You Either Have Freedom, Or You Don’t.

Last weekend I made myself a really nice grass fed steak dinner and then sat down with a bottle of wine to watch a movie.   I would normally do this with my partner Eric, but since he was working on Saturday I resorted back to a ritual coined in HBO’s Sex and The City as “secret single behavior.”    This is a practice you perform over and over again when no one is around, and cooking myself a really nice dinner is one of those things I love doing… even when alone.    I was really in the mood for the something British, as I often am, and while scrolling through NetFlix I discovered a film called “The Duchess.”   Starring Keira Knightly, this movie chronicles the marriage of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, to her husband William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire.   Early in the film, the Duchess states during a dinner party “One is either free or one is not, the concept of freedom is an absolute.”  This in response to a statement made by one of the Duke’s guests.  It got me thinking… and it’s still working its magic on me days later. 

Who would have thought a movie inspired by Georgiana Cavendish would have such an impact on me?

Some time ago, a young NFL football played named Colin Kaepernick, decided he would make a statement during the playing of the national anthem by kneeling, instead of standing, as is the custom.   According to Mr. Kaepernick, he was doing so to bring attention to the blatant mistreatment of African Americans by police officers across the United States.  Talk about causing a stir… we’re still angry and debating how this should be handled, indeed the President himself took a very vocal stand, calling anyone that took a knee during the anthem “sons of bitches” and suggested they be fired immediately.   When this issue first presented itself my position was pretty clear… there’s a time and a place for everything and protesting our anthem was extremely disrespectful to the many men and woman that died protecting this country… like my Uncle Joey.  

I also questioned the motives of Colin Kaepernick and thought he was probably doing it just for publicity.   I was angered when I saw posters for sale on FaceBook comparing him to Rosa Parks, a hard working woman without millions, standing up not to an angry few, but to an entire nation.  How dare they insult her memory?  As time went by, the issue and scandal continued to grow, so much so that today it’s much bigger than Colin Kaepernick’s actions, it’s about how as a nation we reacted to it.    It’s about whether we want to live in a country where we’re penalized, fired or even harmed for speaking up against something we believe in, even when it means speaking out against a symbol of our democracy.

I’m a critical thinker or at least I try to think of myself as one.    I take people’s opinion into consideration, weigh the facts and then come to my own conclusion about everything from religion to pizza.   I try to be very objective so when this Kaepernick thing created so much attention on the news and social media, I thought at first I was on the right side of the issue.   I figured it was a publicity stunt and he was just making waves so he’d get noticed.    I was also deeply offended at the idea of anyone disrespecting our nation’s anthem or flag.  My Uncle Joey died in World War II fighting for this country and his memory and sacrifice lives on in my heart, even though he was killed three decades before my birth.  I’m all for freedom of speech, but this wasn’t that at all, it was just someone trying to make a name for themselves.    I think what scared me into realizing what was really happening here was when I noticed the village mob mentality the nation was taking.    People were seriously angry and wanting this man to lose his job and career because of something he believed in.   They argued that as a member of the NFL, he couldn’t express his personal opinions on their dime or use airtime for his platform.     The issue grew and grew and suddenly it was about our rights as American’s to voice our opinions about something, especially when it affected us personally.   It wasn’t about kneeling during the anthem, it was about our right to kneel during the anthem.    The rights many died for, the rights we’ve fought so hard to preserve.

Yeah it sounds like I just repeated myself but I really didn’t.    You see many times when we speak of something or we make a statement, we do so with much emotion and little logic.    We have this knee-jerk reaction to go into our own history and past to defend what is being said… our own upbringing, without really thinking of the story itself.    I was so angered that anyone would demonstrate against the symbology my uncle died for, I didn’t stop to think that he didn’t die for the flag, or the anthem, he died for what they represented and that’s what everyone seems to be forgetting.   Even me.  When I was able to breathe, remove myself, take a step back and see the big picture, I realized I was wrong.   Big time.    I had let emotion get the best of me and left logic on the curb with the meter running.    

Watching the Duchess this big light bulb just went off in my head.    As Americans we’re blessed with many freedoms, but they’re not supposed to come with conditions.    We either have freedom of speech or we don’t.    We either have the right to stand up to our government, call them out, or we don’t.     The origins of our very nation date back to people wanting these basic rights so badly they abandoned their own land, crossed an ocean and chose to live very far away from everyone, just to live as they believed they should, without the fear of harm, oppression or prosecution.   Colin Kaepernick declared in his own way that he desires this kind of life too… not to live in fear, and suddenly he’s become the enemy.    

