Police and fire academy instructors now warn recruits not to do anything they don’t want to see plastered all over CNN. Why this bit of advice? Because during the B.C. era—Before Cable—there was The News. Factual news. Then cable TV came along and in time, so did its news programs. They began with objectivity but have since slid off the super highways of real news into entertainment shows, and in doing so they’ve replaced factual reporting with hype and hyper-fantasy. And this poses a real risk to cops, fire fighters and nearly anyone else who falls into the clutches of reckless reporters who’re more concerned with putting on a show than they are in showing a news segment that they’ll make an effort to place in a proper perspective.
In the B.C. days Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley and Nancy Dickerson delivered straightforward, reasonably objective reports of what was happening in the world. And in Cronkite’s case his final two minutes were given over to Eric Sevareid’s editorial comments. This elite war correspondent was dubbed, “The Grey Eminence.” He was also called “Eric Severalsides” for his changing views, but to Sevareid’s credit he acknowledged his several biases and worked to dampen them. In any event the anchors were men and woman of substance and insight based upon multiple layers of real-world experiences. The ABC, CBS and NBC evening news programs continue this tradition of objectivity. But now the cable news programs are doing battle with the Big Three for ratings and their weapons are forged not by facts, but by pretty people who are fueled by cosmetics, hair coloring and self-righteousness.
Not that the traditional networks are free of show biz tactics. Clusters of twinkling lights fill the background of NBC’s Evening News. The lights were designed to hold our attention, and they’re not all that far removed from the mobiles parents hang above infants’ cribs to hold their attention. Still, the Big Three remains as focused on reporting facts as in the old days, when the various media put spotlights on the corrupt cops, dangerous deputies and less-than-legitimate law enforcement officers of the 1960s.
CNNs original concept as the Constant News Network called for a reading of local, national and world topics every thirty minutes. Succeeding thirty minute segments always left a few of the “headline” stories in the dust, and replaced them with fresher ones. But today’s cable correspondents don’t report the news. Instead, they manipulate people and events in an effort to create news which is then watered down for entertainment rather than for civic value.
This entertainment is also formulaic. The typical show often has an emasculated male whose job it is to read the news that someone else has uncovered. And he’s almost always wedged between a pair of female colleagues with chips on their shoulders the size of dinner plates. On Headline News there’ll be a chirpy but brain dead brunette spending valuable air time with, “Okay girls, keep those pajamas on and settle down with your coffee. Then we’ll talk about what’s happenin’ today!” This is a news program? I readily recall George Carlin’s derisive comments about American news programming, when he said the reason why the rest of the world doesn’t take us seriously is because we put aside discussions of major events in order to offer birthday greetings to non-existent mice. Cartoon mice. “Also in today’s news . . . it’s Mickey Mouse’s 70th birthday! For more on that, let’s turn to Jane who has traveled to Mickey’s home in Anaheim, California. Jane, are you there at Disney Land?”
Superfluous, sure. But not necessarily a threat to the fabrics that bind our society together. But how we perceive events has been poisoned. The first hint of danger came with Rodney King. This polarizing incident will forever divide us, and arguably as a result of CNN’s decision to stop airing the entire videotape footage of the incident. That longer segment which they initially aired showed another side to that saga, one that left many viewers with a different take of the images of cops beating King with night sticks. It wasn’t until CNN decided to gain greater momentum on the story by lopping off the critical beginning that helped explain why those cops were swinging away that the trouble began. Yet CNN did nothing to correct the public outcries that erupted. However, the jury in the officers’ original trial saw the entire video—and as the foreman said later, they made their not-guilty findings accordingly.
In the 20+ years since King, cable news has grown even more careless as self-styled reporters make erroneous observations about their stories. For example, in an earlier posting about the LA International Airport shooting, I argued that CNN hyped the incident for all it was worth, especially during the moments when a helicopter hovering overhead was providing live images of the police, fire and rescue units that had converged on the scene. But then a breathless news reader told viewers, “Note the helter-skelter manner in which the first responder vehicles are parked. They’re all over the place, providing vivid testimony of the chaos that’s unfolding before your very eyes.”
Oh? What scene was she describing? Because the first responder vehicles I saw were parked in orderly rows, and officers were leading calm passengers away from danger in equally orderly rows. But that didn’t fit the feeding frenzy that CNN sought to engineer. Cable reporters now thrust microphones into the faces of survivors of natural disasters. But they don’t ask open-ended questions such as, “How do you feel?” Instead, they gush forth with, “You must feel devastated by what you’ve just endured.” This isn’t reporting. This is pimping.
