Wednesday, June 30, 2010

[LINK] If you're gonna get kicked off a gameshow, at least make it memorable: Woman cries while being run over by a monster truck. (via AolTV)

[VIDEO] He did it so you don't have to: Man eats an entire jar of Nutella in one sitting:

[LINK] From the "Inventions No Want Was Asking For" Dept: Man Creates Smelly Robot Armpit. (via Gizmodo)

[VIDEO] Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the beach to play Frisbee: It's the BEST MOVIE FRISBEE SCENE OF ALL TIME:

[LINK] We can't cook in a normal kitchen, let alone the insane conditions these chefs have to deal with on Food Networks's new show EXTREME CHEF: (via Youtube)

[VIDEO] Welcome to the best idea ever: Putting a camera on the fastest animal on the planet:

The female MC

Dominique Young Unique.

"Show My Ass."


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The War Project launches today

Today, I'm launching The War Project, an independent, online project I've created that presents the stories of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The first as-told-to story on the site is that of Staff Sgt. Fred Minnick, who served in the Wisconsin National Guard as an Army photojournalist and is the author of Camera Boy: An Army Journalist's War in Iraq.

Earlier this month, I visited Minnick in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was kind enough to invite me into his home for a two-and-a-half-hour long interview. His as-told-to story on The War Project site is a condensed and edited version of that in-person interview. After we spoke, I took the photograph you see here in the area where he lives.
I grew up in Oklahoma, moved to Wisconsin after college, and then deployed with the Wisconsin unit. I was 46-Quebec, which is an Army photojournalist.

On Valentine’s Day 2003, I received a phone call that we had been alerted for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Basically, what that meant was, we were going to be deployed in some capacity for the war.

For me, personally, I was young, I was like, “OK, let’s do it.” I mean, sure, there was fear. I mean, who didn’t have fear, right?
Five years ago, I interviewed J. R. Martinez while writing a story for The Virginian-Pilot. Deployed to Iraq in 2003, Martinez was trapped in the Humvee that he was driving after it drove over a landmine and suffered burns over more than 40 percent of his body. His story provided the seeds for this project.

The War Project strives to be unbiased and, for lack of a better word, apolitical. It is neither "pro-war" nor "anti-war." Instead, it focuses on the stories of those who have experienced war firsthand. The project is self-funded and not affiliated with any media organization, political group, or otherwise.

I've spent the last 13 years working as a freelance journalist. My journalism has appeared in Newsweek, Details, Harper's Bazaar, Salon, Slate, The San Francisco Chronicle, The LA Weekly, The Vancouver Sun, The San Francisco Examiner Magazine, Variety, The Daily Beast,, Wired News, and I've appeared on CNN, "Politically Incorrect," Fox News, and NPR.

Over the coming year, I'll be publishing the as-told-to stories of more veterans on The War Project site. If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran interested in finding out more about this project, send me an email. The War Project site was designed, illustrated, and built by Washington, DC-based artist, illustrator, and Eagle Scout Chris Bishop.

[The War Project]

This post is cross-posted on True/Slant.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Put a ring on it

I've been wanting to buy this ring for a year. It's Alexander McQueen's smoky crystal knuckle duster. In other words, it's couture brass knuckles with skulls and Swarovski crystals.

I almost bought it the day McQueen killed himself earlier this year, but didn't. When I was in the McQueen store in New York City last year, I tried it on, and loved it. The weight is phenomenal. But they only had it in gold, and I wanted the silver.

