A Distinguished Panel

As if you didn’t have enough reason already to submit your stories to The Goats, here are some of the people who have agreed to help judge the contest.

Christopher Goffard, Pulitzer finalist, reporter, Los Angeles Times, author of Snitch Jacket.

Hank Stuever, Pulitzer finalist, reporter, purveyor of the conceptual scoop, Washington Post, author of Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere.

Luke Dittrich, freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire.

Jan Winburn, enterprise editor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Lon Wagner, narrative team leader, The Virginian-Pilot.

Louise Kiernan, Pulitzer winner, writing coach, Chicago Tribune.

Wright Thompson, senior writer, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer winner, reporter, Rocky Mountain News, author of the forthcoming bestseller Final Salute.

Look at it this way. Even if you don’t win, this is your chance to have your best work read by some of the best in the business. Chances like that don’t come along every day.

The deadline is Tuesday. As long as you send in the e-mail by then, it’s OK if your check arrives a little later.

Get to it.

Entering Sector D

Henry Allen: There’s something about the word “disembowel.” Or “depravity,” or “disfigurement” — about so many words that begin with the letter “d.” Divorce, destitution, doubt, drugs, dirt, dwindle. So many of them are on our lips just now — though not “disembowel,” and we should be thankful for that much. Once more, as a nation, we have entered Sector D.

As in: debacle, depression, debt and debauchery.

Which is to say: mission unaccomplished in Iraq, world stock markets on tumble-dry, subprime mortgages imploding, Britney Spears.

People watch their houses plummet in value and say: “We’ll just have to make do.”

Do. D. Do as in doom, which is mood spelled backward, as in the national mood that dotes on rising global temperatures, falling test scores, and death from diseases such as mutant tuberculosis strewn across the continent by defiant airplane passengers.

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The Marrow Of The Bone Of Contention

Jake Adam York: Until I had moved to New York, the phrase “good barbecue” meant nothing to me.

In Alabama, there was only barbecue — and a food either was or was not barbecue. Barbecue was ultimate good, and there were no degrees to perfection.

For years, we ate only at Bar B Q Bob’s, a large A-frame joint as far across town as a place could be. It looked as though it been an International House of Pancakes at some point, and someone should have remembered or asked, but nothing — not the strangeness of ski-lodge architecture in an Alabama town, not the chips or cracks in the veneered tables or booth-benches, not the absolute sequestration of the kitchen — could make this seem important. As long as hickory smoke rose as from a thurible into the cathedral heights of Bob’s, this could be nothing else but The Seat of Barbecue. At least a dozen other restaurants in town claimed barbecue in their names, but there was only one barbecue.

Like religion, barbecue was pure. And purity, once accepted, will brook neither proof nor comparison.

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Andy Meacham: The first time the manager of Clock Family Restaurant in Zephyrhills offered Wilfred “Spook” Wyman a refill on his coffee, he was soundly rejected.

“He said, ‘G– d— it, leave me alone,'” recalled Al Asenavage, 36. “It blew me away.”

He learned that the cardinal rule of restaurant work – that one must give respect in order to receive it – did not always apply.

“With Spook,” he said, “you had to give disrespect to get respect.” Today, Asenavage considers Mr. Wyman his favorite customer ever.

The Old Men And The Sea

Chris Goffard: Like the other old men at this Costa Mesa boatyard, where the hulls of peeling sloops and half-made cutters rot on their wooden posts, Karl Markvart can’t be certain he’ll live long enough to reach the water.

Again and again, he’s watched the boat builders around him lose their race to the sea, their unfinished vessels hauled off to the junkyard to make room for another boat, another mad dreamer.

At 69, Markvart knows it’s dangerous to dwell on the size of the task before him, all the work that remains on the 32-foot Dreadnought cutter that is now his home and that he expects, with luck, will one day be his tomb.

He’s one of the few regulars at the Boatyard Storage, which sits two miles from the nearest harbor. Piece by piece, Markvart has been building his cutter since buying the fiberglass shell for $9,000 34 years ago, but the boat has been with him — shimmering in his imagination — for nearly twice that long.

Monday Reading

Hank Stuever: Two of Washington’s airports — Dulles and Reagan National — will soon be part of the federal government’s Registered Traveler program, which offers passengers the happy prospect of getting through security lines faster, swifter, better. (Ninety thousand of them and counting have enrolled.) All you need do is pay an annual fee — $100 to start, plus a $28 shakedown so the government can make sure you’re, you know, okay. Next you submit all sorts of personal information, fingerprints and, because the future is now, an eyeball scan.

Then you are all clear.

Dan Barry: Imagining that late December night of long darkness, you can almost hear these youths of Vermont tramping up to the isolated farmhouse to intrude upon the sanctuary stillness. The break of snow beneath their feet would be the least of it.

They had driven or walked a half-mile up a snow-covered lane called Frost Road, then trudged past a large blue sign that explained the historic significance of the farmhouse and the cabin beyond. And now they were entering the coldness of an uninhabited place, carrying with them cases of beer, bottles of rum and a store of ignorance about things that matter here.

Over the next several hours, more than 30 teenagers and young adults toasted their post-adolescence with liquor carrying the added kick of illicitness. By early morning they were gone, leaving a wounded house watched over by winter-stripped birches and sugar maples.

