Friday, July 30, 2010

The Big Picture

Today, Alan Taylor, who runs The Big Picture,'s amazing large-format news photo blog, was kind enough to include a link to The War Project in his latest Afghanistan post, "Afghanistan, July, 2010."
"NATO and the United States now have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 in coming weeks as they take a counter-insurgency offensive into the insurgents' southern strongholds." -- The Big Picture
Many times, I looked at these Afghanistan posts in the months leading up to the launch of The War Project and was inspired. I'd spent years more or less working one beat, and this would be a change of sorts. It was something I had been wanting to do for years, but it was a long time coming. Now, I think it's probably one of the smartest things I ever did.
"Hey there, Rakkasan. Thank you for telling this. I was with Charlie, 2/187 during the same time frame. A lot of what you said absolutely true to my own experience there. Again, thank you." -- Comment #9
The turning point came early this year when I had kidney stones. The pain was severe enough that I spent most of two months lying on a sofa. It did force me to think. About how I got there. If everything happens for a reason, why this particular thing happened. If there was something to be understood, what that may be. Eventually, I concluded if I spent enough time on that sofa, I would die there. That wasn't what I wanted.
"The nickname 'The Rakkasans' is derived from the Japanese word for umbrella. The name was given to the 187th during its tour in occupied Japan following World War II. When a translator dealing with local Japanese dignitaries was trying to explain what their unit was trained to do (and not knowing the Japanese word for 'airborne soldiers') he used the phrase 'falling down umbrella men,' or rakkasan. Amused by the clumsy word, the locals began to call the troopers by that nickname; it soon stuck and became a point of pride for the unit." -- 187th Infantry Regiment
That made me move forward. In June, the site launched with the first story. This week, the second story went up. I hope to donate the audio recordings of the interviews to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. That way future researchers and interested parties will have a better understanding of these conflicts from the perspective of those who were on the front lines.
"All the gods are dead except the god of war." -- Eldridge Cleaver
If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran interested in being interviewed for this project, or if you know of someone who may be interested, email me.

[The War Project; @thewarproject]

Thursday, July 29, 2010

True/Slant signs off

In case you haven't heard, True/Slant, where I've been blogging at Off the Record since more or less the beginning of the year, is no more. The site was acquired by Forbes Media a few months ago, and the site will cease operations as of the end of this month.

As for whether or not I will be blogging for Forbes Media in the future, I am not at liberty to say at this time. Infer from that what you will.

The best part about writing for True/Slant? Having an editor who didn't think it was his job to tell you what to do.

Thanks, Coates.

[Off the Record]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I get email

Your brutal in a nice way. I feel like a shaken baby. And I've been paying attention. Your scary dead on. You reminded me I wanted to re-read "Dispatches" by Michael Herr.

I bet you could write a hell of a war story. Soldiers. Now that I'm musing about it, I guess we we're a kind'a porn star. I'll have to think about that.

Anyhow, good read. Thank you. I'll be clicking around for more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A new story on The War Project

I've posted a new story to The War Project website. Sgt. George Zubaty is an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once we got closer to the city, we were in between two armored battalions. We’ve got tanks behind us, and we’ve got tanks in front of us. Our vehicle convoy is long, so we don’t see the tanks in front of us, we don’t see the tanks behind us, but we certainly see what they’ve done, in front of us, because they’re killing everybody on the road.

Every single vehicle we come by is shot up, burnt, tank tread down the center of it. I mean, you’re looking in a car, and there’ll be mom, dad, kids, everything’s burnt, everything’s torn up. Remember, it’s 2003. At that point, Army units, they were training to do a general movement warfare type action. The whole point of our training was, just kill people. It wasn’t soft and nice. It was, you’ve been shot at, you shoot back until the firing stops. You could see immediately it wasn’t going to be productive.

They knew that there was an invasion coming, I guess, but their propaganda, their state-run television, their state-run radio, and everything, they’re not reporting it as, we’re being invaded, there are people right outside Baghdad. So people had gotten on the interstate that morning to go see family, to go shopping, to go wherever. They drive down the interstate, and the first time they notice that there’s an American armor convoy coming is when they start to get shot at. Tanks don’t miss.
[Staff Sgt. George Zubaty]

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hearts and minds

This is the trailer for "Battle for Hearts and Minds."
On July 2nd, 2009, four thousand US Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade launched a major helicopter assault into a Taliban stronghold in the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan in order to break a military stalemate with the insurgent group.
Directed by freelance photojournalist and independent filmmaker Danfung Dennis, it was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II.
"I think more and more docs will be filmed like this because all you need is this camera, your own laptop and some editing skills, and you can put together your own documentary." -- PBS
You have officially run out of excuses.
"Your measure's not found in how much time you have on this earth, but what you do with the time that you have."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stay tuned

Next week, if all goes well, the second story should go up on The War Project.

