Friday, May 29, 2009

So Special...

Finishing up the first draft of the next book. It's almost ready to go to the first readers and right on schedule.  For the most part, I think I pegged it.  There are enough stories and enough logic in it to get the main point across- force decisions are different than other decision processes.  Higher stakes than most people will ever make, made faster and with both less information and less reliable information, yet made by the same basic model human that buys a car or manages a checkbook.  And these decisions are shaded not just by physics but also social conditioning and morals and ethics and laws (sometimes very different things) and politics and both personal and public perception.

It covers training and experience which interact with each other and produce the human who will make the big decisions.

I'm happy with the first two-and-a-half sections (the book has two full sections and two smaller sections that fill in some information gaps.)  The stuff in the first two-and-a-half section is important information, good stuff to know.  With luck it will add some perspective or -gasp!- actual information to debates about police use of force.  But in the end, that's all words.

The last partial section is about action and brings it all back to the reader, and I am running hard against the human nature wall.  People like who they are. They may not think it, they may not say it, but if "just bein' me" becomes a burden or dangerous, people, except for the most ego driven or stupid, change.

When some idiot's wife asks or tells him to slow down and he speeds up and snarls, "I drive like I want!" he's just being an ass. He sees a patrol car in his rear view mirror and suddenly the big man who does whatever he wants drives like a little old lady.  People who say they don't change DO change if they perceive the stakes as high enough. But they don't like it and they resent it.

It's human nature to prefer everyone to change to accommodate you acting the way you want.  Most of us understand that there are limits to this and it is a two-way street.  Those that don't understand this become criminals.  I'll go so far as to say that most acts defined as crimes are simply what happens when you think you are too special.  Too special to conform to rules, to special to work to buy things, too special to be told "no."

Usually when I write I can subconsciously read like a naive reader and have a pretty good feel for what buttons I am pushing.  With this short section, I can feel defensive walls coming up.  Up to this point, the book has been largely anthropology- how the strange tribe known as police think and why it makes sense in their world.  In this section it is a travel guide- this is how to act when you run across a member of this tribe.  Simple stuff, in a way. Never force an officer to make a quick decision.  Show your hands.  Reason, but don't argue and if you can't tell the difference keep your mouth shut.

But here, when it gets personal (not just advising some random imaginary criminal to keep quiet but specifically YOU, if something happens to the point that officers show up, especially with guns out, DON'T ARGUE WITH THEM.) Suddenly, defensive walls go up. Because people like themselves. The most unreasonable people I have ever met felt that they were completely reasonable, even logical. They shouldn't have to change. The public servant who gets paid from their taxes should have to change...

Cool, except you see the logic when force is used on someone acting just the same as you... but it's not you... so you're special? 

If I can navigate this communication pit (and it may be entirely in my perception. One side effect of spending so much time with criminals is that I sometimes see their sense of entitlement and ability to rationalize as more prevalent in the general public than it probably is.)  If I can get this through to people it will be powerful. Just the ability to see yourself from the outside, to see when you are acting like a criminal or like a citizen or like a protector, can be a huge stimulus and guide to personal growth.

This is a throw-away section. It wasn't in the original concept for the book, but it has the potential to be the most important part.  It's also going to be the hardest to communicate. Things have prices.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

System Work Versus People Work

Note well- I am not talking about Martial systems right now.

Which has more value?  Which is the better use of time and resources?   Training individuals?  Or creating a system (environment, standards, processes, expectation) under which those individuals work?

To an extent a good system can function despite bad people. That's one of the real purposes to creating a system or a set of policies.  On the other side good people can do great things with a bad system. (And that piece does apply to martial arts, FWIW).

Extraordinary people, good or bad, can exploit a system, good or bad, for their own purposes.

An absolute monarchy is a totalitarian dictatorship, but sometimes the power is used to create school systems and hospitals.  Some use that power (and, here's a mindtwist for you, does a dictator have more power than another type of ruler or only fewer constraints on the same  power?) for the good of their people.  Others use it to gratify their egos or satisfy personal (or very public) desires.  Good people can do great things with systems that are not inherently great themselves.

