Sunday, November 14, 2010

"E" is for evolutionary entropy: Suit jackets and the alpha male

So last night was the first time I really observed the night life in my rural Maine town. I was frightened by the lack of evolution I saw.

Darwin espouses a "survival of the fittest" philosophy in describing evolutionary success,a philosophy that is supposed to explain how animals and plants adapt to the environment in order to position themselves for the greatest reproductive advantage. This is also supposed to explain, at least in part, why we are attracted to the types of people we are. Speaking strictly in terms of evolution, women typically are attracted to large, broad shoulder and big chested muscular men, with strong masculine features, an attraction no doubt linked to the days of the hunter-gather in which these traits may be linked with food and survival in cases of war or famine. This prototypical "alpha male" has somehow survived through the rapid changes in society, even though now the traits that would be linked with personal success may have shifted towards glasses and sweater vests, computer skills, finance skills, and interpersonal relations. With a strongly industrialized food chain, self-sufficiency can be achieved in today's culture with relative ease (including matriarchal and patriarchal single parent families). So why hasn't the perception of alpha male changed, especially in rural Maine I'll use for example the alpha male in this diatribe, based wholly on my observations of the Bangor Maine nightlife last night.

I started my adventure at the Sea Dog Restaurant, a place where certainly the "diverse" nature of this life is on display. I went in tandem with a friend, both of use dressed in suit jackets over dress shirts and jeans. Observing from the corner, we watched a tight t-shirt clad and pot bellied older member of the alpha male herd (who in evolutionary prior cultures was rewarded based on his past successes in the hunt) attempt to exercise quite outdated mating rituals in a group of females. These females were dressed well, with heels and gaudy jewelery defining both their fashion sense and their obviously higher cultural standing (whether perceived or realistic it was difficult to tell) The alpha male strategy, pitiful as it may be, was to use overt tactile contact with one member of the female group in an attempt to separate her from her herd. Oblivious to her obvious distaste with his advances, this male continued his aggressive courting until the entire group dispersed and the man was left to lick his metaphorical wounds.

Intrigued, my colleague and I casually followed the group across the bar to see where their interests were focused. By their behavior and eye movements, it was apparent that they were seeking male companionship. And even more obvious was their predilection for highly muscular and strong featured males, who casually approached after their body language demonstrated an openness to romantic interludes. These men were dressed in t-shirts or tight polo shits predominantly, likely to emphasize those traits they previously observed to be desirable. While 1-2 of the females were being engaged, the others casually observed their surroundings, their glances eventually falling on the two of us dressed in suit jackets. Their surprise at our youthful appearance contrasted with being well-dressed was quite evident; their gazes fixed on us furtively as they tried to figure out what our game was. They obviously did not regard us as potential suitors, more like novelties-->those tourists with the ridiculous attire far outside the cultural norms. But why? I wear a suit jacket with a fair regularity with work, conferences, teaching, and just out to dinner to look sharp. These settings would likely include many of the same people that I am observing in this bar but yet a simple geographical and chronological difference created a strong contextual interference and the perception of the suit jacket transitions from chic and intelligent (signs of high cultural evolution) to that of a mark of "the other".

