about taking responsibility and that’s what we need to do in Iraq. I expect to get elected to Congress, and I expect to be over there [in Iraq] again, talking to people on the ground, which is what we need to be doing to get this thing fixed.

Born in Swarthmore, Penn., Democrat David Harris enlisted in the Army in 1992 then transferred into the Reserves in 2002 just months before he was mobilized for Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Harris served in Iraq for 14 months as a Logistics Officer and is now running against Republican incumbent Joe Barton.

How has your personal experience in Iraq shaped your political agenda as a Congressional candidate?
I’ve always been politically active, but seeing how we were treated, the lack of planning and resources across the board, I never want anyone else to go through that again. I want to make it better for those going to war. I want them to have the right tools in place before we send them out the door the next time.

What was the most surprising thing you saw at war?
The biggest surprise was the complete disparity between active duty and reserved forces in terms of training, equipment, quality of life. I served active duty for 12 years. When I was mobilized as a reservist we had to fight for everything we got—desert camo, uniforms—we were using twelve-year-old Humvees, which we were doing missions with alongside active duty units with new up-armored vehicles and night-vision goggles.

What was the most surprising thing you saw when you came home?
Again, how reservists and guards were treated when demobilizing. We got no medical evaluations, no dental or psychological evaluations—they just passed us off on the VA. We were one of the first units mobilized and one of the first to come home, and there was no plan for us—no counseling, no support groups for people having marital issues, no health concerns.

Does being a veteran give you a better sense of the current political landscape?
I don’t think me being in a uniform alone qualifies me for office, but I understand sacrifice, and I have a duty to my country to work for it. Those in Washington who have served are few and far between. I do think veterans in general have a better understanding, and they can ask the hard questions before going into a theater of war. We have been on the ground. We know that anything you do can set off a world event. I understand these consequences, and that the bills you sign in Congress are no different. They have an effect on not only people here, but around the world. I have traveled the world, led people, worked with all types of ethnic backgrounds, so I understand a lot of the issues normal people face—how to pay for health care, living on one income. These issues affect the military, as well as American families.

What is the most pressing issue facing vets in your district?
Health care. I’m an active believer that if you go and fight for this country, no matter whether you were wounded or not, you should have health care for life. People are still battling health concerns from Vietnam, Korea and as recent as the first Gulf War and these guys are still struggling to have their cases heard because there’s a backlash between the VA and the three branches. To this day, the VA is still refusing to admit there’s Gulf War Syndrome. Congress keeps cutting VA funding, but at the same time they’re pushing more guys out the door for Iraq.

How do you plan to resolve that issue if you’re elected?
The first thing is to prioritize where the money is being spent. Most of the money for defense is caught up in discretionary spending and gets sucked up by the war on terror. Only a small percentage of the $84 billion of Katrina aid was marked for emergency response—the rest was soaked up by Homeland Security. We need to lock up the money and allocate it accordingly, and it should be proportional throughout the country.

Would you go back to war if you were called up again? Why?
I would do everything in my power not to go, but until my resignation is approved I have a duty to go.

VAN TAYLOR (Texas-17)
The only Republican vet running for office this year, 34-year-old Van Taylor joined the Marines after graduating from Harvard. In Iraq, he led a Recon battalion with Task Force Tarawa’s first platoon and participated in the rescue of Jessica Lynch. He owns and operates a real estate company in Waco, where’s he running against Democratic incumbent Chet Edwards.

How has your personal experience in Iraq shaped your political agenda as a Congressional candidate?
Having served in Iraq I realize war is a terrible, but tyranny is worse. I realize we need to stop people who want to enslave and destroy us. One of the main reasons I got into running for office was to go and stop liberal Democrats from undercutting our will to defend ourselves.

What was the most surprising thing you saw at war?
Two things. One was the terrible price of freedom and how awful the human suffering is in war—how terrible war really is. The second thing is how awful tyranny is and how grateful the Iraqi people were about what we were doing over there. War is a bad thing, but tyranny is much worse.