And well intentioned systems, like the Americans with Disabilities Act or FMLA or Medicair are often and easily exploited by bad people.

I've always been a training person working within well-established systems. The few times I've been in at the start of something new and radical (CERT, the Mental Health Team) we did fantastic, earth-shaking stuff, but we still had to work within a system, and sometimes the system had automatic checks to prevent any part from outshining the rest too obviously.

This last little bit, though, I've been working with systems in what seems like fairly virgin soil.  There will always be issues with implementation and institutional inertia and all that, but I am still pleased and surprised.  A good system makes everything easier,( even training) because you are training to a standard that makes sense from the ground up and serves a specific, tangible purpose.  Some of these systems, like the After Action Debriefing, have huge continuing payoffs with very little effort.  You can create a system that is self-improving.

The strange part is that it is so easy.  If you really know the problem and know your resources and keep a few simple rules of information management in mind (like "what's the goal" and "who is the end user") you can hammer out a system, sometimes to a problem that seems complex, very, very quickly. How quickly? Depends on the problem and the process, but it frequently takes me longer to write down the proposal than to outline the process. I type slow, though.

Both are important, but good systems makes it easier for people to be good workers. Good people compensate for glitches and bugs in the system, and good workers can move between different systems and adapt quickly.

So add this to the list of very cool things from my time here: systems design was one of those secret things jealously guarded by the wizards in the black tower. Turns out it was easy and I never, ever would have been suffered to find that out back home.

Friday, May 22, 2009


If what you are doing isn't working, do something else.  That goes for life, but in my usual focus, staying whole when someone wants you broken, it is critical.  It requires skill- you have to have a repertoire of things to switch to. It requires judgment- sometimes what is not working is a particular technique, sometimes it is a whole class of techniques.  Some people shrug off body blows and some seem to completely ignore heavy strikes, even to the head and even with impact weapons. (Someone will want to argue this. Feel free. In my personal experience I've taken a crowbar to the back of the head with no effect whatsoever and had to deal with an inmate who had received a full power blow from the infamous lock-in-a-sock to the center of his forehead and proceeded to beat the shit out of the guy who swung it.) It gets weird out there.

That judgment loop feeds back into repertoire- if your training has concentrated in one class of techniques, such as strikes or locks, and that class is off the table, it will be a harder switch than if you have facility with strikes, takedowns, locks, gouges and strangles.  (FWIW, the shime, the vascular strangles, are the ones that I haven't seen anyone show immunity to, though I have seen competitors with extremely strong necks who were very hard to get one on quickly).

Tying back to the nature/nurture thing from the last post, and one possible answer to Narda's question.  Someone may not be able to do something because of either an actual incapacity (not strong enough, for instance) or an experiential deficit (doesn't know how) or a glitch ("oooh. I could never do that, that's horrible!").  Some glitches are conditioning- "Ladies don't fight." Some glitches are choices or self image issues- "I'm not the kind of person who..." And some are training artifacts, things that were taught and are believed that limit ability, "If you hit him here he WILL go down."

Each of these problems has several ways around it, and here is the mimicking thing again- just as it is hard to tell conditioned fear (you can psychologically damage a child or adult to make them afraid to act) from physiological fear (some people dump more stress hormones for less stimulus than others)- when you work around them you get to different places that look the same.  The hormone dump problem yields to stress innoculation and the person gets less chemical fear; the conditioned one wasn't getting the same hormone dump to begin with so once he has to learn to fake fearlessness (being brave and acting brave, in practice are the same, both using will to do what must be done despite fear) he will look very much like the rest of the students.  Both are now acting 'brave' and affecting the world in similar ways but the internal states and the ways to get there are very different. 

One of the 'rules' of classic consim is that students aren't allowed to lose. This doesn't mean they never get their asses kicked.  What it means is that they are not allowed to quit or declared beaten or dead. The scenario goes on until they find a way.  Given enough time, you can almost always find a way.  Sometimes it takes a little coaching.  That is what training is for- to put in the time now so that we have a touchstone when we need it, so that we can spend hours and days working out a solution when the stakes are low so that we have it at our fingertips when the stakes are high.