So what does this say about the alpha male in rural Maine. Are the respected traits still macho bravado, strong physical characteristics, and relentless confidence in the face of failure? Why aren't men with suit jackets even regarded as potential suitors in this environment, even when they indeed may be better suited to provide in the long term (anthropologically speaking of course, not to slight the hard-working folk of Maine, to which I am kin). Can the alpha male ever be dressed in a suit, or are we perpetually stuck in the quaint days of the hunter-gatherer, where muscles and brawn are considered more valuable than being well dressed and culturally savvy. It is a fascinating concept, evolution as being responsible for bar behavior. But I think the influence is undoubted. Even in the face of abhorrent male behaviors (one such behavior I observed was a male walking past a group of females and eying them up and down, as if he were examining a quality steak for marbling), women (statistically and anthropologically, not a feminist commentary in the least) still tend to be attracted to these types, an attraction that they admittedly regret. I have heard more times than I can count: "why am I attracted to jerks" or "why do I always draw in the worst quality guys". Maybe, just maybe, its not a matter of choice. Maybe our genes haven't caught up to the reality that alpha males of the old days are being replaced in cultural standing by other more slightly built men. And in a place like Maine, where that distinction is not as strong, the suit jacket in a bar creates an uncomfortable entropy, a mismatch between the brain desires and genetic desires that confuses both the older alpha males and the females alike. It is difficult to break from the herd and embrace a new cultural norm, and suit jackets just simply aren't as alluring in rural Maine as something would need to be to spark a real cultural shift. The jacket will simply remain as a novelty in Bangor nightlife, something to be worn and perceived as different until one brave herd recognizes that well dressed night life isn't just a Sarah Jessica Parker inspired craze but a true sign of cultural evolution--specifically, the evolution of the alpha male.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"D" is for delusional

I'm in shock right now at the idiocy that defines the state of Arizona. What is the point of legalizing racial profiling by allowing people to be detained and questioned about their immigration status if an officer SUSPECTS that person to be in the country illegally....does your state want to look like biggots? How many white people do you think will be detained and questioned regarding their legal status? How many ethnic minorities who are already scared of the police will now pull over for the blue lights..not many I bet. And then the brilliant governor signed into law a bill that PROHIBITS the teaching of accurate Mexican and Hispanic history because it might spark anger against white kids. I got news for you Arizona: white people and other privileged majorities don't have the greatest track record throughout history. Probably those kids have a right to know that they have been oppressed in the past and they should be encouraged to be productive leaders in the future. But instead, Arizona feels that we bury facts and teach our children incompletely, so thus continue narrow minded racist thinking throughout the generations. They should be so proud......

Reading this makes me think of other racial delusions that are taught to people from elementary school and solidified by the fears and actions of people who don't understand what racism actually is. Think of what kids buy into as a great metaphor for America: the melting pot. Kids are taught that the US was and is a melting pot where people can run from oppression and blend into the culture here, where everyone's values blend together and come out "American". This is supposed to be the basis of treating everyone the same, no matter what race, culture, or religion they come from because that is the way we avoid racisim. But what I just described is the definition of racial blindness. Seeing everyone the same and treating everyone the same means that we don't ever learn to see people as individuals..we never learn to respect individual values and we never look to learn cultural competence. ANd because of this, our kids tend to stay centered in their cultural comfort zone, and often interact with other races begrudgingly or with pre-determined stereotypes. And they continue to preach the same equality to their kids, with the great intentions of avoiding the racist behaviors of the past. But they are just replacing one form of overt racism with an undercover one. It all starts with elementary education, and until the predominantly white US Senate and Education Boards across the country decide to put aside their delusional fears to address it, it likely will continue.....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I am holding a electronic casting call for guest bloggers. If you are interested in adding something INTELLECTUALLY stimulating or an interesting commentary, please send it to me at AND please comment on this blog to let me know you have sent it.

"C" is for Choreography

Choreography is sensationalized with cheerleading, MTV videos, and Broadway shows. But choreography sneaks into our lives in some unusual ways. I got to thinking about a lesser known interpretation of the word choreography when I was officiating a high level class A Maine basketball game last night. Choreography is an intentional arrangement of an action series that gets a desired response. Basketball fans and coaches reward those officals who "sell" their message, many times without regard to what the message actually is.

Officiating very much an interpretive dance: the feeling of a call is conveyed by speed, concision, rhythm, and presentation: a quick whistle and signal at the foul site may convey over-eagerness, while a slower whistle a deliberate signal may have a calming effect. A hesitant signal conveys a lack of confidence about your call, and glancing at your partner sometimes has that same effect. Then you have to run to the table, and repeat that information, with the coaches in your ear about the interpretation. So choregraphy is a factor here: do you talk to the coach or ignore the coach

Talking to the coach requires finesse: do you explain the rule, defend your call, make a joke, or rule that technical foul you thought about earlier. As a high school official, you have an obligation to basketball to respect the rules and offer at times to be an educator. But holding a rules clinic mid-game might seem condescending and take the game out of rhythm.

