Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chocolate Break

Walked into the office yesterday and the Lieutenant looked up, "The chaplain gave me a ten pound bar of chocolate. What should I do with it?"
"Eat it, " I said.
"That's ten pounds!"
"Eat half today and half tomorrow. That's what Kami would do."
"You really want to see me curled up in a corner unconscious and bloated with brown drool trickling out of my mouth?" She has a way with images, huh?
However my wife's a chocoholic. It wouldn't be anything new. "It wouldn't be anything new," I said. The LT said she'd planned on breaking it and giving it to staff, but it wouldn't break.

I picked up the bar. Ten pounds of chocolate is big- about a foot by eighteen inches and almost two inches thick. I handed it to Gary. He knew right away what was going on and held it with locked arms. I drove a shotei through the brick, splitting it nicely in two. "There you go."

"You're a dork," the LT said.

I don't do tameshiwara (breaking) much. It's mostly tricks. The only time I do or teach them is when a student (who is usually a small female) confides that she is not sure she could really hurt someone. Then I teach her to break a brick over an anvil. The break is nothing. A completely untrained person can learn it in a few minutes... but it is a huge confidence booster. Is a brick anything like a rib? No. Is striking on the move anything like a set strike on an anvil? No. But people still derive confidence from it. Go figure.

Anyway, the chocolate was a weird consistancy. It was tougher than a board of the same thickness. With a little give to it a noticeable amount of force was absorbed in the flex.

Today my wrist hurts. How embarrassing is that? Martial artist thug injures self breaking chocolate.

Lieutenant was right. I'm a dork.

For His Own Good

Did a shakedown in the psych dorm today. A shakedown is an area search- you search all the inmates as you move them to another place, then search all the bunks, bunk areas and common areas of the dorm looking for contraband- drugs, weapons, stockpiled food, homemade wine (pruno). Mostly we find "nuisance contraband" where inmates have managed to squirrel away extra clothes or sheets or make gambling devices or art projects that require altering or destroying an approved item.

It's always uncomfortable to do the psych ward- moving 65 inmates who are not very stable and have difficulty with any disruption to their schedule is part of it. Part of it is that they may or may not remember what they own, so they may think that things are missing after the search that they never had. Some save everything- one of the bunks I searched today had empty food wrappers jammed into the drawer and under the mattress. Some of the inmates don't understand the (minor) disciplinary procedure that follows.

We have a two-tiered disciplinary system. Minor issues can be handled by the officer if the inmate is willing to waive a formal hearing. Normally that's accepting an hour loss of walk rather than having a formal hearing and risking days in the hole. The inmate signs a citation waiving a formal hearing. The second tier is the hearing, which for major issues can mean months of lock-down, fines, loss of good time (most jurisdictions automatically take days off of sentances if the inmate doesn't get into trouble. A sentence of a year runs about six months with good time and work time). There's also the unofficial third tier of informal discipline: "Don't do this again." or "Don't let me see you again tonight- cell yourself in and I won't have to write." These are voluntary- an inmate can always push it to formal discipline if he wishes- but the best officers use this light touch more than either of the formal systems.

I spent an hour tonight trying not to send a guy to the hole. He has some mental health issues and doesn't speak English very well. There was minor contraband on his bunk during the search and the deputy working psych had decided to cite for an hour. There were several who refused to sign at first, but most of them were talked through the process. Not this guy. He said he would never sign anything, not ever. The last time he signed an official paper it turned out he was agreeing to do five years and he swore he would never sign another thing in jail...

Reason, weighing the penalties, even his friends stepping in to explain it didn't help. It wasn't going to happen.

So why did I care? That would take some meditation to answer. He hadn't done anything that wrong. He was doing well in the psych dorm. I don't personally care for using a big stick if it isn't necessary. Lots of reasons.

An hour. His poor English, my worse Spanish and the help of occassional inmate translators. He kept going back to the paper he had signed at such cost. At times I felt like I was outside, watching my performance. Listening, talking, RTPV (Rate, Tone, Pitch and Volume) of voice all set at soothing levels. Letting him alone to stew for just the right amount of time. Bringing in the rules in Spanish so that he could read for himself. The one perfect Spanish sentence I'd rehearsed in the back of my mind...

