Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Obesity In America... What Can We Do?

According to a 2011-2012 JAMA survey (Journal of the American Medical Association) approximately 69% or just over two-thirds of Americans are now considered to be Overweight or Obese. We've all heard the term "Obesity Epidemic" thrown around for quite a few years now, but what does it really mean, and why does it effect you and me? The truth is the Obesity Epidemic is widely considered by those in the medical field to be one of the most pressing issues facing our country. The ramifications of this epidemic are far reaching and have implications that can impact much more than just our healthcare system. In order to understand just how big of a problem obesity is, we must first understand a little bit more about this problem. How did we get here? Why does somebody else's weight effect your life? And most importantly what can we do about it?

In order to understand this pressing issue we must first look a little further into what exactly defines someone as being "overweight" or "obese". The system for calculating someone's ideal body weight range is based on the BMI (Body Mass Index) chart. BMI calculates your relative body weight compared to your height and spits out a number based on a charting system to tell you where you lie. According to the BMI scale a score of 18.5-24.9 qualifies as normal or "ideal" on the chart, while a score over 25 qualifies as "overweight" and 30 and above qualifies as "obese". But this system can be somewhat flawed. For instance I'm six feet tall and at the moment I weight 187 pounds, technically, according to the BMI scale, I'm overweight. However, I do intense weight training 4-5 days a week and I eat a high protein diet, my body fat is just around 10%, and most phyisicians would tell you I am very much not overweight. So where the scale may be flawed for athletes and people who train or are larger from excercise, for the most part it's a pretty good starting place to determine if you're within your ideal body weight range. So jumping back to the JAMA survey that means approximately two-thirds of Americans are above this recommended range, and that number has never been so high in our countries history. 


Though you could argue that there are more issues than these, for the purposes of this article I've broken down the obesity epidemic into four main problem areas, they are as follows:

1. The Systemic Problem
2. The Healthcare Problem
3. The Fitness problem
4. The Food Industry Problem

In this editorial I would like to examine each of these problem areas and what can potentially be done to help turn things around in our country. All of these problems are interelated and through this explanation you will see how they all intertwine with one another. The biggest thing to remember when dealing with the issue of obesity is that this is something that affects EVERYONE, and those who think because they live healthy lives that they are unaffected are dead wrong. Obesity has massive ramifications on the health care industry in this country which we are all a part of, it also poses a major threat to our economy. So like it or not we are all in this together. This article is not meant to put blame on anyone who may be facing issues with weight control, but rather to offer a glimpse into the reality of the situation, and how we all need to come together to make a real change. So while some of the language may be harsh, it is not meant to be detrimental towards individuals but rather to make us realize as a whole, we have failed eachother. The good news if we want it bad enough we can create a new environment of positive empowerment and work to overcome these issues, because if we don't the results will be dire. 


The truth is, it's easier, it's socially acceptable, and in the short term it's much cheaper to be unhealthy. You need to look no further than McDonald's "Dollar-Menu" to see it's much more affordable to go the fast food route, than it is to shop for locally sourced, organic, fair trade approved quinoa at WholeFoods. But what has happened in America is we've become one extreme or the other, it seems we have no middle ground anymore. Everyone is either a vegan or real life Burger King. Personally I try to opperate on a plan of 80/20, I eat well, or as well as I can 80% of the time, and the other 20% I pretty much allow myself to eat whatever I want. Mix that with regular exercise and you can enjoy the occasional cookie, ice cream, or a few beers, without feeling guilty about it. But with Americans in general it seems we are always about the extremes, and with the increase in technology, a decrease in overall regular exercise, and the availabilty and affordabilty of fast foods and unhealthy portion sizes, it's  simply easy to be fat in this country. 

This is why obesity is such a systemic problem in our country, quite frankly because now it's built in to our system. From an early age we are barraged with billions of dollars a year spent in advertising to keep us consuming high calorie, low value food and beverages. According to FastFoodAdvertising.org, fast food companies spent over $4.6 Billion in advertising in 2012, so it's no wonder when Americans want something cheap and easy, fast food always seems like a viable option. But as sizes get bigger and cheaper it's no wonder a typical large combo can exceed well over 1,000 calories and in many cases can break the 2,000 recommended calories per day mark, in just one meal (The Cheesecake Factory has quite a few items that break this threshold). 

If we want to break this trend we have to start holding these companies accountable for reality of what they're doing, slowly poisoning the American population. Alcohol and tobacco are regulated and taxed in this country at astounding levels yet fast food, which has been linked as a main contributor to obesity goes unpunished. It's true many companies have come under scrutiny in the last few years for substandard labor practices (McDonald's), and are now being held accountable for food quality in their establishments (Tacobell), but this is just the beginning. If we really want to change our attitude in this country towards obesity, I propose taxing these companies as what they really are, on the same levels as alcohol and tobacco.  According to the American Heart Association, Obesity results in $190 BILLION DOLLARS a year in weight related medical bills. It's time we passed some of this cost back onto the supplier. 

At the same time the government should be helping to fund and provide grants to companies willing to think outside the box. Companies who want to create affordable, healthy meal options that can perhaps help change the stigma associated with fast food. The other idea I would suggest would be programs to help underpriviledged and impoverished families with cheaper access to organic and healthy food options, think Food Stamps meets Trader Joe's. By making healthy options available and educating underprivileged familes on the importance of a proper diet, we can reach a population that is statistically even more affected by the Obesity Epidemic. This is not a change that can happen over night, but by creating a new set of ideas and societal morals, we can start the wheels of change in the right direction. 


