Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I don't have much of a fantasy life.  Rarely daydream in the traditional sense.  My mental resting state is a half doze where images float across my mind.  Never stories, and I'm not in them.   It's almost like watching clouds change shape.

What fiction I have written so far (and may be publishing, we'll see) has almost all been written because K and her writing group challenged me to do it.

The lack of imagination hasn't always been that way.  Some aspects of early life were rough and fantasy, from fiction to detailed daydreams, were escapes.  And I had all the usual ones: superpowers, swords, spies and saving maidens in various apocalyptic worlds.

When I went to college, the transition from a homestead only one notch removed from a survivalist cell (no electricity or running water, graduating class of six-- and I was sixteen when I graduated) to a state university was intense.  So I can't say college was boring, but it didn't feel complete, either.  Lots of reading, mostly fiction.  SCA.

Always a voracious reader, I first turned away from fiction at Ft. Sam Houston during 91A school.  I was coming off of BCT (Basic Training) and BCT had been intense.  Not earth-shaking.  Basic skills and fitness were fine going in.  The use of time.  From before dawn until late was non-stop movement.  PT (Physical Training), skill development, learning.  Any spare moment was spent reading, studying the SMART manual (can't remember what it stood for) the Common Tasks manual or reading the Bible.  (I'd brought a bible because it was the one book I was sure the Drill Sergeants wouldn't confiscate-- so I have read the Bible cover to cover.  Twice.  Primary reason I'm not a Christian.)

At AIT (Medic school at Ft. Sam) I wondered if I could keep up a BCT level of intensity on my own.  There was a lot of training, PT and studying, but far more free time than in Basic.  So I decided to use the time.  First step was going to the base library and instead of just looking for a fun read, I grabbed a guide book to local plants.  Started practicing tracking again.  Discovered MWR (Don't think we called it that back then but...)

Morale Welfare and Recreation.  I went in and found out that they had a complete lapidary shop.  I'd been taught to cut and polish stones when I was 13 or 14.  Just cabochons, nothing fancy. So I got back into that.  And one of the old guys who volunteered at the place to teach soldiers taught me to cast silver.  I made K's engagement ring there.

Life got as full as I could keep it.  Nonfiction was just as entertaining, but infinitely more satisfying than fiction.  But then something else changed.  About two years into working with the Sheriff's Office, spending more waking hours with bad guys than with my own family, dealing with bad stuff and aftermath, I started to find most fiction not just unsatisfying.  Most was aggravating.  The things that authors seemed fascinated with were not the things that resonated with or bothered me.

Fiction is on my mind.  K wants me to publish some of the things I wrote when a member of her writer's group.  I'll be spending next weekend at the Oregon Science Fiction Convention.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Time for a Ramble

Wake up call at 0330 in Budapest this morning.  Maybe this morning.  I think that would have been 1830 yesterday for this time zone.  Lots of flights, but everything worked like clockwork and it looks like an early flight home... so good.  Tired.  Roughly fourteen hours by train followed by an evening in a hotel before the flights. Three new countries and passed through two more...

Atilla and Armin handled everything.  Each and every detail was handled with care and precision.  Extraordinarily good men.  Very different from each other, but very good men.  And Atilla is doing a seminar somewhere in the UK this weekend.  I'd post the details if he had sent them on.

Thursday night was a low level force class (locks, pain compliance, stuff like that) at the Lower Saxony  Police Academy.  Saturday and Sunday was the scheduled seminar.  Mostly for martial artists, but a quarter (about) of the people who showed were officers (and one I got to meet in person for the first time-- Hi Chris!) and a quarter weren't martial artists or studied only weapons.  And that made it very cool.

Even cooler was the venue that Armin scored-- The headquarters of the Highway Riders MC, Bad Wildungen.  Perfect place for a brawl.

