Beauty and Free Will

2 min

Beautiful women make men stupid.” It is scientifically proven statement according to Dr. Daniel Amen. I came across this statement while reading “Making a Good Brain Great” book. The claim is based on Canadian researchers who conducted a study on a group of men.

The researchers showed pictures of beautiful women and non-so-pretty women to a group of men. The men played a dice game. Based on the number from the rolled dice (not mentioned in the book), each man was offered either $15 the following day, or $75 a few days later. Those men who were shown pictures of the beautiful women were more likely to take the $15.

Researchers claim this experiment proves that men will stop thinking about long-term consequences once love chemicals kick in. It turned out that once a man is shown pictures of beautiful women, his prefrontal cortex heads south, leaving the judgment area of the brain empty.

The same experiment was given to a group of women. The result was negative. Men’s attractiveness has no affect on women’s thinking process. A woman is more interested in security, intelligence, and a smile.

The male brain is different from the female brain. The man is more driven by beauty, shape, fantasy, and obsession. These qualities can leave a man quivering with pleasure hoping for more, because thirty percent of the brain is dedicated for visual processing.

So, when I see a beautiful girl elegantly dressed, she hijacks a large portion of my brain.

I am sure Las Vegas takes advantage of this when they have beautiful waitresses dressed in mini skirts serving free alcohol.

French Riviera

Dr. Daniel must believe this research is credible for him to quote it in his book. But, what if we changed the context to corporate America?

You may laugh, but if researchers and brain doctors believe in the power of this scientific proof, then it should be investigated in a complex real world setting such as corporate world and other organizations. It is a competitive dimension that should be measured. It could be a strategy to outperform rivals. This could change how we think about company performance. Beauty can be a cause of bad decisions.

Beauty is a force that shapes men’s decisions. It is a pressure that produces predictable errors. Men neglect their natural tendency for this weakness. We already know of one president and one CIA Director who made a stupid decision when faced with this cognitive minefield.

It reminds of those cubical spaces – boxes of tensions. I have seen the effect of a beautiful girl in workplace. Her personality and beauty permeate through the entire company. I wonder about the CEOs and leaders who have beautiful girls in their organizations and companies. How does beauty influence CEOs’ complex corporate decisions? And how many stupid decisions have they made? How many sexual harassment claims does an HR of a company or an organization receive? Imagine if that number is transparent and visible and LinkedIn offers it as a measure for the health of an organization on a company’s profile. How many girls apply to that company? How will investors look at Apple, Google, or Amazon? What will that do to their stock prices?

But then, if she can hijack my brain by disabling thirty percent of its capacity with her dazzling beauty, then what happens to my free will? Shouldn’t this be Clinton’s or Petraeus’ defense?

Beauty is the kryptonite of my brain. Every time her name is called, it echoes centuries of history and culture. Even seraphs who sit next to God could be seduced by her beauty. Then what hope is there for an imperfect man like me?

My free will, beauty, is dead.

 

P.S. You might like to read:

Could complimenting women be a blessing to men?…Liberation from religious childhood taboo!

 

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“Some” is modifying speaking culture

*2 min

I speak Arabic, and in Arabic language we have the tendency to speak in general. It is normal to make general statements like, “Iraqis are genial hosts”, “Arabs can’t get along with each other”, or “Arabs do not read (العرب شعب لا يقرأ).” It’s part of our vernacular. But this Arabic natural way of speaking must be modified when converted to English.

last arab

I write more or less in a conversational style, and I have to modify statements with words like “some” to avoid generalizing on a topic or a group.

Thus, I did my best to cover my anatomy in my previous blogs. For example, in the blog titled “America’s Religious Test Against Christian Refugees in Saudi Arabia”, I inserted the unnecessary protective word “SOME” four times as shown in following paragraphs:

“I decided to share this episode from my family history to provide a counter point to the recent political debate about giving a religious test to the Syrian refugees. SOME Americans are outraged by the lunacy of the proposal – but it is not a new idea. It has been done before – by America. In this blog, I share one true story from my first cousin’s family and their journey from Iraq to Saudi Arabia after the Iraq-Kuwait war.”

“After the Saudi government realized that there were SOME Iraqi Sunni amidst the other refugees, they separated them into a different area, where they were given added privileges”

“After being ignored for months and months in that hot Saudi desert, on Christmas Eve 1991 SOME people rioted to gain world attention. The Saudi army responded with live bullets and killed a few refugees to gain control of the situation.”

“And they are still in contact with SOME of those Christian refugees from Rafha who got rejected by America.”

The word “SOME” didn’t appear in the spoken version of the story. I injected the word and altered the conversation when I wrote the blog. I wrote all my previous blogs in a similar style. I had to modify the original spoken  version of the discourse when I converted it into written English.

