23 December 2012

Personal Mission Statement

If the ultimate purpose, or mission of my life, is to create a utopian world, where all people have free and equal access to healthcare, education, housing, nutritious food, and active transportation, then I must identify smaller more achievable goals and objectives that I can actually work towards achieving. This is important because unless I achieve my dream of a perfect world, I will be depressed or dissapointed in my failure to have done so.

It is one thing for me to say that I have the responsibility to create a world that I can believe in, it is another thing entirely to move in that direction. This is what makes a personal mission statement such a challenging and humbling task. My everyday actions must reflect that. If not, then I am not living true to myself; I am not honoring my true nature. I must take this upon myself to actually work towards what I believe in.

For the last several years I have worked in public health nutrition, in service to my community, working to ensure that families with young children enjoy nutritious meals together and are supported and empowered to lead lives rich with health and wellness. I have seen firsthand how conversations about nutrition positively impact families and this has been a very rewarding experience but I need to do more to achieve my mission. Today I take some time to set a few personal goals for volunteering, philanthropy, and advocacy.

Volunteering and Service

Volunteering has been an important part of my life for several years. In high school a group of friends and I organized a short seminar to educate the community about volunteer opportunities. We did this because we believed in the spirit of community and we were committed to bringing people together to work towards achieving our common interest, community improvement.

In college I was the recipient of scholarships that required me to engage in forty hours of community service each year. This was such a rewarding experience for me because I got to engage in meaningful conversation with other students that also had a committment to service. During our service we would have incredibly motivational discussions about why we believed community service was so vital to the life of our community. This spirit of community has stayed with me now into my professional life as a public servant to my community.

Now I do not engage in volunteering or service as I once did but if I am to achieve a greater sense of personal satisfaction from my life I must seek out these opportunities and volunteer my time to causes that hold true to my spirit.

Philanthropy

Although I have been less engaged in volunteering than I once was, I have opened my wallet to the needs of others, donating a portion of my salary to organizations that I believe in. Organizations that work to improve the community in areas of education, addressing hunger, improving access to health care, and supporting free thinking have been the primary recipients of my funding.

I seek to continue and expand my giving to give larger amounts to more organizations.

Advocacy and Policy Work

I recognize the important role that public policy and legislation has in community improvement. Without government support, communities may not have what is necessary to address immediate and future issues. With this in mind I have committed myself to keeping in regular contact with my elected officials.

It is also important to start up the conversation in our everyday life. Adovocacy is not just about communicating with lawmakers it includes telling our family and friends about what we are passionate about, encouraging civic engagement, and sharing the stories that motivate us.

In closing,

I've briefly discussed the different faces of the community service triangle because I believe that to create a larger fulfillment in one's life one must engage in their community and work towards creating lasting positive change. In sharing this I hope to accomplish two things, inspire more people to engage in service and to write down my goals for service in a public space.

On a closing note I wanted to share a couple of my favorite organizations to give to. Please consider a donation to any of these. Clicking on the links below will open a new browser window or tab.

04 November 2012

2012 Phoenix 10K & Half Marathon

Today I participated in the Phoenix 10K & Half Marathon event running the half marathon.

Here are my results (from Wolfram Alpha, opens in a new window):

  • Finished 183rd overall at a time of 1:54:36, averaging a pace of 8:45 minutes per mile.

  • running |
  • time | 1 hour 54 minutes 36 seconds
  • distance | 13.1 miles (21.08 kilometers)
  • gender | male
  • age | 27 years
  • height | 5' 9"
  • body weight | 160 lb (pounds)
  • resting heart rate | 55 bpm (beats per minute)

  • energy expenditure | 1676 Cal (dietary Calories)
  • fat burned | 0.48 lb (pounds)
  • oxygen consumption | 88.5 gallons
  • metabolic equivalent | 12 metabolic equivalents
    (estimates based on CDC standards)


It was exciting for me because I was determined to complete the race in less than two hours and I did.

08 October 2012

Race

Today I am going to write about "race". This topic important to me because it is a source of much of my frustration with the world and my lack of interest in continuing a conversation with someone that asks me, "What are you?". believes that the .