Now, in my head, the entire notion of me not supporting Colin Kaepernick is absurd.  This is exactly what Uncle Joey fought for, the right to speak freely even when it’s inconvenient for others to hear it.    The right to live a life without fearing the very people sworn to protect us.  How dare we turn our backs on this alternate perspective… a man’s disagreement with honoring a flag and the freedom it represents, when so many in our nation aren’t experiencing it?   When the very foundation of our democracy is under attack as we speak and those in power continue deny it?   Where would they have us draw the line?    Should people driving in cars with a flag of another country hanging in the rear-view mirror be arrested?  Isn’t that dishonoring our flag?  By celebrating another?   Should cops be standing by during any playing of the anthem, looking for persons that aren’t standing? What’s the difference between arresting someone for this infraction or ruining their lives by taking their career away?  The outcome is the same isn’t it?   Regardless of his original intentions, this is not just about Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump and the NFL, it’s about all of us.  It’s about either having freedom or not having it.

The next time I hear the national anthem I will stand with pride as I’ve always done.   I will remember the brave men and women that died serving this country, I will remember the sacrifice of those that lived centuries before.    I will also stand in pride for the ability as an American to change my mind about standing.    I will stand in pride and recognize that it is still a choice and not required for fear of losing my job or my life.    The choice that so many around the world still don’t have.    The choice that many in this country are trying to take away.  I will stand because I desire to do so, not because I’m being forced.

Thank you Duchess and my apologies to Colin Kaepernick.

The Lesson iPhones Teach Us

If you find yourself with nothing to do one day, take a little fiber optic field to trip over to ebay and do a search for Commodore 64 computers.   Some of you might not even know what a Commodore is, because by the time you were able to suck your thumb, they were stashed away in your family’s garage or attic, like some heirloom, sharing space with wedding dresses and photo albums.    It’s also quite possible that your parents don’t even know what a Commodore 64 is, since it’s been 35 years when they first appeared on store shelves, being one of the first affordable home computers of their time at around $600.    The 64 doesn’t stand for bit or gigs by the way,  it stands for kilobyte.   To put that in perspective for all the Glee kids out there, it would take over 120 of them to have enough RAM to store an average song from iTunes, or 256,000 of them to have the same memory as a pathetic 16GB iPhone.   Like OMG WTF?  Like, who buys a 16GB iPhone anymore, like whatever.     Yet the most interesting fact about these 35 year old machines with lots of moving buttons and springs on their keyboards, is they still work as good as the day your family brought one home.     Which is why you can still buy one and they’re pretty popular as collectibles.

photo credit – gabtavian1, ebay user

Around the end of the millennia (holy fuck I’m old), I was attending a training class in Melbourne, a racist part of Florida otherwise known as the Space Coast, for a new content management solution we were deploying at work.   During my initial visit I learned that many people there were connected with the aerospace industry in some way or another, which made perfect sense considering their proximity to Kennedy Space Center.    After all, that’s where most of the Space Shuttle missions were launched.   I also learned that Taco Bell in Melbourne closed at 9 PM on a Saturday night and that yes, I do look Latino, so much so that the very smiley and very nice lady at the Deli counter in Winn-Dixie stopped being so nice when she turned and looked at me, angrily asking “can I help you?”   When I took my purchases prepared by racist white lady to the young cashier, I was told in a creepy horror movie sort of way “you’re not from around here are you?”  Okay so I’m losing myself here… where was I before this took a Stephen King turn… oh yes… I also learned that NASA was buying old IBM PC computers on our friend ebay, because they needed the chips for the fleet of aging Space Shuttles.  Yup, they needed spare parts and turns out, computer chips last a pretty darn long time.  

Maybe you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at here, maybe you’re starting to see the pattern.    Or maybe not because you’re texting like five of your friends at the same time, having the typical attention span of anyone born in the last 20 years.   So here’s the deal, your iPhone is made mostly of solid state chips and components, far more advanced than what was made 35 years ago, it’s water and dust resistant, and it should last forever.    Plain and simple.    Yet this morning my two year old iPhone 7s started doing something interesting, adding to a growing list of symptoms that have slowly started to manifest.  The screen goes dark if I’m playing video, turn the phone sideways and touch the screen.   Just one more behavior in a long list of weird shit such as music skipping like an old record player when I’m receiving data or text messages (I wonder which Apple engineer thought of that one), my phone suddenly locking up or not recording audio half the time, or keyboards suddenly going away when I want to input text.   Since we know by my previous examples that chips last forever and technology and devices are only getting better and sturdier, then all of these issues point to software and how the code is being deployed.   Interestingly enough, code doesn’t go bad either…unless intentionally messed with.    