Until a few days ago, I came across ”compulsive hedging” while I was reading Steven Pinker’s book “The Sense of Style”. It applies to any writer who hedges his sentences in fear of being criticized by a reader.

Pinker argues that these words are unnecessary, and when a blogger use one of them in sentences, he implies that he is not willing to stand behind what he is saying. Or when he use words like “almost” or “apparently”, he would argue for his positions if things were different but not willing to stand for it as is.

I know the first lesson is to remove all unnecessary words in writing. What matters here is not the word count or the protection against making a general accusation but the logical spirit of the writing. And any unscrupulous reader who cries foul and gives the writer a problem on unhedged statements is showing himself as a perfunctory reader. He will find any excuse to give the blog post a mauling critique.

Pinker’s defense is that a classic writer will count on the common sense and the ordinary charity of the cognizant reader just as in everyday conversation when I make a statement like: “I want to move out of Chicago because it’s a very cold and cloudy city.” Here, nobody will misunderstand it to mean every single day.

Therefore, I decided to restrict the usage of “some” and its sisters and relatives: a few, almost, nearly, partially, relatively, sort of, to a certain degree, to some, from usage in my future blogs because of compulsive hedging.

Here is an example of one of my unhedged statements where I did not use the word “Some”, or similar modifier, to ram its point “Today Putin has become Saint George for Christians and Imam Ali for Shi’a in Iraq, Syria, and Iran.” from another recent blog titled “My Passionate Soliloquy about Putin to the White House”.

Do you agree with compulsive hedging? Or still have SOME reticence?

P.S. I find the blogger Fritz Berggren is a good source on the power of language.

 

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New Year’s Eve with Absolut Vodka

*2 min

New Year’s Eve of 2016 felt eschatological in Baghdad. Good won over evil. Victory was in the atmosphere. Iraq borders reshaped. Iraq declared Thursday 31st a national holiday after a triumphal success over ISIS in Ramadi. A political joyfulness and New Year’s fireworks filled the air. I was one of a small group celebrating New Year’s Eve in Baghdad. People felt the greatest New Year’s Eve in Baghdad in the last 40 years.

Around 9pm, I packed my backpack with 1.75 liters of Absolut Vodka bottle and dozens of Indian Tonic cans and left my room. The sky was clear after the previous rainy day. Stars were visible. I walked on mud and between puddles of filthy water to a place sequestered between 12 feet T-Walls. A trailer converted into a bar and an outside fireplace we’re protected between those walls. And in a land where it is customary to have celebratory gunfire, I started the last bonfire of 2015 out in the open hoping for a safe night with friends and co-workers.

The cacophony of our music and the sound of helicopters landing and taking off continued all night. It was hard to believe that a possible retaliation attack by ISIS could occur any second. Death is always present in Iraq.

Drinks became our escape from the omnipresent dust and everyday working in Baghdad. As we fed the fire, we spent the night sharing stories, news and discussed future possibilities. Some of us smoked cigars while sitting and feeling like kings. All of us missed loved ones. FaceTime and Viber had different meanings – an anti-loneliness antidote.

The military blimp balloon reminded me of “The World Is Yours” scene from the Scarface, and somewhere around my seventh Vodka-Tonic with impulse, I climbed the stairs over one of the nearby trailers overlooking the airport and a few taxied airplanes on the terminals. I danced on the sound of the Arabic Music while getting a few glimpses of the view, asking myself, “how far will I fly?”…from Baghdad to Chicago, from Arabness into Englishness, from Iraq-ism to American-ism. It was a vast distance that fate agency took me to battle destiny vs. choice. 

The feel of fixing another drink took me down. Talking to friends and listening to music, a fantasy of ordinary life, I wished I were at an Assyrian party in Chicago, Dubai, Cannes…anyplace with someone I love and where photography is allowed. I missed celebrating New Year’s Eve with family and friends, and I promised myself this would be my last one in Iraq.

We all gathered around the fire near the count down. Someone brought a big bottle of champagne and opened it at midnight. We hugged, danced, and welcomed the New Year. But starting the New Year without kissing the red lips of someone I love made me feel lonely. 

In the early hours of 2016, my mind started to ask questions for the future. I look at the galaxy above; a line came to mind from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses Novel “the fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one.” To that, I toast, let the charm of the new hour bring a new promise to our one-time existence to make it stupendous!

 

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27,000 Words in One SketchNotes

The sketchnotes is a snapchat of 33 blogs in 27,000 words that captures some of my life experience in 2015.