Healthcare is always a touchy subject no matter how you approach it. There are some that believe "Obamacare" has been incredibly detrimental to our healthcare system, specifically privatized healthcare. While others claim the overall good created by these programs in making healthcare affordable for all ages and income brackets has outweighed any criticism. Personally I fall somewhere in the middle. This past year I did not opt into the new healthcare program and my insurance covered under my parents up to that point expired on my 26th birthday. For me healthcare has never really been an issue, I've always taken care of myself, I rarely get sick, and it seemed to me that paying for something I probably wasn't going to need was pointless. This is an extremely stupid belief system to have, trust me I know, but it's one also shared by many in my age bracket. Milllenials, specifically millenials who stay physically active seem to think that we are all invincible. The truth is, it's called insurance for a reason, it's meant to be there "just in case". But my issue is more with the setup of the healthcare system rather than the idea of offering it to everyone. 

As I stated earlier, the American Heart Association estimates obesity related healthcare issues account for an astounding $190 Billion a year in medical costs. That means the premiums that healthy individuals like myself and many other Americans are forced to pay for are a direct result of the medical costs associated with being overweight. To me this seems like a way to punish those who are literally costing the healthcare system almost nothing, compared to those who are crippling it with unnecessary medical bills. So here is my hypothetical solution to this problem. And though I know the reality of such a situation is very unlikely, unless I one day decide to run for President, I do think even minor shifts towards the drastic solutions I'm proposing would create a huge change in American culture and how we view health in this country. 


Let's look at a hypothetical scenario with two 26-year olds who are now required to cover their own healthcare expenses. Our first patient has no pre-existing conditions, his BMI falls right in the recommended range, he is extremely healthy and lives an active lifestyle. He is a non-smoker, who occiasionally has a drink or two, but by no means abuses any substances. His premium is $250/month. 

Our second patient has hypertension and is at huge risk of developing type-2 diabetes. He has a BMI well over 30, as well as smoking a pack a day, he drinks heavily and lives a mostly seditary lifestyle. His premium is $250/month. Now how is this fair? Instead of simply blanket charging people based on age and demographic, we need to create a system that rewards those who through proper diet and excercise alleviate the demands placed on the healthcare system. Now it's hard to work out all the logistics and create a fair a balanced plan that wouldn't simply ostracize those who are overweight without a chance to redeem themselves, so here is what I propose. 

Create base level costs in each age group and weight bracket, not simply using BMI as the across the board standard but also calculating in bf% and activity levels. No use of family history as this could pre-bias in both directions. If someone comes from a healthy family but is obese they should be punished more than someone with family medical history but extremely healthy lifestyle.

Create mandatory non-charged testing for first consultations when people are getting checked out for new plans. After that patients are allowed to apply for new testing twice a year with the option to be immediately downgraded to a lower payment bracket if they have shown significant improvements. 

After initial testing and bracket placement you will not be forced to go in for a new bracketing system except every 5 years, but you are always eligible twice a year to apply to go down in the bracketing system. This means if you choose to do nothing and continue to be sedentary, you have five years to do so, but in five years you could be forced to pay even more. However, when initially placed you have two opportunities each year to turn yourself around and go in to show improvement and pay significantly less. Same goes for older individuals but after say age 65 you only have to show up every ten years, but you can have the same two opportunities every year to show improvement. This will encourage people to drop down as the gap between the higher and lower brackets will be significant, for example healthy, non-smoking individuals ranging from 18-30 may pay as little as $50 a month for coverage, while obese, smokers could pay upwards of $1000 a month.

Now this may seem drastic, because it is, but really that's the point. By rewarding those who take care of themselves and put less burden on the healthcare system, you encourage all people to take an active role in turning their lives around. The other thing this would do is create a potentially enormous boost in healthcare related programs to stimulate growth in the economy. Think about all the new opportunities that would arise for businesses related to nutrition and exercise. You could even create tax breaks for those who are investing in these industries in order to better themselves. So for instance if you paid $5,000 over the course of a year for nutritionists and fitness services, but this resulted in drastic improvements to your health and wellbeing, those costs could be used as a tax write off. And by giving people multiple opportunites each year to enter a lower costing bracket, you are giving everyone a fair chance to take an active role in their personal well being. Whether or not they choose to do anything about it is up to them. 

The short term costs associated with this kind of total overhaul would be pretty drastic at first, but over the course of 10-20 years we could potentially see a huge change in the health culture of American Society, which brings us to our next issue.


When I was growing up in schools in the midwest in the 90's P.E. class or PhysEd, was just starting a major decline. Now you would be hardpressed to find a regular P.E. program at most schools in the country. With the GFC and school funding cut drastically over the course of the last two decades, programs like P.E. simply became a novelty, not a necessity. But I would argue that good real Physical Education classes from a young age are just as important if not more than many of the things taught to our young people in school. For instance I spent much of my 5th grade year learning of the importance of cursive writing, and I can't remember one time in the last decade when I used it for anything other than my signature. 