Almost a year ago Apple announced that it was intentionally slowing down phones and that’s the part they actually told us.     They even offered up a wonderful excuse, because of battery life and how they were trying to preserve the phone’s resources.  Yes, they were actually trying to help all of us and we were being such ingrates!  Gasp!  And millions of you fell for this lie, accepted it, and continue to line up in front of Apple stores every day… no doubt why they’ve just become the world’s first trillion dollar company.    Yes a trillion dollars, not even an oil company has done that.    And yet we continue to say “More please, more! When’s the new phone coming out?!? Please I want more digital crack!”   Interestingly enough, according to the International Data Corporation, a market research firm, Android based phones take up over 85 percent of the market.    Wait a second here, how can Apple and iOS be a minority in the market and at the same time be so damn wealthy?     Because we wait in line for hours and pay through the nose for the opportunity to be lied to,  and do it again and again and again.     We buy their phones with planned obsolescence as part of their business model, we buy their music, we accept their repeated privacy violations, all because we want to show everyone else we have one.   And that’s all they need to succeed… our vanity and our desire to belong.   You’re not even paying for quality in this case as you would with some other major purchases, such as a car.   Don’t even get me started on their completely overpriced laptops, tablets and desktops.  

photo credit – statista charts

It’s not a stretch to see this bleed over into everything else we see nowadays.    We accept lies all the time, we make it okay somehow because we want something more… we’re willing to sacrifice truth for power, status, or simply to feel like a part of something bigger.     Our political and religious structure is based on lies and untruths, we make exceptions all the time when it’s convenient for us.  We point fingers at gays and lesbians and say they’re destroying the values of love and marriage, yet when a priest molests a boy or a pastor steals from his church, we’re told to show love and compassion…  because Jesus did.  The same love and compassion that’s not being demonstrated to others.    iphones teach us that as a culture, we can be bought, manipulated and lied to without consequence, provided we keep getting what we want,  even when the overwhelming facts might tell us otherwise.   Yeah, like a cult.   iphones tell us something about ourselves, a canary of sorts, an indicator of how far we’ll let the truth be twisted and the facts ignored, even when associated with great cost and effort.    It really is an amazing hand held device, telling a much larger story about the person that’s holding it and the culture they belong to.  

 

When Mom Gets Old

I’m getting to be that age, you hear it often around the office almost on a weekly basis, someone’s parent is ill or has suddenly passed away.   I’m very blessed because my mom is still around, about to have her 81st birthday.    My mom isn’t in the best of health, and I often worry about her and how’s she feeling.     It’s difficult for her to catch her breath and she’s constantly connected to a variety of oxygen machines, concentrators they call them, and they sustain her life.    When she walks out the door, the gentle hum of the machine she’s carrying can be heard underneath her words.   She’s a talker like me, that’s where I get it from, and I often have to stop her and say “breathe through your nose” so she can get some O2.   You can probably guess I love my mom very much and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Mother’s Day With My Mom

When I was a kid, my sister and I used to watch Family Affair, and I’m not sure exactly why.   It was probably the saddest of all shows…a young brother and sister, sent to live with their rich uncle when their parents tragically died.    We watched that show with complete fear, it might as well have been a horror movie, for we were terrified of the day we would no longer have our parents around, especially our mom.    This fear was so strong, that we would often approach her while sleeping, carefully watching to see if she was breathing.    It sounds bizarre, and it totally was, and I’m not exactly where this fear originated from.   Maybe it was from the exact show we were constantly watching, or maybe it was because we loved her immensely and couldn’t image life without her.

My mom is a super mom.    Yeah she’s made mistakes and yeah we’re paying therapists now to deal with them, but there is something very special about my mom.    Our childhood wasn’t the easiest, our father wasn’t around much and my mom often had to play the part.    This took a toll on her and we knew it did, but there was one thing she was super good at…giving us hope.    She gave us hope when things weren’t going our way, when we were down in the dumps, when life seemed like it was out to get us…she always gave us hope.    Arguably, hope is probably the best thing anyone can give or have, because no matter how bad it gets, if you have hope, there’s always the possibility of something better.     My mom was amazing at that.    That was her super power and it is to this day.

I’m 47 now and I often try to prepare myself for the day when my mom isn’t around anymore.    My spiritual views help a lot…in my heart I believe we are all pure energy that just transforms from one state into another, death being only a transition just like the little short lady said in the movie Poltergeist.   However it only takes but a shitty cold, a night of no sleep, the slightest feeling of loneliness,  to make me miss my mom immensely and absolutely fear the day when I can’t pick up the phone and call her.   You might think I’m a “momma’s boy” and I would respond “guilty as charged...” you just can’t ever replace your mom.

Now some folks out there don’t have their mom and are already experiencing what I fear the most.    Perhaps they never had one to begin with, and to that I offer my sincere condolences.    Maybe they have a mom but she’s just not “mom like.”  Maybe they are a mom to someone else, not even blood related, or for that matter, not the same species.    Maybe they don’t miss not having a mom if they never experienced one… I just can’t understand this reality.   Yet.

