You may need balls for a fight, but you don’t need testicles

As someone with both testicles and some martial arts training, I want to share a tip, because this is a hard-dying myth: do not rely on kicking guys in the balls as a self-defense tactic. It Imageis not reliable. I know from personal experience that it does hurt a lot but it does not render you incapable at all (you don’t need testicles for a fight, as many women can testify), and it takes only a little alcohol, coke, or training to not be affected by pain that much. There’s a number of boxers (Ali being the most famous one) who have fought over several rounds, and won the fight, with a broken jaw, while being hit on the same. Gotta love adrenaline.

In self-defense, always combine pain with functional damage. Kick the knee, poke the eyes, punch the throat or the nose (a stream of blood running down your face will be a disturbance). If you punch them in the stomach, avoid the lower stomach (where there’s strong, protective muscle tissue) and the rib cage (bruising the attacker is not going to help you much, and even a cracked rib, if you are that strong, is not necessarily an impairment), instead try to hit the solar plexus, and hit it hard (besides being painful, such a hit can paralyze you for a moment, I’ve felt that myself). If you pull their hair, make sure you use that to pull their face towards something hard, quickly, or to expose their throat. If you get a chance, a hard enough blow to the lower back is also good. General rule in self-defense is to either run away (always preferred) or to be as nasty as possible, in as short a time as possible.

Psychologically, you need to practice switching into no-mercy-killer-asshole-from-hell mode, and quickly, which is particularly important to remember for most women, who can’t necessarily rely on sufficiently high levels of testosterone. It takes (mental!) practice for any civilized being, though. Sam Harris puts it this way:

You must install a trigger in your mind—to act explosively once a certain line has been crossed—and you must understand that your inclination will most likely be to freeze and acquiesce, in the hope of avoiding injury or death.

Personally, I think watching Tarantino movies helps to get the idea.

If there’s anything at hand that can be used as a weapon easily, use it. Train yourself to recognize objects as weapons. You don’t need nunchucks, a cup of steaming hot coffee in the face is not bad. For inspiration, watch a lot of Kung Fu B-movies* (and C- and D-movies as well), or maybe some old slapstick comedy (there’s not much difference).

Also, the moment you can deliver a blow successfully, don’t stop until you’re certain that you  have indeed incapacitated your attacker enough to be safe, or to have sufficient time to escape to safety. You don’t want to be on the phone with the police and then have to deal with an attacker who just recovered. So be prepared to do more than one thing, and in quick succession. That said, if you can use a kick in the balls to stun the attacker and quickly follow up with something more substantial, it may yet make for a fine introduction after all.

Of course, while this all may sound funny in theory, inflicting functional damage on someone is pretty ugly in reality, and you have no guarantee that you will remain unharmed yourself. So, a) we are talking about a situation that is very bad for you to start with, and therefore, b) if by any means possible, you should not be in that situation in the first place.

* actually, it may be a bit harsh calling Once Upon A Time In China a B-movie. Calling it an Eastern is probably more appropriate. It has Jet Li in it, and the fighting scenes are pretty neat.

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Insult? Your Mom.

Image I noticed I’m getting very worked up about a political debate that is going on in German media and among my friends. I don’t usually get that emotional about such debates, and instead of trying to persuade people of my views, I usually prefer to just turn away in disgust if I feel people are not recognizing my infinite wisdom. I’m still wondering why I reacted so strongly to the topic (it has virtually nothing to do with my personal life), but when I copied a comment on a blog post into a text editor for further improvement and started researching articles, I realized that I should let off steam in my own space and come to rest.

The debate goes about male circumcision as practiced in Islam and Judaism. In a recent court ruling (a German newspaper article about the case here), while the defendant (a doctor) was found not guilty, the practice itself was assessed as assault. This caused some outrage among Muslims and Jews and sparked a public debate which prompted the German parliament to motion for a bill that legalises circumcision of underage boys without medical indication, if it is an important part of your cultural heritage. The motion was passed against strong opposition from individuals all over the political spectrum and has caused a heated public debate.

I was following the news and commentary on this as I do on any subject. I started getting emotional when a friend of mine commented on this blog post in which the author supports the view that circumcision of underage boys indeed does amount to assault, but that it’s an unbearable insult to Judaism to have a court call it that, and a German one at that:

The ruling is correct in stating that ritual circumcision is unnecessary bodily harm. But a German court should never have said such a thing – the fact of the statement, in its context, means very simply that Jews and Muslims are no longer welcome in Germany

I’ll try to not talk about circumcision, because I am completely unqualified to do that. I think it’s awful to hurt little children like that, that’s about as much as I can say on the specific topic. There’s a great article here (in German) by a Jewish doctor who brings a lot more insight to the table than I’ll ever be able to provide.