Worse still are the baseless comments that are put out as having a basis in fact. In a recent telecast a thirtysomething guy tells viewers that a single mom fought off a trio of home invaders with a rifle. He goes on to say that she fired two shots into the ceiling before leveling the rifle at the intruders. But then he tosses out an off-the-cuff remark about how the first shots “must have been warning shots.” This done, he tries to tie it in with stand-your-ground laws by adding, “She at least did all she could to avoid shooting them, by firing those warning shots instead.”
This is why reporters pose a danger to reputations and careers—by talking about things they know nothing about. First of all it was conjecture, because he provided no evidence that the victim ever said why she fired into the ceiling. Secondly, he revealed his ignorance of the several studies that show why people—including veteran cops and soldiers engaged in combat—will hesitate to shoot a violent attacker even to save their own lives, because of deeply ingrained religious training, other beliefs or internal fears. What the studies do show is that victims often point the muzzles of their firearms away before pulling the trigger, in an effort to scare away the attackers so they won’t have to actually shoot them.
But the CNN guy must not have devoted the time it takes to study human facing great peril. Instead, he makes flippant remarks that can only fuel flames in the right-to-carry debates. Of course the cable shows aren’t all bad. They have some value. But not enough anymore, and it’s for all these reasons that academy instructors caution trainees not to do anything that might land them on CNN, because cable news shows are just that—shows centered on entertainment. And if they have to neglect a few facts or inundate us with observations of a scene such as LAX that don’t jibe with our own judgments, then that is what they’ll do.
So be careful out there. What you as a first responder do or don’t do is being captured on innumerable cell phones, to be sold to the highest bidders. And your actions and your decisions not to take particular actions—regardless of the valid reasons—will be parsed and parleyed into pulp fiction by show people, rather than by legitimate news people. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite signed off with, “And that’s the way it is.” In its place the cable news people tell us, “And that’s the way we want things to appear.”
When I was a young man I felt smug in thinking that nobody else “ran the alphabet” through their head when trying to remember someone’s name. Now in my dotage I see the extent of this erroneous assumption, because plenty of people employ this innate method. Fortunately for us however, a lot of criminals also feel unique, and this leads them to commit prideful errors that result in their apprehension and conviction. Here are some classic “dumb criminal” moves:
- Evil Twin Brother “I tell you, officer. You got the wrong man. See, I got me this twin brother. I’m the nice one. But him? He’s evil. Evil, I tell you. An’ he’s the one you need to catch. But I understand how you coulda got me confused with him. So don’t worry. I ain’t gonna sue you or nothin’. Now if you’ll unlock these handcuffs, I’ll be on my way . . .”
- “Look Ma! No serial numbers!” You’ve just gotta love the two guys who steal a state-of-art 3-D flat screen, but can’t dump it at a pawn shop because cops visit them in search of stolen merchandise. And since pawn dealers have to include serial numbers on sales slips, they’re more than happy to provide video surveillance tapes of the crooks’ smiling mugs when he learns the TV is hot and he’s out some big bucks because the cops are going to seize it as evidence.
This poses a problem for our pair of potential pilferers: how to get rid of the hot merchandise. “I know what we’ll do,” partner-in-crime Rufus Leeking cries out. “We’ll just rip them there serial numbers off. Then can’t nobody trace us!”
Except that they can. The very absence of serial numbers becomes a flashing red light above their heads. Worse still for Rufus, he’s not the first criminal mastermind to arrive at this dazzling idea. Just like my brilliant method of running the alphabet to remember a name, removing serial numbers ranks high among the “been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt” criminal enterprise schemes. It’s so old in fact that almost every jurisdiction has laws that make possession of items with missing serial numbers a crime in itself.
- Miranda Rights Criminals get their rights wrong so often and so egregiously, that far from hindering investigations, Miranda opens doors for bad guys to swagger through, only to discover too late that those doors are slamming shut behind them. Here’s why: street corner lawyers are force-fed so much TV and cinematic tripe about being read their Miranda rights upon arrest, that they don’t bother to read between the lines—and these lines are in 16-point font, folks.
Miranda could fill an entire article so we’ll keep it simple. Miranda prevents police from intimidating and otherwise coercing statements from suspects—when the cops intend to ask questions. But if the authorities see no need to conduct an interrogation, there’s no need nor a legal requirement to advice the suspect of their right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, or to have one provided free of charge if they can’t afford . . .
