Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Aaaaah. That's Nice.

Another good day. My knee is sore, there are scratches on my neck, hands and face. Bruises in my hairline from being pistol whipped at one point. Good day.

Didn't like it much at 0515 this morning. I'm a swing shifter and this early morning stuff is not pleasant. There's not enough coffee to make me happy to start training at 0700, but usually by about nine, I'm into it.

The tactical team worked on basic weapons skills- draws and moving/shooting. Then hours of movement, entries, clearing and searching. I taught classes on high risk restraints and using the restraint board- very technical joint locking and immobilizations. It also brough up one of the great moments of the day, a great moment for any instructor: when you watch someone you taught a skill that you invented and they teach it with absolute authority, with ownership. When you realize that they teach it better than you. Makes me proud.

Sore, though. I don't remember it hurting so much on other days when team members were kneeling on pressure point, extending my spine or controlling my joints. Either they're getting better or I'm getting older. Or both. Or else I've been teaching so much more than playing that my body isn't used to daily extreme pain.

Playing the bad guy, jumping out at the critical time, the moment of entry and being taken down, quick and hard (hence the pistol-whip bruises) by two of the most junior members of the team. Later, as I made entry, one of the role-players went for my weapon and I fired without hesitation. It would have been a good shoot and it is a situation I have trained to reflex and I have never fired in the same way and the same situation with a non-aggressive threat (we use passive surprise sometimes to try to draw a bad shot)... but deep down I'm concerned because it was so reflexive. That's good. It means my conscience is intact.

Finished the day with riot-control movement, which I fondly call "herding rabbits".
Life is good.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Something changed this morning and I don't quite know what. The world feels different today. I dreamt vividly, and I rarely remember my dreams. Further, I dreamt about a friend and since childhood I have never, ever dreamt about people I know- not my wife, not my children, and not my friends.

There's more, but it is vague and subtle. Maybe colors are a little brighter, maybe not. Maybe traffic seems a little less annoying. Spending hours taking care of office duties as the Officer in Charge (OIC) just doesn't feel like the usual boredom tinged hell.

Maybe smelling a change in the wind.

This should be interesting.

Not So Simple

Context is everything. Internal and external context. In strategic terms, goals and parameters are primary aspects of the context. A martial arist asked me what my "favorite attack" was and it's just not that simple. A matrix of context decides what is best in a given moment.

One way to look at it is that there are four very different types of fights one can get in to:
1) You are completely surprised.
2) You suspect something bad is happening but may not be sure when or what.
3) Mutual fight- you know it's coming and you're waiting for it.
4) You initiate the first attack.

That's one aspect of the matrix. Your favorite technique in the early stages of an agreed on fight (say backfist/side kick combo) is much different than your best option when a bottle is broken over the back of your head or when the creepy guy is standing too close and reaching under his jacket or when you've decided to take out a threat when his guard is down.

In the second aspect, your best option changes depending on the goal you have: Do you have to get the mental patient in soft restraints with minimal harm? Are you willing/allowed to do serious damage? To kill?

This simple 4x3 matrix gives twelve separate situations with different solutions. In only one of them is a backfist/sidekick combo a good choice.

There is an old saying that if you give a child a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Martial artists fall into this too. Many, many different things fall under the general heading of violence: getting shot at as a civillian is different than on duty; conducting a military raid is different than getting mugged; a MMA tournament is different than a gang rape; being taken hostage is different than getting caught in a riot. Somewhere, somehow martial artists practice a purified and sanitized version of one aspect of this very big animal and convince themselves that they know it. That they understand it. That their MA hammer is the solution in a world of nails.

You see it when they ask for or offer simple solutions to vague situations. I want to be clear- the good answers, the good actions, tend to be simple and efficient. But it is a simplicity that stands out starkly against the chaos yet is largely dictated by the chaos. Simple, but not that simple.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Writing Down the Bones

Mac wants a group of us to meet Saturday to put the finish on the next series of DT courses. His challenge is to create something that a beginner or expert can profit from; that works off their natural motion and fighting styles instead of trying to clone the instructors; that will give concrete results even for the ones who will only train once or twice a year; that is expandable and adaptable.

We can do it. We will do this. We have been doing this long enough, comparing the purified mechanics and mathematical strategies of the dojo and the ring with the sweat and smell and chaos of Reception and the road. We know where the middle ground is. We know what is important. Between us, we have a good handle on what is real.