Also, it costs $550. I keep waiting to feel like I've done something good enough that I deserve it. Someday.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Al Gore is a crazed sex poodle

At True/Slant, I wrote about the sexual assault allegations against Al Gore.
If you can bear to get through the entire 73-page PDF (do not recommend), you will find a sordid tale in which the accuser explains she is a licensed masseuse approximately 95 times, states she was summoned by staff at the hotel to visit a "VIP" guest for a massage at 10:30 PM on October 24, 2006 (aren’t most massages after, say, 8 PM inherently erotic in nature?), coughs, like, 700 times (suspicious!), is greeted by the ex-VP with the line, "Call me Al" (literary allusion?), who hugs her weirdly, turns down the lights, and asks her to massage his inner-thighs (as a woman, I can assure you that this means one thing and one thing only). Call Me Al gets shouty and demanding and moans in a way that indicates he wants his abdominal area massaged. Actual line from the masseuse: "I got a tiny bit mad under my terror." WHAT? Were you wearing a tiny hat, too? Then Gore puts her hand on Lil’ Gore in a demanding fashion and shouts: "THERE." I guess that is one way to get a hand job. Or not. "I felt like I was dancing on the edge of a razor," she confesses in what one can only imagine was a breathless way of speaking to the police. Gore gets angry and she describes him as "Teflon coated." Next, Gore starts asking her to release his second chakra. She fantasizes about doing a "little Spock hold" on him. Eventually, Mr. VP No More gets up, wraps her in an "inescapable embrace," gives her a "'come hither' look," and grabs her boobs and butt. That’s when she tells him, in no uncertain terms, "You’re being a crazed sex poodle," which is totally the most awesome line in the whole thing, and, frankly, I could see Gore being a total crazed sex poodle, but that’s another story for another time. She distracts him by pointing at some chocolates, and he busts out the Grand Marnier. He kisses her and smooshes his erection into her. She refers to him as "Mr. Smiley Global Warming." He humps her, she calls him a "lummox," and there are political references. When she gets home, she finds "stains" on the back of her black slacks, which she didn’t launder on account of her "intuition," which is pretty much why I never do my laundry either. It goes on and on, but suffice to say: fin.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where you're going

If you're not reading Penelope Trunk, you should. While most women bloggers relegate themselves to nattering on about whatever it is most women bloggers nattering on about, Trunk blogs about the stuff that you can actually use in life, if, that is, you're a woman who is interested in using her brain.

For a while, after she got married recently, she wasn't updating her blog, but now, it seems, she's back. "How to Cope with Diversity" is a great post, and classically Penelope: it seems as if it's about one thing, when, in fact, it's about something else altogether.

I guess that's a lot like life. You think you're doing one thing, but you're not. You think you're going one way, only to end up going another. You think you know who you are, when in reality you have no idea whatsoever.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Everything is bigger

It looks like I'll be going to Austin, Texas, in a couple of weeks. Previously, I have been to Forth Worth, Dallas, and, I think, Houston. I don't know much about Texas other than it is big, there are horses, and a river runs through Austin.

I rode horses from when I was around eight until I was around 20. I got my first horse when I was in the eight grade, I believe. His name was Knight's Gambit, which is the name of a Faulkner novel and a chess move.

His head was big as a suitcase, and he had a penchant for bucking. We spent one long, hot summer riding him around in circles, smacking him in the ass with a crop every time he bucked, until he finally decided to stop.
"She was the kind of cowboy, the kind that all the Old West dreamed about, and never woke up while it lasted."
-- Cowboy Kate

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The imagery of war

A lot of the substance of the book brings the idea of male bonding to the front. It is a huge part of the war machine, if you think about it. That really is it. Why war exists is because mankind has worked out: if you take 15 men and put them together, that group, the number in a platoon, is the perfect number, the perfect group. It is like a hard-wired genetic code: if you bring a small group of men together and make them dependent on each other, they will kill for each other.
-- Tim Hetherington

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I get email

I am watching yoour change of focus. I think that you have chosen an interesting and misunderstood segment of humanity. I am sure you have seen that you have gone from sex to war, yet only changed the players. You didn't witness sex, you saw no-bounds packaging of sex as a product until it had lost all of its roots in humanity. War is violence without reason. Porn is sex without humanity. Or is it the
exact opposite?

Is porn sex fraught with humanity? Is war concentrated voiolence thick with reason? I think the former comparrisons are accurate until one passes through the looking glass. Then the latter statements become true.

