Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trauma In the Sauna

On my recent trip to Houston, I had a very interesting encounter. It went something like this:

Setting: After a long day at work, I decided that I wanted to check out the sauna in the fitness center. In Qatar, I have started going to the sauna fairly regularly and find it to be a very pleasant experience, plus its conveniently located in my apartment tower. All this gave me a good bit of anticipation about going to the sauna in the hotel. So I enter the gym and walk straight to the sauna and discover that it is not on. Its warm in there, hot maybe, but not sauna hot. So I turn the knobs to full blast and walk around the gym for a while. After ten minutes or so, I return and find the sauna to only be marginally warmer. But since it was getting late, I just decided to go ahead and wait inside while it warmed up. So I strip down, wrap myself in a towel and plop down on one of the wooden benches. A few minutes pass, and then I am interrupted…

[John Doe opens door] John: Is the sauna working?
Me: I think so, but it is taking forever to warm up.John: Hmmm, yea, it does not feel too warm in here, but maybe it will warm up.
Me: Yea, I am hoping so [secretly wishing this guy would close the door and stop letting in what little heat is already inside].
John: Hey, where did you find the towels?
Me: [thinking “what an idiot” he just passed the towels, and he is STILL letting out the heat] The towels are right there on your left.
John: Thanks [disappears]
Me: [yelling to catch his attention] Could you close the door better? The heat is getting out with it cracked like that. [thinking ‘douchbag’]

So as John leaves, I continue semi-relaxing in the tepid heat. I give up on thinking it will get much hotter, but its still nice being in the warmth. I was quite content by myself when John came back in.

[John enters and stands up against the wall opposite to where I am laying down]
John: Not too hot in here is it?
Me: No not really. Pretty sure its busted.
John: So you stay here?
Me: Yep. [What kind of question is this? It’s a hotel gym… of course I stay here]
John: Yea me too… here on a business trip. I hate all this traveling.
Me: I’m here on business too and I agree, traveling can be a pain.
John: They did put me up in this killer suite though. The place is huge, its basically an apartment.
Me: Not bad, how did you get hooked up with that? What floor is it on?
John: It’s the top floor, and I have no idea how I got it. Guess I just lucked out.

[Silence for a while. Decide John is just weird but a nice guy]

John: So how was your workout?
Me: I did not work out, just decided to come to the sauna.
John: Oh, it looks like you work out though. You look like you’re in good shape.
Me: Thanks. [I think]

[More silence]

John: Man, this place would be awesome if it had massages.
Me: Yea, that would be great. I just had a massage the other day though, my mother recently opened a massage spa.
John: Cool. [Pause] I give killer massages.

[Now I am officially thinking this dude is a bit weird. That was a pretty gay thing to say, but he has no signs of stereotypical gayness. Just seems like a 40 something white guy]

John: I can’t wait to get back home.
Me: Oh yea, being away from the family [hint, hint] just sucks.
John: No, I never worry about that.
Me: Oh. Well when are you leaving?
John: Tomorrow, last night in town.

John: You really do look like you’re in great shape.
Me: [Thinking, ‘damn, this dude really is gay’] Not really man, looks can be deceiving.
John: No I don’t think so.

So at this point, I realize this dude is eyeing my no-fly zone, but at the same time, I want to enjoy my sauna. So I am sitting there trying to figure out if I am going to have to leave, yell at him, or wait for him to give up. But also, I am a little curious about what he is going to say next, after all this is the first time I think I have been officially hit on by a dude.

John: You up for a massage?
Me: No thanks.

[Silence, for the first time I start to mentally verify that I can kick this guys ass]

John: Are you sure you don’t want a massage? I’ll give you a massage.
Me: [chuckling] No man, I don’t think I want a massage from you.
John: Well if you change your mind, just come up to 2312.

[John exits sauna]

I sit in the sauna for a few minutes because I am afraid of running into the guy again, and eventually another dude comes in to the sauna. He sees it’s not that warm and starts to leave. Seeing my safety net, I jump out of the sauna and follow that guy to the locker room. Sure enough, old weirdo John was in the locker room very slowly putting his clothes on. Eventually he leaves, but not without giving me another look-over. Yuck.
*As a caveat to any gay/lesbian friends out there. Although slightly disturbed by the idea of man-lovin, I mostly found it disgusting that this random dude tried to pick me up in a sauna (like a prostitute), and not that a gay man hit on me. PS, I don’t think he was ‘true-gay’ either, I think he was one of those DL guys who probably has a wife and kids at home. Sad.*

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Men are from Mars… Women are from Venus?