The hardest part is that we can see multiple ways to do it- we don't have time for repetetive technique and experimentation but we could teach a principles based course- "Here is how and why people fall down... now go try it." Or a perception based course, "Feel your lines of stability and weakness as well as his and move from your stability to his weakness... feel it." We could do a pure stress innoculation course, "When the blindfold comes off deal with what you see, whether it is a lost child or an attacking rottweiler." We could mix them.

The hardest part will be writing it down. We know that in real life any training is a matter of percentage points, not answers. No one comes out of any course guaranteed to prevail. But our bosses want clean cut learning objectives: "At the completion of this course, the student will be able to demonstrate the inside wristlock, outside wrist lock..." When what we want is for the student to have the skill and confidence to snatch anything that's available, to recognize the opportunity for a wrist lock by feel, apply it and if it fails switch to something else.

That's what fighting really is, isn't it? Recognizing what you can do, doing it and doing something else if it doesn't work. It's a pretty good plan for most of life.


Just got the word that in fiscal 2004 we had 112 incidents of staff assault in our system. We have a relatively small system, with beds for 2000 criminals and about 400 officers spread over three shifts and "special assignments"- working desk jobs, transports or Court Services.

Don't have the statistics for how serious they were, but a few years ago the union kept track and recorded 37 officers sent to the hospital in one year.

Statistics are fun to play with- one officer in four was attacked, one in ten hospitalized; an attack happens every third day, a hospitalization every ten...

But statistics are bullshit. Each one has a name, a family and a story.

I'm not going to go into some sob story and start whining. We spend eight hours a day dealing with criminals. The only perfectly safe way to do the job is to NOT do the job, find one of those 'special' jobs at a desk and try to ride out your career as far from the criminals as you can get. We chose this job and most do it well and professionally.

We are the epitomy of the "kindler, gentler" corrections. We are trained to talk and rewarded for skills in preventing incidents. Ten years ago, there were about a dozen staff assaults a year and they were more serious- generally the officer would be hospitalized and if he was, it was a sure bet the inmate would be also. Now, even with one of our own down, the uses of force tend to be professional and the inmate is rarely hurt.

Twelve versus a hundred twelve. Heavy handed vs. kindler and gentler. A correlation? Nah. Statistics are bullshit.

The training unit seems to be the only group stepping up to do something about this increase. We've been designing "defensive tactics" around counter-assault and ambush survival concepts. Firearms has changed from just qualifying to actually training. Simulation training has stepped up to bring Use of Force concepts into real time, speed-of-life usefulness. Classes are offered on mindset and hostage survival (But the class on emotional survival was the most popular). The tactical team, too, has been making very deliberate advances in training, transforming from a cell-extraction team to a full-service operational and hostage rescue team.

The rest of the agency seems oblivious. As long as you are careful to think of them as numbers, as long as you keep telling yourself that statistics are bullshit, as long as the only line staff you talk to are the people hiding in the desk jobs as far away from criminals as they can get.. you can believe that all is well. That nothing has changed.

You see, it's only a body count if you count them. Or if they count.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Time, victorious

Big Daddy was raised in the South, surrounded by crime and violence, dirt poor. He didn't become a criminal. If you asked him why, he would either say 'good parents' or 'the grace of God'. He wouldn't take any credit himself- but he was a smart, tough-minded and dedicated son of a bitch. Deep down, he always thought that criminals were losers and he would never, ever be a loser. But he knows criminals.

He was something of a legend when I started working for the agency. Unbelievably strong, quick smile, good talker- he looked like a bowling ball with huge arms and short legs. He rarely fought: with his reputation, power and ferocious grin of battle-joy when he thought a fight was coming most of the tough guys wilted at the sight.

Something big has changed in the last two years. He lost a lot of weight, even though most of his mass was power-lifter muscle, not fat. He dwindled down to the size of a regular human. He started forgetting things- basic things about the job, things he'd already done or asked a few moments before. Lately, he has stood passively letting me as a (relatively) junior sergeant take the lead on crises in his area. Recently in simulation training I watched as he looked to his partner, a brand new deputy, and followed his partner's lead rather than go with his own initiative. Deep down, he knows that something is wrong.

We cover for him at work. There's a lot of sweat and blood and history shared with this man over the decades and we respect him. Whatever is going on (and we're all thinking dementia/senility but no one wants to say the words) it isn't his fault. This forgetful sometimes lost-looking old man isn't HIM, this isn't Big Daddy.