For myself, I agree that the eyes are the windows of the soul- but you can only understand that after you pass through the pane. Once you pass through, the brutal clarity of another viewpoint seeps into your soul. We have written to each other about this issue before.

Most every vet I have known does not speak of his experiences except with other vets. The cauldron that is the sea openned people to share stories that normally they would not. I heard stories of war and personal shame and families gone wrong. I also got to hear about the little treasures from people's lives that they hold close and never, otherwise, share. I worry that you only get to see the ugly sides.

When I look into a person's eyes, now, I see many ugly things. Occationally, I see something wonderful as well. I hope, sincerely, that you get to see some of the pretty parts in life. I do not know that war stories will get you there. I do salute your unblinking dive into the abyss.


Friday, June 18, 2010

I get email

Hello Susannah,

I may not view your blog as regularly as I would treat a newspaper, or even under the same circumstances, but I like your work. You are an interesting character. Not in a "I want to date you" or "I want my girlfriend to be like you" way, but in a "I respect your efforts in journalism" way. There are two types of people. There are the people that see everything coloured with Disney provided glasses- everything they see and do they believe is perfect and has no ill repercussions in any way. The porn they watch is as normal as their intercourse with their spouse, the wars they support only hurt the bad guys who deserve death. The civilians don't mind because they are so grateful for the freedom they are given. You see the underlying truth of the world, but you also accept it, and document it. Most people, when they see these things, don't really want to say anything, or are too cowardly to make a point about it. I like your writing because you will say what you see, regardless of who it offends. You just sort of tell the truth, feelings be damned, as long as people understand just how dirty a subject really is. That is how the world works with everything- we both know this.

I should probably create a new paragraph. I tend to forget to do this, and as a writer it may drive you insane to read such a long body of text without a break. I mean there are dozens of journalists who see what you do but they don't mind pushing the government line, accepting couchy jobs providing the reports other people tell them to write. Perhaps this is your curse. You have my respect because I know that you would stand up for what is there, be it ugly, perverse, or dirty. I am not saying this to flatter you, or because I would want you to say nice things about me. I figure that someone like you must get a great deal of derogatory fan mail, especially since you are a woman, and they feel like they can intimidate you easier. People are like that. So I thought I would say to you, "keep up the good work". If I ever had a story to tell, I figure I would come to you. I mean there are people like us, who see the world in a really dirty light, and then there are others who see it innocently. No offense, but if I were to like someone, I would like to feel as if I would be able to protect her from the filth and the dirt- letting her exist in a Disney world. LOL. I don't mean this in a "lets make Ms. Breslin feel bad that she isn't married" kind of way, but in a "perhaps the woman I love can hear my thoughts, and I don't want her to think something wrong" kind of way. And I would state this in the email to make it absolutely clear to my psychic beauty that there is nothing weird going on, or that I want her to change. If you cannot tell, I am 90% crazy. Perhaps there is a story in that. ANYWAYS! Good luck with your career and I hope that your War Project is a success: I really look forward to reading it! I thank you for your time.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The car bomb

This is an excerpt from the first story that will appear on The War Project. The speaker is a veteran and Army photojournalist who was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Here, he describes his experience photographing the aftermath of car bombs.
Every one of them were different. The consistencies were the body parts, the smoke. I remember seeing, like, seared brain on the side of a car. And the crowds. There were always so many crowds. The threat level was up extremely high, and they would gather around you, and just look at you. And there would always be, like, a big crater, blood everywhere. At first, you know, I wanted to take pictures of car bombs because that was how the war was being fought. I guess it’s like when you’re a solider, you wanna fight, you know, when you’re in that situation, you wanna do it. And that was my way of adding to the fight. And then I got there, and I was like, “How in the world could I ever wanna photograph this, this devastation, these pools of blood?” You would see, like, body parts, like a little foot, of a girl. Those car bombs, those are probably one of the worst things that I’d ever seen. It wouldn’t be the worst thing I’d experience, for sure. There’s just so much death, you know? And it sucked. But I had to take the pictures.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday

O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
-- Ulysses on Bloomsday


Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm on the radio

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 16, I'll be on CBC Radio's "Q with Jian Ghomeshi."

