Monthly Archives: October 2011

Occupy Chinese Wall Street

Does anyone ever think about the power that comes with Wall Street?

We are the center of the financial universe and money flows into our country. The dollar is the standard by which everyone else values their currency. Millions upon millions of jobs are created by more than just the big investment banks, but also the small businesses that rarely face a credit crunch.

Nearly every person in this country can get a quick $20k to start a business, whether from a bank or through a credit card.

So, why do the Occupy Wall Street protesters want to put a monkey wrench in the works? Would they rather it be in China?

Perhaps they blame Wall Street for the recession or the bailouts.

Let’s start with the bailouts. There were two of them, one for Detroit and one for Wall Street. The one for the automakers cost us $14 billion on an $80 billion loan bailout, while TARP cost us $20 billion on $432 billion in loans.

That’s a 17.5% default rate for Detroit compared to a 4.6% default rate for Wall Street, and the TARP number is expected to go lower as more money is paid back. That $14 billion automaker loss it’s already on the books.

Further, the Wall Street banks have already paid their loans back, it’s the small community banks across the country who are defaulting.

The main reason they are defaulting: bad home loans.

Which brings up an interesting conundrum. Non-Wall Street banks taking our tax money. People taking on bad mortgages and government regulators performing a classic disappearing act.

Should we think twice about blaming Wall Street?

At the very least take responsibility for our own bad mortgages and elected officials.

You definitely won’t find me out protesting Wall Street — I would feel too guilty as I have an “easy mortgage” that I am underwater on.

I like having my country as the financial power in the world and all the money and jobs that go along with it. Not to mention that it’s better than it being in China or Germany.

Plus, I have work to do. I can’t sit around all day and be angry at other people…

[photo: blaisone-crowds / david shankbone-socialist]

How to win the zombie apocalypse

Zombie man costume

The zombie apocalypse has arrived. Your neighbors are creeping after you and the world is facing its most terrifying disease. Everything is coming to an end. Here is how to not only survive but win.

First thing first, this is a war, it’s the zombies vs the living. We must act appropriately. I’m talking daily training with push-ups, discipline, and combat practice. The good news is that we have all the advantages, we are faster, smarter, and stronger. Plus, we can form groups that multiply our abilities.

Step 1 – Join Steve’s Army

I like to think of myself as a master tactician and solid leader. I will be leading this force and we will not hide from the zombies. Every day we will kill several of them. All are welcome to join the army, men, women, and children. With the condition that you accept my command and discipline.

Step 2 – Killing the Zombies

The two most important elements of a zombie war are intelligence and weapons.

For intelligence, I’m not talking about IQ but knowledge of the zombies. How many are they, where are they, what are the best locations to attack from. We want to be offensive as well as defensive and will win through superior tactics.

This is especially important because unlike most wars losing a soldier is a double loss. Our fighter joins the enemy as zombie.

We will spend a majority of our time patrolling, creating maps, working out communication channels, and more. Like Sun Tzu said, “every battle is won before it is ever fought.

Ideally we will have a doctor, scientist, or researcher among us who can help us understand the zombie. Like this fellow:

For weapons, we need to consider our enemy. In the show, The Walking Dead, firing a gun makes a loud noise and attracts more zombies. This makes firearms only ideal for certain situations. Used only as a last resort or when you want to attract the zombies for a killfest.

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Frozen Yogurt: how healthy is it?

The frozen yogurt craze is upon us and competing with all those cupcake shops (see Paris Hilton). While most stores are serving up liquid sugar a few of them are differentiating by promoting their health value. Things like calcium, vitamin C, and the chemistry sounding ‘live and active cultures’, also known as probiotic.

“At Red Mango, we know a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet go hand in hand. That’s why we’re proud to tell you about all the good things we’re made of. Starting with the most important part of any self-respecting yogurt: live and active cultures.”

