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Monday, November 21, 2011

UC Davis Controversy

Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers.

So I'm sure many of you have heard about the incident that occurred at The University of California, Davis on November 18th. The video went viral on the internet after the incident occurred. Students at the college, in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests going on around the country, were also protesting tuition hikes at the college and another incident of alleged police brutality that had occurred at the University of California, Berkeley on November 9th. Students had set up tents on the campus grounds during the protests, against campus policy. This is when the UC Chancellor Linda Katehi called in armed campus police officers.

Which is the first problem. After reading faculty member Nathan Brown's letter-which was extremely well-written, by the way-I was moved. There are multiple videos of this incident, and the actions of these officers is indefensible and heinous. Two of the officers have been suspended to this point, which is a good start, but there should be more to come, and I hope public pressure makes it so. Those who wield authority like these cops do and then exercise unnecessary power by spraying chemicals into the face of peaceful protesters as casually as someone waters their lawn need to be reevaluated. Immediately. 11 protesters had to receive medical treatment from this. Two were hospitalized. This wasn't some harmless slip.

The UC Davis Police Chief was also put on leave two days after the incident. After defending the officers in question. Annette Spicuzza, the chief, claimed that the officers had been circled and tried to leave but could not. Bullshit. Pure bullshit. I realize you have to defend your own, but do it without telling outright lies. Those officers could have left at any point. They're in riot helmets, for god's sake. Those kids were sitting, passively, with their arms linked. They could have walked around them. They could have disassembled the tents and left. None of this was warranted. One of the students was even shown coughing up blood after pepper spray was forced down his throat when he tried to close his eyes.

In the letter I referenced earlier from faculty member Nathan Brown, he calls for the immediate resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. I applaud him fully for this. Mrs. Katehi, you need to go. In a statement, Mrs. Katehi said that ,"she takes full responsibility for the incident." But guess what? She's not resigning. Big surprise. Mrs. Katehi is going to fight like hell to hang on to that $400,000+ salary.

Mrs. Katehi, you clearly do not hold the opinion that the Davis Faculty Association holds, or that many of the students hold. Too bad. You are unfit to do your job. For the chancellor of a university that claims to uphold Constitutional rights, your actions imply that you do nothing but the opposite. You do not support free speech or the right to protest. Free speech and protest do not only apply for things you agree with and support, but for all things. Thus why America is great. Anyone has the right to voice their opinion and peacefully assemble, no matter how wrong or misinformed their opinion is. You took away these fundamental rights in the worst way, by calling in armed police to a peaceful student protest on your university. You are unfit to do your job and clearly do not hold the moral character needed for a university administrator. You hold up the Constitution and declare your praise and support. But when it comes right down to it, you do nothing but piss on it, to be frank. As the protesters said to the cops that day, I say to you. Shame on you.

Good article on tips on how to stay healthy before flying.

Monday, November 14, 2011

5 seafoods to avoid due to contaminants.

Happiness. You Know It Don't Come Easy.

I'm writing today because I've noticed a lot of frustration from my generation. Frustration with the system. Frustration with parents. Frustration with government, with school, with work. I'm going to try to convince you to turn this frustration into desire. Into motivation.

Things have changed. When we were young, (and this is true in my case especially) my parents hammered into my head that I have to go to college to be successful. Now, successful they don't define as happy, sadly. They define it as being "comfortable." From now on, I'll refer to it as settling. Because that's exactly what it is. It's not that my parents don't care about me. It's not that they don't want me to be happy. That's not it at all. They just want me to go to college, get a decent job, make decent money, and settle down with a wife and two kids and a white picket fence around a decent house. Maybe that's exaggerated, but you get the idea. My question is...why is this what we're shooting for? I understand some people want security. Some people need security, more precisely. And some need comfort. That's fine. But for all too many in my generation, I think the sad reality is that you end up going to college for some degree you hate or don't even want to be in to get a job that doesn't fulfill you, for a decent paycheck at the end of the week.

Why has this become the new norm? I certainly hope things don't continue in this fashion. The reality is, if you don't become that dream, it's entirely okay. If you make enough so that you're only comfortable but you end up doing something you really love, it's okay. The cliche is: If you love what you do, you won't work a day in your life. It's cliche, but it's absolutely true.

