About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Intel Geek

Chloe O'Brian. Frame capture from the Season 7 trailer of "24."

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

Working in the Intelligence profession is a challenge. We joined this happy community out of some well-placed motivations, such as patriotism, being an unknown soldier in a largely invisible war, or just having a Jack Ryan fixation. Or just enjoying the high pay and good benefits.

Yeah. Right.

An Intelligence Analyst, in most cases, works in an office, although we almost never call it that. In an attempt to sound cool and hip, we refer to it as “the shop.” “Yeah, I work the Intel Shop.” It sounds cool because it implies that (1) we have explainable skills, and (2) we can actually fix things. It makes us sound tool savvy as well, although I don’t ever remember asking any of my colleagues for a 3/8-inch hydraulic regression analyzer.

It is one of those rare jobs that you can’t brag about. Part of this has to do with constantly working with classified information, and the natural reticence resulting from being at war with an enemy that has a demonstrated predilection for sawing people’s heads off. The other reason has to do with practicality. For some reason, the public thinks that if we work intel, and have a high clearance, then we must be wired in to all the mysterious stuff that they’re convinced the government is hiding. In my earlier days, I actually got a kick out of telling people that I was an Intelligence Analyst. Then, I wised up. I wish I could tell you how many times I was asked about who killed Kennedy, or what was really going on up at Groom Lake. Now, older and wiser, when people ask me what I do, I simply say, “I work for the government.” For most, that’s total snooze material and the inquiries stop there. For the persistent ones, I explain, “I read reports, then write a report about the reports I read. Then, I pass my report to someone else, who writes a report about my report.” That works. By the time I get through the first sentence, they’re off looking for the Jell-O shots.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Johnstown Flood: An Open Letter to Hollywood*

Photos from the Johnstown Heritage Society Collection

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, March 26, 2008
as "Story of 1889 flood should be basis of epic film"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

May 31, 1889 had been a long, dreary day. For several days, rain had been falling, at times incomprehensibly heavy. The streets of Johnstown, Pennsylvania were flooded, with up to 3 feet of water. In some homes, families grimly abandoned the first floor, carrying their belongings up the stairs to safety. Flooded streets were not all that unusual, especially in the spring. You moved what you could, waited for the water to recede, and then you cleaned up. But shortly after 4 p.m., the people of this sodden southwestern Pennsylvania town heard a roar from the north. A forty-foot high wall of debris, followed by 20 million tons of water thundered out of the mountains and exploded on the unsuspecting city. The wave spread across the valley and in a matter of 10 minutes, a city of 20,000 people ceased to exist.

The story of the Johnstown Flood has been told numerous times in print, most notably by historian David McCullough. Within those words are tales of tragedy and destruction that wound the heart, but there also are accounts of courage, heroism, and the character of a community that, to this day, doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”

As you have shown over the years, a filmmaker is a storyteller. While the story of the Johnstown Flood has been told in print, it has never been portrayed on the screen. Part of the reason for this would have to be the lack of special effects technology to accurately represent the magnitude of the disaster. With the advance in CGI technology, that is no longer the limiting factor.

This is a tale aching to be told. The mounting drama of the long afternoon as the dam weakened; the terrible moment when the earth yielded and the water exploded into the narrow gorge; the heroic efforts of those who did everything possible to alert people in the path of the deluge; the terror of those caught in the flood waters; the uncomprehending horror of those whose lives were spared by happenstance, only to watch helplessly the deaths of their families and neighbors. There were the heroic efforts to organize by the surviving townsfolk, attempting rescue after rescue through that long, dark first night in a cold plain of mud, debris, and death, completely cut off from the outside world.

People died in the narrow valleys as the water and debris cascaded down from the mountaintop. People died as town after town was swept clear. People died in the city, crushed by debris, and drowned in the swirling waters. And when a mountain of debris piled up against a stone railroad bridge caught fire, people trapped in the rubble burned to death, their terrified screams echoing through the darkness across a cold sea of mud.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

When God Goes Out of Business*

The iconic twin spires of St. Stephen's

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, March 15, 2008

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Contextual Note: In March 2008, the Catholic Arch Diocese of Johnstown, PA announced the imminent closure of four parishes in the historic Cambria City section of Johnstown.
This was written in response to the announcement.

The Allegheny region is not an area prone to earthquakes, but the recent announcement of the Arch Diocese certainly carried the same impact. Four churches in Johnstown’s most iconic neighborhood, Cambria City, are due to be closed. Although in close proximity, the churches served their parishes for over 100 years, each one a reflection of Cambria City’s rich ethnic past. According to the “Explore PA History” website, as people streamed into the area from Europe to work in the coal mines and steel mills, parishes were established representing a variety of ethnic groups. Among them was the Irish (St. Columba’s), Hungarians (St. Emerich’s), Polish (St. Casimir’s), Slovakian (St. Stephen’s), Croatian (St. Rochus’), and German (Immaculate Conception). Each parish provided the anchor for immigrants making a home in a strange, new land; and giving a sense of community to what would become known as the Ellis Island of Johnstown.

But, times change. Johnstown, and America, has become more diverse, and ethnic enclaves don’t exist in the way they did a century ago. Since those enclaves were the element that gave those parishes life, the churches have, for several years now, been dying a slow death.

When I see a failed business, I feel a bit saddened. For me, a business represents someone’s dream and when that dream fails, I can’t help but feel empathy towards the person who rolled the dice and took that entrepreneurial chance. Businesses go under for a variety of reasons. Misreading the market, saturation of that good or service in a particular area, price structure, competition, or just plain poor management. Seeing a church close its doors is also disquieting, for altogether different reasons.