Friday, December 30, 2005

Sometimes it all Pays Off

Roger was attacked Dec. 27th by a mentally disturbed person with a knife. He was on duty, in uniform watching an inmate at the hospital. The attacker drew him close by asking a question and at contact range drew a knife...

Roger closed, pinioning the knife arm against the assailant's body, used the elbow leverage point to spin the bigger man, pushed him away against his weak line of balance, drew his Tazer and brought him down. Not a scratch.

It was all filmed by the hospital security cameras.

For the last two years, the training unit has put in an ungodly amount of overtime, designed new classes and new ways to teach, fought bureaucracy. We have been so tired we weren't safe to drive home and burned vacation hours for enough time for a nap.

In ten seconds, it all paid off.

Roger is a hero, a survivor and a fighter. He would have lived without any training. But he might well have been injured and he surely would have been forced to kill the threat.

MCSO training unit: "We train heroes"

The Grinch Rant

Spent christmas in jail, as usual, and liked it just fine. The holiday season annoys me. The music really gets on my nerves but it's more than that. It's the production of it.

If you care about your family, every day is a special day to let them know. Throughout the year, when I see something that reminds me of someone I care about, that is the time for a gift that always comes form the heart. The frantic list making and forced expectation to be thoughful with a dead line feels wrong.

If you buy into the religious aspect of this or any holiday, the fact that you act or think differently on one day a year should be a source of profound shame for the other 364. If your beliefs are truly part of you they express in all of your actions and every second of your life. If not, it becomes a production, hollow and empty.

"If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do differently today?" she asked.
"Not a thing." Because I'm already creating the life I love. If something in my life lacked heart, I jettisoned it long ago.

Why would anyone act differently on christmas, unless they believed they were wrong the rest of the time?

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Can't talk about the situation too much. After assisting a pair of detectives with an evidence search I escorted them out of the jail. One turned and said, "You must have a major reputation. That guy was NOT going to go easily and you showed up and he calmed right down."

"Naah, I'm kind, sweet, innocent and gentle. Everybody loves me." There's no good way to answer that, really.

It could, however, help explain why I've had so few uses of force in the last couple of years. Medium security is a lot of it. Getting better at talking is a lot of it... but I still get called once or twice a week for situations where the OIC or the deputy is sure there's going to be a fight and it doesn't happen. The only UofF I even remember from the whole year was breaking up a fight between two inmates too involved to see what officer was there.

Christmas night, to set up an emergency drill I climbed up the side of the building onto the roof. It was supposed to be an intruder on the roof drill (Christmas, get it?). Staff responded well, but afterwards several asked how I got up there without setting off alarms... I never had to answer. A senior officer was always there to say, "He probably climbed. Sarge is always pulling that spiderman shit." Always?

Doesn't always work in my favor- my favorite Captain argued at the chief's meeting that the agency should go to a standard sidearm, "If we let people carry anything they wanted, Rory would be running around with a sword." The chief who held the meeting later dismissed a proposal out of hand- "He's just a tactical guy, this is outside his area." Since, as everyone knows fighters can't think, right? Grrr.

Two Paths

Met with Russ today.

Almost 25 years ago I got involved in judo at OSU, dabbled in weapons, karate, TKD...anything martial...but I loved judo. About eight years later, living in a new city and looking for a dojo I discovered Sosuishi-ryu jujutsu and was hooked. I studied it, lived it, breathed it until my sensei retired.

Russ also stumbled across Sosuishi-ryu and he was just as hooked. We didn't work out at the same dojo and didn't meet until sometime later. By then our paths had diverged.

When it was time to take our arts where they needed to go, Russ went to Japan. I went to jail. Russ has gone , and is still going, deeper into the history and application and heart of the style than any American I know. He has seen the densho. He has tracked the differences introduced in the early part of this century and has helped to preserve the older aspects. Russ has made a life for himself in Japan, centered around his family and bujutsu.

I became a corrections officer and eventually a sergeant and tactical team leader. I took my martial path into the application and the guts, tracking the insights and practicality of an old system designed to be used... using it. My life is centered around family and work, my work is criminals and bujutsu.

