A review of Blade Runner 2049

While my blog has distinct areas of focus and associated principles, I like to leave room for movie reviews. Both myself and my brother Amahl love movies, particularly the science fiction and super hero genres. We’ve teamed up on quite a few reviews thus far (see the end of this post). My blog’s last movie review was of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, and prior to that, I wrote a review of the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me. The 1980s was a magical time for movie making, and in this review we’re returning to our childhoods with a review of Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto. Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, and Rutger Hauer.

Amahl: Coming into the sequel I had some questions about how a story that takes place in 2049 would work with our current technologies like GPS, social media, and drones in a post Obama/ Trump America. The sequel answered all of my questions, except for that regarding social media. There was no speculation of how social media would exist in 2049. That was fine, because there was so much more to this film to enjoy.

In the real world, if entities such as the Tyrell or Wallace Corporations created robots that looked and sounded human with the sole purpose of serving humanity, they’d create a minority class. I think that’s one of the underlying themes of both of the Blade Runner movies. There are a couple of scenes in Blade Runner 2049 where Ryan Gosling’s character, Officer K, a “replicant”, is bullied by human officers, verbally assaulted by his human neighbors, and propositioned by a human female co-worker. If real world corporations such as Apple, Google, or Tesla had the chance to create replicants, I think the results would be disastrous. A proper way to integrate robots with humans would be in ways similar to what was seen in the movies Chappie or Robot & Frank. In both films, the robots have sentient-style bodies, but have no use for hair, skin, or blood. By the way, I think Chappie could serve as a proper prequel to the original Blade Runner.

My ‘take away’ story moment from Blade Runner 2049 was when the replicant ‘Luv’, from the Wallace Corporation, entered a police station, removed ‘retirement’ evidence, and then killed a forensic scientist and then the police chief. It was a strange, but subtle moment in the script where I figured law enforcement would pursue Wallace Corporation. The crimes by Luv were never addressed, so I concluded in the Blade Runner future of 2049, corporations had outgrown the government or constitutional laws.

Anwar: First of all, I was fortunate to be able to see Blade Runner 2049 in 3-D for the general admission price due to a miscommunication at the ticket booth, so thank you Regal Cinemas. Secondly, I was disappointed that they didn’t run the latest Justice League trailer before Blade Runner 2049 started, though it interestingly appears that we’re getting a second installment of Pacific Rim. Gerard Butler’s new movie, Geostorm, looked visually interesting to me as well.

In terms of Blade Runner 2049, I didn’t really go in with any hard expectations. I was thankful, as I’m sure other fans were, that it wasn’t an attempt at a remake of the original as we saw with Robocop and Total Recall, which neither lived up to the originals. Seeing Harrison Ford in the trailer let us all know that this would be a continuation of the original story, though much later chronologically.

Without spoiling Blade Runner 2049 for any readers, I enjoyed the film. With total runtime of 2 hours and 43 minutes, I had to really pay attention to all of the plot details as I often get lost and have to see movies twice to take in everything, while my brother, Amahl, can usually catch it all on the first viewing. Blade Runner 2049 kept a great deal of the “Cyberpunk” visual themes that Ridley Scott created in his 1982 classic – the most notable carry overs being the hover cars, the dark and stormy ambiance, in some cases the sexual eroticism expressed through holograms and some actual scenes.

Musically, Blade Runner 2049 also reprised the distinct sounds of Vangelis from the 1982 original. The plot went in a completely different direction than the original and I must admit that I was thrown off a little bit at the end. Ryan Gosling played well as the lead in Blade Runner 2049, though his “replicant” was more robotic than those in the original film who were more human. At times his Officer K, who is shrouded in mystery from the beginning of the film, very much reminded me of Michael Fassbender’s David from Prometheus. While in the first Blade Runner, there weren’t distinct villains – only the replicants who are trying to escape and extend their lives, there seem to be distinct villains in this sequel. While she was evil, I must admit that I did enjoy “Luv” played by Sylvia Hoeks. Harrison Ford’s Deckard returns to play a key role and it’s once again unclear or unaddressed if he is a replicant himself, though the plot suggests he must be. It was also unclear if there will be a third installment, though the door is left wide open for another film.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

Our next review will likely be of the Justice League movie opening in November.

Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. Thank you and we’re signing off. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

“Look at the first day, and not the worst day.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” of which health and wellness are major aspects.  Personal stories also fall under this principle as they are one of the most powerful means of teaching individuals about success and failure.  Recently, three high schools in Northern Virginia hosted a very special guest who shared his life journey starting from his days as a high school basketball standout, to his college basketball stardom, to his ascension to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and then his personal struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse along the way.

On Oct. 2 Chris Herren visited Northern Virginia to talk to students and families about his basketball journey and his lifelong struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse.  In the first of many local stops, Herren spoke at Fairfax High School to an audience of all students in the morning, and then to adults, families and the general public in the evening.  I first heard part of Chris’s story years ago on the Jim Rome Show, and then I watched ESPN’s powerful documentary on his life and journey, Unguarded.  I learned about his visit a couple of weeks ago by chance after Tweeting to Chris’s foundation ‘The Herren Project’.  I told them that I would’ve definitely attended one of his talks in Massachusetts if I lived there.  They shared that he would be making an appearance in early October in the DC area, and as a lover of sports stories, I knew that I had to attend.

Chris Herren was one of the top 20 high school basketball players coming out of Durfee High School in 1994 with multiple offers to some of the nation’s top college basketball programs.  It was in high school where he first experimented with alcohol – something he had seen his father do growing up.  After playing just a little bit for Boston College, he failed a drug test which almost ended his career.  He received a second chance from a legendary coach who had given numerous young men second chances throughout his career – legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian also known as “Tark the Shark”, who had taken over as head coach at Fresno State University where I first saw Chris play on television.  There he played his way into being the 33rd overall pick for the Denver Nuggets in the 1999 NBA Draft.  He was later traded to the Boston Celtics where his drug problems escalated, and then went on to play overseas in Italy where his life further spiraled downwards before setting off on his road to recovery years later.