Physical education classes have seen a continued and drastic decline in our country. With school budget cuts across the board and the creation of NCLB testing standards, any available resources in schools have been put towards test prep and pulled away from programs deemed frivolous. According to a 2006 CDC report less than 10% of schools in all age levels teach the recommended amount of physical fitness or the equivalent to all students on a regular basis. So it's no wonder that childhood obesity has had such a dramatic rise. Schools are where we go to learn the fundamentals and building blocks of the things that will help us in the rest of our adult life. Since physical fitness is no longer a priority it's no wonder the foundation for a healthy lifestyle is so rare these days. 

In 1960 President JFK announced a program aimed at elevating the level of physical fitness in students across the country. The flagship school for this programs role out was La Sierra High School in California. As you can see from this short clip (http://youtu.be/fISgKl8dB3M), these programs were not only impactful, the results were incredible. There is now a growing movement in this country to revisit the importance of regular physical fitness in children in schools throughout the country. In 2008, La Sierra became one of the first schools in the country to role out a "Crossfit" program for it's students and once again the results have been extremely positive. Regular excersise has dramatic affects in improving not just the overall health of young people but also their academic capacity. With the increase of video games, and technology it's harder and less frequent to see children getting their recommended alotment of physical exercise, and for many students incorportating these programs into schools is the only way they will see any activity at all. 

It's widely known and accepted that physical activity increases brain function by opening capilaries in the cardiovascular system and increasing blood flow and oxidation, two things that are extremely important when people are tryinig to learn. In one study in May 2013 by the American College of Sports Medicine, reseachers found that fourth and fifth graders who ran around or otherwise exercised vigorously for 10 minutes or more prior to a math test, tested higher than thosee who sat quietly before the test. Another study pulbish in August of the samee year by the Journal of Pediatrics, found that out of 12,000 Nebraska school children, those with higher levels  of physical fitness were also linked with better scores in both English and Math testing. So by cutting out mandatory physical fitness in an effort to increase time for in classroom learning may actually be having a counter intuitive effect on improving students learning capabilites. 

All academics aside, it's also incredibly important to get our youth active from a young age. The pre-adolescent and pre-pubescent time frame is when most children learn the activities, social beliefs, and societal standards they will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. If we can instill from this young age the importance of regular physical activity and proper nutrition then we are reaching children in their most moldable years. By simply teaching children to be active we are teaching them valuable life skills that can have huge ramifications on the socio-economic and financial impacts for future generations. 


As was stated earlier, fast food companies spend BILLIONS of dollars each year on marketing and advertising campaigns directed at children and the impoverished. While it is true that in recent years many of these companies have come under increased scrutiny there is still a daunting issue facing our country. Yes, companies like McDonald's specifically have come under fire recently, but even with all this increased scrutiny it seems they are simply trying to put a band-aid over a mortal wound. And as T-Swift so eloquently puts it, "Band-aids don't fix bullet holes"... preach T-Swift... preach. 

I don't have nearly the time, the space, the energy, or the statistical data to delve into the many problems with the food industry in this country, but I can outline some of the basics. Really what it boils down to is three interelated aspects that have put us on this downward spiral. The are cost, convenience, and lack of education. 

The past few years have seen rapid and expansive growth in the U.S. economy. Regardless of what your beliefs are about the current administration, the fact remains that the U.S. is once again at the forefront of the World's economies. As Europe continues to deal with it's own financial crisis and bailouts, the U.S. Dollar is the strongest it's been in quite some time. While it's good to be back on top, this in no way implies that we are out of the darkness just yet. Many people in our country are still struggling to make ends meat and the cost and availability of healthy nutritious food is part of the problem. It's time we started demanding higher quality products, not just from fast food companies, but from all food manufacturers. It seems every week there is a new recall in the states, whether it be contaminated chicken, beef, or even vegetables, and the reasoning for this is clear. In an effort to cut costs while maximizing profits, food suppliers are doing everything in their power to give us the most amount of food, for the least amount of money, but at what cost to our health? There are countless documentaries focused on the horrible living situations surrounding mass produced livestock in this country, but what really has been done to rectify these situations. When push comes to shove people without the funds to pay for "organic" "fair-trade" items are many times forced to simply buy what's affordable. 

It's because of this low costing structure that we need to make a fundamental shift in what we expect from our food suppliers. Instead of letting large food conglomerates control the will of the senate through lobbyists we need to create programs that start holding these companies accountable. The same way people get up in arms when they find out their favorite clothing brands are being made by 6-year olds working 14-hours a day, is the same way we should feel about food companies with substandard labor practices. This is not to say that children and chickens are on the same level, but simply realizing that when we sacrifice our consumeristic ingegrity we are sacrificing more by paying slightly less than we may think. We need to start holding our food suppliers accountable, demanding fair labor practices, not just for the livestock, but also for those producing it. By creating restrictions on corporations, we provide incentives to farmers, who then supply supremely better products. 