I just had a conversation that has left my girlfriend very upset. It made me a little upset but largely it has left me confused. I have come across one of those areas in life in which men and women appear to be on two sides of a wide chasm.

We were having a conversation about cheating and what is meant by it, and we had delved into the area of non-physical cheating. Things like lying, misleading, giving your attention to someone else, or taking advantage of your loved one. Those are all examples of cheating, but not the easily defined physical ones. It was these areas that I claimed were what worried me. I don’t think I am the cheating (physical) kind, but I could see myself falling into some of those grey areas. Likewise, I assume that the people I choose to be involved with have the same viewpoint. Physical cheating should almost be “below” any girl I am dating or me, so our resources/time should not be focused on worrying about that. Instead we needed to be more vocal when and if we feel those gray areas are intruding into the relationship. For example, if I were at a party and ignored Inna and spent all my time with a random hottie, she should call me out. That would be an example of me cheating her of what she deserved, my attention.

The conversation did not go as well as planned largely because Inna felt I was disregarding the importance of not physically cheating. But the conversation took a plunge when I tried to give a recent example: When visiting home (in Virginia) this time around, I chose not to get in contact with my friend Tiffani. The reason, we are both in relationships and I think us meeting up could undermine those. Tiffani and I have had an interesting history that has gone from friendship to relationship to friendship. I believe that we work best as friends, and that there really is no future to a relationship with her, but given our history I chose to leave it alone. I did not tell all this to Inna, it went something like “I chose not to see a friend of mine because we had dated in the past and things were not completely in the past. So even though the visit would have been almost certainly platonic and friendly it was not worth the risk of any it turning awkward from old feelings flaring up.” This was the wrong story to tell. It turned into, “Well why don’t you figure out you and Tiffani’s feelings on your own time” kind of things. And that is where the difference lies.

Men do not see the need to slam doors closed, and women do. To me, and I think to most men, relationships are doors without locks. They may always be open, but you simply have no need (or desire) to go through them anymore. To put in real terms, my feelings for past girlfriends are largely still intact. What changed is that I did not think that a relationship was appropriate any longer. There were problems that could not be overcome to allow for a successful relationship. Women seem to slam doors closed and duct tape them while grabbing for the nails and hammer. They seem to insist that things are ‘OVER!!!’ and that they would never open their hearts to feeling anything for their ex’s. In practice this proves false sense most women tend to revert back to their old feelings with only the slightest provocation. Hence why this defense mechanism, if you declare that its over, you may stand a chance of convincing yourself of it.

I think men are right about the nature of relationships, but women are noble in their ambition. A woman, if treated right will love one man and one man only forever. She will be devoted and unwavering in her support of that relationship (assuming it’s the right one). But the man in that ‘perfect’ relationship will always spread his feelings. I think it is honestly in our DNA to seek attention and affection from multiple sources. Hence why men tend to cheat more than women. We (in the male collective sense) may be perfectly happy in our perfect relationship but we will still seek to be liked by our coworkers and our friends and other females. No matter how fulfilled we are in one relationship we still seek others. In contrast, women seem to be completely fulfilled by their romantic relationships. Girls drop their friends, ignore their families, and pour all those freed resources into the relationship they are in. Women have to remind themselves to not ignore others and men have to remind themselves to pay more attention to their relationship. This all ties to our definition of relationships as open or closed doors. Women (speaking generically) simply cannot function with two or more doors open, it is insufficient. Men simply cannot function with all but one door being closed so we don’t bother to close the ones we are no longer using.

How does this apply to my situation? Inna sees herself as being, at best, shared, and at worst not special. If he still has some feelings for other girls, how can he think I am special or think that I am worth being with. He could just as easily switch to them. But that is not how it works, feelings may exist but the experiment has been played out. Like any experiment, you begin with a ‘hunch’ and you try it out to see if you are proved correct. The relationship is the experiment, and one in which all but one (and maybe even not one) fail. But even after a relationship has failed, the hunch may still stick around even though the results are known. That might not make too much sense.

