Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What is Mahayana Buddhism? (Alan Watts)

Alan Watts ( KQED, San Francisco; Ashley Wells, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Alan Watts: Mahayana Buddhism (1960)
(The Partially Examined Life, 2012) This is an episode from the 1960 season of Alan Watts' KQED television series Eastern Wisdom & Modern Life entitled "Mahayana Buddhism."

A native of England who lived and taught in California, Alan Watts attended the King's School near Canterbury Cathedral, and at the age of 14 he became fascinated with the philosophies of the East.

By 16 he regularly attended the Buddhist Lodge in London, where he met Zen scholars Christmas Humphries and D. T. Suzuki.

As a speaker and contributor to the Lodge's journal, The Middle Way, he wrote a series of philosophical commentaries and published his first book on Eastern thought, The Spirit of Zen, at age 21.

In the late 1930s he moved to New York, and a few years later he became an Episcopalian priest. In 1942 he moved to Illinois and spent the wartime years as chaplain at Northwestern University.

Then, in 1950, he left the church, and his life took a turn away from organized religion back toward Eastern ways and expanding horizons. After meeting author and mythologist Joseph Campbell and composer John Cage in New York, he headed to California and began teaching at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco.

There his popular lectures spilled over into coffeehouse talks and appearances with the well-known beat writers Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.

In late 1953 he began what would become the longest running series of Sunday morning public radio talks, which continue to this day with programs from the Alan Watts tape archives. It continues in Los Angeles at, available in the Pacifica archives.

In 1957 he published the bestselling The Way of Zen, beginning a prolific ten-year period in which he wrote Nature, Man and Woman; Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen; This Is It; Psychotherapy East and West; The Two Hands of God; The Joyous Cosmology; and The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

By 1960 Watts's radio series "Way Beyond the West" on Berkeley's had an avid following on the West Coast, and NET television began national broadcasts of the series Eastern Wisdom in Modern Life. The first season, recorded in the studios of KQED, a San Francisco television station, focused on the relevance of Buddhism, and the second, on Zen and the arts.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The toxic legacy of Britain's empire (video)

BBC News, History Reel, July 10, 2020; Pfc. Sandoval, Ashley Wells (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
The UK Goddess [of War]
(BBC News) The 2020 protests by the Black Lives Matter movement and controversy over some Confederate and colonial statues drew attention to aspects of Britain's imperial past -- and its horrible legacy. BBC News presenter Clive Myrie visited Bristol, where the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was taken down. He considers how Britain's history of colonial rule is reflected today. VIDEO
Police abuse those who oppose police abuse.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that some demonstrators spilled red paint on the road in front of the district attorney’s office and that others threw [empty plastic] bottles at police officers in riot gear [carrying military-grade weapons with instructions to kill at their discretion]. Officers [committed felony assault and battery as they] pushed [demonstrators] to the ground and hit them with [metal] clubs, and a police car rammed into a [demonstrator]’s vehicle that was being used as a barricade, the newspaper reported. More

AUMF has been used in 41 American wars

Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Sheldon S. (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly wiki edit

Rep. Barbara Jean Lee
UC Berkeley graduate, Army Peacemaker of One Barbara Jean Lee is U.S. Representative for California's 13th congressional district (Alameda County) now in her 12th congressional term, since 1998, as a member of the Democratic Party.

She gained national attention in 2001 (when G. W. Bush was president) as the only member of Congress to vote "no" on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), a catchall bill abused to start more wars than any other piece of legislation.

She stated that she voted no, not because she opposed military action, but because she believed the AUMF, as written, granted overly-broad powers to wage war to any president at a time (9/11) when the facts regarding the situation were not yet clear.

The Bush Crime Family (Roger Stone)
She "warned her colleagues to be 'careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target'" [12].

It has no end date, no time limits, and keeps getting reaffirmed essentially without opposition as if some off-planet power were pulling strings, using the USA as the war arm of the planet, enriching it's military-industrial complex.

Representative Lee explained:

"It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone [simply accused of possibly being] involved in the September 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk. The president has the constitutional authority to protect the nation from further attack, and he has mobilized the armed forces to do just that. The Congress should have waited for the facts to be presented and then acted with fuller knowledge of the consequences of our action" [13].

This vote made nationwide news reports and brought about a large and extremely polarized response, with the volume of calls gridlocking the switchboard of her Capitol Hill office.

Although it appears to have reflected the beliefs of the majority of her constituents, the majority of responses from elsewhere in the nation were angry and hostile, some referring to her as "communist" and "traitor."

Many of the responses included death threats against her and her family [for being anti-death] to the point that the Capitol Police provided round-the-clock plainclothes bodyguards [13]. She was also criticized by politicians and in editorial pages of conservative-leaning newspapers, for example John Fund's column in The Wall Street Journal [14].

Don't worry about me. I'm an artist. Right, Deli Llama? - Yes, Dubya.
She was awarded the Seán MacBride Peace Prize by the International Peace Bureau in 2002 for that vote.

In her speech she quoted the Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, dean of National Cathedral: "As we act, let us not become the evil that we [claim to] deplore" [15].

On June 29, 2017 the House Appropriations Committee approved Rep. Lee's amendment to repeal the 2001 authorization for the use of military force that was the foundation of the U.S.'s post-September 11 military actions.

The amendment, if passed, would have required that the 2001 authorization for the use of military force be scrapped within 240 days [16].

Rep. Lee has initiated several attempts to repeal the authorization, but as of 2020 she has not been successful. More

"History has proven her right": Barbara Lee's anti-war push succeeds...
Jan. 10, 2020 Longtime pro-peace dissident California Representative Barbara Lee's name wasn't on the resolution... In the end, only eight moderate Democrats voted against the resolution. ...The repeal of the 2002 AUMF — which has justified Pentagon strikes in... More

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Sutra on Grasping and Worrying

Maurice O'Connell Walshe (trans.), Upadaparitassana Sutra: "Grasping and Worrying" (SN 22.7 PTS: S iii 15 CDB i 865), 2007, Pali title based on the PTS (Feer) edition; Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly

I'm not greedy for power. I just want power.
[At Savatthi the Blessed One said:] "Meditators, I will explain to you grasping and worrying, as well as not-grasping and not-worrying [letting go and ease]...