I want to go off on a tangent here: people are used to fairly quick success. Time and again I have seen people work on the hard survival problems for a little while (like close range knife defense) and when they decide it is hard, they dumb down the problem and start practicing against easy attacks that rarely happen.  Too often this is driven by an instructor who feels his authority is based on having an answer.  Unless it is just a hobby or material for your fantasies, train for the hard stuff.

You can look at most training as a series of workarounds. Power generation is a workaround for weakness, as is application of leverage. For that matter, using a tool.

There is more, though.  Some extraordinary practitioners (like Loren- hey buddy) habitually take injuries as opportunities to practice succeeding.  Loren knew damn well that just because he was injured, sometimes badly, had no bearing on what the world might throw at him. He had to do his best to get the optimum effects with what he had to work with.

Scott has had me work drills with techniques not allowed or only one specific technique allowed to win. I like students to train blindfolded or with an arm or sometimes both out of action.

Those are just some ideas. Workarounds, adaptation, is another skill. It is very important, but rarely directly addressed.  Dave Sumner used to define 'ju' (the essence of jujutsu) as "tactical adaptability."  Flexibly adapting to what the world threw at you in order to prevail.  The art of advantage lies in the ability to solve the problem from many different angles.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Old Draft- Just Found This

Taught a class on mental illness and crisis communication the other day. There were other instructors too, going over subjects like community resources and therapy and psychotropic meds. One of the instructors, the one with the Ph.D. after his name, got a lot of questions. One of the questions was the big one: where does this come from? What makes people crazy or criminals or both?
The nature/nurture question.

I sometimes doubt how relevant it is. For self-defense, in the moment of assault the reason the person is assaulting you, what led to his life of crime, is one of the least important pieces of information. When it comes to changing lives or preventing the problem it is important.

Maybe. It's popular to say that nature/nurture is a mix, that neither is definitive, that they interact. It's undeniably true, but also a cop-out. One of my favorite anthropology teachers unabashadly would say, "Nurture. You give a Masai newborn to Inuit parents and in twenty years you get a tall, skinny, black eskimo." It's very important, culture and upbringing. But there is a base, too.

I don't want to talk about just nature and nurture. There are a lot of things in human behavior that can have similar effects but completely different causes and, thus, different solutions. Almost every diagnosed Axis I mental illness has a personality disorder (axis II) that mimics it. Schizophrenia and schizotypal PD; OCD and OCPD. In the Axis I stuff, chemicals are out of balance. Something is broken. The Personality Disorders, by contrast, are pervasive patterns of behavior.

Which is more manageable? Changeable? The organic problems may be inborn, more a real part of the self than any behavior, yet someone with schizophrenia will do almost anything to be 'normal' and 'healthy' and an Anti-Social Personality Disorder will pervert almost any attempt to help him change, feeling perfect the way he is despite the wreckage of broken lives trailing behind him.

Essentially, you can have (almost) the same problem from two different directions.  Where it comes from, nature or nurture; chemical imbalances or choices, might have little bearing on the effects, on how it damages lives.  But it can have profound effects on how the individual perceives it and how, or if it can be treated.

Originally written on 23April08 right after Mental Health Team training

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Random Thoughts on Teaching

I'm going to be talking out loud here, just pondering, speculating.  

It's possible to complicate things by simplifying them.  A human is a human. Each piece of a dissected human is technically simpler than the whole human... but simplifying in that way doesn't really help you deal with the human.  Same for techniques and some of the fighting skills- some, like entries, are actually diluted by breaking them down into their component parts.  The spearhead is a structured motion- a single action that provides a "golden move": damages the threat; protects you from damage; betters your position; worsens his.  It can be taught as separate and distinct things that you do with your left arm, right arm, hips and feet... but it isn't easier to learn that way, or more versatile or more effective.  It is slower to learn AND you then have to unlearn the steps to make it a unified action, to make it work.

Does this complication work for anybody?  It is easier for the instructor, but only if he is just repeating what he was taught in the way he was taught, as if it was something he memorized, not something he understood.  It's not easier for the student. I can teach the unified move without a word of the student's language very quickly.  The break down can take half a day with native speakers.  Just odd.