While I do enjoy Red Mango as my favorite yogurt joint, I couldn’t take their bold claim on face value. A little research reveals a strange list of health benefits. Here is what the live and active cultures may help:

  • Treat diarrhea
  • Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
  • Treat irritable bowel syndrome
  • Reduce bladder cancer recurrence
  • Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
  • Prevent and treat eczema in children
  • Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu

Much of this is based on a growing number of studies that support these claims, though, there are many more that prove nothing. I was also surprised by the amount of studies trying to prove basic things like, can bacteria survive the stomach.

When it comes to the more important health claims like:

  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Preventing cavities
  • Strengthening the immune system

The evidence is much more sparse. This New York Times has an article looking into the health claims of probiotics and WebMD has one discussing a lawsuit involving false health claims by Dannon.

It is interesting to note that all yogurt has live and active cultures at some point. Most are killed in the creation of the consumer product, either through warming or just plain not caring if they survive. The companies making the claim about live and active are the ones pioneering methods that allow them to survive freezing, shipping, and all that.

Next, is the nutritional elements of FroYo, which include varying amounts of:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Calcium
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamins C, B6, &  B12

The amount of each depends on the original quality of the milk used and the amount of sugar added. Per serving, frozen yogurt contains as much sugar, or more, as a can of soda. You can bet that a lot of the health benefits are wiped away with too much sugar, though I was not able to find a study proving that.

Sugar loaded frozen yogurt

Here is the nutritional information for the original flavor from my two favorite companies, RedMango and PinkBerry:

Click to view full size.

Conclusion, if you take away the spoonfuls of sugar then frozen yogurt appears to confer several benefits. This includes a grouping of vitamins and calcium, both of which are often lacking in our diet. The extra intestinal benefits also show promise, especially if you are having trouble staying regular.

The quality of the ingredients is the dark horse. It is easy to compare general research studies and nutritional information, but without knowing a company’s commitment to quality we are rolling the dice. The profit margins in this business are tough and many companies may be buying the cheapest milk they can find and then adding in sugar to cover the difference.

So far RedMango is the only company marketing themselves with a claim in this general direction, “all natural”, but that is still a far cry from local, humane, and antibiotic-free.

In the end, it may just be best to make your own frozen yogurt with quality ingredients and an ice cream maker, like the picture below.

[photos: pressroom-paris hilton // boingr-swirl // thebittenword.com-strawberry]

Hollywood History: A visit to the American Film Institute

We took a trip into the Hollywood Hills to find a rare copy of the original screenplay for A Few Good Men. A favorite film of ours written by the legendary Aaron Sorkin. Rumor has it that the American Film Institute (AFI) has over 5,000 scripts in physical form and not available online.

Our directions took us in the wrong direction and we ended up among the mansions of the Hills overlooking the Institute. As we backtracked down the steep winding roads Amy kept saying “that looks familiar…who do you think lives here?”.

A quick turn down Los Feliz Blvd and we were in, staring at the old Warner Bros. Building and a beautiful campus of trees, walkways, and high-tech equipment.

Old Warner Bros Building

You see the AFI is in part a learning institution offering a 2-year Master of Fine Arts in all the vital filmmaking disciplines: directing, screenwriting, producing, editing, cinematography, and production design.

At the top of the campus sits the Louis B. Mayer Library with a collection 10,000 books, 1,600 transcripts, the previously mentioned scripts, and, my favorite, the 30+ industry periodicals like THR and Variety.

In the library, Amy nestled into an armchair after securing the Sorkin screenplay and I browsed around. It was like Hollywood heaven or more exactly the “Movie” section at Barnes and Noble, but with exotic and rare books, display cases, and that old dustiness of books.

Eventually I got that feeling like I was in the center of the movie business and settled down to catch up on my daily Variety gossip and weekly THR news.

The AFI is one of those rare institutions created by an act of Congress in 1967 and receiving its initial funding, $1.3 million, from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In that capacity its first role was to serve up films for preservation to the Library of Congress, which it has done with over 20,000 titles covering 1893 to the present day.

The second was to bring “together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th century art form as their life’s work,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the legislation that created AFI.

Since then the Institute has grown dramatically with an annual budget of $24 million and assets over $30 million. It has established well-known programs such as the AFI 100 Years series where they document the best of 100 years in movies. Covering topics like the 100 best movie quotes, 100 best villains, and the 100 best movie songs.

