Levi's Bucket List

                Back in August of last year I wrote a blog about my dog, Levi, (Unconditional Inevitability) and the fact that he was aging.  I wrote it to show that I knew the end was approaching, no one lives forever.  I also wrote it for introspection and catharsis.  I didn't know how I would deal with the loss of such a dear friend, I figured that putting those questions down in to words and sharing them with all of you may help. 

                Well that time has come, and that blog post doesn't seem to have helped.  A couple weeks ago Levi was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, and it appears to have moved to the lymph nodes near his heart.  The original tumor is in his throat (slightly smaller than a baseball), and has been causing him to have some trouble swallowing.  I wasn't able to get a true time table for how long he may yet have to live, but the time is coming. 

                As depressing as this news is to me, and as worried as I am about it, I’m doing my best to stay positive.  In an effort to keep my spirits up, along with Levi’s, I am setting up a Bucket List for him.  It’s going to include fancy dinners, at least one road trip, adventures, and anything else that I think he may enjoy.

                So far he has had one bucket list dinner; I made some Chicken Cordon Bleu for some friends and Levi got his own plate of it.  He has also gotten to participate in a movie night at a friend’s house.  I also plan to take him on a day trip to the coast, seeing as he loves car rides as well as water. 

                Other than that, I don’t have too much planned.  He deserves some more fancy dinners (perhaps some lobster…), and maybe desert (his own pint of Ben and Jerry’s?).  I had the idea of perhaps having an outdoor movie night this summer with some friends and their dogs with popcorn and traditional movie food for Levi (and everyone else).

                Still, if any of you can think of anything that would make a good Bucket List item for him, let me know!  Also, if you come over and you see him, or you see the two of us out and about, don’t be afraid to spoil the hell out of him; he’s been my best friend for 7 years and he deserves it.


Integrating a Segregated State of Being

Friends who have housewarming parties plus Teresa,  

            We’ve all heard that famous Outkast lyric, “birds of the same feather flock together…. Hooty hoo.” As a child of immigrants, I grew up in an area where 99% of the people did not talk, walk, or mic drop like me. Scared of the unknown, my parents told me that surrounding yourself with people of similar minds and lifestyles lead to a secure, comfortable, but fruitful life. I’m not sho* sure anymore. (*Not a typo)

            We live in a socially vexing period. Now more than any time in our history, human beings have the opportunity to fly to, read about, and digitally interact with a region or lifestyle they aren’t familiar with. Socrates, Einstein, Gandhi, and other men (and women) with a great thirst of tolerance, awareness, and knowledge would be jealous of the opportunities we all have to learn about topics we are unfamiliar with.

            But we choose not to. A Economist survey taken in January 2012, found Americans are more likely today, in the TV and Print era, to watch shows similar to there way of life and log on to news sites that slant the news to their political liking. More than any time in the past fifty years, Americans are more likely to live in neighborhoods, work, and socialize with people with similar socio economic status.  Both NYTimes Op-Ed columnist Nikolas Kristof and Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams highlighted the fact that a majority of millenials (supposedly Uncle Sam’s most educated generation) would not consider dating or marrying someone with different political beliefs.  Take one look at the numbers of how often people under 35 end up with spouses from different religions and/or race and you’ll think it’s data from the early 60’s.

            This information begs us to ask four questions: How did we get so tribalistic, what’s the problem with a rapidly segregated society, how do we fix it, and why do white people ruin everything (Kidding, but I would like an answer to this question…. Chris).

            Racial divisions aside (and yes I know this is a big point to omit, but we’ll get back to this issue), we weren’t always solely hanging around creatures with similar features. In fact people flocked to metropolitan areas to explore, meet new people, and attempt to integrate other viewpoints into their lifestyle.

            Up until 1975, Presidential candidates from opposing parties would fly together and would hold joint town hall meetings.  The only country to continue this tradition these days is Bhutan!

