Tonight There’s Gonna Be A Jailbreak Tonight

December 18, 2007

You’d almost think it was a movie.

Two inmates in New Jersey escaped from jail a few days ago. Prison escapes are hardly common, but you hear about them often enough to supply TNT with enough “Based on a True Story” movies for the rest of eternity.

However, in this case, the method of escape is worth noting. The inmates, jailed for robbery and manslaughter, managed to remove two cement blocks from their cell and crawl out, then scale a 25-foot fence to freedom, even if that freedom was, on first glance, New Jersey. And how did these two inmates manage to conceal their escape route? They covered the holes with posters of scantily clad ladies.

In some sense, one wishes these two were in jail for things like embezzlement or petty theft, because you have to hand it to anyone as inventive as, say, a Hollywood scriptwriter to make such a daring and convenient escape. It’s a shame not to throw a few kudos to these fellows, except for that whole killing someone thing.

Elaborate prison escapes are a staple of armchair tacticians and overly creative dullards, the stock plot of countless movies and detective fiction. Fox’s Prison Break is a hit show about just that. Well, about a long, winding and boring lead-up to it, and then a complex and artificial set of plot lines to prop it up for a few additional seasons, but, hey, when you’re in the clink, what else you got to do? But when one of the scumbags actually pulls off such a stunt, we’re all outranged because he might hide out around in the woods and disturb the livestock or something. But back in our minds, we just got to hand it to the guys for pulling off a fast one in a compound specifically designed to prevent it. It’s kind of like the guy who mistakes an unprovable proof on the blackboard as a homework assigned then goes home and solves it, only with a lot more gunshots and profanity and a lot less never getting laid in college.

Even in the world of music, prison escapes are a popular theme, somewhere between the ingestion of LSD and detailing the heroic efforts of the crews of sinking freighters in the Great Lakes area. Elvis has a hit with “Jailhouse Rock,” which raised some eyebrows at the time. It was bad enough he was thrusting his pelvis and putting pressure on guys world-round to buy more brylcreem, he was glorifying criminality and, by extension, trying to overthrow the Pope and put fluoride in the water. Even Johnny Cash was fond of prisons, garnering a hit song from “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he wrote in honor of the one thing he cared about the most—Reese Witherspoon’s ass. Thin Lizzy and AC/DC also have jailbreak anthems befitting their repertoire, though one is remarkably less than surprised about that.

Still, despite the repugnance that street criminals are roaming about after being justly convicted, many of us hold a kind of latent feeling of awe at the prospect. There isn’t a much more stark contrast between authority versus subject in society than prison, and many of us can relate. Sure, we’re only talking about how our bosses make us work late or how our mothers forced us to wear ridiculous things to school no one this side of the western world has ever conceived of wearing, but we can relate at escaping the fascist grip of authority from our lives. Most of us take a pee-in-the-swimming-pool passive aggressive approach to sticking it to the man, but you gotta have brass one to accept the Physical Challenge when you’re up against government-contracted masonry, Homeland Security-funded security systems, and guards with personality issues and lethal weaponry.

And so it goes with our love-hate relationship with the prisoner. On one hand, they’ve broken the law, and most of them are violent thugs with little regard for law, life or, more importantly, private property rights. On the other hand, though, many people feel that most criminals are simply victims of circumstance, creatures to be pitied and rehabilitated rather than mocked and dismissed. In psychological terms, these people are known as “pussies,” and will forever remain as such up until the point when someone siphons the gas out of their hatchback. Then all of a sudden it’s a clarion call to plug in Ol’ Sparky.

The two fellows who pulled the Shawshank certainly had something going on besides bucket-headedness and adrenaline-based excuses at failing life. Most prisoners, given to their own devices, would simply stage a riot, taser a guard, or throw food loafs at the warden, usually with the end result of getting thrown in solitary or be forced to live off of paint flakes and mouse urine for nutrition. The criminal element is not usually made up of potential Jeopardy contestants. And yet there has to be a certain level of cognitive genius to pull off an escape, so making a blanket statement probably is a disservice to, uh, criminals. Of course, the mark of a true genius is not to be put in jail in the first place.

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Hungry Like the ‘Wulf

November 18, 2007

Rising from the deep murkiness of the dark, soulless lake in Denmark or possibly Norway, I think, Beowulf returns. Just in time, I suspect, for the Christmas movie season.