All the best instructors are good at things that don't work.  Don't work for other people, I mean.  I've been very successful with small joint locks on big, aggressive threats.  For most people they are a low probability option.  JA hits people in ways that for most people who aren't genetic freaks would result in crippled hands (the exception to the big bone/little bone rule is an individual, not a system or technique).  MC has been highly successful with a technique that completely violates what we know about action/reaction times. (That's not that uncommon, with a lot of ring sense there are things you can see coming, but I don't count on that ability and try to avoid teaching techniques that require it.)

I think this whole concept of Awareness Based Training, the model that Mac and Sean and I set up for the agency really changes the whole concept of teaching. The assumptions are different, not the "I know something you don't know" that typifies the standard instructor/student relationship.  You do know. You know or have seen almost everything that you need. You maybe just didn't notice or didn't draw the connections or didn't give yourself permission to exploit your knowledge.  You know what a splint is for a broken arm, right? Intuitively, you know the principles that splinting works from... so you already know not to grip the wrist itself when you are trying to bend it. You already know.

If there can be fighting without fighting, why not teaching without teaching?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Good Day in the Gravel

Had the privilege today of watching a fine teacher.  He delivered a complete Use of Force class in about four minutes as a lead-up to an introduction to pain compliance DTs.  He was perfectly clear about what he was teaching and what he wasn't teaching. He delivered what the students needed in a way that they could understand., respectful of both their needs and their inexperience.

Then he stepped aside, to let his junior instructors teach.
It was good to watch. Two of them were extraordinary, not just good teachers, but good leaders. They had their group active in a matter of minutes.  Consequently the students in that group got many more reps than the others. Hmmm- good teachers compound learning: better teaching and less wasted time.  I worked with the group with the weakest instructors, they seem surprised that I would be uke for a 'mere recruit'.

I know how hard it is to step aside and let someone else teach. We talked about it, observed, threw in some suggestions. Discussed things and improvements from our different points of view.  A full day in the burning sun (hadn't planned on it, I'll be crispy tomorrow).

A good day in the gravel.  Green grain blows in the wind (who ever thought this country could be this green?)

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I've gotten some response on the last post, some by private e-mail.  I need to reset the focus.  Some of the respondents were talking about the primacy of mindset and speculating on why it is so rarely taught.  That's important, but it wasn't the point at all.  This is about epistemology and identity and how people protect their mental images (self and world) subconsciously.

So the examples- "12 pounds of pressure" and "nose bone through the brain".  The point isn't the myths. The point was that with very few exceptions, what most people believe on either side of either issue, is largely hearsay.  Steve has actually looked at the skulls and talked to people with some expertise.  Several notches more valid than any source I have.

So, if you have an opinion on either of these, yes or no, what was your source?  Unless you have examined a skull or applied twelve pounds to your knee or lined up 100 people for precision teisho-zuhki practice at full force it is at best an opinion.  These were softball questions, easy stuff.

Then we get into things that, if you are a martial artist, you have seen again and again and again.  Things that if you examine have some pretty scary implications for what and how we teach.

Beginners are more dangerous than experts.  More people are hurt by beginners than by senior students.  There is a lot of scrambling to deny that one and the best 'reason' is control. First, control in this case doesn't equate exactly with functional precision.  When an expert throws a full power punch and doesn't hurt you he has done one of two things- he has either aborted the power or missed.  Pulling punches is missing, people!  So it is a precision of failure.  Perfect, flawless, failure.  Years and years spent training to do the opposite of what you need to do if you ever really use this stuff.  
You can argue that this is a dojo thing, that confidence makes the seniors more vulnerable in class but if it was 'for real' their years of polishing technique would surely prevail.  I don't think 'for real' goes that way. This is anecdotal, but most practitioners have a story about a senior rank in their school getting badly beaten.  That's interesting, for what it is worth... but every instructor I can think of has one and sometimes several stories about a student who was attacked (not went looking for trouble, not playing in a bar brawl, but ambushed) and did great with only one or two lessons.  There are issues with this epistemologically- anecdotal, the sheer number of beginners versus the relatively few seniors, the fact that blackbelts getting beat and beginners prevailing make cooler stories than the other way around.
Still, you dodge this observation at your peril.  No, you dodge it at your students peril. A certain percentage of everything is bullshit.  How many of your training hours are doing nothing more than polishing a turd?  And could that be the real reason that beginners are more likely to hurt you, because they still remember that it is about damage and haven't collected enough turds to polish?