I'd like to believe that I'm writing this out of compassion, telling his story, but this is really about fear. There is an old Norse legend where Thor loses a wrestling match to an old woman. The woman was Time. Nobody beats Time. Right now, I'm watching a legend turn into a fragile old man. Someday it will be my turn.

I remember the security guard at the docks who turned out to have been OSS in WWII. The old, old jail guard who'd been a decorated ace in the Pacific theater, someone who I had read about in books and didn't recognize the name because this tiny old man couldn't have been the same as the dauntless hero.

That's our destiny, all of us who live long enough- to make our mark in the world when and how we can and then to eventually watch our bodies and often our minds fail until we are no longer recognizable as the men who made the mark.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Read about durien many years ago. It's described as an asian fruit that smells like rotten flesh and tastes wonderful and sweet. Smell and taste seem so intrinsically tied that it made me very, very curious. Today at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant I noticed a durien milkshake on the menu. Good day for new things.

I've been coming to this restaurant since it opened. I've watched the waitress, the owner's daughter, grow up from a tiny girl with an attitude to a tiny woman with an attitude. Today she wore a T-shirt "Don't give me your attitude, I've got one of my own" that, combined with the nose stud, probably gives her parents coniptions.

"Have you decided?"
"Nope. What's really good that I've never ordered?"
"You never order the fish. The fish stew or the seafood vermicelli." She didn't hesitate at all.
"Fish stew. What's darien like?"
She made a face. "Not everybody likes it. It tastes okay, but it smells awful."
"I'll try it."
She shrugged, wrote it down and stalked off.

The fish stew came in a big bowl. Pho broth with noodles, vegetables and a lot of processed, pressed fish: fish meatballs, fish noodles, fish discs and krab; and a nutty vegetable that isn't in the beef pho that was very good, nutty and smoky. If I liked fish better, it would have been wonderful.

The durien came in a glass with a tight plastic cover that said "Happy Birthday" with a lot of kanji all around, a straw stuck through the cover and the wrapper still over the exposed end of the straw. I'm guessing that durien milkshakes are a birthday tradition somewhere and it was pre-packaged.

It was too cold to really smell, just a faint, unpleasant odor of rotting vegetation with something else. It didn't smell like rotten meat, but it wasn't exactly appetizing either. Took a healthy swig and it wasn't too bad. Sort of. The stuff was SWEET. There was a faint rotten taste mixed in with it, but the sweetness totally overwhelmed it.

Ah hah. Sweet is one of the tastes that the tongue can sense without smell, as they told us in fifth grade health class. Makes sense, sugar is powerfully flavorful but you can barely smell the stuff. Durien probably would taste as bad as it smelled if it wasn't for the natural sweetness of the fruit drowning it out. Mystery solved, at least to my satisfaction. If I liked sweet things, I might have finished the shake.

Durien belches, on the other hand, are bad. Right up there with pickled chicken feet belches, but that's another story.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Watching a Train Wreck

For a long time, the dumbest crook I ever dealt with was this little blond kid. He'd obviously seen too many movies about how tough guy gangstas acted, but he couldn't pull it off. The two specific incidents I remember: Walking into his cell while he was at lunch I saw a piece of paper on his desk "Note to self- When Miller is here he searches rooms, so... " followed by a list of all of his contraband and where he should hide it. Note in plain sight. Idiot.

The second time was more dangerous- he's a little white guy in the court holding cell with a good number of mostly black inmates and he walks up to another white inmate and loudly strikes up a conversation, "Hey, are you familiar with the nigger-jew conspiracy that's destroying America?" I got him out of there before he got his ass beat. Moron.

Saw him again last night. Ten years or more later. He hasn't aged well, drugs are bad that way. He's gone from being a blank-eyed, talkative idiot kid to a shifty-eyed talkative guy with bad skin and bad judgment.

He's very happy. He's back in jail but that's just been a little mistake. He's been clean and sober for over a month. He's met the perfect woman. She's schizophrenic, sees things that aren't there and hears voices and she's a heroin addict, but she's been in treatment and has been off heroin for seven weeks. She may have stopped suddenly screaming for no reason, he's not sure since he hasn't seen her since he came to jail. That was her one habit that bothered him.

He's in love. He's planning their life together. It's not a plan in the ordinary sense of the word, like with steps and goals and all that. Pretty much he says they'll stay clean and stay together and everything will work out. That's his plan. He wants me to be happy for him. I'm polite and wish him luck, but it would take either a miracle or a huge amount of thought and hard work to change the collision course his life is on, and a miracle is the more likely event.