It was sincere, but it was also calculated. This wasn't an earnest and heartfelt appeal. It was an applied skill for his own good. There was one frozen moment when I realized I was a tempter, I was acting just like a demon tempting someone into sin. That the skills were there for good or evil, my choice, but they were there.

He signed, with tears streaming down his face. An act, for him, of extreme trust and extreme danger. A test of skill for me.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The List

He's entering adolescence. He'll have my coloring- bright blue eyes and hair that is now blonde but will darken as he ages and he'll have his mother's wide-set eyes. He stutters a bit because he thinks so much faster than he talks, but that will change as he learns the mysteries and power of listening and observing. Wrestling with him it seems likely that he also inherited my slightly freakish bone and muscle density.

We talk a lot, more now that he is on the edge of manhood and I understand him better than I did the quiet and artistic child he was such a short time ago.

We talk about growing and changing and he understands that his purpose now is to discover who he is... he understands that consciously far better than I did until I was a decade older. Discovery isn't enough, though. I tell him also to step up and decide who he will be. Decide, choose. Out of all the possibilities, son, what feels most true?

He's been playing D&D a lot. After a little thought he said he wanted to be a Ranger, but an urban one.

Make a list, son, of all the skills you will need to be that person.

He did and the list is a wonder: he wants to know about the behavior and anatomy of people and animals; to learn to survive and hunt and fight; to track and stalk and many, many other things. To travel, to observe. To heal.

It seems like a child's list, maybe: "I want to be Robin Hood when I grow up, Daddy." It is not. Whatever he becomes- artist, veterinarian, accountant, cop- he will learn these things and he will learn to see and to listen- to use the quiet magic of a compassionate heart backed up with the mighty arm of a warrior. He will see the patterns of behaviors and social nets and not give offense (by accident) in the most exotic of cultures- from Romany to Maori to wolf and shark. He will learn to care, not just to say the words and sympathize but to protect and to heal and to provide food and water and shelter.

As he masters these skills he will be able to stand alone- there can be no freedom if you must depend on others for survival- and he will be able to choose not to, to surround himself with people of courage and skill.

I'm very proud and now it is my part to give him a good head start on the skills he has listed, to show him what I know of people and animals, tracks, healing, fighting, stalking, travel....

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Years ago, after my first exposure to religious fanatics I asked my mother what made them. She said, "Do you know that feeling you get when you see something really beautiful and your chest swells up like it's going to burst and your spine starts singing and you can feel and see and hear and smell everything?"


"How often do you feel that?"

"Not very often, maybe once or twice a week."

"Most people never feel that in their whole lives, Rory. Can you imagine that?"

I could, and it was horrible.

"If you feel it only once, you'll think it's religious and holy. You'll spend the rest of your life trying to get it back. A fanatic is someone who has only ever felt that once."

Hmmm. Wonder if I've offended anyone? This state of soul-singing joy is unbelievably intense and devoid of any awareness of self. It's not quite the same as satori. An article I read some time ago claimed to have mapped the brain functions of intense religious experience- this is it.

It is not the same as battle-joy, though. When every attempt to de-escalate or avoid has failed and the fight is on and only one person will walk away and civilization and rules and pretense slip away, that is battle joy. It is pure, one of the few pure things in life. I am me and nothing more, but I am me totally and totally in the moment. All that exists is me, the threat and the situation. It is a cold and maniacal joy, like your whole being, mind body and soul a single muscle at the perfect moment of action. Your soul laughs but it makes no sound because it doesn't occur to share or display.

My mother told me that most people have never experienced the spirit joy. I don't know if that's true. I hope not, but it seems that there would be many more secret smiles if it were common.

The battle joy I know is rare because so few have been in a position to feel it. It's not the same as an adrenaline rush and it is orders of magnitude beyond anything I have experienced in competition or training. It is addicting and I hunger for it... and like many addictive things it takes more and more to trigger the rush.

The spirit joy is content and it doesn't seem to diminish with exposure, but become easier... though it is hard for me to access around people or crowds.

Have you felt these joys? Have you felt them both?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Job Offer

Got a job offer today.

A gentleman who is one of the top, if not the top spy in the Justice Department's Intelligence Division and also is independently wealthy offered me a job today. He runs over 40 subdivisions of his own aerospace and electronics technology firm as well as consulting for the FBI, CIA and NSA.

An Oscar-winning director will be working on the movie of his life that is set to be released coincidentally with his autobiography. He projects a rough profit of $350,000,000 from those two projects.

