Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Foolproof Confederate Flag

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

THE CONFEDERATE FLAG IS A STRAIGHTJACKET_Where Excuses Go to DieThe “Heritage not Hate” defense is dead.
No more cautiously tolerated rationalizations.   

No more excuses.

Nine people gave their lives so the Confederate flag could finally be rendered foolproof — ’cause now even fools have a chance to drop its baggage and let it go.

To people who pretend the Confederate flag is a symbol of freedom from government: let it go.
To those who lament the slow bulldozing of Southern pride: read the writing on the 150-year-old wall and let it go.
To anyone who claims the Confederate flag is not representative of racism: let it go.
To people who say the Civil War was ages ago, Charleston church gunman Dylan Roof was last week: let it go.
To cultural identifiers proud of Dixie, resistant to change and mad as hell: let it go.
To Southerners who blame haters for turning people against their colors: give us a break and let it go.

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NO EXCUSES FOR CUBA Pt. 2

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Habana Centro_Where Excuses Go to Die5I may have returned from Cuba a more informed tourist, but I remain a clumsy narrator, for I’ve experienced more than I know how to process at once.

So, with my eye ever on excuses (and a reliance on my iPhone camera for more complete coverage), I’ll just jump right in.

Our casa particular was in Habana Centro, the most densely populated district in the city of Havana, where much of life is spent where the action is: right outside the building in which one lives. Street sports like handball, self-regulating pet and child care, gossip, singing merchants, colorful laundry Habana Centro_Where Excuses Go to Die3being pinned to decaying balconies, inventive refuse repurposing, prostitution, championship dominoes, and, of course, more vintage Chevy tweaking than outside a Barrett-Revolutionary Square_Where Excuses Go to DieJackson auction are daily occurrences, rain or shine. Drivers use their horns in polite little taps to warn pedestrians, slower cars, and ubiquitous bicycle taxis that they’re approaching from behind, because walking in the middle of the narrow streets is necessary – and not because the city lacks sidewalks. This is about Darwinian natural selection: misshapen rebar barely clinging to crumbles of concrete isn’t just a photo op, it’s a reminder that falling chunks of rotting rooftops are common, especially following an afternoon downpour. Our local host was explaining this to my wife when a basketball sized slab of wall proved his point a few feet away.

Habana Centro_Where Excuses Go to Die1

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NO EXCUSES FOR CUBA

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

CUBA_Where Excuses Go to DieThe Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Cuba one of the ten most censored countries in the world. I make no excuses for needing to see what this looks and feels like. 

I’ll be doing so as a woefully under-informed US tourist later this week, so I’m under no illusion I’ll be able to see as deeply into the island’s infrastructure as I’d like or be creased as deeply as I’d prefer the Cuban wrinkle to go. But as much as this Yanqui is eligible to absorb — socially, culturally, and spiritually — is as much as I hope my heart can handle. (more…)

Confessions of a Texas Taunter

Monday, April 6th, 2015

TEXAS HATE LINEFor years I’ve sworn my epitaph will read, “…and he never set foot in Texas.”

  • Texas is one of the worst states to be either a child or an old person.
  • Its high school dropout rate makes the Alamo look like the Iwo Jima flag raising.
  • It seems fitting that this Lone Star of illiteracy is represented by a belt-buckle.
  • Gun-loving Texas is ranked last in the country in mental health spending and worst in health services, hospital care, and access to health insurance.
  • Its big #1 in carbon emissions and hazardous waste production is justified with claims of “per-resident emissions.”
  • Texans nearly top the list of most careless, worst drivers in America, but Houston scored 2014’s “Least Courteous” award. #guns
  • What’s not big in Texas? Voter turnoutcivic involvement, and political participation.

It’s a bit nitpicky to add that the average credit score in Texas has been the lowest in the country, because quality of life issues and countrified comedy gold are consequential, not illustrative. So instead, I’ll choose the one thing I’ve most openly mocked Texans for over the years – defending their vulgar bravado with “Don’t judge us ’til you hang with us.” (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…)

Christmas Cards My Ass

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

There are many excuses for not sending holiday cards. Here’re mine:

Holiday Cheer_Where Excuses Go to DieChristmas cards, holiday cards, greeting cards – whatever people wanna call ’em, I don’t care.

It’s been many years since I purchased a greeting card, because the greeting card industry has become insulting. It pushes homogenized sentiments and condescending condolences that are marketed as if buyers were monkeys. While card aisles and displays are perfectly convenient and, yes, could come in handy someday, I must say I did better in a prison cell with magazine collages, glue sticks, and agitated screamers to my left ‘n right.

Yes sir or ma’am: I heavily promoted my “John has turned over a new leaf” brand by mailing handmade greeting cards to friends and family who were on the fence about me. For one, I was determined to prove that my imagination would never be replaced by swastika tattoos and institutionalized hatred. Watching the arrival and transformation of so many gullible young men into seething and explosive monsters positively inspired me to trade even my meals for whatever I needed to stay creative, expressive, and weird.