In My Element

Doing a Graveyard-shift overtime in booking. It feels like coming home.

We moved several years ago to a wonderful house. The house, which we call either "Baraka" or "Blackberry Manor" was very far from booking and relatively close to our medium-security facility. I gave up Max and booking for a half hour of commute, traded boredom for an extra hour a day with my family. It's a good trade and I don't regret it...but...

Overtime tonight in the old place with my old crew. Arresting officers calling for assistance in getting a big tweaker with martial arts experience out of the car; a drunk on the counter wanting to go off; warrant arrest in the lobby; on the edge of running out of beds, juggling count; computer searches to find out exactly where a sex offender has to go to register... all in the first 90 minutes.

The walls stink. Concentrated fresh inmate smells a lot like the reptile house at the zoo. It's the smell of many, many people- dirty people with the adrenaline sweat of fear and anger. There's an intermittent pounding from from people on drugs (most of whom wisely chose not to fight when officers were present) pounding on the doors of their cells and screaming insults, threats and challenges.

This is a good crew, this is my old crew and they smile at the threats and let the screamers tire themselves out. Then they'll go in and talk. We probably won't have to use any force tonight, but if we do, that's okay, too. This is my crew and any force will be quick, decisive and controlled. No injuries on either side.

The crew is carrying me a bit tonight. Some of the paperwork has changed and my knee made an ugly popping noise in jujutsu this morning. It's sore but I can walk and hide the limp.

It feels like home. I feel better and more alive here than I do anywhere except maybe on the mat.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Concrete Minds

I like the Meyers/Briggs personality inventory. I have a degree in Experimental Psychology and, frankly, was never impressed with the psychological and personality tests I was trained in. What does a 140 IQ mean? Does it mean the same thing if you can't remember to look both ways when you cross the street or can't communicate well enough to keep a relationship going?

Meyers Briggs (MB) winds up with 16 general personality types. It seems that the rarer types are the most impressed with the test- I don't think like most people so tests designed for most people never helped explained very much. The MB in a few paragraphs described how I think, that the method of thinking was rare (it had never occured to me that there was ANY criteria beyond practicality- I thought the whole world thought the way I did but sucked at it) and explained every major issue I'd ever had with people, jobs or the world in a way that I could use.

There are four dimensions in the test. They have clumsy names that don't necessarily mean what they do in every other context. The first dimension is Extroversion/Introversion. Not what it sounds like, exactly. The simple question is "When you need to recharge your batteries, do you seek out company or solitude?" The second is Intuition/Sensing. I don't know how they chose those words. Intuition means that you trust your own judgment over the judgment of another. Everyone says they do, but few people are very resistant to peer pressure and most will follow the advice of someone who they believe to be an expert even if it contradicts their own experience. The third is Thinking/Feeling- are you more comfortable with a decision that you can logically explain or one that feels right? The last is Judging/Perception- do you like finishing things or the process of doing?

I told you the names were stupid.

I want to nominate a fifth dimension. Something that addresses the fact that some people are comfortable with rules and clear-cut distinctions and some function happily and well in chaos. Maybe the R/C dimension, Rules/Chaos.

We did ConSim yesterday. The students come into class, are armored up and given a bunch of toys- real guns that fire paint pellets, foam batons, pepperspray without the pepper part, tasers without the batteries. Then they walk into a scenario with hardly any information- anything from a lost child to being ambushed at a mini mart to a fender-bender with angry citizens or a hostage situation happening right in front of them. They'll deal with role players acting as criminals, former criminals, citizens, lawyers and reporters.

The entire purpose of the class is to get the adrenaline pumping and have them make a decision in a fraction of a second on partial information... just like real life. Then they have to explain the decision to the instructors and other students, just like we were a jury.

Like any other agency, ours is a bureaucracy and runs on paper and rules. Bureaucracies need to have clarity and definite 'right' and 'wrong' solutions to specific and definite problems and they breed and nurture people who feel the same way.

However, we are a Law Enforcement Agency, and that means that we deal with criminals and we deal with violence. There is very little on this world that is more chaotic or less cut-and-dried than violence.

