Archive for March, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier, her story, and her posthumous public profile.

Vivian Maier_Memorializing the images of her subjectsFor those familiar with this blog, my affection for the late street photographer Vivian Maier goes deep. She was a woman who had every reason in the world to shout from the rooftops that she’d arrived, but she opted to pursue perfection and technical excellence over fame and fortune. I think one of the reasons her story resonates with people today is that Maier represents a level of dedication and personal character we don’t often see in today’s run-of-the-mill fame whores.

Classic Vivian Maier ImageA Vivian Maier selfie, for example, is an the image I can lose myself in (though I suspect she would have hated the word). Scratch that for just about everyone else on earth.

Since I first discovered early stories of Maier in April of 2011, I’ve watched and commented on the growing awareness of her legend. I’ve even goofed on the emergence of the Vivian Maier “crowd.” (I proudly include myself.)

Now, I’m pleased to report that tonight I’ll be rubbing elbows with a subset of Maier fans once again, at a screening and filmmaker Q&A of Finding Vivian Maier. If anything ridiculous jumps off I’ll update this entry, but it’s doubtful that’ll happen. Documentary types are way more tolerable and less make-believe than dopey gallery crowds anyhow. (more…)

Heroin Harm Reduction

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Do heroin harm reduction policies help create excuses for junkies?

Source UnknownKevin Thompson, 43, a participant in two Canadian clinical studies where patients were given doses of pharmaceutical heroin, says he was given three fixes a day at a downtown Vancouver clinic. The injections, Thompson told a Vancouver journalist, meant he could live free from worry about how and where to obtain his next dose. “It can be a lot of hassle just to get what you need for the day,” Thompson recalled.

As an addict, Thompson says he shoplifted, scrounged for money, and woke up in an anxious state, fearing withdrawal symptoms, for years. The cycle was finally broken when he applied and was approved for two Canadian studies that are part of Vancouver’s longstanding “harm reduction” public policy. The first, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), took place from 2005 to 2008. The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) was conducted in 2013. Both provided treatment in the form of diacetylmorphine – a.k.a. prescription heroin.

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Book of the Year Finalist

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

From secret prison journal pages to 2013 Book of the Year finalist.

indiefab-finalist-imprintThis is for you, Lotus Weinstock – thank you.

With the national dialogue on prison and sentencing reform as loud as it’s ever been in America, I couldn’t be happier that ForeWord Reviews, a quarterly trade review journal, has chosen Where Excuses Go to Die as a finalist for its annual Book of the Year awards.

The winner will be announced in June, in Vegas, at the American Library Association’s yearly pow-wow.

Among 13 other candidates in the autobiography & memoir (adult nonfiction) category, Where Excuses Go to Die is a testament to the insight, character, and generosity of education professionals and workshop instructors to whom I surrendered while incarcerated for, coincidentally enough, the armed robbery of multiple bookstores.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the book wins. What matters is that the rehabilitative methodology and milestone approach used to get my attention back then remains the primary takeaway in any discussion of the book’s merits. (more…)

Court Referred Community Service Diary – 3

Monday, March 17th, 2014

“His jaw was working harder than a hog’s hips at a crowded trough.”

I really did mean to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time passed that I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center. Welcome to #3 in a series…(Parts 1 and 2 are here and here.)

March 10, 2014 – Goodwill Donation Center, Wednesday

Microwave Isotropic and Anisotropic SuperconductorsOnly when you’re outta your mind on blow do you pay $59 for a thrift-store microwave oven circa 1995 by leaving a deposit with the manager, going to your car, and coming back for the thing a mere 15 minutes later. Only when your head is reeling from cocaine psychosis do you not realize you’re wiping your mouth in a forward motion with the back of your hands like a rat. And only when you’re anxious about returning to your car for more booger-sugar does your “inside voice” become your Dodger Stadium voice.

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Is Pre-trial Labor Slavery?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Lawsuit over solitary vs. work detail stirs a 13th Amendment debate

Hard day at the office_WHere Excuses Go to DieIs pre-trial labor slavery?

Not every detention facility relies on the same frontline custody policies, but the fact is, most pre-trial prisoners are allowed to choose between a daily work assignment and remaining confined to their dorm units or cells.

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at what, for some, is merely semantics. For others, though, the distinction couldn’t be more important. See, you’re a “prisoner” until you’ve been sent to a genuine penal facility, at which point you’re given an “inmate” number. Once you’re on a full blown prison yard, you strive to graduate to “convict” and leave the inmate label behind.

Likewise, “jail” and “prison” are not the same. Jail custody is similar to an airplane circling a runway ’til it’s permitted to land. Jail is where one goes to await trial, pause between court appearances, get convicted and sentenced in the first place, then finally transferred to state or federal custody — i.e., prison.