Instead, I want to talk about the fact that I’m sick of hearing something is hurting someones religious feelings, and that therefore we should bend over and accept things we don’t like. I’m especially sick of hearing it from spineless intellectuals who aren’t even talking about their own religious feelings, but have a very vague, hippiesque idea of how tolerating just about everything will lead to a pluralistic and enlightened society, like some of the commenters do. It won’t.

Yes, I’m quite a godless person, so I won’t know what it’s like when your religious feelings are hurt. And just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s OK to be mean to people because of their religion.

But let’s be clear: this debate is not about whether a Jew or Muslim is allowed to cut off his foreskin. (Interestingly, it’s also not about whether the practice hurts the boy. Everybody seems to agree on that.) It’s your body, go ahead, you’re free to mod the shit out of it. This is about whether it’s OK to cut off the foreskin of your little boy. There’s very similar debates about whether it’s OK that you decide where your wife goes and what she’s wearing. Whether it’s OK that you decide who your children marry.

This is about doing stuff to other people. It’s about consent, and by that I mean qualified, authentic consent from an independent person. It’s about protecting the individual. Of course, you can wear a Burqa. But if you don’t want to, nobody has the right to force it on you, or bully you into wearing it, or call shame on you if you don’t. That person has to swallow his religious feelings and let you have your way. At least in our society. (Note that on the same grounds, I oppose the view that “women should not wear a Burqa, even if they want to, because that may put pressure on other women who don’t want to wear one”. It’s the same argument in reverse.)

As a society, we value the individual freedom highly. We try to protect it: from the state, from corporations, from other individuals, from circumstances like disability, poverty, fear. It is in constant danger by all of those. Corporations want to make you buy their stuff. Other people want to make you sleep with them. Poverty or fear make you give up your freedom. The state is notorious for trying to make you do stuff. And religious groups are no exception from that list.

We value individual freedom highly because we believe in inviolable human dignity and in the preciousness of human life and human potential more than we do in the systems that we create. We have come to that conclusion by countless atrocities that have been committed in the name of our faiths, and ideologies, and organizations, and by the countless times some rebel, some genius, some brave minority has given a damn about gods, about law, about politeness, about convention and has saved the day for all of us.

We rightfully distrust the Grand Idea and prefer the multitude of sacred individuals. It is a hard-earned and valuable lesson and it requires our constant effort to protect it, against our governments, against our corporations, against other individuals, and yes, against religions, too, because God or not, their rules are written down, interpreted and enforced by humans as well, and boy, did they make people suffer already.

So why do people think it’s more important to be polite and considerate than to ban assault? Beats me, but I see it often, from the nicest and smartest people, and that’s why it makes me angry. Martin Luther King once wrote (emphasis mine):

I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods […]” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That’s probably as angry as a non-violent preacher with perfect manners and education gets at people who have no balls (as in cojones, not testicles – women have balls, too). Who will let their values rot and erode out of laziness and cowardry. Who get the theory right, but refuse to change their behaviour, and, what’s worse, who try to talk themselves out of it.

A pluralistic and tolerant society does not emerge out of tolerance for every idea in the world. It is not created by doing one-eighties on your values just because some wighead goes all touchy-feely about his precious tradition. And it doesn’t matter if that tradition is thousands of years old and has millions of followers, because this behaviour simply puts the less scrupulous, the less liberal, the less tolerant at an advantage, and when that happens too much, they will be going after you before you can say “constitutional rights”.

When you think circumcising babies (who are unable to give consent) is assault, you should welcome the court that says so, because assault is not something that we should shut up about. If you think that it’s indisputable to put the physical integrity of children first, like commenter Natascha does [German], please observe that the people circumcising their boys do, in fact, dispute that idea. And they don’t do it in the intellectual way you might like to see that question discussed: they do it in a very uncompromising and physical way, a way that would land a parent or doctor in Germany in court, and rightfully so. Unless they convert to Islam before they do it, that is.

Even in a tolerant, pluralistic society it is OK to be against something. If that something is an issue of personal liberty and integrity, it’s not just OK, it is mandatory. It’s your friggin’ civic duty. In a pluralistic society, you have to, you absolutely have to, call bullshit on people who act against the very foundations of that pluralism by not accepting its most important rules. “First they came …” is a meme for a reason.