The next thing we need to do is something I touched on earlier. Providing higher taxation and restrictions on those companies providing shoddy products to the consumers. At the same time offering tax breaks and incentives to innovative companies and entrepreneurs that are willing to create healthy, convenient, alternatives to their corporate counterparts. For instance we could create a program that incentivizes opening healthy meal outlets. If you were to say open a salad and fallafel chain, where your most "unhealthy" item fell under the 1,000 calorie threshold, you could apply for government grants and loans to expand your business. Whereas if you wanted to open a chain of Chicken & Waffel restaurants, you wouldn't be afforded the same government incentives. You could even go one step further and offer larger grants and tax breaks to companies willing to opening healthy alternative businesses in areas of lower socio-economic status. This would not only provide business opportunities within these communites for residents of the communities but could also slowly start to shift the sterotypes related to different economic levels. Which unfortunately are there for a reason. But by offering incentives and breaking stereotypes we can slowly start to creating a change that branches outwards from the places most in need. 

This previous idea ties in with the last one, which is, lack of education. This is a broad and someone confusing category as it involves many aspects, including home life, public education, and advertising. There is not a lot of emphasis in this country on proper diet and excercise while you can find ads regularly depicting 99 cent Frosties, and the importance of milk. While I won't argue that milk is not an arguably important nutritional supplement, I find the lack of education regarding well-rounded diets appauling. 

I remember learning about the food pyramid as a youngster and not really caring that much, as long as I got to have some gushers every once in a while I was good. I was fortunate enough to come from a good home where putting food on the table was never an issue. Unfortunately for millions of Americans this is a daily struggle, and the amount of children in this country going hungry is alarming. There are government programs in place to help underprivileged students receive meals at school but what our country's schools are serving, while better than nothing, is not necessarily good. I grew up in a pretty affluent area but even the food at my school was mostly high preservative, deep fried mush. But when I was in school we also had recess everyday, and after school sports. So eating a couple of pieces of pizza for lunch was quickly burned off by the time the 3 o'clock bell rang. It's time our schools started making nutrition and education a priority, and just like the other proposed programs here, I think government incentive is a good place to start.

Let's start making fitness testing just as important as starndardized testing. Offering schools grants to create new and inventive programs that teach our students about proper exercise and nutrition. Maybe instead of "Home-economics" we can start offering classes from an early age about "Excercise Physiology" and "Nutritional Fundamentals". By replacing some age old "elective" classes we can at least begin to offer our kids a chance to learn about health and wellness. The key is starting young, and making education a priority when it comes to health and wellbeing. Yes, it's important to make sure our kids are learning educational fundamentals to help them in their quest for higher education, but shouldn't we also be worried about their long term wellbeing?


The truth is this problem can't be fixed over night, but it's something we need to start talking about. What will really make a change in this country is open candid discussions about changing our situation, people stepping forward with long term solutions, rather than short term fixes. This isn't something that can simply be implemented and enforced, people have to want it, and they should. By continuing to spread awareness, we can start to take this issue out of the realm of taboo, and into the main stream. Remember it's not just a small group of American's affected here, it's two thirds of the American population. The long term ramifications of this problem are startling and dire, and unless we start a change now, the end result will not be pretty. But what can you do to make a difference? For one, take an active role in noticing all these things. Demand more from your food suppliers and start supporting local, healthy food alternatives. If you or someone you know is affected with obesity, talk about it. For many people, obesity is not a disease, it's an addiction, and like many addictions it came as a result of lack of education about the long term consequences. There is an solution, we just have to be willing to work for it, to hold eachother accountable, and to understand that only together can we make a difference in this fight. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What the Canuck?! 5 Reasons being called Canadian abroad is a compliment

The old Neighbor to the North. Its easy to make fun of Canadians, as friendly as they may be they do pose quite an easy target. As the late great Robin Williams once said:

"Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party."

But when you look past their laughable Canadian tuxedos, their affinity for ice sports, and how they all say "Eh?" all the time, they're actually quite awesome as people. So when I started constantly being confused for Canadian as a traveler I was a little, perplexed to say the least. I grew up in Chicago, but I've always been told if anything I have a lack of an accent. I definitely don't mind the cold, but this is Australia, it never really gets that cold, maybe there's something about me that just says, "Hockey for Life!" possibly the long hair and man bun, I couldn't figure it out. Finally after almost a year traveling I've come to the conclusion that being assumed Canadian, is actually quite the compliment. It means you sound like one of those Western Folks, but not the bad ones that wanna blow up all the brown people. We Americans unfortunately have a hard earned reputation in the international community, so until we change that, which isn't likely anytime soon, I present "5 reasons it's a compliment to be called Canadian."

5. It's Code For "You Don't Seem Like a Dick".

Like I said, us Americans have a quite infamous reputation around the world, and frankly you can't really blame them. Most of the modernized world looks to Americans for the latest fashion, film, and social trends, and when you look at the amount of garbage publicity we give ourselves, you can't really blame people for assuming we're all kind of self absorbed, mindless, socialites **Cough** Kim Kardashian **Cough**. You add that on top of our affinity for being extremely patriotic (because if you don't like 'Merica... You can GET OUT!), and our habit of starting long and drawn out military conflicts, and we aren't exactly painting a great first impression of ourselves. Now I love my country and I know it's filled with plenty of people who chose not to fall into the paradigm, but as a "whole" you simply can't argue with a lot of these impressions. 