Stay tuned for more details.

[The War Project]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do you live in Austin?

Are you a reader of this blog who lives in Austin, Texas?

If so, email me.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Truth is beauty

The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can't help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moon rises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket's red glare. It's not pretty, exactly. It's astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference -- a powerful, implacable beauty -- and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly.
-- "How to Tell a True War Story" by Tim O'Brien

[Photo by Michael Yon used with permission]

You're an expensive book, aren't you?

Currently, a used copy of the 72-page, out-of-print short story collection that I authored and which was published in 2003 by Future Tense Publishing is for sale on Amazon for $2,384.40.

I don't have anything to do with this listing, nor do I profit from it.

I just find it amusing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A matter of opinion

On my way back home from Austin, I switched planes in Atlanta. At the gate, there were about a dozen Air Force men and women in fatigues waiting for the same flight. I wondered what their final destination was, and if they had already been deployed or not. I didn't think they had. They looked too wet behind the ears, too neat in the collar, too unscarred.
You say....

"If I say, “We should be there,” then it’s a matter of justifying all the deaths that have happened on the Iraqi civilian side. There’s just so many ways you can look at it, and I don’t care about any of that. I care about the people who go and fight and whether or not they’re getting cared for when they get back."

This is why you're all bunch of hired killers that deserve your fucking PTSD.
The email excerpted here was sent to Fred Minnick by someone who read his story on The War Project. It was sent through Anonymous Speech, which conceals the email address of the sender. One has to conclude that the author did not want his identity known, that he has strong opinions yet is unable or unwilling to stand by them, that it is easier for him to attempt to say what he means than it is for him to reveal to the world whomever he really is.
Deciding to kill in a bullshit war is not just a 'job' you fucking idiot. Moral men make moral decisions, not just do what their fucking boss tells them, especially when the task is killing people in a country that never attacked yours.

God I fucking hate you. Seriously, what kind of a fucking idiot volunteers go and do this shit? You're a fool.

And don't give me this fighting for our freedom bullshit. No one has fought for our freedom since world war 2.
The young airman sitting next to me on the plane was reading a book, Emotional Bullshit: The Hidden Plague That Is Threatening to Destroy Your Relationships--and How to Stop It. I wanted to ask him what it was about, but I didn't.
If a real war comes along I'll fucking fight. Simply offering to be on 'standby' to kill whoever you're asked to is a fucking pathetic life decision.


I hope you're haunted by the nightmares of those you orphaned and the pointless deaths of the men who were your friends, who actually I call murderers, I hope you are haunted by them for life, as you deserve to be.
After our flight landed at our destination, we all stood up and waited for the flight doors to open. Over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced that the airmen and airwomen were on their way to Afghanistan. He expressed admiration for the mission they had undertaken. He asked everyone on the plane to applaud for them. So, we did.
I spit on you and your bullshit 'service' Eat my shit.
After Fred forwarded me this email, I thought it was pretty stupid, but later I thought it was pretty much just sad.

Friday, July 16, 2010

To the max

People keep coming here looking for a post I wrote in October of 2008 about Max Hardcore called "To the Max." I wrote it on my old blog, which now feeds into this blog, so it's been unavailable online for some time. Here it is again.

Last Friday, adult director Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore, was sentenced to 46 months in prison. Back in June, Little had been found guilty on 20 federal counts of distributing obscene material over the internet and through the US mail. At his sentencing in Tampa, Florida, where federal agents had bought the materials in question, Little asked Judge Susan C. Bucklew for what appeared to be mercy. "I didn't realize I'd made a mistake," he told the court. "My entire life I've been trying to do the right thing by people and by the law." A sentiment to which Judge Bucklew replied: "Mr. Little, I find this almost incredible."