"Here, meditators, the ordinary uninstructed worldling, with no regard for noble ones [1], unskilled and untrained in the Dharma (Doctrine/Teaching) of the noble ones... of those who are worthy [2]... regards body as the self, the self as having a body, body as being in the self, or the self as being in the body.

"Change occurs to this person's body, and it becomes different. Because of this change and alteration in this body, consciousness is preoccupied with bodily change. Due to this preoccupation with bodily change, worried thoughts arise and persist, laying a firm hold on one's mind/heart.

"Through this mental obsession one becomes fearful and distressed, and being full of desire (craving) [3] and attachment (clinging), one is worried. One regards feeling as the self... change occurs to one's feeling... one is worried.
  • [The same is then said with regard to "perception, the mental formations, and consciousness."]
Hey, this is much better: letting go and peace.
In this way, meditators, grasping and worrying arise. And how, meditators, do not-grasping and not-worrying [letting go and ease] arise?

"Here, meditators, the well-instructed noble disciple, who has regard for the noble ones, is skilled and trained in the Dharma of the noble ones... of those who are worthy, does not regard body as the self, the self as having a body, body as being in the self, or the self as being in the body.

"Change occurs to this person's body, and it becomes different. But despite this change and alteration in the body, one's consciousness is not preoccupied with bodily change... Not being full of desire and attachment (craving and clinging), one is not worried.
  • [The same is said with regard to "feeling, perception, the mental formations, and consciousness."]
"In this way, meditators, grasping and worrying do not arise."

1. According to MA [the Commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya or Middle Length Discourses] on MN 1, the "noble ones" (ariya) are buddhas [but not] pacceka-buddhas [nonteaching buddhas] (cf. SN 12.22, n. 1) and disciples (savakas). "With no regard..." means "not seeing with knowledge" (ñanena adassavi), i.e., seeing them with physical eye but not knowing them for what they are. See The Sutra on the Root of Existence [MN 1] translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi ( 1980), p. 42.
2. Sappurisa: MA (as in n. 1) says these are pacceka-buddhas and disciples. Alternatively it is stated that the "noble ones" may refer to [teaching] buddhas alone, or that both terms may refer to all three classes of individuals.
3. Apekhava ca upadaya ca: KS ["The Book of the Kindred Sayings," translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. III, by F. L. Woodward, 1924, PTS] has "owing to vexation and clinging," but apekhava = "full of longing or desire" (Pali-English Dictionary [by T.W. Rhys Davids and William Stede, 1921-1925, PTS] s.v. apekhavant).

Federal death sentence starts again at 4 PM

CBS News, 7/13/20; Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Seth Auberon (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly UPDATED

Daniel Lewis Lee, 1997 (Dan Pierce/AP)
Terre Haute, Indiana — The federal government is planning to carry out the first federal execution in nearly two decades on Monday, over the objection of the family of the victims and after a volley of legal proceedings over the coronavirus pandemic.

Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, is scheduled to [be executed by the federal government] by lethal injection at 4:00 pm on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana.

He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

The execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, comes after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction on Sunday.

It had been put in place last week after the victims' family argued they would be put at high risk for coronavirus if they had to travel to attend the execution. The family had vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. More

Why would we approve if we don't kill?
We oppose killing, particularly by the government in our name. It is collective bad karma to call for or applaud such a thing, a form of which is remaining silent. Silence is consent. The first precept is to abstain from taking the lives of living beings, a part of which is abstaining from encouraging others to kill. If we encourage or approve of such a thing, we are complicit in that karma. Stand against killing, against murder, against revenge, against executions, which have been shown to not prevent killing. It only coarsens us like a police state. Very few countries do such things, all of them more brutal than we imagine ourselves, as we imprison, torment, and warehouse more citizens than any other place in the world. We can do better.

Apply now for $2,000 rent relief (7/13-7/17)

The government comes to the rescue. Now we can pay rent and won't be evicted.
Save your housing. Join a strike: #rentstrike (
Rent Relief - LACDA ( COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (for Tenants). The application period for this Program closed on... Assistance Program provides rent payments to property owners on behalf of an income-eligible household, up to $1,000 per month, for three months. ... To view PDF files located on this site.

Rental Assistance | National Low Income Housing Coalition ( NLIHC has estimated a need for no less than $100 billion in emergency rental assistance and broke down the need and cost for each state (download Excel...)

Disaster Financial Assistance with Food, Housing, and Bills | USAGov ( Learn about mortgage and rental relief. And find out how the... Long-term Care Facilities Cannot Claim Residents' Stimulus Payments. Your stimulus check...

Emergency Renters Assistance Subsidy Program ( Applications will be accepted from Monday, July 13 at 8:00 AM through Friday, July 17, 2020... The program will provide a temporary rent subsidy for tenants in the City of Los Angeles... of up to $1,000 per month to cover the monthly lease rent (based on the rent... or misuse of the web site and/or materials contained on the web site, or that...

L.A. leaders OK $100-million coronavirus rent relief program (Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2020)... The city will pay a tenant's rent up to $1,000 per month, with a maximum payment of $2,000 per household. The money would go directly to the...

Sunday, July 12, 2020

No person is an island... But be one (sutra)

Maurice O'Connell Walshe (trans.), Attadipa Sutra: "An Island to Oneself" (SN 22.43, PTS: S iii 42, CDB i 882), 2007, title based on the Pali Text Society (Feer) edition; Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly

Let the Dharma be your guide.
"Meditators, be lamps/islands unto yourselves [1], be your own guide/refuge, having no other; let the Dharma be an island and a guide to you, having no other.

"Those who are islands/lamps unto themselves... should investigate to the very heart of things [2]: 'What is the source of disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair? How do they arise?' [What is their cause and origin?]