Then there are the two film festivals, the AFI Fest in Los Angeles and SilverDocs hosted in the AFI Silver Theater in Washington DC.

AFI's Silver Theater in DC

As we were leaving, feeling giddy with all this Hollywood romance, we noticed the wide variety of people hanging out around the campus. The diversity was incredible and probably due in part to two of AFI’s best programs the Catalyst Workshop, designed to bring experts in Science and Engineering into screenwriting, and the Directing Workshop for Women, both desperately needed in the industry.

It was a great experience for us and we definitely recommend it the next time you are in Los Angeles. Oh, and make sure to cap off the trip by visiting one of the local restaurants because you will certainly be dining with filmmakers.

[photos: randomduck-silver, Marcus Vegas-hollywood sign]

Create a Facebook Page for your pet (like Mark Zuckerberg)

At the last big Facebook conference Mark Zuckerberg and SNL comedian Andy Samberg kept talking about Beast, Mark’s new dog. They would show a Facebook Page with all these photos, comments, and fans.

Which got me thinking that if Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, can have a page for his dog…then so can I!

I have been hoping for a way to bring my puppy into the social network, after all, my parents and friends from birth are on it. Why not our pets?

In four easy steps we can set-up a Facebook Page for your pet and have it look professional, just like Mark Zuckerberg’s. All you will need is some basic information and a few pictures. Let’s get started.

Step 1 – Create a Page

Choose what type of page you want. For your pet, start with “Artist, Band, or Public Figure,” then for your category choose ‘public figure’ and add the name of your pet.

Step 2 – Edit Info

After creating your page there will be a wizard but I suggest skipping it. After that you will be on your main page, click on “Info” on the left side menu. Then click “Edit Info,” located towards the top/middle.

From here you have a wide range of options, but if you want to follow Mark Zuckerberg then only fill out these:

  • Location
  • Affiliation
  • Birthday
  • Biography
  • Gender
  • Personal Interests
  • Website

*Note: you will need to wait a while or get 25 fans to choose a username. This is important because it also becomes your website URL (facebook.com/beast.the.dog). So start thinking of the username you want (I chose facebook.com/fuzzy.the.dog).

Once completed, hit “Save Changes,” (located at bottom) and then “View Page” (located at top right).

Step 3 – Add Photos

Mark has over 60 photos of Beast. I have twelve. You will need six to get started. Five of them for the photo bar at the top of your page and one for a profile picture.

Get your photos on your computer and then click “Photos” on the left menu, and then click “Upload Photos”.

You can select multiple photos at a time. Try to upload all six at once. While they are uploading add a name for this “album” like profile pics or getting started.

Once they are uploaded you can add descriptions and names to each photo. Hit “Save” and then “Publish” to finish the process.

Now, you are looking at all your photos in your album. Click on the photo you want as your profile picture for your pet. Scroll down towards the right and click on “Make Profile Picture for Page”.

Adjust the cropping and hit “Done Cropping”.

Good job! Now your page should be nearly complete and looking good:

Step 4 – Add Owners

From main view of your page go to the right menu where it says “Admins” and click “See All”. You will already be listed but you can add your partner, spouse, children, etc.

Once you add in the admins and verify everything, go to the menu on the left side and click “Featured”. Click on the box that says “Add Featured Page Owners”. Check all the boxes, hit save, and then on the top right-click “View Page”.

On the left menu you will now see the “Page Owners”, a great way to bring the whole family onto the page.

Done!

Voilà!

You now have a page for your pet. Let all your friends know so they can become a fan/like. Keep adding photos, share some stories, and enjoy having your pet on Facebook.

For more help and info check out the one I created: Fuzzy.the.Dog

Go local: an explanation of foodsheds

With all this talk about eating local and counting miles I thought it would be good to explain what it really means. The foundation for local eating starts with a foodshed.

Foodshed: a region or area from which a population draws its food.

The typical limit on these regions is 100 miles. Draw a 100-mile circle around where you live and that is your foodshed.