Anyway, he thinks that I might be a real asset to his firm once the Supreme Court sees reason and he is released from the psych ward of our jail.

Think I should take him up on it?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Safety, Security and Comfort

Years ago I attended one of Tom Brown's tracking and wilderness survival classes. I'd like to say I met or know "The Tracker" but he was working on the movie "The Hunted" and spent little time with our class, just giving the philosophy lecture. That's okay. The man is a great speaker, almost scary in his ability to move an audience.

There was one piece of that speech that I keep in a special place in my soul. Not going to try to quote it- this will be in my words and my understanding, but Tom deserves the credit.

Our lives center around three things- Safety, Security and Comfort. Why do we have jobs and insurance? Medical technology, couches and flush toilets? Almost all of the effort of the typical adult is centered on maximizing one or more of these three things.

So here's the question. Ask it of yourself or of anyone that you meet. Think back to one time when you felt absolutely, completely, totally alive. Feel it, remember it... and ask yourself: Did that moment have anything to do with safety, security or comfort?

It didn't, did it? I've never met anyone who said that they felt alive while filling out their insurance paperwork or stockpiling groceries. The moments center around climbing and diving, being in an unknown city not speaking a word of the local language and making friends. Mine? Spinning in a cave dangling from a free rapell with a failing light, drinking a suspicious looking manioc beer with a reformed cannibal, retiring a white-water raft by taking it down the side of a mountain, scuba diving with a spotted eagle ray... caving and climbing, exploring and fighting.

So why do we spend so much effort on things that don't make us feel alive? Especially when those things are false. There is no such thing as safety or security in a world with a 100% mortality rate. They are illusions. Live.

Living on this plane means taking risks and pushing envelopes. It is the wild hilarity of near-death and the sated calm of triumph.

And I feel like a hypocrit for mentioning it. When was the last time I did anything dangerous? Okay, it was only a couple of hours ago... but when was the last time that I felt I was in danger? The bar is high, almost unbelievably high. It's been five years or so since I had five very nervous officers holding me at gunpoint... and I didn't feel the smallest trickle of adrenaline. Nothing. It hasn't gotten better since than.

The full moon or a starlit sky or the scent of the desert or the presence of my wife can bring out a singing joy in my soul, the kind of joy that makes people who feel it only once convert to a religion, but it's not the same as the wild battle joy. It's my curse, maybe, to have known both so well and so much.

Typical Day- Medium Security, Swing Shift

Up too early with a nasty shining unshielded atomic fire blazing in through the window. Damn sun. Drag my lazy ass out of bed and pull something on. Make coffee. Drink coffee. Growl "Hi" at the kids or wife if they happen to be awake. Eat something, reading a book(currently "Protecting the Gift"). Have more coffee. Take a shower. Have more coffee. Think about doing kata on the deck. Spend some time talking to the kids or wife, depending on schedule. More coffee. Sex. More coffee. Tease the cats. Get my gear together for work. Strap on a gun. Heat up a cup of coffee to go. Kiss family good bye. Pet dogs goodbye.

Drive. Listen to a book on tape (currently "Elizabeth the First, CEO").

Arrive at work early. Answer a bunch of stupid questions. Check the reader board. Find out from day shift how much stuff they left for me to finish. Make a list if it's more than three issues. Put on a uniform. Put on the "inside the jail" belt. Go to briefing. Sit in briefing as the OIC tries to be entertaining. When the OIC asks, "Sergeant, do you have anything to add?" say, "Can I please just go to work?" Go to work. Head to the office to check e-mails. Get halfway through and the back-up call comes over the radio. Sprint- it's always at the other end of the building, never in my area... I still get there first or close to it. Read the scene- other inmates are slow to bunk in, trying to watch. "It's over!" I yell it and the fighters jump apart like they're on strings. Deputies arrive, cuff and remove the fighters. 70 or so inmates are watching from their bunks in the open dorm. I walk into the middle of the dayroom, take a seat and sprawl. I look at any inmates who aren't seated and they sit down. Then I look at any that are still talking and they quiet down. If the inmates behaved well, I check with the sergeant for this area- if he has it under control, I leave. If it doesn't seem to be calmed down, I stay in the seat in the middle of the inmate area and have a little talk with the dorm- not loud, but I can project. Then I leave.

