Saturday, December 30, 2006

I Got Friends When I'm In Low Places

This week I learned to snowboard. Everyone told me the same thing. First day is not much fun. Second day is hell. Third day is when it starts to come together. Well, it was mostly true, but perhaps "hell" is an understatement.

Day 2, you start to try to do the right things, but you end up falling a lot, and in the Northeast, a lot on the ice. Even worse, you tend to fall on the same part of your body, over and over again. My left buttcheek shows off a grapefruit sized bruise with quarter sized black spots. And other than one time when I caught the front edge and I went from standing to a face plant in a moment that most seemed like a car crash, these bruises best represented my day.

And so, I headed into Day 3 with definitive dread. Every part of my body screamed at me. Every bit of my nature urged me to stop this madness. With a headache and a sore jaw (from hitting my helmeted head so hard it dislocated my jaw), hamstrings and calves too sore to touch, wrists that no longer could summon the fingers to clench, it was all too easy to head in. It was at that time that I could have most easily given up. I pictured it. Began convincing myself that I had accomplished enough. I was halfway down, yet already off the slopes. The psychological onslaught was intricate and comprehensive. There were more reasons to stop than continue, and the negativity reinforced itself in every fall.

And that was when my friend Mike, a great instructor, decided to take half a run with me. He instilled such confidence with a calm, assuring tone. He told me to try some techniques, but most importantly he told me that we would eventually try something that worked.

But then Mike had to go teach paying students and I was left to my mental self-defeat campaign, reinforced with every tumble as I cursed in multiple languages. And then my friend Lou committed to riding with me. And with every fall, I had so much more of an incentive to get up. Lou waited for me. I couldn't stay down for more than a moment. If just for perception, self or otherwise, I persevered. The equilibrium tipped, and I now had more reasons to keep going.

As a result of Mike and Lou, I finished Day 3 strong, cutting the slopes on both sides of the board and finishing with a sense of accomplishment. I still groan when I sit down, but the trip was a success because I couldn't do it alone and I didn't have to.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Unending Pursuit of Happiness

Disturbing quote from The Moral Animl that builds on my original post on Evolution is Too Damn Slow :

"We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones. (Of course, we're designed to pursue happiness; and the attainment of Darwinian goals - sex, status, and so on - often brings happiness, at least for a while. Still the frequent absence of happiness is what keeps us pursuing it, and thus makes us productive.)"

To make our species drive to betterment, happiness thus must be fleeting. Being unfulfilled is the motivation. At least I know that what I feel, is how I am supposed to feel. Maybe I can do a better job of resisting it, because I understand it. Which brings me to my last quote of the day:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." - Philo of Alexandria

What is your great battle? Hint: You are fighting it right now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Grass is Always Greener Somewhere in NYC

I grew up in NYC and pride myself on having been molded in its high metabolism environment, where organized chaos rules, you see thousands of people each day, and you have to dodge traffic at every turn. In such a big city, anything is possible and everything is happening all at once. Whereas in Austin, I was prone to knowing I was in the coolest spot, but wishing for more diversity and options, NYC provides a source of a different type of malaise.

This was an interesting weekend for me. On Saturday I had two amazing events to go to. The first was Santacon where 600 people dress up as Santa and do a pub crawl while causing mayhem at various landmarks. Imagine 600 santas storming bryant park and mounting its statues or climbing firetrucks, or just the bar scene at a local Irish pub. It's organized mayhem and one of my favorite days of the year.

At the same time, I had a Chanukah party at one of my closest friends, where we reveled in our holiday spirit, spun the dreidel, and I became the Gimel king. It was fantastic. In the end, I did both Santacon and Chanukah, but I certainly missed out on the latter half of Santacon, where Santa's inhibition is washed away by everything from egg nog to tequila. And so it is in NYC, where there is always something fantastic happening, and probably some place better to be.

The secret to living in NYC, at least for me, is to make the most of your time, but also to be comfortable knowing you can't be at the best party even any of the time. There is simply too much going on. Cherish the time you have with the friends you have. And hey, it's better than living in Austin.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Harder Pill to Swallow

In response to my post on equality vs. evolutionary psychology, Mom Loves Me More: Why Violence and Not Marriage Proliferate in Harlem, my brother wrote me an interesting email:

"My younger brother wrote: 'Are we dealing with truth, regardless of the effect on stubborn notions of equality? Evolution is a scientific theory,not a moral judgement.'

Anything of value: say love, art, community, family, is built not onflickering truth, but on enduring belief."

Is understanding of value? And if so, what are the bases of our enduring beliefs? Could evolutionary psychology play a role in our belief in family, the notion of love? I think it does.

What fascinated me most about his point is the subtle conflict of belief and truth. Is a belief more valuable or more powerful the harder it is to explain and the less based in truth or provable fact? Does it galvinize its believers more?

Believing the obvious is easy. Investing, pursuing, or commiting to the subtle, the complex, the elusive, or even the farfetched builds a community.

What do you believe in that you can't prove? What about the farfetched? How does that belief affect who you are and who you are with?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oh What a Wicked Web We Weave ...

Now that everyone has agreed we are losing Iraq and people are realistically looking at the options, Jon Stewart's titling "Mess-O-Potamia" seems all the more apt. We are dealing with a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. The whole notion that Al Qaeda has much do with it is ridiculous doublespeak. They represent an estimated 2-3% of the "insurgency."

