Context

Last night around 11:00 I was about 50 feet away from my own house when I noticed a man walking toward me on the sidewalk. He had the crazy vibe that anyone who’s been mugged can sense from a mile away. He was wearing a white sleeveless t-shirt, walking quickly with a kind of dance in his step, listening to headphones, talking in a rambling way to himself. What I did then surprised me. I stepped onto my neighbor’s lighted porch and just stood there until the stranger walked past.

I’m conflicted. I’m glad that I followed my self-preservation instincts and avoided what could have been a dangerous situation. But I also don’t want avoidance to be my only means of self-defense in the future.  I want to control as much of a situation’s context as possible so that dangers are minimized wherever, whenever they arise.

By context I mean the interrelated conditions of any given situation. Some conditions are relatively easy to control, such as the kind of neighborhood I’m in or the time of day. But when I can’t control those basics, what then?

I know that one way is to carry a concealed handgun. I intend to do that over the next few months—purchase the gun, get a concealed carry permit and take exhaustive gun safety and training courses. But a handgun is meant to be used as a last resort, and it will be concealed. I need an early warning system, as it were, that will broadcast to would-be thugs that I am not easy prey.

A muscular body is an advanced warning system. It tells muggers that you aren't easy prey.

At the very least, this means I need to be more physically intimidating. I need to be more muscular.  I’m already tall, and since getting mugged I’ve lost fat and added muscle by going to they gym nearly every day. But I’m still not big enough.

How big is big enough? I don’t want to be Lou Ferigno big, but big enough to make muggers think twice. Here is a pic of a random guy whose body approximates how Id like my body to look. I think the parts of his body that radiate power are his shoulders, arms, chest and legs.  They say he is a man who cannot be easily assaulted.

I’m already tall–over 6′–, with broad shoulders, and I carry myself well. But I’m just not big enough yet. And size, the physical armor of muscle, may be the one condition necessary for discouraging a mugger wherever I happen to be.

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NRA: Made in China

Today in the mail I received one of the incentives for joining the NRA. It’s the ‘Official NRA members-only shooter’s cap’. When I took it out of the mailing envelope, I looked it over from end to end and was disappointed to see a ‘Made in China’ label staring back at me. On one side of the cap is a patriotic American flag. Great—but underneath is the notice that a portion of my NRA dues went to support one of the world’s greatest enemies of freedom.

Apparently I’m not the only NRA member upset about the organization’s unethical relationship with China, and lots of people have been complaining for some time. Sure, only a fraction of the cost of my NRA membership actually went to supporting China, but a fraction of support is too much. The NRA should know better. I’d have been much happier, much prouder to wear the hat if underneath I’d found the rare label that reads “Made in U.S.A.”.

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Ridding the Neighborhood of Squatters

The street where I live is mostly older homes on one end, and homes converted to law and government offices on the other end. Stand on the offices end and you have an unobstructed view of the state capitol building. Stand on the other end and you have an unobstructed view of three ramshackle, abandoned buildings.

The abandoned buildings—two houses and one large office building–are owned by the same person, and all have been in increasing states of disrepair for years. The more dilapidated they’ve become, the more they’ve attract squatters and thugs. Neighbors complain of being harassed by the dregs who hover around the buildings, vehicle break-ins have gone up and property values gone down. Something has to be done.

A couple of weeks ago I and a few neighbors filed a complaint about the abandoned buildings to the city’s code enforcement office Nothing much changed. A few boards were put up on one building, and cheap windows were put into another. Then the boards fell down with the next heavy rain, and hooligans knocked out the windows.

I’ve seen more and more squatters over there too as the buildings have fallen into greater disrepair. I saw a few today, and again I called the police. But I know that the solution lies with the property owner, the city’s code enforcement office and my neighbors who are also upset about this problem.  So, tomorrow I’ll start calling the city daily to learn what, if anything, the city is doing to enforce the law. The houses are a nuisance, and the property owner has to be civilly forced to keep up the property since he’s clearly unwilling to do so independently.

Not coincidentally, the night I was mugged I was walking past those abandoned buildings. That area is a poorly lit danger zone, the place most likely to run into thugs. I don’t blame the homeless people for making it that way; I blame the property owner. His disregard for this neighborhood is appalling. Fortunately, a few of my neighbors and I are fighting back. I’m not the only one who filed a complaint with the city, and I won’t be the only one doing so again tomorrow. Working together, my hope is we can get those buildings boarded up and quickly demolished or restored.