Decide to do the e-mail later and wander through my dorms. Six dorms, 10 officers, 420 inmates. I talk to each officer and spend time in all the inmate areas, watching movies with them from their chairs. I sit for awhile to watch chess games or scrabble. One inmate asks, "Why do you always watch chess, sarge?" "I've always wanted to meet a criminal mastermind. Just figured this was my best option." The inmate laughs. In the course of this wander, every one of my inmates will have a chance to talk to me and I will listen. There are real and legitimate problems and I'll fix those if I can... and I'll tease the ones who are gaming. If someone is breaking a minor rule, I'll stare and they will fix it, no words said.

Done. Check my watch. Not much of the shift is over, not enough and I've done everything in the job description.

Finish the e-mail. Back up call, medical back-up this time. Not in my area again. Don't sprint for these. Female this time, having a seizure. The rest of the dorm is buzzing, high-pitched, talking. I check the casualty, then quiet down the dorm- "Have a seat, ladies, you look like a bunch of damn prarie dogs." They laugh and sit down, then grow quiet. Medical staff shows up much later and treats the patient in the room. Seizures are common in jail. I check my watch. Rush hour is mostly over outside, so I check out a set of car keys and go to my locker for the vest and the "Outside the jail" belt- weapon, OC, Taser, ASP, all the toys and go check on the deputies watching inmates in local hospitals. That can be quick or take a while.

Back to the barn, put away the outside belt and vest, put on the jail belt, turn in the car keys. Occassionally something has happened in my area as soon as I left. Take care of any paperwork that has generated while I was gone.

Wander through the dorms again, following up on anything from the last trip. This second trip through a night is probably the biggest reason things are so quiet in my areas. Wander, watch, talk. Coach deputies, listen to the inmates in the psych ward (did I mention that 140 of my inmates have moderate to severe psychological or developmental problems?) defuse tension.

Check my watch. Check e-mail. Think about making coffee. Update journal. Write. The radio is quiet. Check my watch again. Go down to meet the night shift. Anything happen? Not a damn thing. Absolutely no point in having a sergeant at all. West end was quiet as death.

Typical day, doing nothing ... but I never did have lunch.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Friends has always been a difficult word and a difficult concept for me. I'm not particularly social- I enjoy spending time with many people but I have no desire to seek out contact. I don't get lonely, in other words, and don't really understand the concept.

When I was young, 'friend' was a word limited to the one or two people you would die for without question. There was a larger circle that were fun and that I spent time with- I called them acquaintances because I didn't have a vocabulary for the nuances. Friends were special and we had literally saved each other's lives at least once.

As experience grew, the word became 'brother' and the criteria slipped a bit. I've bled with my brothers, or cried with them. We have spilled blood when we had to but in those events we risked our own and always counted on each other for safety and protection. We've preserved each other's sanity and sometimes marriages. The bond is deep, far deeper than when, as a child, I glibly decided that the friends were the people I would die for. I've risked death for people I don't even like since then. It's not the big deal I thought it was.

This is powerful and this bond is hard to explain to people who haven't shared in one, but it's not complete and it's not quite right. There are good people in the world who I will meet and enjoy who don't consider bleeding to be a normal part of life. We will never have an opportunity to share the moments that are my mileposts for friendship.

This is on my mind today. Last night Kami and I spent the evening with two great people. Nice dinner, wonderful talk. My social skills were a bit stunted, but I felt more comfortable than I have with a non-criminal or non-cop than I can remember. Learned a lot, listened a lot. Watched Kami take on the glow that she gets in social settings. Anyway, I was just awed for a few hours by the simple majesty of friendship and the lack of vocabulary that I have for such a common, profound thing.

PART 2 Separate Issue

There was a time, too, when I was drawn to the wounded bird- when the friends and lovers that came into my life were people who needed to be saved or fixed or healed. Over the years I learned that there are people who have been wounded or who have never learned to live, and you can help those... but there are far more who have taken their injury, their malfunction or their failure and taken it on as an identity. You can do nothing for them and I cut them out of my life. There are too many beautiful and useful things to do to waste the time on people who want attention with no intent to ever heal.

A friend of a friend (FOAF) is a mess. Always has been. The friend has put a lot of energy and love into the attempt to get the FOAF to turn his life around, to have a life, to DO SOMETHING. I never understood my friend's need to help this man when he so patently had no desire to help himself. I realize now that he sees himself in his friend. He struggled with many of the same issues that his friend is overwhelmed by.