And a perfect juxtaposition-- Thursday night wine and Italian food with one of the senior Academy trainers, an impressive man.  Great talk, great insight.  Monday morning coffee with the president of the motorcycle club and one of his road captains.  Impressive as well, in different ways.  The Prez was an old fighter, now mostly crippled up, did medieval recreation on the side (which the Germans do with an intensity) and, judging by familiar paraphernalia around the house entertained an alternate religious view.  And trained wild birds.

1991, drinking chichu with a reformed cannibal in Ecuador.
2008, drinking scotch with a general heading a foreign intelligence service.
2012, Wine with police trainers and coffee with Bikers.

And every last second of it has been fantastic.

Knee got popped on the trip.  Won't be sure how bad until I can make time to get it checked.  Something else for the 'to do' list.

Meet at Firearms Academy of Seattle tomorrow.  Help them with some research. (Read: "banging stuff out").

Orycon coming up.  Should be fun.

Gigs in upstate NY and New Orleans in November; Orlando first weekend of December.

But, most important, in a few hours home and K.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cop Night

I love teaching cops.
Teaching martial artists I am aware that most of them, from rank beginners to 'modern combat masters' are getting nothing more than a handful of details to add to their daydreams.  A few (and they are damn few in any given class) will need it-- but they aren't the macho posturers.  The shaved headed guy with the tats generally only has to worry about the situations he creates.  It's the tiny shy woman who really had to work herself up to attend who will be on the radar of the predators. With civilians, THAT is who I teach for.

But teaching cops is special, and it is huge responsibility.  You want to teach self-defense to a bunch of martial athletes and you can teach almost any crap you want.  It will never be tested.  Most training is only one step removed from an amulet.  It makes you safe from violence in the same way and to the same extent as your crucifix keeps vampires away.  It's 100% successful until it gets tested.

When I taught for my agency, I had access to the numbers.  Roughly a third were assaulted in one year, roughly 10% hospitalized.   When we changed the training to our new methods, those numbers dropped by 30%, but that was the baseline.  And that's not "1/3 had Use of Force incidents."  One third were attacked in a given year.

There are three kinds of training: Feel good training, liability reduction training and useful training.

Feel good training ranges from the lecturer who leaves the students feeling pumped and convinced they are 'warriors' to the hands-on training that makes people feel safer but does nothing to make them safer.

Liability reduction training is for the bosses-- they can either go, "Can't blame us, you were trained.  Must be your fault."  Or courses specifically designed to lower liability (like concentrating solely on lower levels of force) regardless of whether the system works.

For useful training, you must know the job and know the people and know your stuff.  I've taken courses from people who were masters at what they could do and had no idea of the policy or law that we worked under.  As such, a third of their stuff was ineffective or impossible to apply and a third would get me brought up on charges.  They didn't know the job.

I've seen instructors try to play 'big man.'  It may work with civilians, it may even work with rookies, but there is no faster way to earn the contempt of a room full of veteran cops than to talk tough.  They know a punk when they see one.  You teach different people in different ways.  Adults vs children; pros vs. interested amateurs.  If they don't listen, you can't reach them and they learn zip.

And you have to know your stuff.  Further, your stuff has to work.  Under pressure.  Outmatched in size and strength.  For the big officers and the small officers.

And there is an element of leadership to training as well.  Consistently, good leaders push the power down.  Every leader you have ever had that you truly respected trusted you.  Told you that you were trusted.  And you were given as much responsibility as you could handle.  Being loud and aggressive and telling people they are wrong may feel like leadership, but from the outside we all recognize that an insecure prick is not a leader.

Got to play with some good kids (rookies) last night.  Loved it.  In the rambling conversation with their head instructor afterwards we talked about a lot of these things.  Method of teaching, but responsibility as well.  When your students are going into harm's way, teaching is much more like being a father than a professor.  These are not underlings, but colleagues worthy of respect.  Moreover, someday, on the worst day of your life when you hit the orange button or put out the call, these are the kids that will be coming to save your ass.  You are literally training your own rescue party.  Look down on them at your own risk.

