Monday, 30 November 2015

Not being a Sucker and Avoiding Head Punches.

          Many times on this blog and in my book I have stressed the need for personal vigilance. Quite simply, pay attention to what is happening around you. Just because you think that a text is important does not mean the universe will rearrange itself to keep you safe! I know I may sound like a broken record here but the importance of awareness cannot be over stressed.

          A friend of mine sent me the following link:-

          The tone of the article suggests that these are acts of violence committed just of the pleasure of seeing someone fall. I’ve had personal experience of attacks motivated by this. It is a useful reminder that predation is not always driven by greed or lust. Anyone can be targeted for violence. Awareness and some of the other factors that I discuss in my book can reduce your chances of being selected as a victim.
          To be honest, I am rather surprised that we do not hear about more “sucker” attacks. So many people walk down the street with their eyes glued to their phones or music players, only marginally aware of their surroundings. A colleague of mine had her phone stolen. According to her a man simply walked over to her, slapped her and took it. As she is telling me this story I was acutely aware that there was some fact that she was omitting. Sure enough, it turns out she was using the phone at the time. Doubtless one of those long, drawn-out conversations with her son about precisely how to put a piece of fish in a microwave. Had the misfortune to overhear many of those while I was working with her and know well how oblivious she would have been.

          Your primary defence against a sucker punch is awareness. How close will you let another human being get to you, particularly if you do not know them, they seem drunk or furtive or there are few other people around? There are too many aspects of awareness to cover in today’s blog. Instead, I will briefly cover a couple of defences against a head punch. In other words you have become aware of a potential attacker but he has still got close enough to make his move. My book is filled with techniques you can use but today I will mainly look at Peyton Quinn’s outside and inside crane defence.

          Peyton Quinn wrote “A Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling”, one of the books I recommend for further reading in my own book. Quinn very kindly gave me permission to detail a couple of his techniques in my own work. Quinn observes that the head punch is a very common move in real fights so has honed a couple of techniques to deal with such an eventuality. (Injuries to the hand from head punching are also common!)

          The outside crane is best used if you can move to the outside gate. It is a fairly standard parrying move. Notice how the arm rolls the blow, leaving the hand in contact to detect and influence what the foe’s arm may do next. In the illustration a right to the head is intercepted with the right hand and as the punch is moved right the defender moves left, taking themselves out of the path of the punch.

          The inside crane is shown here against a hooking type punch. Both arms come up and body twist can be used to roll the attack past. This technique offers a large surface area against impacts so is a good defence against kicks to the head, should the foe be foolish enough to use them on the street. (Chances are he will rip a muscle without a warm-up and stretching!)

          The inside crane leaves you on the foe’s inside gate so he will probably follow through with a punch from his other hand. The next illustration shows a follow on from inside crane, in this case a source block against a punch with the left. White would be moving to his left. Notice that the position of the arm also helps deflect the punch away from the head. This leads us to a third technique.

          Western boxing uses a lot of punches to the head region so it is no surprise that simple and efficient counters to such attacks have been developed. The one we are going to cover is to simply place your hand on your head above the ear. The bent arm creates a large area to act as a shield. You will find that making this move on one side tends to make you duck to the other side, taking you out of harm’s way. This ducking action is also a good setup for a palm heel chin jab!

The Books

Friday, 27 November 2015

Hybrid Societies and Incompatible Cultures

           It is comforting for us to think of many things as static and unchanging. Many readers of this blog will have read about various martial arts and encountered the opinion that “this set of move is XXX-jitsu” and “these techniques are YYY-style kung fu” and so on. The truth is that many things are in fact constantly undergoing a state of change. It is now much easier for the practitioners of a certain style to learn about other styles and inevitably new ideas are encountered and some are adopted. This is true of many things that we may wish were unchanging. Our culture, our language, etiquette and many other things are all ever changing. Things change, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. With change comes selection and this is necessary if improvement is likely to occur. 