What was the most surprising thing you saw when you came home?
Coming back, I had a really renewed respect for our country and our way of life.

Does being a veteran give you a better sense of the current political landscape?
There was a time in our country when most of our Congressmen were war veterans, but those days are behind us. Today, there’s not a single member of Congress who’s served in the front lines of the war on terror. There’s actually only 25 who’ve served in battle. And we need more people in office who can speak with a moral authority about the war on terror.

What is the most pressing issue facing vets in your district?
Clearly keeping the VA hospital open. That’s a key issue here in central Texas. It’s been in danger of closing, and it’s a center of excellence for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that takes a lot of time to work through. Iraq veterans are really going to need that hospital.

How do you plan to resolve that issue if you’re elected?
We need to send more people who are committed to veterans and have the moral authority to speak for them. As a combat veteran I’ll have a unique voice.

Would you go back to war if you were called up again? Why?
Absolutely. In a second. If my country needs me I’ll go, and I’ll go anywhere. It doesn’t matter.

SMITH to UTA — Look Here! Here! Here!

Monday, October 30th, 2006

The cocktail party chatter I was chattering at this weekend was about Hollywood’s fast and furious infatuation with the vast and laborious talent pool bubbling up online. According to a piece in the New York Times, the United Talent Agency has formed a new unit dedicated to the godly task of unearthing Internet content creators, and then presumably helping them out of their pajamas. UTA has assigned not one, not two, but three good men to this task. These guys should have a blast getting paid to get on that YouTube ride over and over, and we recommend they sign Ze Frank to a three-picture deal immediately. web20image.jpgOf course, here at SMITH searching out new content creators and unknown and extra special storytellers is a big part of what we do. For free. But enough about us, let’s go to the tape:

The move by the United Talent Agency … amounts to a bet, albeit a modest one, that Web video is on a growth curve similar to that of cable television a generation ago. It is also a return by Hollywood’s core talent representatives to the sort of new-media business they tested, without great success, at the peak of the dot-com boom.

“It starts with just helping identify people on both sides of the aisle,” said Brent Weinstein, head of the new division, UTA Online. “The barrier to entry is so low, everybody is now a potential artist. So there’s this great unwashed of talent out there, 99.999 percent of which is probably not good enough to have a traditional film and television career. But on the Internet, a lot of different types of things go. And yet for buyers, this is a wall of people, so how does a brand know which one of them can help it execute?”

As always, SMITH is here to help. And if UTA wants to get in touch? We’re around — let’s do lunch. (You’re paying, right?)

Another Item for the Toolbox

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

toufee.pngIf you’ve ever wanted to tell your story with animation but found Macromedia’s Flash too daunting, you might want to check out Toufee. Through some kind of Web 2.0 magic, it lets you build Flash movies online, complete with embedded video, photos, and wacky text effects. (Just imagine how obnoxiously badass you can make your MySpace page.)

If I could assemble a bit of crap like this in just under 45 seconds, think of what you could achieve if you spent some time using it in a meaningful way.

What!! You’re Pregnant Again!! Bite Me!!

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

One of my favorite parts of the NYT Book Review is the page advertising the self-published books.

Now, don’t go thinking that I’m looking at the SMITH flashline and, after a few sips of Haterade, am starting to wonder whether everyone’s story really needs to be told. As you all heard Neil Gaiman say on the RU Sirius Show, we owe it to ourselves to tell stories.

But still. Some of these titles sound … well, oddly compelling. (As Stan Mack has said, all quotes strictly verbatim.)

What!! You’re Pregnant Again!! Bite Me!!
An inspiring and humorous story in coping with the frustration of miscarriages and infertility. This book takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a truly comedic approach to how one woman copes through her own struggles and fears; however it will make you laugh out loud.

Doctor, Patient, Object, Thing
Diane Harvey weaves an enduring story about the relationship between a charismatic, confident surgeon in his late 30s and a popular, award-winning professor. At first, the young man is her surgeon. As the story unfolds, she becomes his teacher.