I know the day I dread will eventually arrive and because of that I cherish every moment I get with my mom.   I love our lunches, our dinners, our time together visiting her doctor… our little adventures like riding out  Hurricane Irma on the floor of my division director’s office.   I love them all.    Every time I leave her house I thank God for the time I had with her, life being what it is, you never know if your last visit will be just that, the last.   I love the phone calls, the voice mails, the little things that can annoy some people… but are evidence of her presence in my life.

If you have a mom give her a huge hug.    Like my bud Vox said the other day, “give her one for me too.”    If you’re a mom to someone then give yourself a hug and realize how important you are to another human being on this planet, even if you don’t realize it.    There’s a part of us that loves our mom no matter what, no matter how bad things get, no matter how distant we may be.    Hang onto to that part, no matter how small.  Just like mom, it will help you through some serious shit.   If your mom isn’t around anymore, know that everything about you is a reflection of her, good or bad, and so she’s more present than you might realize.   The next time someone says “you’ve turned into your mom.” say “thank you for the compliment!” 

Lunch with Mom and Eric

Instant Pot Whatever You Have Geek Stew

The first time I made this delicious and hardy beef stew recipe, I barely had any vegetables on hand.   I decided to go for it anyways, inspired by one of my favorite childhood stories Nail Broth.  So this recipe will vary slightly depending on what you have.    The basics are the same though… kind of like making vanilla ice cream.    Using organic veggies increasing the flavor exponentially.

Thanking the cow for its service to you is also and awesome thing to do.  🙂

Geek Stew!

Ingredients

1 lb of grass fed stew meat (because we want the cows to be happy)

2 cups water (if you add more veggies, reduce this slightly)

2 tablespoons olive oil (oil is a must to prevent foaming within Instapot)

1 package Lipton Onion Soup Mix (this is the secret ingredient)

2 cups chopped celery (include the leaves for intense flavor)

1 8 oz package of baby bella mushrooms

6 small potatoes – quartered

1 teaspoon baking soda (with one cup water)

2 tablespoons cornstarch (with two tablespoons water)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Soak the stew meat in a mixture of 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon baking soda for 20-30 minutes.  This will make the meat easier to brown.

Set the Instant Pot to saute and add the olive oil.    When oil is hot, add beef and stir to brown.   Add salt and pepper as desired.   Adding too much meat at same time may steam instead of brown, so try to add gradually if possible.

Once meat is nicely browned, add water then stir in the package of onion soup mix.  This adds the perfect ratio of onion flavor and creates a wonderful bouillon.   Add any veggies you’d like at this point and mix.

Cancel saute mode and set your Instapot valve to seal. Press the meat stew button.

Your Instant Pot will start cooking for 35 minutes after pressure is reached, which could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes,  maybe even longer.   After cooking time is finished, many folks recommend natural release for better flavor, it’s up to you.   I have tested this recipe twice with manual release.    Before opening the Instant Pot, make a cornstarch slurry by whisking 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water.    Mix the slurry into the pot to thicken stew.   Let cool and enjoy with your favorite book, person or Netflix show.   The flavor is wonderful and ever so comforting… just like my mom never made.    I always hated stew when I was a kid, so no happy memories there.

The lid is opened and wow!!! Add your slurry and mix well. The more moisture in your veggies, the less water you need to add. I would start with 2 cups minimum.

Let me know in the comments any variations you might have tried!  Like throwing in a regular size  can of tomato sauce… I did this last night and it was crazy good!

We Are More Than A Party

When I first realized I was gay I was 17 years old and terrified.   Although I was sexually attracted to other men, I was frightened to become a part of the stereotype I saw on television and magazines.    Of course times were different and what you saw on television was exactly that, a stereotype.    As I began to meet other gay people I realized we were a diverse crowd of Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics and any other ethnic category you could find on a college application.   We celebrated our diversity because we needed to, our sites were set on fighting the AIDS epidemic, acceptance and equal rights.    I quickly realized the scary images I saw in my youth were no where near the Gays and Lesbians I had come to know.

As a young adult I began to explore the community, culture, and what it had to offer.   My first long term relationship of almost nine years ended in my late twenties and I was eager to experience a part of the gay world that was previously off limits… the club scene.  Still filled with enough crazy hormones to fuel lots of stupid mistakes, I was introduced to this sub-culture and its not so wonderful characteristics.    Only this seemed different because it felt somewhat threatening to me.   I was surrounded by groups of men that all wanted to fall in love, but didn’t seem to want any of the Ozzie and Harriet style of relationships their parents lived through.    In fact, I would say they completely rebelled against these established norms, I’m guessing because they experienced much judgement and hostility due to their sexuality from those that practiced them.  Fair enough.  If there’s any stereotype of the gay world that’s close to being true, it’s that we never do anything low key, so gay relationships became completely polar opposite to mom and dad’s.  However I really wanted that sense of normalcy, real or perceived, in my life. After all, that’s what I had told everyone around me…that I was normal and just like everyone else.