When we get together, it's eerie. Similar wicked, dry sense of humor. Same soaring, wild imagination. I pick his brains for his stories, his insights and let things click as the old knowledge meets my experience and makes it clearer- these old guys knew how to survive. The whole time I am jealous, because I can imagine being on his path. Imagine a slight twist in history and we would be on opposite sides of the table, Russ would adapt as well to the job as I have, possibly I would have made the connections in Japan that he has. It would be the exact same conversation with only the voices changed.

We share war stories: deranged criminals versus rude sarari-man; near riots versus crusty teachers; teaching cops versus demonstrating at embu with a dislocated shoulder (Russ is tough!) And we ask each other questions. Thousands of questions. When I know I am going to see Russ I make a list of things to ask, and usually forget the list. That's fine- I learn as much as I can remember without the list.

Great day. Cheers, Mekugi!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thinking Ahead

You have studied and lived something for decades. Within certain circles and for certain applications, you are getting recognition as an authority. In ten days you will be given an audience of 100 people ranging from beginners to experts. You will be one of a dozen teachers. You will have one hour.

Do you teach the beautiful historic roots of your specialty?

Do you give the talk that has led to your recognition?

Do you present your latest epiphany?

Do you get them out on the mat and make them sweat?

Demonstrate at real-life speed and ferocity?

Try to teach them to see?

Give them a single, solid building block of technique?

Introduce them to the new teaching methodology?

Do all of these? Some of these?

Or get out there on the mat and just wing it- Let's play!

Technique, principles or scenario based?

On the plane trip I will, as usual, outline a dozen possible classes, prepare notes, list equipment. Then I'll probably wing it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Point of No Return

You can't take anything back. Whatever you've done is done, so in a sense every action is a point of no return. You can never become the person you were before you took a specific action or before a certain event happened.

Still, there are moments where you act and for a time there is full knowledge that your life may change drastically because of the action, but you can't begin to imagine how. Taking the oath to serve. Pulling a trigger. Becoming a father.

There is a new one today in my life- I sent out query letters for the book. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe many things will. For the moment, though, the trigger has been pulled and I am waiting. I'm actually relishing the voice in the back of my head that is squeeling like a scared child, "Take it back! Take it back!" I've heard it before and know that it comes from the other side of the Point of No Return. It is the voice of someone I no longer am and can never be again.

Wish good changes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"The Moral is to the Physical..."

Did the panel interviews for tactical team candidates today. It's not what I think most civillians would expect- I care very little about their skills or tactical understanding or knowledge of the trivia of combat, we'll give them what they need of those things.

The big questions are to see if they really understand their responsibility and if they will mesh with the culture of the team.

The culture of the team. Every team has a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world. Ours, from day one, was planned and designed. We knew we would be wielding great power- there is great power in the correctional system any way- but even more so with a specialty team in an emergency. Our state law allows corrections to use force to "maintain order". We would literally be called in to situations where we could easily justify using deadly force and we would resolve it at a lower, safer level.

Our culture was designed around responsibility and risk management. We were never to be called in because we were bigger or stronger or better equipped but because we were more skilled, cool and professional. We can and have gone into situations (PCP freak in a small cell with two shanks) and resolved it hand-to-hand, without injury. I wanted bored veterans, not kids with something to prove. People who have thought through the possibility that some day they may be called on to take a life and both refuse to discount the cost yet assume the responsibilty. People who will do it if it is the right thing to do.

So the test is about that- what do you think makes a good team? A good team member? What purpose does the team serve? For the agency? For the community?

We give them scenarios and the scenarios are explicitly designed to test two things:
1) Will they disobey a direct order if they need to? I don't need puppets. Blind faith whether in tactics or religion is only blindness. I most value the people who will step up and tell me when I'm full of shit.
2) Will they do what needs to be done no matter how bad it sounds? If they worry more about how they look than the primary mission they will freeze. There has to be an element of selflessness in these men and women. They are giving up a big chunk of their lives to a pager, risking huge liability and physical danger... if they're doing it to look cool in a black uniform, they're wasting my air.