Mindset.  This comment got the most responses, and it is pretty solid. We know what a huge difference mindset can make.  With even a little research, we know what some of the most effective mindsets are.  Those are almost categorically opposite of the mindsets espoused in most of the martial arts I have seen (if they even address the question at all).  Why?  Could it be like bushido and chivalry, codes that arose in times when the need for warriors was fading and society wanted some way to leash the dogs they needed just a short time before?  How much of training is less about empowering than about leashing?
This hits a lot of buttons, but some people don't even notice it when they slip into denial. I have a friend who is convinced that deep down he is a killer because once, when he was a child, he felt so much rage that he wanted to kill another kid. The uncontrollable feeling from long ago still holds him in awe. He has spent much of his life 'controlling his beast.'  I hear the story differently. Everyone feels that way, most never act on it.  Like most people he assumes that the greatest feeling he has ever felt must be as great as anyone has ever felt.  Real killers are the ones who kill with far less emotional charge than that, who respond with violence to minor annoyance, let alone a seething rage.  Many people feel this, "deep down I have a dark beast" and most who seek to control it are just putting a leash on a chihuahua. 

I have a personal belief that animals, including humans, do things for reasons. In humans, the reason is not always what the person believes it to be.  This loops back to fear management.  For most people it is not important whether their martial training will help them to survive. They think it is, of course, but it is about managing the fear. It is more important to believe themselves strong than to be strong.
I think this is the motivation behind normally observant, intelligent people not noticing this stuff or excusing it when it happens.  Probably also why these beliefs are so consistently reinforced- no one wants their world views rocked, especially when they have invested so much time and effort into the illusion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm....

It’s hard to tell how deep bullshit goes. Really.  You hear someone say, “Twelve pounds of pressure will break a knee.”  He believes it because someone he trusts said it.  A little thought (or experimentation- put a 12 pound dumbbell on your locked knee) and it is pretty clearly bullshit.  People who believe it, believe it. People who know better think the people who believe it are stupid.

“A palm heel can drive the nose bone into the brain.”  Same dynamic…except how do you know it doesn’t?  How many times have you tried?  Logic might work. I’ve heard people say that there is no nose bone, the nose is all cartilage.  Did they never feel their own nose?  Ever use the little ridge of bone at the base of the septum as a leverage point?  "There is no place to drive the bone, if it exists, through the skull…" but I have heard that there is an opening for one of the facial nerves…

Again, and understand this here- I’m not saying which is right or wrong. I haven’t done it myself and I haven’t examined enough real skulls to make a guess. What I am saying is that in many cases not only belief, but denial of belief, are eqully based on hearsay.  Not on facts, not on experience.  For some reason denying a belief automatically has more credibility than perpetuating one.

We hear things and we believe them, but sometimes we see things and ignore them, things that could have some really deep implications.

Here are some things that make me go “hmmmm” in martial arts training.  They may be nothing, but I suspect some of them have some pretty powerful effects.  I want to thank Bobbe for getting me thinking about this, or at least pushing it in this direction.  Here are a few:

You are more likely to be injured by a beginner than by a blackbelt.  This fits my experience and I’ve heard it stated by instructors in many different styles. So, hmmmmm.  What does it mean?  If someone training to break people becomes less likely to break people the longer he trains, what is the training really instilling?   Here's a scary, bizarro world thought- is it possible that MA training is specifically designed to pull teeth?  To make the students safer and easier to control?  

The obvious counter argument is that the advanced student, the 'expert' merely has more control.  Possible.  Safety habits are still habits, you fight the way you train… blah, blah, blah.  If this is true, that you fight the way you train, then the hours of practicing NOT hurting people will make that your default when you need the skills. The habit of control in the dojo is still a habit. You practice pulling punches and you will pull punches. You simulate using pepper spray by pressing on top of the safety and saying, “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” you will do it in real life and the crook will give you a very strange look (right, Sean S.?)  And, from the other side, I can't recall ever hearing a boxer say that you are more likely to be hurt by a beginner than a pro. 