Computers for Klutzes: Basics, Email & Internet: A familiarization course for older adults
A thoroughly researched book that attracted attention from New England across Canada to the West Coast and down to Florida is now available. Almost 3,000 people from 21 to 94 have succeeded with these instructions, many after failing to understand evening classes at high school and college campuses. (more…)

Her Ex in the Time of Wars and Dixies

Friday, October 27th, 2006

I stumbled upon an interesting “My Ex” story while checking out Alex Abramovich’s (mainly) music and excellent group blog Moistworks: An MP3 Boombox. Excerpt from a powerful riff by Joanna Yas:

I have an ex-boyfriend in this (seemingly unending) war. “Special forces.” I know nothing more specific than that, except that he’s in Afghanistan and commands Afghani soldiers he refers to as “my brown guys.” This is the boyfriend I was always a bit nervous about introducing to people, having something to do with comments like that. Once, on a trip to Vancouver, he got into a huge fight with some friends of ours about debt relief for Africa (which he strongly opposes). I believe the phrase “survival of the fittest” did in fact come out of his mouth. I said nothing, practically crawled beneath the table. Then later all I could get out was, “This is Canada for God’s sake. Ruth and Tom are Canadian.” He shrugged, pursed his lips in this way which means “People like you don’t agree with people like me but I don’t give a shit because my job is to protect you from evil.”

Read the rest here.

And yours? Tell your own ex story here.

YouTube Changes History

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Thank God for YouTube. Without it, how would we ever correct one of academia’s greatest lies — the deliberate ignorance of the historical significance of Men with Cramps.

Truly, this is a stunning video.

Just because I love you, and you love SMITH’s Viral Video Fridays, I’ve included a special bonus vid after the jump.


Jeb Bush & the GOP

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Stiff Drinks For ‘Those Damn Repelicans’
By Zack Pelta-Heller

As election time nears, I find myself once again doing everything I can to support my party. I am writing political pieces for left-leaning Internet publications and making calls for MoveOn, reminding people to get out and vote. Last Sunday, wearing a “Vote” shirt from a 2004 Democratic fundraiser, I stood with my family on a busy Center City street in Philadelphia, selling baked goods to raise money for local Dems. “Cupcakes for Casey,” we offered. “Up with pumpkin bread, down with Santorum!” With all of this political activism, it’s hard to believe that six years ago, during the 2000 Republican convention in Philly, I actually worked for the Republicans.

I was home on a break from Brandeis that summer, bartending for various catering companies to make extra cash. When the Republicans rolled into town during the first week in August, I rallied with my friends and family along the Ben Franklin Parkway every morning. I wore a “No Bushit” button, signed petitions to free both Mumia and Tibet (practically in the same hand motion), and pushed my girlfriend’s grandmother through the crowd in a wheelchair, as she clutched a circular blue NOW poster. I remember feeling proud of this woman of 86, who told anyone who would listen about how she despised “those damned Repelicans.” She’d spent a lifetime adhering to her convictions, and I was about to betray mine.

At 2:30 each day of the RNC, I turned my donkey tail and ran a few blocks south to a defunct armory, where I bartended at the Republican party’s parties. The armory itself had been transformed into a Caribbean island paradise, complete with real-life palm trees, bamboo huts, eight rum bars, and the main attraction, a mammoth crow’s nest perched atop a sunken pirate ship. I remember wishing that this was what the Republicans had in mind for military spending.

The concept of these fundraisers, as though diabolically designed by Karl Rove himself, was to push the concept of a “non-stop party.” Republicans were bussed in to the armory at one o’clock for some early afternoon revelry. Once properly sloshed, the delegates were shipped down to the convention (held at a South Philly stadium), only to be transported back up at the end of the evening’s proceedings for a five-hour nightcap. The T-shirt uniform that my fellow bartenders and I wore captured the essence of both parties—the nightly rum extravaganzas and the Republican party itself. “Captain Morgan,” the shirts read in patriotic red, white, and blue, “Putting the party back in politics!”