Scenarios from the “Blue Oyster Bar” depicted in the hit movie “Police Academy.” Examples of the extremely limited and often stereotypical views of the gay world I had access to as a teen.

Years went by and I started to become fairly bitter with the gay world.    The level of shallowness and self centered behavior I was seeing just seemed to be getting worse.  There were even websites that sprung up with the immense popularity of the Internet, which re-enforced these qualities.   We were now posting profiles on websites like bigmuscle.com, which contained statements like “looking only for other good looking muscled men to make friends and hang out with.”   Wow!  Seriously?  I didn’t want any part of that!

Until I did.

I started going on “all gay cruises” back in 2001 during a short lived relationship with someone that grew up surrounded by the party and gay scene.   The experience was utterly miserable for me and I swore I would never do it again.   I was completely immersed in gay music, gay television, campy gay comedy… gay everything for seven very long days.    I was force-fed gayness and I wanted to puke.   But then, a couple of years later, I was convinced to try it again by my partner that I would share almost 10 years of my life with.  Even my therapist thought it was a good idea.  It actually turned out completely different in every way and I enjoyed the solidarity immensely.    Gay rights was starting to be a huge deal, the Constitution of the United States was about to be modified to define marriage between a man and a woman, for the sole purpose of denying us rights and recognition.   We so needed the support of each other as a community!   What better way than to pack three thousand of us on a boat for a week!  Yay!  Not to mention that I was starting to bulk up with some serious muscle, and although we were monogamous at the time, I was getting lots of attention.   This was really fun!   Why didn’t I do this sooner?    It was even time for me to get my own profile on bigmuscle.com!   In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that I started to become assimilated into the very lifestyle I had such a distaste for… by the looming presence and fear of a shared threat.  I wanted to belong because I was scared.

Every day, twice a day,!! Atlantis passengers gather on deck, or below, to participate in one or more dance parties.

As years passed and more gay cruises came and went, the climate of the country completely changed.    Gays were only years away from being allowed to be married, many companies and local governments started enacting domestic partnership benefits, and there was this cool show on television called Glee.  Gay youth and teens now had a place in society and role models to look up to.    It was a pretty amazing time for Gays and Lesbians, but something else started to happen.    The cruises I loved so much started becoming less and less about community and more about the “party.”    With technology becoming more advanced and cruises becoming more and more popular, the ships got bigger and so did the on-board dances. As anything that keeps growing in size, there comes a time where critical mass comes into play and a good thing becomes unsustainable.  Gay cruises aren’t any exception and in 2011, on the largest gay cruise on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas was raided by US Customs and passengers were arrested.   I remember seeing all the dogs and agents on-board and thinking something very serious was up.    A member of the Atlantis staff, the charter company that booked the cruise, lied completely and told a group of us that it was a case of mistaken identity with one of our fellow passengers.    We didn’t know the entire story until we got back home and saw the coverage on CNN and other media outlets.     It wasn’t really a surprise since multiple times a night we’d hear the call go out on the ship’s speakers, “alpha, alpha, alpha,” the maritime signal for a medical emergency.    For Atlantis passengers, it was code for drug overdose.    The stories of passengers collapsing and defecating on themselves during dances didn’t seem so far fetched after all.

Accelerated by the events on that last voyage, my love affair with gay cruises and the gay scene began to diminish rather quickly.  The sense of community I had once witnessed had become a complete mess and practically non-existent.   I went on a couple more cruises, even tried different brands like RSVP, but they weren’t much different.  The drugs weren’t as prevalent, but the campy gay comedy and stupid jokes every time the automated elevator voice with a British accent announced “deck 8″ were getting old.  I was tired of eating breakfast and hearing men discuss their conquests from the night before.  I guess that’s called “growing up.”

Today, I still enjoy cruising with my partner Eric, celebrating diversity once again, albeit with straight and fellow gay passengers alike.  Who knew that in all those prior years I had put myself into a social box, doing exactly what conservatives and the religious right wanted,  and at the same time fighting so hard against.

I look back at my journey in and out of the gay scene and realize it was a real learning experience, one that I shouldn’t regret or even deny.   The gay world is continually evolving, but I’m not sure in the right direction at the moment.   Pride events are becoming less of a celebration of unity, and more of a promoter’s opportunity to pull another all night party.   At least in the old days, I’m old enough to say that now, we had something we were focused on…a goal, a mission, which helped ground us and provided a type of social lighthouse when we went astray.    Much of the binding properties of the gay community are gone for the first time in our history.    Our friends aren’t dying of AIDS and we basically have the rights and recognition we wanted for generations.   Where we will go without the guiding principles that glued us all together?    What we will do with this new found freedom which carries with it new responsibility?