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Victims Fight Back

I love this video. A man runs up to someone in the mall, attacks him by throwing a green net over him . Why he does this isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s a prank. Clearly the victim of the prank doesn’t like it, but he only meekly tries to stop the attacker as the attacker runs off. Our hero in the striped shirt actually seems much calmer than the shopkeeper, but he takes action. He sees only that someone has been attacked and the attacker is getting away. Clearly our hero was prepared, someone who trains, keeps in shape, and calmly understands how to protect himself and others.

Here is a link to the full video: http://youtu.be/oa8QOjpfxUI

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Aggressive Homeless Men

On the street where I currently live is private, religious homeless relief agency that works out of a large house. The majority of the homeless come in the afternoon for food, clothes and sermons. By the evenings they’re gone, staying in the homeless shelters across town. Now and then, however, some assume that anything in this neighborhood will be tolerated because of the shelter’s charity. They’ll try to squat in nearby empty houses, or they’ll take to following people in the neighborhood out walking their dogs. They’ll ask for change, for a light, and grow increasingly aggressive if they’re ignored or even if they’re not ignored. More than once my neighbors and I have had to ask the police to increase patrols or run off squatters.

Several months ago a homeless guy actually stood outside my home, ranting that he was going to burn all our houses down because he felt disrespected. Another homeless guy stole the American flag I was flying from my porch because he thought he could sell it. A couple of weeks ago I had to call the cops when a homeless guy and his girlfriend were squatting in an abandoned house.

Currently a typical homeless scenario is growing. Two homeless guys were spotted walking down our street late last night. It’s a free country, of course, and simply walking down a street is constitutionally protected. But today I spotted the same guys squatting in that abandoned house on the corner. And tonight a neighbor approached me saying he’d been harassed earlier in the day by two homeless guys. The description he gave matched exactly the two guys I’ve been seeing around: white guys, one tall, one short.

Fortunately, my neighbors and I know not to ignore growing problems. He called the police to report the problem. I contacted the landlord of the abandoned property and told him about the squatters. He went to check it out, but I’m skeptical that they’ll stay out even if he managed to kick them out tonight. The best thing that can happen if they stick around is that the police will pick them up for trespassing.

I’m a strong advocate for the right to be homeless and the right to panhandle. But I’m also a strong advocate for the right to be safe from aggressive, mentally ill men. I don’t confuse the two, and I know they don’t contradict each other. People are created to be free, but not free to infringe on the rights of others.

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Walking

I like to walk. I prefer it to driving. Walking everywhere wasn’t a problem when I lived in a small town, but these days I live in a mid-sized city in the south—a transition city not developed enough for walking to work to be common, and not small enough for people to still take evening strolls. Almost everyone drives in this city. People who don’t drive are often poor and sometimes crazy. Simply walking to the nearby neighborhood grocery store means I’m likely to pass some cracked-out, baggy pants punk who wants to ask me for a light or some change as he sizes me up.

There are measures one can take to increase safety, and I do take them—but still it can be a gamble here. Stay in good neighborhoods, don’t walk after dark, stay alert and aware of your surroundings. But still.

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Alameda Syndrome

A man is drowning. Alameda, California firefighters stand on the beach, watching as the man struggles in the waves. The firefighters want to save him, but department policy prohibits firefighters attempting rescues for which they are not trained. The firefighters stand still and the man eventually drowns.

Reports say the firefighters wanted to save the man and that they were frustrated on the beach. But they didn’t save him. They deferred to authority and bureaucracy, shrugging off moral conflicts with the excuse that, “I’m just doing my job… Just following orders”.

I feel sorry for those firefighters who will likely regret their moment of inaction for the rest of their lives. “If only” will be bitter in their mouths. They’ll replay that day over and over in their minds, awake and asleep, vowing never again to do the same, but knowing they’ll never be able to save the drowning man.

I pray that I’ll never feel so bound by any policy that I’m rendered incapable of taking life-saving action. That includes saving my own lifeas well as the lives of others. The problem is that one never really knows his true philosophy until faced with the situation. Action can be planned and promised, but it’s only proven when one actually takes action. Plans and promises show the best of intentions, but only doing will show the best of characters.

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