Archive for the ‘Character’ Category

A Felon, Just Like Me

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

Former LASD Sheriff Baca_Where Excuses Go to Die__Photo ABC NewsHaving written fundraiser remarks for disgraced LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, and having been big-bro bear-hugged by him after confessing to teleprompter typos, it’s hard to hate the man who ran a law enforcement mafia.

He hugged me because he was relieved to be offstage. Fifty-cent words weren’t easy for Baca, I’d been warned, and this was a big night. Just before he’d taken the podium, I realized I’d failed to yank one word in particular, and sure enough he flubbed it. Regardless of how I felt about his Men’s Central Jail deputies — or anything else related to that American flag-wrapped night at the Beverly Hilton — I was the show writer. I had to tell him it was my mistake, not his. (more…)

Capitalizing on Inmate Firefighters

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Image_washingtonpostThere’s no excuse for inmate firefighters becoming pawns of prison reform.

Inmate firefighters: it’s an odd term, isn’t it? “Firefighter” is a badge of honor, while “inmate” is a brand. Yet these particular convicted criminals are routinely sent on 16-mile marches to square off with raging wildfires for 24 hours at a time, carrying the mark of offenders while performing duties as honorable as they come. For about $2 an hour.

These men (and women) are typically housed in a more congenial, campus-like setting. They eat better than their counterparts who are still behind prison walls, and they’re addressed more cordially by both frontline custody personnel and the civilian training staffers who oversee their participation in California’s esteemed Conservation Camp program.

Most of these folks were convicted of non-violent crimes. But violent offenders have also swung picks and wielded shovels for the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (CalFire) for decades, and a proposal to expand their participation was recently submitted by California corrections officials. Good thing it was withdrawn almost as soon as it was made public, as the plan could have been a disaster.

(more…)

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…)

Second Chance Sexy

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

People who screw up but handle it well
are more attractive than those who don’t. 

AVOID PSYCHIC CLUTTER_Where Excuses Go to DieThat’s no newsflash, but why do you suppose it’s true? What is it about second chances, and second chance stories, in which we find inspiration? Aren’t flaws and faults at the center of nearly any second chance?

Here’re a few things I’ve learned about errors and do-overs:

Excuse-makers are repellant. You can’t spend time behind bars without becoming intimately familiar with psychic clutter. Clutter comes in many forms, but people who consistently fall back on rationalizations, excuses, and denial are usually quite guarded, with mental walls of all shapes, sizes, and complexities. If you’ve ever lied to cover up a lie, psychic clutter isn’t new to you, either. It’s just that too few of us recognize how unappealing we become, stressing and tripping when our heads are filled with it.

Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the worldDeniers are draining. We all have friends, family members, or co-workers with good traits, generous moments, and genuine talents, which makes it frustrating and disappointing to accept them fully (or even work around them) when they’re in bullshit mode. I don’t mean your actors and other neurotics, or even dinner guests who show up and start ticking off their food allergies – those are a different kind of drain altogether. I’m talking about blamers, focus-shifters, liars, counter-accusers, and verbal bullies. We might be cheerleaders for the parts of these people we appreciate, but after coming to terms with their weak-ass coping skills, we can’t help but feel betrayed. And while positive character traits may make a person worthy of a second chance, should they get a third or fourth? The more efficient and healthier option would be to move on to a less draining individual, but individual results may vary. (more…)

Zamperini and Me (Repost)

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Louis Zamperini and his Middle Finger to Der FuehrerThis guy’s story beats the holidays, so here’s a rerun from August. 

Seriously, shoot me if I ever name-drop – except this once…

“Zamperini and Me” is simple to explain; the late Louis Zamperini had been my neighbor.

I didn’t know he was my neighbor until we were introduced through a mutual friend, Dena, who’d petered out beneath a big tree while jogging one day. A chainsaw firing up above her head caused her to spaz and discover a then 90-year-old Louis Zamperini, 15 feet up and clinging to branches. He guided the saw through a thick limb and only took notice of her when it fell at her feet. Or so she thought.