The other problem rises when people from other places in the world are exposed to these stereotypes in person. If you take the cast of the Jersey Shore and send them, well, send them quite frankly anywhere, the locals probably aren't going to be to crazy about Americans in town. The truth however, is that most Americans who travel full-time or aren't simply going somewhere for a quick vacation, are very low-key, and unassuming, which means most people don't know they're American. And since the world expects us to all be loud, flag-waving, gun enthusiasts, when we are not, they assume the only other possible alternative... Canadian. We look the same, we talk relatively the same (assuming you live in the mid-west), minus the "eh?" but Canadians as a whole seem to the rest of the world like Americans, who aren't very "American-y". Canadians, at least all the ones I've met, also tend to be extremely friendly and hospitable (again similar to my mid-western friends), which means when foreigners see those qualities in you, they once again assume, Canadian. 

At fiirst, I was a little confused, and I must admit a little upset. Again I love Canadiens, and we have a fun, friendly rivalry with our northern neighbors, but no real red-blooded American really wants to be confused with those moose hunting, syrup slurping, maple leaf lovers, right? Well at first, yes, I'm a proud American and I would always respond somewhat defensively at first, "Actually no, I'm an AMERICAN!" But it kept happening, and happening, and happening, to the point that if you lined up the thousand plus people I've talked to bartending in this country, at least 950 of them would have guessed Canadian. Finally, after about a month or so, I realized after continuing the conversation with a few patrons that they assumed I was Canadian, simply because I was so friendly and as one customer put it, "You just don't seem like a dick, most Americans I've met are kind of a dick." And just like that, I realized that when people assumed I was Canadian, what they were actually were saying was, "There's no way you're AMERICAN, right?!"

So basically what I learned from all this is not simply that being assumed Canadian is a good thing, but if you do find yourself overseas and this happens too you, take it in stride. Obviously correct the person and let them know you like real football, not that weird Canadian mutation, but then leave a positive impression on them that will spread way beyond your encounter. Actively be a poster-child for the "cool, fun, not gun crazy" American, and see if we can work together to change those stereotypes. Also, keep an eye out for any Canadians, who get accused of being American, because they will lose their shit... and it's hilarious!

4. Canadians are super friendly eh?!

If you don't have any Canadian friends, do yourself a favor and get on it. Aside from being apparently full of beautiful, and friendly (and many time easy eh?!) women, the Canadian guys I've met aren't too bad either. Canadians are basically our first cousin in world relations (the cool one, not the creepy pedophile one... that's the Brits) and they can be a breath of fresh air when you're feeling a little overwhelmed in a new place. They also love to travel, so anywhere your adventure takes you, you are bound to run into some awesome Canucks. 

I'm currently coming to the end of my time in Australia and spending my last few months in Perth. My first month here I had a Canadian girl come into my bar, backpack in tow, and order a couple of pints off of me. Eventually, we got to chatting (after I agreed to charge her phone for her) and she told me her sister, and her sisters two friends were coming to visit, and she was waiting for them here. What she didn't know (because it was day time) was that the bar I work at is an LGBT venue, and as fate would have it, her sister, and her sisters two friends were all lesbians. And since there are only two openly gay friendly venues in all of Perth, it was pretty likely I would be seeing them again. We exchanged numbers after her sister and her friends showed up and the very next night, they were back. Not only did they have a blast at my bar, but they were also, not surprisingly, super friendly! They invited me out to the house they were renting for the month, and over the course of that time I probably spent four or five days out there. They bought me drinks, cooked me dinner, sang me rap songs on a ukelele, and mostly just made me feel welcome. That's still probably the best experience I've had since I've been in Western Australia, and I can't wait to visit them in Canadia, where I've already been assured I have a place to sleep. Also, did I mention two of them were strippers, road trip anyone?

3. Canadians are super chill

We all have that one friend who never seems to get phased by anything, it's almost like they're constanly high, because of how mellow they always seem to be. Now imagine an entire country of super friendly, super mellow people, that love to booze and have a good time, without all the dramas that can sometimes entail. Now I can't blanket statement and say every Canadian is chill, all the time, but the vast majority I've met are just that. Even the women seem to be slightly less crazy and melodramatic than their female counterparts around the world (key word... slightly).

I don't know if it has to do with being a relatively non-waring nation, but when was the last time you heard about Canada's military doing, well... anything. Whatever it is, this seems to carry over into their day-to-day lives and demeanor. This is not to say that Canadians are pussies or will back down when faced with confrontation, it's just they seem to avoid it, and for the most part they take a mostly pacifistic role. Think the opposite of how (and I hate to keep referencing Jersey Shore) Snooki or the "Situation" would act during any kind of slight confrontation or misunderstanding. Instead of throwing a drink in someones face, or taking off their shirt for no reason, your typical Canadian would most likely respond with something along the lines of "No biggie eh?"

I don't know about you, but this is extremely refreshing for someone like me. I spent most of my high school years in Nashville, and my family still resides there. As much Southern Hospitality as there is in the south, there are still plenty of douchebags out looking for any reason to cause trouble. However, as a pretty pacifistic guy myself I can't really imagine a misunderstanding in a Honkey-tonk, resembling anything that might happen in a similar Canadian establishment (Do Canadians line dance?). Most likely something that might get your front tooth knocked out in the states, like say spilling a drink, would only result in a good hearted "whoopsies eh?" in Canada, and you having to pay to buy someone a new Molson.