When the classic poem Beowulf was written lies suspended in the swirling mists of historical inaccuracy, the target area of composition being in that questionable range of “between the eighth and tenth centuries,” a level of exactness I am used to hearing from weather forecasters and potential girlfriends when asked when our next date may be. Though to be fair at least the historians don’t leave one of the ends as a standing infinity.

It also has a rather unfortunate distinction of being, like Jessica Alba and Derek Jeter, of indeterminate origin. While apparently a strictly Anglo-Saxon composition, it’s clearly of Scandinavian influence, with extraneous slashes and a lot of talk about fishing boats and cell phones.

As a story, Beowulf is equal parts fascinating and rather unremarkable. A kingdom is ravaged by the monster Grendel, ironically one of the few characters of the poem that does not sound like it was composed out of the reject Scrabble letters. The monster, it seems, is unhappy with all of the singing and the celebration of the king’s warriors and subjects, Grendel apparently being a likely candidate as next year’s Resident Assistant. He patiently waits for the men to sleep, then sneaks in and eats a majority of the army.

Now at this point I have to stop and ponder. It seems rather odd that a monster would be able to sneak into a castle and eat a majority of the warriors. Even the drunkest of soldiers would probably elbow up perpendicular to the ground wondering what the fuss is about. I have to assume that either the king’s men were recruited during a shift change at the local Denny’s or someone was dropping Aqua Dots in the mead.

Beowulf, a warrior from a neighboring people, hears of the king’s plight. He offers his services, which the decimated king quickly accepts, and overcomes the beast by tricking the monster and ultimately killing him. Grendel’s mother, filled with an estrogen-fueled rage, assuming medieval Scandinavian monsters produce estrogen, comes to avenge his death, using pretty much the exact same game plan—waiting for the king’s men to sleep, then eats one of them. At this point one begins to suspect that the king’s men weren’t exactly resting up for the SATs. Beowulf quickly dispatches the matron by beheading her after being pulled down into the bottom of the lake and fussing about with +10 swords and immunity spells and a bunch of other weird crap like that.

Beowulf is named king of his own people in recognition of his bravery, and lives a long, boring life that is stretched out for what seems like two thousand couplets. Late in the stages of his life, though, one of Beowulf’s subjects and potential Mensa president sneaks into a dragon’s lair and steals a goblet of indeterminate worth. The dragon, awakening from his slumber, finds the object missing and reacts by burning half the world while tracking down the thief. Beowulf and a red-shirted accomplice with the extraordinarily non-masculine name of Wiglaf go after the dragon, since the remaining population is too frightened to join in the fun, and ultimately are victorious. Alas, Beowulf is mortally wounded and demands that he be buried with all of the dragon’s sizable treasure, ostensibly since the treasure is cursed but you and I both know it’s a not-so-subtle way of an elderly king being forced to fight a dragon saying to his subjects, “piss off, you ungrateful cowards.” And everything ends peacefully, except for Wiglaf, who somehow gets nothing but the shaft out of the whole deal.

Like most ancient literature, Beowulf is scarily one-dimensional. He is a warrior first and foremost, and, to be honest, second, third, and fourth. There aren’t any extended scenes where he describes his feelings to his therapist or higher being, no long talks with a sensitive brother or submissive female. It’s all about hacking, slashing, and the oft-alluded to hedonistic pleasures he will be granted to him upon his successful return, assuming that occurs.

Beowulf’s roster is full of oddly-named characters, as if someone spilled orange juice in the keyboard of the anonymously creative Saxon who wrote it centuries ago, and all the consonants stuck together every time he tried to type something. There’s Hroogar, Wealhpeow, Hygelac, Ecgtheow, Hrunting, and Yrs, none of which I am 100% positive aren’t actually swords or amulets instead of monsters or people.

Of course, there is a lot of interest in this poem recently, which is generally disregarded unless you are attempting to pass, or teach, 10th grade English. The reason, of course, is that a big-budget 3-D version of an ancient, extremely boring poem was released this weekend. Granted, this is an epic poem tailor-made for Hollywood—monsters and fighting and sci-fi-franchise-style money-making potential and a slot for a strong female lead that gets to both 1) seduce and 2) kill someone. The latter is filled by the box-office draw Angelina Jolie, who recently made headlines at the premier when she noted that she was “startled” about how naked she looked all big on the big screen, the actress apparently not having access to the Internet.