“Hello!” he shouted, repositioning himself to see her better.

“Hi!” she answered. “Need any help?”

“Nahh, been doing this since I bought the place, thanks. Besides, young lady, you need to keep running. Your form could improve.”

What Dena didn’t know at the time is that she’d just received constructive criticism from a famed Olympic medalist, a veteran of the men’s 5000 meter race. Apparently he’d watched her motor all the way up the hill. Dena’s a tough chick, but her asthmatic breathing must’ve reminded him of how his plane sounded when it was nosediving into the Pacific.

Nevertheless, the man climbed down to meet his match (Dena’s a short, hugely stubborn Italian too), and the two hit it off. Before long, they were enjoying tea while the sunset’s glow reached Zamperini’s collection of Olympic torches in the living room of his Hollywood hillside post-and-beam home.

Now, I’m already convinced that Dena’s soul is on loan from WWII infantryman turned B-movie filmmaker Sam Fuller, but she was really on fire after that. “You’ve got to meet Louis,” I heard again and again. “He’s so great and his story is incredible. You’ll really like him.”

Ha! I didn’t know the half of it. (more…)

IN DEFENSE OF ISIS

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

How do we respond to the ISIS threat?No, Isis the cat, not the beheading berzerkers in Vietcong jammies!

Natalie, a friend of mine, has a cat named Isis. Now, after a comment a neighbor lady made, she wants to change it, and that causes my brain to reach Critical Processing Failure. So in defense of Isis, the cat, I’m now determined to convince my friend to shave an Islamic crescent moon into the animal’s fur.

Apparently the neighbor said something about the cat confusing kids, who are just learning about the militants. At any rate, that’s about as far as Natalie got before my hands and arms took on a life of their own, flailing like flies were trying to get into my mouth and land on my eyeballs.

“Wait, wait, wait…she said WHAT!?”

What low-watt adults are these, inflicting the media’s 24-hour terrorist hostility feed onto children? Show me kids who are so ruinously strobed by ISIS media hype that they’d confuse a house cat with the Islamic bogeyman and I’ll show you parents who need an ass-kicking in a parking lot.

I had to sit down and be convinced not to confront the woman, demand she never speak to Natalie again, and wish mortuary cannibalism upon her.

But it was Nat’s failure to laugh that gave me pause. She’d actually taken the woman somewhat seriously, I could tell, which re-prioritized the mission at hand. I realized I needed to listen, to offer Natalie counsel. (more…)

On the Concerns of Others…

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

I'm feeling happiness for someone else? This never happens!Deny this ugly age of self mania; recognize the concerns of others.

Something I dislike about myself is that I’m occasionally caught off guard by my reaction to the concerns of others. I spend so much time pretending to care that when it’s real, my whole being awakens. And it doesn’t matter if my bureaucratic, rubber-stamping brain comes along or not.

Finding myself 100% unreservedly happy for someone else’s joy, for instance, makes me need to find a chair, fast; to think and relish the awareness before it fades. Sadly, I can only remember nine or ten instances in which I recognized the strange sensation of wanting to sing out-loud because something good happened to someone else.

It works the other way too, like it did with Big Wednesday, a well-fed, fifty-something homeless guy with sun-bleached dreads. I hadn’t seen him when I pulled into the gas station, but suddenly he was at my bumper. (more…)

A Billboard for Brainlessness Pt. 2

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Jeffrey Chapman’s trial begins next week. He’ll wear a turtleneck.

MUG_SHOT_MURDER_Jeffrey Wade ChapmanFor those unfamiliar with the young man’s plight, Jeffrey Wade Chapman is an accused murderer who doesn’t want to start his murder trial with the word “MURDER” tattooed across his neck. In April of this year, I mistakenly closed a previous Chapman entry, “A Billboard for Brainlessness,” with, “as far as most are concerned, that’s the end of his story.”

Turns out, not only does Chapman’s saga continue (the trial was postponed pending his court-ordered mental evaluation), I think I’ve figured out a way for his defense to turn that tattooed frown upside down!