            Today, if you stroll through all of San Francisco and surrounding Brooklyn you find predominantly homogeneous neighborhoods where the only eccentric aspect of the place is that vegan burrito joint that got funded on Kickstarter.  If you could jump into a time machine and visit these places in the 80’s you would’ve entered a new universe. San Francisco was once home to the Fillmore district, a historic Jazz borough composed of musicians from all backgrounds and the Haight, was an area mixed with African American, hippies, and Indian doctors at UCSF who hated hippies. Two decades ago, Brooklyn was the Mecca of the most diverse art scene in the world.  Graffiti artists from all walks of life would gather at midnight and literally paint the town red. Now, three of the newest restaurants in the area are artisan mayonnaise and olive oil shops (what the fuck).

            So how did this all change? Economist Thomas Schelling explains the increase in segregated attitudes and environments can largely be attributed to changes that occur during economic downturns. The former Columbia Professor argues that during recessions people move in with their families and friends back home.  This ultimately leads to a “nesting” period where people surround themselves with people like them, become comfortable, and have less of a yearning to leave their comfort zone and put in the effort to get acclimated to a new surrounding. It makes sense that current trends indicate millenials are less likely to leave their hometown than in the past forty years (unless it’s for Coachella).

            However, that doesn’t entirely explain the attitude shift. Yes, it’s true we are less likely to live in diverse areas (or away from poppa and momma), but we are even less likely to surround ourselves with people who have a different opinion. At the end of 2014, the unabashedly liberal UC Berkeley protested progressive comedian Bill Maher’s invitation to speak at graduation. All across America, campuses are trying to shoo off potential campus visitors who hold a slightly different take on their brand of politics.  Conservatives tried to develop a Facebook type platform just for conservatives…but didn’t know how to connect the cord for dial up Internet.

            I blame this completely on technology. The app generation has allowed us to customize a lifestyle where whatever we eat, see, shop, sleep, and interact is tailored to our exact desires.

            This is a problem. While this new surge in technology is making our life easier, it’s making us utterly stupid. In an October 2013 WIRED magazine poll, an alarming 32% of millenials believed that they had a harder life than those who had to live through the Great Depression. We’ve all seen countless hours of footage where people don’t know the leader of the free world (Hint: It’s not Beyonce….Chris). Compounding the matter, the plethora of news outlets tailored towards certain belief systems blinds us from getting a different perspective.          

            So what you say? Even if your colored shorts, boat shoes, and Warby Parker sunglasses allow you to only look at this issue at a financial angle you should be worried about your trust fund. Harvard business professor Clayton Christenson has studied innovation and financial ecosystems for thirty years. The money nerd argues that one of the keys to a successful innovative society is a place where different background and perspectives are shared, honest and brutal discussion take place, and there is an uncomfortable period motivating people to come up with better solutions. Historically, the bedrock of economic creative disruption has occurred in largely diverse and grungy metropolitan areas such as New York, London, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai.

            A lack of diversity also tends to create barriers from accepting much needed ideas. You may believe you are seeing a new movement of female empowerment. Granted, we are seeing more females in leadership positions such as Marissa Meyers, the CEO of Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook.  However, the NYTimes Dealbook columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin points out that there are a smaller percentage of females in leadership roles in this surging tech market than there were than the tech boom in the 90’s.

            The most alarming trend of this new flock together mentality is in the way we refuse to accept the truth. Kevin Hogan (no relationship to Hulk), author of “How to Persuade Others: The Psychology of Persuasion”, claims that in the past thirty years people are less likely to be moved by the facts.  His team has found that if one presents mountains of evidence to someone who is wrong about an issue, they will become MORE inclined to cling to their irrational belief. Even more worrisome, a March 2014 Gallop Poll survey found that 39% of Americans are more likely to lie or cover up for someone who has a similar background to help them get out of trouble.

            There is no doubt that we as humans have always been tribal spirits. But we have also been able to educate ourselves, adjust, and fix problems in our society. It’s certainly not easy to break habits, but there are things that can be done to become more aware of other lifestyles.  For starters, call out those in your own “tribe”. Far too often do we dismiss the uncouth actions of those in our corner, while aggressively chastising our opponents when they commit the same egregious act.  This is hypocritical and in the end does nothing to advance your cause. Being balanced whistle blowers gives us all a chance to be candid about our shortcomings and learn from them.