Anyway, hopefully the effect of the movie will at least have some positive effect on literacy, much like what Lord of the Rings did for getting students interested in the fantasy genre and High School Musical did for staying home from the theater and reading something. When you have a gripping story, a classic and rich cultural heritage, and an actress with a fantastic rack, it’s amazing what literature can do.


The Sound of Violence

September 20, 2007

Is it just me, or have people become increasingly hostile?

First off, some stupid kid got himself tasered at a John Kerry event. Say what you will about it, but there’s only one way to get electrified listening to John Kerry is if someone shoots a couple hundred volts through your body. The stupid kid was upset when Kerry wouldn’t answer his question in a short enough time period. Not willing to shut the hell up, guards told him to come peacefully and, when he refused, was tasered.

His tasering has become a lightning rod (ha!) for protest, as many are decrying the fact that someone exercising their right to free speech was punished with physical force, and other are decrying that the security guards didn’t make him swallow his teeth.

This one is a tough call. To be fair, the guy wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, and many people believe that tasering the fellow was an overreaction. On the other hand, the guy was a complete douchebag, and the officers repeatedly advised him to shut his yap or risk getting a metal rod tapping your scrotum. He chose to keep on blathering, and then was shocked (ha!) when he was forcibly subdued.

There are few immutable truths in the world. One, of course, being that Lions for Lambs is going to be a complete load of horseshit. The other is that, if you are an individual, and you happen to come into the possession of a taser, you immediately have two options:

1) You will use the taser to electrocute someone.
2) You will not use the taser to electrocute someone.

Research indicates that every single person on the face of the earth since the very beginning of time, up to and including Quakers, kindergarten teachers, and Buddhist monks, will choose option number two. So the fact that this assgoblin got tasered really shouldn’t exactly be the most surprising thing on the face of the earth.

Speaking of people who need tasered, O.J. Simpson declared himself to be back in the news. And it’s not because he had someone ghost write a quasi-confession or he backed over a newborn or anything. It’s because he was connected with an armed robbery to recover sports memorabilia, which all in all is a pretty pussyish way to get back in the news for an accused murderer.

One can only imagine the dialogue that occurred before this heist:

Simpson: I think we need to break into that place and steal some stuff.
Accomplice #1: That’s a rotten idea.
Accomplice #2: (whispering) Hey, if we don’t do this, he will kill us.
Accomplice #1: Sounds like a plan.

Simpson initially claimed that he was simply recovering the items that had been stolen from him in the first place, which seems kind of silly since as soon as he admitted this, he would have to double-time it over to the Goldmans’s house and pony it up. It soon became apparent that this robbery, which apparently included no less than six dozen completely normal people, all of whom promised to not say a single word to anyone about the B&E being spearheaded by a famous football superstar turned double murderer.

It seems kind of odd, since robbery doesn’t really seem like Simpson’s M.O.—the murder he committed –cough, cough, I mean accused of committing—was famously a prime example of rage-fueled spontaneity. Still, Simpson wanted to take a stab at it (ha!) and see if he could recover the goods.

Still, it’s kind of disappointing that the Juice may be going away for armed robbery and attempted kidnapping. It’s like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. Everyone is hoping that he gets the chair for garroting a Subway sandwich artist or cracking open the skull of a theater usher with a sack of nickels in a fit of roid rage, but instead it’s because he’s trying to lift an autographed copy of the Criterion Collection edition of The Naked Gun 2 ½.

While Simpson is running around stealing trinkets, something a bit more in the way of large-scale destruction was happening halfway around the world. Vladimir Putin, Pending Emperor of the Russian Empire, detonated what is now classified as history’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb. It’s being hailed as a “vacuum” bomb, which seems a remarkably domesticated adjective for something that could easily decimate several former Soviet breakaway republics in a few seconds. You know, in theory.

One can only imagine the dialogue that occurred before this detonation:

Putin: I think we need to create the world’s most destructive weapon.
Cabinet Member #1: That’s a rotten idea.
Cabinet Member #2: (whispering) Hey, if we don’t do this, he will kill us.
Cabinet Member #1: Sounds like a plan.

This has raised some alarm in diplomatic circles. Putin has become increasingly despotic in his actions and words, and this is seen as a rather blatant power play to showcase his otherwise doldrumatic army, which is quickly descending into three parts listless hooligan and five parts mafia bagmen.