"Here, meditators, the uninstructed ordinary worldling [continued as in SN 22.7]. Change occurs in this person's body, and it becomes different. On account of this change and difference, disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair arise.
  • [The same is said with regard to "feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness."]
"But seeing [3] the body's impermanence, its changeability, its wasting away [4], its ceasing, one says, 'Formerly, as now, all bodies were impermanent, disappointing (unsatisfactory), and subject to change.'

"Thus, seeing this as it really is, with deep insight, one abandons all disappointment, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. One is not worried at their abandonment but, unworried, lives at ease. And thus living at ease one is said to be 'assuredly delivered' [5]."
  • [The same is said with regard to "feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness."]
1. Atta-dipa: Dipa in Pali means both "island" (Sanskrit dvipa) and "lamp" (Sanskrit dipa), but the meaning "island" is well established here. The "self" referred to is, of course, the unmetaphysical pronoun "oneself": cf. SN 3.8, n. 1.
2. It is necessary to withdraw, to be "an island unto oneself," at least for a time (as any meditator knows), not for "selfish" reasons but precisely in order to make this profound introspective investigation and breakthrough in insight. In another sense, Buddhism would of course agree with John Donne who said, "No man is an island."
3. As Woodward remarks in KS [The Book of the Kindred Sayings, translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. III, PTS 1924], one would expect to find here the words that he inserts in the text: "The well-taught Ariyan disciple," as in many passages. If one, in fact, sees these things and reflects as is said in the text, one will cease to be an ordinary "worldling." [Instead, there will be a "change of lineage" (gotrabhu), making one a "noble one," someone who has gained at least the first stage of enlightenment that culminates in full enlightenment or arhatship.]
4. Viraga is elsewhere translated as "dispassion" (SN 12.16, n. 2) and also has this meaning.
5. Tadanganibbuto means rather more than Woodward's "one who is rid of all that."
  • See "The Last Days of the Buddha" sutra (DN 16)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

In the forest of meditation (video)

True Little Monk (short video documentary, July 21 2018); TEXT by Ajahn Chah ( via Ven. Sujato and Ellie Askew, edited by Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly

Here is a rare documentary about Ajahn Chah's Thai meditation center for Westerners, the "International Forest Monastery" (Wat Pah Nanachat) in Ubon Ratchathani, Northeast Thailand from True Little Monk: The Wisdom Training Program for Novices.

There are two kinds of suffering....become free.
Westerners are generally in a hurry. So they experience greater extremes of happiness and suffering. The fact that they have much defilement (kilesā) can be a source of wisdom later on.

To live the lay life and practice Dharma (Pali Dhamma), one must be in the world but must rise and remain above it. Virtue (sīla), which begins with the basic Five Precepts, is the all-important parent of all good things.

It is for removing all wrong from the mind/heart, removing that which causes agitation and distress. When these basic things are gone, the heart/mind will always be in a state of serene mental coherence (samādhi).

At first, the basic thing is to make virtue really firm. Practice formal meditation when there is the opportunity. Sometimes it will be good, sometimes not. Don’t worry about it, just continue.

If doubts arise, just realize that they, like everything else in the mind, are impermanent.

From this base, mental coherence (samādhi) will come, but not yet wisdom. One must watch the mind at work -- see like and dislike arising from sense contact [with the pleasant and unpleasant things], and not attach to or reject them.

Let’s not be anxious for results or sudden progress. An infant first crawls then learns to walk then to run.

When one is fully grown and able to run, one can travel half way around the world to Thailand [to practice in forest meditation centers like Wat Pah Nanachat].

All Lives Can't Matter until Black Lives Matter; Ashley Wells, Crystal Q., Pfc. Sandoval (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Saying "All Lives Matter" is a tone deaf and racist statement because "all lives CAN'T matter until black lives matter." All that's being asked for are fairness and equity.
Hey, ALL lives matter, b*tch! - NO, you're lying because black lives don't matter yet.
To fan the fires of racist hatred with Trump

Judge the Monster Jeanine gets into heated argument with Black sell out Juan Williams over the boycott of Goya Foods
I like division, [N-word]! Don't contradict me!
(Fox News, July 10, 2020) Cancel culture? Goya Foods faces a boycott after its CEO praises racist, anti-Mexican Pres. Trump. "The Five" weighs in for an entertaining shark frenzy against the slightest acknowledgement of an obvious truth by Williams, like what Trump is on record saying about Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Mexico. His polarizing statements are legendary, but Fox News would lie by saying he never said it?

Cop confesses to dark side of policing

Author Chief of Police Norm Stamper (; Editors, Wisdom Quarterly
Let's smash some [N-words]! Y'know what I mean, Jefferson. You're one of the good ones.
Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of Policing
This memoir is a product of the author’s recollections and is thus rendered as a subjective accounting of events that occurred in his life.

1 • An Open Letter to a Bad Cop
2 • Wage War on Crime, Not Drugs
3 • Prostitution: Get a Room!
4 • Capital Punishment: The Coward’s Way Out
5 • Criminals’ Rights: Worth Protecting?
6 • Getting a Grip on Guns
7 • Men

8 • Why White Cops Kill Black Men
9 • Racism in the Ranks
10 • “Split Tails”
11 • Sexual Predators in Uniform
12 • The Blue Wall of Silence
13 • The Police Image: Sometimes a Gun Is Just a Gun
14 • It’s Not All Cops and Robbers
15 • Doughnuts, Tacos, and Fat Cops

16 • Demilitarizing the Police
17 • Picking Good Cops
18 • Staying Alive in a World of Sudden, Violent Death
19 • Undercover

20 • Treating Cops Like Kids: Police Discipline
21 • A Dark Take on Financial Liability
22 • Up With Labor, (Not so Fast, Police Unions)
23 • Living With Killing
24 • Citizen Oversight

25 • Egos on Patrol: Giuliani vs. Bratton
26 • Marching for Dykes on Bikes (and Against Jesus)
27 • The Fourth Estate: A Chief’s Lament
28 • Snookered in Seattle: The WTO Riots
29 • Community Policing: A Radical View
30 • Cultivating Fearless Leadership


WHAT DO YOU SEE when you picture a “safe” America? I envision infants born into a loving, nurturing world — to women whose reproductive rights are protected by law. I see children and teens who exhibit consideration for themselves and others. I see citizens who question, challenge, and disagree with one another — nonviolently.

