Blog 2014

Time Out

Recent events, both locally and internationally, have turned my attention to the concept of prison and jail. Not to specific ones, just to the overall construct as a part of human society.

Prisons exist in every society and culture across all of human history. Even today, I would imagine you would be hard-pressed to find a nation or even a community that did not have a prison of some sort. My question is, what are they for?

(Before going further, I want to acknowledge the existence of for-profit prisons but remove them from discussion. A societal industry based around what is essentially slavery is a whole other discussion to be had. It needs to be had, for sure, but it’s a topic and factor for another time)

A person is sent to prison after committing a crime, which is some sort of egregious societal transgression. Fair enough. Laws exist for a reason and good reasons too. Only the most ardent of anarchists would assert a truly lawless community as an ideal. But what is the prison supposed to do in response to the crime?

It seems three possible answers:
1 – the time in prison is supposed to rehabilitate the prisoner, so that upon release they will not commit crime again.
2 – the time in prison is supposed to repay the victims of the crime and/or society itself for the damage done by the crime.
3 – the time in prison is supposed to remove the criminal element from society.

The problem that I’ve seen is that none of these seem to be the case. The rehabilitative nature of prison is dubious, at best. Whole fields of psychology are devoted to the institutionalization that prisoners undergo during long prison stints. And what constitutes a ‘long’ stint in prison is a lot shorter than one might think.
So if the goal is rehabilitation, why aren’t therapy, rehab and detox, and other forms of cognitive restructuring emphasized?

The repayment to the victims/society theory doesn’t make much sense to me because what is taken from the prisoner cannot be given to the victim. The months and years a prisoner spends in prison cannot somehow be added to the victim, like some sort of life transfer.
So the ‘repayment’ seems to be more about removing from the prisoner an amount of time equal to the crime committed. But this too is flawed. Even if we could assign a reasonable time-based debt system, we are still answering one loss with another loss. That isn’t justice; that’s revenge.

The third scenario is about the removal of the criminal element from society. Not a bad idea, I suppose, but that seems to suggest that crime is somehow a genetic factor, or some other similarly innate characteristic that, if removed, perhaps society will be free of all crime. Psychology and criminology both do not support this theory.
But even if they did, why release the prisoners? If they are tarnished by some criminal factor, why not remove any and all criminals permanently from society? Why ever let them return? And if they can somehow recover, that goes back to the first suggestion about rehabilitation.

What I keep coming back to is that I just don’t know what role prisons are supposed to play. I don’t know what prisons are supposed to do. I don’t have an answer, and scholars far more versed than I wrestle with this question even today. But given that prison is one of the corner stones of society – any society and every society – this seems an important question to answer.

* * *

I want to apologize for the late update. I’ve been on the road a lot since Anime Mid-Atlantic and it’s been hard to line up both the time and opportunity to update.

Please stay tuned this week as I’m currently working with my publisher on a special offer relating to Rhest for the Wicked. I hope to have more info in the next day or two.

Blog 2014

Angels or Demons

I both love and hate philosophy.  I enjoy discussing different philosophical thinkings and views of the world.  Sadly, I don’t really enjoy reading philosophy because most philosophers are excessively long-winded that blather on incessantly.  Were I a strong advocate for their specific views, the attention to minutae might be appealing but as a tourist to that realm of thinking, it gets cumbersome.

One philosopher that I’ve been rereading recently, however, is ‘Meister’ Eckhart Hockheim. These days, he’s probably most famous for being referenced at the end of Jacob’s Ladder.  In it, the character Louis Denardo tells the titular Jacob,

“Eckhart saw Hell too.  He said, ‘the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments.  They burn them all away.  But they’re not punishing you,’ he said.  They’re freeing your soul.  So, if you’re frightened of dying and…and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away.  But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth”

This singular quote has seemed a bit apropo (if more than a little melodramatic) with the recent tragedies that have befallen me and my family.  For example, I lost my computer and all (and I do mean ALL) my files.  That’s years – decades – of writing gone.  Gone and likely unrecoverable.