In order to build a foundation for a better understanding of our species I must first summarize what our society believes "race" to be. Then I seek to tear that understanding down and introduce you to the truth, as our current scientific understanding defines it.

"Race" as many of us know it

Very simply, many of us believe that the human species is composed of several unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. We have been conditioned to think that as groups, blacks are different and perhaps inferior than whites. This is just a simple example of our social conditioning; I'm sure that you can think of several more "racial" prejudices but I won't waste time on that because there is no scientific evidence to support these "racial" differences. None. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has this to say about that:

Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial" groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

The truth is that physical variations in the human species have absolutely no meaning except for the social ones that humans put on them. This was an idea that was sold to rationalize the horrific mistreatment of others. From the AAA:

From its inception, this modern concept of "race" was modeled after an ancient theorem of the Great Chain of Being, which posited natural categories on a hierarchy established by God or nature. Thus "race" was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It subsumed a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples.
As they were constructing US society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each "race," linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Numerous arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought.
Ultimately "race" as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere.

So, what are you?

The next time that someone asks about what you are, take that opportunity to provide a smidgen of education about how we use the concept of race to maintain our prejudice. What they really want to know is what part of the world your family come from; instead of saying race, you could say population, ethnicity, or country of ancestral origin.

In closing I offer a bit more from the AAA:

we now understand that human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language. Our temperaments, dispositions, and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call "culture." Studies of infant and early childhood learning and behavior attest to the reality of our cultures in forming who we are.

Further reading

"AAA Statement on "Race"." American Anthropological Association. American Anthropological Association, 2006. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm.

Further viewing




17 September 2012

Amerika: America with a "k"

If you read my last post, you may be wondering why I spell America with a "k" (Amerika). This is two fold; I am inspired by Abbie Hoffman and I seek to call attention to the mainstream culture's perception of the United States and what I see as the reality.

Abbie Hoffman

A few years ago I read about Abbie Hoffman; writer and activist. It was within the pages of Steal This Dream that I learned about Hoffman and his choice to spell America as Amerika. From page 239 of the book, Never again will I spell America with a "c," for in the eyes of Amerika we have all been declared outlaws.

Was he wrong to think that? Perhaps I'd like to think of myself as a counter-culture-status-is-not-quo type of person but look around you, there is inequality in the United States (and world) and it certainly does not have to be that way.

Let Amerika Be America Again

Then while reading another book (The People's History of the United States) I saw an excerpt of a poem written by Langston Hughes.

... I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same old stupid plan.
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak... .
O, let America be America again-
The land that never has been yet-
And yet must be-the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine-the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's
ME-
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America! . . .

Then it hit me; America may not have ever been the greatest nation on the planet. The America of the thirties was a place where cultural barriers were institutionalized and inequality was justified. Prove me wrong: build a time machine, go back to 1930's US, walk up to the first non-white male you see, and ask them if they think America is the land of opportunity.

All of the flag waving rhetoric is depressing to me because on a daily basis, as a society, we turn our backs on our neighbors in need, persecuting those that are different, waging war in the name of self-defense, taking no action to address legitimate issues such as educational attainment and environmental degredation.

That isn't my America.

Amerika can be America

In time, with work, I believe that we can become the nation that we claim to be, a truly global world power; a nation that has stellar education for each and every citizen; a nation that believes in and practices the spirit of community; a nation where not one person goes hungry or without shelter; a nation that seeks to advance the human species well into the future; a nation with nothing to fear from its neighbors because its neighbors have nothing to fear from it.

And so, until our communities can stop playing our zero-sum games, and move forward to a future that we can all proud of, I will spell America with a k.

I am hopeful, that I will not need to wait long because I was born here, and I have a dream of an America that I can be proud of.

Further reading

Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad. Vintage, 1995. Print.
Sloman, Larry. Steal This Dream: Abbie Hoffman and the Counterculture Revolution in America. Doubleday, 1998. Print.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1995. Print.