I see men who refuse to abuse women. I see gun violence gone from our homes and streets, our schools and workplaces. Law enforcers, from the beat cop to the U.S. attorney general doing their jobs properly, applying their imagination, playing by the rules.

I see Americans, black, white, straight, gay, expressing themselves freely, pursuing happiness as they define it. I picture an America safe from consumer, environmental, and political, as well as predatory crime—and free from the specter of an overzealous, overreaching, moralistic government.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different result. That pretty much sums up this nation’s law enforcement approach to public safety. Take drugs, for example. How much more evidence do we need that America has lost its “war on drugs,” even as we keep our cops slogging away on the perilous front lines?

Take prostitution: How likely is it that hookers and their Johns will decamp the sex industry any time soon?

Take guns: I heard Barry Goldwater rail against controls some 35 years ago because “it would take 50 years to get rid of handguns.”

Take men: What are the chances that we American males will accept full responsibility for the breathtaking levels of violence in our society and do something about it?

Take racist cops: Do we honestly believe we’ve seen the last Rodney King, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo incident?

Problems like these can be solved. It’s possible for a police force to be tough on crime and still treat people with dignity and respect. But not with the same politics, the same paramilitary infrastructure, and the same inbred cop culture that produce police incompetence and misconduct.

What’s needed is an honest examination of the failures of our justice system, along with the will and the courage to employ radically different—but theoretically sound—approaches to their solution.

How? By breaking rank, by questioning long-accepted ways of doing business, and by taking direct action to change the system.

How it was being a cop

I had impressions of the law and “lawmen” long before I became a cop. As a kid, I was in some kind of trouble just about every day of my life. Most of my behavioral problems were handled not by the police but by my parents (unevenly), or by teachers and coaches (more constructively, on the whole).

Still, despite an anemic rap sheet, I had enough early contact with “The Man” to cultivate some major hostility toward the police.

I grew up in National City, a small town of car lots, slaughter-houses, meat packing plants, and Navy bars at the southern city limits of San Diego, 14 miles from the Tijuana border with Mexico.

At nine, I had my first contact with two of NCPD’s finest. My friend Gary and I, weary of shooting out streetlights with our slingshots, meandered over to Kimball Park to kick over the portable Little League fence, again. We’d finished off about a third of the job when a black-and-white Dodge shot out from behind the visitor’s dugout and swooped down on us from the left field foul line.

One of them seized the cigarettes I’d lifted from my mother. The driver cop, the talker, ordered us to put out our smokes and replace the fence. The two men sat in their car, supervising us, tiny orange dots lighting up their faces as they inhaled mom’s Chesterfields. When we finished, the talker ordered us, with great profanity, never to set foot in the park again. I had to agree with my pal when he said, as the black-and-white drove off, leaving us in a cloud of dust, “I hate those fuckers!”

When I was 16 a National City cop wrote me a citation for doing 17 miles an hour through a 15-mile-an-hour intersection. (Later, I would learn the technical term for such a ticket: chickenshit.)

A year later I watched a San Diego police officer jab his finger into the chest of the lead singer of our R&B band and call him a “splib” and a “motherfucking nigger.”

In my late teens I sat glued to the tube as Birmingham Bull Connor sicced his dogs on peacefully assembled civil rights demonstrators. I saw well-dressed Negroes—women in Sunday frocks, men in white shirts, skinny ties, and porkpie hats, even children—get clubbed to the ground, kicked, bitten by police dogs, sprayed with fire hoses. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

At 19 and 20 I was burglarized, three times. The police took forever to show up, and when they did the one in a suit mumbled something about the “Mezicans” who lived up the steep bank from my apartment. They took no prints, no shoe impressions, not even notes. They arrested no one, recovered none of the hundred or so jazz and R&B LPs that were my most prized possessions. (To this day I still feel the sting of that loss, along with a powerful case of resentment. Not so much toward the burglars—they did their job.)

And where were the cops when my old man was beating the snot out of his sons? Our house at 2324 K Avenue was the site of multiple and continuing felonious acts. But even if they’d been called (our neighbors certainly heard what was going on) the cops wouldn’t have done a thing.

People talk about “bad apples” in police work. To me the whole barrel was moldy. Not once, growing up, did I have a positive contact with a police officer. I’m not claiming I was an angel, not saying my behavior didn’t contribute to my “anti-police” attitude. It’s just that I got neither protection nor service from my local police. All I got was disrespect.

So why did I become one of them? I needed a job.

I was 20, freshly married, working as a kennelman at the National City Pet Hospital. My 18-year-old bride and I lived in an apartment on the grounds. Dottie wasn’t overjoyed with the arrangement — the barking dogs, the yowling cats, the odors. And the pet owners rapping on our bedroom window in the middle of the night: a woman to inform me that Mitzi’s nose was warm, that she “just doesn’t seem herself lately,” the owner of a kitten wondering if Tangerine needed her rabies shot before traveling to Mexico, a party animal demanding to know why his new puppy, bloated and comatose, wouldn’t wake up after being fed a bowl of Bud. It was time for a new home, a new job.

I passed each phase of San Diego’s civil service testing, which took a couple of months. At the end of the process I was scheduled to meet with the chief of police himself.

I walked down the long, terracotta-tiled corridor of the old police headquarters on West Market to the “corner pocket.” The police chief, a white-haired, wrinkled man, squinted at me through rheumy eyes and thick horn-rimmed glasses. “Tell me, son, why do you want to be a policeman?” I’d been practicing for this all morning, I was ready.

