Survival And Criminal Defense I


I haven’t felt much like blogging lately; you may have noticed. I’ve been practicing law and catching up on my reading. Right now I’m interested in The End Of The World As We Know It. I read James Kunstler’s (his blog) World Made By Hand — good apocalyptic fiction (the genre of Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle [Pournelle’s blog] or even The Stand, which is the only Stephen King book I’ve read) about preserving civil society after the SHTF (but with a mysterious mystical twist at the end that I don’t appreciate.

Kunstler, Niven & Pournelle, and King all have different visions of TEOTWAWKI. Kunstler’s vision is probably the most plausible of the three, with a combination of factors — war, disease, scarce oil, and terrorist attacks — bringing the demise of American civilization. A reminder, perhaps, that it’s better to be ready than prepared?

Having every intention of surviving TEOTWAWKI, and wondering what might distinguish survivors from non-survivors, from “World Made by Hand” I went to Laurence Gonzales’s Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (blogito). And suddenly I found myself back on the nominal topic of this blog: the art and science of criminal defense trial lawyering.

Here’s an excerpt from the very early pages of Deep Survival. A little context: Yankovich is a landing signal officer (LSO) on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. He’s briefing Navy fighter pilots.

Yankovich continued his briefing: “The steam curtain comes up and you lose the yellowshirt for a minute. You’ll be a hero real quick if you have the fold handle in the wrong position, so check that. Spread ’em, five potatoes, and you’re all set. Okay, wipeout, the engines come up, see that they match. The safety guys jump up and make sure the beer cans are down. Tension signal. Hands you off to the shooter, and then: head back and four G’s. Grab the towel rack. Touch the ejection seat handle and make sure you’re not sitting on it. If you lose an engine on the cat, stroke the blowers, twelve-to-fourteen-not-to-exceed-sixteen. Rad Alt: You see you’re descending, the wiser man will grab the handle.”

What the hell did he just say. . . ?

The first time I heard a briefing like that, I was lost. But that’s part of the point: only those who get it get it. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. Just for the record, what Yankovich said was that it would be a very bad idea to try to depart with your wings folded up, as they are for taxiing around on the deck. It takes five seconds for them to lock down into place after you movethe handle, so you count off ‘as follows: one-potato, two-potato, three-potato . . . Then, after all the technical bits of the launch process have been checked (the wipeout with the stick to make sure your controls are moving freely, checking to see that the engines are both producing the same amount of power, and so on), you’re going to hold onto a metal bar known as the towel rack (because that’s what it looks like) to keep yourself from being slammed back by the force of the catapult. And just in case that isn’t complicated enough, remember that one of your engines could quit, in which case you have to put the other engine into afterburner (known as the blower because it blows) to get enough power to keep going up (but don’t overspeed it, those engines are expensive). And since nothing ever works out as planned, check the radar altimeter, which will tell you if you’re sulking, in which case wisdom would dictate that you depart the aircraft with some haste.

Of course, it would be unthinkable to talk like that because, for one thing, anybody could understand you. For another, it would be terrifying.

And after all that, there is still the little matter of landing the aircraft, because, as my father used to say, takeoff is optional but landing is mandatory. Yankovich explained the most salient points: “You’re at a quarter mile and someone asks you who your mother is: you don’t know. That’s how focused you are. Okay, call the ball. Now it’s a knife fight in a phone booth. And remember: full power in the wire. Your IQ rolls back to that of an ape.”

It sounds as if he’s being a smart-ass (he is), but deep lessons also are there to be teased out like some obscure Talmudic script. Lessons about survival, about what you need to know and what you don’t need to know. About the surface of the brain and its deep recesses. About what you know that you don’t know you know and about what you don’t know that you’d better not think you know. Call it an ape, call it a horse, as Plato did. Plato understood that emotions could trump reason and that to succeed we have to use the reins of reason on the horse of emotion. That turns out to be remarkably close to what modern research has begun to show us, and it works both ways: The intellect without the emotions is like the jockey without the horse.

Much more soon.