2. Canadians Love to Party

Along  with their ever-friendly demeanor and overall fun outlook on life, Canadians like to get weird, and they know how to party. Now, as we all know from the film Beerfest, Americans are the undisputed drinking champions of the world, but Canadians may be a close second. This is not to say that other nations don't get on the booze and get on it hard, but in my experience most other countries can't quite hang. Australians in particular love to "get on the piss" as they say out here, but the style and way they drink is quite a bit different. Australians for instance are a very aggresive drinking culture, the entire country seems to run on a perpetual state of proving ones' masculinity. You combine that with about a dozen or so pints, and its seems at least half the men in the country are constantly looking to "glass some cunts" (break a bottle over someones head). 

Now Americans are known for our brash and crass reputation, but I know plenty of people, and most of the Americans I've met while traveling, are simply looking for a good time. Drinking is a way to meet new people and be social, and Canadians seem to share this philosophy. You are much more likely to have a Canadian tell you they "Love you eh?!" while out on the town, than you are to see them get aggressive. Canadians also seem to embrace the American concept of "It's five-o-clock somewhere. This doesn't mean they booze recklessly or with disregard, but when free time is available, it usually is associated with a pint... or ten. Most importantly booze isn't needed to fuel a good time with Canadians, but it certainly helps to grease the wheels. So if your out drinking or partying and someone asks if your Canadian, that just means you look like your having a great time, with no drama involved. 

1. Canadians are just good people

They may look ridiculous standing there in their ear warmers and board shorts, and we may not understand their obsession with Gretsky, but at the end of the day the Canucks as a whole are a pretty awesome group of people. This means as American travelers, not only should you not be offended when you get confused for those dog sledding, Tim Horton's loving, mountain folk, you should feel quite complimented. Yes, there's a bit of a rivalry between America and Canada, but it's nothing real, it's more like a friendly family rivalry. But sometimes you realize your little brother is actually a better person that you, you're still cooler in the eyes of everyone else, but maybe he's not so bad afterall. 

Canada is filled with beautiful landscapes, and 30 million people who all claim to be somewhere from Europe, but obviously are not because their families have been there for five generations. So while they may not have the same sense of national pride us Americans have, what they do have is an unspoken comradery with one another. Canadians are one of the few groups as a whole that seem to really care about other people with no discrimination based on race or ethnicity. While they may for instance "hate" those 'damn leafs fans' when the game is over they will happily share a pint with their nemesis. You hear all the time about people getting into giant brawls after soccer games all over Europe, but I don't know if I've ever heard of a fight breaking out after Leafs and Canadiens game. Maybe it's the fact that they get all their anger out on the ice, or maybe that it's too damn cold there to stay angry for long. Whatever it is, the Canadians are doing something right.

I'm proud to be an American, but I now know that while it's great to be an American, it's even better in the eyes of the world to be an American who seems like a Canadian, but in reality has no idea what Tim Horton's is. So drink your Molson, keep making your delicious syrup, and keep yelling at "icing" calls (whatever that means) but whatever you do keep being you Canada! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner... The Best Kardashian

There's something wrong in our society. A lot of it has to do with technology and the way our culture seems completely interwoven with social media. Long forgotten are the great unanimous heroes of popular culture, the unquestioned good guys we as a society unanimously voted as awesome. There are no more Joe Dimaggio's or Hank Aaron's, and the closest we've come in the last two decades was Michael Jordan. However, if you've read any biographies on Jordan, you know that he was part basketball demi-god, part strategically crafted and well protected salesman. Jordan was on the cusp of social media, and had he started playing maybe five years later, he would've most likely been the victim of some TMZ shaming himself. 

So what does that mean for society, what does it say about our culture that there are no more unshakeable pillars of societal heroism for us to look up to. Partly, it shows that for all intents and purposes social media has leveled the playing field. There are no more heroes, because if we're being honest there never were in the first place, they were simply men who seemed unblemished, because there was no capacity to cast a shadow upon them. This is no longer the case, and now it seems every week we are seeing just how utterly human and fallible our favorite stars really are. Which has lead to a revolution of sorts, now we have icons, and societal figures who are famous and admired, simply because they're famous and admired. Popular culture has turned into a weird Draconian Loop that rewards famous people, simply for being famous, and there is no better example of this in our society than Kim Kardashian. 

Now to be perfectly honest, I don't like the Kardashians, so it's easy for me to place a lot of the blame for societies' downfall on these big booty Persians, but I don't hate them for the reasons you might think. Personally, as people, I think they seem nice enough. What else can you expect when your "life" is completely scripted and you walk around in a reality not knowing at any given time what's real and what's fake. From a marketing perspective you also can't argue the ingenuity and pure business flair the family as a whole seems to have, specifically Kim. Say what you will, but Kim Kardashian turned having sex on camera with an R&B singer, into a multi-million dollar empire, and personally has made herself, arguably, the most well known female on the planet. There's something to be said for that kind of business savvy, and that's something nobody, especially myself, can take away from her. What upsets me about the Kardashians, specifically Kim, is what they represent, and the residual impact they are knowingly or unknowingly spreading across my generation and all subsequent generations. Essentially they are willfully engaging in the "dumbing down" of society, and spreading a negative message to future generations, specifically young women. Kim Kardashian has been accused of a lot of things, but being "Thought Provoking" is never something I've heard mentioned in the same sentence discussing her. 