On the one hand, true tragedy.  My life’s work, up in smoke.  But on the other hand, all of it was and still is in my brain.  All the stories still exist.  Vincent Pierce, Everett Kendall, and so many other characters, still live inside my mind.  And getting them out is as simple as daily visits to the library until I am able to buy a new computer.  Or even just jotting stuff down on a notepad.

A lot has been lost, sure.  Tiny nuances of characters and settings and events that could only be born out of a certain time and place in my life.  But the essence of who they are and what they do hasn’t been lost.  And while I lament what has been lost, I also have the opportunity to rebuild from the ground up.  I can start fresh, of sorts.

So that’s something.  🙂



Speaking of nice, I will be at Anime Mid-Atlantic this weekend, hosting a bunch of panels as well as helping to man some panels for my publisher, Haven Publishing.  And also promoting the print release of my newest novel, Rhest for the Wicked.  I hope to see you there!

Blog 2014

More To Come

A series of ill-timed and unrelated tragedies have befallen my family over the last week.  This has cast a strange silence over all of us.  In an emotional paralysis, we seem to be bracing for yet another blow to hit.  Everything from professional delays with no source with which to redress to legal matters that came from out of nowhere, we seem beseiged from all sides.  In another time, I might make a joke about somebody having cursed us.

So, regrettably, everything is sort of on-hold until stuff starts to sort itself out.  When will it sort it self?  Man, ain’t that the million-dollar-question.  Until then, please just bear with me while my family and I try to sort through these matters.


And hopefully, I’ll see you at AMA next weekend!  🙂

Blog 2014

Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth

Sorry about the delay in this week’s blog.  I’m afraid I was occupied most of yesterday because my mother fell and had to be rushed to the ER.  Almost the entire day was spent with her, making sure she was okay (she was and is; nothing broken or really all that badly hurt, just a whole lot of pain and bruising).

Yesterday was a reminder for me that I don’t like hospitals or really any medical setting.  This probably seems a bit odd since I work in the medical field (my day job is at a CTR, a kind of cancer-specific medical transcription) and have friends in the medical field (everything from food services and ambulance-driving to true-blue MDs).  I also have great respect for the field and study of medicine.  So then why do I dislike hospitals and all things medicine?

I can go on a great rant about systemic issues confronting the medical field, but what it ultimately comes down to is a consistent series of bad experiences, from my teens to all the way to just a few weeks ago.  In short, personal bias.  So then why do I don’t I gripe about medicine more often?  A) Because personal bias is a poor reason to denounce anything so serious as health and medicine and B) I know enough to know that I don’t know enough.

Have you ever been served by a waiter who was just really inattentive?  Maybe he or she just didn’t seem to be all there?  Did you wonder why, or did you write off the service as just being bad?  The answer usually depends on whether or not you’ve worked in food services.  The same is true when it comes to service in a store, and whether or not the customer has worked in retail or sales.  That’s not to excuse bad service, but once you’ve been on the other side of the name tag, you have a great deal more insight and sympathy for what may be going on behind the scenes.

Medicine is the same way.  For example, as a CTR, I’m HIPAA-certified.  Do you know what that means?  If so, then you know the nightmare it can be to become certified and sometimes the nightmare to maintain your certification.  If you don’t know what being HIPAA-certified means, words can’t really convey the laundry list of issues that just that one factor can bestow upon any and all transactions one makes through the course of doing one’s job.