Jail life, though, is often more harsh, because prisoners are transitory and often mistake jail for the big house themselves. Prisoners fear that not making a name for themselves right away is a dangerous mistake, so guys get beaten up a lot in jail. What many prisoners don’t realize is that they’ll have to reestablish their reputations as soon as a new busload replaces those they “taught” to respect them.

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Court Referred Community Service Diary – 2

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Blotchy the Bear“Where Pleated Pants Go to Die” – Thursday morning, March 5, 2014.

I really did mean to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time passed that I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center. This is the second in a series…

Day one’s “Top Five Items that Qualify as Most Disgusting.”

  • Food-encrusted plates and utensils
  • Matted stuffed animals
  • Pillows
  • Crumb-sprinkling toasters
  • Hairdryers and curling irons

Three hours was all I could do. I thought for sure I’d be able to push it to four, but both the headache and the pre-judgment I’d arrived with had worsened.  And yet, even failing to scratch the surface of my commitment, I began to appreciate the septic funhouse I’d entered. (more…)

Court Referred Community Service Diary – 1

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

I meant to pay the speeding ticket right away; now I owe 50 hours.

Goodwill-Logo-Registered-TrademarkI really did mean to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time passed that I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center.

March, 2014 – Goodwill Donation Center, Monday

Ten feet inside the door, a 20-something young lady at the counter took one look at the yellow triplicate form in my hand and rolled her eyes. Turning to a tiny Asian woman helping her stock sunglasses, I heard her say, “typical community service,” as she walked off.

The Asian woman, though, threw out her hand, shook mine, accepted my paperwork, and started walking backwards toward a pair of beat up, swinging metal doors. “I’m Julie,” she began, “and I’m afraid you can’t work in those.” She pointed to my 501s. “Do you have black pants and a white business shirt?”

“Not that I can work in, no,” I admitted. “But thrift store clothes and I go way back, so I’ll just buy something now. That cool?”

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Morality in the Morning

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Are we more dependable and trustworthy at breakfast than at dinner?

The Morning Morality Effect_Psychological Science January 2014Are you tired of your account managers giving you the runaround about their weekly TPS reports? Try moving your meetings with them to the a.m.! According to a just-released study from the Association for Psychological Science (APS), straight answers are more likely in the morning than in the afternoon.

The APS study proposes that the rigors of everyday living erode our capacity to resist lying and cheating, using four experiments to substantiate what researchers call the “morning morality effect.” The morning morality effect basically means that, by the end of the day, our ability to process moral decisions and maintain self-control is about as effective as an empty can of air freshener.

The study also found that people with a greater innate propensity for theft, murder, and bullshit are influenced by the morning morality effect to a greater degree than those with a naturally heightened sense of moral awareness. In other words, unless you’re a codependent fixer, the colleagues you likely already avoid will get even worse toward quittin’ time, while the steadfast goody-goodies will be more likely to resist the temptation to act on their amoral thoughts.

(Still, ever notice how impatient the sanctimonious types can become by the end of the day? Sounds to me like the APS is sayin’ that, come four o’clock, even the cloyingly self-righteous can’t help plotting to kill their rich uncles.)

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Why I Hate the Word “Nigger”

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

THE N-WORD_Where Excuses Go to DieI hate the word “nigger” because of what it reveals about its user.

Blue, Black, White, or Brown – you’re lazy.

How’s that, you ask?

Well for one, what have you, the N-word user, attempted to learn about the volatile word? ‘Cause it’s a shape-shifter: one that can be used rightly and wrongly, ironically and seriously, congenially and maliciously, of necessity for the sake of realism and impishly for the sake of comedy.* Do you know its etymology? Have you taken the time to read any Richard Wright or August Wilson? Who were the Little Rock Nine? Do you know why Malcolm X and Richard Pryor swore off using it?

It doesn’t matter. And regardless of who you are, you weren’t born with the right to use the word, so don’t even go there. You have a choice. If you want to debate whether or not cultural perspective should govern its meaning, you’d better find out more than what you heard someone say, sing, shout, or slur.

I hate the word because it whispers its right to be among us, forcing users to make excuses for it. It’s a chunk of broken cement that has, for too many people, disguised itself as a Fabergé egg. Which people, you ask? As Clarence Major wrote in his Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970), “persons insufficiently attuned to the volatility of this singularly complex and dangerous word.”

Having been to prison and, therefore, temporarily disqualified from societal participation, you might think my learning was limited to how to survive and/or how to become a better criminal, not unlike the claim that college merely teaches one to be a better student. While there may be a basis in reality for both assertions, prison wasn’t a School of Crimethink for me: it was an ungodly wake-up call. And since the phrase “wake-up call” is grossly overused, I’ll go a little deeper.

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