This little bit of back story brings us to the precipice of what this article is about, what good has come from the Kardashian's, if any? And the only thing that comes to mind, save wrangling in some of Kanye's crazy, is Caitlyn Jenner. When I first heard the stories about Bruce Jenner a few months ago, I thought this was just another example of senseless tabloid shaming. My first thought was "leave the poor guy alone, he's not even married to Kris anymore!" Obviously, with the culmination in Bruce officially becoming Caitlyn, and this week accepting the "Aurthor Ashe Award for Courage" it made it clear that this was no joke. Now I will admit I was shocked to hear the news, and honestly blown away by not only how brave Bruce was for going through this publicly, but how beautiful she came out as Caitlyn on the other side. It seemed to me that writing this article was almost meant to be, it had culminated with a few ideas I'd been having and some personal experiences I've had over the last few months. 

About three months ago I started working at a LGBT friendly venue in Western Australia, and it completely opened my eyes to this community. Now I've never had any ill-will towards the LGBT community, and I firmly believe everyone in our country should have equal rights (why you would want to get married in the first place is the real question... but I digress). But  working at this venue allowed me a first hand view at some of the struggles and hardships people go through when facing this world as someone who is "different". It also showed me that even through these hardships, our LGBT brothers and sisters are some of the most well rounded decent humanbeings walking this earth. Which brings us back to Caitlyn. I wanted to write an article about how societies shift from atypical heroes to social media heroes is the beginning of the end, and then Caitlyn happened. You see Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner represents both ends of the hero spectrum. 

Bruce Jenner was one of those heroes I was talking about earlier, when he reached the heights of Olympic greatness in 1976 he was one of those unanimous "American Heroes". Not only was he considered one of the greatest athletes of his generation, he won his gold medal in a time of huge socio-diplomatic turmoil between the US and the former Soviet Union. He was the Michael Phelps of his time, and rightfully so, and in a time before social media, he was viewed as a true American icon. He was the epitome of male masculinity, someone every man wanted to be, and every woman wanted to be with, yet none of us knew this whole time, he was hiding a secret. 

Now cut almost 40 years later, and Bruce Jenner, before he became Caitlyn was an active member of "Keeping up with the Kardashians". He had crossed over from being an American hero to being a reality TV star, and the sad part is he was the least famous person on that show, when he should've been the most. I've seen maybe a dozen episodes of KUWTK over the years, and in the bit I've seen it always seemed like Bruce was the butt of the jokes. In a family full of crazy women he was constantly trying to be a voice of reason and instead was consistently laughed off as "silly old Bruce." And to think all this time, all these years, he was hiding this secret, forced to act as the bumbling step father to this entourage of vapid, self-absorbed reality queens. 

So what makes Caitlyn different? 

After finally divorcing Kris, following some 23 years of marriage it seemed Bruce went off the deep end a bit. Now I don't closely follow reality TV, but I remember glancing at magazines in the grocery store, or flipping past TMZ, and there always seemed to be some new story about Bruce. 

"Did Bruce Jenner get more plastic surgery?"

"Was Bruce Jenner caught wearing women's clothes?"

"Did Bruce Jenner have his adam's apple removed?"

All these things kept popping up, but they still never registered, it just seemed like something invented to sell copies. Until finally one day I saw the Diane Sawyer interview pop up on my news feed, and that was the first time I knew there was actually validity to all this. Then next thing I know, Caitlyn happened. Now there have been certain media outlets that have claimed we've wasted too much time discussing this issue, when there's so many other things in the world being glazed over, to an extent this is true. But there's also a part of me that thinks maybe this story is worth examing a little deeper. Because the way I see it, Caitlyn Jenner is the first reality TV star I can remember to make a difference, to have a deeper message than improving their branding. Bruce Jenner didn't become Caitlyn Jenner to get more likes on Facebook, this was never a marketing ploy. The reality is there never was a Bruce, there was only a Caitlyn trying to find a way out. I can berate reality TV all I want, but the truth is, KUWTK made Bruce Jenner relevant again, it gave him a platform. And now that Bruce is Caitlyn, it has served as an inspiration and message to millions of people around the world who may be struggling with similar issues. 

I said before, that it seems there are no real heroes in this country anymore. Obviously I'm talking about public figures, not the countless troops, police, firemen, etc. that make this country the greatest on earth. But in the sense of folk heroes, people we can all look up to together, it seems we are in short supply. The irony is not lost on me that the family I consider somewhat responsible for the moral degredation of America's youth is also partly responsible for creating one of its noblest examples of hope. Kim Kardashian has a book, a hard-cover "book" that sells for $40 and features no written words, it's simply about 50-pages of selfies. This to me is the epitome of not using your platform to improve society. Caitlyn Jenner is a former Olympic Gold-Medalist, and at the age of 65 has become a beacon of hope for the LGBT community. Maybe she can also serve as a reminder to other people who have come to achieve great success in popular culture, that sometimes there's social responsibilty that comes along with being famous. That when you do hold the power to influence so many people, sometimes you need to be aware of the greater good. So kudos to you Bruce, and you can be sure I will happily and respectfully "Call you Caitlyn" from now on. 

