Note: This post is sponsored by Grammarly. I use Grammarly’s grammar check because grammar is the bridge between a mouthful of words and effective communication.
I’ve been pretty quiet these days. Not just on this blog: on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Part of that is just personality: I’m more inclined to listen than talk, think than express. And when I am writing, I’m doing it elsewhere. The other part is that I’m changing up the way I work, from working hours to procedures to style. When I write, I’m basically transcribing what I hear from an inner voice, and that voice needs feeding. Development.
Three months ago, I set aside Keepers of the Flame to work on other projects. It wasn’t a cancellation, just a shelving aside until I can gain a fresh perspective on the story, and the series. While none of the projects I’ve finished have paid off (yet!), I’ve learned a few things, worked out a few points, and reworked the style I want to use. And now I’m ready to get back to work, to finish what I’ve started and to see it through to the end. I want to finish the novel — writing and editing — by the end of the year, with a view for a January 2014 release. This means focus and prioritisation. The minutes and hours in between writing and other life necessities are for everything else. Everything from blogging to researching to conceptualisation to other life affairs.
It’s another delicate balancing act, and blogging and social media are, frankly, at the bottom. I don’t know what this means to my blogging schedule. Time was, I’d write lengthy posts at least once a month. Then I settled for one post a month. But even that is changing. There are only so many hours in a day and so much to do.
Maybe it means I need to go for shorter, more concise, more focused posts. Unlike most of my peers, I don’t write short posts. It’s especially evident when you compare my earlier activist posts with those of my contemporaries. The answer is simple: depth and perspective. Bite-sized pieces are easy to swallow and to rile up a crowd. They are also more likely to miss the mark, to miss the perspectives and motives that underlie an event. Take my last post on use of force. It’s easy to write a single sentence criticising the prison for sending eight guards to neutralise one skinny detainee. But if you go deeper, you’d realise there are other considerations: tactical, physiological, practical, psychological. You can’t fit all that into a screen-length screed, but I cannot in good conscience just skim over material. It’s not who and what I am and if my writing is not true to my soul I am not a writer. Yet there is only so much time and energy to go around, both for the writer and reader. Maybe I can find a compromise in breaking up posts into multiple parts. Maybe I need to be less wordy, find cleaner ways to explain things.
Maybe it means blogging only whenever I have time for it. If a man wants to live he needs to work. Over the past 10 months, I’ve seen one job prospect after another shrivel up, and what I’ve got now just won’t cut it. If anything there’ll be even more demands on my time since I need to go find a ‘real’ job. Singapore has one of the longest working weeks in the world, and what little time I will have left I must distribute to other things.
Maybe it means going silent altogether. Maybe it means readjusting writing schedules.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. I won’t pretend to present certainty in a time of flux. All I know is that things are changing, things have to change, and now more than ever I need to see this one through. I’ve mentioned this change repeatedly in the past, but now I’m reaching a crisis point and I will not put this off any longer. This isn’t a goodbye, not exactly, but it’s a signal that I need to, finally, meditate on a few things and do what I need to do. And until then, until I’m ready, I’m going silent.
Back in June, I ran an experiment by placing my novella At All Costs on Amazon’s KDP Select program. The exclusivity period has expired, and now At All Costs is available on Smashwords and my website. See below for a brief description.
On the oxygen-starved world of Paradise, the Republic of Eden has captured the only island capable of supporting life — and with it, a psychic sensor net that grants information dominance. The Terran Federation sends in Viper Team, an elite squad of psychic commandos, to wrest control of the sensors and pave the way for an invasion. Viper Team’s only option is victory, at all costs.
That’s a rhetorical question. But it’s one that refuses to die, especially now that the family of Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah is intent on suing the government. In 2010, Dinesh, an inmate in Changi Prison, kicked a prison officer in the abdomen. This sparked a 30-minute confrontation that ended with Dinesh’s death. The government has offered compensation, but his family wants to sue the government instead. This is unsurprising, since the official autopsy report was never made public, and without seeing CCTV footage of the incident — if any exist to begin with — nobody knows what really happened.
This is a very sticky situation. To be certain, many of the questions surrounding his death could have been answered if videos were available, if a coroner officially investigated the death and made his findings public from the start, and if the government actually acts on its watchword of transparency instead of keeping official documents away from the public eye.