                Secondly, invite people with different background to events where they may be the minority or aren’t familiar with. This may be incredibly uncomfortable at first, but doing this pays huge dividends in the future.

            Maybe it was a cruel joke, but when I was a freshman in college I was assigned to live in the athlete’s dorm. For those of you living in a cave or were raised Mormon, you may not have guessed that 99% of my suite mates were black and church attendees. During the first semester, I rejected the offer to attend gospel church numerous times. A year later, I finally attended service and loved it.

            The most ironic thing you find when you step out of your comfort zone is how most people want the same thing.  The sermons at gospel church on education, strong families, building communities, and love, were all lessons you would probably hear at a Jewish synagogue, Hindu temple, or Baptist church in Alabama.  

            When I was faced with health issues and financial hardship, the conservative veterans I worked with in Nevada showed me the same compassion as my liberal comrades in Berkeley. Too often we forget, there is no liberal career quarter century crises, or Republican disease (aside from Sarah Palin), but a common desire to help others and leave the world a little better than we found it.

            So speak up and speak out often.  Changing a comfortable habit takes time, but the pragmatic optimist in me believes that if you voice your opinion, more people will be willing to listen than you think.

            But alas, I am no exception, and I should hold myself to the same standard.  So I will throw the first stone.  For as long as I remember, I have been unabashedly liberal. So much so, the only cheese I eat is blue. But I’ve become incredibly concerned about how progressives discuss diversity.  This blog is already too long and Chris just called me to criticize me about my Kama-sutra, 50 Shades certified, sex tactics. So stay tuned for my next post.  Or come join me at the next Gospel Choir Veteran Berkeley cheese tasting event.

Part 2 Coming soon…


50 Shades of Disappointment

Let’s talk about sex.  Valentine’s Day is today, and as everyone knows by now, Valentine’s Day is not really about romance.  Romance is spontaneous, intimate, and utterly devoid of heart shaped boxes full of chocolates.  No, Valentine’s Day isn't about romance, it's about being with someone you care about and making other people jealous.  It’s also about sex. 

If you would argue that Valentine’s Day is more “wholesome” than that, and it's about true love rather than sex, I would like to draw your attention to the massive amount of hype over the upcoming movie, “50 Shades of Buscemi Grey”.  No matter how much some people may think, 50 Shades is not about romance, it's purely about (poorly written) sex. 

Unsurprisingly, the books (and I'm sure the movie will follow suit) were massively popular, primarily among women.  If any of you guys reading this are scoffing and thinking it's silly that the books are so popular, I have news for you: You're likely part of the reason why. 

After a quick online search, you can find hundreds if not thousands of studies done in recent years showing that heterosexual women are, at an alarming rate, unsatisfied in the bedroom. 
Guys, most of the blame for this goes directly on your shoulders (ladies, part of the blame lies with you too, but more on that in a bit).  Due to this disappointment, women have resorted to relying on poor substitutes, such as 50 Shades.

Boys, sex isn't difficult; it really isn't.  And by “sex” I don’t mean the two step process of you, starting and then finishing… I mean both participants are out of breath and have big, dumb grins plastered on their faces.  You don’t have to get super fancy, and please don’t think that you need to use books like 50 Shades as a training manual, because you don't (please don't).  Start with the basics and build up from there as you gain confidence. 

So what is it?  What’s the secret to being worthwhile in the boudoir?  Well, I’m far from an expert, but I do feel like I’m at least qualified to give some basic tips; and in my experience it can be broken down to a few seemingly easy steps…  Also, keep in mind that just because I’m directing this primarily toward men, doesn't mean that you ladies shouldn't take heed as well; sometimes everyone needs to improve!

Step 1: Put in some effort! 