And there were just certain things I couldn’t re-embrace upon returning to the civilian world. First among them, coincidentally, was store-bought greeting cards. Why? Because I was fresh out of the joint one day and nudged toward a cousin’s birthday party the next. I looked at the clock, gathered the things I’d need (accessing real scissors was a plus), and never looked back.

All these years and hundreds of greeting cards later, the only downside has been visiting my parents during the holidays to find my own card among their others, displayed writing-side out (as if the interior sentiment were the thing!). Apparently my mom is uncomfortable with the idea of guests commenting on the one that’s “different.” My cards are as professionally made as the Thomas Kinkades, yet the images I choose are antidotal to forced-marching-to-the-glowing-Christmas-cottage.

But never mind all that self-congratulatory poo, here are my excuses for not lifting a finger this year: (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…)

Born into Phone Plans

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Bigger than your worst nightmaresGUEST POST: 17-yr-old Grant Calderone on the future of phone plans.

If you’re asking me to shell out $749 for a smartphone, don’t market it to me like it’s a hamburger.

It’s hard to imagine Apple, Inc. desperate for anything, but the company has been squirming to return to prominence under the smartphone spotlight following the failure of its cheap and synthetic iPhone 5C.

We didn’t see the fall of tech’s Holy Roman Empire, but it was pie in the face of Steve Jobs’ legacy nonetheless. Now, with the the length of the iPhone 6+ exceeding six inches, infamous media manipulator Apple has detoured the public’s attention from design brilliance to bigness in one product. What’s next? A lifestyle clothing line featuring pockets fit for a smartphone king? A true visionary, MC Hammer sported iPants years ahead of their prime. (more…)

Marijuana Storytelling and You

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Commander Blast-off celebrates his promotion  to the rank of Field MarshalWhatever your opinion of pot, haven’t you one good marijuana story?

A friend of mine was so baked once that he walked into a department store women’s restroom, surprising the hell out of a lady with his leather jacket, orange mohawk, and T-shirt featuring Ronald Reagan in a penis hat. All the guy did was turn a wrong corner, but the woman’s horror movie screams could be heard on every floor. We were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe for three straight minutes. Watching this big, punk rock tough guy fly out of a ladies’ room like dobermans were on him was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Of course, we were stoned as well, but that was a long time ago and I’m still laughing.

Another time, a young schoolmate of mine created a pipe out of a piece of fruit, employing the sediment screen from a bathroom faucet to line the “bowl.” My dad had to replace so many of our family faucet screens after that, he still mentions it to this day.

Then there was that rumor circulating at the record store where I worked. A female colleague had gotten stoned for the first time ever, run out into the middle of traffic, and was promptly struck and killed. I was told this on my first day by my new manager, who fired up a joint and blew smoke into the air-conditioning vent to prevent our fallen co-worker from haunting us. This manager told me all employees who smoked were required to do likewise. (He turned out to be a cabbage-headed idiot and the story wasn’t true.)Bought this sticker on Venice Beach in 1989, but never stuck it to anything becasue it was always too good to waste –don't judge me

The very last time I smoked pot, I was headed north to hang lights on a movie set with a crew-mate who handed me a fatty somewhere near Bakersfield. After three big lungfuls, my brain suddenly hit me with, DUDE. You borrowed all those CDs from Angelo and you never returned ’em. You are SUCH an asshole! For the next hundred miles, thoughts of this failure returned to the same piece of music. All those CDs…such an asshole…never gave ’em back. Now, from a great distance, I can laugh at this as well.

And smoking or not, I still enjoy the camaraderie of others’ shared marijuana experiences, be they friends younger than me or those with whom I otherwise have little in common.

Because who hasn’t heard a stupid-good pot story that was rich with takeaways? You either laugh or scoff at the near-miss folly (fortunately someone else’s) or you guilt trip the person at the center of your intervention: either way, there’s something for everyone. The world would be a little duller without ganja-themed storytelling. (more…)

“A fact that needs to be spoken”

Monday, July 21st, 2014

His limitlessly enthusiastic facial expressions just kill me_HBOJohn Oliver joins the national dialogue on prison reform – vividly.

I’m sure it will surprise no readers of this blog to know I’m a radicalized John Oliver fan.

From Net Neutrality to the World Cup, I’m thrilled at the breath of fresh air HBO has allowed Oliver to blow our way on the topics of the day. As I watched this piece last night, I was pleased to see that just about every prison reform and private prison-related topic I’ve covered here – he nails. But, of course, the best part of the segment is the musical number. By singing about prison reform with Sesame Street muppets he sends it all over the top, simplifying the issue, making us laugh, educating and surprising us.

It’s a fact that needs to be spoken

America’s prisons are broken

It’s a hard truth about incarceration

prisons are needed for our civilization

But mandatory minimums for heroin and crack

stack the system against Hispanics and Blacks

Our prison population is bigger than Slovenia

‘Cause we put people in jail instead of treating schizophrenia!

Oliver and his writing team are hilarious. For me, they created a valuable tool I can use to snow plow through an otherwise complex issue. Helping to widen people’s understanding of incarceration in America and those behind bars just became a little easier. Thank you John Oliver.