There’s a new sub-culture I see emerging with young gay men and it’s not a healthy one.   Unlike so many negative stereotypes, this one is very much encourage in pop culture and social media.    It’s evolving into a mindset, one of no-consequence and “go fuck yourself if you don’t like me.”  We’re being encouraged as a community to be as loud and as crazy as we want to be, since we’ve been restricted for so long and it obviously still makes straight people laugh.    The balance part of the equation seems to be left out though, and we’re not checking ourselves to see if we’re going too far.    Our community used to be so much more than a party, and now it seems so many gay men just live for it…or die.   I think it’s time to take inventory of what’s truly important, especially with recent events in our nation’s political climate.   Perhaps another shared threat is exactly what we need, a common cause to keep us focused on the individual lights in our community, and not the ones on the dance floor.

 

 

 

Good Nutrition Is An Uphill Climb

Each day, consumers are offered more and more ways to make better choices and eat healthier, which will hopefully lead to a longer life with less visits to the doctor. Organic versions of our favorite foods are increasingly popular and available, even foods that you didn’t even think could be organic are showing up on supermarket shelves.   While walking through the beautiful pristine isles of Target recently, I spotted an organic version of Capri Sun fruit drink.  Yes, the sugar and chemical mix of yesteryear is now organic.  But is it any better for you?  Healthy labels may sound great, but more choices actually means more research for the person trying to do the right thing.   As it’s often noted, food has a story and you should know the characters involved and the journey its made, before it ends up in your stomach.

Lets start with the ever popular “organic” label that’s increasingly making its way onto every edible product there is.  Many might automatically assume that seeing this indicator of strict standards means you’re doing something good… the prices certainly allude to this.  However, choosing organic simply means you’re getting something that was created, raised or processed in a certain way, it doesn’t mean you should be putting it your body.   Using our first example as a start, most would agree that sugar is the mother of all evil, especially when it comes to kids.   It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a huge problem in the United States.  If the thought of spoon feeding your kid 4 teaspoons of sugar makes you cringe, that’s exactly what your doing when you give your kid a single pouch of this “organic” Capri Sun juice (16 grams is roughly 4 teaspoons).   Not so great anymore is it?  Hey at least it inspired me to write this little blog post.

For dinner, you might decide that some organic chicken might be great for your family since the label clearly says “no hormones or antibiotics used.”  First of all, half that label is redundant since by law hormones aren’t allowed to begin with.   They might as well say “no razor blades” also.   Secondly, while an organic chicken may be antibiotic free, or even “cage free,” unless it’s actually “free range,” as in running around in the sunshine, you’re eating an animal that was probably grown indoors within a ventilated aluminum tube, somewhat like an airplane fuselage.   Consuming this creature means you’re also “downloading” any stress related bio-toxins produced as a result of living such a miserable existence.  We all know that stress is one of the leading contributors to cancer and other illnesses, and this is a great way to experience it chemically.  At least you didn’t have to actually get in a car accident or juggle a family and a career to produce it yourself.   Remember that organic doesn’t necessarily mean humane.  The same goes for beef and pork.

Of course there’s also the subliminal type of misleading information simply associated with a brand itself.  You might automatically assume that shopping at a particular grocery chain means you’re eating organic and healthy, because that’s the image they want popping into your head.  Assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups and in the food industry they are counting on it.  Take for example a little survey I did on my own.  I asked my friends and family what’s the first thing they thought of when I mentioned the Publix Supermarket product line Greenwise.   Almost all of them replied “organic” immediately.   This is actually far from the case, as the supermarket chain states on their own website:

Publix website page which states the requirements for Greenwise branding. Note that colors from “natural” sources are acceptable and that a vegetarian diet in no way means “grass fed” since grains are also plant based. A product only needs to meet one requirement to receive the Greenwise label.

While these sound like pretty good requirements at first,  giving it more thought one might realize according to their own definition, foods colored from crushed bugs is perfectly acceptable… because it’s natural.  And yes, this is actually a thing, it’s called cochineal.   Natural doesn’t mean healthy or even safe, ask anyone that’s ever had lead or mercury poisoning, which are very natural elements found on our planet.  Also, notice that Greenwise products need to adhere to only one of those requirments, not all of them.   One, in particular, is rather disturbing to me because it uses the word “claim.”  In other words, anything they want to say but it may not be true in the least.