“The kids across the room who didn’t do anything, they had something I didn’t have,” Chris said in his strong New England accent, describing one of the high school parties he attended where he and his friends consumed alcohol underage, while another set of kids across the room didn’t consume anything and were fine with it.  During his talk, Chris told many stories about his journey which involved experimentation and addiction to Cocaine, OxyContin, and finally Heroin – all while becoming a father and a professional basketball player.  This particular story was significant because it touched on something many young people struggle with well into adulthood; personal contentment and self-esteem.

The significance of Chris’s opening quote of this post is to get people to note where our personals problems start and their root causes, as opposed to focusing solely on the end results – substance abuse, drug overdoses, suicides, and many others.  His just happened to be his father’s struggle with alcoholism, his mother’s resulting pain, and then the experimentation with drugs and alcohol amongst his peers early on as teens.  Chris’s other over-arching message was about “Wellness”, and how both parents and schools need to be more vigilant and aware of the struggles of young people which can lead to any number of injurious outcomes later in life if not caught early and addressed.

“Over the last seven years I’ve had the responsibility of sharing my story in front of a million kids.  I truly believe in my heart that I’ve made a difference for some, and I do this for many reasons,” Chris Herren said opening up his talk.  “When it comes to addiction, I think we’ve gone horribly wrong.  I think we put way too much focus on the worst day, and we forget about the first day.

“It’s safe as parents to show our children pictures of drug addicts and how to watch a movie and at the end explain to them what happened.  It’s hard to sit them down at 15 years old and say honestly, ‘Please tell me why you’re letting this begin.’

After telling his story, Chris took questions from the audience – parents and teens, whom he also makes himself available to through email.  Afterwards he graciously took pictures with those of us in the audience and took further questions individually.  I seized the opportunity to ask him one to two more.

“He’s one of the people that I will unconditionally love for the rest of my life.  I did the eulogy at his funeral at the Thomas and Mack Center in front of 12,000 people.  What I told everyone that night is that he meant the world to me.  He changed me,” Chris reflected afterwards when I asked him to say a few words on Jerry Tarkanian.  “I do what I do today because he did that for me.”

“He gave me a second chance and I truly believe people are worth second chances.  If we didn’t give second chances to people in recovery, we’d be much worse off.  He instilled that in me and it continues in my life today.”

Thank you for taking the time out to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

James Tate discusses fitness, health, wellness and his new book: Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants

One of the goals for my blog is to help expose for other individuals with new and novel ideas/projects of their own which is in line with my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success” – a major part of which is health and wellness.  Occasionally my alma maters will show up in my writings, and in the spring I conducted an interview with Robert Ridley, President of Johnson C. Smith University’s DC Alumni Chapter regarding our “150 and Beyond Campaign” to raise money for our scholarship endowment.  I recently heard about a children’s book created by another fellow JCSU alumnus; James “Big Dogg” Tate, who has his hands in numerous projects relating to health and wellness.  I thought interviewing James would be make for a compelling interview for both of us, and would further be educational for any readers based on his passion and knowledge of health and fitness.  In the following interview, James talks a little bit about his background, and his new book Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants.

Anwar Dunbar:  Hello James.  First, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and discussing your new book, Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants on my blog.  It looks like you’ve created something really positive and helpful here.  I graduated from JCSU in 1999, so I vaguely remember seeing you on campus.  Where are you originally from?

James Tate:  I was born and raised in Washington, DC.

AD:  Where did the nickname “Big Dogg” come from?

JT:  I had many nicknames growing up, but that’s the one that stuck.  Because I was an overweight child, teen, and adult, I had nicknames like “Fatz”, “Biggie”, “Big Daddy”, “Pooh”, etc. – but “Big Dogg” has stood the test of time, through different schools and states.

AD:  What did you major in at JCSU?

JT:  I’m a 2002 graduate of JCSU.  I majored in Computer Science/Engineering.  I am also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

AD:  A couple of years ago, you were the featured speaker at our JCSU DC Alumni Club’s monthly meeting where you gave us a powerful talk about diet, health, and fitness.  With your training at JCSU being in Computer Science/Engineering, what got you into health and fitness?

JT:  I was actually forced into health and wellness.  I was an overweight child, an overweight teen, and an overweight adult.  I was involved in an accident that left me immobile for a year. After that year, my weight was over 400 pounds.  I then had three years of physical therapy.  My doctor told me that my injuries would never heal unless I lost weight.  With me being overweight my entire life, I didn’t think it was possible.

I rededicated my life to Christ at the New Year’s Eve service going into the 2010 year.  I prayed for help, and I started studying scriptures about health and wellness.  I read Christian wellness books, and attended Christian wellness group meetings.  By the end of 2010, I had lost over 200 pounds naturally.  I then went to nutrition school and finished with my first certification. I currently hold six wellness certifications and own my own wellness practice.

AD:  Wow, that’s amazing.  I too was overweight as a child for a little while until my mother stepped in and made me get more active and controlled my portion sizes; so we share some common ground there.  In middle school I had some nicknames that I wasn’t too fond of myself.

Before we talk about the Kool Kids, I started reading SALT: Black America’s SILENT KILLER.  I pretty much knew about kidney dialysis, but Dr. Surender Reddy Neravetla also went into graphic detail about cardiac bypass surgery – specifically, how high blood pressure can persist even after the operation, and how the surgeon can only prescribe more blood pressure lowering medication at that point.  There’s a definite mental/quality of life cost to having conditions like diabetes, and heart disease.  There’s a financial cost as well to the individual and to society.  With all of the debate here in Washington, DC about the Affordable Care Act, I think there is something to be said here about preventative care/lifestyle.  I mean who wants take 10 medications and go on dialysis if they don’t have to?  Can you say anything about the financial costs of being unhealthy in terms lifestyle – maintaining a poor diet and not staying physically active.

JT:  That’s a great question.  Healthcare starts in your kitchen and obesity costs our country a lot of money annually – roughly 200 billion dollars depending on the source reporting the dollar amount.  Many of us don’t consider the cost of obesity and obesity-related diseases.  We only consider the cost of the food we purchase today.  Because we think this way, we go for the cheapest, most convenient options, not thinking about the long-term effects of that food.  I like to say that people will put 93-Octane fuels into their $50k car, but will consistently put 87-Octane (regular) foods into their multi-million dollar bodies and expect them to run at an optimum level.  Ironically, they’re shocked when their bodies eventually break down. For African Americans, 95% of the chronic illness that we suffer from today are caused by poor food choices.   That means that a lot of what we suffer from is preventable.

