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Archive for September, 2010

So, while carpooling to work, my friend played a clip of This American Life.  The topic was super powers.  They asked a question of people: Which would you prefer, flying or invisibility?  Now the rules are simple, you can only choose one, and you are the only person in the world with that power.  Which would you choose?  Now take five seconds and pick.  1 2 3 4 5.  There, that is your choice.  In my first five seconds, I always choose flying.  Think about it.  Flying is cool.  It’s fun and you could travel anywhere you like just by jumping in the air.  How would you fly?

I would fly like superman, but I would go old school.  As I jumped into the air, I would say, “Up, up and away!”  Now that’s old school.  I would fly with one arm pointing forward with my hand in a fist.  I would do loop de loops and fly as high and then as fast as possible.  Where is the first place you would go?  For me? Easy, France.  I would sit at a cafe across the river from the Louvre.  Afterwards, I would visit the Musée d’Orsay, hands down my favorite museum on the planet.  Ironically, it is across the street from the Louvre, one of the most famous museums on the planet.  Well, that is what I would do.  What would you do?

Now take a moment.  What if I gave you five minutes instead of five seconds to make your decision?  Would you still pick flying?  I wouldn’t, because the more I think about it, the more I realize the limitations of flying as a super power.  Some questions start to pop to mind: If I did fly with my arm out, would it get tired?  Most places I would fly by myself.  How fun is it to go places by yourself?  In the beginning it would be great, but what about my family?  I would have to fly pretty high to get to far away places in a decent amount of time, so would I get cold?  How much can I carry while flying?  If I needed a suitcase, how easy would that be to fly AND carry a suitcase?  What about weather?  If I actually did fly to France, what would I do if I was halfway across the Atlantic and a hurricane or thunderstorm blew in?  What about the publicity?  I would be quite annoyed at the number of people who would want to talk to me because I could fly?  What about the favors and the requests?  Just because I can fly, does it mean that I have to get every cat stuck in a tree?  And I am thinking, a flying black man?  If you thought driving while black was bad, what about flying?  I could see flying over some neighborhoods and getting shot at.  Probably by all races.  So, when I think about it, when giving the question some thought, I would choose invisibility.

Now, invisibility has some real practical applications.  If you were invisible, what would the first thing you would do?  Let’s get the obvious answer out-of-the-way first.  If you are a young man, the answer is simple, see naked women.  The bottom line is, if you have seen one naked woman, you pretty much want to see them all naked.  I don’t make this stuff up, that’s a fact.  But of course, that would soon get old.  What next?  The movies for free.  What else for free?  Football, baseball games, depending on the season.  Game place, water park, night club?  What about stealing?  Now think about all the things you would do with invisibility.  Kind of a sleazy superpower isn’t?  Funny, when I give invisibility more thought, I can’t see myself choosing it either.  Am I really that guy?

So, what does your choice say about you as a person?  If you choose flying, are you adventurous, free-spirited, a person who loves to be in the limelight, opening up yourself to the world?  Or if you choose invisibility, are you a loner, have something to hide, a little perve, or just a little off with criminal tendencies?  It is almost as if flying is the good super power and invisibility is the criminal super power.  At the end of the day, I would choose invisibility, because frankly, it has more uses, whereas flying just doesn’t provide enough perks, at least as I see it.

So, think about it.  Which would you choose?  What is your first reaction?  What is your reaction after you give it some thought?  One the most fascinating things the program points out, and I think is worth mentioning:  Did anyone come up with a use for their super power that involved helping people?  Interesting, neither did I.  Makes you wonder if super powers really did exist, would it actually lead to super people?  Makes you think.  Are the comic super heroes representative of our inner beings, or representations of people we wish we would be?

Flight or invisibility: Which would you choose?

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I think Aquaman is the worst super hero ever.  When would I ever need him?  If I were to have a crisis right now, if a super villain, shoot, if a robber were to enter my house right now, and I had Aquaman sitting next to me, getting my couch all wet, what could he do?  The nearest aquatic animal he could summon would be my neighbor’s goldfish.  Basically, I would be screwed, and wet.  I guess he could drown the robber in our tub, but we would have to fill it with water first.  Who’s got that kind of time?  I’m just sayin …

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So, generally when I write a blog it feels right.  At some point in the week an idea comes to my head and I say to myself, “I need to blog about that.”  For whatever reason that did not happen this week.  It came close with my friend Nick who is recently engaged.  I thought about writing about how is life is over or how now he can’t seem to make the simplest decision without her (really?).  This was starting to happen anyway, slowly but surely losing his manhood to the point by now I believe his testicles are in a glass case over his fiancée’s fireplace mantle.  It is well-lit, with gold inlay, it’s tasteful and well done.  I thought the sign in bold neon letters under the glass case flashing “Property of Laura” was a bit much, but to each his own.  But then I thought giving a man a hard time for getting married was too cliché and I am better than that, so I am not going to write about my man, Nick.