We were force-fed this idea that we need to go to college to get a job, and now the sad part is, since everyone went to college, college degrees aren't all that anymore. When our parents were getting thinking about work, a college degree DID make a huge difference. In 1950, less than 10% of adults had bachelor's degrees. People were less mobile then, and more likely to stay in the town which they were born. That meant more limited options. So a bachelor's degree put you ahead.

Today, your $30,000-$100,000 bachelor's degree doesn't guarantee you anything in your field after you get out. Possibly ever. And now 40% of people with degrees now end up settling for a job that requires no degree at all. 

The good news? The world has changed. The world has globalized. This may not be good for our country, as manufacturing has been moved out to any other country where wages are cheaper, but it can be good for you. Which means it could eventually be good for our country. You see, it's easier to learn something now if you want to. It's easier to invest in a skill. A skill that makes you very appealing to people. The internet and social media are incredible tools that were simply handed to our generation, the only thing you have to figure out is how to use them correctly. Since the world is becoming interconnected in so many fashions, it's not that tough to put yourself out on the marketplace anymore. You can advertise yourself from the comfort of your computer, on YOUR time schedule. And if you can't help someone who needs some work done, maybe you know someone who can help. Who has skills in that area. Since you're constantly getting socially connected with other people all across the country and the world, you can be seen more of a producer, as a person who gets things done-not just someone who takes what they can get.

So you may be thinking, "But my skill has nothing to do with technology." So what? Let's say you're an auto mechanic. The internet is free advertising for your mechanic shop. Let's say you set up a Twitter account where you advertise some deals for your shop occasionally. (Shameless plug: follow me on Twitter!) Then you set up a Facebook where people can connect to you and ask you questions through your Facebook. You post links on Reddit and Digg to these accounts. All these means of social media go to benefit YOU. Maybe it doesn't happen right away, but once people find out that you do good work, your skill benefits them, etc. then they will do the work for you...simply by sharing through their walls, or retweeting your advertisement, or upvoting whatever you have to say on Reddit. This all goes to help you.

So don't be headstrong about charging into a college degree. Most parents will frown when I say this, but school isn't for everyone. Some people have plenty to offer without investing $100,000 in some papers that they might never have a job for. Read books. Get connected. Nurture a skill, and make yourself available. And don't be frustrated. Because you can always change, and you can always make a change. Why not start today?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pigeons have no problem hitchiking a ride on the subway.
Those microwave safe containers are safe for your microwave...but not necessarily for you.

The Grizzly Man Diaries

The Grizzly Man Diaries-Video

I got the opportunity to see "The Grizzly Man Diaries." I saw the 2005 documentary "The Grizzly Man," a while ago and I thought it was really well done. The documentary captures how Treadwell spent his life with grizzly bears for a third of the year for 13 years in Katmai National Park in Alaska. The bears were everything to Treadwell, and he really considered them human. Treadwell camped out in the park, and captured almost everything he experienced through video, photo, or recording it in his journal.

The documentary ends after explaining how Treadwell came to a brutal death at the hands (or claws, actually) of the very animal he had devoted his life to. A savage grizzly. "The Grizzly Man Diaries" does a great job of filling in the rest of the story.

While the documentary is a great recap of Treadwell and his endeavors, the Diaries is everything that's missing. You truly get a glimpse into how much the bears meant to Treadwell. Not only that, but the footage he gets is unreal. As you watch, you can't help but notice the massive powers of the bears that he came to love. In various instances, Treadwell comes close to a dangerous encounter with grizzly bears, but softly talks to them, and they end up leaving him alone. Treadwell, after this had happened a few times, was now convinced and overconfident in his abilities. He thought the bears loved him and cherished him, as he did them. He personified them. This was the mistake that cost him his life.

The Diaries is all the unseen footage no one ever saw that Treadwell took while living at Katmai. It also shares his journal entries, that he kept frequently while living with the bears. It truly is a remarkable thing to view, and especially after you take into account how much time Treadwell spent there, and how absolutely close and unafraid he was of the bears.