           Decades back I was part of various on-line discussion groups. One relatively new member had a habit of frequently introducing his pet topic/hate into discussions. “Isn’t diversity wonderful” he would sarcastically sneer. I think he might have been quite shocked if he had known just how diverse some of the other group members were. At least one was Jewish (!). A couple were even not American (!!). Yet another had some specialised (yet legal) leisure tastes, the details of which do not concern us today. Some of you will no doubt already be relishing the irony of a (presumably) white American complaining about diversity when the very culture he champions is itself a fusion of many others. 

           “Multi-culturalism” is a term that has been thrown about a lot in the last few decades. What is often ignored is that the multi-cultural societies that work best are in fact hybrid societies. Various communities may maintain their own identities but they are also willing to entertain the ideas and concepts of other cultures. We take what is best or most useful and make it our own. I am writing in an alphabet acquired from the Romans but perform maths with Indo-Arabic symbols. The language I am writing to you in draws on words from a smorgasbord of other languages. Our national dish is now curry and the little Moslem girls next door are just as excited about the fireworks on Bonfire night/Dwalli and Christmas as any other child in the city. The love of my life is a British Brazilian and has introduced me to many wonderful things from that culture. “Girl talk” between her mother and sisters is conducted in Portuguese, and that suits me fine, I am not expected to listen.

           The reason I am writing about this today is because it has occurred to me that there is a flipside to this. If we accept the biological analogy of a hybrid society then the logical implication is that there possibly may be cultures that are simply not compatible with some others. Observation of the facts seems to indicate that this premise is more than just theoretical. Many societies (supposedly) practice sexual equality with respect to gender or even sexual preference. Some cultures have a deeply-ingrained patriarchalism and/or misogyny as a fundamental component of their identity. Others not only include homophobia in their beliefs but advocate active persecution and execution of such. There is at least one cultural group that is actively parasitical or even predatory, wishing nothing from other cultures other than a one way flow of wealth and resources.
           I’ll refrain from further discussion along these lines since inevitably some fool will cry “racist” rather than trying to actually understand the concept I want the reader to think about. 

           It is nearly Thanksgiving in the US. A meme that some people have been circulating is that the Pilgrim Fathers were themselves refugees. Part of the folklore of Thanksgiving is that the Pilgrim Fathers were fleeing persecution. It seems in reality this is not strictly true and that many were a separatist minority whose main complaint was everyone else was not following their creed. Refugees are one of the topics of the day and some will have it that anyone who opposes the immigration of refugees is simply a racist. Perhaps things are not so simple. Some of the countries being criticised for reluctance are some of the most densely populated in Europe. Many richer Moslem countries are refusing to take predominately Moslem refugees. My recent meditations cause me to ask if certain new or existing cultural groups will contribute to our hybrid society or are they incompatible? Tolerance needs to work both ways. These are things that need to be recognised and intelligently discussed sensibly without knee jerk accusations of “racist!”

Monday, 23 November 2015

Duodecimal Finger Counting: Counting to 60 on One Hand.

     Currently I am reading “The Last and First Men” by Olaf Stapledon. I’ve just reached the section on the third species of mankind. The third species have six fingers on each hand and Stapledon notes that they have a duodecimal mathematical system. By a manifestation of synchronicity I was watching “QI” that very night and a base twelve finger counting system they attributed to the Babylonians was featured. Using this system it was possible to count up to or display numbers of up to 60. 

      Investigating the topic further I came across a number of websites averring that the Babylonians in fact had a base-60 numerical system. Looking at their numeral system, however, seems to suggest a decimal system. Which of these is true is out of the scope of this blog. I thought it would be handy (pun intended) for readers of this blog to know about a hand signal system that can represent relatively high numbers. Many measurement systems are based on dozens, 24 or 60, after all. 

      The system is very simple. There are four fingers on your hand and each has three joints. The joint of the first finger nearest the wrist is “1”. The join of the little finger nearest its tip is “12”. By pointing at a joint with the thumb of your other hand you can indicate any number from 1 to 12. If you point with your index finger instead of your thumb the joints are designated 13 to 24. And so the progression goes on up to 60, which would be the tip of your little finger pointing to the last joint of the other little finger. Counting in dozens makes this technique even easier. For example, a count of “three dozen and two” can be easily converted to 38.  The illustration is labelled in “dozenal” notation so the upside down 2 () is “ten” and the inverted 3 () is “eleven” in base-10.