AD:  How did you come up with the idea for Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants?  Just briefly, without giving too much away, what’s it about?

JT:  The Kool Kids are a group of Christian kids who will motivate, educate, and inspire you and your family to defeat the giants in your life/land – giants such as Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Depression, Debt, etc.  We have become comfortable living with certain diseases and have even given them cute nicknames like calling diabetes, “A touch of sugar.”  I wanted to remind people that diseases are monsters and we should treat them as such.  Also, it’s been said that this is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents due to obesity and diseases related to obesity.  So I want to teach them about health and wellness in a new and fun way with characters that they can relate to while including biblical principles.  I was unable to find any health and wellness books that were biblically based that starred super heroes of color, so I decided to create one.

AD:  Wow.  That’s a great idea James.  Are you envisioning any sequels?

JT:  Yes. The Kool Kids is a series and in each book they will take on a new giant.

AD:  Where can people purchase the Kool Kids?

JT:  You can order a copy of The Kool Kids from my web store, http://store.beyondw8loss.com. You will also find Kool Kid merchandise there as well.

AD:  Do you have any parting words?

JT:  First, thank you for interviewing me, and I thank everyone who takes the time to read this interview.  It’s my prayer that we learn to take our health seriously.  Again in terms of the chronic illnesses that we suffer from, especially as African Americans, 95% are caused by poor food choices.  We can change and reverse so much just by paying attention to what’s on the end of our forks.

AD:  Well James, thank you again for agreeing to do this interview.  I’m going to get a couple of copies Kool Kids for some of the folks in my own network.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this interview.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story

“Over your lifetime, you’ll actually miss more deals than you’ll catch onto.”

Two of the principles of my blog are “Long-Term Thinking/Delayed Gratification”, and the teaching of “Financial Literacy” as money and investing are topics that I ponder and study quite a bit these days.  I wasn’t taught a lot about them as a youth and strive regularly to fill that space in my personal toolbox.  Learning about investing money is actually critical for all employees who are responsible for saving into their own “Defined Contribution” plans.  A third principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” – helping others to be successful.  This particular story involves all three principles and focuses on two investing opportunities from years past – both of which could have drastically changed my life today if I had been in position to take advantage of them.

This post was inspired by two people.  One is a mentor who has literally adopted me and whom I regularly meet with to talk about the content of my blog, economics, current events and everything else under the sun.  Everyone should have a mentor like this.  The second individual is a long-time friend from our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He worked in the banking industry, and has always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind.

Instead of diving right into the story, for context I’ll go back to my brief high school basketball career – one of the best times of my life.  One of the things our coaches tried to stress to us was “boxing out” on defense.  That is putting a body on your man once a shot went up from the opposing team.  By committing to boxing out as a team, any team almost certainly could position itself to get the rebound and limit shot opportunities for the opponent no matter their height or leaping ability.  It was a simple and effective technique if used consistently and for our young minds, that was the hard part – doing it consistently.  All it took was being mentally alert, and positioning oneself at the right time.

Okay, let’s talk about Facebook and Bitcoin.  I’ll start with a reading assignment my mentor gave me about three months ago.  One of the topics we discuss regularly is investing money – something he is very experienced at and has taught his kids to do – something I’m playing catch up on.  At the conclusion of one of our mentoring sessions, he gave me a book to read titled “How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000: Earn, Save and Invest by James McKenna and Jeanine Glista with Matt Fontaine, the creators of Biz Kid$.  When he first handed me the book, I made a comment about it being a, “Children’s book,” to which he quickly snapped back at me, “Do you know everything thing in this children’s book?”  Eager to know more of what he knew, I didn’t take offense, but instead appreciated his coaching.  He tasked me with reading the book prior to our next mentoring session.

As I read through the book, the initial chapters started with basic money lessons youngsters should have – ways to legally earn money such as through doing chores or eventually getting a job, and also planning and goal setting – some lessons many children aren’t taught at an early age.  Later the book delved into investments in a very simple and digestible way – charts, diagrams, pictures and all.  One caption that stood out for me was something on page 106, which told the story of Facebook’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) back in 2012.

“We should all pool our money together and buy Facebook stock,” my friend described earlier said enthusiastically.  It was the holiday season up in our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He had worked in the banking industry for a while and had knowledge of investment vehicles that myself and my brother, and probably most of his family didn’t have.  We were all at his grandmother’s house where his relatives gathered to fellowship as they did most years.  I watched as he floated around his grandmother’s upper unit telling everyone, “We should pool our money and buy some Facebook stock.  They’re about to have an IPO.”

At that point, Facebook had completely eclipsed Myspace as the number one social media site and most everyone was on it.  While most everyone was using it to reconnect, share the most intimate details of their lives, and other unscrupulous things, its creator Mark Zuckerberg, was cleverly devising ways to monetize his creation through selling advertising space.  It never occurred me, and I would guess the majority of the users, to invest in it.

A mischievous guy at times, I thought this was just another one of my friend’s bright ideas that he was trying to suck us all into.  But was it?  As described in How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000, Facebook’s initial stock price in 2012 opened at $38 per share.  Shortly thereafter the stock price decreased to $17.55.  When I heard that the stock price went down, I laughed internally at the prospect of all of us “pooling” our money to buy this Facebook stock, and the fact that my friend was lobbying so hard for us to do it.  But that was just the beginning.

Facebook’s stock rebounded over the next five years from that $17.55 per share drop and eventually appreciated to around $100 per share in 2015 when How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 was published.  Just before crafting this piece, I checked the business section of the Washington Post for stock prices and to gauge the health of our economy – a regular exercise now.  There I saw that Facebook’s stock is now trading around $170 per share, that’s right $170.  It’s also now considered one of the “Four Horseman” of technology stocks – the other three being Amazon, Apple, and Google.

So let’s put this all in perspective.  What occurred to me when I read that passage in the book was that if I simply had $2,000 lying around and ready to invest in 2012, I could’ve purchased just 100 shares of the Facebook stock for a total value of $1,755 (plus the cost per trade).  Holding onto that stock for another five years, those 100 shares would have appreciated to a total value of $17,550 which could either be cashed out for another purpose, or held for more appreciation.  There would of course be the potential of loss too as with all investments, but Facebook has become a very strong company.  But if you were positioned to get into the game at that point, you would’ve been rewarded later on.