Indeed, Little's porn story is more that of a man who wanted to find out how far he could push the law before it snared him. Since the early Nineties, he has committed himself to exploring the farthest reaches of the pornographic frontier. As an auteur, he came into his own in the golden age of gonzo-porno. With the advent of video, porn was delivered into any American home with a video player. Meanwhile, any aspiring pornographer who could get his hands on a video camera could shoot low budget porn on the fly. Alongside his peers in the movement--John "The Buttman" Stagliano and Adam "Seymore Butts" Glasser among them--Little was the dick-for-hire star of his own lo-fi productions. Yet while Stagliano and Glasser inhabited oversexed personalities on camera, who reveled in the pleasures of sexually adventurous lives shot cinéma vérité style, Little, armed with a half-crazed grin, a George W. Bush cowboy hat, and a set that consisted primarily of a yellow sofa, appeared hellbent on taking human sexuality to the outer limits. At a time when the Clinton administration was taking a mostly hands-off approach to obscenity prosecutions, and the Wild, Wild West of the Internet meant distribution was easy and censorship was turning into an antiquated concept, extreme porn became the new new thing.

In Max Hardcore movies--"Anal Agony," "Hardcore Schoolgirls," "Max! Don't Fuck Up My Mommy!"--women are verbally and physically degraded in an unprecedented myriad of ways. They are choked, slapped, throat-fucked, penetrated with fists, given enemas, pile-driven, urinated upon, vomited upon, and in some instances instructed to drink from glasses the money shots that have been delivered into their rectums. Most of the time, Little as Hardcore is the perpetrator of these acts. Not infrequently, his scenes are fraught with pedophilia themes, beginning when he stumbles upon his subjects in playgrounds, where they sit alone, in pigtails, talking baby-talk, and sucking on lollipops. Mostly, the sex scenes end with his latest costar a mess and Hardcore triumphant. Even for the most jaded porn watcher, Little's ouevre is over the top. Watching Little's work is less like watching a porn movie than it is akin to witnessing a vivisection. On the screen, Hardcore bends over the female bodies before him, sometimes with speculum in hand, as if attempting to get at something within her at which he can never quite get, and so to which he is doomed to return, his methods more and more hardcore.

In Porn Valley, Little is something of a pariah. The larger, more mainstream-oriented and consumer-friendly adult production companies like Vivid Video and Wicked Pictures pride themselves on turning out adult content that plays by the rules, thereby, they hope, protecting the industry from legal persecution. In contrast, Little and company, other producers believe, put the entire industry at risk by creating content more likely to be targeted in obscenity indictments. (See: The Cambria List.) In 2005, the Bush administration launched its so-called "War on Porn," forming the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a Department of Justice outfit dedicated to pursuing obscenity prosecutions, and the FBI began recruiting for a "porn squad," otherwise known as the Adult Obscenity Squad, focused on "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography. In late 2005, federal agents raided Little's offices in Altadena, California, but it wasn't until early 2007 that his indictment was unsealed. As it turned out, OPTF Director Brent Ward had found getting US Attorneys to pursue obscenity prosecutions wasn't easy. Consequently, US Attorneys who preferred dedicating their resources to crimes other than obscenity in districts more likely to win the administration obscenity convictions were eliminated. Late last year, the OPTF's first trial began in Phoenix, Arizona, pitting the US government against a producer of bukkake videos, but the result was an embarrassment, the pornographer slipping out of the government's hands in the courtroom on what amounted to a technicality. When it came to Little, prosecutors were gunning for a win. Finally, three years after the OPTF was formed, the Feds got their man.

According to Jezebel's Megan Carpentier, we've come a long way, baby, when it comes to porn. "Say what you will about pornography, objectification and exploitation, the growing legitimization of the pornography industry--which led to much more government- and self-regulation--also led to a significant decrease in the kind of exploitation described by those performers as well as increased opportunities for women to participate in the higher-earning aspects of the production." Where Carpentier came upon her theory regarding the current state of the adult movie industry is a mystery. One would have to assume her research didn't include watching this NSFW series of video clips, in which a young woman is gangbanged, instructed to crawl across the floor on all-fours while stating repeatedly, "I'm a fucking whore," and then directed to drink the contents of a dog bowl, the side of which reads "SHIT-HOLE," into which her costars have ejaculated. The video wasn't directed by Little; these days, extreme porn is everywhere you Google.