      That is the system. Perhaps you may find it of use sometime.

      You can actually count to 144 on your hands! Use the tip of your thumb to touch the finger bones between the joints rather than the joints. You may find it more logical to start with the little finger for the lower numbers. For each dozen you count off you touch the corresponding bone on your other hand with your thumb. 12 x 12 =144. You can also do quick additions using this method. Shifting your thumb from a finger bone to the equivalent fingerbone on the next finger adds three, two fingers adds six and three fingers adds nine. On the other hand skipping a finger adds 36/three dozen. For more on dozenal counting see here.
      Using this method you can use your hands as a simple abacus in either base twelve or base ten. For the latter you just ignore the first two sections of your last finger.

The Books

Friday, 20 November 2015

Facebook Friday Funny

        A "Friday funny" for today's blog. I came across this image by accident yesterday. Regular readers will know I have often cautioned against paying more attention to your phone than your surroundings. I suspect this joke may be closer to the truth than some might wish!
......and then update his status:- "Bleeding from carotid. LOL"

The Books

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Yule be Sorry!

              I once read a story in which Buddha was asked if he would ever eat meat. “Yes.” he replied. He then went on to explain that if his hosts at a dinner inadvertently served meat he would go ahead and eat it. It was better to be a poor Buddhist that a bad guest. 

               That is something that is worth thinking about, and not just if you are vegetarian. The reason that I am reminded of this is that I have just seen yet another story about the acceptability of saying “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays” or whatever. The mass media loves to stir up and fan such stories. Various attention-seeking persons can be relied on to wade in and jump on the bandwagon or try to turn the discussion towards their own pet topic. We see the same rants and rages every year. 

               Let me settle this issue once and for all with three points:-

               Firstly “holiday” derives from “holy day” so is an appropriate salutation and not the anti-Christian meme that many choose to take it to be. Holidays around solstice time probably date back thousands of years before Christianity.

               Secondly, one should take a salutation in the spirit in which it is intended. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Yule, Happy Chanukah, Namaste or whatever. If they are given with good intention then they should be treated as such and not as an excuse to take offence, air your pet topic or introduce your personal interpretation of religion. This is, quite simply, just good manners. As a man once said “Be polite, tolerant; wear deodorant”.

               That being said, however, if someone does wish you Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays in the next twenty days you are quite entitled to reply “IT’S NOVEMBER!” Save Christmas for December.

The Books

Friday, 6 November 2015

Don't Believe All That You Read.

           A friend of mine has written a book addressing several aspects of modern and future military operations. It is well worth a read if you have an interest in such topics.
           In one chapter he reproduces a pair of articles written by Fred Reed, a former US marine turned journalist. For today’s blog I will repost one of these articles, since it gives a good explanation as to why journalists and their publications are usually such a bad source for reliable information. The article cannot be all inclusive, of course. Reed does not address the common practice of deliberate misrepresentation of facts for sensationalism or political effect, for example. Every firearm is “AN ASSAULT WEAPON!”, every single armoured vehicle “TANKS!”, every transport delay “TRAVEL CHAOS!” and so on. It still baffles me that otherwise intelligent people treat newspaper stories as though they were reliable and waste good money buying them.

Reporters Errant
The Origins of Bushwah

Everyone and his pet goat has noticed that the media do a poor job of covering the news. The facts frequently aren't facts, the reporters conspicuously don't understand their subjects, and the spin is annoying. Why?

For lots of reasons. To begin with, newspapers necessarily attract certain types of people. To get the news, reporters have to be aggressive, willing to push their way over others and to ask questions people don't want to answer. They have to work well under the pressure. Because deadlines rule newsrooms, they often have no choice but to write superficial, half-understood stories. A reporter can't tell the editor, "Yeah, somebody did just nuke Capitol Hill, but I think we should wait to write about it until next week, when we have the facts."
Further, reporters have to submerge themselves daily in tedious details of unimportant stories about trivial people: Who wrote the check used to buy the fur coat that was obviously if not provably part of the bribe from the lobbyist of the trash-collectors' union to the mayor's wife? (Who really gives a damn?) Most reporting is neither interesting nor exciting.
It requires the soul of a CPA in a hurry, and reporters indeed amount to high-speed fact-accountants. The job quickly weeds out those who don't want to be, who aren't comfortable with the compromises and pressure.