I’ve come to realize that life is all about positioning similar to the way smart basketball players position themselves to get rebounds when a shot goes up, as opposed to simply leaving things to chance.  When I look back to where I was in 2012, I honestly wasn’t in position to safely buy stock of any kind.  I was still lugging around a considerable amount of debt from school, and from mistakes made shortly after starting my federal career – paying too much money for some real estate investing trainings (discussed in another post).  I was recently out of a tumultuous relationship where money was an issue – my not spending enough.  I further had no emergency fund (see Dave Ramsey), and I hadn’t started funding my government retirement plan at least up to the point where I would get my 5% matching contribution – something all employees should position themselves to do if employers offer it.  What’s more is that I didn’t understand much about the stock investing game other than you want to “buy low” and “sell high” whether or not you get into an opportunity when it’s first offered, or if you find something of value at a discounted price and chances are it will appreciate – stocks, real estate, whatever.

But there is so much more to it than buying low and selling high.  There are lessons which take time and commitment to learn – this is part of positioning one’s self.  Furthermore, there are often sacrifices to be made to have money to invest – sacrifices such as not buying a car if public transportation and Uber can be used, taking one’s lunch to work more often times than not, and not “Turning Up” at the club on a regular basis.  As a man, another position might be not having a girlfriend for a while, or at least finding one who isn’t high maintenance.  These are examples of the positioning one must do to be ready to take advantage of the next Facebook if and when it ever comes around.

My friend was right in that it would have been good for us to take advantage of the Facebook IPO.  Coincidentally a couple of years later, he came back to us and told us that we should take advantage of something called “Bitcoin”, a new cyber-currency which I thought was another one of his silly ideas.  He was very enthused about it, but one of the issues was he couldn’t clearly explain to us what Bitcoin was and why it was important going forward.  This brings up another very key point.  A very important investing rule of thumb is that one should never invest in something they don’t understand.  It turned out though that he was right again.  Two to three years later, Bitcoin seems to be paying off for those who positioned themselves and invested in it when it was dirt cheap.  See the recurring theme here?

This post is not about buying Facebook or Bitcoin today in 2017 per se.  Those ships have arguably sailed, and you’d have to have enough money readily available even just to buy 10 shares of Facebook stock today.  In terms of getting into these opportunities early when they’re affordable, you have to position yourself, and that’s the central point.  Either you’re in a position to take advantage of an opportunity when it’s presented to you, or you’re not.  This involves knowledge and resources – studying your investment of choice, minimizing your debt, saving for emergencies, and then allocating money to invest – money you won’t be adversely affected by the if investment doesn’t work.  If you’re not in position to take advantage of a particular opportunity, you can always position yourself for the next one, and the one after that, and then the one after that.  It’s all about foresight and positioning.  Before starting discretionary/speculative investments, it might also be worthwhile to see a trustworthy financial planner (or someone knowledgeable whom you really trust) to make sure you’re on sure footing.

For the people who were in position to get into Facebook and Bitcoin, it wasn’t magic.  They had the resources and they were probably spending time studying those opportunities so that they were able to strike at the right time.  It all takes some time and effort, and how you spend your time will determine if you’re in position to take advantage of the next Facebook.  In closing, I highly recommend How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 to youngsters who have the aptitude for money and finance, and for adults like myself who’ve needed to play catch up.  I’ve personally started sharing copies with those in my inner-circle.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink

With a key principle of my blog being “Critical/Objective Thought”, I’ll occasionally jump off the STEM- and Financial Literacy-trains to discuss aspects of culture, current events, and politics as I did for Colin Kaepernick’s retirement.  Similarly, Black America’s adoption and use of the word “Coon” has been rolling around in my mind for a while and begging me to write a thought-piece about it.  Thus, at the risk of upsetting some people and sharing this with the “Dominant Culture”, I’ve decided to capture some of my thoughts and observations regarding modern day usage of this racial slur by the same people it was ironically first used against.  If you’re easily offended by the word Coon, you should stop reading now because it and others are mentioned quite a bit in this post.

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA there was controversy, of course, surrounding President Donald Trump and his comments on the clash of protestors – particularly that there was wrong doing on both sides.  There were quite a few criticisms of his remarks; what he said, how he said them, how quickly he said them, etc.  Midweek after that a Facebook “friend” (a fellow African American) posted the link to an article titled “Black Christian Leaders Detest Claim That Trump Is the ‘Driver’ of Racial Division in America”.  The individual who posted the article wrote joking language tagging another friend and saying to, “Send up the Coon signal,” followed by a number of other posters who contributed numerous pictures and GIF animations about black people and cartoon characters “Cooning”.

I had mixed feelings when I saw the responses, but I was not surprised.  On the one hand, yes, it was funny.  On the other hand, here was another case of black people ripping other black people because of ideological and philosophical differences.  I shared the article on my page to see what would happen, and a good number of other African Americans in my network saw the article and expectedly became angry.  Most felt betrayed that these black clergymen and women would defend “#45” as he’s referred to now in many circles.

While this post was in part inspired by Donald Trump, it isn’t about Trump per se.  It’s about black people lashing out and ridiculing one another due to differences of opinion and points of view.  Unfortunately, this is actually common as discussed on one of Mumia Obsidian Ali’s podcast titled “Dumb it Down”, where he discussed how most of Black America – some of our most respected intellectuals and scholars included, can’t have diverging viewpoints without resorting to personally attacking the opposing side or as we say in the black community, “Playing the Dozens.”

In the podcast for example, Ali cited Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s attack of Dr. Cornel West following West’s criticism of the Obama administration – not addressing any of West’s criticisms, just verbally attacking him and his character.  This squabble between Dr. Dyson and Dr. West represents a toxic dynamic in Black America today – philosophical and political disagreements resulting in emotional backlashes against black people who diverge from the “Social Justice” narrative, and then calling the person a “Coon”.  It’s very fascinating to witness when it happens.