The footage alone is enough to make you surprised. On numerous accounts, Treadwell gets amazing shots of the bears fishing for salmon as they swim upstream to spawn. Time after time, the bears pull a champion fish out of the water, to tear it apart with their teeth and claws. Treadwell captures on film multiple fights between bears, both play wrestling and in a show of dominance, or for a potential mate. He captures the bears mating, and an intimate moment between a mom and her cubs as she nurses them.

All this is underscored by the fact that Treadwell, while he knew so much about the bears, seemed to dismiss how dangerous they were, and that they would not hurt HIM. Sadly, after his girlfriend Amie came to visit him in his last year at the park, a bear attacked and killed both of them. The entire thing is captured on audio, as one of them started recording before the bear struck, thinking that it would be a good opportunity for film.

The eerie thing when you watch the documentary is how Treadwell seems to note that his own demise is imminent. While never saying it outright, he seems perfectly comfortable with the fact that he would one day die because of a bear. This alone is shocking. Treadwell makes multiple references both on camera and in his journal that the bears could kill him easily and acts like he almost EXPECTS it.

I do recommend watching it, as it was very entertaining, educational, informative, and just an amazing sight.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Legacy to End in Ruins (And Rightfully So): The Debacle at Penn State

So the indictment is in. Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator of multiple winning teams under legendary head coach Joe Paterno (JoePa), was indicted by a grand jury earlier today for sexual assault of minors, in multiple cases. Sandusky started a charity while coached, called "Second Mile", which was dedicated to helping children with absent or dysfunctional families. Second Mile raises millions of dollars through fundraisers for these kids, and the man who was running it, Sandusky, was essentially making it easier for himself to prey on innocent children through a good cause. Sandusky, who was no longer coaching after 1999 because he was dismissed by Paterno, still held full emeritus status at the university with access to almost all the facilities, a parking pass, and numerous other perks. Sandusky even still held an office there, and was present up until even last week.

The details of this case, after reading the grand jury case report through the Washington Post (Warning: some details are graphic) are, to say the least disturbing. I felt physically sick at points when reading the report and some of the details by the victims.

The hard part to swallow of this whole thing is that something very, very wrong was going on with the Penn State football program for around 13 years. Sandusky, a sub-human predatory monster, had been sexually assaulting kids, and had actually been witnessed on more than one occasion by more than one person raping minors, boys who weren't even teens in some cases. People knew this was going on. Paterno himself knew this was going on. It is absolutely mind-boggling to think that someone didn't go to the authorities on this and that it was all kept in house.

"Victim 2" as he is referred to in the report, was witnessed being raped by Sandusky in the shower by a graduate assistant, Mike McQuery, who stopped by the locker room one night and saw what was going on. Sandusky had a history of bringing boys into the showers after he started spending time outside of the charity with some of the children. McQuery clearly saw what was going on and was upset by it. He left, and called his father, unsure of what to do. His father directed him to tell Paterno. Paterno testified that he remembers the call and the report McQuery left him, and that he told the athletic director, Tim Curley, as well as his immediate superior. Curley, who was charged with lying under oath during the trial, claims that he was reported to as there was something going on, but referred to as "mere horseplay."

Lots of question will and should be asked about all of  this. Why did McQuery not do anything to stop what was going on right away? When Sandusky was terminated in 1999 did it have to do with his inappropriate and appalling behavior with kids? If so, why was he still allowed access to the facilities? McQuery was later promoted to a good coaching position in the organization. Was this a reward for his silence in not going to authorities? Why would he even want to stay there after he witnessed such a heinous act, and seeing nothing was being done about it? What did Penn State president Graham Spanier know and when? Spanier signed a "ban" of Sandusky bringing children into the facilities in 2002. How could you sign that ban and not ask why? Where was the follow-up? Why wasn't it enforced, as Sandusky continued bringing kids in after the ban was signed?

So much of this is completely disgusting. For those outside the college football world, Joe Paterno is a true icon. He is probably one of the top ten coaching legends of all time. He's been on the Penn State sideline, leading them for 46 years, the longest tenure of any head coach in FBS history. He holds the record for victories by a head coach in Division I football, and was instrumental in the brand building of Penn State. He was known as a "man of conscience" in the sport, leading a squeaky clean program and making sure his players did their school work and didn't use performance enhancing drugs. Over time, Paterno grew into a legend bigger than the university itself. Joe Paterno IS Penn State.