I want to shake him. The qualitative difference that he struggled and kept struggling until he fixed them is a gap that overshadows any similarity of background or shared pain. The difference between the people who fix their problems and the people who wallow or deny is as vast as the difference between a plant and an animal. I believe it is almost as hard to get a wallower to take control as it is for a human to photosynthesize. Some will improve in one area to keep from losing the connection, but that is only exchanging a codependancy for another issue temporarily.

Maybe. Maybe I'm wrong. But I've wrestled with this a lot and not once have I ever truly turned someone around.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Israeli Principles

Principles are those universal guidelines that apply in many areaas over time and across distance and culture. I recently read an article by General Y. Yadin of the IDF (if it was even called the IDF back then) General Staff in 1949.

Early in the article he listed the principles of strategy that had been important in the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-48. I don't know where he got his list of principles or if they were original to him. Doesn't matter. The more different ways we can look at the basic problem, the more we can learn. The list, with a few comments-

1) The Principle of Surprise- a classic. There is great power in being the only one who knows what is going on and it is usually easy to win a fight if you are the only party aware that a fight is happening. Many, many pages can and have been written on this and it is no accident, IMO, that it was listed first.

2) The Principle of Maintenance of Aim. Keep your eye on the ball. Do not be distracted from your primary objective. This is important in grand strategy, also, in that once a goal has been set it is counterproductive and wasteful to spend time and energy on handwringing and second guessing, or to give attention or power to those who would have you constantly revisit already made decisions. We know from bitter experience that even a bad decision usually ends better than indecisiveness in combat. There is a problem inherent in this principle, however: If the aim is obvious or well-known, you automatically give up strategic surprise. The strategic artistry of being able to shift goals as opportunities arise is very powerful.

3) The Principle of Economy of Force. The Seiryoku Zenyo of Kano's Judo, "Maximum efficiency, minimum effort". Not always minimum effort, but it is essential not to waste: not to waste time or men or material.

4) The Principle of Coordination. Different parts must work together. Clumsy organizations fail the same way clumsy people do. Organizations who are divided between different parts, like management and line staff or command and operations and those parts have different goals or visions or ethics will fail just like a person who has no single basic idea of right or can't decide on a goal.

5) The Principle of Concentration. 'Kime' of Japanese Martial Arts. When you hit, focus everything you can spare on the smallest point in space and time that you can.

6) The Principle of Security- despite 5 above, you usually need to watch your ass. This is one area where military strategy is different than the strategy of self defense. In a sudden assault, you are fighting for your ass already and saving something back to watch it is wasted. A military operation has resources and lines of communication that must be protected or the troops are alone. Any action might leave troops on the flank or rear exposed. A military operation allows a certain amount of attrition- one dead person rarely scrubs the op. When you as an individual are attacked, the resources, flank and rear are all YOU and an attrition of one surely scrubs the op of living.

7) The Principle of Offensive Spirit. I'm not sure if I would characterize this as a principle rather than a motivational goal. In a way, it is saying that 5 is more important than 6; that it is preferred to attack than to defend. Not always true in a war of attrition, but usually true in other forms of conflict.

8) The Principle of Mobility. This allows and reinforces all of the above except, possibly, "Maintenance of Aim". It's powerful and important.

There- a lesson in strategy and history from the last century.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I'm really celebrating my wife today.

In "Gates of Fire" (major spoiler alert!) the King of Sparta in the end explains that he had chosen the 300 Spartans to hold the pass at Thermopylae not by their skill, courage or experience but by the strength of their wives. I would surely have been chosen.

This morning I was at a class conducted by Dr. Bobby Smith, a former Alabama State Trooper blinded by an assailant's shotgun blast. He talked about the personalities of cops, the closing off, the silence... and the divorce, alcoholism and suicide it can lead to. It was powerful stuff, well presented. It reached a lot of people and I sat in the back feeling unbelievably blessed.

I was never told as a rookie that it was "Us against the world" or cautioned not to talk to 'outsiders' because they wouldn't understand. I was told, instead, to hold on to my non-cop friends with everything I had; to talk to my wife and kids and never grow apart and to always keep interests and hobbies that had nothing to do with the job.

On my own I learned to laugh.