But one thing especially irks me: uninformed activists and bloggers harping on the fact that 8 to 10 officers (the numbers aren’t consistent) restrained Dinesh. It is as if the numbers alone suggests wrongdoing or police brutality. Indeed, there have been claims of brutality and excessive force — none of which, as far as I can see for now, has been backed by evidence.
These people ask, why do you need 8 to 10 men to restrain a prisoner?
Okay, what arbitrary number then?
Because that’s what this quibbling over numbers is. Arbitrary.
I’ve known actual prison guards and read of their tactics and mindsets. One of them, Rory Miller, has 17 years of experience and specialised in handling unruly prisoners and cell extractions. He was a member in his prison’s tactical unit, handling cases just like this one. Care to guess how many guards he would take to respond to an incident like this?
Everybody he could find.
When dealing with a threat, such as a violent inmate, the rule is: the greater the number of responders, the greater your options, and the higher the chances of everyone being safe. Including the suspect. I’m not talking about Dinesh’s case now, rather I’m talking about principles of force.
Can the authorities send in one guy? Sure. Miller used to be ‘that guy’. But Miller has decades of experience training in and using classical jujitsu. Not modern jujitsu; the kind samurai used to immobilise, cripple and kill on ancient battlefields. He has an innate understanding of human body mechanics very few people will ever achieve, if only because very few people even know where to get that kind of training from. Also, he went in solo…with the rest of the team just out of sight, ready to back him up if things went wrong. And the prisoners he went after? The majority of them were either just making noise or not immediately attacking Miller, giving him the tactical flexibility he needed to resolve the situation.
Can the average guard walk in and end a situation by himself? No. Simply because your average person, much less guard, does not have the decades of experience and specialised training Miller has. It is not necessarily a question of competency or training — it is a question of real-world experience, and that you cannot learn in a dojo or training room. How many guards in the prison, at the time incident, can claim to have Miller’s level of experience?
There is no substitute for experience. How do you train your brain to recognise when and how to step up to someone, slide the web of your thumb and forefinger into his philtrum, then slide up your hand and sweep out his leg to throw him to the ground? How to adapt your body mechanics, how far to close with him, how to move your limbs, how to move on slippery ground, how to move your other hand, how to defend yourself from a possible counterattack, how to move so you won’t expose yourself to a different threat, what to do if this move fails? And to do all this under adrenal stress, when tunnel vision is setting in, the hands are shaking — and the threat, too, is experiencing the same benefits and drawbacks of adrenaline, and is NOT constrained by safety requirements? All this can’t be learned in a textbook or in basic combatives class. This takes experience.
This is not to say the solo guard won’t prevail — it’s just that there’s a much, much higher chance of bruises, broken bones, blood infections, concussions and other injuries. On both sides. With one guy, you don’t have many options. If the first move doesn’t stop the threat right away, things might escalate, requiring ever-higher levels of force. The news said Dinesh started the incident by attacking a guard: if this were true, then a solo guard will be at an immediate disadvantage. With no backup around, and already taking blows from the get-go, he has to use a higher level of force to regain control of the situation. Or pay the price.
How about two people? Again, you still need skilled guards. It’s easy to slip past two ordinary humans if you know how to drop your weight. I’ve seen drills which require the participant to escape multiple attackers whaling on him simultaneously. The same considerations for a solo response apply, albeit to a lesser degree. If they cannot stop the threat right now, things will still get ugly.
If less-lethal tools are available and authorised, using them is highly recommended. Tasers and OC spray fall in between verbal orders and laying hands on a use of force continuum. Tools like that give the guards an edge — but they do not always replace the need to put hands on a suspect. Case in point, the guards did use OC on Dinesh. If OC dissuades a threat, great. But if it doesn’t, then the guards have to use bare hands to restrain the threat. And OC is an oil, making hands-on techniques even trickier than it already is. For one thing, your hands may slip. For another, OC may get into your eyes.
It’s time to rephrase the question a little. How many guards does it take to end the threat right now and ensure everyone’s safety as far as reasonably possible?
At least four. One for each limb. It’s a simple tactic. The guards surround the threat, secure each limb, then basically sit on the threat until he decides to give up. If you get a bunch of average guards — not tactical team quality, like Miller and his team, but regular guards — this tactic has a high chance of working well even under stress and when communications break down.