I'll be talking about my recent Salon feature, "Stephen Hill's Dark Life in Porn."

The show:
Wednesday: The original Karate Kid Ralph Macchio on his Funny or Die "comeback" video * Outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on his new book "Medium Raw." And, are male porn stars misunderstood?

Highlights from the comments section of my Salon story

Last week I wrote a story for Salon about Stephen Hill, a sometimes-porn star who attacked three coworkers, killing one and injuring two. Several days later, Hill turned up atop a cliff in the San Fernando Valley. Eight hours after that, surrounded by LAPD officers and SWAT team members, he fell to his death.

It appears the comments section was closed less than two hours after the story was published. The last comment was entitled, "Breslin needs to get laid," and began, "Sure hope you're no relation to the late, great Jimmy."

A few highlights:
"Wow, what a misandric rant."

"So just want to say that if this crap is the best Salon can do ... my days of paying for Salon subscription will be at an end."

"I also take it that you're pretty vanilla in the sack."

"One suspects that the author of the article has a visceral reaction to porn similar to the reaction of a fundamentalist Christian."

"[W]hy are women's arguments always reductively self-serving?"

"Either Ms. Breslin or the editors still have some work to do on this piece."

"A few of the sentences I had to read more than once, they were so poorly constructed."

"Don't believe a word of her amateurish gutter level trash 'cause her cred is more like crud."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Let's join the circus

Sparrow Songs has posted their latest short documentary, "El Circo." It's about the Ramos Bros. Circus, what happens behind the curtain, and never giving up.

The project, which I've posted about here previously, is the brainchild of filmmaker Alex Jablonski and cinematographer Michael Totten, who are making one short doc a month for one year.

The series also has a companion blog, where you can read about what it's like to work on a project like this.

"Episode 8":
If you set out to do 12 pushups, chances are the first one won’t be the hard, neither will the last one, I mean, you’re almost done. But numbers 7 and 8 will be pretty tough. So it goes with Sparrow Songs. I don’t want to raise the specter of burnout, but it’s a real phenomenon and there’s certainly been some of that at play in the last couple of months.
Last weekend, I was in Kentucky, where I was interviewing two veterans for The War Project.

While I consider myself a pretty experienced interviewer and am relatively comfortable interviewing people, guiding the interview, and constructing a narrative from the interview, I am less experienced as a photographer.

Yet, looking back, it was less my "experience," or lack thereof, that was an issue. The issue was not the thing, but my relationship to the thing.

It wasn't until I returned home and came across "Listening to Avedon" that I better understood the dynamics at play.

Demanding that he be seen as an artist is nothing new for Avedon; he has spent decades fighting the label "fashion photographer." This is partly because it is important for him to claim his own identity as a photographic artist as opposed to a constantly compromised and therefore non-existent individual associated with "commercial work." In the MIA tape, Avedon bases his claim to being an artist on his "subjectivity," the notion that when we look at an Avedon photograph, whether of Dovima or Marian Anderson, we are also looking at the photographer. "I don't think that I've captured the essence of anyone that I've photographed," Avedon says. "I think I've photographed what I'm feeling myself and recognize in someone else." Like many photographers of his generation (Minor White and Robert Frank come to mind), he believes that describing one's own feelings is the goal of every serious photographer. Finding such feelings is less about self examination than about discovering them through a photographic interaction with the world and its subjects. "A portrait photographer," Avedon says, "depends on another person to complete his picture - the subject imagined - which in a sense is me." Based on the unpredictable complexity of photographic interaction, his idea of subjectivity is a complex social metaphor in which his self is inextricably intertwined with the self of his subjects and theirs with him. His 1993 publication, Autobiography, illustrates the situation perfectly: although the title suggests the story of his life, the book is filled with pictures of other people, as if he can only describe himself through his descriptions of other people.
Occasionally, I get emails or otherwise in which I am asked how to interview people, and I tell them what Mark Ebner taught me.