The nature of people is that some qualities do not often coexist with others. For example, the aggressive and detail-minded are seldom studious or contemplative. Fact-accountants are not theorists. The cast of mind of reporters is concrete, not abstract, their mental horizons short. Reporters aren't stupid--most are quick and some are very bright indeed--but they do not naturally look at the big picture. They do not, for example, approach a new beat by reading books about it. Intellectual they ain't.

To put it a bit too succinctly, the qualities needed to get the news preclude an understanding of it.

Since most of the people in any newsroom fit this pattern, a culture has evolved which supports the reporters in their natural inclinations. It is a staple of reportorial philosophy that one does not particularly have to know a field to cover it. Any reporter, goes the thinking, should, given a week or two to fill the Rolodex, be able to cover anything. Which in fact he can, barely: Within a few days an experienced reporter can knock out copy that usually is not ridiculously wrong. Neither is it very good. But that is good enough.
A concrete example: A reporter assigned to the military beat and told to cover, say, submarines, will pull everything he can find on submarines from Nexis and the morgue. He will learn who in the Pentagon deals in submarines, who builds them, what the armed-services committees on the Hill think about submarines, whose districts profit from the contracts.

He will not read books on the design of submarines, their history and modes of employment. He will probably never quite learn what they are for: plugging the GIUK Gap, for instance. Further, reporters seem to be obligate technological illiterates: Our example will not learn about phased arrays, convergence zones, the relation of the aperture of a towed array to its angular resolution. He won't have the background to understand such things even should he try. So he will go for politics, which he understands.

In short, he will learn everything about the politics and bureaucracy of submarines, and nothing about submarines.

The fundamental ignorance leaves him at the mercy of his sources. Since he will have no independent idea which of competing claims about a new submarine make sense, he will have to decide instead which sources seem to him more trustworthy. Seeming trustworthy is an art much studied in Washington.

Now consider the circumstances under which reporters work. Newspapers with few exceptions are understaffed. A computer magazine can have a writer specializing in CPUs and microcircuitry, another in software, a third in disk drives. By contrast a newspaper will have a reporter who covers Science-and-Technology. The job is a bit like specializing in practically everything. It ain't doable. The field is too grand. It can be approximated by the very rare reporter with a strong technical bent and a lifetime of reading texts in biochemistry, vector analysis, neurology, and so on. These usually go to technical publications.

Back to our example, him of the submarines. His beat will be The Military. He can't cover it. The military is a vast, sprawling canvas of different services, weapons, missions, bases, much of it relying on exotic and highly disparate technologies. Further it is all over the world. The reporter can't go all over the world.

So he will cover the Pentagon, which is convenient, and military politics, which he can believe he understands. They aren't the military. But they're coverable.
And here we come to a governing principle of newspaper journalism: Do what you have time to do. This is why you see stories reporting that some policy shop, say the National Coalition of Concerned Physicists (I think I made that up) says that we are all in danger from radioactive emissions from rutabagas. Maybe we are; maybe we aren't. The reporter doesn't have time or, perhaps, knowledge to find out.

To save labor, journalism has decided that the issuing of a report is in itself a story, not the beginning of one. The reporter therefore doesn't have to know enough to determine whether the report is correct. He merely has to announce its existence. The published account is inherently biased, even if the reporter covers himself by adding a one-sentence rejoinder from the rutabaga farmers. The important thing is that he gets a story easily, which is all he has time to do.

The policy shop understands all of this, and takes advantage of it.

Them's some realities of the news racket. We'll look at other from time to time.

The Books

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Making a Bilum Bag

           Decades ago, just off Regent Street, London had the Museum of Mankind. The museum no longer exists on that site. The premises was closed down and the exhibits merged with the British Museum. The collection at the British Museum is vastly greater than the space available for display so I suspect many of the items from the Museum of Mankind have been sitting in boxes, unviewed for years at a time.
          My visits to the Museum of Mankind coincided with an exhibition on Papua New Guinea. There were many interesting things to see. For example, the arrows on display had neither nocks or flights. They were drag-stabilized with a blob of tree gum added just behind the head to adjust the balance. Rather than strings the bows had a broad strap as wide as the base of the arrow. 