Anyways, what Inna wants to hear is that I don’t see any other women but her and that she is the only person on the field. My reality is that life is a stage and that she is the star of my show. The spotlight is on her but she is far from being the only person on the stage. They are simply in the background. They have had their chances at dancing in the spotlight and they have been found lacking. Nothing wrong with them, but they simply did not have the qualities I was looking for in the star of my show. So there she is on the stage, trying out, and feeling that those in the background are detracting my attention from her. She is right in that my attention is divided, but she does not see that the things lacking in the background performers are what remind me why she appears so great for the part.

Life is tough :).

This was probably garbled a bit, I apologize. I am in class right now and trying to divide my attention… very fitting.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


My friend Jonathan got me thinking about building a solid financial foundation and made me concerned about those trying to do that in these times. Here is one worry.

Stagnant economy + high inflation = Stagflation… and you don’t want that. Let’s start with inflation first. Inflation basically means that one dollar today will get you less than that dollar got you yesterday. Sum it up as your grandpa saying “when I was your age a piece of candy cost a penny.” Well you can’t get that piece of candy for a penny now, today it will cost you 50 cents. That’s largely due to inflation, prices rise over time, and it’s due to a number of factors. A stagnant economy is one that does not grow, or that grows very slowly. We are currently in something worse than stagnation; we are in a contraction (i.e. negative growth) that has been escalated into a recession (defined as three consecutive quarters of contraction *I think*). But for the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that the economy will eventually stop contracting.

Let me tell you why stagflation is awful. Your money is constantly being devaluated and your resource pool is not growing. You are paid the same amount of money but everything you buy and live on gets more expensive. Which is no good.

Stagflation is very possible in our current situation. It will be awesome for the economic recovery to be quick and substantial but likely it will be slow and painful. These missteps and restarts will define how long our economy will remain stagnant. If Obama’s plan of developing American Infrastructure and creating a Green Energy economy work out, then the economy will have an engine for growth. If those plans meet political or economic hurdles and fail then we will likely be stuck in a stagnant economy for a while.

What is more likely than stagnation is inflation. These billions and trillions of dollars that you hear everyday on the news, these ‘bailouts’, are essentially the government printing money. Economic institutions, with banks in particular, are in a liquidity crisis… which means they have no cash. Think of a business as a person, who borrows money and makes something more valuable with that cash. The business pays back the lender and keeps some cash for itself and invests the remainder in ways of making more money. Well in this financial crisis, all the lenders have run out of cash. Now the businesses that were living paycheck-to-paycheck are SOL because they have no money saved up to continue doing whatever it was that made them money. Hence the credit-freeze, no money is flowing through the system. That is why the government is essentially printing more cash, someone has got to do it. The problem with printing cash is that it devalues the cash that’s already out there. If I give you a diamond, you feel special and think that its valuable. But if I pull out five more diamonds, all of a sudden it feels less special and its less valuable. That’s what happens with money too. It has a certain value when there is X amount of it. When there is X + Y of it, it is worth less per unit. And that is where you get inflation.

Currently things are fine, but what you all need to worry about is what may be coming. Right now inflation is not a big deal because the world is in this recession together and other countries are either doing the same thing (printing money) or are suffering from investor’s lack of confidence in their market potential. What will cause inflation is if America is in this deeper than anyone else (which makes intuitive sense to me). It will then cost us more than most of others. So while other people’s economies are growing, ours will still be stuck in the blocks.

What am I trying to say? Save up and put your money in something that ‘floats’ independently from cash. Consider diversifying your cash into something not directly tied to the dollar. Warren Buffet makes the case that stocks (equities) are a better place to put your money to shield yourself from an inflation hit. Others may say gold, real estate, or a global mutual fund. Who knows, but may be a good idea to look into it. Just try and put your money in something that beats the inflation rate which may be 5% in the future.