Ali further described how individuals including: Dr. Thomas Sowell, Jason Riley, John McWhorter, and Dr. Glen Loury – all great black thinkers and writers have been regarded as “Coons” because of their independent/conservative, and non-social justice ideas and views.  Interestingly growing up on Buffalo’s eastside, I’d never heard about Dr. Sowell, the elder of the names mentioned.  I was ironically introduced to one of Dr. Sowell’s books, Inside American Education by a Greek-American classmate at the University of Michigan one day when discussing politics as we ran our experiments.  I didn’t hear anything about him either at Johnson C. Smith University, the HBCU I attended.  Anyhow, in his podcast Ali further stated that within Black American social media circles, that it is not uncommon to be met with the term “Coon” for merely disagreeing with a person’s particular personal experience/position or the prevailing zeitgeist of the black community at large.

*  *  *

“Hey!!!  What about me?  Don’t you hold out on me you big Dummy-Nigger!!!  Ha, ha, ha, ha…….”

“Wild Bill” Wharton’s racial slur against John Coffey over not getting any cornbread in The Green Mile features another once humiliating word Black America has taken in as its own.  Just like “Nigger”, “Coon” was also a racial slur used against blacks by whites in the Jim Crow era.  Actually the Coon was a bigoted caricature of black people with the defining character trait being laziness.  I tend to think of it when I think of the old “Minstrel Shows” where in some instances white people would dress up as black people (“Black Face”) and act like clowns and buffoons.  In some instances, real black people participated.

In the 1990s, Hip Hop artists like Tupac Shakur took “Nigger” and transformed it into “Nigga” (Never-Ignorant-Getting-Goals-Accomplished), glorifying and popularizing the term, setting off countless debates both within and outside of the black community about who could use it, and if it should be used at all.  Recently Bill Maher re-sparked the debate culminating in Ice Cube stating, “It’s our word now,” on Maher’s show.  Then as now, some black people found it offensive and demeaning, while others felt as though a negative had been turned into a positive.

Some blacks felt and feel that it’s an accurate descriptor for the worst behaviors of our race – something echoed by many of our most popular comedians.  Overall black people couldn’t and can’t seem to agree on it even today.  Actually most black people do agree that it’s very offensive when other cultures use it with the exception of maybe Dominicans and Puerto Ricans due to some similarities in lineage and culture.

“You’re a COON!!!”  I may have been out of the loop, as per usual, but I first heard the modern contexts for “Coon” and “Cooning” when watching one of Tommy Sotomayor’s YouTube videos.  He’s one of the many black male YouTubers that I watch.  I won’t go into too much detail about Tommy, and I may lose some readers here, but yes I have become a regular viewer and a fan.  I don’t know that I would start a show saying the things he says, and in the ways that he says them, but personally coming from my background, he and others like him help explain a lot of things – particularly some of the pathologies in black communities across our country.  In most cases he holds our people responsible for their destructive behaviors and doesn’t blame white people, or dwell in the past.  He focuses on what not to do.  Tommy does lean conservative and he’s particularly hard on black women – I’m sorry, some black women.  Those who regularly watch the show understand the “not all” distinction.  He draws more than his fair share of backlash and death threats, and regularly gets accused of “Cooning”.

“Coon Train is coming.  Coon Train is coming.  Coon Train is coming…”

Tommy’s arch-nemesis, a “Pro-Black” gentleman named Tariq Nasheed, created the “Coon Train Awards” similar to the “Soul Train Awards”.  Someone created a jingle with the above words and a montage including Tommy Sotomayor and Jesse Peterson among others.  The song is actually funny, and it sometimes pops into my mind.  The actual use of the word does make me bristle though, especially when the person called the name is only asking a question, or is thinking differently than the person assigning it.

What is this modern day definition of a ‘Coon’?  It’s usually angrily and viciously unleashed upon blacks perceived as having ‘white’ points of view in the eyes of ‘Woke’ black people.  It’s the modern day incarnation of an ‘Uncle Tom’, or ‘Oreo’, or ‘House Nigga’, or the character ‘Uncle Ruckus’ from The Boondocks who usually comes up when someone has been called Coon.  It’s someone who is thought to be betraying the race for ‘White Supremacy’.  One of the biggest contradictions is that it’s often used by those who would consider themselves pro-black (some of whom themselves indulge in colorism and bigotry against other brown skinned people).  Consequently, both Coon and Nigga are terms designating one’s blackness, but in different ways – Nigga having good and bad contexts.

Calling someone Coon makes me think about the concept of ‘Groupthink’.  A simple search of the term Groupthink on Google brings up the following definition:

“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon within a group of people in which the desire for harmony and conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.  Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

Groupthink is very dangerous and organized religion gets a bad rap from instances where groups of people have been mobilized to do evil deeds in a suicidal fashion (Jonestown), or against non-believers.  It’s simply following the herd without thinking.  It’s voting a certain way because one’s parents or race traditionally voted or believed a certain way.  It’s immediately calling someone a racist, a misogynist, or a sexist without analyzing all of the facts – usually responding off of pure emotion.  Groupthink prevents its believers from acknowledging when the other person/side might have good ideas or valid points, strictly because they’re on the other side.  These are all things I hear when someone calls someone else a Coon.

*  *  *

Interestingly, use of the word Coon seems to be an artifact of my generation and those behind us.  When describing this to my mother’s generation (Boomers) who lived through the Civil Rights Era, and who readily heard this word and others in their youths, many are surprised and disapprove – at least those I’ve talked with.  Some elders in general ironically loosely still use the word “Nigga” – sometimes in jest amongst themselves.  Perhaps it’s just in our nature to turn negatives into positives, and adopt words that were once used against us.

Are you Cooning?  How do you know if you are?  What warrants being called a Coon?  Again, it often involves being black and having independent thoughts and conservative values.  It could be a matter of criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s protest as Minister Jap and Oshay Duke Jackson did – both black men who were subsequently called “Coons” and in some instances “Klansmen” by some of their commenters – the majority black.  It could be something like saying the single-motherhood rate in the black community is too high and is the major impediment of the black race’s advancement in the United States.  It could be pointing out that black people can be just as much, if not more, bigoted than white people – not racist of course, because black people don’t have power.  It could be the belief that black people are accountable for their actions and that everything happening in 2017 isn’t the fault of white people.  It could be stating that you weren’t offended by the Confederate flags and statues.  Lastly, it could be citing and believing statistics arguing that there is an unusually high rate of black crime.  Cooning could be any of these things and much more.