“World Made by Hand: A Novel” (James Howard Kunstler)


“Lucifer’s Hammer” (Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle)


“The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)” (Stephen King)


“Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” (Laurence Gonzales)

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0 responses to “Survival And Criminal Defense I”

  1. Why do I get the feeling that we are about to see a post telling us all how a criminal defense lawyer is much better suited to survival than, oh I don’t know, a prosecutor?

  2. I’m just guessing here, but I’d say that it’s either because (a) you see the world in very simple terms, or (b) you think everything should always be all about you. Or both.

    Probably both.

  3. a) Indeed I do tend to see the world in simple terms. Why use a Gillette when Occam’s will suffice?
    b) At the very least, I am observant of historical trends and tendencies.

  4. (a) Occam’s Razor: ’tis vain to use more when less will do. The world is full of complex systems; oftimes less will not do.

    (b) So you’re saying that historically everything has tended to be about you?

  5. OH!

    Two of my all time favorite books! Lucifer’s Hammer and The Stand. We need to do lunch soon Mark. I will have to read the others you mention.

    As a pessimist I am less worried about Hot Fudge Tuesday or Captian Tripps (though I do keep an eye on Bird Flu… I have a good book on the 1918 flu you can borrow) than political and economic colapse. I would suggest reading up on the fall of the Roman Republic (Brutus and his friends were the GOOD guys after all), and the latter half of the Peloponnesian War, (when Athens blundered their way into loosing the big one).

    Jonah Goldberg’s LIBERAL FASCISM is pretty scary as well. EMPIRE by Nial Fergison deals with the whole of the history of the British Empire, but the chapters on it’s end are probably the most applicable here.

    In any case the real end of the Roman Republic came from the prescriptions, because at that point loosing power didn’t mean you had lost an election, it mean that your name was likely to show up on a list in the forum and people would come by to kill you and your family. Obama’s recent comment about how “one of the first things” he would do if elected would be to “look into how to prosecute members of the Bush Administration” is the continuation of a very bad political trend in this direction. When the penalty for loosing an election means having to find a new job for a couple of years, that is one thing and it is easy to do a peaceful transition of power…but if you move to a system where loosing an election means you wind up in jail, disgraced, or ruined or worse…things start to get dark.

    Also from a historical prospective, when a nation or a poltical party “sells out” the Army, and deprives it of victory…Armies tend to resent that. The German Army (and especially the Navy), rightly or wrongly, felt that they were “sold out” by the German Politicians in 1918, and that THEY (meaning the Army and Navy) had not been beaten, and that the great sacrifices they had made only became sacrifices in made in vain because of the politicians blunders. This belief had a lot to do with the events that lead up to WW2…(as well as the Allied Decision to accept only an unconditional surrender, and to go all the way to Berlin).

    The U.S. Army still feels this way about Vietnam…that we didn’t loose on the battlefield, that we WON Tet..but it wasn’t reported that way, (even General Giap admits that is true), and that had Congress not blocked the Ford Administration from living up to our treaty obligations South Vietnam would have survived past 1975… perhaps even up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the present day.

    Adding Iraq to the Army’s list of “Wars WE won, but the polticians lost” would not be good for morale.

  6. BTW… don’t believe in “Peak Oil”, history doesn’t support it. If the money is there, AND IT IS LEGAL TO DO SO, more resources will be found.

    Did you know that under the Antartic Treaty even looking for resources down there is illegal? Who knows how much mineral wealth is trapped under that ice, and that treaty?

    Also, if you believe the sunspots, it is going to get a lot colder before it gets warmer, no matter what Al Gore says.

    The TEOTWAWKI scenario I find most likely is ATLAS SHRUGGED. There are plenty of folks in the Democratic Party and the Media that would happily support Directive 10-289.

  7. There are a thousand plausible scenarios for how the SHTF. If you prepare for the bird flu, you won’t necessarily be ready for the asteroid. We are surrounded by complex systems that are bound to fail; it’s not a question of whether but when. Gonzales might say that the survivors will be the ones who are best able to adjust their mental maps (their idea of how things are) to conform to the actual map.

    As to the politics, the pendulum swings: if government officials ever start declaring themselves above the law they should not be surprised to see the guillotine coming up in the public square when the people weary of them.

    As to the war, the politicians screwed up the war from the word go. Had the generals actually been allowed to do their job (overwhelming force — 450,000 troops instead of 150,000) things would look quite different today. So we won the war, but at great expense. And, because Don Rumsfeld thinks he is a better general than Colin Powell, we keep paying.