We throw a rattler question in. They're already in one of those panel interviews that makes everyone nervous, they're starting to get comfortable with the flow of questions and then we throw one in from left field. This year:

Napoleon said that in battle, the moral is to the physical as three to one. What did he mean? How does it apply to you and the team?

I dropped this on several current team members and got pretty uniform responses- the spiritual and mental attributes such as tenacity, morale, team work, dedication and the will to fight are far more important than numbers or equipment.

The candidates all choked, but most recovered nicely. It was fun to see their eyes get big when they heard the question... but not one of them understood it. I was disappointed. They've all fought, but had either not realized or never stopped to understand that fighting is far more mental than it is physical.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Movin' On

Jail in an ice storm. Too few staff, supply problems, maintenance issues... gates on manual, locked open. No visiting. In the first few minutes of the shift as OIC (Officer in Charge, an acting shift commander) the schedule had to be adjusted both for the short crew and the ones who would be late; duties assigned and distributed; maintenance issues from cars and vans to gates, doors and electric locks predicted and prevented... so far.

It was busy and good, creative and responsible work. Making a plan on the fly and watching it all come together is a great joy. I truly enjoy taking a chaotic situation and making it better. I sometimes, with a twinge of guilt, wish that there were more chaotic situations to fix.

Within two hours I had forgotten almost all of it. It was over, done. Replaced with the hours of arranging coverage for the next shift; talking to visitors who might have traveled very far and were not going to get their visits...

Here's a mind bender for you- everyone in here is three distinct people. There's 'X' the prisoner- how he acts on the inside, adapts to the rules, maintains his sense of self respect. Then there's X the criminal. There are people who are intelligent, articulate respectful and respected gentlemen in jail who have done vicious and depraved things to get there- multiple counts of kidnap, rape sodomy and murder in one memorable example. And there are people in here who are complete asses: rude, violent (though rarely brave, they choose their victims with an eye to their own safety) vicious and petty whose crimes on the outside are very small- DUIIs, larceny. The third X is the one with the family, the one who has children who will drive for two hundred miles to show him the new child or grandchild. They will always see the husband/father/brother, not the convict and not the criminal. Sometimes, Convict X is a much better person than Father X- he's sober, less violent, clearer headed. Sometimes he has a talent like art or writing that outside the walls is lost in the haze of drugs or the constant activity of hustling.

Enough of an aside. Things move quickly. I try to live them while they are there and let them go when they pass. Do I really forget things, or just don't hang on to them? What would the difference be?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Got a minute?"

It started before we returned from the overnight trip to the coast. There was a message on the answering machine trying to schedule a meeting of the Defensive Tactics instructors. The training unit called, adding another class to my schedule. I had to call them to confirm a rumor that another class had been cancelled.

Arriving at work, not even officially there yet, just early as usual, "Sarge you got a minute?" Tactical team stuff- reassignment of radio call signs, scheduling training time at a facility, "Oh, by the way, you need to write the test questions for the Oral Boards and the lieutenant needs them tomorrow morning." "Got a minute? That class last week was awesome..." "Got a minute? We got a combative paranoid schizophrenic needs to go to the hole. Won't get it done on our shift, can you take care of it? Most of the paperwork is done." "Good to see you, buddy, what's you do, take a day off? Where'd you go? How's the family? Really could have used you yesterday, the west end went to hell in a hand basket..."

At a different time it might have been flattering or ego stroking- people rely on me, people I like and respect like and respect me. I love being useful... but people make me tired. Civilization makes me tired.

Before I got all grown up, before the obligations of work and family, I avoided people for the most part. I would spend long hours alone in the desert or on a mountain. It wasn't introspective in the slightest. Solitude was never about brooding, it was about opening.

Mac talks about acheiving a level of pure intention, when what should be, what you will simply is. It is a state of purity that he wants to lead me towards.

My natural state, my personal purity is to be in a state of pure awareness where there is no step between sensation and action, no conscious thought filtering myself from the world. I've spent days in this state without a word sounding in my mind, smelling and moving to water without once thinking of 'water' or 'thirst' drinking with nothing in my mind but the sensation of sunlight and water and muscles and air and rock.