Anyway, I loved the class.  Deeply respected Herbert, one of the head instructors at the academy.  Good night and it brought on some good memories.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Hungarian Crew

These are the guys I spent last weekend with.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I’m writing this on a train in Eastern Europe between Budapest and Prague.  Don't know when I'll be able to post it. Probably most of you aren’t old enough to really remember the Cold War.  You weren’t raised with an expectation of imminent nuclear apocalypse or inundated with stories of a shadowy underworld of spies and assassins who were just barely keeping the world from the brink.

Budapest and Prague (and Berlin, but that’s not on the itinerary this time) were staples of these stories.  Messages passed in cafes and beer halls; secret signals; beautiful, seductive counter-intelligence agents; desperate knife fights in alleys; a satchel bomb always ticking down to zero…

Both are tourist towns now.  Big, beautiful (but I am coming to find that ‘big city’ and ‘dirty’ seem to always come together).  Cleaner and less depressing (I am told) than they were under Soviet control.  The business of the day is business and people are working, studying and making connections.

It’s still cool to be here.  One of those childhood fantasies (“I want to be a spy when I grow up”) almost fulfilled.  Almost.  No world to save.  Extremely limited numbers of damsels in distress.  Agents and operatives?  Check, but significantly more talking, eating and drinking than fighting happens… and that’s cool.

So, in the International Man of Mystery qualifications category—
Beautiful Eastern-bloc refugee wife.
Keys to apartments in Boston and Athens.
Metro tickets in the wallet for two coastal cities.
Passport stamps that sometimes get me detained.
Cover story?  “I’m a writer, just in the country to do a little research…”
And, most important of all, some very, very cool friends in some very interesting positions.

Friday, October 05, 2012

RGI Review

I've been letting things settle, thinking things through.  The three day "Ethical Protector" class from RGI was good.  Important.  As far as I know, no one else is doing this.  Jack and his crew are aiming their program at rookies.  Not everyone there was-- actually most weren't-- but this is stuff that lays a foundation for a career free from burn-out.  And that's huge.

Pick any war and most values we shared with our enemies.  Courage, sacrifice, dedication.  There is always a code of honor in some form.  Given that, can there be good guys?  Bad guys?

There is a poster I have seen on line-- I don't have the rights to it so I won't post it-- of American soldiers in Afghanistan taking fire while Afghani villagers hide behind them.  The caption says "Bad guys use human shields.  Good guys are human shields."  That simple.

Are there good reasons to fight?  To go to war?  Yes, but there are bad reasons as well.  RGI has laid out what constitutes good and bad, and it is surprisingly objective.

Most of the instructors are former marines.  A couple, including Jack, were instrumental in the development of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).  But it's not a physical class.  There are a few physical techniques that are simple.  More confidence building, I think than practical.  And two workouts that are killer if you want to push (running, squats with a human body, body drags and the like in soft sand...)  But much of it was ethics, communication and stories.

One of the thoughts behind "Campfire Tales From Hell" was that there is an important piece missing from modern martial training.  Not just martial arts, but police academy and BCT.  And that is sitting around the fire, listening to stories from the old vets.  They know things that can't be really taught, but sometimes in a story, you can understand.  Hearing someone you admire talk about fear and pushing through means more than reading a clinical description of the Survival Stress Response.  There are subtleties and sometimes just some weird crap (intent literally changing someone else's behavior, for instance) that can be hard to process if you think it is new and unique.

So that was one of the beautiful things about the program.  The method.  Exhaustion, education, skills, stories.  For every sit down class there was a stand-up physical class to give a break.  The physical started with uber-basics.  How to stand, how to move and maintain orientation on a potential threat.

The lessons were about ethics, respect and communication.  Communication with the emotionally disturbed was taught by a Registered Nurse.  General communication was taught be a retired NYPD officer who spent a lot of years in anti-crime.  That man could talk.