          One of the things that fascinated me was the net bags on display. These were constructed using a repeating multiple knot that reminded me of a figure-eight knot. This technique has been called “knotless” but I tend to think of it as multiple interwoven knots or even one vast, complex knot!

          The bags made by this technique are called “bilum” on many webpages so we will call this technique of construction “bilum knotting”.

          If you have read my book on knots you will know at least two ways to make nets. Bilum knotting creates and expanding bag useful for carrying loads in. Such bags are used to carry everything from phones to babies.

          Images of how the knotting is actually done are relatively rare on the internet. Below is the best I could find and I have coloured certain parts in to give a better appreciation of how it works.


          Red is the first row, and could have been made going from left to right. I have coloured some of the second row green to illustrate better how it attaches to the previous row. While the second row looks identical it was probably constructed moving from right to left. The lighter green threads show how a row is ended to create a new row. Start the first row with a slip knot.
          All this looks complicated but is actually relatively simple. Connect with a neighbour first, then the row above. The most tedious part is pulling the yarn through each new knot. I suggest you find a suitable piece of wood or plastic and make yourself a net-mender’s needle.

          To keep the knots even the yarn is looped around strips of flat material. Traditionally long leaves were used. More common now is to use strips of plastic strapping. Created using a former such as this the knots/loops look more like a “ ∫ ” than an “8”. Rulers might make handy formers.

          A mandatory charge has been introduced to encourage us to re-use our shopping bags. A bilum net bag may be a useful alternative. It packs up small in a pocket and can carry a large volume.

The Books

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Stop, Look, Listen, Smell.

         Today’s blog is something a friend sent me. Those of you that have purchased my second book will recall that in the tactical chapter I offer similar advice about the value of frequently stopping to listen and scent.

Here are twelve thoughts from a British Army Sniper. Tip 12 is useful in daily life, and is the reason you are getting this. The other hints are fun and likely worth reading if you hunt, play video games, or engage in recreation battles.

12. SLLS ( Stop, Look, Listen, Smell) This is an army method that allows you to regain your focus<> when the stress of the mission or situation gets too much. When you become too stressed and feel your focus slipping, stop what you are doing, look, listen and smell the surrounding environment. Take as long as you need to regain your focus and return to the task at hand.

Original article, eleven more handy tricks and hints.

How to SLLS

Stop – Everyone takes a knee and completely stops moving. Breathing goes shallow. Nothing moves but your head like it’s on a swivel and you move it in a a slow, deliberate motion so that you don’t even hear your neck rub against your collar. Making the smallest noises can literally cancel out the benefits of this entire exercise. You must be absolutely silent. Part of stopping has to do with feeling as well. You will suddenly notice which direction the wind is blowing. You’ll realize you are a little overdressed because the insides of your thighs are sweating. Etc.

Look – You move your head from side to side, up and down, taking in everything around you. You will start to notice things that you didn’t see before, like an odd boot print, a broken twig in front of you when you are the first man in the movement, a distant fighting position on the side of the hill, etc.

Listen – There is absolute silence from those around you. Your hearing will start to key in on faint noises that you couldn’t hear before. You’ll suddenly realize that there is a road somewhere in the distance through the thick copse of trees in front of you. Animals will begin to make noise again. You may hear enemy troops, laughing in the distance.

Smell – Our ability to smell is muted by the comforts of civilization. If you’ve ever been outdoors for more than a few days at a time and been starved, you start to smell things you never would normally. I once conducted SLLS by myself in a patrol base in Ranger School and smelt peanut butter. I was like WTF? It’s not chow time. I began walking around and found the offender on the very opposite side of the patrol base from me, 100 yards away. Yes, I smelt this clown’s peanut butter from 100 yards away. This would never happen in your outdoor cafeteria at your local University. Like I said, our smell is muted. While conducting SLLS out in nature, you’ll notice things that you normally would not. The smell of weapons discharge, fire, food, dead animals or people, and you’ll smell it at a distance you never thought possible.

More on SLSS;
The Books