One student in particular worried me. In each scenario, he wanted THE right answer. As much as we would explain that what the students had done was A good answer or A poor one, he wasn't satisfied. He was clearly horrified that two different people could be in the same situation and because they perceived it differently they would handle it differently and BOTH could be right... or wrong. All math problems have one right answer. There is one most efficient way to split wood. A bridge made in a certain way of certain materials can handle a specific weight. There is a right tool to pound a nail. An act is against the law or it is not...maybe? Do you believe that? An act is right or wrong...maybe? Depending?

The class pushed him , I hope, to realize that we are paid and paid well to go into chaos, make it as right as we can as quick as we can with minimum collateral damage. We make decisions in an eye blink with only what we know in the instant. Those decisions may affect the lives of many people, some to death. It is the essence of the job. We do this specifically and stand up to inquests and grand juries and civil suits and Internal Affairs investigations specifically so that other people don't have to and have the luxury to believe that there is a right answer to all questions.

He was a concrete mind looking at a fluid world. Honestly, it repelled him and it repelled him even more that some functioned well and thrived there.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Doing a Good Job

Yesterday, I was pissed at doing a good job. I like working and keeping busy and solving problems. Side effect is that I get most of the must-do special projects that come up. Normally, that makes me happy. The regular job is good- talking to inmates and officers, preventing things from blowing up or jumping on them when they just start to flare or dealing with it when it goes entirely to hell- but if you've been doing it well for awhile it doesn't usually take a lot of time or effort. Doing the minimum required I have literally finished all the required tasks for an eight hour shift of both a sergeant AND a lieutenant in 36 minutes. So 1) I never do the minimum and 2) I welcome extra projects.

Sometimes it bothers me. Usually because a sensitive and important thing that should have been handled immediately has been held for sixteen hours, waiting for me to come on shift. That's incompetent and potentially dangerous and makes things harder. It annoys me.

But I get pissed when it's a made-up busy work job, completely without meaning. For instance, doing something that you did a month ago (when it was needed) just because a piece of equipment that would have been useful then has now arrived. Just off the top of my head, replacing a bunch matresses not because they need replacing, oh, no, you did that last month- but replacing them because you now have a dumpster that would have been really handy last month.

Sorry. I'm being petty.

Today was the good side of it: "Rory, we need another instructor for ConSim." So I got to help run a class on street survival and get shot a couple of times.

"Sarge, we've got one going off. We're going to need the taser." But I got to talk her down.

"Hey, one of the psych guys is refusing to take his meds- can you talk to him?" Done.

None of these were from my assigned sector. My sector was quiet. It usually is. I like doing a good job.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The City of God

Just started reading St. Augustine's "The City of God". At this point I know little- that it is nearly 1600 years old, that it was written as a logical defense and explanation of the Christian point of view, and that it has been a foundation, like Plato and Aristotle, for much of the thinking that has followed it and shaped our culture.

Barely into it and two things have struck me as particularly well done.

Augustine asks the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people. Part of his reasoning is a sophistry- if some punishment/reward isn't withheld until final judgment, faith in god would be unnecessary. But then he says something great- that when events and people collide it is the person, not the event, that makes it a good or bad thing.

His example was olives that under pressure are purified into oil, whereas the olive leaf that falls into the same press and is subject to the same forces is mangled. You see this in life every day. Two people lose a loved one and one becomes helpless, the other feels grief fully and moves on, caring about other people, becoming wiser and stronger.

Any potentially negative event is treated like this. Some decide that it is proof of their disadvantage and inability to succeed, some learn and grow. The ones who learn will always be stronger and wiser. The ones who don't may pretend to be, but it is cynicism, fear disguised as world-weariness.

Here's the training question: Can you teach the ones who don't do this naturally to become the strong? I worry because I doubt anyone consciously chooses to reject their own experience. In other words, even the most cynical professional loser, one who has never held a job or kept a relationship going and keeps friends only by dint of shared addictions, this person thinks that he IS growing and learning. Or does he?

The second Augustinian moment for me was when he discussed the rebuke. When is it okay to tell someone else that he is wrong? That he is behaving badly? It's a powerful expectation in our society that you should "mind your own business". We have been heavily indoctrinated that bad is only bad from one point of view and it is unAmerican to interfere with another's choice... but this indoctrinated reluctance to speak up, to "rebuke" has led to a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil climate that encourages and enables a huge amount of victimization.