This is the basis for it all.  Don’t mail in your performance.  If all you do is lay there and expect your partner to do all the work for you, then where’s the excitement for them?  Where’s the motivation for them to do even better?  If you’re not going to put in any effort, why should they? 

Sex is just like anything else, you will not magically be good at it, and it isn't an effortless skill.  There will be days that you are at your best, and there will be other days that you just can't seem to do anything right.  But if you just lay there and expect to be good without really trying, then chances are you're awful in bed. 

Honestly though, if you are one of those people that believes you are inherently good in bed, and you don't need to give much effort, then I implore you to try changing that.  Try mixing it up and putting in some work the next few times.  I'd be willing to bet that your sex-life will improve when you do, because giving some effort makes it better for everyone involved, including yourself.

Step 2: Pay Attention…

While Step 1 may be the most important part of this lesson, don’t you dare ignore Step 2.  Paying attention during sex is a simple thing that is tragically overlooked.  Pay attention to what your partner enjoys and what they don't.  It sounds like a simple thing to do, but so many people don't.

There's a couple ways to go about this, the first being simple communication.  If you're not sure what your partner likes or what they don't, try asking them.  Sure, it may be awkward, but sex has so many potentially awkward moments in it anyway, that one more isn't going to hurt, it may even help matters.  A short, awkward conversation is certainly worth it if it improves your sex-life.

The second way to learn what your partner’s likes and dislikes are is to pay attention and notice their involuntary actions.  When you kiss her collarbone does her breath get faster and do her hands clench in to fists?  If so, do it some more.  If she pulls away, or simply doesn't react, then don’t do whatever you just did…  We're complicated beings, no one is ever 100% in control of their bodies, and we each have involuntary reactions and reflexes to the things happening to us or around us.  Pay attention to those reflexes!  They’re the best way to learn what to do and what not to do.

 Step 3: Expand your horizons.

For this step, I'll reference 50 Shades again; as you should know by now, it gets pretty heavy in to BDSM (not always in a responsible manner, but that's another story).  Now, I'm not saying that good sex has to involve whips and chains, not at all.  Everyone does have certain things that work for them though, certain kinks or curiosities.  Some are extreme, others are fairly tame. 

Don't be afraid to explore those things, if you find something that intrigues you, test it out (responsibly!), see if it's for you or not.  The worst that will typically happen is you'll find out that it's not something you're in to after all.  The best that can happen, well I guess that's up to you.

These steps are good advice for anyone, not only the underachievers out there.  If you have room to improve (hint: there's ALWAYS room to improve), then hopefully this will help you out a bit with that.  If you're having sex, then there’s no excuse for it to not, usually, be good.

That brings me to another point, not all sex you have is going to be great.  Sex is a learned skill.  No one is innately good at it, no matter what they think of themselves.  Likewise, sex between two particular people is an acquired skill.  Life isn't a movie, don’t expect magical fireworks to shoot off the very first time.  It will take a few times for you to learn each other's triggers and preferences. 

That's the exact reason that one night stands are usually so worthless.  That of course doesn't stop us from chasing that mythical one nighter that will rock our world.  Still, overwhelmingly, one night hookups are exceedingly mediocre.  However, everything has to start somewhere.

And since everything has to start somewhere, if a one night stand that you have seems to have potential for something better, give it a shot, see where it goes.  Which reminds me, ladies, you're not entirely blameless in this epidemic of female sexual frustration… It may not be your fault that the guy you're in bed with can’t finish the job, but don't encourage it.  

When I go to a restaurant and the food is terrible, I don't keep going to that restaurant.  It seems to be common sense, but if the sex is consistently bad, don't expect it to magically get better!  Either talk with your guy and try to encourage him to improve his game, or move on and find a guy that can please you.  At some point you are responsible for your own pleasure, so stop encouraging bad sex.  Think of it along the lines of natural selection, if everyone stops accepting bad sex, then in a few generations, there won't be such a thing, and we will have done the world a favor.

Bonus Tip: Passion!