Shiites are well aligned with Iran, which is why we are engaging them now politically. The cost of this war is not just the half trillion dollars, the 3,000 american lives and 20,000 mamed (not to mention all those pesky Iraqis we killed and mamed), but a tremendous political loss. We now have engaged Iran and Syria to help us and have lost any leverage with them. Good luck on blocking the nuclear power plant now. We are literally pandering to the Axis of Evil (Syria should have been there). Maybe that's why George Bush always looks like he is about to throw a tantrum.

Now Saudi Arabia, a Sunni majority, is looking at what's unfolding and concluding the obvious, which is that the Sunni's in Iraq will get the short end of the stick in Iraq. And by short end, we are talking a military campaign of ethnic cleansing.

A Saudi contractor, Nawaf Obaid, who was consequently fired by the Prince Turki al-Faisal, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining how far Saudi Arabia was willing to take it. By increasing oil production, they could half oil prices overnight and magnify Iran's economic woes and bring it to its knees. It's economic warfare between Saudi Arabia and Iran. One can only imagine what happens next. They are already summoning Sunni's to come to the aid of their brethren in Iraq. That's a nice way to say the army is mounting.

Sectarian violence is a joke of a term. We are finally agreeing that it truly is a civil war. But with Saudi Arabia and Iran being forced to jump in, this war could turn much bigger and much less civil. Hopefully, the diplomatic efforts of the US can navigate this tightrope walk. This administration's diplomatic track record speaks for itself...

At least Iran doesn't have the bomb ... yet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Comments on the Blog

Please make sure to enter your name when you post a comment on the blog. Then I can respond back to you. Thanks to whomever for the evolution article. Which one of you was it?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mom Loves Me More - Why Violence and not Marriage Proliferate in Harlem

In my post titled Gay Marriage ... Not Again, I proclaimed that I don't care if a guy wants to marry a trash can. My brother responded that he did, and he cited the low marriage rates in Harlem as one of the causes of violence and poverty. Reading my new, intriguing book on evolutionary psychology, maybe there is another answer: that my mom loves me more. Let me explain.

If you believe in evolution, it's quite natural that evolution would affect more than size, height, or physical structure, but also innate behavior as well. All kinds of interesting hypotheses follow, on monogomy, love, friendship, and family as a means to advantageous strategies. Maybe this could explain Harlem.

In most species where the female bears the investment of childbearing, males can have many more children. As a result, females are more selective in choosing a mate and competition among males can be quite fierce. The result of this, and that males are evaluated for their ability to provide (money, status) whereas women are valued more for fitness (beauty), is that it is easier for women to marry up (or mate up) than men. A poor but beautiful woman is more likely to find a rich husband, than a poor, beautiful man finding a rich wife.

Now this logic has implications. If a poor mother had several children, then she should favor her daughters rather than her sons, because they are more likely to mate upwards. In short, the daughters have a better chance at proliferating their genes. The reverse is true of affluent mothers who should favor their sons. Wow, right? Is there any evidence?

Well Florida pack rat mothers when deprived of food (in poverty) will wean off their sons while continuing to feed their daughters. In many species, the birth rates are even affected such that impoverished mothers are more likely to produce daughters. But that's rats. What about humans? Every mother would resist this notion vehemently.

It turns out that impoverished mothers breast feed more than half of their daughters but less than half their sons. In affluent mothers, it is quite reversed: 90% of affluent sons, while only 60% of daughters. My jaw began to drop ...

Of course having more children causes greater competition. So if you were to protect a child by waiting to have another, you would expect a poor woman to wait longer after a daughter to protect her and affluent woman to wait longer after a son. That turns out to be true too: 4.3 years after a daughter vs. 3.5 after a son in poor families, and the opposite of 3.2 after a daughter and 3.5 years after a son in affluent mothers. The evidence is compelling.

So looking back at Harlem, maybe the poverty means that males were less cared for than females because of poverty. They were fed less, cared for less, and left to fend for themselves. Consequently, as impoverished males, their best mating strategy for gene proliferation is having many relationships since they have less to offer in male parental investment. Hence less marriage. And as it comes to violence, most violence in species is about establishing status as it relates to mating. So evolutionary psychology explains Harlem, the marriage rates, the polygamy, the violence.

And coming from a relatively affluent family, it also implies that mom more likely loved me more. Sorry sis. At least mom denies it ...

BTW, this book is a must read. Every 10 page section drops my jaw or challenges the most important ideas at their core. Simply, fascinating.

The Godfather Part 1

About a year ago, my good friend Mike Ma and I were supposed to watch football at his house and he had to leave for several hours. Most importantly he left me with his 6 month old son, Sean (who by the way, is the cutest thing). I had never babysat before, let alone for a baby, but he wasn't really worried. For the first year of Sean's life, I was the only non-family member to take care of him. It was fun and easy.

At a dinner party a couple months later, this fact was revealed to a group, and the nearly unanimous response was: "You left him alone with TREVOR?!?" Most of the people knew me from my nights going out, as a fun loving, carefree guy. But Mike without hesitation reiterated his trust and in the process further solidified my friendship with him. It was as if the rest of the people at the table didn't really know me, and I was a bit saddened. Often times you find out who your friends are when there is a crisis, because you either help them, they help you, or they allow you to help them with something critical. In the absence of crisis who do you really trust, and who trusts you?

I guess this is also why I am so pleased, honored, and humbled that Uncle Arthur has named me the Godfather of his new baby boy. Please everyone feel free to email him. Contact me personally for his email address.