Once long ago there was a period of ten days where I was able to maintain this state around people, able to perceive and act and even talk without conscious thought. It is almost impossible to acheive and probably impossible to maintain since all of civilization is about explaining things. That's what talking and communication and laws and almost all human interaction, even sex and violence boil down to. Sometimes there is an exception for violence, sometimes there is an ambush and you can slip the leash with no though of consequence or meaning; just perceive and act without filters or questions. There is probably an equivalent primal sex, no meaning beyond the physical moment, pure sensation... but I have a hard time imagining two people simultaneously being able to do this without issues of emotion and esteem and love and meaning, without thinking of either the future or the past.

This is my purity. It probably stems from the opposite end of Mac's perfect intention. Perhaps mine is physical, his spiritual; animal versus godly; low versus high.

It's been a very long time since I wandered off for long enough to empty the civilization out of my brain. Let go of all of the voices asking if I "Got a minute?" Part of me is pretty sure I wouldn't bother to return.


I need to train my children on how to have a vacation. At the end of each term, if their grades are good, we take them on a trip. Usually to the coast. The Oregon coast is beautiful, stormy, rocky and wild and we have lots of memories there as a family and years of memories as a couple before the kids were born.

In college we would drive to the coast and climb cliffs at night in a raging storm, feeling the basalt shudder with the impact of the waves; play tag across the slippery rocks; practice martial arts unarmed and with boken and bo waste deep in the frigid water. We would snorkel until the cold water gave us an ice cream headache or bodysurf at Gleneden beach.

Unable to afford a hotel we would camp on the beach or up a logging road, sleeping in fifteen-dollar Kmart tents or in the back of the jeep. We would get fresh snapper (cheap) directly from the boats and cook it in the coals of a drift wood fire... delicious despite the burnt fingers. Photos from that time show young men swordfighting by fire light and beautiful young women belly-dancing.

This is the coast I want to share with my children, this is the sense of fun and uncivilized freedom I want them to feel, to yearn for, when they think of a vacation. Instead, too much they think of a hotel with a pool, a hot tub and the Cartoon Network (I won't get cable at home and would happily destroy the TVs but I am outvoted). It's good in its own way. We are prospering and can afford the luxury, we have a membership in a sort of flexible time share of resorts worldwide. Beds are nice. Hot showers and kitchens are nice. Hot tubs are very nice and even as college kids we would not have refused a chance to finish the day in one.

When it was time to leave the hotel, I would look longingly at a rock on the beach, forty feet high of good solid basalt with holds very rare on the lower part that has been eroded by waves. My son would think of it too... but only for a moment, then he would be distracted by the possibility of shopping in a new place, eating in a new restaurant.

That was how the vacation was spent, with the exception of a few hours. For a few hours we hiked along the beach, explored shallow sea caves and I was able to show the kids the iron pyrite deposits near the Devil's Punchbowl and sword fight while mom sampled wine at a tasting room.

For too much of the rest, though, it was shopping and eating out, things I avoid doing whenever I can at home. It's an ambivalent feeling, taking time from a busy schedule to spend time doing things you hate doing with people you love spending time with.

So I'm going to teach my kids how to vacation and this year they will raft and climb and cave and snorkle and I will teach them to rappel and, hopefully, they will have memories of high adventure instead of high pasta; new experiences instead of nouvelle cuisine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"An Equal and Opposite Reaction"

A quote from Mac: " Awareness-- a two-way street. Most people think of awareness as one-way, a process of reception, of perceiving and processing incoming stimuli/information. But it is really two-way, due primarily to the fundamental laws of the universe: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Perceiving is an action, an energy action. And since energy and matter are two sides of the same coin, perceiving - awareness- is also material. It affects you, and the environment. The process of perceiving recieves and expresses energy."

I glitched on this hard when he first presented it. I thought I knew where he was going with it, but in many ways I'm a very concrete thinker- the world is the world and all that perception can act on is my world view, not the world itself. I took it as a neat word picture to explain some fundamental truths- the world is the way you see it; the more you see the more you can affect. Stuff like that.