10 September 2012

Health Care in America: a vision of what it should be

Today I wanted to write about my vision for health care in America.

Health care in America: what it is

To be depressingly honest with you, it is a mess. Health insurance companies profit from illness; people are denied care or are told which physicians they can and cannot seek services from; physicians must pay absurd amounts in malpractice and liability insurance. This has created a culture of sickness and mistrust. But I'm not the expert here. There are others, physicians, that have first hand experience of what health care in America is like. Here is a brief summary from Physicians for a National Health Program:

Currently, the U.S. health care system is outrageously expensive, yet inadequate. Despite spending more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations ($8,160 per capita), the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates. Moreover, the other advanced nations provide comprehensive coverage to their entire populations, while the U.S. leaves 51 million completely uninsured and millions more inadequately covered.
The reason we spend more and get less than the rest of the world is because we have a patchwork system of for-profit payers. Private insurers necessarily waste health dollars on things that have nothing to do with care: overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing departments as well as huge profits and exorbitant executive pay. Doctors and hospitals must maintain costly administrative staffs to deal with the bureaucracy. Combined, this needless administration consumes one-third (31 percent) of Americans’ health dollars.

Now that we have a better idea of where we are, here is where I would like us to be.

Health care in America: what it should be

My vision for health care in America is very simple. People that need health care should receive it and it should not be a crippling financial burden for them. How many horror stories have you heard of where people that had to seek care for a serious illness were bankrupted from their medical bills. This is not at all fair. I make a modest salary but I would be very happy to pay a tax that would go to help people receive medical care.

Actually, I think that we can do much more for our communities than merely providing them with access to affordable health care of the highest quality. I think we can invest in health and wellness and promote a better quality of life that has a greatly reduced prevalence of chronic disease. This is my dream.

I know that others share this vision because there are thousands of university students studying community health and wellness each year, working to create communities that are respectful of individual health and wellness and promote optimal well being.

One of the first steps is to create a health care system in America that can meet our medical needs today.

Single-Payer Health care

I'm going to share the best explanation of single-payer health care that I can find. It is from Physicians for a National Health Program.

Single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private.
Under a single-payer system, all Americans would be covered for all medically necessary services, including: doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs. Patients would regain free choice of doctor and hospital, and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.
Physicians would be paid fee-for-service according to a negotiated formulary or receive salary from a hospital or nonprofit HMO / group practice. Hospitals would receive a global budget for operating expenses. Health facilities and expensive equipment purchases would be managed by regional health planning boards.
A single-payer system would be financed by eliminating private insurers and recapturing their administrative waste. Modest new taxes would replace premiums and out-of-pocket payments currently paid by individuals and business. Costs would be controlled through negotiated fees, global budgeting and bulk purchasing.

This is what I think we should do with our health care system here in the United States. This makes sense to me.

Two resources for reading more about single-payer health care and health care in America:

Health care in America today is a mess. It has become an issue of ideology and political rhetoric. Meanwhile, there are people suffering. It doesn't have to be that way. We can make subtle changes that can be implemented in a very short amount of time to make a realistic impact. That is what I believe.

I'm sure that you have an opinion or a story of your own to share. What is your vision for health care in America?

20 August 2012

The Ethical Omnivore's Dilemma

What started for me in 2007 as I read the Michael Pollan book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, has led me to make a decision about how I will spend money on food.

cabbage_lemon

Food Choice in my Youth

I grew up as a child. My parents were not concerned so much with the ethics of what our family ate but more in the cost of the food. They wanted the biggest bang for their buck; they wanted a bargain; we were also poor and didn't have a lot of money to spend on food so we participated in things like the free school lunch program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to stretch our food dollars.

My parents were somewhat health conscious and tried to serve a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. I think most of the foods they chose to eat are moderately good choices for our nutrition and their longevity reflects that.

Later, while still living at home, I became interested in sports nutrition and in using nutrition to optimize my athletic performance. I asked for superfoods like avocado, olive oil, berries, and bananas to fuel my growing appettite for high quality nutrition; I ordered protein supplements and counted calories. All these things I did without any regard for the origins of the food, without any ethical considerations.