The utility of skill at all.  Take this one with a huge grain of salt because it comes from someone who has spent decades honing skills: Attitude is far more important. No skill will help you if you freeze for too long.  Sanford Strong’s research in some of the worst-case scenarios (abduction rape/murders and home invasion torture killings) indicated that attitude, specifically the decision to make the bastard pay no matter what it cost, was the single biggest factor in survival.  Not skill, not size.  Ask anyone who knows what they are talking about this question- “Which would be more dangerous to fight, a 200 pound blackbelt who was afraid of getting hurt or a ninety pound housewife who didn’t give a damn if she was killed as long as she took you with her?”  Even Jeff, (the guy who trains unbelievably hard to do some very dangerous things and demanded an extreme level of precision under stress)- well, he’s the guy who said, “Violence of action trumps technique.”

So it’s not just me, Jeff is another training junkie who thinks attitude and ferocity are more important than precision or skill (are precision and skill the same thing? Measurements of each other?).  This is where people with agendas get their panties in a twist:  Neither Jeff nor I have ever said or ever will say that training is unimportant.  Ferocity and skill are in no way mutually exclusive.  It’s just that a timid technician will reliably lose to an untrained lion.

Training to maintain calm in the face of violence.  Maaayyyybeee. I can do it, but it is nothing like the peaceful calm I feel when I am luxuriating in bed in the morning.  And it's something that came from experience after the oh, 20th or 50th Use of Force. The ten years of training before that did absolutely nothing for adrenaline control in my first few fights.

 So what kind of calm are they training for? Do they even know?  How many different mindsets have they experienced in others and in themselves and which mindsets have they felt when someone was trying to kill them?  Blind panic works sometimes and a ‘flight’ response in the right direction  can sometimes do more damage than a ‘fight’ response.

So, tying back to the last point, why isn’t more emphasis placed on training ruthlessness and ferocity?  Not the imaginary ruthlessness of visualizing what your knife could do to flesh but instilling the habits of driving it home and ripping it out and moving on.  Not the flowy, peaceful harmony of an imaginary Shaolin but the beautiful, cold, precision of a hunter. Is it taught so rarely because it is a complete unknown?  Could the natural mindsets of battle be a complete mystery to people teaching fighting and self-defense?  Does that bother anyone else?

Or is it because they don’t know how to teach it?  Or is it because the magical thinking of, “We train to stay calm in the face of violence” is enough of a talisman and the real thing might upset the magic? Or, most damning, is it a fear of creating a student that they can't dominate?

What are they training for anyway?  Often, in a MA class, I get a ‘when would I use this?’ moment.  Sometimes because of legal justification, but sometimes just because the situations where it would come up seem so very unlikely.  Weapon defense techniques are a big one for these moments, but I have spent hours practicing technique from seiza. I even know how to bow in armor.

I try to be pretty specific when I teach. I know lots of ways to take someone down without hurting them because that was my job, but really, unless it’s your job, there’s not a lot of use for that.  Outside of that, when I talk about self-defense, physical self defense, that is a whole different animal. That is pure survival in situations where one or more humans has worked hard to make sure that you have the minimum possible chance of survival.

Afraid and overwhelmed and in a bad position are kind of the basic starting positions for self-defense. (aside: real self defense is all about avoiding this. Physical self defense is what you use when that has failed).  

The techniques need to be based on gross motor skills, have to be married from the get-go with accessing the appropriate mindsets, and must be based on flexible principles or you will be overwhelmed in the chaos.  Lots of it has to be taught from the body out instead of from the brain down.

So what are they (or you) training for? I’m all for fitness and preserving culture.  I like fun, and there is very little more fun than clanging steel in a safe environment.  But when it goes to where I am going (and most of the people that seek me out for training want this piece) it is about violence. Hard, scary, personal, dangerous, messy.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Travel Advisory

Right now, Turkish air is my favorite to fly. Nice staff, decent meals, free drinks. Unfortunately, the Istanbul airport is my current least favorite.  So far every trip through has involved long, long waits in line for unnecessary things that take too long.  I thought different this time, got here early, quick through the first checkpoint and then… sorry. We’re fully staffed and everything but your boarding pass can’t be issued until that desk opens in two hours.  Should make my plane, if the line isn’t too long.  Still, it rankles to be waiting around to stand in line. 