Politeness is a nice-to-have, the icing on the cake, it looks well on you, it makes you a better person. But it’s hard to say in a polite way, “I don’t want your sacred and ancient tradition in my home because it goes against the most important set of values that I have and I don’t care if it makes up your cultural identity”. And sometimes, you have to say things like that.

The world is full of ancient and sacred traditions. I don’t care. I think we have, in the democratic constitutions of our mostly secular states, our own sacred rules, and we should keep them. Unfortunately, they are not ancient. Unfortunately, there’s by far not enough people following them. Unfortunately, they aren’t god-given. Unfortunately, they appear to not be eternal, either. We had to make them up ourselves, we have to keep them alive, they require constant grooming and they have to be re-evaluated and re-interpreted with each new situation, such as now. Unfortunately, this is hard work. But let’s be happy that we get a chance to do it.

Did you ever hear of those people who listen to the man next door beating and raping his wife and not call the police because they don’t want to invade people’s privacy and it would be so god damn embarassing if it turns out to be a weird fetish?

Don’t be those people.

Fun fact: until 1997 (!), in Germany, if you raped a woman, and that woman was married to you, it wasn’t really rape. You know, just like, when you’re Muslim, cutting off a baby’s foreskin is not really assault, because, hey, we all do it, right?

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Please, Sir, may I have an evil gadget?

Embrace the Future

T-Shirt design by Jeph Jacques

A friend of mine recently blogged about a fictional, ubiquitous device that tracks audio and video of everything the user encounters, links it to GPS data and enables the user to share that information with others. He presents some great use cases where this would be useful. Such a device  is completely feasible, and I spontaneously said, “wow, I want to have that”. I would even try and build it, or fund someone who does.

My reaction proved his point that “what can be done, will be done, eventually”, which is a notion most people tend to agree with, at least for stuff that’s even slightly interesting. His post, however, concluded with a question: How should we, as a society, prepare ourselves for technology that creates unprecedented ways of intruding the privacy of others?

Reading the comments and discussions that followed, I quickly noticed that I once again couldn’t get excited about the idea of good technology, bad technology. I absolutely hate to agree with a bunch of reactionary cowboys like the National Rifle Association, but when they say that “Guns don’t kill people, people do”, it’s just plain true.

What’s important about Georg’s scenario is that we’re not talking Big Brother here. This is peer-to-peer, crowdsourced, multicast surveillance. Everybody is watching everybody. Also, the motivation for doing it would be all over the human scale.

Now, remembering stuff I saw and heard, where and when I heard or saw it, and telling other people about it, is something we have been doing really forever. It’s the very fabric of social life. It’s what creates reputation, good or bad, it helps to do business, it influences our choice of partners and friends, it guides how we behave in public.

We have been using technology for this, too, also forever. Further enhancing this social mechanism with another new technology does not change how it works. Of course, spreading gossip would be easier, but so would correcting false accusations.

The use of video recordings would not free me from the decision of whom I should trust and who I should listen to. Just like email and web forums did not create flamewars, Georg’s scenario would not be the first time we would see slander.

Mind you, I’m not saying, new technologies are never dangerous. Especially on the Internet, we can see that new technologies can confuse or deceive people, so they start acting differently. For instance, while most people would not show the photographs of their last pub crawl to their parents or employers, many forget that, when they put them online, this is in effect what they do.

Also, while you could send fake letters to bank customers, asking them to hand over sensible information, it’s much easier to do with email, so technology that makes stuff easier can facilitate malevolent behaviour, too.

But interestingly, avoiding trouble on the Internet often means understanding how much it resembles the real world. That guy chatting you up on Facebook? Just like the one chatting you up in the bar. Your personal website? Just like your personal newspaper sent to everybody’s mailbox in the morning, only cheaper.

This extends to other technology, too. Taking calls in the middle of a conversation? Well, how about someone coming to your table in person every 5 minutes? It’d better be important, right?

So, when you get one of Georg’s Secondbrains, the next time you film the people sitting next to you on the bus, before you post their conversation along with their GPS coordinates, try to figure out if you would put sketches of them with a transcript of what they said and where and when on every lamp post in the city, because that’s what you’re doing. Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it makes more sense nor is it any more decent.

And just because other people are douchebags, I certainly don’t want to miss out on cool stuff.

The problem with society is that it’s made of people. It means we have to get along and engage with others, like it or not. We have to be brave and speak our mind, and we have to be ready to take flak from others. We have to decide when to be tolerant and when to kick butts, when to be considerate and when to take our liberties. And we have to decide for ourselves, because everyone else doesn’t know any better either. It’s just frigging complicated, and it’s always changing. Rules certainly help, but we still have to do the work.

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