There is dark stuff, and it does separate us from the civilians. There are evil people in the world, and some civilians will never accept this as fact and will always pretend that some crime, some hideous murder/torture/rape was nothing more than a 'bad decision'. Those citizens will always be separated from us, and maybe it's a good thing.

Kami can wash the darkness away. No matter how much there is or how close I got to it. She doesn't take any crap from me or let me dodge, but she listens. When I need it she holds me. She can see the ray of light at the edge of the storm, point out the strange beautiful bird in the flock of little winged vermin she insists on feeding.

Today I sat in a room and saw officers break down and sob, not at the tragic life of this blind trooper but at all the things they had tried to hide from themselves, that they had stored in a strange attempt to create a clean world in part of their minds. And I was almost guilty at how little I had hidden, how much I had shared. Honored to have such a woman to share it with, impatient to steal away just to spend an hour with her between class and start of shift.

Big 3 Teachers

I've said before that teaching people to survive and teaching them to fight is really about teaching them to see. Maybe not. Maybe that is my focus. The Big Three: Awareness, Initiative and Permission, are integral to survival fighting on every level.

A British friend sent me some articles he had written about a first class "Reality Based Self Defense" (RBSD) instructor, Mick Coup. I enjoyed the article- Mick is widely experienced, knew what he was talking about and really understood the dynamics of violence. He had little patience for bullshit and he was definitely one of the people I would like to sit with over a beer and pick his brains. But he taught completely differently than I do.

Mick teaches the high percentage techniques and drills them. His students will do the right thing and they will do it automatically. Of the Big Three, his focus is on the "Initiative" aspect of the tripod.

When most people think of RBSD, they think of the "Model Mugging" or WomanSafe programs- simple techniques geared to get the average woman past her inhibitions and let her hurt an assailant. Though all good self-defense programs stress awareness and prevention, these programs shine in empowering women to hit. They are focused on the Permission aspect of the Big Three.

When I teach it is much about how your own body moves, what hurts to hit, how to generate speed and power, how to move from weird positions; how to understand and adapt to what another is doing, how to feel motion as well as see it, how to move two or more bodies as a single mass... my goal is that when my students are faced with chaos, it will be like home to them, that they will be as calm and adaptable as I usually am. Awareness.

None of these are bad. I would love to train with Mick (I don't seem to lack much in the Permission department). If a person doesn't have at least some level in all three, they will fail- all the initiative and awareness in the world will not help if you can't hurt another human being. Beyond the basics, though, we focus.

I don't know why. Maybe we focus on what has worked for us. Maybe, somewhere in an early fight we should have lost, Mick exploded and I sensed an odd angle and we won. Or maybe it's just the opposite, maybe I exploded and wished I'd seen the other option and Mick is the one who found the elegant option and later realized that explosive action would have been faster and safer (and faster is usually safer).

Or maybe it's about time and inclination. Maybe Mick's gut tells him to get it over with quickly and he marvels at the efficient beauty of what he does; I saw some weird stuff and wanted to slow down time and try to understand it. That sounds like me: teaching style driven by curiosity.

Maybe. Maybe no one would notice a huge difference in what we teach, or some spectator some day will see us both take down a criminal and it will look really, really similar. The differences I'm writing about here, like much in this field can be either very large or very small, depending on how much you look at them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Risk and Chance

"I've been watching you for awhile," the crusty old sergeant said. "You take risks but you never take chances. You'll be alright." Had to think about that one for a long time. What was the difference between taking a risk and taking a chance?

In the end it's about luck and cost and acting.

Risk is all about the potential cost. I do dangerous things. Sometimes for fun but mostly for money or to fulfill my obligation. I will and have talked to psychotics alone in a cell, pulled two fighters out of a tank of cheering inmate spectators, faced down a drunk man with a shotgun screaming that he was going to kill his daughter's boyfriend. Risk is one thing. Climbing without ropes is risky. Betting your life savings on a role of the dice is risky. Climbing roped up in a gym isn't risky. Plugging a quarter into a slot machine isn't risky. Risk is about the cost.

Chance isn't quite about luck, it's about attitude towards luck.