Guys and gals, this goes for everyone (and for everything in life, not just sex), passion is never going to make something worse.  Passion doesn't need to be rough or soft, slow or fast, it just needs to be intense.  It should take the breath from your lungs and burn through your thoughts.  You can't really go wrong with passion, express it in the bedroom as well as in the rest of your life.

One last suggestion: Play safe.  Be responsible, don’t do something stupid that can’t be undone.  Life isn't a game and there are no do-overs, so be careful out there!  This goes not only for your physical well-being, but for your emotional state as well.  Sex complicates things, so use your head and try to avoid dumb decisions… 


Greater Than Bread and Circuses

                Sports.  Adrenaline flows through your veins, you jump out of your seat, and you cheer, as your joy and disappointment are tied to the actions of the players on the field.  Whatever sport you prefer, the reactions are often the same; you can’t stop smiling when your team wins and you hope no one notices as you quietly cry in to your beer when they lose.

(Guess which I was doing here...)

                We often dismiss sports as nothing more than entertainment, relegated to the cause of distracting us from our day to day lives.  We gather to watch men and women perform amazing feats of athleticism and engage in heated competition.  They give us an opportunity to live vicariously through those athletes and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

                This may already be a bit deeper look than most people take at sports, but let’s take it farther.  Competition divides people, it pits friends against each other, it makes rivals out of cities and states, and it even gets to the point of countries facing off as opponents in a (hopefully) bloodless struggle.  However, despite this divisive nature that is inherent in the world of competitive sports, they somehow manage to bring us together. 

                Sports unite us.  Even when they put us against each other, we are united in competition.  Sports are an all-inclusive entertainment.  This isn’t to say that other forms of amusement are exclusive; books, movies, etc. can certainly be enjoyed by just about anyone.  The difference is that sports fandom is a communal experience, to be shared with others, including anyone willing to cheer with you for your favorite team or player. 

                Maybe that’s the thing that makes sports so great, its ability to bring everyone to a level playing field.  Many children find something in common with their parents in sports before finding it anywhere else.  It brings together families and communities in small ways that are rarely brought about by any other means.  Even though the connections of a shared fandom may be small and seem unimportant at first glance, they provide the chance to grow in to something more.  They can shift from a metaphorical field of battle to a common ground.

                Even more poignant are the chances for those who would typically be alienated by the rest of society for some reason or another instead being given a chance to be a part of something greater via sports.  The potential for inclusion is inherent in many of the sports we love, even for people that don’t actually play on the field. 

(Joe Haden and his role model, Jacob)

Will there be scenarios where that inclusion is forsaken and people are driven away for some reason or another?  Absolutely, sadly that’s a part of human nature.  Still, there seems to be something about the simplicity of physical exertion that does away with many of the complexities that exist in our society, and give the opportunity for those that have trouble belonging, to find a home.

One step further down this road of inclusive nature takes us to the possibility of competition to provide everyone with a chance to reach for something that isn’t found in day to day life, glory.  Some of these competitions may not technically classify as sports, but they certainly provide a similar setting for the competitors, a setting in which they can be recognized as something more than another face in the crowd. 

(The story of Owen and Haatchi, who each found a place to belong)

Recognition can go a long way in changing someone’s life, and one person can go a long way toward changing the world.  I’m not saying that sports are a cure-all for our society’s problems, but they may provide us the grounds on which to begin to span the breaks that separate us. 

Therefore I ask that if you are someone who typically dismisses sports and competition as something that is beneath you, or not worth your time, take another look.  Think of the connections that these events give us the opportunity to build.  After all, it’s impossible to find common ground without any ground on which to stand.

Sports give us hope, they inspire, and they give us an escape from whatever may be troubling us in our lives.  However, they also give us a bridgeable first gap in our effort to come together as a species.  And they provide those among us with something to say, a platform from which to say it.

(The story of Brian Banks, and his desire to change the world in which he lives)

(Cleveland Browns receiver, Andrew Hawkins’ views on police brutality and the meaning of protest)

Happy Superbowl Sunday everyone!  Go Packers!!! Oh..... nevermind.