Generation-'Why' Buy Anything... Why Gen-Y doesn't have the same values of ownership as our parents

When I was growing up the model of the American lifestyle was 4-Bedroom house in the suburbs, white picket fence, and 2.5 kids, this is no longer the case. Currently I own a car (well, I'm paying one off) and that's it, the entirety of my personal empire is a 2013 Kia Soul. Now, as sweet of a ride as this may be, I'm not the only one, and there seems to be a surprising trend among those of my generation, that don't care nearly as much about material possesions. The majority of my time and money is spent on things that cannot be accounted for in monetary value, I travel full-time, I pursue my hobbies and interests, and I could care less about my 401k. Maybe it's reckless and maybe I'll regret it when I'm 65, but material possesions and the collection of them seem to be something that held so many of our parents down in the past. Every time we partake in another large expense we sign ourselves up for a timeline of debt, 30 years for a mortgage, 5 for a car, and 18 for each of our kids. Yet, I'm not the only one that seems to be going off the grid, it seems more and more like millenials and 80's and 90's babies are valuing the non-material things in life, and it's pretty refreshing.

Don't get me wrong, I would like to own a house someday, and I love my car, but it's the types of things we are pursuing and the matter in which we are doing it that differentiates us from previous generations. For instance, I want to own a house someday, but not one that causes me crippling debt and the promise of a 30-year mortgage. Coming from a suburban middle-class family I've seen how the quest for material things can rip families and lives apart. Suburban utopia, is usually the complete opposite. In my neighborhood growing up there were countless families living WAY above their means in an effort to live these lives that society deemed would make them appear successful. This was never an issue for my family, my father is extremely smart and shrewd when it comes to making financial decisions, so he made sure we were comfortable, without ever hedging his future on creating appearances, but for many Americans this is not the case. So when I say yes, I would like to own a house one day, I mean something more along the lines of a 300-400 square foot "tiny house." Something I could realistically pay off in five years, not 30, and is not consumed with fitting social norms, but rather reducing my environmental footprint, and living, smarter not larger. 

I think it has a lot to do with the reality of the world we live in today, it's a very different reality than we were raised to believe it would be. We all went out there and got our degrees and were funneled into the system, until many of us realized the system was complete bullshit. There's a reason the Global Financial Crisis happened, and it wasn't just due to the banks giving out crazy subprime loans. The reason all this happened is because we're are lead to believe from a very young age that there are certain things we need to accomplish in order to be viewed as a success. A lifestyle "checklist" that isn't complete until we get a tick in all the boxes. Then and only then can we be viewed as a success. But what many of us have come to realize, myself included is that most of these people who have checked all these boxes are completely fucking miserable, they just try to appear like they aren't. 

This country is filled with husbands and wives living together in McMansions with two kids, Caleb and Autumn who seem to have the perfect life. The truth is they are in debt up to their eyeballs and one missed payment away from having their whole lives repossed, yet they continue to consume! The father always regrets never starting up that band, and the mother always wanted to be a novelist, but they made sacrifices and settled for what they thought they were "supposed" to do. Trust me, growing up in the suburbs in the Mid-west I would say approximately 75% of "happily" married people had quite a few things they wish they had done differently. That's why the stereotype of the mid-life crisis exists, men go out and buy a sports car, and women get fake tits and bang the pool boy. These stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, because they happen... a lot. And me, us, my generation, we've seen this pursuit of possesions of the "perfect life" crash over, and over, and at some point we all decided that's not gonna be me. That's why I'd rather rent then own, that's why I'd rather lease then buy, because at 27 I know how much I've changed in the last 5 years, and I can't imagine how much I will change in the next 5. What I do know is that whatever I thought I wanted and was convinced I needed today, probably isn't gonna mean squat to me down the road, so why lock myself in. Security is great to a point, and it's got to be nice to know you've got something locked in, but the reality is, nothing is guaranteed. You could lose your job tomorrow, your significant other could decide they don't love you anymore, any number of things could derail your pre-planned life, so why have anything locked in?

When I wrote an article about why not quitting your job to travel is a waste of your life, I was hit with a barrage of negative comments from people who said not everyone is like me, some people love what they do. This is very true, I have friends who are completely happy persuing the "American Dream" career, relationship, car, house, kids... check, check, check, check... and check! And that article was not meant for them, the same way this is not meant for everyone. What I'm trying to articulate is there seems to be a growing segment of young people who are ok with not living this normal dream. It's finally become socially acceptable to want something more out of life, then what your parents had, this is something new in our society. In the 1950's if you grew up in the suburbs and you told your parents you wanted to travel the world and be a writer, they would've looked at you as if you said you wanted to change your name from Bruce to Caitlyn. But now in 2015, even if they don't get it, they still understand the times, they are a changing. 

So for any of you who are like me, who get uncomfortable thinking about paying a mortgage, and shopping at Crate & Barrell for matching duvets and drapes, just know, you are not alone. In fact, there's a lot of us, and that number is growing every day. We may not know what we want to do, but we know that we don't want to do what society tells us is the norm, because for us, it's not. So be proud of your journey, tell your parents sorry, but the grandkids are gonna have to wait, enjoy having your own space, and walking around naked because you don't have roommates. Find your passion, chase your dreams, make silly mistakes while your the only one who has to deal with the repercussions, and in the mean time enjoy all the weddings you get to go to this summer. Notice the small twinge of jealousy in your friends' eyes as you knock back free drinks from the open bar. No you can't join the conversation about 'refinancing homeloans' but you definitely know more about GOT than anyone there, and if you get drunk and make a fool of yourself, the only person you have to answer to... is you.