A friend recently attended a police/community partnership meeting in California. She sent me the notes of the meeting, which was all about getting the officers to become closer to the community and understand the community and be sensitive to the opinions and feelings of the community. There was never anything about the community coming to understand the needs of the officers. If people really want crime to go down in high-crime areas it will be the people who live there, not the police, that will make it happen. The citizens must make it clear that crime is not tolerated, they must stand up and say "That's wrong." And then they must press charges and then they must testify... and do so proudly. They must rebuke.

When there is less stigma attached to lying to provide an alibi for a serial rapist than for being seen to talk to the police, there is a problem that goes very deep, and it is not a problem that police can or should fix.

So Augustines rebuke should not be done in anger. It should never be withheld out of fear. It is an attempt to make things better, to give the rebuked person a chance to change and grow. Maybe they cannot see the harm. It is, as he explains it, literally an act of love.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fun Weekend

Kami writes fantasy fiction. Kami draws and paints. Once a year, she brings me to the Oregon Science Fiction Convention (Orycon). While she schmoozes with editors and publishers and other writers and shows and sells her artwork at the artshow, I usually am tasked to stand at her side and look ornamental. I spend my own time watching people.

Over the years I've met fascinating and fun people there- writers, martial artists, veterans, dancers, scientists, technogeeks and fans. Some I only get to see once a year and it has become a tradition of sorts. Other things have changed over the years, too. Some time ago I quit reading fiction. Too many real things, more intense, more real, more important had started to fill that need. As life turned into an adventure story with all the messiness and ugly endings, I found it difficult to take fictional adventure with clean plot lines and pat endings.

At some point seeing a well dressed man with pointed teeth caps changed in my head. Instead of thinking, "Cool! He's pretending to be a vampire!" I found myself thinking, "What kind of boring life do you have when it's an upgrade to pretend to be a dead guy?"

A couple of years ago, Mark and I were sitting at the coffee shop- two regular guys dressed in jeans and t-shirts surrounded by Klingons, angels, fairies and goths. Out loud I said, "I'm not into ostentatious display. I don't even read fiction. Why am I here?"

Mark didn't hesitate, "Because it's fun."

Dead right. Where's the fun in hanging around with people who think and dress and act like you do? There are panels where authors, movie makers and scientists talk about life and fiction. They are dreaming out loud to people who share some of the same dreams and the sincerity is palpable. There are panels where you can learn technique from commercial artists and listen to folk musicians. Learn a bit about the world of publishing and what is going on in Hollywood with different shows and projects.

Parties where you can sample a variety of Canadian hard cider, a dance where you will see a real chainmail bikini... and corsets everywhere. Sometimes a good thing.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Truth is/isn't relative

People who talk about the truth are rarely talking about the same thing. I asked a friend if truth was relative. She said, very firmly, "All truth is relative." It's one of the few things that we have ever disagreed on. I feel, by definition, that if something is relative, it can't be truth. That seems to me to be a tautology. Though some things can be closer to the truth than other things, I don't believe that there are degrees of truth. One is closer to zero then two, but only zero is zero.

Whenever I have a disagreement with someone I consider intelligent, it's an opportunity to explore. So I asked the question of Roz and K and they agreed with my friend. Puzzling. Then Roz started explaining and made it much clearer.

We all have mental maps of our reality. Going back to Socrates' cave and shadow analogy, people have discussed the fact that we don't experience much of life directly. When we see a rock, we see photons bounced off the rock and form an image in electrochemical nets in our brains. There is no rock in our head (at least not literally).

For most people, the mental map is real. In many ways, more real to them than the world it is trying to describe. (My personal definition of bigotry is when a person refuses to change their mental map in the presence of clear evidence that it is wrong.)

I've never felt that my mental map or world view was real. It's just the best working model I have right now. So the only things I accept as 'true' are those very, very few instances where the map has a 1:1 correlation with reality. Diamond scratches talc, never the other way around, regardless of situation, person or point of view; this is not relative, and so I consider it true. So, by my definition, truth is very rare and never relative.

Ah, but if you define truth as a scalar measuring how closely your map aligns with the world then truth is relative, and there are "great truths" which move your map vastly closer to reality and someone is always closer to reality than you on some point and there is an unreachable but beautiful goal of "Universal Truth" where the map and the world are one. That's what the seekers search for and my friend is definitely a seeker after Truth.

I seek too, though. Life is a quest for experiences and challenges to my beliefs and expectations. I like testing my map. I like re-writing it. It gets closer to reality all the time, but it will never become reality. Reality wouldn't fit in my head. Especially since sometimes I'm the stupidest person in the room.