Archive for February, 2015

Plain ‘ol Prison Survival

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Prison Bacteria for Dummies with Excrement Assault Guide_Where Excuses Go to DiePrison Survival Literature: where’s the chapter on being hustled?

“Two men enter – one man leaves!”
It’s all you need to know, right?
Okay technically, sometimes, sure.

My cellmate wanted to order a copy of Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison, but I was able to talk him out of it. Good thing, too, because the publisher’s catalog through which the order would’ve been placed belonged to me, and it was high contraband. Back then I was in possession of several such catalogs, which offered titles on everything from document falsification to improvised explosives; from contingency cannibalism (my favorite) to how to dispose of a dead body. I got the sense I’d exceeded the natural encyclopedia of criminal knowledge around me as a result, and that was nothing short of cross-eyed fabulous.

Each catalog entry was accompanied by a book-jacket photo and lengthy summary. Where Excuses Go to Die’s chapter, “High Weirdness by Mail,” describes how reading snippets of these out loud to certain trusted inmates caused laughter so physically enfeebling that only a death rattle was left in the human body’s big bag of tricks.

It seems crazy to recall being rendered sightless by tears of joy in the company of murderers, shot-callers, and stonehearted life-termers. But these “moments of genuine whimsy,” as I refer to ‘em in Where Excuses Go to Die, were what my own prison survival was made of. Sure, I’d read the titles and descriptions in a funny voice, but I allowed the absurdity of it all to do the heavy lifting. We didn’t actually need to possess the instructions for do-it-yourself blowguns; picturing blowgun wars in the chow hall was priceless enough. We’d really lose it when some badass piped up to correct, clarify, or corroborate. Such sessions turned tall tales into skyscrapers.

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Brian Williams, War-face

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

BRIANS WORLD_Where Excuses Go to DieBrian “Get to the choppa!” Williams’s character lapse makes him one.

So much for Brian Williams’s war-face, eh? I don’t know if some of the Gonzo from his friendship with the late Hunter Thompson rubbed off, but it turns out the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot of Williams’s career may be his having forgotten that journalists aren’t free to insert themselves in the stories they report.

At least Williams had the sense to step away from his anchor desk before NBC could suspend him, as it has. The move separates him from lesser public figures who might busy themselves with all the attention or be convinced by others to turn it in their favor, something that rarely ends well.

There’s also the fact that, as a passenger in a Chinook troop-transport helicopter, your visibility is extremely limited. Without the benefit of combat experience or theater of operations training, it’d be nearly impossible to differentiate which helicopter in any convoy was actually being aimed at. Think about it, amidst all the sounds of combat – automatic weapons fire, shouting, explosions – would you be able to distinguish between RPG rounds and the flash-bang orange glow of infrared countermeasures (ICMs) being released around you? ICMs BRAIN WILLIAMS_DEATH OR STORY_Where Excuses Go to Dieare, after all, designed to confuse missile optics and throw off rocket trajectories, and pilots navigating threat zones have to be specially trained for these potentially blinding and disorienting visuals.

Besides, when you’re in a convoy taking fire, it matters little whether the first helicopter is being shot at or the last: the convoy is taking fire. If one of its soldiers gets hit by a piece of shrapnel, he’ll be eligible for a Purple Heart. And we always hear soldiers claim to be all “in this together” and that they’re fighting for the guy next to them.

So while embedded reporters certainly aren’t soldiers, the only real-world recognition they get is an unspoken eligibility to use the word “we.” Williams was in a convoy that took fire, and he technically faced the same danger as the other passengers, in uniform and out. He could’ve been killed. So, “we.” End of story. (more…)

Mindfulness as Technology

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Living in the moment - it doesn't have to be this way_Where Excuses Go to DieCourtesy of a Sunday op-ed, “Mindfulness as Technology” might stick with me for a least a week!

Ok, so I still like to read newspapers. There’s just something cathartic about being able to crumple up the stupidity I come across, and it takes a lot less time than entering a log-in to leave an angry comment. One is arguably empowering, the other simply self-aggrandizing. Besides, the Internet is great ‘n all, but compared to 130 years of industrial age headline-induced anger, the web is still preoccupied with its own genitalia.

For me, reading the paper is an exercise in delayed gratification. I first physically disassemble and reorder its parts from responsible to frivolous, from world affairs to the national scene, and from what’s happening around the state to local news. I save the culture, arts, and entertainment bits for last. It’s fairly meditative, so it fit to come across Teresa Jordan’s op-ed, “Seizing a Stetson does not make foil hats but it should_Where Excuses Go to Diemoment for mindfulness.” (Don’t ask me why titles are changed for online versions, but it might be a good thing you can’t crumple a laptop. Had I seen the online one first I would have skipped the piece).

Teresa Jordan is the author of The Year of Living Virtuously (Weekends Off), which is essentially about surviving distraction and obliviousness. Self-help books are lame – Where Excuses Go to Die once had a chapter called “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Chuy” that mocked the ones you find in prison – but these days so many are being written by people who hate ’em too that at least their titles reflect the removal of an important stick, if you get my drift. That makes it much easier to fight the urge to laugh at the sight of one. Plus I’m getting older, so my decades-long diet of nonfiction treachery, high weirdness, and absurdity is beginning to require balance. (more…)