Luck is the natural enemy of the operator. All the training, the planning and the rehearsing before a mission is designed to eliminate luck as a factor as much as possible. That said, we know that there is no way to eliminate luck entirely. So we cut it down as far as we can in the time that we have and we move. Even when luck comes into play (and it doesn't always- sometimes things do go according to plan, but those very rarely make good stories) it breaks your way some times. If you have the ability through training or inclination to really thrive in chaos, to stay aware of the changing events and exploit them ruthlessly, luck is usually on your side. But never always. Birds get sucked into turbines. Ammunition misfires. Seagulls shit on rifle scopes.

When you take a chance, you're choosing to rely on your luck. It's the opposite of operator thinking. To take a chance is to decide, "I'm going to do this and if X, Y and Z break my way I'll win." If things outside your control are required for you to win, you're taking chances.

When you plan for what you can forsee and the plan is good, you will succeed unless luck turns against you. Taking a chance is relying on luck, taking a risk is minimizing the role it will play as much as you can and still going, despite the potential cost.

Some risk-takers freeze, though. They don't want to act until all bases are covered, everything is planned for, no chance is left for the plan to go South. But that state of perfect planning is a myth, so there is a comfort level of preparation, of risk control, that decides much about whether an individual will act or wait.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sunday Dinner

Don't know if you are old enough to remember, but the world was supposed to end in the seventies. Maybe the eighties, but there was absolutely no chance that we would make it to 2000 before there was a nuclear attack and/or a complete economic collapse and/or a complete ecological disaster.

My parents believed this and in 1976 they moved us to eighty acres in the desert to raise our own food and live as self-sufficiently as possible.

We raised chickens, lots of chickens, and they were "free range", which means the smart ones found out early that if they slept in the coop racoons would kill them all. The chickens ran wild and lived in trees.

When mom decided it was time to butcher some chickens, dad and I (or just me, if he was working) would get our .22 rifles and cull the herd. Mom would tell us which roosters were off limits and if there were any hens she wanted culled, and we went hunting. Only head shots allowed.

The head on a chicken is a little bigger than a quarter, and the suckers move. We got very, very good at fast accurate shots.

Which brings us to Sunday Dinner. Sunday Dinner was the scrawniest, fastest, luckiest rooster in the world. Mom wanted him dead, because we were getting a suspiciously large number of scrawny fast hatchlings. We tried every butchering day for almost two years. The first time I shot him and saw blood and he ran. I tracked him and didn't find him for hours, when he came home, hiding behind my sister.

After that, if he saw rifles, he ran for the hills and didn't come back for the rest of the day. One time, I left the rifle and tried a handgun, got real close and ... missed. Damnit.

Sunday Dinner's last day, he'd taken off as soon as the butchering started. We were almost done and I saw him running through a path between two cotton woods trees at 75 yards. I snapped off a shot and he started doing the dead chicken dance. Chickens with their heads cut off do run. They also jump and do backflips. Sunday Dinner was spinning end over end, jumping, running and dead.

I carried him to mom for the scalding and gutting part of the day. She said, "Rory, look at this." There were two bullet holes in his comb, healed. One in the wattles at his neck. There was a chip out of his top and lower beak from two different bullets and healed graze at the back of his neck and a healed hole in the side of his neck in front of the spine. He lived a relatively long and healthy life with seven bullet hits to his head and neck. The eighth killed him.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Nothing works 100% of the time. That's one of the things that is so true to the initiates as to be not worth mentioning...and so incomprehensible to the theorists as to be invisible.

"A .45 acp with FMJ...." A neighboring jurisdiction had a guy take five and still try to crawl after the officer. A local here was shot between the eyes from less than five feet and it bounced off his skull and lodged in the ceiling.

"It's shot placement- if you know how to hit what you're aiming at..." We use a training tape called "Ultimate Survivors" which describes a bad day in Baton Rouge. By the end of it one officer, Linda Lawrence, was dead and her partner had almost been beaten to death. The assailant had ten bullets in his chest and head from duty revolvers- .38 special or .357. After a contact shot to the solar plexus, the threat grunted, "That was a good one," and threw the officer across the room. He'd also taken an armpit to armpit perforation. The officer placed his revolver against the threat's forehead and testified that he saw the carpet through the hole he blew in the back of the threat's skull... and the threat got up and tried to attack again.

"A good shot to the knee will take anyone out." I had my ACL snapped in a judo class, and still did two more randoris. I didn't like it and I didn't do well, but I was far from done.

There are thousands of these incidents from the twilight zone of combat. Stuff that shouldn't work does. Stuff that can't work, might. Stuff that is perfectly reliable isn't.