Here’s an example. Early one morning I chased down a rapist who moments earlier had fled the home of his latest victim. After tackling him, I slapped my handcuffs around his wrists and said, “You’re under arrest.” I said nothing else—and did not advise him of his right to remain silent because I wasn’t going to question him at that time.
But he was of the school that embraced as fact the false notion that an arrest isn’t valid unless the ceremonial “rights” of passage have been read to them. Feeling empowered—along with feeling invisible, invincible and invulnerable thanks to the umbrella of protection he assumed he had “under Miranda,” the suspect turned smug and started running his yap.
Silly rabbit. Trix are for kids, not street corner lawyers. And legal doctrines such as “spontaneous utterances” are for cops and attorneys, not bar room barristers. Briefly, anything a suspect blurts on his own volition is admissible at trial. So yeah, this punk began bragging about how he’d climbed through an unlocked window and caught the victim by surprise, then went into detail about how many times he raped her, laying it all out there for me while I drove to the state police barracks. And all that time he figured he was invincible because “nothing can be used against him in a court of law.” Except he had it backward. Everything he said could—and was—used against him in court.
Why? Because I never asked him a single question. Not even his name (not when I had his driver’s license in my hand by which to identify him). Therefore I had no reason to tell him he didn’t have to answer any questions. But because he elected to tell me everything—and I mean, everything—it was all used against him in court. And my actions were perfectly legal, moral, ethical and—wait for it . . . fair.
Oh, and by the way—he went away for life for that one.
- Cruise Control “But Trooper, I couldn’t possibly have been speeding . . . I had my cruise control on.”
“Yes sir. But I can’t give a ticket to your cruise control for doing 98 in a 55 zone. So you’ll have to sign on the line instead.”
- Stolen car/wrong license plate A car thief steals your late-model Lexus from the driveway of your Maryland home. Minutes later he removes both license plates and bolts a different plate onto the rear bumper. The next day he’s buzzing down the southbound lanes of a distant boulevard. Meanwhile, a cop is driving north and as both cars draw closer, he gives the Lexus a routine once-over and notes the absence of a front license plate. Maryland requires two plates, so as the Lexus passes by, the cop checks the rear-view mirror and sees a Maryland plate on the rear bumper.
He executes a 180 and gets behind the car. At the least, he’s got a minor infraction. But this veteran knows a thing or two, and while both cars are still moving, he asks dispatch to run the plate. When it comes back listed to a Volkswagen he cop calls for backup. When help arrives he stops the driver, checks the Vehicle Identification Number, and learns the Lexus is stolen.
This kind of police work goes on all the time. You’d think the bad guys would’ve caught on by now. But they haven’t. Because they’re dumb.
This “dumb criminals” list could continue ad infinitum. For bad guys this suggests a search for another line of work might be in order. For writers, that never-ending list can lead to countless plot developments, ‘cause yeah—the too-clever for their own good bad guys are determined to build upon their exploits.
Krav Maga—literally close combat—is a self-defense technique that’s surging in popularity among police and civilians. Krav ranks among the best of the fighting systems but perhaps its greatest appeal is its clear-cut philosophy: “avoid the confrontation if possible . . . but once you engage, engage.” More to the point, krav maga is an ideal tool when deadly weapons are neither warranted nor available—while the right and arguably the responsibility to defend yourself is called for. For writers seeking to breathe new life into their characters, and for those who’re simply out to acquire innovative skills along with new attitudes toward life, krav maga offers all this and more.
The technique saw its origins in the 1930s when Israeli-Slovakian martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld drew from boxing, savate, kung fu, Muay Thai, judo and other methods to develop a systematic defense against street attacks. But where other styles leave off and krav begins, it’s important to understand at the outset that krav isn’t meant for half-hearted practitioners. Why? Because it focuses on real-world encounters by emphasizing efficient but brutal counter-attacks. Krav maga even encourages pre-emptive strikes, and that makes sense. For example, if I’m chasing down a thug and he turns and points a pistol at me, then place your bets on who’ll shoot first. If you placed your wager on me, you’ll have earned some quick cash.
But back to krav’s roots. After immigrating to Israel in the 1940s, Lichtenfeld shared his fighting style with Israel’s embryonic army—the young men and women who today form the Israeli Defense Force. They in turn polished his system into the krav maga of today, then refined it for police and civilian use. Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet also embraced krav, and in time it came to the U.S., where it’s seen as a desirable alternative to the stylized but not necessarily effective martial arts that have long been taught here.