Chapman’s attorney previously appealed to the court to allow a professional tattoo artist into the jail to obscure, alter, or remove the tattoo from his client’s throat, but he’d been turned down. So, between the prosecutor, the judge, and the sheriff running the jail, alternate ideas of a turtleneck and fake bandages had been proposed. The turtleneck won, which I find disappointing ’cause I really wanted to see the bandage idea in action. Imagine the distraction in the courtroom!Courtesy KSNW-TV Wichita

The sheer volume of gauze and medical tape required would make it tough to keep a straight face. How could the defendant – or anyone for that matter – manage to behave as if it wasn’t there? Watching someone otherwise unimpeded by the serious injury such a large bandage implies would be off the hook. I can just imagine Chapman, mid-proceedings, jabbing his fingers between fraying layers of gauze to get at an itch and expecting no one to notice he has no difficulty responding verbally to the judge’s questions – again despite his apparently sizable wound.

That’s not to say the turtleneck won’t be an elephant in the room on its own. But now I believe Chapman would be best served by leaving the tattoo exposed. In fact, it could be one of those crazy-daring defense maneuvers silly jurors love to be charmed by.

(more…)

An Affront to James Brady

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Ruling James Brady’s death a murder is to piss on his brave legacy.

After this image hit the press, Many Americans were upset the Secret Service used Israeli Uzi submachine guns instead of American-made firearms.The passing this week of James Brady, former White House press secretary, has been ruled a homicide 33 years after he was wounded in John Hinckley’s attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan.

Jim “The Bear” Brady, a friendly, unpredictably witty, and satirical man, survived being shot in the head, even though his life was changed forever. Brain damage and partial paralysis kept him wheelchair bound; his speech was slurred, and he was in a good deal of pain until the day he died. Nancy Reagan reflected that knowing him meant learning what it truly is to “play the hand we’re dealt.”

Brady became an example of what I believe matters most in life: Living, not by what you think happens to you, but instead by what actually does.

Which is exactly what someone needs to remind the North Virginia Medical Examiner, who, in making this pronouncement 33 years late, did nothing more than tee up another round of partisan hate-trading –this time about whether John Hinckley should be prosecuted for murder.

Is it just me, or does this come from the same playbook someone will triumphantly read from when “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs are discovered in 40 years? (more…)

Zamperini and Me

Monday, August 4th, 2014

"During the Olympics, I tore Hitler's swastika flag off the Reich Chancellery. I thought, 'Boy, what souvenir!'"

Seriously, shoot me if I ever name-drop –– except this once…

“Zamperini and Me” is simple to explain; the late Louis Zamperini had been my neighbor.

I didn’t know he was my neighbor until we were introduced through a mutual friend, Dena, who’d petered out beneath a big tree while jogging one day. A chainsaw firing up above her head caused her to spaz and discover a then 90-year-old Louis Zamperini, 15 feet up and clinging to branches. He guided the saw through a thick limb and only took notice of her when it fell at her feet. Or so she thought.

“Hello!” he shouted, repositioning himself to see her better.

“Hi!” she answered. “Need any help?”

“Nahh, been doing this since I bought the place, thanks. Besides, young lady, you need to keep running. Your form could improve.”

And there it was: constructive criticism from a famed Olympic athlete, a veteran of the men’s 5000 meter race. Apparently, he’d watched her flail all the way up the hill.

He climbed down to meet an equal of sorts; Dena is a short, hugely stubborn Italian. The two hit it off, and before long were enjoying tea as the sunset’s glow reached Zamperini’s collection of Olympic torches in the living room of his hillside post-and-beam home.

Now, I’m already convinced that Dena’s soul is on loan from WWII infantryman turned B-movie filmmaker, Sam Fuller, but she was really on fire after that. “You’ve got to meet Louis,” I heard again and again. “He’s so great and his story is incredible. You’ll really like him.”

I didn’t know the half of it. (more…)