Restraining someone is tiring if he puts up a struggle. What most martial arts don’t tell people is that restraining someone, such as by using a wrist lock or a arm bar, does NOT automatically win a fight. In most classical battlefield martial arts, physical restraint moves set up a limb break. Or a crippling move. Or a kill shot. Those that don’t assume that you want to take the enemy alive and that you have both backup and a tool to secure him without needing your hands. And that you are willing to kill him if he doesn’t comply. Modern-day civilian self defence moves assume that you can call the police after you’ve secured the threat. If you ARE the police, you need different tactics. Like more manpower.
Physical restraint using bare hands, without wanting to escalate into more damaging attacks, is simply forcing a stalemate and hoping you can attrit the suspect’s stamina before you run out — or before he finds a way to escape. If a team has eight or more people, that means that if the first four guys get tired, they can swap out and keep up the pressure until the suspect gives up or runs out of energy. It also means they do NOT have to use a higher level of force.
Now going back to Dinesh: the whole incident assumes it’s just Dinesh and the guards. What happened to the other inmates? If the guards do NOT respond with a large force, if there are other inmates around, and the inmates see a fellow inmate attacking a lone guard, who is to say the inmates won’t seize the opportunity to gang up on the lone guard? Or challenge the guards in the future? Violence is not just between two parties — it is also a means of communication. If you are not killing someone, force is a means to coerce a subject into obeying your will — and to communicate a message to observers.
The problem is, a message or a tactic that is meant for a specific target can (and therefore, will) be misinterpreted by a third-party audience. This includes uninformed civilians with little to no knowledge of martial affairs and read about violence as it actually happens in the real world. From Zuccotti Park to George Zimmerman, I have seen so many people spout ‘police brutality’ and ‘excessive force’ without an inkling of what those words actually mean. Or what security forces need to accomplish the mission.
But that’s because we live in a safe world. One that has no need for average people to use violence regularly, where violence is an exception, not a rule. In such an environment, stylised or inaccurate portrayals of violence (think Hollywood) influences and informs how people feel about violence. None of which have anything to do with reality.
This is the real world. Not the Octagon, not the Olympics, not Hollywood. The suspect is coated in oil, the guards are not necessarily combat athletes and bad luck happens. It’s easy to imagine the suspect slipping free, the guards not being able to get a good grip, the guards being affected by the OC in the air, people crashing and slipping all around, the suspect gaining his second wind…there are so many variables the average civilian can’t even begin to conceive, that are learned only through blood and sweat.
The same reasoning applies to people who don’t believe that someone could put up a fight for 30 minutes, or that someone who weighed ‘only’ 51 kg is mostly harmless. Just pick up a cat and toss it at the nearest human. Weight isn’t as important as willingness to fight and power through pain and fatigue.
I’ve seen fights that’ve lasted for a long time. My sources have been in violent incidents which have lasted long, long minutes. For example, an aggressive emotionally disturbed person who wants to fight will fight until his body can no longer physically function. This is beyond the point of exhaustion, going on in spite of broken hands and limbs, being unable to register any kind of pain or fatigue whatsoever. Then there are other factors, like the ones I described above: slipping around with OC, suspect recovering, etc. It’s not likely, it doesn’t usually occur, but when — not IF — it occurs, a fight like that will become the longest thirty minutes of the first responder’s life.
(This is not to say the ’30 minute fight’ described in the beginning could have happened. From what I’m reading, the incident was over pretty quickly, and the 30 minutes could have included transit time back to Dinesh’s cell. But I digress. This is not about Dinesh; it is about fights that last for a while.)
For the ‘activists’ I’ve mentioned above, violence is no longer about tactics or effectiveness. It’s about how well a story fits and confirms preconceived notions of violence and state power. It’s about how violence makes them feel instead of what really happened. Hows and whys don’t matter, only personal opinions and which parts of a story fits personal prejudices. And taking potshots at The Establishment, regardless of justification.
This is not the activism and the reporting I set out to develop. There are questions of transparency and accountability here. But claiming excessive force and police brutality solely because of the number of responding guards is uninformed nonsense that serves no purpose. To reporters, bloggers and activists who want to talk about violence: first do your research and know what you’re talking about. There are better things to do than to quibble over numbers.
At any one moment I have dozens of ideas. But there’s only 24 hours in a day. The trick is to make the most use of what time there is, doing only the most profitable, the most important, the most passion-driven you can do in the present. Then moving on to something else when needs change. And when you discover you a have a product that can no longer live up to your expectations, you have to let it go.