Rules for travel (some stuff I didn’t do this time):

1) Either plan or don’t.  I’ve visited places after doing extensive research and gone to places completely blind. Both have been great. The types of fun are a little different. And don’t be afraid of getting lost. That’s where the cool stuff is.

2) Be nice to people.  How hard is that?  Just like at home, listen more than you talk. Fortunately, I saw no ugly Americans on this trip… but did watch a nice Turkish businessman try to defuse an Australian temper-tantrum and heard a very nice English gentleman say, “You people are ignorant and you worship evil, but that’s your right and it works for you. Don’t change.”  I really hope his interlocutor didn’t understand.

3) Stay a while.  This is one that we always screw up.  Sometimes my darling wife and I confuse distance with experience and traveling with relaxing. Traveling isn’t relaxing. Stopping is.  Next time, instead of driving every day to spend a night in a new place, long single-day drives that end in a place we want to wander for a while. Like Cong.

4) Sarcasm requires an excellent translator.  Otherwise, it’s not worth explaining.


If you are in a museum and start to hear a rumble that reminds you of an avalanche approaching or a medieval battle re-enactment, they just let in the grade school tour group.

This is how to get a free translator and tour guide for a day in Istanbul: go to any of the major exhibits in the early morning.  Someone will step up and say that he wants to practice his English. He will say that he doesn’t want to be paid and has his own museum card and he’s not selling anything so he hopes you don’t mind if he tags along.  The hair will stand up on the back of your neck because it screams, “scam.”

It is… sort of. After the (for me) Haya Sophia and/or the Grand Mosque he will ask if you would like to step into his family shop for tea.  You will have a nice tea and a nice conversation with a ‘relative’ who speaks even better English as other relatives spread out rugs and explain the history, manufacture…  It’s a great class in rug making and there are no hard feelings when you say “No.”  If it works, the family sells a rug or more (at some incredible prices) and if not, you may remember them when you are older and richer and visiting Turkey again and decide to stop in and see how Hakim is doing. 

Customer service was extraordinary.  I wasn’t just remembered by waiters the next day, but remembered by people at places I passed by.  Hand in hand with that, the salesman are very aggressive (see above, with the tour guide) and it got kind of wearing when I wanted to be alone or just explore. 

A still picture can’t project how huge the domes of the Haya Sophia and the Blue Mosque are from the inside.

When you see a street of goldsmiths and silversmiths and a bowl (talking party punch bowl) full of emeralds… Smaug’s treasure wasn’t all that impressive.

Very screwed up that the two areas at Topkapi Palace where photography was forbidden were the weapons and the treasury.

It probably means something- when I said ‘the weapons’ above, the displays included a bunch of religious relics, like Moses’ walking stick and John the Baptist’s jewel-encrusted skull and Mohammed’s beard… but I really only paid attention to the weapons. 

You can get sunburned in Ireland.

Castles make for better sex than B&Bs for some reason.

Untapped tourist market- why can’t you shoot longbows at straw invaders from some of the towers?  Or practice throwing Viking axes at some of the famous battle sites.  Seriously folks, I’d pay just to say I did it.

The Pacific NorthWest needs some castles.  Seriously, the castles, ruins and graveyards were the biggest differences between Ireland and the Willamette Valley. Oregon even has better beer.  A nice fortress would look very natural on the Columbia River Gorge and some of the islands could use a ruined abbey.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Checking In

Traveling and exploring, R&R with the family.  How screwed up is it to leave the Middle East and get a sunburn in Ireland?
I do have some good thoughts for later posts, but now isn't the time. I'm a little tired of thinking, of communicating on the surfacy word level. It's good to be with my family. From the outside we probably look like a pack of animals, communicating with touches and looks and grunts (occasionally howls, but the moon isn't full).  From the inside it is deep and sincere.