With that being said, none of it matters. Paterno needs to go, and he needs to go now. He wants to coach Saturday in Penn State's game against Nebraska. Are you kidding me? Paterno was the big man on campus, and he knew what was going on. He found out in '98, and got rid of Sandusky the next year. Related? I think maybe. Why wouldn't Paterno alert authorities? If his inaction led to even one more child being victimized by this monster, then Paterno's ethical and moral conscience is not fit to be a part of any university or lead any program. Paterno is a father himself, as well as a grandfather. How could he even go one day without feeling sick from guilt? He needs to resign. Paterno did what he was supposed to do, and told his superiors. Sometimes, Mr. Paterno, just doing what is necessary legally is not right. Sometimes, you just need to do what is right period. Paterno could have put a stop to this at any time, and he knew the events of what was going on. There was supposed to be a press conference at 12:20 today by Paterno, but Spanier canceled it and said it will not be rescheduled. Which is a shame, because I would have liked to hear the explanation. I was genuinely interested in hearing what he had to say. I don't think it would have changed anything, but maybe there's something we're missing. But now, he's missed his chance.

The bottom line is that the Penn State football program was more concerned with protecting their image than protecting innocent little kids. And for that, shame on all of them. Including you, JoePa. Especially you. This monster was enabled for over 13 years and 8 victims (that we know of, and I'm sure there will be many more) have been robbed of their innocence due to this monster. Paterno and Spanier need to step down, and they need to step down now. And if they don't, the Board of Trustees should remove them. This type of conduct isn't acceptable from anyone, regardless of your legacy. Regardless of how many championships you have won. Regardless of whose reputation it might hurt, or who might lose their jobs. Clean house, and clean house completely.

One has to wonder if this is just a sad progression and development of the era of big-money college football. Where legacy overrules common morals and conscience. I hope that this culture isn't what continues, for it's unacceptable. These heinous acts and the subsequent cover-up are despicable, and I hope any alumni writes the Board of Trustees demanding for action on the parts of Paterno and Spanier, or they will not be receiving any more support from you.

As for Sandusky, I have nothing to say. Should you be found guilty, as I pray you will be, I hope the Pennsylvania Justice System treats you severely and harshly, as you deserve.

To Paterno, I guess the biggest question I have to ask is...was it worth it?

Revised census report reports that poverty rate hits a record 49+ million, a record high.
5 prospects to play Where's Waldo if a potential Where's Waldo movie ever happened. And when I say ever happened, I mean probably will happen soon.
Man sees a unique bird on a lake north of NYC. Is that a...friggin flamingo?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

10 most expensive zip codes in America. 5 located in NY, 4 in California and 1 in NJ. Surprising.
Mark Sanchez of the Jets showing how real football players react to a feint by another player.


So this was the launch trailer for a new game that has come out, "Rocksmith". It came out at the end of last month and me and my friend split the cost and went out and bought it. The retail was $80, so a little bit more than your standard $60 console game, but it also came with the "RealTone Cable", the cord that plugs into your guitar jack and then goes into a USB port on your console.

The concept of the game was simple-Guitar Hero with real guitar. As soon as I heard about the game I was intrigued. After I saw the trailer, I immediately decided I had to buy it. I started getting into guitar a\bout 7 or 8 years ago. My parents and I went to a local Music Den and we picked one out as part of a birthday gift. I ended up getting one of those starter sets they offer for around 200 bucks, and it came with a shitty guitar and a shitty amp and all your basics, cords, strap, etc. About a week after I bought it, I was already becoming disinterested. Playing guitar was not as easy as I thought (or maybe hoped) it'd be. It was TOUGH. Very tough, as a matter of fact. But I could figure out a couple cool beginner riffs (i.e., Smoke on the Water, Iron Man, Whole Lotta Love, Sunshine of Your Love, etc.) and that was basically all I did with it. I'd pluck a couple of those riffs once or twice a week and I'd get to show them to my parents, and that was about it.