I keep thinking about it and it keeps bouncing back in my head to the "Big Three", especially the combination of awareness and permission. World view is a powerful tool. If something has convinced you that a thing is impossible, you won't be able to do it, might not be able to imagine it. If you convince yourself of infinite possibilities, the world opens up before you.

For want of a better word, world view can be contagious.

I've never been involved in a bad Use of Force. I've heard of them and listened to knowledgable people who believe that bad (excessive or unnecessary) UoFs are the norm, but I've never seen one. In my worldview, we are professionals who sometimes employ force and we do it as professionals, with honor and skill. Every officer in my experience, even when I was a rank rookie, has lived up to this expectation, to MY expectation. They have adapted, for some reason or other, to my world view. Equal and opposite reaction?

Is this a mechanism for my ability to talk down volatile, insane, drug-ravaged freaks? I see them as reachable, as listening and calm and the perception forces them to adapt to my world view?

Rationally, it doesn't seem particularly possibe, but most of our impossibilities are imaginary anyway, perceptions borrowed from others. I'll work with this for awhile, see if Mac's attempt to bring me to "pure intention" is the same as "pure perception" and the two are equal, yet opposite.


The Go Rin no Sho is an important and useful work for the martial artist or anyone engaged in conflict, but value it for what it is and recognize what it is not.

It is not a moral or ethical guide. 'Kensei' gets translated as "sword saint" but Musashi was no saint-- he was a murdering bastard who, late in life when he felt death closing in, attempted to recreate himself, elevating his murders to duels and his insights to enlightenment. No where but in tales of Musashi's life is hitting someone over the head from behind as he is preparing for a duel seen as an example of sword skill or as masterful strategy. Were I to challenge you to a sword fight to prove the superiority of my school and then say, "You first," and waved you through like a gentleman as we entered the arena and then whacked you over the back of the head with a sap, no one would call that act a duel or a masterpiece of strategy. It is only good strategy if the goal is simply to kill. If the goal is to show or improve skill, it does not serve.

That's the caveat-- but there are useful things in the book, things of value and ways to think and feel and see.

Musashi's rules / my commentary:
1) Do not think dishonestly. Do not lie to yourself, ever.
2) The Way is in training. Work and learn hard, no one has ever improved by sitting on their ass and waiting.
3) Become acquainted with every art. Never pass up an opportunity to learn how an artist or skilled craftsman thinks or sees the world. Seek out the best and listen.
4) Know the ways of all professions. The world works because people do jobs. Learn about the jobs that make the world work and how they interconnect. Know ditch diggers and burger slingers, architects and doctors and understand how they need each other.
5) Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters. Know what matters. Protect what is truly precious, let go what is not. Do not lie to yourself about these categories or let society lie to you.
6) Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything. Trust your gut. Practice trusting your gut. Then practice deciphering your gut so that you can explain it verbally and you will develop intuition AND understanding.
7) Perceive those things that cannot be seen. Everything leaves tracks. Everything affects other things. When you learn to read the tracks, you can deal with invisible problems, like past trauma in a student.
8) Pay attention to trivial things. The tracks are in the small things, and small things affect big things. The tightening around your eyes will tell me more than a hundred of your words.
9) Do nothing that is of no use. My personal favorite- if you spend time doing something, it should make you or the world better. How many hours are wasted each day with TV shows that you won't remember next week or trivia or... how strong would you be if that time was spent working out? How much better could you make the world if the time was spent helping others?

There is more there in the book. Good lessons. None of which will help you a damn bit unless you practice them. Life is funny that way.

Friday, December 09, 2005


As the year ends, it's time to stop for a moment and take a look at how life is going. That requires breaking it down into pieces. Not too big pieces- nothing as vague as "Am I good person?" And not too small- "Do I treat the cats the way I would want to be treated if I was a cat? What about the goldfish? Garden snails?"

I follow the advice of Steve Barnes, a friend who writes, but his true vocation is trying to fix and improve people. Divide your life into mental, physical and spiritual. Those labels can be vague and hard to measure so he has a set of yard sticks: If you are making a living wage at a job you love you are doing well mentally. If you are in good shape and good health, you are doing well physically. If you have healthy, enjoyable and friendly intimate relationships and close friends, you are doing well spiritually. It is very simple. If you have a problem in any of these areas, the problem stems from you. If you balk at the choice of yardsticks ("Everybody hates me but I'm alright with God") you have a problem and are denying it.