Than I thought about going political.  Speaking about the craziness of people who want to change the 14th amendment, which I still believe is more about racism than an intelligent solution to the problems of immigration in this country.  Or how brilliant I think the “March to Keep Fear Alive” is and how I wish I could attend the event.  But, quite frankly, I am not in the mood for a serious political discourse.

Then I thought about going with another heart string tugger of parental wisdom.  On how my son actually wants to practice football with me ever since I decided to take it down a notch (see Sins of the Father).  I was going to speak of how as parents we would be more successful if we were willing to meet our kids where they are, rather than expect them to meet us where we are.  He is doing great in football by the way.  Improving every week and having fun playing the game.  But no, I am not going to talk more on that subject, it just doesn’t feel right.

Do I have writer’s block?  I don’t think so.  As you can see from the above subjects I have plenty to talk about, but I am not in the mood to talk about them.  So, what am I in the mood to talk about.  Hmmmmmm.  Fantasy football?  I should be talking about this, but I am not.  Maybe next week.  So, what will it be?

How about hair?  Yeah, that feels right.

That’s right, hair.

I find hair to be very fascinating.  I am not a hair stylist, but I do know good hair when I see it.  I love the saying “bad hair day” and I wish it was used more often.  I never use it, because I have no hair.  Well, I do have hair, but my hair does not want to grow on all parts of my head, especially the front part above the forehead.  My father has the sam balding pattern.  Who said balding skips a generation?  The funny thing is, I know exactly where it began.  In 1997 I took my oral exams for my PhD.  To commemorate the occasion, I shaved my head and cut my beard into a goatee.  I wanted to intimidate my doctoral committee as they had never seen me with this look.  I liked the look so much, I kept it for a year or two.  One day, I decided to let my hair grow back.  Not all of it did.  Uncool.  I have learned to live with it.  Now, I shave my head, but it is less by choice than not liking the huge bald spot.  You may not know the difference, but I do.

But the thing I find most fascinating about hair is how contextual it is.  What do I mean?  Whether hair is a good thing or bad thing all depends on context.  For example, It is OK to put your hands in someone’s hair.  If you are close, you can pet your friend’s hair.  Cutting someone’s hair is not a big deal, but as soon as the hair hits the floor, it is NOT to be touched with bare hands, unless it is your own hair.  On the head, clean.  Falling to the floor, garbage and unclean.  Many people put their own hair in their mouth, but you would never put someone else’s hair in your mouth.  It is just hair, but context changes everything.  Here is a list of the worse situations of context to find hair:

In your food.  Yuck, and the longer the worse it is, especially if you pull it from your mouth like a noodle.  Actually there is something that is worse …

A short hair in your food, and it is NOT straight.

Hair in the bathtub drain.  I hate this with a passion.

Hair on the shower wall.  This is especially true if it is a hotel shower.

Hair in any bed that is not your own.

Any hair that is growing in a place that it should not be growing: mole, feet (this one varies), the stray chin hair, the stray chest hair, and the ever popular nose and ear hair.

In general, hair on one’s chest is fine, but there is variation of opinions on this, but hair on the back is almost never acceptable.

And I will end with this very fascinating fact:  The acceptability of hair and its location changes dramatically during sex.  Many things change during sex, but this is a blog about hair.  So, if you have read this blog from beginning to end, I apologize.  It is five minutes of your life that you will never get back.  But, it still feels right and I wouldn’t want to write a blog that I couldn’t be proud of.

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When it comes to marriage, women and men are different.  They just are.  For example, a woman might have a special notebook of wedding ideas that she might have been accumulating since five.  Even the wedding itself is different.  At the wedding on the female side is joy, laughing, celebration, single bridesmaids wishing they were the bride.  On the man’s side: Groomsmen, “You say the word, and we will hop in my car right now and get away from here.  We could be in Vegas or an Arizona golf course in five hours, your choice.”  Groom, PAUSE … PAUSE … PAUSE  “No, I’m good.” … PAUSE … “Yeah, I’m good.  You’re a good friend.”  I’m just sayin …

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So, I have decided that I love old dudes.  I don’t love naked old dudes (see Old, Fat and NUDE), but I do love old dudes.