Still, while it may be a touch of overkill, Putin may have the most elegant solution of all. There won’t be any trials with which to pretend to not be able to fit into a glove, and there won’t be any signs of protest when a rent-a-cop shoves a cattle prod inside you. There will just be a lot of dust and a little bit less of the godless Siberia.


Family Jewels of Denial

July 9, 2007

The Central Intelligence Agency, in its bicentennial house-cleaning, recently released over 700 pages of formerly classified documents, heavily edited for the ubiquitous “national security.” (Please note that we are using the layman’s definition of “house-cleaning” in this sense…the CIA’s definition is decidedly more aggressive.)

When the CIA released the information, it brought to light much of the information about the agency’s activities in the past few decades. And by “brought to light” I mean “stuff that every single person on the face of the earth already knew.”

These are charmingly called the “family jewels,” a phrase no doubt coined by several agents over a good hearty laugh over the water cooler between funneling cocaine to Contras and deciding which Hungarian defector will have his testicles Zippoed first.

I’ve always been intrigued by the CIA. Not sure why. I don’t believe it’s the artificial romance that is falsely portrayed in the media. There isn’t any cool-looking gadgets that slice off limbs or Russian femme fatales who defect at simply the prospect of a guy finishing the job without vomiting potatoes and vodka on themselves. I think it’s the significance of doing something as your everyday job that you wouldn’t be allowed to do in real life. We all know full well that when I’m at work, I argue all day with the dim-witted redhead in activations about who gets to use the fax machine first, and they’re sitting around a table in Langley discussing the assassination of Salvodore Allende over a box of Kripsy Kremes. I bet they get full dental, too.

The CIA’s obsession with Fidel Castro seems strikingly off. I mean, sure, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs and the commies trying to take over everything including most breakfast cereals, but it seems like had they taken the amount of effort used to kill Castro into, say, overthrowing every other nation on the earth, including the Soviet Union itself, they still would have had enough time and resources to produce all three Mission: Impossible movies within budget and without having to resort to casting Tom Cruise.

It’s actually a kind of disturbing topic, but the imaginative ways that the CIA tried to assassinate Castro are almost magnificently comic. Here’s a list of the various methods in which the spooks tried to bring down the Cuban dictator:

An exploding conch shell, strategically placed in Castro’s favorite scuba diving spot. Had it worked, we not only would have rid the world of Castro but also had the world’s first spy mission inspired from a late-show Muppets throwaway skit.

A poison cigar. And not poison as in a liquid that kills you, but poison as in LSD. That’s right, they wanted Castro to trip on live national television and make him a laughingstock of the third world. Or, at the very least, only slightly less alarming than a televised interview Farrah Fawcett.

A beard-falling-out chemical. Don’t know what it is or what it’s called, but it apparently causes your hair to fall out when placed in your…boots. I guess. Rather than assassinating him, this tactic cooked up by the agency would embarrass him right before he went to speak at the UN. I can’t imagine how this would have worked. For one thing, I can’t think of anything more awkward than addressing the UN in the first place, except possibly addressing the UN while representing Israel.

Toxins. The closest the agency got to offing the Cuban leader was when they had a poison capsule full of botulinum toxins in a chocolate milkshake. In one of the tragic consequences of history, the capsule froze against the freezer it was in, and ripped open when the waiter/gambling addict who sold his soul to Allen Dulles went to drop it in. Had he succeeded, Castro would have died drinking a milkshake, a humiliating end to a glorious fighter for the communist cause. Still, it was safer and less humiliating than eating a Grand Slam at Denny’s.

The approximately eighty thousand attempts at offing Castro aren’t the only illegal items revealed in the documents. But most of these activities are almost quaint with a touch of modern-day reflection. Some of the apparently more egregious crimes include the following:

Surveillance of Brit Hume. That’s hardly a crime, I think; about two million people engage in surveillance of him every night, though admittedly I suspect most of that is, indeed, forced. The crime here, though, is—Brit Hume??! I mean, c’mon. Was Bill O’Reilly not antiestablishment enough for Nixon?

The opening of mail intended for delivery in the Soviet Union. This is a crime? Apparently the Soviet Union has never been married.

Funding “behavior modification” techniques on unsuspecting civilians. I know the quote marks are supposed to lead us to believe they’re talking about LSD, but I’m convinced they really mean the obvious government support of Martin and Rowan’s Laugh-In, which I wholly refuse to believe stayed on the air due to the market demand of Americans. If it truly was, well, then, I think Castro might have been on to something.