Mental- the job is going well. If anything I've reached a level of competency where I am bored far too often. To fight that, I've transferred a lot of attention to training and designing training- doing things that I love very much and making good overtime at it. There's more than just the job here. Pretty consistently I read two non-fiction books a week, keeping the information and ideas flowing. I've been writing also, flowing out as well as in.

Spiritually- It's very easy to have a happy and satisfying life when you are surrounded by great people. Kami and I have the kind of love that belongs in a legend, deep and ardent. Despite the challenges of a teenage boy, I not only love but like and respect my children. It is a miracle to watch them become the man and woman they will be. It is an honor to help as much as I can. True friends are rare, but mine are extraordinary (my friends are cooler than your friends..nyeah nyeah nyeah!) from my knife-scarred warrior brother in Montreal to the legendary silverback Mac; the beautiful six foot amazon physicist/computer engineer to the nearly dwarf former marine with a way with words that sounds like a profane Shakespeare; from the Titans- Clyde, Bill and 'ski- to the tiny retiring poet; from the complex seeker learning the truth of violence to the wise talker who walked away from it...I'm surrounded by good people who excel most fantasy characters in depth as well as ability.

On the other side of spirit, I don't meditate enough, or spend time in solitude. It has been years since I went into the desert far enough that I couldn't smell people and stayed long enough that the voice in my head became perfectly still. It has been months since I rode the wings of the wind, staking my life on skill and nerve on a cliff or in a kayak or deep in a cave.

Physically things are not going as well. Injuries pile up. Right now both knees, one shoulder and lower back are injured to varying degrees. It's hard to sleep, partially because of commitments, partially discomfort... but deep down it's something more. For my entire life, working out has been a habit- pushing hard at flexibility, endurance and power. Lately it has become a chore, and an easy chore to let slide at that. In this dimension, something deep is broken and I'm not sure exactly what.

This is the evaluation of where things are. Soon it will be time to decide where to take them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Marketing the Price

I had a completely irrational emotional reaction the other day. Having lunch with two of the people I love best in the world, both writers, one of SF, the other fantasy. They were critiquing my book-in-process on violence. This has been a mutual relationship for a long time, they teach me how to write and I serve as sort of a reality check for their writing.

I was tired and the conversation was drifting around the subjects of war and horror and injury and whether people (editors and readers) who say they want "gritty realism" could really handle it. Good men die in novels and leave a horrible sense of loss. Good men die in real life squeeling and crying, kicking the dirt and screaming for their mothers to come and take the pain away.

Mike talked about writers who did major research so that they could describe those moments. My gut clenched up. I can barely stand to read fiction anyway. Think about it- sex and violence are the core issues of conflict, hence of entertainment, hence of fiction... and most authors write like they've had sex maybe once (with a partner) and NEVER been in a fight. I guess I have problems with suspending disbelief.

But researching to get it right bothered me even more. I said, "Graverobbers" out loud. I've spent the last two days digging into that reaction. I like the truth. I like reality. Most people who talk out their ass about violence need a good, well-researched wake up call.

I can't stand to read bad fiction, but its existance doesn't bother me. I've looked over conventions of writers and fans and they write for each other- one wants the luscious maiden and heroic warrior, the other supplies them. They are both "fiction people" and it keeps them off the street and away from big decisions where their fantasies might affect other people's lives.

But the idea of good, almost non-fiction fiction bothered me in the abstract (not in real life, some of my favorite books are exhaustively researched historical novels- the Sharpe's Rifles series, Master and Commander and the Flashman books).

I think it's because that knowledge comes with a heavy price- you remember looking into an empty fresh skull and the smell of brains and the indignity of plumber's crack in death. You sometimes catch yourself staring at the scars on your hands and idly counting them or thinking of the smooth hand you shook that morning. There is a gulf when you realize that you know more murderers by first name than school teachers.

I was offended by the possibility that someone would profit from the experiences paid for by another. So the word "graverobber" sprang to my lips.