The highlight of my week of double shifts came on the day Jeb Bush spoke during an afternoon party. The governor of Florida looked like a bloated doppelganger as he took the podium, which was covered by colorful garlands. Governor Bush’s hair was parted on the same side as his brother’s, though his face looked less smug. I don’t remember the content of Governor Bush’s speech, however, because as he spoke, a pudgy Southerner began chatting me up while I made him a lime daiquiri on the rocks.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Colin Powell speak tonight down at the convention,” he said in a gruff drawl as I shook rum and sour mix together in my shaker. He wore a sweat-stained cowboy hat and a bolo with leather strings coming down through the nostrils of a silver steer skull. I was surprised he wasn’t rapt in Governor Bush’s speech, though few partygoers were.

“He should be a decent speaker,” I said, hoping for a tip as I strained his drink over ice.

“Just glad he’s not running for President,” the Southerner offered in a whisper.

“Oh really, why’s that?” I asked, somewhat distracted by the oversized “Kiss me, I’m Republican” pin.

“Welp,” he explained, leaning a little closer as the strings from his bolo disturbed the spiral tower of cocktail napkins that I’d carefully sculpted at the beginning of my shift, “between you and me, he’s black.”

“Next thing you know,” the Southern Bushwhacker chuckled, “there’ll be a woman in the Oval Office.”

For some reason, I thought of my Jewish grandmother, and what she would do in my place. She would probably have leapt across the counter and strangled him with his own bolo; this Republican stereotype, this poor excuse for a human being that I had actually served. Instead, I decided to kill him with kindness.

“Or maybe even a Jew,” I suggested.

He let out a belly laugh that he immediately stifled for fear of attracting too much attention. “Don’t even get me started!” he said, waving his hands over his head as he walked away, as if surrendering to his own bigotry.

I should have quit that afternoon, but I didn’t. It wasn’t so much the money or the fact that I’d learned so many daiquiri variations that I was ready to change my name to Zachary Daiquiri. Serving the Repelicans suddenly seemed comical, even though I vowed never do it again. What convinced me to stay, however, was when Captain Morgan himself stopped by later that night, in full pirate regalia. He climbed to the top of the crow’s nest with a fake parrot on his shoulder and threw down mini bottles of rum to a delighted crowd. Jeb Bush would have been envious of such a spirited response.


Thursday, October 26th, 2006

When I started 400 Words, I thought that the idea — spurring creativity by giving people a writing personal-writing prompt with a rigorous and arbitrary word count — was a pretty cool idea.

Well, much as any time you’ve been thinking about something new and suddenly start seeing it everywhere you go, I’ve since realized that mine is far from the only fun-with-word-counts show in town. That makes me happy. I may roll out a few of my favorites over the coming weeks, but right now I’d like to introduce you to my current darling, a project called “40×365.”

Kristen, an expat who lives in Japan and writes the blog Media Tinker, is writing 40 words every single day about someone she’s known in her life. She started last March, and will presumably be done around the end of February, ‘07.

I think 40×365 is going to become a daily read for me. And I leave you with today’s entry, for “Tom.”

208. Tom
Tom founded a luxury resort in Panama that hosted the elite and famous. His success miffed the local cartel and Tom was left for dead after a fiery raid. He recovered and opened a new resort in the South Pacific.

Short and sweet. That’s how I like it.

The Best Story I’ve Read All Day

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I don’t normally post the stories of those who can tell it perfectly well themselves, and Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is certainly not a person devoid of outlets interested in his story. Still, this just had to get posted - definitely the coolest thing I’ve read today. An excerpt follows; the full blog post is here.

I lost my voice about 18 months ago. Permanently. It’s something exotic called Spasmodic Dysphonia. Essentially a part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down in some people, usually after you strain your voice during a bout with allergies (in my case) or some other sort of normal laryngitis. It happens to people in my age bracket.

I asked my doctor – a specialist for this condition – how many people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero. … (more…)

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