“You’re a COON!!!”  Whenever the word is unleashed on someone there is a definite viciousness to it.  The individuals who use it always seem to be angry and have reached a level of frustration with the person they’ve ascribed it to; not agreeing with their point of view.  To see such a display, look up Roland Martin’s show where he hosted the Prince of Pan-Africanism,  Dr. Umar Johnson.  In a panel discussion about the state of Black America, Dr. Johnson readily unleashed the word on some of the other panelists all of whom were black.  Martin, who aligns with the Democratic party, bristled at the use of the word, and constantly reminded Dr. Johnson not use it any further.  The entire exchange was amusing, but at times shocking to watch.

Have I ever been called a Coon?  Yes, I have on Twitter, but it was by someone no one takes seriously.  Considering myself an independent – one who doesn’t belong to either political party, and who questions things, I’ll probably be called it to my face before long, but that’s okay.  The important thing for me is to think critically and objectively – not solely off of emotion if I can help it, and not necessarily following the herd for the sake of following the herd.  So if that makes me a Coon, then so be it.  I’ll close by going back to our 45th President.  As I told a cousin who insisted he was a racist over a fiery Thanksgiving dinner discussion prior to the 2016 election, I’ve never heard Donald Trump say “Coon” or “Nigga”, but I’ve certainly heard black people say them to other black people quite often.  It’s kind of contradictory right?  It’s like ‘Pro-Blacks’ mocking other blacks because they’re too dark.  I guess it’s okay as long as we’re doing these things to one another.

“You’re a COON!!!”  Do I expect the people who enjoy using the word to stop?  Of course not.  While I stated above that the word is often used out of anger, those using it also seem to get a certain amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from using it.  Interestingly, ‘Coon’ in its modern context offends me more than ‘Nigga’ does.  So no, I don’t expect much of anything to change, but perhaps I’ve raised awareness here to some degree.

A cousin donated the meme at the beginning of this post in a Facebook thread I was tagged in, started by another cousin who really, really wants President Trump impeached.  I used pictures of Dr. Ben Carson and Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. in this post because their books just happened to be in stock at my local Barnes & Noble recently.  The same is true for Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, though I couldn’t find a good picture of Dr. Thomas Sowell.  The newspaper photos were courtesy of the Washington Post’s daily morning express edition handed out during my morning commute.

Both Carson and Clarke are well known for different reasons, and both are considered Coons.   Sheriff Clarke is unashamedly conservative and strongly believes in law and order.  I saw Dr. Carson speak live during graduate school for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday when he still had his legendary status.  He’s intriguing not only because he’s also a Michigan alumnus, but because this brilliant and gifted neurosurgeon has fallen from grace in parts of the black community due to his conservative politics, traditional values, and his working in the Trump administration.  In the eyes of many, his medical and scientific accomplishments are tainted.  Lastly, while I’ve discussed only men in this piece, there are black women who draw similar criticisms – Deneen Borelli, and Stacy Dash come to mind.

I want to thank my brother and a group of friends for being my test audience for this potentially volatile topic.  We collectively discuss these issues all week long.  I especially want to acknowledge the Gaines brothers for turning me onto Tommy Sotomayor, Obsidian Radio, and the other black male YouTubers.  Without the discussions on their channels and podcasts, I wouldn’t have known most of this stuff was going on, and I wouldn’t have had the perspective to craft this post.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener

On September 2, my No. 11 Michigan Wolverines opened their 2017 campaign with a 33-17 victor over the No. 17 Florida Gators down at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Tx. The win was a pleasant surprise following last season’s stumble to the finish line where the maize and blue lost three of its last four games to Iowa, Ohio State, and finally Florida State in the Citrus Bowl. See my summary of our controversial and painful loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes (damn the B1G officiating crew that day), and then the circus which led to the selection of the 2017 College Football Playoff which Clemson ultimately won.

Many fans wondered how the Wolverines would look with so many players needing to step up and into the starting lineup for the first time. My personal feeling going into this season was to approach it with low expectations as our team was going to be young and would likewise have to figure some things out along the way. That’s what I thought when Coach Jim Harbaugh wearing his signature kakis, trotted out his team wearing surprisingly all-maize uniforms.

After winning the coin toss, Coach Harbaugh elected to kick first giving us a look at Defensive Coordinator Don Brown’s new young unit. I must say that they looked very good, aggressive and hungry. They were led on the defensive line by Rashan Gary, and Maurice Hurst. Our linebacker core which returned only Mike McCray looked particularly aggressive as well led by sophomore middle linebacker Devin Bush, Jr., who almost got himself taken out of the game on Florida’s first offensive series. The secondary snatched a couple of interceptions as well from both Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire – neither being able to get into a rhythm.

Our offense? That was a different story. I’m probably not alone in thinking that our offense is going to rely heavily on the play of fourth year junior Wilton Speight who stands at 6’6”, and has a strong arm, but who struggled down the stretch last year after a fast start. After throwing a touchdown to Tarik Black on a play-action pass, Speight threw two interceptions – one bouncing off the hands of his target and the other an overthrow both of which were pick 6s leading to a 17-13 Florida lead at halftime. After being pulled out the next two series for John O’ Korn, Speight returned and was under control the rest of the game. He finished completed 11 of 25 passes for 187 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

The bright spot of the offense was the running game. Our ground game yesterday with Chris Evans and Ty Isaacs carrying the ball behind the left side of the line, showed signs of explosiveness – something I think that hurt us last year and would have been the difference against Iowa and Ohio State. If the running game is solid this season and compliments Wilton Speight’s arm, I think it’s going to be a good year and the Michigan faithful will be singing “The Victors” regularly and often. Our kicking game looked good too with though our new kicker Quin Nordin who hitting two 50-yard field goals and accounting for 12 of the Wolverines’ points.