    As to Peak Oil, it isn’t about running out, but about supply and demand. And unless you believe that the aliens are going to start arriving with tankerloads of crude, you’ve got to believe that the price is going to keep going up. We’re not going to run out but the price is going up — like you say, if the money is there we’ll find the resources. But there’s not an infinite supply, and at some point the amount of energy a human can exert in a day is not going to be great enough to extract enough oil to produce that much energy. In other words, at some point oil will be so expensive that it won’t make sense to replace human power with engine power.

    As to directive 10-289, the Republican party hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in its unwillingness to buy security at the cost of freedom. I think there are plenty of people on both sides of the arbitrary (false?) political aisle who are all too happy to give up dangerous human freedom for the security of governmental power.

  8. “As to directive 10-289, the Republican party hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in its unwillingness to buy security at the cost of freedom. I think there are plenty of people on both sides of the arbitrary (false?) political aisle who are all too happy to give up dangerous human freedom for the security of governmental power.”

    Is it too late to agree with you on something?

  9. Mark,

    I have to agree with YOU here.

    First of all everything you say about Rumsfled follows exactly what I saw in my two and half years at CENTCOM.

    Also, there are two large sections of the GOP who would be perfectly happy seeing Directive 10-286 come down the pike.

    One is the Rockerfeller Republicans. After all if you live in River Oaks you really aren’t concerned with promoting social mobility, and nothing kills one’s support for the enterpeneurial spirit like a fat trust fund full of large cap stocks. In that position supporting economic stability is in your best interst, no matter what happens to the rest of the country. This is why Wall Street is happy with the idea of “cap and trade”, they make just as much comission trading “polution credits” as they do pork bellies and orange juice.

    The other group would be the Pat Buchanan Brownshirts…(did you see he has a new book stating that the war against Hitler ‘The Unnecessary War’?). Buchanan would be happy to support 10-286 in the name of “Travail, famille, patrie”.

    That being said, ALL of the Democratic Parties various factions would be happy to see 10-286 come down the pike. The West U. Democrats would be just as supportive of it as the River Oaks Republicans, and for the same reasons. The less well off parts of the party will either back it out of fear of loosing the little they have got, or just plain envy of “the big guy”. The GOP disappoints me but the DNC scares me.

    I do disagree about the oil though…the technological revolutions going on in the industry are amazing. The whole Barnett Shale play in NatGas is a great example of how technology, driven by price, is opening up new resources we didn’t used to think we had. Deepwater drilling in the Gulf is another example. We aren’t running out of oil, we have run out of oil that is geologically and politically easy to reach in politically stable places, but there is oil out there.

    I remember being shocked when I learned that the little bits of oil that often wash up on the beaches in L.A. doesn’t come from tankers or polution…but from natural oil seeps sitting not far off shore. If the stuff is pushing ITSELF out of the ground, just think how much is down there.

    Pournelle has a good piece on Freeman Dyson’s review of two books on Global Warming today

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21494

    Worth checking out in terms of how TEOTWAWKI works.

  10. Brendan, “driven by price” are the keywords. At $4 a gallon for gasoline Americans are starting to reduce their consumption (reduced demand), and producers can dig a little bit deeper (increased supply). At $6 a gallon (maybe next year?) we’ll burn less gas and producers can produce even more.

    How many hours do you think an average American consumer will be willing to work to buy a gallon of gasoline? At some point the cost is too great; there will be a point at which it costs more to pull another barrel of oil out of the ground than we are willing to pay. In saying “just think how much is down there,” you’re not saying it’s not going to happen (how could you?), but quibbling about how soon this will happen.

    A better way to look the cost of oil might be in terms of the energy required to pull the next barrel of oil out of the ground. When we have to burn a barrel of oil to get a barrel of oil out of the ground, we’ll be out of the oil energy business (until we come up with a cheaper way to do things).

  11. Right now I’m picturing Mark as sort of Mad Max figure. Hmmm, maybe he should grow the pony tail back?

    It is interesting to think of how easily society can break down. We’re so reliant on so many systems that could easily stop working.

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