2015 blog posts sketchnote FINAL

 

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300,000 Pages and One Book

*2 min reading

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

I suffered from mental anorexia for a long time. My dialogues with people lacked depth. They were superficial. Dull. A few social diseases that caused my illness are television, socializing, or just laziness. Thus, I have spent a good amount of the past four years recovering from this infection. Knowledge has become my narcotic, taken by reading.

I feel happy writing this blog for a few reasons. First, it marks the 100th blog milestone of my journey. It was three years ago when I started to share stories from my real life with a proposition: This is who I am. This is my life. This is what I went through. And maybe you can learn something from it.

Second, I published a blog titled “400,000 Pages in Baghdad” last December about my mental journey of reading 100 books in 2014.  At the end of that year, I recommended one book. I selected only ONE in the hope of increasing the level of awareness – especially with Americans- about some issues that are near and dear to my heart.

I would like to repeat that this year perhaps begin a tradition of sharing my selection for the book of the year. I couldn’t read 100 books though, not this year, I read only 63, because I took two one-month vacations to visit Malta and Italy. Those vacations left me with ten months to read. Yes, I do have a full time job, and I am a dedicated gym attendee.

But before sharing my recommendation for this year, I would like in the next few paragraphs to explain how I select the books.

My primary source is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I try religiously to also read books recommended or mentioned by him. His numinous books should be read many times.

My secondary sources are a few newsletters of authors I follow such as Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, Maria Popova. However, I feel some of their recommendations of books are meant for the privileged rich westerners. Some books are written for a class of people who are abstracted from life’s reality and live in a bubble of their imagination. And when I discover such a book after buying and reading a little bit, I ignore it – just a way of insulting it.

This year I read many great books such as: “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, “Winter is Coming” by Garry Kasparov and “Status Anxiety” by Alain de Botton. But there is only one book at the top of the list. And once again, I feel obligated to increase awareness about an important issue – this time it’s intellectual freedom.

And the book of the year 2015 is Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie

It is a story of a man who lived handcuffed by a Fatwa on one hand and a Jihad on the other. A Fatwa issued by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini for writing his novel “The Satanic Verses”. Joseph Anton expresses an epic battle against the tyranny of the dark ages for his intellectual freedom. He went into hiding from years in fear of being killed by the radical Muslims.

I had been living in Iraq when the controversy started back in 1989. His book was banned across the Arab world, Iran, India and a few other countries. The most interesting part of his story is how America, the United Kingdom, and Europe dithered and cried foul against Iran for his right as a British citizen to publish a novel on that subject.

Thanks to the invention of the Internet and the e-book technology that has no borders, 27 years later, I am reading his novel in Iraq. I hope they publish a graphic novel or produce a movie version. I will support such a project on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter with alacrity.

I have great admiration for people like Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Kurt Westergaard, and Geert Wilders. Their names will go down in history for their stands on intellectual freedom.

I hope my recommendation for the Salman Rushdie memoir this year will encourage people to read more about our present day heroes.​

Lastly, I train every day to resist the “busy-ness” syndrome of excessive socializing and the temptations of Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix.

For those who are interested to see the list of all the books I read, everything is on the Pinterest 2015 Books board. Whenever possible, I included who recommended it.

I invite you to read “400,000 Pages in Baghdad” and check my recommendation for last year. And Between Baghdad and Baghdaddys…a drunken man prayer

 

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The Birth of Coffee Shop Politics

* 2 min

This true story gave birth to my political passion. The event was seared into my memory back in the 80s, when I was still in Basrah, I remember my family and I were sleeping on the roof of our house.  It was common practice for Iraqis to sleep on the roofs of their houses when the electricity went off.  I remember on one of those dark nights, my father lost his temper and started to curse Saddam loudly so that all the neighbors could hear.  Frantic, my mother summoned me and my sisters into the car and drove us off to my grandmother’s house, fearful that one of our neighbors might report the incident to Saddam’s intelligence office.  The consequences of such defection would have resulted in my father being executed and my family suffering for the rest of our lives.  Fortunately, that did not happen, but we lived under constant fear of openly expressing our political opinions in coffee shops and our discontent with a multitude of political decisions in Iraq.

This single event is at the root of my motivation to observe, understand and write about political issues. 

coffeeshop

I will NOT live under the same fear in America.  As an American, I have Freedom of Speech, and I will continue to express my likes and dislikes of American Foreign Policy.  I will be an advocate for the policy makers when I believe they are correct, and I will criticize them when I feel they are wrong.  I will express the Iraqi sociopolitical voice about America.