The ethics part is unique, though.  Powerful.
I've always been one of the good guys.  There is a huge amount of psychic armor in that.  But it is sometimes risky and dangerous.  Not in the 'running towards danger' sense (although clearly that) but also in the, "I would rather quit this job than follow that order-- do I have the skills to take care of my family if I walk away?" sense.  That gets harder if you have doubts that your idea of 'good' is any better than the person giving you the order.  In retrospect, my instincts were dead-on.  But now I have the words to explain why.

And that is the reverse of one of Jack's observations.  Being the good guys, with an ability to explain beyond doubt why you were the good guys is powerful armor against PTSD.  And if you fail to live up to that standard, you know what you did wrong and what you must become and how you must atone in order to regain your balance.  As such, it is less a matter of teaching ethics than of clarifying them.

There are some language issues here.  In "Facing Violence" I used a model taught long ago at the police academy: Beliefs-Values-Morals-Ethics.
Beliefs are the things you hold to be true.
Values are your subjective preference in true things.
Morals are the squishy general feeling of right and wrong derived from your values.
Ethics are your attempts to codify (rules and laws) your morals.

In the RGI lexicon, ethics means something different.  Morals are right and wrong.  Ethics are morals in action.  If you know something is wrong, you are moral.  If you have the balls to do something about it, you are ethical.

Both work for me.

Last thing-- There were a few areas where the training lost me.  And it was just me, monitoring the other students it was some of the most powerful aspects for them.

Some of the stories were convincers, and I walked in already convinced that ethics has always been a part of my jobs and life.  There is a qualitative difference going into a fight as a good guy versus a bad guy.  So I drifted on those.

And pure exertion as a team-builder doesn't work for me anymore.  Twenty years ago, yeah.  Now it's just pain with strangers.  Not the first time, won't be the last.  Danger still works for team building.

I can quibble.  Is the ethical underpinning innate or taught? My opinion likely differs from Jack's crew, but it matters very little.  I think ConCom is better for that part... blah blah blah.

But this is important stuff.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Common Morality

One of the tenets of Conflict Communications is "Work from the common ground."

If you and I disagree and we only talk about points of difference, we entrench.  The differences become not just opinions but identity tags.  The search for the truth gets completely lost in the contest to prove who is right.  It is damn near impossibly to change someone's mind by arguing.  But sometimes you can do it by agreeing.

We all have common ground.  We all eat and think.  You're here, so I can safely assume that you read.  I have never seen someone so alien or a criminal so depraved that we didn't share some common beliefs, some common values.  And, consistently, if I spoke from those common values I could usually (not always, nothing works every time) get compliance, even active cooperation.

In hostage survival classes, they will teach you to 'personalize' yourself.  the idea is if the bad guys know you have a name and a family, it will make it harder for them, emotionally, to kill you.  In the ConCom model, the underlying principle is clearer:

In order for most people to use high-order violence, they must 'other' the victim first.  They must create a string of rationalizations and tell a narrative where the victim is not a 'real' person.  We butcher cattle, swat mosquitos, but tend to fight and struggle (inefficiently) with people.  If the potential killer is in contact with the potential victim, he will drive the communication to the points of difference; "I fuckin' hate cops!"
And your job is to not be othered.  To push the conversation towards everything you have in common, "This is just a uniform.  It's a job so I can provide for my family. (Especially if you see a ring on his finger) What I really like is to go fishing (if you see a hat or bumper sticker with a trout) spend some time alone (if you sense he is a loner, otherwise 'with my buddies') and have a beer (if you smell alcohol on his breath.)"
Get the idea?  That's how personalizing works and why, if you just follow the formula instead of reading the situation, it can backfire.

This is just a piece.  I think ConCom has taken a huge step in creating a functional taxonomy of conflict.  Found the underlying essence.

And I think RGI, in their ethical protector course may have pegged the underlying common ground for all morality.

More later.  I'm tired and have lots to do on my first full day home.