I really never got fully interested into learning all about guitar a few years later. After I started becoming more passionate and into music, I had a brief period where I was always with friends who were into guitar. After a while, I started to pick up some things. Guitar Center at this point was running an awesome deal where, if you were a member, you could go pick out any amount of equipment up to $1,000 and not pay a penny on it for over 12 months. Of course, heavy interest kicked in if you didn't pay it off before then, so I made sure I did just that. It was then that I got my first and only prize guitar-a brand new pure white Fender Stratocaster, with a decent Peavey amp and an impressive distortion pedal, as well as some brand new cords and a strap. A couple months later, I actually played a few shows to fill in for an ex-friend's band. The music wasn't anything incredibly complex and I was mostly playing some basic rhythm stuff, but it still made me feel like I was actually doing something.

After my ex-friend and I had a falling out, I put the guitar away for a while. A long while, actually. And when I finally picked it up again, I was pretty much right back where I had started. I remembered a few things here and there, but overall, I had regressed almost completely back to novice level. This was frustrating as all hell, because I actually used to be pretty competent with it.

The friend I split the game with, Jon, and I, had actually been starting to play together for a while before the game was released. He was showing some interest in learning and it had started to get me back into it a little bit. Overall though, improvement was slow, and trudging through basic learning and just trying to put in hours of practice just seemed like too much of a chore.

Enter Rocksmith. Like I said, I thought the concept was brilliant. Now that I've finally put a good 8 hours of gameplay into the game, I have to say, I'm very impressed.

This game will be perfect for any beginning guitarist. Not only do you get to play along with songs, the game also features a "Technique Challenges" mode, where you get to work on certain skills associated with guitar like hammer-ons and pull-offs and harmonics, but also a "Guitarcade", with mini-games that also develop these skills, and where you can work on scales, shifting, and tremolo, among others.

One part that is good, and actually a drawback, of Rocksmith is that the game automatically adapts to your ability. If you nail a particular section of a song, the game pumps it up a little bit. Didn't do so well in the last section? Then the game tones it down. Though this is a really awesome part, this can be frustrating as you don't get to set the difficulty yourself, and some players may find it a tad annoying.

The presentation in the game is really well done. Though they might rethink and reboot the format to present how the player is going to play the notes during songs, overall its really well done. The "venues" and "crowd" are lacking, but these are background aspects to your overall gameplay experience anyway.

All in all, the game is incredible, and I recommend to to people who are finding running through your scales and trying to establish finger dexterity incredibly frustrating. With this game, you're playing a game and learning a skill. You're learning to play guitar, through a game. It's mindblowing.

I've read a couple critics who have questioned whether or not your skill will actually improve, and I will testify that both my friend as well as my skills have improved since we've started playing. He's played a bit more than me already and has improved more so due to that, but I certainly have noticed an improvement with myself as well. Also, I'm no longer frustrated and giving up if I can't figure something out anymore. Because now, it's more of my gamer attitude where I'm like, "Well, I have to beat this part!"

I hope Rocksmith sets a new landscape for learning skills through video games, because I think this a really cool step for games to take, and I'm excited to see what comes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy Movements

I feel like offering an opinion an the "Occupy Wall Street" movements that have now swept across the country like wildfire. What was once just a movement located literally on Wall Street has spread across the country, to numerous cities in America-dubbed "Occupy Oakland", "Occupy L.A.", "Occupy Atlanta", whatever the case may be.

After reading Rich Lowry's editorial in the New York Post, where he makes the case that the movement is primed for violence and it will only get worse, I have to say they are getting a very unfair depiction through most of the mainstream press. While the events of Occupy Oakland were despicable, I do believe the message of the movement was hijacked by violent anarchists and malcontents who saw a great chance to be disruptive and act completely out of line. Starting fires in the street and throwing things at cops is no way to get your message across.

With that being said, I don't believe the movement has ever gotten a fair shake. Since it is (generally) a leftist movement, of course there is a knee-jerk reaction to dismiss the protests by the likes of Fox News and other conservative outlets, but even besides that it seems the main thing you see from the protests are an extreme outlier. While it's easy to categorize them all as communist, lice-ridden, freeloading hippies, let's be careful before we overgeneralize. I believe the majority of this movement is peaceful and has good intentions.