Shut up and listen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stephen Hill's dark life in porn

I wrote a story about Stephen Hill, mopes, and men in porn for Salon.
If porn is a joke -- and, particularly these days, it most assuredly is -- male porn stars are its punch line. Reams of text have been written about how porn supposedly victimizes the women who work in this branch of the sex trade, but inside the straight porn industry, it's the female performers who have the greater power, higher status and bigger paycheck. (The gay porn industry is a different beast altogether and to compare the two is to compare apples and oranges.) So-called woodsmen are paid significantly less than their female counterparts, for their efforts are treated like props on the movie sets where they perform near Herculean sex acts of which most men can only dream ("Get it up, get it on, get it off" is the woodsman's mantra), and more often than not end up as decapitated, frantically thrusting tubes of meat in this industry's final product. Due to the hardcore nature of the porn business and the toll it takes upon all its workers, the porn industry functions as a meat grinder for the human condition, and men are its offal. They may score bragging rights as professional cocksmen, but the reality is these are the working stiffs of a business that has virtually no interest in the men it employs and all the interest in the world in the women with whom its movies are forever preoccupied.
[Stephen Hill's Dark Life in Porn]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shut up to all that

Mark Dery is one of the smartest if not the only smart person writing on the internet, and every time I read something of his, I'm reminded of how stupid I am, which rather than depressing me, makes me want to do better.

His latest missive on True/Slant is "Have We No Sense of Decency, Sir, at Long Last?: On Adult Diapers, Erectile Dysfunction, and Other Joys of Oversharing," which could alternately be titled, "Shut Up Already, Jeff Jarvis, About the Garden Hose Coming out of Your Dick."

It's not to be missed.
Isn’t that the motivation for much of what we call oversharing, online? Ours is the age of nanocelebrity: broadcasts created by us and, too often, for us and us alone. How many YouTube videos and blog posts and Flickr sets languish, their discussion threads registering a melancholy zero comments, their feature attractions playing to a spellbound audience of one? We’re all Norma Desmond, ready for our close-up. In the age of reality TV and Paris Hilton, American Idol and YouTube (which has the power, if your video goes viral, to turn you into a global celebrity, even if you’re just some guitar geek shredding Pachelbel’s Canon), we see fame as our Warholian birthright. In his book, Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction, Jake Halpern notes that 30% of American teenagers believe they’re destined to be famous. The middle-school students he surveyed seemed to see becoming famous as a goal unto itself, rather than a by-product of doing something that merited renown.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What I'm reading

They wore their trousers unbloused from their boots and tied amulets around their necks and shuffled around the outpost in flip-flops jury-rigged from the packing foam used in missile crates. Toward the end of their tour they'd go through entire firefights in nothing but gym shorts and unlaced boots, cigarettes hanging out of their lips. When the weather got too hot they chopped their shirts off below the armpit and then put on body armor so they'd sweat less but still look like they were in uniform. They carried long knives and for a while one guy went on operations with a small samurai sword in his belt. The rocks ripped their pants to shreds and they occasionally found themselves more or less exposed on patrol. A few had "INFIDEL" tattooed in huge letters across their chests. ("That's what the enemy calls us on their radios," one man explained, "so why not?") Others had tattoos of angel wings sprouting from bullets or bombs. The men were mostly in their early twenties, and many of them have known nothing but life at home with their parents and war.
-- WAR, Sebastian Junger

Monday, June 7, 2010

I get email

I like this War Project, but if you want to pull a Michael Yon I really think you ought to go there yourself.

The Hindu Kush, from what I hear, is very nice this time of year.