Of course, what we are talking about here is not the girl on the floor, but the letter of the law. Yesterday, former lawyer, Salon blogger, and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald, whose First Amendment client list included Matthew Hale, a neo-Nazi who mistakenly attempted to enlist an undercover FBI agent to kill a federal judge, posits the conviction and sentencing of Paul Little as the latest glaring example of Bush administration hypocrisy. According to Greenwald, porn consists of "films featuring only consenting adults and distributed only to those consenting adults who chose to purchase them." Ironically, Little's defense, Greenwald points out, is the same defense the Bush administration has used to defend interrogation techniques used on detainees: "because the acts in question didn't involve the infliction of severe pain, they weren't illegal." In the case of Little's videos, he asserts, "There was no suggestion that any serious violence was ever inflicted or that the adult actors in the film were anything other than completely consensual." In conclusion, he proclaims: "So, to recap, in the Land of the Free: if you're an adult who produces a film using other consenting adults, for the entertainment of still other consenting adults, which merely depicts fictional acts of humiliation and degradation, the DOJ will prosecute you and send you to prison for years."

Reading Greenwald's post, I wondered if he had ever watched a Max Hardcore movie. I sent him an email, asking if he had. A few minutes later, I received a reply. "No, I haven't. But I read about its content. Why?" I replied: "You should." He replied: "I really don't care what consenting adults do with one another in order to entertain themselves or please themselves sexually--I'm not a busy body trying to sit in judgment of what other adults choose to do with themselves, especially in their sex lives. Not even the Government claimed that these films involved minors or non-consent, so as far as I'm concerned, it's nobody's business what they do, and whatever they do isn't going to change my mind in the slightest." In 1964, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart opined famously of pornography: "I know it when I see it." In Greenwald's case, one would imagine it would be hard to know what one has seen if one has not, in fact, seen it. If one hasn't seen "it," how can one know what one has seen?

On an online message board, a member who calls himself "Sick Fuck" posted an inventory of Max Hardcore's most extreme scenes. The list is long. Some of the videos were created for European distribution, where the market is more permissive, an argument Little used to defend the graphic nature of his videos to little effect in the Tampa courtroom. The litany of highlights includes urination, defecation, and vomiting, all of which appear repeatedly. As a matter of fact, the image located at the top of this post is a still from one such video, the European edition of "Planet Max 16." Her name is Summer Luv. In the scene, her costar, Catalina, who was Little's girlfriend, vomits on Summer. Their three-way sex with Little includes fisting and a mechanical device that holds Summer's mouth open as he ejaculates onto her face, upon which a clown smile has been drawn. The other extremely explicit, NSFW images can be found here. Because if you're going to talk about how far we've come when it comes to porn, if you're going to posit Paul "Max Hardcore" Little as the latest victim of the Bush administration, if you're going to lament one more strike against your First Amendment rights, you should bear witness as to what a porn star drenched in vomit looks like. Otherwise, you're blind when it comes to the hardcore realities of making porn in the 21st century. After all, as the bukkake video producer who squirmed out of the OPTF's grasp once told me: "If people didn't want it, it wouldn't be made." That is, if you didn't want it, they wouldn't make it. In the end, porn is the real American dream, and the dream is all yours.
[Related: "All obscenity charges dismissed against porn director John Stagliano and Co."]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The view from here

"Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty."
-- A Single Man

Don't be jealous

Look. The Old Spice guy made me a personal video message. Life is good.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The hardest subject

It occurred to me while watching "One Year" that this latest installment of Sparrow Songs, Alex Jablonski and Michael Totten's let's-make-one-short-film-a-month-for-a-year project, is really about love, and that love, if you think about it, is the hardest subject to write about of all the subjects in the world.

Several years ago, an MTV producer approached me through my blog about turning whatever it was I was doing back then into a TV show. He came out to Los Angeles, and we spent, I believe, 48 crazed hours making what became a TV pilot. After the pilot was edited, I flew out to New York, and we took the pilot to suits at various networks: Comedy Central, Oxygen, etc. After that, as I recall, we ate, or maybe we just had a drink, and this producer asked me something along the lines of what, in fact, I write about. I had my own answer, but I wanted to know what he thought it was, so I asked him that question. And he said one word, and, of course, that word was: "Love." And he was right.