In economic terms this is ideal distance a farmer, or her goods, can travel to reach a market. That way it arrives on your plate as fresh, ripe, and nutritious as it can be.

Go outside of this limit and there is an increasing reliance on fossil fuels and a decreasing quality of the food.

For those concerned about pollution, global warming, or oil-addiction these “food miles” are a cause for concern. Farmers face similar concerns, albeit from the other side, with a rising cost of gas and oil-based fertilizers that narrow their profits.

Still for others the “go local” movement represents a desire to get the very best food they can find, and that is the fundamental reason for foodsheds.

I’ve tried to document what happens to our health with the advent of low quality foodour acceptance of it, and the difference in nutritional content.

These rings of farmland surrounding our communities represent the ideal of sustainable living. Where the countryside is not poverty-stricken, but instead a vibrant economic sector known as much for its wineries and ‘farm-days’ as it is for fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Even more these areas are often recession proof as evidenced by their continual rapid growth during the past half-decade.

It is for all these reasons that the locavore movement is popular and gaining momentum, there is something in it for everyone. Even the beefiest of meat eaters.

For further reference I’ve pulled together several maps of America’s foodsheds. Take a look.

san francisco california foodshed map 100 mile local locavore
Click for a larger image.

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Sex In The Cloud: An Interview with Sex Blogger & Professor, Stef Woods

With websites like exRATED (http://exrated.com) popping up, allowing people to review their exes and aiming to be the ultimate Yelp for those looking for insights on potential romantic partners, and Facebook algorithms that can determine your sexual orientation without you indicating what it is, and increasingly more of our personal and private information being posted online, leading to sometimes embarrassing, if not life-altering consequences, a historically behind-closed-doors activity is now evolving to a more “out there” experience and forever changing how we view and approach sex.

I caught up with my friend Stef Woods, attorney, sex and relationships blogger, and professor of ‘Activism and Social Media‘ at American University to discuss the topic.

When I asked her what trends she’s noticing online with regard to sex and sexuality, here’s what she had to say:

 Interesting question. The huge growth in social media has led to a new sexual revolution of sorts. People now obtain much of their sex education from the Internet. The majority of sexual health and entertainment purchases are done online. And, the more that women and men write about sexuality, sexual health and sex toys online, the more that sex is normalized. Women can learn about sex during menopause or how to achieve their first vaginal orgasm. A gay teen can see a video, encouraging him to stay strong because it does get better. A couple can shop for their first toy together. Planned Parenthood has even implemented pilot programs that allow people to text and IM staff for answers regarding STIs, pregnancy, contraception and AIDS.

However, the combination of social media and sex can also lead to public scandal and private crisis. Would Weiner have lost his position without Twitter? Would the world have known the extent of Tiger Woods‘ indiscretions without social media? Would Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi still be alive if they hadn’t been subjected to cyber-bullying? Has social media increased the opportunities for people to engage in emotional and sexual affairs?

I personally believe that “sex in the cloud” is forcing us to deal and address sex in a more open and transparent manner, and that this can only be a good thing. I don’t believe AIDS would have declined as sharply as it did in the United States without the education and awareness the internet and email provides.

On the flip side, change can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially around a topic as sensitive as sex. I can’t even tweet about tampons without eliciting vehement commentary from a handful of men.

Which is why people like Stef, who is trailblazing a path to a more accepting, compassionate and informed sexual society, are so necessary — and impressive. It’s tough enough to talk about and sometimes even have sex in the comfort of your own home.  But doing it for all the world to hear and see, and having it captured in the cloud indefinitely — it’s a whole new ballgame.

*Stef Woods is a professor at American University, attorney, sexuality educator, writer, and women’s health advocate. She writes about relationships, sexual health, breast cancer, and dating on her blog, City Girl’s Blog. Next semester she will be teaching ‘Sexuality and Social Media.’

Sex In The Cloud: An Interview with Sex Blogger & Professor, Stef Woods

With websites like exRATED (http://exrated.com) popping up, allowing people to review their exes and aiming to be the ultimate Yelp for those looking for insights on potential romantic partners, and Facebook algorithms that can determine your sexual orientation without you indicating what it is, and increasingly more of our personal and private information being posted online, leading to sometimes embarrassing, if not life-altering consequences, a historically behind-closed-doors activity is now evolving to a more “out there” experience and forever changing how we view and approach sex.