The competetive nature in us makes us want to defend our ruling, as we are rule "experts." But the connotation of this is that you are closed minded, or personally against this coach or team and are out to "get them."

Making a joke is sometimes a good option, but it takes excellent situational analysis to pull off successfully. Veteran officials understand how to diffuse these situations with a simple one-liner ('I get paid by the whistle' (John Schoppe) or my personal favorite 'I don't think that call is going in my highlight reel')). When used successfully, these self-depreciating jokes have a calming effect without altering the integrity of the game. But a joke can also escalate a situation if the context is inappropriate.

Ruling technical foul is another choreography all in itself, especially after it is ruled AFTER an offical initiates a discussion. The basketball rules are explicit on what type of conduct warrants a technical foul, but again veteran officals understand that context is important.

Now ignoring a coach is an easy option, especially for younger officals like myself. It's much easier to avoid a confrontation and maintain a stalwart like appearence. But appearing cold and robotic makes you seem...well cold and robotic. Appearing as a static figure in a dynamic game like basketball implies you aren't adapting to the game, that your rulings are consistant throughout time and environment without regards to the game at hand. And theoretically, the rules are not different between venues. But incidental contact (a foundational ruling made without a whistle) changes from game to game, from match-up to match-up. A bump from a 6'4" 220 pound point guard on a 5'6" weak ball handler might be ruled a foul while similar contact on a stronger ballhandler may be legal. So consistantly ignoring a coach might be a safe option, but gives the image that you are not ready to referee higher level games.

In conclusion, officiating basketball is a delicate choreography that requires intense practice and reflection to master. While rules and mechanics knowledge are essential for success, demeanor, rhythm, and strong contextual awareness are paramount to success at high levels. "Selling a call" is more than just a way to convince yourself that it is right, it conveys a lot about your dynamic nature as an offical. So the take-home message is this: even if your ruling is disagreeable, the subsequent verbal and non-verbal dialogue you particpate in determines the efficacy.

And of course, this is a huge metaphor for life in general, but anyone that know me knows that already:)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"B" is for Beer

So while most people dream of vacation as a blissful release from the horrible monotonous routine of everyday life, I have a different take. Vacations over three days kill me...I cringe at the thought of a number of consecutive days to let my brain relapse to its post-educated state, falling victim to watching the same sportscenter for 3 consecutive hours while browsing facebook. Those days that I sit on the couch in shorts and a sweatshirt at 8am, and realize by 3pm that I have done nothing productive and I smell bad. So that got me to thinking...are vacations over 3 consecutive days counterproductive? I'm not talking about the occasional three day weekend or "battery recharge" sessions but the lengthy vacations with no agenda. So I have spent on of my days creating a theory about goes: Vacations over three days are boring, egregious, esoteric, and ruinous--> in other words, they are like consuming massive quantities of B-E-E-R by yourself. Confused? Keep reading

"B"oring....We all say that there is a direct correlation between the length of a vacation and how awesome it is. We all also know that is a complete lie. You can only catch up with the housework, watch tv in your pajamas, and go more than 24 hours between showers so long before your brain begins to atrophy. Your workout routines go on vacation, your appetite inhibition goes on vacation, and forget about motivation and ambition...hell, you're on vacation, there's no schedule or sense of urgency. Yet this awesomeness soon transitions to pacing, replaying of the same video game from 1996, reading the girlfriends cosmo magazine, and watching trashy daytime television-->all of which occur with the short term memory of a goldfish. This is when the metaphorical (and occasionally literal) solo drinking begins.

