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April 7, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe


 
In the film, Running the Sahara, Charlie Engle pulls the ultimate dick move on his two running partners towards the end of the journey after acting like a jerk most of the way.

One might imagine that that is what motivated Robert Nordlander to go after him with such vehemence.
posted by euphorb at 7:07 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's easy in our day to day life to ignore the harm the prison system does to people and families just so we can sleep safe from the bogey man. Does it do society any good to lock him away for a wide collar crime when he could be making restitution some other way and able to raise his kids?
posted by arcticseal at 7:47 PM on April 7, 2013


God, what a fatuous piece of tripe. The author just hand waves away his own premise, swearing his subject was like, totally railroaded, man, but offers no evidence that this is the case nor even an explanation of how this outrage came to pass. Little things like facts tend to clutter up an essay, of course, and he needs plenty of room to talk about how other people's misfortunes make him feel so bad because he's so sensitive, and that's why he deliberately cultivates their acquaintance, cause it's like, a good hurt, you know? To wit:
I wrote about the one-legged traveling magician I’d met in Nicaragua, years before, who was a drunk and whose drinking made me unspeakably sad; how I thought of him years later when I tripped, drunk, on a pair of crutches of my own.
I mean, good Christ, how does he breathe with his head so far up there?
posted by Diablevert at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I mean, good Christ, how does he breathe with his head so far up there?

Her. I guess you missed the last half of the essay where she goes to the prison and is chided for wearing a skirt. Ironically this is also the section of the article which talks about her discomfort with playing voyeur to this guy's suffering.
posted by codacorolla at 7:58 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


God, what a fatuous piece of tripe. The author just hand waves away his own premise, swearing his subject was like, totally railroaded, man, but offers no evidence that this is the case nor even an explanation of how this outrage came to pass.

I have to agree that that was really annoying to read and that the author really seems to love making claims without even the most basic evidence or justification communicated to the reader (Like, why the hell did she regard her "body as an object and agent of violation"? Does she ever explain that? Did the guard ask her to put her purse in a locker in a really sleazy way or something?) but the author appears to be a woman. The incarcerated guy says to her "You probably shouldn’t wear Daisy Dukes or a tube top" when she comes to visit.
posted by XMLicious at 8:20 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Her. I guess you missed the last half of the essay where she goes to the prison and is chided for wearing a skirt. Ironically this is also the section of the article which talks about her discomfort with playing voyeur to this guy's suffering.

I apologise; I hadn't yet finished the piece I admit. I'm glad I have now; some of the deepest chuckles were buried in the second half. The most amusing thing was the unspoken tension between the varied aims. He flirts, she exploits.

But most of all it struck me as an astonishingly callow piece, and self-satisfied to be so. She had her narrative and her metaphor in her head before she ever went down there, and any variations from it discombobulated her and she rushed in to paper them over with a little more featherweight musing. She decided what the place was like and what the point was before she experienced dick, and she was too afraid the truth would harm her moral to seek it.
posted by Diablevert at 8:22 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh - okay - the fact that she's wearing a skirt is on a list of "small mistakes" she made as pointed out by the guard. I would have thought that, if as she says it was a long skirt that would be the problem - that it could be used to conceal contraband. Like, she mentioned drug couriers throwing footballs full of cocaine over the fence. But maybe the guard was leering as he said it.
posted by XMLicious at 8:27 PM on April 7, 2013


As long as we're piling on, I'd like to observe that interstate 79 never goes through Maryland.
posted by tss at 8:52 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, let me just say I'm glad I posted this, because doing so gave me the opportunity to learn the word, "fatuous".
posted by latkes at 8:54 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the film, Running the Sahara, Charlie Engle pulls the ultimate dick move on his two running partners towards the end of the journey after acting like a jerk most of the way.

I haven't seen it. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of his behaviour?
posted by fatbird at 9:03 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is MFA-level purple prose.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:34 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't get the hate here. Does she have to prove his innocence of mortgage fraud to make you feel empathy for him? He's not a murderer. I found her descriptions affecting and touching and the personal touches about herself were nearly all self-deprecating. She is honest about the voyeur aspect of her visit.

If anyone knows more to this story that makes it all a sham, please explain. Otherwise I really don't understand the accusations of purple prose, unless you demand dry newspaper-type reporting from this essay for some reason.
posted by emjaybee at 9:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen it. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of his behaviour?