Today, I am pleased to announce the birth of my new blog – Coffee Shop Politics.  I have decided to relocate my political editorials to this new domain, CoffeeshopPolitics.com.  I did this for two main reasons.  One, I think politics, especially American Foreign Policy, generates a lot of buzz.  A standalone political blog may interest many additional readers and can inspire ongoing forums and discussions on a variety of issues. Two, as many of you know, I have written about several other topics that don’t have anything to do with politics. By separating the political blogs, I will increase the focus on political topics and not dilute the content in amalgam with other topics.

Coffee Shop Politics will be my new virtual podium, through which I plan to share my views on a variety of political topics, such as the rights of Christians to exist in the Middle East, American Foreign Policy in Iraq, ( for example, I still blame the American administration for letting the Iraq-Iran war drag on for eight miserable years) and my political book reviews, among others.

As a naturalized American, I will do my best to articulate my point of view for the benefit of the American public, and offer ground up alternative views to policymakers.

Through my original blog, Nninoss.com, I will continue to document different aspects of my life, such as my thoughts, my milestones, my worldly excursions, and more.  Thank you for joining me in my journey to express everything that is important to me.

My dad is on the path of old age at 75 now. He still asks me about Iraq every single time I call home. I believe he is hoping that one day Iraqi with its oil will turn like Dubai. Still remembering that screaming politically oppressed voice of my dad on roof of our house, I dedicate this website for him.

And now, I invite you to visit CoffeeshopPolitics.com to check it out for yourself; and if you have time, maybe read some of the previous political blogs I wrote.

 

The curse of a dream job

*2 min bold reading

I turned 39 this year. I should be cautious and selective for what I do next. At this age, I must stay wise because making mistakes now can be very costly. In the coming years of my life, I wish to fulfill many goals and desires, yet I find myself hesitant to embark on these new ideas and journeys because there is always an element of uncertainty in challenging the unknown. When I should work on being prepared, I can’t help but to sometimes feel insecure.

What I do now is and has always been a dream job for me – toiling away on the front lines of American Foreign Policy. I love what I do! Sometimes I feel the thrill of pride running through me as I pass under the America flag, realizing that I myself am a part (albeit a minor one) of this vast and magnificently impactful work of the United State of America in Iraq.

The gravity of a good job has pulled me back to the Earth and slowed me. I cannot believe how quickly four years have passed, and I am still in the same place. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it. I’ve made so many sacrifices. I am bereaved from my loved ones. I have missed countless occasions and holidays. I have grown apart from my family. And worst of all, I have become desensitized to death. Is it really possible that a dream job can actually feel like a curse at the same time? Has all this time been wasted?

But then, I hear about some of my friends who went back to America and opened up businesses. Or one friend who became a senator; or some friends who lost their money and came back. Or some got divorced and came back. There is this theory of relativity that makes comparing my situation to others’ situations unavoidable. When I visit America, I notice that everyone has their own stresses and inner demons that make them question their own situations, and that’s when I stop to feel so bad and uncertain about my own job. On the contrary, it convinces me more to stay at this job, despite the sacrifices I have to make.

I have grown accustomed to my job and am very comfortable with this lifestyle, so naturally the idea of change is a bit daunting. I demur every time I think I need to apply for jobs and go through interviews, take exams, or even pay for more certifications.

Maybe I have become institutionalized in Iraq. I am dependent on a big income. I am enjoying a unique job that requires a very select skill set that I have and has become easier over time. I can afford the opportunity to travel wherever I want to in this world. And I get free yummy food on a daily basis. If I were to leave this job, I would need to change my way of life, and that’s when being 39 makes change tougher to swallow.

But wisdom and experience tell me that there is no way to stop change from coming. Albert Einstein said, “Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” The truth is I don’t know what to do next. All I know is that whatever that next step is will have the potential to be more rewarding than what I do now. And my curiosity has allowed me to start with reading.

Book Covers

In the past few years, I have started to read voraciously, 400,000 pages in Baghdad. The hot, dry desert and constant Iraqi wars can be devastating on the mind and make you thirsty for some type of intellectual stimulation to make you feel human again. But I have enrolled at the University of Life at amazon.com and the books have quenched my thirst. My boundless curiosity has led me on a relentless pursuit over the past four years to read all kinds of books that have made words my most meaningful treasures.

Books and stories are my escape. They are my comfort. They inspire me. I learned on the shoulders of giants of Amazon’s many things…

And living inspired has opened my eyes to countless goals I can envision in my mind. Creating a successful startup business? Traveling? Reading? Working out? Writing my own book?

Perhaps I am living with the curse of wanting it all.

But instead of viewing this as a curse, I am going to view this as an opportunity, as a challenge to figure out how to effectively combine and intertwine them all. I know what my passions are. And what my insatiable desires are.

There are many forks in the road that lies ahead, and I really don’t know which path I will follow. But what I do know is this: “Let things come to me” – the doors to the right paths will open.

 

 

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