The damage left in their wake reflected some alcohol-induced mischief tinged with certain anger. Broken window, broken screen, broken dishes, broken antiques. Pieces of a broken chair used for wood in the fireplace. Gobs of phlegm spat upon hanging artwork. Vomit, urine, beer everywhere. And a blanket of yellow, pollenlike dust, discharged from fire extinguishers in parting punctuation.

Before long, distressing word spread from Ripton to Middlebury and beyond that the preserved farmhouse once owned by Robert Frost had been vandalized — desecrated, some said. If these children of the Green Mountains knew this house was once Frost’s, then shame. If they did not know, then shame still; they should have. How many had been weaned on Frost? How many had tromped through here on class trips and family outings?

Tim Botos: How many ways can you measure a few feet? It’s exactly 24 inches, or less than a yard on a football field. It’s the height of a full-grown garden daisy, or a touch narrower than an average casket.

Two feet was the difference between life and death for Dane Brown and Ward Anthony. Whether by fate, grace of God, or a giant mistake, the outcome depends on your point of view.

To this day, the families of the men haven’t met, though they became linked forever in a split second in Vietnam — a moment on April 17, 1968, when one of the men died and the other lived.

“Good Marines, both of them,” said Grady Birdsong, who served in the same company.

The Las Vegas Sun: There’s plenty of excitement in the air at Monte Carlo on Friday morning, its lobby filled with people arriving for a great weekend on the Strip. George Thorogood is at the House of Blues, the Miss America pageant is at Planet Hollywood, Ashanti is hosting a party at Pure, and the American Society of Safety Engineers is meeting at the Flamingo.

In the travel industry, the 11-year-old Monte Carlo is considered an overflow hotel, the kind of place tourists go if their first choices — the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage and Venetian — are filled.

Tiffany Nelson, 21, has flown in from Dallas to celebrate a friend’s birthday and is just now opening the door to her room after having checked in downstairs, in an elegant lobby of gold and marble.

Ruth Santiago, who’s been on the housekeeping staff at the Monte Carlo since it opened, is cleaning rooms on the seventh floor. She’s one of 950 employees working at that hour.

Lynn Briggs of Amherst, N.H., is in town for the pageant — she’s the coach for Miss New Hampshire. She’s already checked in to her 28th-floor room and has decided to go for a walk up the Strip.

And there’s a fire on the roof of the 32-story hotel, offering a thickening column of black smoke against the winter sky.

Nobody inside knows.

Michael Brick: PLANO, Tex. — A black Hummer pulled into the Hooters parking lot as dusk fell. Arthur Dale Atwood, a professional bodybuilder with a 61-inch chest, opened the tailgate for a police informant to deliver more than 100 bottles of fake drugs made from vegetable oil.

For months, city detectives had been watching as Atwood, 34, amassed steroids, human growth hormone, Ecstasy and exotic thyroid stimulators. Last May, the police made their move. Outside the Hooters lot, officers pulled over the Hummer. But instead of filing drug charges, they turned Atwood over to federal prosecutors running a more ambitious investigation.

Three days later, federal agents began arresting seven other bodybuilders across the state. One of them, David C. Jacobs, 35, known to friends as Bulletproof, publicly boasted of having evidence to link players for the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons to steroids. No such evidence has been revealed, and those teams have strongly denied his statements.

A Gorgeous Porcelain Tiger

This story is very, very long. I suggest you print out and read it before bed.

Satisfaction is guaranteed.

But it seems somehow paltry and wrong to call what happened at Midway a “battle.” It had nothing to do with battles the way they were pictured in the popular imagination. There were no last-gasp gestures of transcendent heroism, no brilliant counterstrategies that saved the day. It was more like an industrial accident. It was a clash not between armies, but between TNT and ignited petroleum and drop-forged steel. The thousands who died there weren’t warriors but bystanders — the workers at the factory who happened to draw the shift when the boiler exploded.

This was exactly what the witnesses to the war were finding so impossible to believe. The cliche in those days was that World War I had destroyed the old romantic notions about battle — after the slaughter in the trenches of Europe, it was said, nobody would ever again rhapsodize about the chivalry of jousting knights or the grandeur of a sword-waving cavalry charge. The reporters going out to cover World War II had prepared themselves to see battles that were mechanized, anonymous, and horrible. But they weren’t prepared, not really. World War I had been a generation earlier, and the military industries of the great powers hadn’t stopped their drive for innovation. The combatant nations of World War II were supplying their forces with armaments of such dramatically increased power they made those of World War I obsolete. The reporters got out into the war and discovered a scale of mass destruction so inhuman that cynicism and disillusionment seemed just as irrelevant as the sentimental pieties of the home front.

Friday Clicks

Libby Copeland with the snow birds: BOCA RATON, Fla. — The best place to meet the Floridians who could save Rudy Giuliani’s hide is here at the Flakowitz Bagel Inn, where just about everybody is from New York, and just about everyone remembers how the former mayor either: (a) cleaned up their city, or (b) turned out to be a real jerk.

“He’s a very, very smart guy,” says Carl Liss, 79, a transplant from Queens who’s sitting at the long counter, eating a bagel with low-fat cream cheese. (Cholesterol. Heart condition.) “I personally wouldn’t vote for him.”

“I don’t like him,” says a woman sitting a few seats down the counter.

And check out these Testy Copy Editors staring across the divide.