“To help people and prevent crime and—and mayhem.” The word, which a lieutenant had scolded me for misusing during my civil service interview (think not chaos and disorder but split lips and slit ears), was lodged there in my brain, like a song you can’t shake. The chief shook his head.

“That’s what they all say. ‘I want to help people.’ Tell me the real reason you want to be a policeman.”

“Really, sir. I’ve thought about it a lot. I really do want to help people. Like when they get robbed and so forth.”

“Do you know what a robbery is?”

“Sure. It’s when somebody, like, breaks into your apartment and steals your things.”

“That’s a burglary son. A robbery is a little more — personal. But you’ll have plenty of time for all that in the academy...if I decide to hire you. Tell me, why should I hire you?”

“Because I’m a hard worker? Because I care about people? Because...”

“Are you asking me these things, or telling me?”

“Telling you, sir.” I tried to be emphatic but my voice cracked in the middle of “telling.” The assistant chief, a large man with a crew cut who’d been sitting in silence off to the side, laughed, explosively. I blushed. And fumed. I didn’t need this shit. I could become a fireman. Or, God forbid, go back to working with Dad on his construction sites, something I’d done every summer from age eight to sixteen.

“Well, you’ve made it this far,” said the chief. “I guess I’ll go ahead and take a chance on you. But you remember this.” He crooked a finger at me. “You’re on probation for a year. That means I can fire you just as quick as I’ve hired you. You understand?”

“Yes, sir.” My voice cracked again and the assistant chief laughed again, a little softer this time.

“Well, welcome aboard, son.” The chief stood up, wincing. Maybe he had a trick knee too; mine was from football. I’d lied about it on the application. The chief hobbled out from behind a prison-industries desk the size of a jury box and smiled at me as we shook on it. He seemed like a really nice guy.

Although I was thrilled, I honestly didn’t get it: Why in the world would Chief Wes Sharp hire me? Later I learned that SDPD was hard up for cops at the time. It’s a cyclical thing, police hiring. Three months later, the budget closing in on him, the city manager demanding “economies” for the rest of the fiscal year, Sharp never would have welcomed me aboard. But he was hurting for cops in the field.

I brought my new identity home from Albert’s Uniforms in two brown paper shopping bags. As soon as Dottie left for work I tried it all on. I was jolted by the image in the full-length mirror on the back of our bedroom door. But I would be a different kind of cop, I told myself. Sensitive and compassionate, responsive and responsible. I would catch people who stole from or hurt other people. I would not write chickenshit tickets. I would never use the “N” word, or act unprofessionally.

I practiced a few quick-draws with my imaginary six-shooter and then pulled on my new raingear: rubber boots, a yellow coat, a yellow rain cap with a floppy visor. I looked like a 170-pound canary.

The police academy was a catalytic, values-jarring, life-changing experience. The staff and most of the instructors, cops all, were charismatic and sarcastic, comical and irreverent. I aspired to be just like them. And bowed enthusiastically to their authority.

What about all those accumulated grievances, all that fear and loathing of cops? They evaporated overnight. My top priority, my only priority, was to please or at least not piss off these cool new people in my life. To that end, I spent hours studying the academy manual and spit-shining my new regulation plain-toed black shoes.

A few weeks into the academy I began to feel the rumblings of something I’d never felt before: self-confidence.

There was no greater confidence-builder than overcoming my fear of firearms. I’d performed dismally at the range, and had failed to qualify in our first “shoot.” The rangemaster, Sergeant A. B. Davis, who sounded a bit like Sean Connery but looked nothing like him, ordered me to take my six-inch .38 Smith and Wesson revolver home and “dry-fire” it, over and over. “An schqueeze that trigger, Schtamper. Schtop jerking it. Itch not your goddamn dick.”

I got home that evening and unloaded the pistol (counting the six bullets in my hand at least half a dozen times). I picked a tiny smudge on the living room wall of our new apartment, took aim at it, and started dry-firing. Click-click-click.

My right hand was cramped, bruised, and cracked, but I went on to qualify. In fact, by graduation day I was the number-one shooter among SDPD recruits. (I would have been first overall but for an El Cajon cop who later got busted for pulling burglaries on his beat, on duty. I’ve always prided myself on being the number-one, non-felon marksman in the Forty-Ninth San Diego Police Academy Class.)

After twelve weeks at the academy I was out on the streets on my own, at last. I loved it. Chasing calls, writing tickets, wrestling drunks, pinching the occasional burglar or stickup man. And letting the bad guy know who was boss. Our instructors had drilled it into us: it was us against them, good guys versus bad guys. I knew which one I was, and set out to prove it.

I didn’t give a moment’s thought to how the job might be affecting me. Within months (was it weeks, days?) I was saying and doing things I’d never said or done before in my life. Not nice things, not proper things. But, oh my lord, was it fun! Screwing people around, laughing and joking about it after shift with my peers. My favorite stunt? Choking people out. I’d jab my right forearm against their throats, spin them around, hoist them up on my back, and squeeze with all my might. Then I’d whisper into their ears as they lost consciousness, “You’re gonna die, asshole.”

I’d been on the job a little over a year when I pinched a nineteen-year-old puke who’d had the nerve to question my authority.* I’d busted him for a violation of Section 647(f) of the California Penal Code—drunk in a public place and unable to care for himself or the safety of others. In those days people arrested on that charge pled guilty and paid their twenty-nine bucks. Not this kid (I was three years his senior). A month after the arrest I received a subpoena. No problem — I knew exactly what to do.

On the trial date I sauntered into the county courthouse, sidled up to the deputy prosecutor, and suggested with a wink and a poke that he dismiss the case. Why? he demanded to know. Because it was a skinny pinch, I told him. He asked if the kid had actually been drunk. What kind of a question was that? “No, not really. But he was a puke. He called me a pig.”

The attorney peered at me through his tortoiseshell glasses and said, “Does the Constitution of the United States mean anything to you, Officer Stamper?”

I was furious, as angry as I’d ever been in my life. But my rage quickly turned to embarrassment. How could I have come so far from my pre-cop views and values? By the time I slithered down the stairs of the courthouse and out into the bright sunshine, I was saturated in shame.