Despite his antics (or maybe because of them) the documentary is worth watching so I don't want to spoil it here but he shows a lack of respect for all the people surrounding him and it's clear by the end that the whole desert crossing is one big ego trip.
posted by euphorb at 10:07 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


He flirts, she exploits.

I had some stylistic and rhetorical complaints about the piece that have already been done to death above*, but I don't quite see that Engle is exploited by this piece anymore than are interview subjects in general, necessarily and mostly pretty benignly.

This piece reminds me of Jonathan Franzen's essay "Control Units", in the sense that each attempts to discuss the prisons-as-jobs-projects-in-gutted-economies issue, and in the sense that each author interviews a somewhat high-profile prisoner. (Franzen spoke with Mutulu Shakur.) I don't really think "Fog Count" benefits from the comparison, but it did at least make me spend a few minutes wondering about problematic shit.

I wanted to say some other stuff, but it's surprisingly uncomfortable criticizing prose, in prose, in present company.

*latkes, if you need more examples of situations in which the word "fatuous" is warranted, here is one: "How was I to know the author was a woman? The byline says Leslie! There are dudes called Leslie!"
posted by kengraham at 10:17 PM on April 7, 2013


Probably with mentioning because it isn't clear from the essay-- he was a borrower, not a lender. This guy went to prison for something millions of people did. He lied about his income on a mortgage application.

It's a gross miscarriage of justice whether he really did it or not.
posted by empath at 11:15 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was an interview with him in Runner's World when he got released from prison last year that people might find interesting.
posted by Lame_username at 11:18 PM on April 7, 2013


XMLicious: "(Like, why the hell did she regard her "body as an object and agent of violation"? Does she ever explain that? Did the guard ask her to put her purse in a locker in a really sleazy way or something?)"

You don't get to put the 'objectified' part of womanhood down just because you're at work. You don't need a proof or an act right there, right then, to know you're objectified.

She was a woman going into a men's prison - you think she could pretend she wasn't being objectified both as a woman and as a woman going voluntarily into a men's prison?
posted by geek anachronism at 11:53 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's an article about the charges against Mr. Engle.

I'm a little bit unclear about it after reading this. Mr Engle was doing real estate speculation, refinancing properties and pulling money out of them with these loans. If the refinance is based on false income statements, then that looks pretty questionable (quite a bit different than the homeowner with overextended loan story we have seen too much of).

Nevertheless the article makes clear how the the bankers and brokers were making a heck of a lot more money and had reduced sentences or no jail time at all.
posted by eye of newt at 12:07 AM on April 8, 2013


emjaybee: Does she have to prove his innocence of mortgage fraud to make you feel empathy for him?

At the very least, knowing what exactly it is he was accused of doing and having his broker do might make it easier for me to feel the way the article is instructing me to feel: to be outraged that she can't bring her purse in with her, or that it's "an act of violence to disagree with him about his own life in any way." Or I might be more willing to accept the narrative that the IRS agent was just a bitter misanthrope who "was a kid who got his head flushed down the toilet" if I had the feeling that the author had even attempted to investigate, much less tell, his side of the story.

Yes, many of the things she mentions - sexual abuse in American prisons, corruption of prison guards, the criminalization of marjuana and how drug laws ruin many lives, the environmental depredations of mining companies which have ravaged the landscape in West Virginia - are unquestionably very bad things. Which is why it feels like she's just mixing them in there to get the reader to accept her interpretation that Engle's conviction and imprisonment were also unquestionably very bad and that the law enforcement people who pursued him and the corrections officers who keep him penned up are awful malicious people.

She seems to readily accept and passes on to us a remark from him about how he hates evil, for example, but doesn't apparently have any interest in what anyone else has say about him or his case or in conveying much objective evidence to support her conclusions.

geek anachronism: She was a woman going into a men's prison - you think she could pretend she wasn't being objectified both as a woman and as a woman going voluntarily into a men's prison?

I can quite easily believe that she was objectified and violated by some of the people in the prison, though I'm not quite clear about what she meant by saying that her body was an agent of violation; what I asked was why. She didn't appear to be making a general statement there - it was in a paragraph about interacting with one particular person. But like most of the article, she isn't trying to convince or persuade or even be very specific in her accusations: she simply states her conclusions and expects the reader to accept them.