That’s because krav is all about neutralizing the threat. Stop the threat dead in its tracks. Then get the hell away. However, stopping that threat means tossing half-measures aside and employing simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers. It also requires one other element, one that’s usually not preached by other martial arts, and that element is aggression. Aggression on the practitioner’s part. Bottom line? “Hey, I didn’t ask this punk to attack me and my family and what I did to stop him was ugly. But too bad for him ‘cause my family and I walked away afterward . . . even though he couldn’t.”
It’s important to reemphasize this key to krav’s philosophy: avoid the encounter if possible. But if avoidance is impossible or even unsafe, then the idea is to finish the fight as quickly as possible using sudden, brutal attacks directed toward eyes, throat, hands, groin, feet, etc. And these attacks won’t be pretty—the moves aren’t designed to avoid inflicting severe injury or even death to a thug out to rob, rape or kill his victim. In short, a craving for krav means accepting the idea that your attacker is not your friend. He’s not gonna wanna hold hands or swap phone numbers after trying to rob you. Nope. Krav maga is all about accepting a monumental dose of reality, then training yourself to deal with that truth. In some ways it’s no different than living in a tornado, hurricane, flood or earthquake zone—either you prepare for certain probabilities by building storm shelters in Kansas or purchasing storm shutters in South Florida, or else you don’t prepare. But if you’re the far-seeing type who wants to be ready, you’ll go all-out and also stock flashlights, batteries, food and water for when the Big One hits.
A decision to learn krav maga is no different. Either walk on the left side of the road as young Daniel-san learned in Karate Kid, or walk on the right side of the road. But never in the middle—never half-heartedly—or else you get squished like a bug. In my case, years ago I worked for a government outfit that required hard-core fighting skills. They sent us to Israel where we cross-trained with Shin Bet and learned the rudiments of krav maga. Later, we built upon these skills and combined them with another technique, Dieter Close Quarter Defense (http://cqd.net). In both styles we came out of sessions bruised, battered and often with broken fingers and toes. But . . . we learned the techniques; we found they work effectively but also have a potential for lethality. Again, nobody asks to be attacked no more than anyone wants to face a tornado. But in both instances the solution is simple: readiness. A readiness to toss aside half-measures and half-heartedness, and go to max power.
Notching things back a bit, let’s examine the grading system used in krav maga. As you might expect, it’s similar to the colored belts seen in other martial arts: white belt, then yellow, orange, green brown and ultimately, black belt. But within these groupings there are other levels: “P 1-5” for practitioners, “G 1-5” for graduates, and “E 1-5” for experts. The graduates begin at the green belt level and these can qualify a practitioner to teach—but only after they’ve passed a rigorous instructor training course. Finally, there’s a master level but it can only be attained after a lifetime of commitment and contributions to the skill, leaving very few masters worldwide.
For anyone interested in dedicating yourself to this discipline, the obvious first step is finding a school sanctioned by a certifying organization such as the United States Krav Maga Association (USKMA). Next, you’ll have to make room in your life for the lessons, because krav maga offers no easy fixes; it’s hard-core and requires commitment, tenacity and practice, until the life-saving moves are burned into you as “muscle memory.”
No half-measures here. But then, who isn’t willing to go all-out when fighting for your life in some dark and dirty alley? Go krav!
I posted an article about writers’ conferences a year ago, on Feb 3, 2013. True to my beliefs, I attend them. Right now I’m packing for a trip to San Diego for the annual Southern California Writers’ Conference. Held on President’s Day weekends, the SCWC as it’s become known is among the best. It’s top tier all the way, with a history of proven results in helping new and veteran writers alike get published. We’re talking the big leagues here. Multi-book deals with major houses.
What do I like best about the SCWC? Its sense of community. Staff and attendees mix comfortably, share information freely and make those all-important social contacts that help open doors later. There are workshops offering lectures on everything from how to write a query letter to self-editing. There are panels that argue both sides of critical topics such as, “Is it better to do an outline, or to write by the seat of your pants? (AKA, “Plotters and Pantsers”). Rogue workshops run late into the night, and attendees are able to read portions of their manuscripts to receive instant feedback not only from their peers, but from seasoned–and published–authors who’ve been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.
Then there are the social events: the mixers, dinners and presentations by established authors. There are celebrities in attendance as well, along with professional editors and agents on the look-out for new talent. Finally, there’s Sunny Sandy Eggo itself, a great town that’s both provincial and metropolitan; small with a hometown feel in its various neighborhoods, but also spread out over ocean, desert and hill country. Bottom line, ya can’t go wrong. I’ll be there this weekend, and I’ve posted a link to the Southern California Writers’ Conference to the right, under “Several Useful Links.” I hope to see some of you there, not only this weekend but during conferences yet to come.