I caught up with my friend Stef Woods, attorney, sex and relationships blogger, and professor of ‘Activism and Social Media‘ at American University to discuss the topic.

When I asked her what trends she’s noticing online with regard to sex and sexuality, here’s what she had to say:

 Interesting question. The huge growth in social media has led to a new sexual revolution of sorts. People now obtain much of their sex education from the Internet. The majority of sexual health and entertainment purchases are done online. And, the more that women and men write about sexuality, sexual health and sex toys online, the more that sex is normalized. Women can learn about sex during menopause or how to achieve their first vaginal orgasm. A gay teen can see a video, encouraging him to stay strong because it does get better. A couple can shop for their first toy together. Planned Parenthood has even implemented pilot programs that allow people to text and IM staff for answers regarding STIs, pregnancy, contraception and AIDS.

However, the combination of social media and sex can also lead to public scandal and private crisis. Would Weiner have lost his position without Twitter? Would the world have known the extent of Tiger Woods‘ indiscretions without social media? Would Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi still be alive if they hadn’t been subjected to cyber-bullying? Has social media increased the opportunities for people to engage in emotional and sexual affairs?

I personally believe that “sex in the cloud” is forcing us to deal and address sex in a more open and transparent manner, and that this can only be a good thing. I don’t believe AIDS would have declined as sharply as it did in the United States without the education and awareness the internet and email provides.

On the flip side, change can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially around a topic as sensitive as sex. I can’t even tweet about tampons without eliciting vehement commentary from a handful of men.

Which is why people like Stef, who is trailblazing a path to a more accepting, compassionate and informed sexual society, are so necessary — and impressive. It’s tough enough to talk about and sometimes even have sex in the comfort of your own home.  But doing it for all the world to hear and see, and having it captured in the cloud indefinitely — it’s a whole new ballgame.

*Stef Woods is a professor at American University, attorney, sexuality educator, writer, and women’s health advocate. She writes about relationships, sexual health, breast cancer, and dating on her blog, City Girl’s Blog. Next semester she will be teaching ‘Sexuality and Social Media.’

My initiation into the African way of life

The Peace Corps Chronicles, Part 2

My Initiation

With the quest for vision underway, it was now time to make action speak louder than words. So, I visited the nearest optometrist which is 70 kilometers from my village. He is a Botswana doctor, currently working abroad, and after discussing my needs, the arrangements were made.

There would be an initial screening free-of-charge and a follow-up examination for those with vision issues. Then we would pull together a plan to fund the glasses they would need. I had good impressions from the doctor and was proud of my bold steps towards solving this problem.

Working as a volunteer in Africa, my mindset and expectations have changed since leaving the States. My days here can be life-affirming and welcoming but then there is always another side. This is the part where work doesn’t get done how you want it or the pace of progress slowly drips. This is neither an accusation nor a complaint but rather it’s a way of describing life in another country.

Foreigners coming to work abroad often have to readjust their mentalities coming from a fast-paced, insanely competitive homeland. But as Namibia, and let me say Africa, can attest to, life isn’t always about success but resilience.

This is one of many things I’ve learned in that Africa can teach you lessons you thought you already knew. Lessons that make you realize what can be important in life.

Now, back to the story, I left the doctor, who was seemingly reliable and trustworthy, and I proceeded to arrange with the school for the upcoming visits. You can probably sense my foreboding as the path to your destination always has curves, bump, and obstacles.

Otherwise, things will be too easy and few lessons learned. Unbeknownst to me, the future plans will need a slight adjustment…

The Peace Corps Chronicles are written by Spencer Mandzik who joined the Corps in Feb 2010 as a volunteer in Namibia, Africa. He is living with a local family and learning to speak the language of Oshiwambo. These are his stories as he follow’s John F. Kennedy’s dream to serve our country “in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.”

Read Part 1 – A quest for vision in Namibia

That's Namibia in red.