A Change in my Nutrition Perspective

I studied, among other things, human nutrition in college. My current food choices are built from that basic knowledge that I gained from those studies. I built my diet around physical activity, healty fats and oils, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains*. But it wasn't in those classes that I learned about where food comes from. That happened much later.

I did learn more about who prepared our food. I learned of the farm laborer; the minimum wage workers that served our meals in the college dining halls; the servers at the restaurants. I became familiar with their struggle for a living wage and I worked with other students to bring attention to those issues and to promote a dialouge that would improve their condition.

It was at this time that I began to see the surface of the ethical choices I made when I chose where to spend my food dolllars and I chose accordingly. I avoided places that had a reputation for treating workers poorly or for low wages.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Social justice became an integral part of my life in college. One of the results of that was that I began to follow the Axis of Justice book list. I read books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This is when I learned about things like grass fed beef, confined animal feeding operations, and humane animal treatment. It was eye opening. Since then, I have been keenly aware that the food I purchase affects people and animals around me and I have made decisions that I think were better.

Enter Peter Singer

Then I read the Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer & Jim Mason and if my eyes were open before, I could never shut them again. I could never shut them from the frightening reality that we live in a world that has no regard for human or animal life when it comes to food consumption.

My food choices

My future food choices will reflect the following:

  • Transparency. I have the right to know how my food is produced and I will seek out accurate information on the food that I purchase to eat.
  • Fairness. The food that I purchase should not impose any costs on others.
  • Humanity. My food choices will reflect kindness and compassion towards animals.
  • Social responsibility. Workers should have decent living wages and working conditions.
  • Needs. Preserving life and health justifies more than other desires.

I'd like to hear about the framework that guides how you decide to eat; write it out in the comments.

14 August 2012

My vision for the world

Friends,
I want to tell you about a small part of my life, or more accurately, I want to try and paint a picture for you that will tell you about my past, my present, and our future.

Comic books. If we were to sit down and have a conversation about a significant part of my past and what my biggest influence was, I would say comic books.

Why comics? First - they’re fun. Second - they’re an excellent medium for story telling. Third - I liked the stories. Fourth, taking a careful look to examine the structure of the american comic book leads us to a fascinating world where readers see beautifully drawn stories of perseverance and a fight for justice and equality. This juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence can inspire us to deal with real world issues by showing us worlds of possibilities.

One of my favorite and most well known characters is the Batman. Here is a story of a guy that grew up a wealthy orphan. Eventually, he becomes a vigilante that hunts down the most dangerous criminals. He chooses that fight because he believes in justice and that people in his community should not have to live in fear.

Batman - Original

Stories like those called to me as a child because I could empathize with the people that he dedicated his life to protect.

For my present I want you to know about some of my strengths. These aren’t physical strengths but key aspects of who I am as a person. Here are my top 5*,

  1. appreciation of beauty and excellence,
  2. fairness equity and justice,
  3. love of learning,
  4. perspective (wisdom),
  5. curiosity and interest in the world
These matter because I try to incorporate the practice of these strengths into my daily life. For example, I am usually involved in the study of some craft or skill, at the time that I'm writing this, I'm studying ballroom dance, drawing, guitar, and the principles of strength and conditioning coaching. This is my daily practice of a love of learning.

My passion is to make my life meaningful; to make each day matter; each day to move us to a future that we can all believe in.

I believe in a world where certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available-free-to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, and transportation.

I was inspired to hope for those things because of something I read by Howard Zinn in his book, the People’s History of the United States. Like Zinn, I believe that this can be accomplished by using incentives of cooperation and win-win situations. I believe that practicing my strength of fairness and justice will help us get there.

I learned a lot from comic books. That everyone is a hero in their own way; everyone has villains they must face; everyone has a responsibility to their community. I take an active role in planning my daily life to practice and take advantage of my signature strengths with the hope that I can turn my vision into a reality.

