Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Firing Range

I had an interesting experience today. I went to a shooting range for the first time, and I discovered that the activity needs a dislike button, at least for me. I tried two different guns, a .38 pistol and a .45 semi-automatic, and didn't particularly enjoy using either one. I learned two very important things. First, I'm not really strong enough to use a gun. The recoil on both of the guns was too powerful for me to enjoy shooting them; every time they kicked back they hurt my hands. Second, I don't particularly enjoy shooting because I find it difficult. I think that, if I'd found a gun that was easy to shoot, I might have liked it better, but I wasn't accurate enough to make slogging through the difficulty of handling the weapon worth it.

On the up side, I know that if I somehow come into contact with or possession of a loaded handgun, I can probably manage to not kill myself with it while I attempt to unload it. That strikes me as a useful skill.

From here on in, I think my shooting will be limited to photographs with cameras, rather than targets with firearms.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Problem With Logic

This post grew out of a discussion I was having with some people over on facebook. I started to write a response to some of their comments, and the response kept growing, so I moved it over here. Hopefully they come take a look at it.

For those who don't know - you'll need to read this first in order for this post to make any sense:


Here is my original statement from when I posted the article: I'm not entirely sure what I think of all of this. I've read one of Dawkin's books, The God Delusion, and most of another, The Ancestors Tale, and although I find his work interesting, I've always had the nagging sense that there's some faulty logic in it somewhere. I don't know that this set of posts has anything to do with his academic work or his skepticism, except that it demonstrates very clearly Dawkins' lack of ability to think through all possible permutations or interpretations of a situation, and by simplifying the situation into its "basic" components, he is disregarding potentials. That, I think, might also be the deep flaw in in the reasoning in his books.

The first comment I am responding to is this: If that is what it takes to make people question his theories, they were never intellectually committed to them in the first place. Rather they are happy to find a way out of having to resolve things for themselves. I have not read Dawkins precisely because the non existence of any god is so self evident that I have never wanted to spend the time being persuaded of the obvious. As a result I cannot speak to whatever "deep flaw" you perceive and cannot identify. However, if his harsh response to a victim for some reason makes his reasoning "flawed" I would urger you to sort out feeling from thought more particularly.

It's not Dawkins' tone that bothers me, or his theories that I question (theories are inherently questionable anyway, as they are theories, and not fact), it's the reasoning that he uses to prove his theories. After reading The God Delusion I remember thinking that Dawkins had good ideas, but that there was some inherent bit of argument that didn't "fit" the way it needed to, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Now I have a sense of where to start looking, which is at the limited way he examines situations to pull evidence from them. Dawkins analysis of Rebecca's situation lacks a clear examination of all facets of the experience. He doesn't take into account cultural or social mores, and he ignores the influence of this woman's possible past history. His assumption that, "She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum," limits his argument (not to mention trivializes the experience the woman had, but I'm writing about his logic here, not his lack of compassion) because it makes an assumption that he cannot substantiate. Perhaps this woman was the victim of a sexual assault. Perhaps her best friend was. Perhaps she watched one too many TV shows about women who have a couple drinks and then get on elevators with men who do them wrong. Maybe none of those things are true, but its bad science to draw conclusions based on unproven assumptions.

Now, I will grant that Rebecca didn't know any more about this man's true intentions than Dawkins does about her personal history, so there is a lot of assumption-making going on in this situation from all sides, but here's the trouble - people aren't solely logical. We're also emotional. Creative. Spontaneous. We can *think* logically about situations, if we have enough self-control to master out emotions, and we often do, but we are not machines.

So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me with a second comment to respond to: Actually, I think he had a valid argument. I don't get how that was a "potential sexual assault". So, single guys aren't allowed to ask out a single woman who they find attractive and interesting? That's a very extreme view to have. So they were in an elevator. So what? He makes a compelling argument about how she could easily leave by pushing a button. Having someone compliment you makes you uncomfortable? How sheltered.

Frankly, I think that the author of the article I posted did a solid job of responding to this, but perhaps not with the clarity that is needed. Here is what the article author said: I can understand that it’s hard for men to truly grasp the woman’s point of view here, since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a woman, being alone on that elevator with that man was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps he has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most men don’t understand this, so women are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary. Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.

Let's see if I can come up with a better analogy than gum-chewing that gives a different perspective here. Every time you drive your car, there is a potential for an accident. That potential changes depending on many factors, some within our control (amount of sleep we've had, condition of our vehicle), and some not in our control (the weather, the behavior of other drivers). Does that mean that we stop driving because there "might" be an accident. Only when we feel, or reason, that the potential for driving to end badly is high enough to make us feel unsafe. Do we expect other people to stop driving so we can have the road to ourselves? Of course not! Neither then, is Rebecca saying that she won't get into elevators, or that men shouldn't get into elevators with women. However, if you're driving in a snow storm, and you've got your baby asleep in the car seat, you're probably going to be a lot more careful - no cell phone, maybe even turning off the radio - than you would on a bright, sunny day when it was just you out on the highway. And, reasonably, I think you'd expect that other people would be more careful as well. Circumstances matter. Rebecca's circumstances were these: It was late at night. She had been drinking. She didn't know this man. They were alone together in a confined space. I don't think it's any more ridiculous for her to say, "I felt really uncomfortable" than it would be if she'd been driving through a snow storm and she said, "That was a tough, scary drive."