A great example of all this confusion can be found with the very pricey Greenwise Raw Shrimp, which besides containing sodium sulfite, a “natural” preservative, is not organic, is from Indonesia, and is “sustainably” raised.   What does that even mean overseas?   Consumer Reports did some kick ass research regarding shrimp safety and the issues surrounding imports, and it wasn’t pretty.  The lesson here is to not assume anything, regardless of the brand, and read the ingredients even when you think there’s only shrimp in that bag.   Save your money and buy the regular Publix brand shrimp instead, which doesn’t have sodium sulfite… uh, well, they use trisodium phosphate instead, an ingredient commonly found in laundry detergent, stain remover and degreasers.  It makes the shrimp look shiny and causes them to absorb more water, which is helpful when you’re selling them by weight.  And the best part is you can buy it at Home Depot.   Yeah these are the same people that sell Greenwise products.

Kind of feels weird that you have to pay almost double NOT to have this put on your shrimp by Publix Supermarkets.

These are just a quick few examples of how a consumer needs to do their homework and know what they’re putting into their facial orifice.    Don’t let your assumptions get the best of you and don’t trust others to do the research.  I repeat, don’t trust anyone.  I love doing research (can you tell?) but even I get overwhelmed at times.   You’re not going to get it right a hundred percent of the time, but you’ll at least have a fighting chance to mitigate the effects of all the other crap we’re exposed to.  Know how to spot bullshit by reading between the lines, especially with generalizations that mean little or nothing.   Become your own “food attorney” while reading lists of ingredients and keep in mind that when push comes to shove, everyone is trying to make a buck. Don’t let it be at the expense of your health or the ones you love.

 

 

Wake Up – Your Thumbs Won’t Save The Planet

 

It’s a rainy day and you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, wrapped up in a snugly blanket you bought from an ad on your Facebook feed… a nice cup of chai tea latte is right by your side.   All is well in your world.   Suddenly and without warning, your eyes magnetically focus and zoom in on the horrible video displaying on your screen, your heart begins to palpitate as you rush to un-follow or block the person that posted this gruesome message regarding animal abuse in a land far far away.    They have succeeded in not only invading your cozy little space and destroying your perfect zen moment, but they have also damaged you temporarily as you struggle to get these images out of your head.    Their reasoning?    You should sign on an online petition and stop what you just witnessed!  Yes!  How dare you take one more sip of that chai tea latte, while animals suffer needlessly, before your thumbs do all the work of filling out that digital roll call of those with moral and just values.    Jumping into action might also help erase what you just saw, and you can return to your kindle, tea, and life of ignorance…yes this thought actually crosses your mind.  But did you ever realize what’s actually occurring behind the scenes of these online petitions?    Do you think someone actually manages servers and technical infrastructure for free?  Of course not. Hang onto your chai tea latte because online petitions are actually a multi-million dollar business and those ugly videos are helping people to make some serious money.

Yulin is a city in China with a population of almost seven million people according to Wikipedia.     Tourists flock there to bathe in hot mineral springs and the city is rich in natural resources.    Part of their economy is agricultural based, growing everything from tea, bananas, oranges, mangoes, pigs, chickens and dogs.   No that wasn’t a typo, yes, they raise dogs for food.    Relax, there will be no gut wrenching photos or vivid descriptions in this article, in fact, the exact opposite.   What you need to know is that there’s a business model here for people to react, and when they do, money is exchanged.    Yes, your emotional response is generating income for a company that has little or no control over anything that happens in China.   If you can get past the gruesome video to change.org, or any other petition based website, the advertisements you see, and subsequently click on, generate revenue for the company.  This sort of model is pretty universal on the Internet, everyone uses it because it works. But it doesn’t stop there.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, your email address has an ROI (return on investment) of %4,300.    That means for every dollar spent on email marketing, you will potentially earn $40 in return as described by the marketing website justuno.com.   Yeah, that’s a really nice return!   When you’re emailing the right people about the right things, it’s a cash cow.    I bet you didn’t realize how much money crazygirl30513@aolbiz.com was worth, did you Cathy?

So in general here’s how it works.    A charity or cause pays a petition website to show gruesome videos or imagery on FaceBook in the hope someone will respond.   Many of these sites, including change.org, are for profit companies (as explained in the change.org FAQ), yeah no 501c there people.  They treat these “promoted petitions”  just like advertisements.  Same deal as promoted tweets on twitter…. it’s free unless you want mass exposure.   As part of their contract, the charities are “given” your information.  Makes sense right?   You’d want to know the name, address and email of every person that supports your cause.    Only now the charities or organizations can also sell your contact information and make more money, something you’d should feel comfortable about… right?   After all, it’s for charity.   Think of the dogs folks… works doesn’t it?