Overall I was personally pleased with yesterday’s performance, especially the defense which will keep us in every game if they continue to play like that. Offenses which involve rhythm and timing sometimes take a few games to gel, and I’m confident Coach Harbaugh and Coach Drevno will eventually have the unit clicking. I’ll still watch cautiously though. It’s a four month season and anything can happen – injuries in particular as we found out last year with Wilton Speight’s collarbone, and the year before that with Ryan Glasgow’s forearm – both changing the trajectory of their respective seasons. Also keep in mind that a number of Florida’s players were suspended for yesterday’s game so we might not have gotten their best punch though the way they looked, it may not have made much of a difference.

Oh and by the way, Ohio State won handily over Indiana 49-21 in a cupcake of a first game. I’m sure all of us will be keeping an eye on Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in anticipation of our matchup with them on November 25. We’ll also be keeping an eye on the Michigan State Spartans. Both teams travel to the Big House this season. Both beat us on controversial plays in 2015 and 2016, so perhaps this year we can send them both home with losses. Look for another blog post from me after the Michigan State game. GO BLUE!!!!!

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?

Similar to Pharmacology, the field of Toxicology is centuries old and is very complex regarding the wealth and depth of information available.  It is also still evolving today.  The goal of this post is not to address every detail of the field, but instead to give readers a basic introductory understanding of the discipline.  Further details about the many aspects of Toxicology can be accessed online, or in scientific journals.

When I meet people outside of my scientific circles at career and STEM fairs, Toxicology doesn’t get confused with other disciplines the way Pharmacology and Pharmacy do – I thus won’t open with a story about misunderstandings.  I’ll simply say that Toxicology an exciting field with vast opportunities for individuals who are trained in it.  Following my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, I wanted to write an overview of the field – particularly for parents and young students who have an aptitude for science and may be interested in Toxicology as a career one day.  As you’ll see later on, Toxicology is an important component of numerous industries, and scientists with this training will never be without jobs.

“The dose makes the poison,” is the popular toxicology adage credited to the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus.  Simply put, given the proper dose, even chemicals and substances considered harmless can be poisonous – too much sugar or water for example.  Dosage or the amount of a substance one is exposed to is a key component of Toxicology – keep this in mind as you read through this post.  Also keep in mind the route of exposure.  Toxicologists are always considering that an individual can be poisoned through oral ingestion, or through either dermal or inhalation exposures.

I think of Pharmacology and Toxicology as “sister” sciences – both dealing with the effects of xenobiotics on living systems.  While Pharmacology focuses more on the therapeutic effects of xenobiotics, Toxicology focuses on the harmful effects – in most cases humans but in some instances other mammalian and non-mammalian species.  These effects can occur on the molecular, cellular, tissue, and whole organism levels. While Pharmacology and Toxicology are separate disciplines, they have several overlapping principles and skill sets allowing individuals credentialed in one to work in the other.

I’ll start my discussion of why Toxicology is important with drugs.  Both biotechnology and large pharmaceutical compan9ies have to understand and report a drug’s toxicological profile to the federal government before selling it to the general public.  Many promising drugs actually never make it to market because they’re too toxic.  Some actually make it and are then recalled – Rezulin for example.

There are also both clinical and research contexts for Toxicology.  Similar to Pharmacology, all medical practitioners (Anesthesiologists, Physicians, Pharmacists, Nurses, Surgeons, etc.) must receive some toxicology training as they all need an understanding of the potential toxicities of the drugs they’ll ultimately prescribe.  They need to understand how much of a given pharmaceutical will be beneficial vs. harmful to patient – a drug’s “Therapeutic Index”.  If the patient is taking multiple medications, “Drug-Drug” interactions can result – toxicities and side effects resulting from one or more drugs being present in the body at the same time causing others be poisonous.  The patient’s current liver and kidney function are critical here as well as they will ultimately determine how long the drugs persist in the body.  In an emergency room, physicians must often determine what a patient may have been poisoned by in order make swift life-saving decisions.

Forensic Toxicologists are instrumental in solving crimes and deaths.  They’re masters of detecting chemicals in the body’s tissues and understanding how they may have led to a victim’s death.  Michael Jackson’s overdose on “Propofol” comes to mind, and is just one of many examples.

In the research context, think about experimentation in laboratory settings – well designed studies run by scientists asking questions and looking for specific answers.  Initial toxicological studies typically involve determining how a toxicant exerts its effect on the molecular and then on the tissue/organ levels – similar to how Pharmacologists identify new drug targets.  After determining a toxicant’s molecular mechanism, there is then the need to determine the toxic dose range of the chemical at the molecular, tissue and whole animal levels.  This is called a “Dose Response” – a critical tool of both Pharmacology and Toxicology where scientists look to determine if increasing the amount of the chemical in question, increases the amount of biological response.  This applies to a broad spectrum of chemicals – pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals alike.

What am I referring to when I say industrial chemicals?  Simply look around your home at all of the products you use daily including: household cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides (Raid for example), and even additives and preservatives in some the foods we consume.  Thus when you think about Toxicology, think very broad in terms of scope.  For this reason, individuals with toxicology training will never be without jobs as everything we use must be screened for safety.  Toxicologists are currently in high demand.

Similar to Pharmacology, there are numerous sub-disciplines within Toxicology.  The following is a list of some of the major areas beyond what’s been described thus far.  These areas are heavily considered by government agencies and private sector companies who all need toxicologists to create new products, determine the safety of those products, and lastly determine the fate of those products once used:

  • Aquatic, Eco- and Environmental Toxicology: While these are distinct disciplines all in themselves, I’ve grouped them together for simplicity. They collectively consider toxicity to non-human life – aquatic, avian, other terrestrial life.  They consider what happens to ecosystems if a particular species is inadvertently killed off.  Some questions involve where the toxicant goes in our environment, how long it stays there, and if it breaks down into something else more or less toxic.
  • Computational (In silico) Toxicology: Uses computational models, to predict mammalian toxicities. “Tox21” is a current effort to minimize animal testing using computational and predictive models.
  • Entomotoxicology: Determines how a given chemical is toxic to insect species. This is very important for the creation of pesticides, and it’s also critical for Ecotoxicology as the chemical designed to control specific insects may easily kill something else unintended.

