Governor Perry Seeks Federal Aid for Drought-Stricken Texas

April 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Oak Hill Fire

The loss of one firefighter, 220 homes, and an estimated 1.5 million acres of black, charred land has Texas Governor Rick Perry seeking federal aid for his drought-stricken state. Reuters reported that Perry sent President Obama a letter Sunday, which requested a federal disaster declaration for the entire state.

While violent storms and tornadoes swept across the southeast this weekend, wildfires continue to consume thousands of acres of dry grass and farmland all over rural West Texas–15,000 acres have burned in the last three days. The fires have forced ranchers to relocate their cattle to safer pastures. A blaze destroyed about 30 homes and left a thick gray haze across the sky as it burned about 20,000 acres around Possum Kingdom Lake, 120 miles west of Dallas, on Friday. A fire started at a homeless camp threatened an Austin area community Sunday, forcing residents to evacuate their homes for a night. The coal fire was left unattended, sparking a wildfire that ravaged a section of Oak Hill and destroyed several homes, officials said today.

Here is a video of the Austin fire, posted on Twitter by @travismaclay. It was shot from his house in Oak Hill:

http://www.twitvid.com/BJ0UZ

Right now Texas is experiencing its driest conditions since 1917. Dry weather combined with the infamous Texas wind makes a perfect breeding ground for wildfires.

“We’ve had 19 consecutive days of just super-dry weather, relative humidities in the single digits,” said Forest Service spokeswoman C.J. Norvell told CNN.

“What we’re seeing right now is winds that are typical of spring, but everything else is typical of late summer — no rain, vegetation that’s just super dry. When you combine those two, it really has not boded well.”

Dry conditions are expected to continue. The Weather Channel forecasts a few spots around the state will top 100 degrees this week. Protecting your home from wildfires is as easy as doing a little outside spring cleaning. The Texas Forest Service gave KXAN tips on protecting your house from wildfires. it is important to build “defensible space” around your structure. Make a clean, green area 30 feet from your house, and make sure there is a non-combustible area within five feet of the house.

Congress Set to Vote on Budget Plan this Week

April 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown Friday after cutting it close with negotiations and coming to agreement late that night. Torn between the GOP’s $61 billion federal spending cut and the Democrat’s $33 billion budget, Congress came to agree on a $38 billion federal spending cut. One of the agencies to be hit hardest is the National Institute of Health, which is the world’s largest investor in biomedical research, with a $1.6 billion cut.

By Wednesday of this week, the House will vote on a budget deal covering the remainder of the fiscal year and the Senate will likely take a look at the bill Thursday.

The “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is supported by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and is sure to spark a partisan battle this week.

Boehner argues the budget plan “is a powerful blueprint for economic growth and fiscal responsibility that will help our economy get back to creating jobs, stop Washington from spending money we don’t have, and lift the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children and grandchildren.”

Ryan’s proposed plan would overhaul the Medicare and Medicaid government health care programs for senior citizens and the elderly while reforming the tax code to lower rates and eliminate loopholes. Defense spending would be spared.

President Obama, by contrast, envisions a more comprehensive plan that would include tax increases for the richest taxpayers, cuts to military spending, savings in Medicare and Medicaid, and unspecified changes to Social Security.

In his Wall Street Journal article The GOP Path to Prosperity, Ryan puts the blame on the Obama administration for the current crisis looming in America.

“Yet the facts are clear: Since President Obama took office, our problems have gotten worse. Major spending increases have failed to deliver promised jobs. The safety net for the poor is coming apart at the seams. Government health and retirement programs are growing at unsustainable rates. The new health-care law is a fiscal train wreck. And a complex, inefficient tax code is holding back American families and businesses,” Ryan wrote.

Obama will call on Republicans in a major speech Wednesday to join him in creating a broad plan to reduce debt. He will present a new package of deficit reduction ideas. Obama is expected to go far beyond his initial FY’12 budget released in early February that avoided major entitlement savings. Boehner describes Obama’s proposed 2012 budget as “irresponsible,” raising taxes and adding trillions to the national debt.

Rip: A Remix Manifesto

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Brett Gaylor’s 2008 documentary, Rip: A Remix Manifesto, discusses intellectual property (IP) and the laws that protect it. Girl Talk (AKA Gregg Gillis) is an artist who takes small parts of popular songs, then remixes/mashes them up to create a new, unique song. He doesn’t get permission from the artists  to use their songs. He’s yet to be sued by anyone in the music industry, but Lawrence Lessig–a Harvard professor–says it is only a matter of time before an artist does. Girl Talk has gained popularity and performs at well-known music festivals like Coachella and SXSW.

Here’s what Girl Talk’s music sounds like:

Music industry execs are pissed: what Gregg Gillis sees as art, they see as stealing. I look at music industry execs as greedy and ridiculous monkeys in suits. Hey look, we’re all making observations.

What is IP?