It all started with a golf course.  I took golf lessons from a guy from a pro at a local 9-hole golf course about two years ago.  It is about 10 minutes from my house.  I enjoyed taking lessons from this guy so much, whenever I get a chance to play golf, I play at his course.  I have played there so much over the past two years that I am officially a regular.  When I enter the pro shop, I am greeted with a “Hey Brett, how is the new little girl?  Sleeping at night?”  As a matter of fact, before Violet was born, for two to three weeks I could not set foot on the course without someone driving their golf cart from another hole after seeing me from a distance (I am not difficult to spot from a distance on a golf course.  It’s like a Where’s Waldo for the blind.) just to ask if my daughter was born yet.  I never pay full price, and sometimes the pro will play a round with me just for fun and I get a free cart.  I am thinking about having my 40th birthday at this course.  I asked the manager about it, and he gave me my favorite line “It is normally 3-4 hundred bucks, but for you, 250.”

Is there a better sentence than one that ends in “…for you, we can do better.”  I love the hook up.  The bottom line is that I love special attention.  The cool thing is, I never ask for it.  If you know me, you know I would never walk into a place and ask everyone to be friends with me, but it just happens.  Interestingly, it happens for my son, Brett Jr. as well.  He hates talking to strangers, but everyone loves him.  It must be a gene.

I digress.  Now, prior to Violet being born, I made one promise to myself: To play as much golf as possible before her arrival.  Because I play on weekdays and usually early mornings, I played golf with a lot of old dudes.  Their average age is probably around 70.  I was even invited to play in their senior league on Wednesday mornings.  I could not commit every Wednesday, but on the days that I showed up, they placed me on a team that needed a player and I was welcomed with open, wrinkly arms.

As a result of my summer experiences and as recent as last week playing with an 80-year-old man, I have come to learn a few things about older men; not only do I love them, but old dudes don’t give a shit.

I am officially looking forward to turning 40 next year and beyond.  Oh to be as relaxed as an 80-year-old on a golf course.  Now that is something to wish for.  They just don’t care.  They are happy to be alive and happy to be playing golf.  They tell great stories and tell the truth about life in the most enjoyable way.  There is no doubt in my mind that I have played with some guys that used to be rich business men, CEOs, criminals, partially and/or fully racists, veterans, and in general crazy dudes when they were younger, but they have drunk the chill Kool-Aid and no longer give a care.  I love ‘em.

What is my favorite thing about them? They love to bad mouth women.  I don’t mean bad names, or degrading words, but the typical stereotypes of men versus women stories are classic.  I am not condoning bad mouthing women, but it is the freedom that they all share about their conversations.  It has made me come to one simple conclusion:  With freedom comes a cost.  You have got to be done with sex.  If you had no desire to ever have sex again, what thoughts in your head would you allow to see the light of day?  Think about it.  I love my wife, and I have a healthy fear of her on a regular basis, but I would never, ever let every thought that crosses my mind out of my head.  I am not stupid.  But what if I was done F#@king?  That’s right, freedom.  Welcome to the world of the old dude.  Say whatever the hell you want plus golf.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  Old age here I come.

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One night I went to the fridge for milk and we were dangerously low.  We did have breast milk though.  Would it have been wrong?  I was also thinking, if I created a drink, like rum, whiskey and breast milk, who would drink it?  You know it would be a popular drink somewhere on this planet.  A weird twisted part of the planet, but it would be popular.  I’m just sayin …

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So, I am not what you might call an avid reader, but every so often I read a book that I can’t get off my mind.  The book I just completed is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  Everyone should read this book, and I mean everyone.  It was actually first mentioned to me by my ex-wife’s brother and then later by my sister.  This is usually what it takes to get me to read a book for pleasure, multiple recommendations.

The heart of the book explores how and why people become successful.  And as the title of the book implies, people who are significantly more successful than most.  Are they successful because of innate abilities or is there more to their story.  For example, many professional hockey players are big, strong and very agile on skates.  But did you also know that a large proportion of them are born in January, February, and March?  Is this a coincidence?  If you read the book you will find that it is not.  Another example, and there are many, is of Bill Gates.  Yes, Bill Gates is über smart, but had it not been for key events in his life, he may never have been nearly as successful.  Or how being Korean, and more specifically the Korean culture may have been responsible for multiple airplane crashes.

I highly recommend this book.  It has made me rethink education, pathways to success, and the role of environment and culture in one’s potential for success.   The book even has me consider why some people live long lives in spite of poor habits, such as alcohol, over-eating, and other unhealthy lifestyles.  In the vein of this book, I have considered my own story of success and whether I am a product of innate abilities, luck, or a series of opportunities that had they not occurred, I would not be where I am today.