I know I’m good, but I’m not content to be merely good. I want to be great. I want to be excellent. I want to live up to my fullest potential and beyond, to ensure everything I write reaches the height of my abilities and take them one step further. (That, and make real money, which ties back into skill and craft.) Keepers of the Flame, the second story and first main entry of the American Heirs series, could no longer do that.
It became a monster. Over a hundred thousand words in, I found myself with a bloated behemoth rushing towards a climax that was neither satisfying nor realistic. There was just too much stuff in there to juggle. Finishing it became tedious. Publishing it would have been a travesty. And editing it…would mean effectively restarting it.
I had to start that novel from scratch again. It was the only thing my conscience would have allowed. And yet…I was still too close to the old story to do it right. To do right by it. I had to do something else, find a new way to do things, one that would be true to what I want to be.
So I wrote other stories. One was decent, sort of, and maybe would find a home online. The other again suffered from the same curse; in trying to do too much it accomplished nothing, leading to a hollow plot, bland characters and a boring climax. Not what I want to be remembered for.
I went back to the drawing board, consciously re-applying the lessons I had to re-learn about my chosen craft. Maybe I have something now. I hope have something now. A military science fiction/space opera series in the vein of Marcus Wynn’s gunfighter noir, Jack Murphy’s full-auto military fiction and Peter Nealen’s vision of third generation warfare with a strong dose of high tech, space travel and social commentary. I’m closing the doors on most of my transient interests, going back to my roots as a writer at the intersection of combat, technology, politics and the soul. It’s like exercise, deliberately tearing muscle fiber apart to get them to regrow, stronger.
Not that I’m discarding everything. Other stuff will be recycled in other ideas, other approaches, other stories. I’m already thinking of transmedia franchises: serials, movies, video games. That’s all in the future, but it seems to me like the less I put into my stories the more options I generate. Interesting, that.
I’m applying this approach to the rest my life. My daily routine, planning, work, other writing projects and more. It’s another everyday transformation, and all I can say is, it’s going to be interesting times ahead.
When I think about it, I don’t think I make for a very good socio-political blogger.
I started blogging when I was 17. That was seven years ago. I felt back then I could change the world with the power of the written word, do Big Important Things and practice critical thinking. Like most of the things I’ve done, I almost accomplished these goals.
My earlier pieces were fuelled with raw passion and felt like slashing sabres. When I look back on them now, I think I was just channeling puberty-driven hormones and teenage angst into my articles and rationalising them away as good or necessary or something. Then I stopped being so hormonal and tried being more critical, went through different phases in life, learned a bit more about how the world works. Now, I can’t write the way I used to write. I’m just not (all that?) angry any more.
I prefer to think through things. For whatever reason, I’m just not moved by extreme displays of emotion anymore. If anything, if I see such things in an opinion piece, my first reaction is to distrust the writer’s judgment. Emotion-laden opinion is a poor substitute for rational argument, yet it is and remains the fuel that feeds the modern-day Internet.
Hence we have Occupy Wall Street, lauded as heroes but completely directionless and having accomplished the nothing it had set out to do. When a George Zimmerman shoots Trayvon Martin in self-defence in America, the world is outraged, but when a group of black people rob and assault a white man in Martin’s name, it’s mentioned only once. I’ve seen bloggers I respected spread conspiracy theories after the Boston Bombings. More and more now I see people taking cheap shots and calling it critique, people screaming vitriol in the name of some pet cause without looking deeper into the different angles, and Wikiperts and Googlefools shrieking at people who try to use reason and common sense instead of appealing to the simplistic meme of the hour.
I won’t name these harpies. These slings and arrows won’t even reach them. There’s no point in that. But I will say, I refuse to be one of them. I am a better man than that.
There is this old saying that goes, stick fast to your beliefs even if everybody else disagrees. That’s only half the truth. The other half is: beliefs have as much substance as a thought or an emotion. I studied knowledge, truth and beliefs in Junior College. ‘Belief’ is a way of thinking about something, ‘Knowledge’ is justified true belief. Beliefs can be wrong. Beliefs are changeable. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and no amount of denial or vociferousness will change that. If you want to be right, you have to change your mind. You can’t change others’ for them, only point the way to what you think is true. Not necessarily what is.