04 August 2012

To err on the side of humanity

What do you do when you see someone on the side of the road, broken down, waving for help?


Here is what I did

I often brag about helping people jump start their poorly maintained vehicles. As a matter of fact, less than a week ago, I made a rare trip to the casino, to meet friends for dinner, when walking through the parking lot I noticed a man on the phone, trying to start his car. I stopped to help. But, that is another story. Here is what happened to me the other day.

I was driving to meet Leticia for dinner and a HIIT workout. Traffic was thick. I was merging to the right lane so that I could exit the freeway, I hate to be in traffic, when I noticed that there was a car on the shoulder, two men standing next to it, waving for help. Nobody had stopped yet. I arrogantly thought, "I guess I'll help them, shouldn't take too long".

When I stop, one of the guys walks over, we'll call him William, and asked if I spoke Spanish. I do. He went on to tell me that he doesn't know what's going on and that it had been struggling for a while now. They were driving from Houston to Indio and their car broke down in Downtown Phoenix at peak rush hour. Sucks for them, right? Yeah, it did. After about 15 minutes we finally got the car started using the time tested jump start method and then things got worse.

For some reason, whether it was user error or it was a mechanical error, the engine was revving, way too much. I imagine the tachometer was way past the red line. William starts gesturing for me to move my car out of the way and I do. I move ahead a couple of car lengths, expecting them to peel out and drive into someone other than me, but nothing. They weren't moving.

I could see, from my rear view mirror that there was a lot of smoke coming from the engine and a lot of fluid pouring out from under the car. They get out.

I back the car up and when we raise the hood, there is oil everywhere. They blew an engine. There was nothing more that I could for them.

Unfortunately, they were traveling and didn't know anyone in Phoenix. The closest person that they knew lived in Indio. He began speaking to me, sincerely saying, "If I were to pay you, would you drive us to Indio?"

Long story short; I politely refused and left."

The Dilemma

The problem was that, they were stranded, in an unfamiliar land, with no one to help them. The problem that I faced, was feeling responsible for their plight. Had I continued on, driving past them, I would not have had to make that choice to refuse to drive them. From my perspective, it would have been better on my conscience if I had never heard their story. I certainly could not have driven them to their destination, no matter what reward they were offering me.

What would you do?

Were you in my place, what would you have done? Would you have stopped in the first place? Would you have taken them to Indio? Maybe you would have been more clever and came up with win-win solution. I'd like to hear what you would have done. Post it in the comments.

23 July 2012

Puerto Rico 2012 - recap

Leticia and I took our first pseudo-international trip and it went well. We ended up going to, you guessed it, Puerto Rico. We stayed in Old San Juan and we had a blast. Here are the highlights:


Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture Tour

This was a fantastic experience for me because I love to eat delicious foods. Sure, the tour guide was friendly and informative, and the other tour goers were okay, but, the food was delicious. We toured four different restaurants, drank the piña colada, ate plantains, and I loved every minute of it.

Click here to go to the Flavors of San Juan Website and book your very own food and culture tour.


Catamaran Salty Dog

Who knew, that I love sailing! The motion of the ocean. The sea breeze. The sea men. And rum. Lots, and lots of rum. This is where I discovered my new favorite drink, the painkiller - an exciting mix of orange juice, pineapple juice, coconut cream (or milk), cinnamon, and Don Q rum!
Puerto Rico


The Puerto Rico 2012 Theme Song! (unofficial)

Here is a video, of the song that I feel captures the spirit of this trip, enjoy. Please note, it may take you to the youtube website rather than actually play the video. Something to do with copyright.


El Yunque

We hiked the rainforest and splashed in its icy cold waterfalls! It was very cold and I imagine it was very filthy but I had a great time shivering and gasping for breath before we got out. On our return trip from the rainforest we lost our camera at a fantastic little shack of a restaurant.
La Mina Falls in El Yunque, Puerto Rico

Recap

Loved Puerto Rico. The people were really nice. The food was delicious. If I could make a living there, I would (leave suggestions for how to earn income while living in Puerto Rico in the comments).