There's a much bigger issue here that I need to touch on as well. It's got little to do with Dawkins, and isn't intended as a response to any specific post at this point, but this entire argument about argument has raised a red flag for me about a major cultural problem. We have a culture where, often, victims are blamed for being victims, especially women in cases of sexual assault or rape. It is not uncommon in those situations to hear comments such as, "Look as how she dresses. She put herself out there. She should have known better." As a woman, I can say to that, I do know better. I know better than to get on an elevator with a strange man by myself when I've been drinking, or when it's late, or when I'm somewhere unfamiliar (think parking decks - they're damn creepy). I think twice about putting on a short skirt to go out somewhere unless I'm going to be with a group of people who I trust. When I'm somewhere new, I scan rooms for the exits, and I never sit with my back to the door. Ok, I grant you, the last two might be a bit of overreaction, but I know enough people who have ended up in bad situations that they seem to be prudent, rather than silly.

So long as our culture finds it acceptable to blame the victim, rather than the aggressor, women are going to be bothered by getting onto elevators late at night with strange men. They are going to be guarded when someone "hits on them" (Geh, the implications that "hitting on" is a good thing - the mafia "hit" people and they ended up dead) because they don't know that person or their intentions. They are going to worry when they walk back from their cars to their apartments after an evening class at a university. Until women can say, "I feel unsafe," and not be ridiculed for it, they aren't going to feel any safer. One unintended side effect of Dawkins' response is that he, I am assuming unintentionally, has compounded the problem by presenting a case for ignoring the feelings of women whose situations end differently. In cases of abuse, there is often a history of police reports of the woman feeling "unsafe", "threatened", or "in danger" that are ignored until a physical assault does take place. We don't ignore our children when they tell us they have a headache. Why do we ignore our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters when they tell us they feel unsafe? Just wondering...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Always Fun

It's always fun to do this, mostly just to see what I get when I hit the randomizer.

step 1: put your music player on shuffle.
step 2: post the first line from the first 15 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing.
step 2a: Skip any instrumentals and songs where the first line is or contains the title.
step 2b: Also where the song is in a foreign language which you can't actually understand well enough to transcribe.
step 3: strike out the songs when someone guesses both artist and track correctly.
step 4: looking them up on google or any other search engine is CHEATING!
step 5: if you like the game, post your own.

1. Walking, waiting, alone without a care

2. You entail the spirit of who I used to be

3. Bought my lover a new best friend

4. She come down from Oklahoma

5. Subversive mystics taking over you

6. I can't wait to be with you

7. Let the phone ring

8. In this place the winds blow colder

9. A pushed patience will finally take its toll

10. You know that I'm a crazy b*&$^

11. Conceived in darkness, late at night

12. I should've quit you a long time ago

13. Answer me, why won't you answer me

14. I never should've traded you

15. Another aspect of me

What Could It Mean

Today I attended a memorial service for a man I never met. His name was Fumio Toyoda, Shihan, and he was one of the people who was instrumental in founding Ryoshinkan Dojo in Palatine, IL, and the dojo where I train, Soshinkan, is an offshoot of that dojo. Toyoda Shihan passed away ten years ago, and each year to make the anniversary of his death, there is a special training session. This year, Soshinkan dojo hosted the memorial service.

Several different senseis (is that really the correct plural?) demonstrated techniques, but the one person whose presentation moved me the most didn't demonstrate any techniques at all. Instead, Butler Sensei talked about his own personal experience of studying aikido, starting when he was a young man who was intent on "debunking" aikido techniques using his skills in MMA. He talked a lot about how his experiences with Toyoda Shihan helped him change his mind and his understanding of himself, and how the number one thing he was forced to confront in himself was his own fear.

Butler Sensei's talk makes me wonder:

What would it be like to live without fear?

I'm not talking about being a risk-taker or a thill-seeker, necessarily. I'm wondering what it would be like to live in a state of trust and love.

I used to try to be like that all the time - open, accepting, compassionate, loving. Somewhere along the line I lost that.

That openness fell away in stages, I think. My first broken heart. My second broken heart. Confronting my own inadequacies. Struggling through differences of opinion and giving in. Deciding that it's easier to go with the flow than to engage in conflict. Each of those experiences, along with countless small moments of strife, rubbed my soul raw and then gave me emotional callouses.

The most major change occurred when I started teaching. I decided that I was going to have to get a thicker skin, because I was worried (afraid) that the students wouldn't take me seriously unless I could present myself as more of an authority figure. I didn't trust my own skills in managing a classroom or in relating to students, and I let my concerns (fears) change the way that I presented myself. Did I learn something about myself in the process? Sure. And it was a lesson worth learning. I can, in fact, be an authority figure. But beyond that, the last five years have shown me that I do better when I approach teaching with love and compassion, rather than fear.

What would happen if I could go back to openness?

The very idea is terrifying.

Which, I suppose, is the entire point.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Sky Before the Storm
The storm comes from the east this time. The smell of the wind brings sadness and anger. When storms blow up from the Southwest, they smell like dreams and hope and the future, but this storm just smells like bad news and bad business. It's as dark as a winter afternoon, even though it's mid-day. I stand outside to take pictures of the sky, and my hair whips my face as bits of tree branches snap and scatter around me.
Storm Sky
It's probably not the safest thing in the world, to stand and watch the lightning, but it is a lot of fun. I've always been one who opens my windows to the storm and lets it flow over me and through my room. I remember, when I was younger, thinking that there was nothing more beautiful that opening all my windows and lighting all my candles and watching the flames twist and dance and leap in the wind that comes before a storm. There was a power there - I could taste it, feel it. When I moved to Chicago, that feeling went away. Cities aren't places where there's a lot of feeling connected with nature. Everything is glass and steel and stone, and when the wind blows it cuts like a knife, channeled artificially between the buildings. There's no blending with it, or opening to it. With wind like that, you can't spread your arms and feel like you're about to fly. This storm is different. This storm feels like home.