That slap-down in the courthouse, coupled with other developments in my personal life (such as junior-college classes that were leading me to question, at least tentatively, some of the things we did in police work) triggered an abiding commitment to reform. Of myself, initially. Then of everyone else, the whole rest of that tainted, unholy institution called American policing.

After a few years as a hydrophobic gasbag, haranguing my fellow cops and confessing our private sins publicly, I resolved to actually study my profession. My goal was to come up with more effective, more humane ways to get the job done.

The investigation was experiential: every shift on the streets was a learning experience. A couple of coworkers and I would regularly debrief the incidents we handled, including the almost nightly riots and mini-riots in the black community, plus all those civil rights and antiwar demonstrations. It wasn’t always easy but we did learn things, and we applied the lessons to our practice.

I also studied my field academically, researching and analyzing our laws, police procedures and police administration, political science, leadership, social and organizational change, systems theory. Later, I attended and spoke at numerous national and international conferences on policing, and visited and consulted with several dozen police agencies, often conducting “organization development” and leadership workshops for them.

I taught at the police academy, and at San Diego State University, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of Washington. I wrote a dissertation, later published, on the “professed values versus the observed behavior” of American big-city police chiefs.* I came to Seattle in 1994 as a police chief with a Ph.D. in leadership and human behavior.

With each new badge, each new phase of learning, I developed a deeper and keener understanding of this: the most intractable problems of my field — racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and other brands of bigotry, fear, brutality, corruption, organizational ineptitude, even individual incompetence — are rooted in the system of policing, a system that includes the laws police are called upon to enforce.

As my former colleagues will happily attest, I was never a cop’s cop. But throughout my career I witnessed many officers who consistently performed the job with inspiring mastery. They’re the kind of police officers who make a difference in the lives of the people they were hired to serve. My love for these cops is a major motivation behind this book. That they continue to get the job done lawfully and humanely, in spite of senseless laws, dim-witted policies, and childish workplace pressures, is something of a minor miracle.

It’s a thing of beauty to watch these cops work with kids and parents, the homeless, the mentally ill. To observe their creativity and enthusiasm for community policing, and their talent and courage as they track down and capture the genuinely dangerous among us. Rarely did a day pass in my career that I didn’t register the humor, humanity, and compassion of these officers. Or their willingness to sacrifice all for a risky and delicate mission: in my thirty-four years I helped bury more than two dozen police officers slain in the line of duty.

Who are the instructors I remember most vividly from my academy days? The ones who told stories. You couldn’t get those guys (not a woman among them) to cough up a theory or a principle if their lives depended on it. Not that I wished for them to turn academic on us: Their tales made the streets come alive. They educated, amused, frightened, and inspired us with images of what we’d face in the real world when we’d finally hit the streets. The instruction may have lacked a tidy theoretical foundation but it was compelling, entertaining, and unforgettable.

Today, the best academy instructors still tell tales, but they weave relevant theories into those stories, helping new cops understand why they’re expected to do, and not do, certain things. These instructors also get their students out of the classroom and into “mock scenes,” simulations that help recruits get a taste of what it’s going to be like to collect evidence at a robbery, make a felony hot stop, or enter a stranger’s living room to interrupt family violence. In this book I set out to do something of that for you: to help you imagine what it’s like to be a beat cop, or a police chief.

I’ve approached Breaking Rank not only as a memoir but thematically and polemically, introducing in each chapter a critical issue facing community-police relations and the justice system.

“My aim is to agitate and disturb people,” wrote the philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno. “I’m not selling bread, I’m selling yeast.” Breaking Rank provides “yeast” for those who seek to help this country move toward more effective, humane, and progressive policing.
  • *We dealt in pukes and assholes in those days. A puke was a longhaired youth who flipped you off, called you a pig, or simply had that “anti-establishment” look about him. An asshole, on the other hand, was a doctor, a lawyer, or a clean-cut blue-collar worker who gave you lip as you wrote him a ticket–or who disagreed with your informed take on current events. The world was conveniently divided into “good people” vs. pukes and assholes. There were, of course, regional, as well as generational, differences in the vocabulary of the cop culture. In the eighties, for example, Hill Street Blues Detective Mick Belker’s, “Sit, hairball!” or “Freeze, dogbreath!” was drawn directly from the streets of New York (and widely copied in PDs throughout the country).
  • *Removing Managerial Barriers to Effective Police Leadership. Police Executive Research Forum, 1992.
CHAPTER 1: Crime and Punishment
On April 26, 2003, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his estranged wife, then turned the gun on himself. His eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son witnessed the event.

Dear David:

What was it like just before you did it, inside that cocoon you’d spun around your brain? Had you convinced yourself it was a private matter, nobody else’s business? Were you at peace? I want to understand, David, I really do, as one ex–police chief to another. One ex-spouse abuser to another.

You were angry, I get that. Crystal had filed for divorce. It made headlines. You saw your name attached not to the talented, visionary police chief you imagined yourself to be, but to the portrait of a monster. Unlike thousands of other abusive men in high places and/or respected positions, you got outed. Until that Saturday afternoon your public persona had been that of a sophisticated, well-mannered civic leader.

The murder-suicide was hardly private, as you would have known all too well. It shook your city to the core, David. Women’s groups are demanding answers and sweeping reforms. The mayor and city council are scrambling to cover their tails. The guy who made you chief, the city manager? He’s been fired. Crystal’s family is suing the city for $75 million.

Tacoma’s insurance company is threatening not to pay. (Remember, Chief, those premiums don’t buy coverage for the criminal actions of our employees). The FBI is investigating charges of impropriety in your hiring, as well as your ascension to the chief’s office. Your beloved hometown is reeling, people are saying it’ll take years to recover. Of course, you don’t have to worry about the “collateral damage” you caused.