Later, Warren Ellis wrote about how a character in the comic book Desolation Jones was influenced by me, or, at least, who I was back then. He recalled an exchange we once had in which I described being on the set of an adult movie thusly: "[T]here wasn’t a hint of anything like love in the room." That wasn't entirely, true, though. Because, in a way, love, or the quest for it, is everywhere you look in the Valley: in the exposed bodies, in the desperate looks, in the lengths people will go to just so someone -- for one minute, for one second, for one frame -- will touch them.
Over the years, I have found that all porn stars have one thing in common: an overwhelming, desperate desire to be loved. Many of the men who work in the porn business are neither fools nor thugs. They love women and crave social acceptance to such a profound degree that they are willing to go to any lengths -- even subjugating themselves to the unknowable, undeniable demands of their own penises -- to, for one fleeting moment, feel that, in some way, they mattered to someone.
In a blog post about "One Year," Jablonski writes, indirectly, at least, about failure, or when you think you're failing at something, or how sometimes failure can look a lot like success. In a way, maybe love is always failing, but carrying on in spite of that fact, or because of that fact, or on account of you don't know any other way to be.

I get email

Why the fuck didn't you publish my letter on the letters from watchers project?

Bitch ur really starting to piss me off.

This is why I hate cunts.

And you publish a letter, or you may have even written it yourself, by some guy who likes to see the women in porn enjoying themselves, over my wonderful letter about hate fucking, and this really does seem designed to be inflammatory against me.

I think you're trying to piss me off.

This email was sent via,
the worlds leading anonymous email provider.
[Image via This Isn't Happiness]

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mad about you


"Mad About You."


Thursday, July 8, 2010

No ghosts allowed

If you ever find yourself in Austin, Texas, book yourself a room at The Driskill. It is a scream. Bronze horse sculptures, stained glass domes, and more stars than you could shake your spurs at. People say it's haunted, but I didn't encounter any ghosts. Once upon a time, the Texas Rangers planned the take down of Bonnie and Clyde here, but the dead cow heads on the walls tell no tales.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Welcome to Austin

The view from the plane was beautiful. For some reason, I thought Texas would be yellow. But it's not. It's green. And flat. Flatter than anything you've ever seen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lord have mercy

A week ago, I launched The War Project. The first story was that of Fred Minnick. Soon, I'll be posting a second story.

Since the project was originally conceived of -- in a very rough form -- nearly five years ago, the site's launch was a long time coming. Building the site started late last year. And the first interview was conducted in early June, when I traveled to Kentucky.

Boing Boing, Instapundit, and Use My Computer, among others, were kind enough to link to the site. I received an email from someone who works with the Library of Congress, suggesting their Recorded Sound center may be interested in archiving the audio interviews. I heard from a Fox News TV producer about featuring the project on "Fox News Watch." And I got more than a few emails from people who appreciated the project.

Since the late nineties, I've been a freelance journalist, and, for the most part, culture has been my beat. I've interviewed celebrities, reviewed movies, written feature stories, penned column, blurbed books, did newspaper stories, and been a pundit. While I've covered a range of topics, The War Project is a step in a new direction for me.

I've committed myself to figuring it out as I go along, whatever that entails, because I think that's the best way for the project to develop: organically. It feels different wading into this new territory. It's a bit like moving from the pool to the sea. You're not quite sure where you're going, but you're really pretty damn sure it's not entirely up to you.

A few people have said I'm brave or courageous or something to that effect for taking on the project, but I would attribute any semblance of bravery within me more to willful ignorance, and a decent portion of my motivation in doing the project, as a journalist, was that I was simply fucking sick of editors telling me what to do.

I have and hope to continue to keep The War Project as an island for as along as possible, free from outside influence, the sticky fingers of editors, and reasons for being that have to do with anything but the fact that the stories are there, and they should be told. (The rest is bullshit.)

Some time ago, Xeni compared the concept of this project to the work of Alan Lomax, who traveled around the country recording the songs of sharecroppers, prisoners, and others. Without those recordings, those songs would have been lost forever.

I've learned a lot in the last five years about humility, when to bow out, and, as a journalist particularly, how, most of the time, your subject is way more interesting than you. Sometimes, it's best to shut up and get out of the way.

Friday, July 2, 2010


It's huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on.
-- "Greenberg"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

He's on a horse

Yesterday, I got an email from the Old Spice guy.

Life is strange.