Whether you would consider my story a successful one will certainly depend on your perspective.  Let’s consider for the sake of argument that my story is indeed successful.  I am a university professor.  I earned my bachelor’s at UC Berkeley, PhD from the University of Kansas, and held a postdoctoral position at Northwestern University.  If you know me I think you would say I was intelligent.  I am fortunate to remember things that many people forget, and often after only hearing it once.  One of the things that I believe I excel at is looking at a problem, analyzing the constituents of the problem and coming to a solution, both quickly and to the point of resolving the problem.  It is these characteristics that make it no surprise that I am in science.  I have gone to some of the finest institutions in the world.  And earned a 4.0 while working towards my PhD.  Based on this information it would be no surprise to you that I am a Physiology professor and that my story of success is due to my intelligence and academic pedigree, but you would be wrong.

Of my two brothers and sister, why am I the only one with a PhD?  For that matter, why was I one of the first, if not the only member of my extended family to earn a PhD.  It certainly wasn’t because of intelligence that is an outlier to the rest of my family.  I assure you, my family has the intellectual capacity similar to most.  But I do believe there were a few key events in my life that were unique:

1.  I went to a private Christian elementary school, my siblings did not.  My class sizes were small.  I received not only more attention than my public school counterparts, but I received specialized attention.  Upon arriving at home, my mom would ask if I had homework.  I would reply that I did, but I completed it in class.  She would ask me if I listened to the teacher while I was working on my homework.  I replied, I did not need to, I already understood the material.  My mother responded to this information by requesting I be given more difficult work.  The school placed me in a small group of students that were more advanced in the class and tailored a program to our skills.  Could this have happened at a public school?  I eventually advanced beyond small group and, again at my mother’s behest, I was advanced to the next grade.  A consequence of this decision is that I graduated high school at 16.  Two things came of this event:  One, I was in an institution that was flexible enough to accommodate my situation and secondly, my mom taught me a very valuable lesson, complacency is NOT acceptable.

2.  My parents divorced.  Now, I am not praising divorce, but this event had some very interesting unintended consequences.  My mom had to leave the house and with me, find a place that she could afford.  We had to move across town and lived in a two bedroom condominium.  For a time, my brother and I shared a room.  Interestingly, this condo was in a “poor” part of a very rich neighborhood.  We were now in one of the best school districts in the state.  I went to a high school that was only two to three years old when I first set foot in the building.  Had I gone to the junior high and senior high of my siblings, the age difference, class size difference, and environment was as different as night and day.

3.  A professor at Berkeley that taught me all about graduate school.  I walked into the late Professor Ned Johnson’s office with one question in mind, “How do I do what you do?”  He told me.  He wrote my first letter of recommendation.  He helped me obtain two more.  He helped me get my first job after college, a Park Ranger on Alcatraz Island as the Natural Resources Coordinator for the Bay District.  On Alcatraz I met a professor from the University of Kansas who invited me to become a graduate student in his lab.  He and the chair of the department at the time fast tracked me into the program on probation.  I had a 2.6 out of Berkeley and so did not meet the requirements of the graduate school.  Their argument, I was a minority with potential.  As mentioned above, I graduated with a 4.0 and later that chair became my PhD advisor.  He studied marmots.  I now study marmots.

These are just three examples, but there are plenty more, for example, my entire family is made up of people who never give up and complacency is not an option.  What is your story?  Have you considered all the things that have happened in your life that has allowed you to be where you are?  The opportunities?  Maybe even opportunities that you missed?  As an educator I now think of students not as smart or dumb, but hopefully more of people who if given the opportunity can be anything they want to be.  What you will find upon reading the book, Outliers, is that the stories of success are not outliers at all, but individuals that were given opportunities to be successful.  Kind of encouraging isn’t?

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I had a fantasy football draft this morning at Hooters.  I have been in this league for several years now, and all 12 members take it very seriously.  I was on the waiting list to get in this league.  This league is serious.  It was my first time at Hooters.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it did not live up to the hype.  Don’t get me wrong, lots of squished together boobies, and tight clothing, and short shorts, but for whatever reason, I expected more.  Not a happy ending, but more.  Nonetheless, isn’t it illegal to not hire someone based on their looks.  There were no uggos, not one.  Not even a chubby girl.  I’m not complaining, and I am certainly not writing my congressman, but I would think there would be at least one lawsuit.  Just one chunky, mediocre, Hooters girl wannabe lawsuit.  I’m just sayin …

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