Frank Lloyd Wright left us in 1959 but the structures he designed remain. They were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. At one time, fire houses harmonized with humanity and the environment. But few of those examples remain. Although Hudson, Massachusetts opened a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired station in 2004, today’s designs are antiseptic, utilitarian and oh so boring. And that’s a shame because fire fighting is steeped in tradition, and as the opening song by that name in Fiddler On The Roof tells us, the tradition of sitting at watch desks and sliding down fire poles are among the many rituals that bonded fire fighters together. And in doing so the men (and later, women) acquired depth of character. Some even became characters in their own rights.
There’s another architectural term, “form follows function,” an early 20th Century principle wherein the shape of a building should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. Well, hell—fire houses were being designed according to that principle long before anyone realized their forms were following function. We could even argue that fire houses got their name from their function of providing a home-like environment to house fire fighters and, at one time, fire horses and of course those ubiquitous Dalmatians.
The fire houses were tactile environments, with watch desks, gongs that clanged and stone floors that echoed the clopping of hooves. There were kitchens and dormitories and in the truly older buildings, metal spiral staircases provided access to the second floor—from which fire fighters slid down brass fire poles. But why the spiral staircases? Legend has it that they were needed to keep the horses from climbing up to the second floor kitchens. A horse (of course) can’t climb a circular staircase but then again, they were supposed to be in their stalls and the guy on watch would’ve kept them from climbing conventional stairs. But that’s the legend and legends boost group morale.
Morale was important. Leaping upon fire apparatus for a living paid very little back in the day. I received $8,000 a year in the early 1970s. Times were tough and those eight thousand bucks were just enough for a cheap single-room apartment, a used car and enough food to meet nutritional needs. Anything more and you worked a couple of part-time jobs as most of us did.
So we took refuge in our second homes—the fire house where everybody knew your name—and greeted one another during the morning ritual of gathering around the kitchen table for coffee. After checking the apparatus, air masks and other equipment we’d turn to the literal task of cleaning house. Janitors? Forget it. Fire fighters pull double-duty. But taking care of your second home added to the morale. It offered opportunities to acquire the pride that comes from leaving a brass fire pole with a shine so bright, you had to don sunglasses before looking at it. Of stripping old wax from floors and adding a fresh coat—and who can forget the lingering and not unpleasant smell of new wax?
There were also billiard tables and yes, card tables. There, I’ve said it. Yep, fire fighters played cards and tossed money on the table during late-night poker games. Sure, we weren’t supposed to gamble but we explained the cash this way: “Gosh no, Chief. We weren’t playing for money. It’s just a way keeping score. Heck, we always give it back after the game . . .” Fire fighters also played checkers and chess, sat out front on warm summer nights to watch the world go by—and greet pretty ladies as they strolled past—and from the 1950s on, everyone plopped onto old but comfortable chairs to watch the shift’s favorite TV shows.
In time however these fire house essentials began to wane. The horses were the first to go of course, along with the scent of straw (and other stuff) in their stalls. The Dalmatians lingered longer. Originally used to help herd the horses into place and get them running faster in response to alarms, the spotted icons eventually began a fade-to-black as their days came to a close. While there are still a few of the little fellows around, they’re almost never seen riding the apparatus to calls. Too dangerous—a liability if they cause the driver to be distracted, the lawyers claim.
Now it’s the 21st Century, and while I still see a gleam in the eyes of fire fighters I meet in today’s stations, the joie de vivre that comes from high morale and a sense of time and place is gone. Their jobs are less physical. They push GPS icons to find an address. Gone are the days of flipping through ink and paper maps bolted to the walls to refresh a driver’s memory—that quick glance at a map that was followed by, “Stratton Street! Right! Now I remember!” Then the driver made a dash for the apparatus to turn on the battery switch and magnetos, pull out the choke an inch or two, step on the clutch with the left foot before stepping on the starter button with the other one, and bringing the apparatus to life . . . a rumbling, roaring, soul-satisfying life.
The fire fighters in the old houses led lives well lived before their retirements . . . before the days of “human-proof” fire stations and apparatus that are void of men yelling, dogs barking and mothers pulling their kids from the streets as fire fighters race to an emergency from one house—theirs—to someone else’s. As Simon & Garfunkel lamented in a song from their Bridge Over Troubled Water album, “So long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I can’t believe your song is gone so soon. I barely learned the tune, so soon . . . so soon.”