"E"gregious: Yes, vacations over three days long are extrodinary in one terrible way: they make you dumber. At this point in your drinking of the BEER, you are reaching that stupid and belligerent stage, oblivious to common sense and reason, but completely sold that you are legendary. Thus, if someone goes around spouting off about how awesome it is to have two weeks off to do absolutely nothing, you should slap them right accross the face. There's no way you can convince me that when you are an average person on vacation, that you maintain any sembelence of circadian rhythm, or that you maintain any interest in expanding your knowledge. The party continues and at this point, you feel like you can go all night long.

"E"soteric: As the imbibing of this metaphorical BEER continues, the delusion that you are one of the select few that actually knows how to be productive during a vacation of this length becomes stronger. You have mellowed out at this point, and looking for a deeper meaning and the symbolism in "Days of Our Lives." Maybe...just maybe the death, subsequent revival, and amnesia of a prominent female character has some connection to the second wave of feminism and the struggles of women throughout history. You read deeply into the lives of video game characters, and not even the major ones but the crappy secondary characters. They aren;t even three dimensional, yet they are alluring to your mushy brain. "What the hell is the matter with me" you wonder alound, while munching on ice cream and candy...but your answer at this point is "nothing, I'm awesome."

***NEWS FLASH: You're not****

Ruinous: Vacations are distasterous. There is no sugar-coated media-spun way to put it. Vacations destroy a person, beat them down, turn them from workhorses and report-writing legends to mere mortals. Vacations are a way to let Joe Schmo 2 from your office take your projects and impress the bosses, and while he is on his game, you are drunk with the BEER of vacation. Your general functioning now is sluggish, your coordination and motor control, which appeared great earlier at the game table, make you look like the bumbling idiot that your brain knows you are at this point. Joe Schmo compared to you on day one back from vacation is like Mr. T vs Carrot Top in a steel cage match: it isnt pretty.

So in summary, vacations over three days long is a lot like drinking a lot of beer. You get bored first and start drinking a little. You get belligerently assertive, believing that vacation is some legendary conquest that you are OWNING. But it's not all that it seems. Confused by your lack of continuing awesomeness, you drink more and look deeper into your activities, convinced that you are missing something essential to mastering vacation. But you might as well be flying with the Riddler..the voluminous questions are more than your softening brain can handle. And your realization of this atrophy is the final runious straw.

Vacations are indeed a lot like drinking a lot of BEER, and all that you are left with afterwards is mushy brain tissue, a BEER gut, and a bad hangover when you get back to your real life.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"A" is for Awesome.

So this is day one of my blog. So where do I start....

Ok. I could autobiographize my life, talking about my childhood in Maine, my terrifying move to Washington county, my undergraduate English studies complete with feminist theory courses, my physical therapy graduate studies (where I spent more time in my underwear among my peers than I care to remember), and of course my historically tumultuous love life that is currently "A"mazing. But anyone reading this blog probably knows the stories I tell in excruciating detail, complete with my awkward sidebar comments and brainy metaphors.

So here's the shortcut version: I'm Awesome. That's right..I described myself with perhaps the most overused and meaningless word in the English language. I inspire awe in a number of ways as noted by my friends, details below:

"A"rrogent: I speak freely about my awesomeness...whats the harm in that?:)

"A" Student: yeah, I'm a smart kid. In the classroom and in the clinic.

"A"ss: I speak freely about other people's lack of awesomeness, and am not afraid to point out flaws in arguments or closed minded thinking. I make people justify opinions with something objective, which makes me an ass who inspires intelligent conversation. Its legendary really.

"A"pathetic: I am a strong critic of people who take a "love, sunshine, and happiness" approach to life. While all valuable in a small way, the ideal of love sunshine and happiness as change agents independent of skill, intelligence, and effort is appalling. They are for people content with their place in life and the places of others around them, with no concern for advocacy or the greater good.

But the bigger message is that I'm not afraid to be myself. Conformity to a "herd mentality" isn't me and tailoring messages to fit a persona is something I will never do. I love life, I do what I want, and go to bat for people that I love. If you aren't afraid to be an arrogant, apathetic ass, you can succeed in places where love, sunshine, and happiness only dream of penetrating.

That's all for today... Happy 2010.