It is utterly irrational. The price has been paid and much can be learned from it. The more it is spread, the more good and understanding results, the better. Relatively, the price may seem lower. Utterly irrational, like having a problem with robbing graves. The victims are dead and can neither know nor care, the jewelry or artifacts dug up could do much good, spreading wisdom and granting wealth to those in need...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Learning From Emptiness

Intuition is one of the most important elements of survival. Intuition expressed as fear- the tingling in the back of your neck or the feeling of vague disquiet- can keep you alive if you heed and act. However it is difficult to practice, difficult to train.

In Operant Conditioning terms, an intuitive warning is reinforced by a 'negative reward'. Quick explanation of terms:
Positive Reward (PR): Something good happens. Puppy gets a treat.
Negative Reward (NR): Something bad DOESN'T happen. Puppy doesn't get kicked.
Positive Punishment (PP): Something bad happens. Puppy gets kicked.
Negative Punishment (NP): Something good is withheld. Puppy gets ignored.

Positive and Negative are not value judgements but only indicate presence or absence. Reward and Punish are the value holders.

A few more examples- grounding is NP, denying contact with other kids. Spanking is PP, adding pain. Going out for ice cream is PR, adding a treat. Giving a day off from homework is NR, removing something unpleasant. The Operant Conditioning concept is a good tool. Once you realize that something as simple as a smile can be used as PR or a blank stare as NP you can modify behaviors even in a short conversation.

There are some rules for this- PP and PR should follow the action you want modified as soon as possible. If the result is delayed, it will be tied to the behavior that immediately preceded it. Example, criminals almost never associate their sentence with their crimes, but with their trials. You will hear, "I got 72 months because my attorney was a dick." You will not hear, "I got 72 months because I robbed and beat a guy almost to death."

One of the rules is that NR is one of the weakest ways to change behavior, and NR is the operating factor in training intuition.

Think about that: you get a bad feeling so you don't go to the stranger's car or open the door to the smiling delivery man or walk down that dark alley and consequently you AREN'T raped or murdered or robbed. But you'll never know for sure if it was going to happen, so you'll never be sure what, if anything, you prevented.

Several years ago, I got a bad feeling about the kitchen. Our kitchen has 25 inmates, three civilians and one unarmed officer along with all the knives, tools and machines you expect in an industrial kitchen. Earlier in the day we had inmates refusing to go to work, then inmates getting in trouble for stupid stuff almost like they wanted to go to 'the hole'... it seemed like they wanted to be out of there. My internal alarms were going off. I talked to the lieutenant and he authorized me one deputy to try to prevent whatever was (or wasn't) going to happen. I picked Craig, one of my tactical team members, former marine, good officer and a good man and we spent the rest of the shift in the kitchen, talking to everyone, being everywhere.

Nothing happened. I'll never know if we prevented a hostage situation, a riot, a planned fight or nothing at all. Nothing happened. It's hard to learn from nothing.

Last night, I was priveleged to watch an old friend work. Andy was my predecessor as Tactical Team leader. He had a problem in reception- a huge, violent con who was refusing to process into the jail. I listened as Andy laid out his detailed, spur-of-the-moment tactical plan with the easy authority that I've always admired. This was the man who had taught me to plan and I didn't realize it before. The plan went off without a hitch, the positions of the deputies, the tools present, the verbal commands, the timing and contingencies all laid out in advance and the inmate never had an opportunity to succeed so he didn't get violent. No force was necessary, no force was used. Nothing happened.

Afterwards, Andy asked me if he handled it right, if he should have authorized force during the few times it would have been within policy. First off, it's weird being asked for a critique from someone you consider your teacher. But the core is that even with his experience and his certain knowledge that a use of force avoided is better than one won, the fact that nothing happened felt wrong. Incomplete. No closure.

Some of the greatest successes are empty and invisible. It's hard to celebrate that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Great Philosophers

Some years ago a book called "The Closing of the American Mind" inspired me to begin reading Philosophy. I'm one of those people who made it almost all the way through college without ever taking a Liberal arts core course- I took languages instead of foreign studies; anthropolgy, psychology and sociology instead of minority studies or political science; biology instead of current events or history. My introduction to logic was in mathematics, statistics and experimental design courses, not philosophy.