It's entirely within the realm of possibility that all of the claims she made, and his claims that she relayed to us, are unambiguously true. But if so she didn't do a good job in communicating that and is asking for a heck of alot of faith on the reader's part, which at least seems worth conveying to other people considering reading through the whole thing.
posted by XMLicious at 12:28 AM on April 8, 2013


I should also say that it's the omitted information that made it annoying for me to read, because she would say things and I'd immediately have what seem like obvious questions, and proceed onward but those questions would never get answered. As far as the quality of the prose it does have some grandiose flourishes but I doubt I'd do any better stylistically while trying to write the same sort of thing.
posted by XMLicious at 12:38 AM on April 8, 2013


It's MBA-level prose
posted by thelonius at 2:57 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've spent a fair amount of time in the Fayetteville/Beckley area of West Virginia. The area, for me, has always had a ,uhm, unique mixture of incredible natural beauty with an undercurrent of desperation and foreboding. (West Virginia truly has an embarrassment of riches, but can't seem to escape its hardscrabble reality.) The writer captured that fairly well, but if you haven't been there you can't feel it like she did, I think.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:32 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's MBA-level prose

Holy CROW that's cold.
posted by nevercalm at 6:44 AM on April 8, 2013


Sorry, I know the guy is in jail on trumped up charges, but the writer lost me when the spanakopita caught fire in the toaster oven.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hm. I think there is a definite difference between a news article or in-depth report and what I assumed she was doing here, which I saw as more of a personal essay/mood piece/rumination. I wasn't expecting her to be objective or give me all the details on his crimes because I didn't actually see her as having an agenda (any more than any writer does). Or if she does, it is "here is what I experienced and what I think about it". She tells only a few details and includes his random comments, but I didn't think she was actually trying to convince us of his innocence; more speaking to the tragedy of incarceration in general.

Maybe I am just used to more up-front polemics these days. Or maybe it's a failed polemic I happened to enjoy.
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The writer lost me with this: "Jennings asks me whether Charlie ever got that cyst drained. I say I’m not sure. I have also failed at being a good pen pal." Whether that's sincere or overweening sarcasm, ugh.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2013


The incarcerated guy says to her "You probably shouldn’t wear Daisy Dukes or a tube top" when she comes to visit.

Her. I guess you missed the last half of the essay where she goes to the prison and is chided for wearing a skirt.


I suppose "Leslie" could be a male or female name, and it's never explicitly said that the author is female. (Although if you read the entire essay with the assumption that the author is male, the banal melodramatic style that the essay is written in becomes unintentionally hilarious at several points.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:08 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I liked her analog between strip mining and the real estate bubble, the untouchable rich escaping in the fog, Charlie and West Virginia left behind on honeycombed stilts, impossible to move without stepping into the holes.

If you're reading it as an investigative piece intended to prove his innocence, CourtTV has a spoonful of justice just waiting for you.
posted by surplus at 12:15 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want to spoil it here

If anybody ever needed proof that the notion of spoiler has gone too far. Hello--it is a documentary--you can't spoil reality.

Anyway, please, somebody, just tell me what this guy did to those other people. I'm genuinely curious, but I'm not going to put half an hour into searching for just the right article where the author is willing to "spoil the documentary", or 2 hours into watching the thing.
posted by Chuckles at 2:59 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I skimmed the documentary last night. It's on netflix instant if you're interested.

He basically seems to have lied to his teammates in order to try to get ahead of them in what was supposed to be a team effort (not a race) to run across the sahara. He did come off as pretty douchey - IMHO.
posted by latkes at 4:00 PM on April 8, 2013


The author declaring that it's an act of violence to have any skepticism, and to clearly expect the same level of regard from her readers, obviously puts the bar way, way lower than an investigative piece or in-depth report - it definitely wasn't that I found it lacking or annoying to read because I was holding it to journalistic standards after reading that bit.

I don't think you have to be a devotee of CourtTV to not find it very much of a tragedy that she couldn't bring a bag or purse full of random stuff into a meeting with a guy in a prison where other prisoners are knifing each other over debts, or to not get too somber over the fact that instead of vegan spanakopita he's looking forward to vending machine snacks and crappy commissary food. If you enjoy that sort of rumination by all means but personally I found myself more often identifying with the people who had to deal with her rather than identifying with the author or her perspective.
posted by XMLicious at 8:26 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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