The action/reaction gap? Beaten it, and so has nearly everyone else who has survived a close-range ambush with a knife.

Gravity always works.... except for that one time, and that was in my favor so that's cool. And Newton's First Law of Motion has only failed me once- it's creepy for a guy you're throwing to change direction in mid air. And there we get to the edge of acceptance for the initiates.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Ultimate Goal

For an event coming up in a few months I've been asked to prepare a goal in each of three specific areas of my life- my health, my relationships and my career. I've been kicking it around and can't really come up with anything substantial. One of the people coordinating the event suggested a 50% solution: a 50% increase in energy, quality of relationship and income.

A 50% increase in energy would definitely put me in the hyperactivity stage. Most people will never have a relationship as good as mine is now- a 50% increase in passion would kill a healthy man. There isn't enough room for a 50% increase in sincerity. Money's nice, but I've never used it as a way to keep score. It's much more important to me to do something that matters.

It has been bothering me a bit that I don't see huge room for improvement (alright, I could work on my wind). Not that I'm "too happy", but that the things most people think of that they use to measure happiness and success don't resonate with me at all.

Still, determined to set some goals, I do what I always do when I'm stuck- I back engineer. I think about the goals and then work out the steps from the goals to where I am now. Since these questions are about improving life, the question is : What would be my perfect life?

I'd live in a cave or a small cabin, miles away from the nearest human being. A cave if it was in the desert or on a beach, the cabin if in the mountains. There would be many books and scattered souvenirs and trophys from adventures. Day to day life would be hard work- chopping wood, carrying water, hunting and skinning game.

There would be a great and wise king with a sense of justice that I trusted absolutely. From time to time he would send me a message that his kingdom or part of it or a person was in grave danger and he would trust me absolutely to fix it. I would fix it, whether it took diplomacy or stealth or combat or something else... making friends, learning and gathering more souvenirs with each mission. I would never show up at the King's court, I would never be paid or recognized, I would just be left alone. But sometimes, if the King just needed to talk, he would be welcome to visit and sit by the fire and look at the stars and drink good scotch and forget he was a king for awhile.

Analysis? I want important work; to keep my mind and body active; to test myself and take risks; and to be left alone. To serve someone whom I consider good. That's my idea of paradise.

I've come about as close to that as is possible. My agency makes good decisions and we are definitely the good guys. I'm the tactical team leader and I prevent stuff or talk them down or take them down and it's mostly left up to me which and how.

The family doesn't quite fit into the fantasy, but they're pretty cool so I'll keep 'em for now.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wrote A Story

Been pretty sick for the last four days, sitting at home and watching movies. Night before last, all in a rush I wrote a short story.

I rarely read fiction. Haven't written any, or wanted to, for years. This just came pouring out. Adventure, humor, horror. Twelve pages in less than two hours. Complete. I read it over when it was done and it was full of rage and frustration. (Don't worry, Mac, it's not internalized).

The crux of the story was the conflict between people who deal professionally with violence and the people who hire them. Hence the frustration.

The citizens who looks right past you, looking for someone more like Stallone or Arnold.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Partner, you're the one screaming for help and I'm not going to apply for the job. I'm here to save your ass, not to kiss it.

The people who want you to do a job that they can't even imagine, but do it in a way that doesn't make them feely ooky. Define ooky. Oh, I don't know.

The people who watch the news broadcast and see the crook carted away and think it's over when it's really just beginning for the violator and the victim and the officer.

The people who think that it will be a cool adventure- a piece of dialogue from the story as I remember it:
"You wait here."
"No. I'm going with you."
"That was predictable. You're staying."
"You can't make me."
"You want me to go in there and kill twenty people and you don't think I can make you stay? What are you? An idiot? Are you staying or do I knock you the fuck out and tie you up?"

Sometimes it feels like I work for a different species, maybe a plant. The plant doesn't eat meat and it wants me to eat the cow to save the plants, but they get together in their little plant committees and try to write rules to make sure I eat the cow in a way that makes them comfortable- absorb it through the roots, maybe. That's not ooky. But there's no way to eat a cow that a plant won't find ooky. That's not an acceptable answer to the plant community.

Maybe if they removed our teeth, we'd grow meat-eating roots! That wouldn't be ooky at all! Yay plant life! Huzzah!