When my senior advisor pointed out that I'd avoided these courses (it wasn't conscious, I spent my time learning the stuff I wanted to know) and that it was required to graduate, I took a term filled with LA stuff. It lived up to my expectations- professors with a thin grasp of history ignoring their own stated facts to present their 'enlightened' conclusions. It was about opinion and seemed to be more about finding weasel room in the facts so that they could be twisted to your own predetermined conclusion than about learning. Philosophy, "the love of learning" in my experience had nothing to do with learning at all. It was an academic discipline for people who couldn't survive if held to a consistant standard.

"The Closing of the American Mind" was a lament of the decline of philosophy in American education, but I was inspired by something else. The author had been able to point out how changes in philosophical thinking had inspired or enabled major changes in politics and culture. Hmmm. So we got a group together and started reading and discussing Western Philosophers from the ancient to the past. (We planned to do Eastern later). That I remember we read Plato (Symposium, Republic, a few others), Aristotle (Metaphysics, Politics and Nichomachean Ethics), Lucretius (De Rerum Naturae), and Marcus Aurelius (Meditations) before the group disbanded. I've stuck with it alone, a little less intently, hence the present reading of "The City of God". Hey! I'm up to the 5th Century!

It's been clear that human thinking has really evolved over time. Socrates was an idiot who couldn't win a gradeschool debate contest. His student, Plato would write the dialogues in such a way that the debating opponents would allow Socrates to set the parameters of the argument and then meekly say (over and over again) "Surely it must be so, Socrates! You are right, Socrates!" Grrrr.... So some one would say, "Prove to me that a just man who people think is wicked has a better life than a wicked man who people think is just, Socrates." That's a damn good question. Socrates would then say that it was too hard to study a man because he was small (huh?) and that it is hard to read a small sign far away but easy to read a big one up close but since they were both signs, you could read the big one and know the small one (utter horseshit- that billboard will not tell me what your bumper sticker says) and that therefore by describing a city he can prove that the good man who seems wicked has a better life than the wicked man who seems good... and everyone just says, "Surely it must be so, Socrates." Grrr. By the end of the Republic, Plato/Socrates had "proven" that a perfect society should have no poetry, no fiction and only music chosen by the state.

In "Metaphysics" I expected Aristotle to go into the deeper nature of reality- what is beyond physics? Why must we have physics? Nope. About a hundred pages into it I realized he was asking the Clinton Question- what does "is" mean? Is Mac Mac the martial artist? Or Mac the cop? Or Mac the teacher? Is he a combination of every atom of his being and every second of his history or only his name? Or only what we see right now? Is a chair a chair if it's not being sat in? And is a barrel a chair if someone sits on it... The whole premise of the book could only have arisen in a culture that was just beginning to understand the concept of symbolics. We forget that in many early cultures, the Name is the Thing and there is no clear separation of an object from it's symbol.

I liked the Latin guys better. Lucretius tried to apply common sense to explain the universe with mixed success. Marcus Aurelius was giving advice to his son, and the advice holds up pretty well over the millenia. There's the difference, here. These Roman philosophers were trying to create or collect a system of knowledge that was to be used- not scoring points off of drunk friends. Aurelius cared about his son. Socrates/Plato cared about looking smarter than every one else.

Now St. Augustine and the City of God. I'm half way through and there have been a few moments. I've blogged about two and he makes an assertion that only the Hebrews have ever claimed a divine source for their codes of law. That struck me, since it seems that religion would be a natural for making rules... but I can't think of another society. The Code of Hammurabai, the Athenian laws of Solon, none of the ancient laws that I can think of claim a divine source. Curious. Other than that, the book, so far is little more than a collection of slimy debating tricks and self-serving redefinitions. The arguments he uses against the Roman gods would also destroy the logic of his own religion, if he allowed it to be applied in that directions. His proofs of Christianity rely heavily on changing the meaning of words like 'death' and pretending that any prediction which didn't come true did, actually, but only if all the words mean something else.

Still plowing through, still learning.