BTW, I am not being facetious -- I really would like to see you report from Afghanistan. Seems to me that actually being there would add a great deal to your reporting.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Welcome to Kentucky

When I came to Kentucky, did I expect to take a self-portrait in a bathroom with a mirror that has video art embedded in it? No, I did not. But I did.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

State of emerging

I am exhausted.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The war project

In the coming weeks, I'll be launching a new project, The War Project. The site will feature the stories of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each installment will focus on one veteran. The post will include the veteran's as-told-to story and a photo portrait. I'll be conducting the interviews and taking the photographs. (The site is built on a WordPress blog platform.)

This week, I'll be traveling to Kentucky, where I'll be conducting the first round of interviews. The first story will go live between June 7 and June 14.

In late 2005, I interviewed Army Cpl. J.R. Martinez, who was burned over 40 percent of his body in 2003 when the Humvee he was driving in Iraq hit a landmine and he was trapped inside. I was doing a story for the local newspaper on a fundraiser where J.R. was appearing. I believe he had undergone some 30 surgeries at that time. At one point, I asked him about the knit cap that he was wearing, which he removed, exposing a breast implant inserted under the skin of his skull, expanding the skin that would be grafted onto other parts of his body. We joked that perhaps after he was done with the implant, he could donate it to a stripper in need who had only one implant. He told me what he was thinking about when he thought he was going to die, and where he expected he would go with his life. It was hard to forget him.

A few months previous, I had been living in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had evacuated one day prior to the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, but the events surrounding that experience, and my subsequent return to the city to see what was left, resulted in PTSD.

As a freelance journalist for over 13 years, I've covered everything from the building of the Kodak Theater, where the Academy Awards are held, to how the recession has all but destroyed the adult movie industry. Overall, my primary interest is in how individuals navigate extreme life circumstances, whether that is in the San Fernando Valley, Louisville, Kentucky, or Kabala, Iraq.

As this project unfolds, I'll be posting about it here and on True/Slant.

The project itself is located at (For now, you'll find placeholder content until the first story goes live.) The site was designed, illustrated, and built by Chris Bishop, a Washington, DC-based artist, illustrator, and designer who created the Barack Obama Riding a Unicorn T-shirt.

If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran interested in participating in this project, you can email me here.

This post was cross-posted at True/Slant.

But is it worth it?

In 2003, I published a short story collection, You're a Bad Man, Aren't You?. A few years ago, I noticed the sellers selling used copies of it on Amazon had priced it in the $50 range. Over time, the number of available copies grew smaller, and the price slowly climbed higher. By the time there were around seven or eight copies left, the price ranged from around $75 to around $150. More recently, the number of copies has grown even smaller.

Maybe a week ago, I noticed the highest priced copy was selling for $999.99. I found this amusing and absurd. To be clear, these are independent booksellers. I have no relationship to them and do not profit from these sales. There were no royalties with the book. These copies are theirs to sell and to price as they wish.

In the last few days, supply has dwindle to three available copies. I suppose the other sellers saw what the one seller was pricing the book at -- I don't know how Amazon pricing works -- and now they're all in the just-under-$1,000 range. The best bargain you can get is $998.99.

This seems like a lot to pay for a book that is 70 pages long, thinner than a piece of toast, and includes stories with titles like "Midget in a Suitcase." A book that is not by a famous writer. A book that is about men who love mannequins, a woman pretending to be a lamp, a pornographer in crisis.

Every once in a while, I get an email from someone who wants to know if I have a secret cache of copies. Could I sell them one? they want to know. I have five copies. One of them is signed to someone whose name I don't recognize. They survived a hurricane and probably have trace amounts of asbestos on them from the roof that came off in parts. They are a little frayed.

I have no issue with any of this. It's the opposite of the impulse of the internet: a nonstop vomit of words and numbers and images so free they're worthless. I like the idea of the opposite: rarity, specialty, Luxirare.

Why does this book cost so much? Are you someone who paid $50 or more for this book? If so, why?