Friday, November 21, 2008

Portrait of a Con Artist as a Self-Defense Instructor

A recent article reported that a purported self-defense instructor is being investigated for fraud. See the two articles here:

Apparently David Portnoy, the "instructor" in question, has gotten around. Here's an article from Depauw University several years ago:

And David Portnoy made it into, the hoax-busting site. They say that if statements attributed to him are so, then he "should be characterized as a fear merchant vending false information to those anxious to feel safe." See for their whole article, which is very worth reading.

Apparently his approach is to offer a free self-defense seminar, then use scare tactics and manufactured assault and rape statistics to sell over-priced pepper spray.

And the moral of this story is to yes look a gift horse in the mouth. Or at least through the internet. If those who booked Mr. Portnoy had done their due dilligence, he would not have gotten in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Close Encounters of the Virtual Kind

A few weeks ago I received an email from a former student. A man she knew from an online interest group had been arrested for sexual assault. Several members of the group ended their involvement, possibly over fear of who else in the group they did not know.

The thing to remember about online communities is that you often really don't know the other participants all that well. You come together because of one common interest, which is only one slice of any individual's life. Yes people sometimes go on to become good friends (or even spouses) having met online. For the most part, it's like any other community where you're only engaging with a subset of your self -- except in online communities you lack the visuals of body language to better assess the person.

It's easy to forget that individuals who commit rape (and other crimes) can also present as nice, cool, intelligent, charming, witty, fun people. And they may be all those things, in addition to being an assailant.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burdens of Self Defense

One question that comes up constantly in my self-defense classes -- and it will become more pertinent as the holiday shopping season sneaks up on us and you'll be scrambling for those last-minute gifts at the local mall -- is how to defend yourself if your arms are full of bundles of holiday cheer.

The traditional answer from self-defense teachers is to never carry so much that both your arms are full. That is one good strategy. If you are overly burdened you do present a more inviting target.

Another option, if you do find yourself carrying way too much, is to recognize that you can DROP your stuff. Yes, drop it all and YELL at the top of your lungs.

And another is to consider what among the packages you've burdened yourself with would make the best weapon.

Still another option is to go shopping with a friend or two. Not only are you less likely than a lone person to be assaulted, but because you'll have to also accommodate the friends' plans you'll probably end up buying less stuff and won't be quite so burdened.

Or have stuff shipped home. But as you do, read the prior entry in this blog for security tips on ensuring your goodies get to the right recipients.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Seasonal Safe Shopping

Halloween is past, elections are over, and before you can blink Thanksgiving will be bearing down upon us and the holiday shopping season will officially open. Although the peak season for stealing is during the summer in most neighborhoods, this time of year we generally see an increase in theft. More of us are out shopping for gifts for our family and friends, carrying more cash and credit cards, and often not mindful of our belongings. Here are three tips to reduce your risk of a seasonal setback.
  • When you order merchandise, do not have the package delivered to your house if nobody is home to receive it. Eleven out of 12 months you can usually get away with it. But in December -- and I found this out the hard way -- when more of us are having gifts shipped, some enterprising thieves realized they could just follow around UPS and FedEx trucks and collect left boxes. Merry Christmas for them!
  • Even though this tip seems obvious, I am often surprised when I see what people leave in plain view in their cars. It does not take much time at all to break into a car and clean it out of interesting contents. Don't make a thief's shopping spree so easy! If you are driving to several locations to shop, store all packages out of sight in the trunk, even if you think you'll only be gone "a couple of minutes."
  • This one is so basic, I'm amazed when I hear how many students in my self-defense classes do not lock their doors. As a former New Yorker, locking one's door is just obvious, even natural to me. Apparently not so here. So many thefts -- and sometimes assaults -- happen where the perpetrator can just walk right in.
A corollary for those of you moving into a new home, condo or apartment is to change your locks right away. If you are a renter, your landlord is obligated to have it done immediately. A friend of mine was unpleasantly surprised in the wee hours one morning when several intoxicated young men used a key to open her condo's door! The men left when confronted by her boyfriend, claiming they thought it was another friend's unit. Needless to say, she changed her locks.
Of course, if you see anything or anyone suspicious, call 911 right away. Just a few extra precautions can help you avoid lost time, gifts and possessions. Just a couple of extra moments of awareness can keep your holiday season cheery and festive, for you and the people you care about.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Are 90 Percent of Experts Crackpots?

My laptop computer's hard drive just stopped driving Sunday evening. Fortunately I'm a fanatic about data back-ups, and had faith that the Apple geniuses would get me up and running on Monday. So on to the local mall on Monday morning.

As I waited for laptop to be repaired, I did something I so rarely get a chance to do these days: browse a brick-n-mortar bookstore. The B&N is just down the mall from the Apple Store, I figured it was a good place to kill an hour. Before online shopping I haunted bookstores, and I looked forward to reliving my old relaxing pastime.

One new book caught my eye (and I've seen it also online). The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today's user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture and our values, by Andrew Keen. I admired the yellow and blue cover as well as the typography, and my eye wandered away.

I have not read this book, nor do I intend to.

I recall a time when experts in law enforcement told women that if faced with assault they should not fight back or they'd "get hurt worse." We now know this is untrue. How did we find out it's untrue? Other experts did the research, prompted and motivated by the wave of amateurs (those feminists) who were sure that women had options other than quiver in submission. [For those of you interested, a good place to begin reading is Pauline Bart's work.]

Another example, before my time. Used to be conventional wisdom in the medical establishment (late 1800s through early 1900s) that exercise would damage a woman's reproductive capacity. Never mind that lower class and immigrant women worked at hard labor, and their reproductive capacity didn't seem diminished (which worried members of elite society at that time). Some of my suffragette foremothers fixated on learning to ride a bicycle. Francis Willard, for instance, learned to ride at the age of 53, and marveled at her freedom and power. Of course, current conventional wisdom is that, save for very extreme (and rare) training, exercise is GOOD for women.

Battered women's shelters and sexual assault relief agencies are now managed by professionals mostly, and rely on government funding and grants. But in the 1970s ad 1980s, when they were just emerging, they were grassroots organizations fueled by dedicated volunteers (amateurs all), often at odds with the legal justice system. Those women saw a need, and worked to assauage it.

When I was a young adult, Sturgeon's Law was "Da Rule." Theodore Sturgeon, science fiction writer, was renown for saying "90 percent of everything is crap" in response to literary critics' attacks on science fiction. Sturgeon's point was that if you intended to denigrate a specific genre you'd specifically focus on the worst instances and would of course find plenty of ammunition.

No doubt there's lots of blogs, videos and sites along the Information Superhighway. I take as a given that 90% such internet diversions are crap. However, I'm not so inclined to give the average "expert" much more credit.

Experts are also human, have their own perspectives and prejudices and peccadillos. And often their own interests. Before relying on an expert, do check into not only their credentials but their stake in your well-being.

Fortunately, my laptop's hard drive was readily replaced, and I was on my way with a few new books, though not Keen's. The experts at the Apple Store did their job well, and I'm likely to return. Steve Jobs was once an amateur, bucking the then conventional wisdom on home and business computers. Oftimes it takes that "amateur" or outsider perspective to create that quantum leap.