All my life I’ve sought to know things before jumping to act. That means keeping silent on many, many things until I get a good idea of what’s going on. That means spending the time and energy trawling for facts — hard, verifiable facts — and expert input. That’s not how the media — traditional or alternative — works today, as everybody rushes to comment and generate meta-news on the hot topic of the day.
I don’t work like that. I can’t. I am not wired that way, and I do not intend to spend half my writing time jumping all over myself, correcting mistakes and running updates. Likewise, I can’t spare the time or energy engaging in Internet debates anymore.
Call it growing older. Call it growing up. But these days I have more important things to do. I need to eke out a kind of living on a degree no one wants. I need to work towards my goals of being a successful independent author. I need to plan for future housing, family, career, a hundred other things schools don’t usually talk about. I’ve got other things to do than spend hours writing blog posts and Facebook essays. I have to focus, and that means closing the door on blogging as often about contemporary affairs as other bloggers can.
I don’t bestow the words ‘blogger’, ‘writer’ or ‘journalist’ with some kind of holy reverence. It’s just a descriptor of what a person does in a particular context. Not necessarily membership in some privileged circle. Likewise, I don’t consider myself part of the local socio-political blogging community, except very loosely in the sense that I am Singaporean and I have a blog. Yet this feels like an ending, of some kind. Perhaps a departure to some distant shore, another step in a life-long journey.
I won’t stop talking about politics, though. Quite the contrary; I’ve received word that an article I’ve written on Singaporean media regulation has just been approved. It’s just that I need to streamline my life in accordance with my soul and seek a new balance based on my new priorities. It’s also a refusal to do anything trivial or time-wasting, be it monkey dancing on Facebook or pointless pseudointellectualism on my blog. I’m better than that, and I just don’t have the time for it. I sense I’ll only be writing about politics when I can spare the time, or if I get something out of it. Otherwise, I’ll be writing about other stuff. Maybe here, maybe elsewhere. Or else working on something else.
I’m 24 now. I’m not going to get any of my years back. I have to focus if I’m ever going to do anything with my life.
On the misnamed world of Paradise, the Republic of Eden and the Terran Federation battle over the only island that can support life. The Edenists have deployed a psychic sensor net that grants them information dominance. The Terrans reply with Viper Team, an elite squad of psychic commandos. The team is inserted into the island to wrest control of the sensors, paving the way for a ground invasion. Viper Team must not fail. Their only option is victory. At all costs.
At All Costs is exclusively available on the Kindle store.
Normally I’m opposed to exclusive distribution. Especially Amazon-exclusive distribution. For one thing, I can’t find my books on the Kindle Store. For another, neither will anybody who live in countries without Kindle.
But I’m also a businessman, and the majority of sales of American Sons come from Amazon. Amazon also has the best and most extensive range of marketing tools available to publishers. So I’m willing to try an experiment.
My current novella, At All Costs, will be enrolled in Kindle Select for the next 90 days. Over the coming days and weeks, I’ll play around with the promotional tools and see how they work. For folks who don’t have access to Kindle. I must ask for your patience; At All Costs will be made available on all major ebook vendors near the third or fourth quarter of the year.
Until then, keep an eye out for my next work, Keepers of the Flame.
I grew up writing thrillers and military science fiction. Today marks the publication of my very first mil sci work. Titled American Sons, it is the first entry in the American Heirs series. American Heirs is a post-post-apocalyptic military science fiction series set in an America that survived a long, drawn-out apocalypse and is still trying to rebuild. Here’s the summary of American Sons.
Note: This series has adult content. Expect depictions of violence and gore, strong language, and sexual activities.
Emerging from the ashes of a post-post-apocalyptic America, the Republic of Cascadia claims to be the sole successor of the old North American Union. Yet a hundred years after the Apocalypse, this oasis in the wastes still faces threats foreign and domestic. Cascadia’s elite Combat Studies Unit stands ever ready to defend the fledging nation.
Master Sergeant Christopher Miller is the Unit’s newest team leader. Following a mission on a hacker collective, Cascadia’s national intelligence machinery uncovers evidence of an emerging terrorist organisation, the Sons of America. And Miller has childhood links to them.
Working to gain the confidence of his men and partners, Miller must leverage his past and uncover the terrorist plot and prevent the coming of a second Apocalypse.
American Sons is currently available at the following vendors. This list will be updated as other vendors complete the publication process.
1. My website