Intellectual property is imagination made real. It is the ownership of dream, an idea, an improvement, an emotion that we can touch, see, hear, and feel. It is an asset just like your home, your car, or your bank account (via U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).

There are four ways to protect intellectual property:

  1. Patents
  2. Trademarks
  3. Copyrights
  4. Trade secrets

When you copyright something, the copyright lasts your lifetime+70 years. After that, it falls into something called the public domain. No permission whatsoever is needed to copy or use public domain works. There are a lot of stipulations for what is considered to be in the public domain because the laws have changed a lot over the years.

How might IP laws affect medical research?

The documentary also looks at intellectual property from the medical-science perspective, which is something I hadn’t thought of before.

So say someone (we’ll call him Tom) patents his idea for a cure for cancer. Because his idea is patented, the next guy (let’s call him Joe) cannot use or build on this idea because Tom called shotgun on it first. But what if Joe’s idea isn’t exactly the same as Tom’s, it’s somewhat distorted or it only uses a fraction of it to create a whole new idea? Doesn’t matter. Joe can’t use it. The cure for cancer could be out there…but won’t be utilized because people are greedy and hate sharing.

Everything in this world derives from a previous idea. Movie ideas come from books. Book ideas come from movies. Last night I cooked a pasta dish from a recipe I found online, but instead of using mozzarella, I used Parmesan. I tweaked it to my liking. By allowing others to take something we make and turn it into something better, we’re able to create amazing things. If we start putting patents on EVERYTHING, no one will be allowed to touch anything without getting sued. Creative commons is a Web site where users put their shit on it and give others permission to take it and use it or turn it into even more awesome shit. I think that more ideas and goods should be free to for others in the public to build upon and expand.

Video Assignment

April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I shot and edited this video for the student news program at Texas State, Bobcat Update. The video is from the ASG president and vice president candidate debates on March 29. The voice over is student reporter Hollee Barfield. The video quality is poor because I had to re-download the video from Bobcat Update’s YouTube channel, edit it, and then upload it to my own YouTube account.

My Not-So-Red Velvet Cupcakes

March 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

For my Social Media at Work class, we must create a short photo slideshow that tells a story and post it on our blog. Yesterday I made “red” velvet cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese frosting. I’ve made them before, so I knew they would be yummy. If you know me at all, you will agree that more often than not I can be a complete blonde air head. And this was no exception. I messed up. The orange food coloring decided to disguise itself as red…sooo instead of red velvet cupcakes, they look like diarrhea velvet cupcakes :( . BUT they’re just as scrumptious! Here’s the slide show:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
• 2½ cups all purpose flour
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup butter, softened
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 ounce red wine vinegar
• ½ cup buttermilk
• 1 ounce red food color
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cupcakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed for five minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, buttermilk, food color, vinegar and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat.

3. Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup ½ full.

4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely.

5. Frost with vanilla cream cheese frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
• 1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened
• ¼ cup of butter, softened
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 (16 ounce) box confectioner’s sugar
• 8 oz melted white chocolate
Frosting

1. Beat cream cheese, softened butter and vanilla extract in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar until smooth.

2. Place your frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe frosting onto the cupcakes in a curly pattern.

3. Chill your cupcakes for 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm.

4. Remove from the refrigerator and gently dip the tops of the cupcakes into the melted white chocolate. Allow the cupcakes to warm to room temperature before serving

Tiananmen Square Could Be the Next Tahrir Square

March 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

We take for granted the easily accessible communication sites that let us post whatever we want, when we want. Don’t get me wrong, it’s naive to believe that our government has zero censorship in the online world. But our freedom by far surpasses that of the people of China. 

Through the “Great Firewall of China”, the Chinese one-party government bans its some 400 million netizens (Internet+citizen=netizen) from sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Even local China-based social sites, like QQ or Sina.com, are heavily censored by strict online police. Social media sites like these are what gave protesters a platform to call on their pro-democracy allies to create protests in Cairo and Tunisia in recent months. The call for a one million people march at Tahrir Square in Cairo was partially organized through the Internet.

The Communist Chinese government gives itself a huge budget for filtering online messages, blogs, and outside tweets in an attempt to track activists down and to maintain a strong hold on what their people read/see/hear. Recent crackdowns include the government turning off a CNN newsfeed from broadcasting because it had reports on the Middle East protests, and Google yesterday accused the Chinese government of purposely blocking Gmail services. By 2014, the metropolitan region of Chongqing will have spent nearly $800 million in surveillance cameras, providing thousands of governmental digital eyes keeping a close watch on its people. With the success of  organized protests via social media, many are wondering how long this cyber constrain will last in one of the world’s oldest civilizations. The tight gripped Chinese government could cut off Internet access completely, just like Mubarak did for a few days in Egypt before he stepped down; however, China’s economy heavily relies on the Internet and the repercussions would hit them hard.

So how can the Chinese people get around the censors? Can they achieve in Tiananmen Square what the Egyptians achieved in Tahrir Square? The Middle East revolts provide a template for the Chinese to follow, they just need the adequate resources to get it started.