All your chiefly chatter about “valuing diversity,” treating citizens and your employees with dignity and respect—that wasn’t the real you, was it? I mean you raped a woman, for crying out loud. Someone you dated back in 1988. True, you got off on some bogus “he said/she said” internal affairs finding (and the inexplicable failure of your boss to submit the case to the prosecutor) — but you confessed to the crime. I heard that you broke down in a face-to-face meeting with your victim, sobbed to her that you were a “born-again Christian,” that you were “very truly, terribly sorry” and would “never, ever do that again.”

But there were other women. Your own employees. One had begun making noises about your having sexually harassed her; it seems you promised her a promotion if she’d share the sheets with you. You pestered another female employee to join you and your protesting wife in a threesome. That would have been more recent, well after you’d pinned on your chief’s badge in January 2002.

Wife beating, rape, sexual harassment. You couldn’t live with it, could you? Being disgraced publicly. Most likely losing the job you’d politicked so hard to win. Possibly going to prison. You weren’t just angry, were you? You were scared — to death.

I’m curious, David. Where did you get your attitudes about women? About wives? Employees? Dates? Was it from your parents? Are you aware a therapist convinced a judge that your children shouldn’t be left in the care of their paternal grandparents? They’re afraid of your mother. They say she’s been violent with them. What do you make of that? Did Mom beat you when you were a kid? Not to get too psychological, but did she help turn you into a misogynist?

How about your dad? Did he mistreat you? If so, I can relate. My old man beat me often. Usually it was with his belt but sometimes it was his fists or his foot or the back of his meaty construction worker’s hand. I remember the worst beating as if it happened this morning. It left me bloodied and cowed. Not until my forties did I come to realize that my father was a criminal, his “discipline” a felony.

That’s my story, David. Not all of it, of course. (I haven’t told you how Mom would send my brothers and me out to the apricot tree to pick a switch when we’d been bad. It hurt like the devil, I can tell you that, against our bare backs and bare legs. And she’d have this absolutely ferocious look on her face when she lit into us. But I choose to believe she did it to protect us from Dad. It was like they’d cut this deal between them: If she did it during the day he wouldn’t be required to do it that night.) Anyway, like I said, that’s my story. I wish you could tell me yours.

I wish I knew whether, like so many of us, you were beaten as a boy. Was your dad, the Tacoma policeman, physically violent with your mom? With you? I know I’m dwelling on it here, but answers to these questions are of consequence, they really are.

Research over the past three decades supports the conventional wisdom: Witness your parents fighting? Statistically, you’re likely to grow into a batterer yourself. Beaten as a child? Odds are you’ll beat your own kids. If you’re both a witness to and a victim of family abuse, your chances of becoming a partner beater and a child abuser, unless you have some remarkable coping skills or some other adult to turn to for support, are off the charts.

And God forbid you should grow up in a household where violence is the norm — spousal assault, child abuse, an everyday vocabulary of violence (“Eat those peas or I’ll kick your ass,” “Wipe that smirk off your face or I’ll slap it off”) and, yes, megadoses of TV and video game violence.

If you come from that kind of home, the chances are slight that you’ll not settle differences with your fists or a hammer or a gun. (Either that, says the research, or you’ll turn out pathologically passive.)

So, those questions about your upbringing are important, David. But the answers, no matter how heart-wrenching, don’t let us off the hook. Not for how we behave as grown-ups. They’ll never excuse what you did to Crystal, even before April 2003. Let’s talk about your behavior first. Then we can compare notes.

The pushing, the threats to kill her, the choking (four episodes in the year before you murdered her), the angry display of your firearm—I hate to say it but that stuff’s not all that uncommon among male cops, or men in general. But you did some certifiably weird things, too. You sent her flowers with no you could study her reaction. You timed her every trip from the house. You checked the odometer on her car. You accompanied her to the bathroom, and into her gynecological exams. You weighed her daily. You handled all the money, giving her a miserly allowance then accounting for it like a cross between Scrooge and Attila the Hun. I wonder, David, if you also:

• Listened in on her phone conversations?
• Read her mail?
• Followed her?
• Interrogated her when she got home, demanding to know what she did, who she was with?
• Expected or demanded sex when she didn’t want it?
• Selected her friends for her?
• Prevented her from having friends?
• Threw the family kitten or puppy against the wall?
• Scissored up her photos?
• Threatened to leave her?
• Screamed at her?
• Glared at her?
• Made a fist, shook it in her face?
• Gave her the silent treatment?
• Compared her body to photos in magazines?
• Threw things?
• Punched holes in the wall?
• Left a threatening note?
• Forced her to have sex when she was asleep?
• Called her a whore?
• Made yourself unavailable to watch the kids when she was counting on you?
• Took the car, leaving her unable to get where she needed to go?
• Refused to allow her to have male friends?
• Accused her of flirting, or of having an affair?
• Sabotaged family/social affairs?
• Blamed her for financial problems, or troubles with the kids?
• Told her she was a bad mother?
• Told her she was a lousy lay?
• Told her she was mentally ill?
• Made light of your abuse, minimizing its effects?
• Forced her to watch pornography?
• Told her you were in charge, that your home was your castle?
• Told her it was the alcohol or the drugs that made you do it?
• Told her that if you couldn’t have her no one could?
• Idolized her?
• Obsessed about her all the time?
• Flew into rages?
• Went cold, and stayed cold?
• Drove recklessly with her (and/or the kids) in the car?
• Failed to give her messages from people who called?
• Defined and dictated her role as mother, homemaker?
• Got jealous when she bought new clothes, put on makeup, got a new hairstyle?
• Goaded her into talking about other men, then condemned her no matter what she said?
• Checked the phone bills for suspicious calls?
• Refused to stop the car when she requested it?
• Followed her to work?
• Questioned or threatened her coworkers?
• Used sex to “make up” for your violence, expecting her to forgive you?
• Pulled the phone out of the wall?
• Fought in front of the kids?
• Used violence against her?

The whole world knows the answer to the last two questions. But, how about the other stuff on that long, depressing list? You’re familiar with these behaviors, right? If not from your own home then from the annual domestic violence conferences we sponsored in Seattle? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some conference handouts gathering dust in the filing system of your old office. It would credit people like Michael Paymar, and his book, Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Violence. Had you read Paymar’s book, David? Did you see yourself in those pages? I certainly did — I saw me in them.