Death By Cricket

March 28, 2007

In this increasingly complex and globalized world, where we have Swedish furniture, Japanese steaks, and British jazz singers, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that an Indian-born Briton who played cricket in South Africa and coached the Pakistan team was murdered in Jamaica. Clue never had this.

Bob Woolmer was the coach of the Pakistan cricket team. After losing rather unexpectedly to Ireland at the Cricket World Cup being held in the West Indies, he was found rather unexpectedly dead in his hotel room in Jamaica. Unfortunately, this seemed to become an insurmountable obstacle to his developing career.

The intertwining global loyalties sound complicated, and, in a way, it is. I’ve seen Japanese game shows with less bewildering complexity. It’s got more drama than such famous gruesome murder cases such as O.J. Simpson, Jon-Benet Ramsey, or Sanjaya Malakar’s version of “You Really Got Me.” It’s got more twists than the ending of an M. Night Shyamalan film and Snoop Dogg’s visa application combined. (See how globalizingly progressive I am with my pop culture references?) But, as murder cases go, this one looks like it may stay under the radar of the American press unless an eight-year-old blonde girl somehow gets involved.

There are probably not too terribly many people in America who have heard of Bob Woolmer or have seen too many reports of his death. I certainly know I hadn’t, what with my subscription to People You Don’t Really Care That Much About and Would Never Have Heard About Under Any Other Circumstances Anyway Weekly lapsing. But while I’m vaguely aware of the massively colonial popularity of cricket, I’ll be the first to admit that it is a singularly confusing game, much more complex than the blue lines on hockey, the passer rating formula in football, or, well, the murder of Bob Woolmer.

Perhaps I underestimate myself a little bit. The central concept of cricket is a largely simple affair, at least when compared to other sports of a similar type. Like most competitive sports, it involves overpaid entitlement farmers with insecurity complexes batting a small round object around for a few hours a week for about five months out of the year. What I find most confusing, though, is that the entire concept of cricket is based around the thought of, “Hey, you know, baseball is boring and all, but…do you think there’s a way we could make it even more incredibly dull?”

(Sports historians may point out that cricket was invented before baseball, a point that I would like to advise is “culturally relative,” by which I mean that I have lied, plus that it hardly makes my point any less true.)

Tying cricket to a murder is perhaps a rather drastic way to excite up the game, since, like baseball, cricket is one part exciting physical drama and eighteen hundred parts guys standing around in drab uniforms staring at nothing in particular and scratching themselves. (Obligatory joke: and that’s just the fans!) That perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if commercial breaks, graphics with incredibly esoteric statistics, and color commentary could fill in the numerous gaps, but cricket games also have the distinction of being much, much longer than most entire sports seasons. For example, the first game of cricket is widely believed to have started in 1550 AD and has yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

But back to poor Bob Woolmer. Much of the information of the case is being taken from the Jamaican Gleaner, a rather comical name for a newspaper based in a country not exactly known for its judicious fact-finding aptitude. And calling your newspaper the Gleaner is kind of like calling your cricket team The Pakistan Cricket Players. Perhaps all of that latent creativity went to those rasta hats and inventing ways to sell “Jamaica” window decals with a “surprise” taped in a sandwich bag to the back of it.

There are many theories for the cause of death for Woolmer. The Jamaican-led investigation points to the fact that he was strangled and is currently classified as a homicide investigation, though to be fair the phrase “Jamaican investigation” is roughly equivalent to “Bahamian marriage,” so take that for what’s it’s worth. The only popular theory is that is it a gambling-related murder, since the only other crime associated with organized cricket is killing precious days of everyone’s lives. Then again, murder in Jamaica is just about as common as booths selling T-Shirts proudly proclaiming “Jamaican Me Crazy!”, so it hasn’t been completely ruled out as a random hit.

Still, there are enough doubts that no one is certain what is going on. Not an unusual state of affairs in Jamaica, I’m afraid. Woolmer had complained about a myriad of medical ailments before he died, though this is of dubious value since asphyxiation is rarely a symptom of Type II diabetes. And family members have attributed stress and breathing difficulties to a possible medical verdict. But it’s enough that, regardless of which way the investigation goes at this point, the Jamaican police forces, the media, and supportive citizens will not rest until the answers have been found. Or 4:20, whichever comes first.