This Wall Street Journal article prompted me to write this post.

Here is a CNN report on the government’s worries of unrest spreading to China:

The Raw Food Diet, Customized

March 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve done the raw food thing a couple times in the last year, for about two months each time. If you’ve gone raw before, you will agree that cutting processed foods and meat out of your diet makes you feel amazing. Digestion is smoother, complexion is clearer, and mood is heightened. Even though the diet is finally getting praise and its popularity is growing, I definitely feel judged when I tell people about it…because it does sound crazy.

On the diet, I’m eating all day long (and drinking tons of H2O):

  • Fruits. I learned to get creative with what I ate because apples and oranges get old real fast. Kiwi, pineapple, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, clementines, apples, grapes, cherries, pomegranate…the list goes on. If the skin of the fruit is thin, I try to get organic. It’s OK if fruits like oranges and bananas with thick outer layers aren’t organic.
  • Raw nuts. This means NOT salted or roasted. The raw food diet consists of very little sodium. If you go to the organic isle at the grocery store, there are bins full of raw nuts, like almonds, pistachios, pecans, cashews, walnuts, etc. and you can choose how much you want. This is where you get your protein so you have to eat a lot of nuts. I admit, this was the area where I failed the most.
  • My meals consist of huge organic salads with spinach leaves (iceberg lettuce is practically water, y’all), sprouts, cucumber, carrots, avocado, sunflower seeds, almonds, and anything else I can think of (with an olive oil-based vinaigrette dressing–NO RANCH!)
  • Thirst: water and skim milk only. No exceptions. COKE IS BAD FOR YOU. And it makes you feel bloated and yucky, and it makes your teeth feel gross.
  • So this means: No breads, not even wheat. No rice, not even brown. No starches, not even potatoes (even though you can argue potatoes are vegetables). If you must eat rice or pasta, try to go with gluten free. No meat, no poultry, no fish, no eggs.

At the beginning, ween yourself slowly off carbs and meat. Start by replacing one meal a day with a big salad that has protein (grilled chicken). Begin substituting your snacks with fruit and get cokes or sugary drinks out of your diet. Slowly work bread out of your meals. Then after a week and a half, go totally raw.

Food preparation is time consuming, especially when you’re busy and on the go. I always had to plan ahead and bring my salads and fruit with me. And eating out while on the diet sucks. Big time. You’re forced to sit there and smell the delicious hamburger and fries on your friends’ plates, while you munch on your plate of leaves and nuts. It takes a LOT of self control to make yourself eliminate cooked foods. One facet of the raw food diet that people hate (myself included) is the elimination of red meat. I grew up on a farm where we ate our own delicious, home-grown cattle daily, so I am right there with you. But research proves that the Mediterranean diet (very little red meat) is good for heart health and diabetes, and it extends life longevity.

So I have to be honest with where I allowed myself to cheat:

  • I stuck with my regular breakfast, a bowl of Cracklin Oat Bran with skim milk (I have been eating this breakfast cereal since I was a kid). The cereal is very high in fiber and it’s not your typical sugar-filled kids cereal. If you have more self control than I do, you can make a fruit and yogurt smoothie for breakfast.
  • I also continued to eat Greek yogurt every day, because like my cereal, I have been eating yogurt daily since a kid. Yogurt is also great for digestion so I don’t feel too guilty.
  • The first time I did it, I totally cut alcohol and coffee out. At the time, I was a big beer drinker (beer was the main contributor to my freshman 12!) I couldn’t force myself to cut them out my second go-around, though. I stuck to liquor instead of beer (BEWARE: if you do this diet and you drink like you’re eating regular food, you will feel the alcohol MUCH quicker). They say coffee slows your metabolism, but I enjoy my morning pot of coffee way too much and the thought of separating myself from it just makes me feel anxious.

NYT food writer Mark Bittman describes his eat-well strategy with a twist: eat vegan all day long until 6pm, then have what you want. I think I am going to start doing this as well (until about a month before I go on a cruise this summer, when I will go totally raw again).

Bittman says, “My arrangement with myself is that from the time I wake up until dinner I eat only fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. I don’t even eat white bread during the day. And then starting at dinner, I do. I have one meal a day when I do pretty much what I want, which is normally quite indulgent.” If you want to do more raw than Bittman but still need an indulgence here and there, try eating raw all week and eat normal on the weekends.

I cut down my workouts while doing it because I had less energy (carbs and protein give you energy). Be careful if you rigorously work out and eat raw simultaneously.

I found that after a few weeks of raw food, I didn’t really crave fast food or carbs anymore. And if I did eat processed or fast food, I instantly saw a difference in my digestion and I felt waaay bloated and full.

A plant-based nutrition diet is almost a life style change, and commitment is a must if you want to see real results and feel better. Your mindset is a big factor of the outcome. If it interests you, do a lot of research first and customize it to what fits you best.

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