Okay so now you now that dogs in Yulin help make people rich in the United States.    Who cares right?    As long as your petition can effect change!!! But where does that petition go?  We hope some huge official in Yulin will see that petition sent to his inox and won’t delete it.    Perhaps it’s actually mailed in a big box?  I bet he’ll take that stack of paper out to the streets and shut down the entire dog eating thing right then and there.   Or maybe he won’t.    Maybe he eats dogs himself and thinks it’s pretty yummy, especially with some American BBQ Sauce (don’t tell his parents, they always made fun of him for eating KC Masterpiece).  At the very least I’m sure they’ll stop killing chickens, pigeons and goats in “religious” sacrifice…oh sorry that’s Miami… you know in Florida?  Yeah there’s hundreds of “Botanicas” that sell these animals for that very purpose, Google it for the one nearest you.    Bet you didn’t know that either.  Where’s the petition to make that stop?  Take a sip of your chai tea latte, you’ll feel much better… or maybe you won’t.

The simple fact is that signing these petitions usually does little unless there’s plenty of national or international exposure to go along with it.    It’s icing on the cake of something big, it’s not the ignition switch to effect change.  What it is doing, is making a whole lot of people lots of money.  And then there’s those decrepit humans on Facebook that are actually getting a rise from spreading these videos, knowing that your chai tea latte is gonna lose all the attention it worked so hard to deserve.   They don’t care about the dogs, the cats, the whatever… they only care about ruining your day.   It’s masochistic and your reaction fuels their desire to do it even more.

The way to effect change is to hit people where it hurts the most, their wallet.    So you go to Wikipedia like I just did and you research the country that’s known for their dog eating and you don’t go visit their fabulous springs.   You send a receipt of all the money you just spent in the neighboring prefecture to their head of tourism and explain why.   Yeah you actually have to write a letter and mail it as opposed to taking 4 seconds to auto-fill a petition.  You tell your friends and neighbors about it, you knock on doors.  Yeah you actually have to get off that couch, stop drinking your chai tea latte and do something!  Imagine that? Eventually, someone there in Yulin might notice they’re not getting as many visitors, losing lots of cash and do something about it.   Do your part.  Your thumbs aren’t going to help dogs in a country half way around the world, with folks firmly grounded in their culturally accepted practice… which is actually a huge festival.   This is like someone trying to shut down the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade because they love their pet turkeys over in you know where Egypt.    I’m not saying give up the good fight.  Just fight in smarter ways, that actually make a difference, and stop creating a market for what you hate.   That’s how you really help your furry friends.

 

Taking A FaceBook Vacation

Sunset in the Florida Everglades

When’s the last time you had a vacation?  Before you start describing your most recent trip to a far off place dotted with palm trees or ancient buildings, let me be more specific… when’s the last time you vacationed from FaceBook?  You know, that wonderful destination you hold in your hand that you escape to while on the train, laying on the couch or even dare I say in the bathroom?  When’s the last time you dared to disconnect from all the noise, the pictures of friends enjoying dinner without you, the cat videos, the ads for things you’ll never use, the secret data miners collecting analytics designed as clever surveys, and the people you didn’t realize were Trump supporters?   Have you ever even thought of it?

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The Piscean Prison

Being a Pisces can be a bitch.   Plain and simple.    As I get older it seems it just gets harder and harder to deal with the outside world and all of the horrors available to us through social media and news outlets.   Pisces are idealistic lovers, we quite literally love love.    We love everything about love and everything about being in love.    We love people we don’t even know and we can smother those we do with so much love that they run away.   And it doesn’t stop there.    Since we love to spread love so much we become paranoid when we may have not spread the love inadvertently.    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost sleep thinking I said or did something to someone that hurt their feelings or pissed them off.     The idea of intentionally hurting someone, or stepping outside of the “love” zone really turns our world upside down.

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Experiencing Homophobia Overseas

Living in the United States can and will make you pretty spoiled.    You become accustomed to life as you know it, and take everyday occurrences completely for granted.    Many of us here in Miami are reminded of our abundance as a nation when we share the experience of someone that recently immigrated from Cuba, and see their reactions to to a well stocked produce section at the local grocery store.     It’s an all out emotional meltdown at times, something neither person is prepared for.    While economic prosperity is something that’s relatively easy to appreciate and witness, individual freedoms are not.    Most people vacation in areas of the world where they are welcomed with open arms, but even in the most beautiful and serene locations, the gay tourist has to be mindful of their destination in a different capacity… their personal safety.  There are many parts of the world where being homosexual is against the law, and I’m not referring to some distant land on the other side of the planet, I’m talking about enjoying the beauty and splendor of the Caribbean.   It was there that my partner Eric and I became very appreciative of the security and liberties we now enjoy in the United States.

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