Creationism and Evolution

I am reading this book called “Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Rules of the Bible”. It is tough for me to get into it, because I am constantly thinking he is putting on a farce for his own amusement. So far it feels like he is almost mocking the very thing he is pretending to revere. He is an atheist Jew who is trying to understand the Bible, so he grows a beard and proceeds to take literally all the wacky rules in the Bible. It is funny that this guy thinks he is being unique, but actually he is doing what hundreds of millions of Christians and Jews strive to do everyday. The only difference is that they approach the task with sincerity and our author seeks amusement and attention that might be complimented by some sort of revelation. I digress from the point of this writing.

In the book, the author goes to a Creationist Museum and proceeds to rail on these guys for obviously being stuck in the Stone Age. He compares Creationist to those that think the earth is flat or that everything is made up of the four elements (air, water, fire, earth). Personally, I do not agree with the idea that the earth is only 6000 years old but I do not take the combative standpoint that the Creationist idea is incompatible with the Theory of Evolution. Allow me to explain.

It all comes down to two big ideas. One, that if you are a religious person, you most likely believe that God can do all things… i.e. no task is impossible. (Insert paradox: Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?) The second big idea is that of the biblical miracles. God allowed men in the Bible to do some amazing miracles, but none of them were spectacular. They always left room for skepticism. The rising of the dead (one of the more impressive feats) could be seen by skeptics as a conman trick… the person was never dead, or better yet, they were heavily sedated. Or take the feeding of the multitude, something truly miraculous, but one that was only evident to those that sent the basket out in the first place. The members of the multitude would hardly notice that one basket fed everyone… they would only notice that there was some food for them in there or assume that several other baskets were being passed around simultaneously. The point I am trying to make with this is that miracles were not necessarily supposed to prove something to people. It was a demonstration for those that already wanted to believe. If you did not want to believe, there was room for denial. If God wanted to make it obvious that Jesus was his son, or that he himself was all powerful he could do something undeniably amazing like turn a mountain upside down or take everyone into space for a few minutes and return them back with a handwritten note saying “See what I made. – God”. The combination of these ideas is how I picture the Creationist/Evolution debate.

If God truly made the world in seven days over 6000 years ago and left proof of it everywhere, where is the room for faith in that? It would be science, a fact, indisputable. We would dig up fossils of humans riding Velociraptors or find a pristine Noah’s Ark somewhere on a mountain top and we would say to ourselves “I guess this whole Bible thing was right after all.” Faith would be proven by fact.

Instead we live in a world in which all evidence states that the universe is billions of years old and that humans have evolved over millions of years. We have carbon-dating, radio telescopes, fossils, DNA mapping and everyday physical evidence (like your average rock that is hundred of thousands of years old) that tell us that this world is very very very old.

Isn’t it possible that an all powerful God that wants people to choose him through faith would create some ambiguity in his ultimate miracle? The miracle of life. If there is a being of all powerful abilities, I think it would be a pretty easy task to create a world in seven days 6000 years ago and make it appear that it took much longer. Why would God do that? Maybe for the same reason that he did not create us to be sin-free or to automatically have faith, because God wants us to choose to believe. So in my head, I see that the two ideas do not have to butt heads necessarily. It is like when I go through the markets here in Qatar, you will see some stores selling antiques. Upon closer inspection you will see that these ‘antiques’ are simply modern things made to look old by sprinkling dust, or applying a flame or maybe by leaving it out in the sun too long. The point is that things are not always what they seem and that we are dealing with a being with the potential to create a perfect forgery.

Disclaimer: This seems very pro-religious, and it is. I think that Creationist have been given a hard time and that they need an argument in their favor every once in a while. My personal belief is that the world is very old and that humans have evolved for quite a while, but I do consider the literal Bible creation story to be possible.

Aside: What I do not like is the idea of Creationist having their cake and eating it too. The idea that dinosaurs were in the Ark rubs me wrong for instance.

Here is the Creationist logic. Obviously there were dinosaurs (there are fossils), since they were part of the ‘animals’ that God created they cohabitated with humans, since all animals were put in the ark they were in there too, and sometime in the last couple thousand years they all disappeared.

If you are a Creationist, I don’t want to hear ‘secular’ logic from you. I want you to say something like: the Bible does not mention dinosaurs so for all I know they did not exist (the bones could be for earthly decoration). Essentially, if you believe in an all-powerful God that shaped the universe in seven days, you don’t have to fit his plan into science. You fit science into his plan.