Just like the Tea Party, which was also mocked relentlessly in the media and touted as a bunch of gun-toting, Obama-hating racists, the fact is the majority there too were just concerned Americans, worried about the direction of the country and the country's spending and massive borrowing. All you saw during coverage of Tea Party rallies were a few crazies, holding their signs high, covered in whatever slander happened to be on there. The same thing has happened to the Occupy movement. Signs that read, "Death to Capitalism" scream a communist message that doesn't resonate with the majority of Americans, myself included. You're never going to win me over waving a flag with a hammer and a sickle. But still, isn't the point being missed?

Just like I agreed with the main point of the Tea Party, that government has become oppressive and overly bureaucratic to the average individual and small business, I agree with the Occupy movement's message that this continued influence from the very few obscenely wealthy has corrupted our political process and our politicians. This is one area where we don't have enough government. The government should be there in situations like this to bust up these giant mega mergers and corporations who smother competition and the average American's say in the political process. We need to get the money, the driving force of what leads to these decisions that constantly favor the big over the small, out of American politics. This is the only thing that would bring back capitalism. True capitalism. Not the phony crony capitalism we have now. For capitalism to work and succeed, it is essential to have competition. And giant corporations crush any competition they can as soon as they can, for it impedes on their profits. We have corporate socialism now, and believe me, that is not true capitalism.

Big Anything is good for no one. Especially the average middle class American. Whether that be Big Government or Big Business, it's all turned out bad. We need to put a stop to it. We, the people. When Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech in 1910 he warned the American people about the concentration of wealth in very few hands, and how it would be a great detriment to America and out society. Roosevelt was constantly at war with the tycoons of his day, the J.P. Morgans and the Andrew Carnegies, who he saw as essentially greedy and overbearing, not respecting their workers or their labor, and trying to turn the tables more for themselves. Conservative ideologues would argue these progressive policies kill free market capitalism. Nothing could be further with the truth. And if it's that argument or Teddy Roosevelt, I have no problem standing with Mr. Roosevelt, in fact I take great pride in doing so.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

History-Why it Matters

These are polarizing times for everyone, and it's easy to get caught up in this pessimistic idea that America is in the worst shape it's ever been. But honestly, this is just what happens. The country goes through rough times, and then it has good times. It goes in cycles. But, keeping this in mind, I think it's easy to get overwhelmed by things when we don't learn our history.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that Fewer than half of American eighth graders know the purpose of the Bill of Rights. Not to mention 3/4 high school seniors can't name one power given to Congress by our Constitution. Is this the new norm? Knowing the framework, background and values of your country should be essential to all of us, and we clearly aren't doing a good job in teaching it. For how do you fault someone for not knowing something when they were never taught or even made an effort to be taught it to begin with?

History will preserve the records of wars past and events long gone. But those who have passed and remember and experienced those wars will take with them to their graves something only they remember. The fight against fascism during World War II. Brother shooting brother during the Civil War. Airstrikes scorching Earth in Vietnam.

One day, we too, will be gone from this Earth, and we'll take with us memories of September 11, the tragic event that marks our generation. Will anyone remember at all after we are gone?

It's important for each generation to pass down their history to the next generation, for that is your responsibility. And a little bit of learning and a little bit of remembrance causes us all to stop and say, "Hey, maybe these times aren't so bad." At one point in this country, we were literally killing each other. At another, lines ran entire blocks for people who were waiting for just a piece of bread. And in the 1960's, our cities were literally burning.

So take a moment before you compare our political, social and economic situations now, in 2011, to the end of the country. And remember that we've been through this before. And of course we'll get through it again. And if no one was able to teach you what you should already know, then teach yourself. That's the best way to learn anyway. We shouldn't ever forget everything that's happened before us and the lessons it teaches us and the stories it brings. Not only for ourselves, but for our children and their children. Arming yourself with this information is the most effective weapon against demagogues who would try to redeem the dictators of the past, justify slavery and racial and religious persecution, and make heros of terrorists that threaten us today.

History is not just nostalgia, and it's not just an answer to a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" question. It's what will guide us into the future. So don't be afraid to pick up a history book, and learn from those who have learned before you.