Medicine – the medical industry – is possibly the most complicated field on the planet.  Even the lowliest of nurse requires a tremendous medical knowledge and has an unimaginable number of obligations and responsibilities.  So much as pulling back the curtain in an exam room and introducing one’s self requires filling out numerous forms.  Many of those forms are redundant and down that path lies madness.  The redundancies at play alone in bookkeeping alone (never mind care, diagnosis, or treatment) can seem inane to anyone who isn’t versed in their need…until those redundancies aren’t followed and somebody falls through the cracks.  And it’s important to realize that – while in retail or food service or whatever, if somebody falls through the cracks, a customer doesn’t get what they want – in medicine, if somebody falls through the cracks, there’s a new dead body for the morgue.  There’s a family that has now lost someone.  A child no longer has a parent, or a parent no longer has a child, or both.

Racking my brain, I cannot think of one good experience I’ve personally ever had with the medical industry.  And yet, I work hard to never denounce medicine, to never advise against medicine, to never trivialize medicine.  It is unfair for me to assign blame solely because of my bias.  Because I know just enough – about medicine and about the medical industry – to know how little I know about what’s going on at the nurse’s station or the doctor’s office or any of the hundreds of places people are working to keep others alive.

When in doubt – meaning unless you know exactly what is happening that shouldn’t be, or isn’t happening that should be – default to silence and observation.  Watch and learn.  Know your role and shut your mouth.  However you want to put it, unless you are a doctor, or a nurse, or some other related profession, you have put yourself into the care of these professionals.  Fighting them on every little thing will grant nothing, questioning every little delay will speed up nothing.  You want a second opinion?  That’s perfectly fine and very understandable.  You not only are free to do so, often you probably should do so.  But don’t mistake a quick search on WebMD for seven years of medical school.  Don’t mistake one trip to the ER a year ago as some kind of expertise on how the longer wait this time means the nurses don’t know anything.  Don’t mistake a personal experience for an illustration of an entire field.

Denouncing the medical field because of a personal bias is merely sharing a spiteful and petty opinion that will benefit no one.

Blog 2014

Patterns and Habits

Pattern recognition is one of the greatest aspects of the human mind.

While it is far and away not infallible, pattern recognition allows us to see trends in our environment – and ourselves – and to predict future events.  It is through pattern recognition that that all science was formed.  Science, all skills, and even simple communication, depends on our understanding of patterns.

Patterns in nature are called cycles, but patterns in our own behavior are often called habits.  Habits are interesting phenomena, both physiological and psychological.  They are a product of both our bodies and our minds, often without us even being aware of it.

Through the application and use of pattern recognition, we are able to see habits, identify them, and understand them.  And more, we are able to change them.

Habits are self-perpetuating behaviors, that we do because we have done them and we’ve always done them because we’re used to doing them.  They are easy, and humans will by nature follow the path of least resistance.  Changing a habit, then, is an act of will, of dedication, of sheer determination.  It is by changing our own habits that we take command of our own lives.

No habit can be unconquered.  Even critical habits such as eating and sleeping can be mastered (see intermittent fasting and polyphasic sleep for extreme-but-healthy examples; tragic and unhealthy examples exist as well).  More mundane habits such as diet and fitness, with nothing to say of skills and knowledge, can likewise be conquered in days and weeks.

In the exercise world, we have two major benchmarks to shoot for: six weeks and six months.  If a fitness program or a diet can be maintained for six weeks, it’s considered to be a habit.  Maintaining the diet or exercise program now takes less effort than before.  The person will ‘default’ to that diet and program.  At six months, the behavior is now a lifestyle.  It now becomes harder to NOT do it than to do it.

One of the easiest ways to affect change in your life is to apply simple pattern recognition in the form of a journal.  Monitoring one’s diet in a journal has had documented and profound effects, even without the person going on a diet.  Just being aware of what a person is eating day in and day out, for each meal, causes changes for the healthier.

Journals also provide us with other key information.  Dream journals can often provide insight into what our mind does when unleashed during the small hours of the night.  Thought journals and spending journals can astound the keeper at what their resources go towards.

Keep a journal.  Review what you write down from time to time to see what patterns jump out at you.  Decide if those patterns – those habits – are really things you want to maintain.  And then, if you so desire, seek to correct them.