I’ve been married and divorced, three times. I recall what it was like to be provoked, the rage that welled up inside when I felt jealous or possessive or disrespected or—insecure. I did things I regret, and since I’m not shy about judging you I’ll tell you what they are.

I screamed profanities at my wife — in front of the kids (two stepchildren from the second marriage, my own from the first); turned cold, gave her the silent treatment; slammed my fist into the wall; interrogated her when she returned home — surely she’d been sleeping, or at least flirting, with someone else; glared at her; drove at breakneck speeds with her in the car; lifted her and moved her when she refused to get out of a doorway so I could leave (a favorite tactic: get to the car, roll the windows down, and motor like a madman into the mountains or the desert). Which wife? Doesn’t matter. I behaved the same way with each, habitually.

The worst thing I ever did, from where I sit, was to stand above the woman I loved and rain down madness upon her. I was carrying my seventh or eighth badge by then, each new professional milestone symbolizing, in my delusional mind, the parallel progress I’d been making in “personal growth,” in “enlightenment.” My partner was asleep at the time, on a futon on the floor.

She hadn’t returned my calls, wouldn’t commit to some office holiday function I’d felt professionally obligated to attend. She had ignored me. So, I towered some six feet above her in a darkened room and ROARED! Berating her, accusing her, intimidating her. All I lacked was the belt.

It’s tempting for me to minimize these behaviors, to slough them off as “nonviolent,” because nobody got a cut or a bruise—much less a bullet to the brain. But, make no mistake, David: Shouting, threatening, intimidating are all forms of violence. You know this as well as I do.

We both saw it throughout our careers as cops. Big men, loud men, scary men — looming over their women, making them quake in fear. I picture the difference in physical space you and Crystal take up in your respective coffins. You, a six-foot, 175-pound man. Your wife, five feet tall, all of a hundred pounds. Don’t tell me the way we “talked” to our respective spouses wasn’t violent.

Escalation of nonphysical abuse into physical attacks and physical injury is not automatic, but it happens often enough to be predictable and of deep concern to the women being raged against. And to the children who witness it, shrinking in the corner. And to a whole society overrun by violence.

I don’t want to be presumptuous, David, but I think I know where you and I parted company: You seemed to believe what you did was okay because you were in charge. The king of your castle. The patriarch in a dismally dysfunctional patriarchal society that licenses men to command rather than communicate.

Mary Nõmme Russell writes in Confronting Abusive Beliefs: Group Treatment for Abusive Men: “An abusive man’s belief in the centrality and separateness of the self precludes a definition of his behavior as abusive by disregarding effects of this behavior on his partner. His belief in the superiority of the self permits him to devalue his partner [as] well as to justify abusiveness as a necessary defense to his threatened superiority. An abusive man’s belief in deservedness of the self provides justification for abuse when his needs are not met.”

Wow. If you’ll pardon my saying so, David, that describes you to a T. Your total self-centeredness, your sense of superiority and entitlement.

Me? I’ll own the self-centeredness, the “centrality of self” that Nõmme Russell writes about — I was one self-absorbed, narcissistic sonofabitch (I see myself today as a recovering self-absorbed, narcissistic sonofabitch). But I never believed myself to be superior to my partner. Or that I was entitled to hit her. My actions may not have communicated it but I always felt, with each partner, that we were equals.

Alas, what you and I may have felt about our motives matters not a whit. It’s how we acted that matters.

There’s another major difference between us, my colleague: I got help, you didn’t. While I never entertained the thought of physically attacking my partner I knew it was in there, percolating: the potential for physically wounding violence. Psychotherapy was a great gift. It helped me understand and deal with the sources of my childhood wounds, and my adult insecurities. It informed me that my parents’ “discipline,” especially my father’s, was as unlawful as it was ineffective. It reinforced my fundamental belief in the moral (and liberating) value of true gender equality.

And it erased any excuse I may have had for my behavior: I was responsible, not Mommy, not Daddy, not God, not Twinkies, and certainly not my partner, for how I acted.

I wish for Crystal that she’d had a chance to know you as an equal, David. I wish that same thing for all partners in their relationships. Especially the wives of cops.

Your crimes triggered a feeding frenzy among the local media. Reporters started sniffing and snooping even before you and Crystal were in the ground (your wife lay in the hospital until they lowered you into your grave, and at that moment she died). The press was eager to learn how many other cops were abusing their partners. Yeah, I know, reporters are bottom feeders, but you can hardly blame them in this case. I mean, you were the top cop in town; if you were guilty of domestic violence, what did that say about other men in blue?

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a week-long series “exposing” the fact that cops are at least as likely as other men to commit domestic violence. (Next, they’ll be telling us there are racists in policing.) In fact, more recent research reveals that cops are far more likely than non-cops to be domestic abusers. Yet, police officers are far less likely to get busted for DV. Why? Because they’re trained to fight, to take charge, to manipulate. They know how to inflict excruciating pain that leaves no marks. And they have guns. Their wives aren’t stupid.

Police are the state's revenue generators
How to fix U.S. police
Police are the modern manifestation of what Slave Catchers were at the turn of the century in the late 1800s. Police today often exhibit reckless abandon when policing the average American citizen. It's your word against theirs, and who will people in a jury believe, the officer wearing a badge or the black person who refutes their actions?

This book will help you understand what police are capable of and simple ways you can protect yourself. You pretty much need to comply, not give them any reason to execute you, BUT remember each and every moment so you can "hopefully" gain some recourse in the end. The advantage many have today is that we have the ability to use our camera phones.

When you expose the corruption these officers exhibit it shines a bright light on them and their superiors and locale bringing attention they do NOT want. Right now, that's our only recourse. That or knowing someone high in power.

But the main objective is to not get on police radar period. Do not do anything to stand out, to bring attention to yourself. This is what they are looking for. More