  • Food Safety Toxicology: Looks at the potential toxicity of man-made or natural ingredients intentionally added to our food. Heat formed compounds are of particular concern – acrylamide and furan are examples which can spontaneously form during the cooking of certain precursor molecules.  Lastly the ingredients in food packaging are also considered as they can be ingested through the foods they are in contact with.
  • Forensic Toxicology: As described above, deals with the solving of crimes – often determining what a victim was poisoned with.
  • In vitro Toxicology: Characterizes how a toxicant works using cell models and protein systems as opposed to whole animals.

  • Mammalian Toxicology: Studies the effects of a given toxicant on mammalian systems – traditionally using animals to model to human toxicity. Experiments can be designed over multiple dose ranges and through any of the three routes of exposure – oral, dermal or inhalation.  Time of these studies can range from hours to days, to years.  Varying indices can be studied such as life-stage sensitivity, cancer potential, or the ability to inhibit one’s immune response.  Mammalian toxicology is very important in “Regulatory” settings described below.
  • Modes of toxic action: Characterizes how toxicants exert their action on the molecular, cellular and whole animal levels. This information can be used to design chemicals to control something like a pest, or to determine how a cancer tumor-type forms.
  • Medical Toxicology: As described above, deals with the prevention of patient poisoning in medical settings.
  • Occupational Toxicology: Involves potential toxicity to workers who are in contact with a given toxicant and may get exposed through their skin or through inhalation.

  • Regulatory Toxicology (Private Sector): When the private sector creates a product, it must work with federal and state government agencies to determine the safety of that product. The products can be: drugs, pesticides, cosmetics, food additives, paints – you name it.  Regulatory Toxicologists in the private sector must understand government laws and guidelines for the products they’re creating – knowing which animal and in vitro studies to run to get their product registered in the most cost efficient way.
  • Regulatory Toxicology (Public Sector): Involves government and state agencies determining the safety of products produced by private industry. This usually consists of considering real world human exposures, and looking at any pertinent data (animal, in vitro, exposure or physical chemical) that might help model those exposures to determine levels of safety or lack thereof.
  • Toxicogenomics: Similar to Pharmacogenomics, looks at the genetics unique to individuals to determine potential increased toxicity for that individual.
  • Toxinology: Deals specifically with animal, plant and microbial toxins.
  • Toxicokinetics: Similar to the description in my Pharmacology post, Toxicokinetics deals with how the body handles toxicants in terms of absorption (entry to the body), tissue accumulation (distribution), biotransformation (metabolism) of the molecule, and excretion (elimination). I will revisit Pharmacokinetics and Toxicokinetics in greater detail in a separate post.

So have I convinced you that toxicologists are literally everywhere?  Similar to pharmacologists, toxicologists can leverage their skill sets to work in other capacities besides academia, and the public and private sectors.  When combined with other fields such as law and business, toxicologists can start their own companies – consulting for example, and in some cases they can create new health-related technologies and innovations.

There are numerous avenues by which to pursue training in Toxicology.  According the website of the Society of Toxicology, training can start as early as high school and the amount of training one pursues (Bachelors, Masters, Ph.D.) will depend upon specific career goals.  As there is tremendous overlap in skill sets of scientists in the biomedical sciences, one need not have a degree in “Toxicology” per se to work in the field in most cases. An exception is the federal government which is very stringent in terms of matching one’s academic credentials exactly with job openings regardless of one’s actual scientific training and expertise.  An individual for example with a Masters or Ph.D. in another biological science, MD, or a DVM for example can receive training in Toxicology through postdoctoral fellowship.

Toxicology also has a unique certification – the Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT).  Earning one’s DABT allows toxicologists to be nationally certified which is particularly important in the private sector, and in capacities such as serving as expert witnesses in litigations.  The European Union has a similar certification titled “European Registered Toxicologists” (ERT).

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting field of Toxicology, I suggest that you visit the website of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) – the major professional society for Toxicology.  Click on the “Careers” tab and scroll down to the “Becoming a Toxicologist” tab.  A wealth of information is available talking about numerous aspects of the field.  Similar to Pharmacology, Toxicology has its own annual meeting hosted by SOT where scientists gather to network, discuss their results, employers seek new job prospects, and companies show their latest devices and technologies.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I hope I was able to shed some light onto what Toxicology is.  A special thank you is also extended to Dr. Chester Rodriguez for his contribution to this post, and sharing the importance of earning one’s DABT.  The next posts in this series will talk about: the research aspect of Pharmacology, Drug Metabolism, Inhalation Toxicology and Regulatory Science/Risk Assessment.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Are we losing our soft skills due to technology?

One of the principles of my blog is “Critical/Objective Thought” meaning that I usually try to see things from all angles as opposed to just one.  I might lose some readers here, but yes I do switch between CNN and Fox News when trying to understand what’s happening politically and in current events.  Recently Tucker Carlson interviewed Mike Rowe of the show “Dirty Jobs”.  I support Rowe and his messages about all jobs being necessary and important (even the dirty ones), and that our society has over glamorized college and the pursuit of white-collar jobs at the expense of trades, and blue-collar jobs.

Towards the end of their discussion, Carlson and Rowe talked about the growing use of Emojis which have become a very, very popular form of digital communication using symbols as opposed to complete or even truncated words (great vs gr8 for example).  Rowe said something very interesting which is that the use of these Emojis may be eroding the “Soft Skills” in our society – particularly for individuals seeking employment which involves talking with potential employers during face to face interviews, and where understanding the nuances and complexities of both verbal and nonverbal communication is highly advantageous.  He further said that he would encourage individuals looking for jobs these days (some for the first time) to develop their Soft Skills.

According to Investopedia, “Soft Skills” are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people.  Just off the top of my head, Soft Skills involve being able to speak clearly, listen and also understand the nuances of verbal and non-verbal communication – making eye contact with other individuals, and being able to give more than one word answers for example.  It can also involve being able to read someone’s mood by the answers they give and don’t give, or simply their body language.  Again these are important on job interviews.

But a job interview is just getting your foot in the door.  What about staying at that position?  Once hired, soft skills can make all of the difference in the world in terms of excelling in that particular position and helping an organization thrive – particularly when achieving the mission involves working on teams.  In any organization there are personalities to work with and juggle which can affect the mission.  Some personalities work well together while others clash.  There are rare individuals who get along with everyone.  Personality clashes and petty bickering can cause production to grind to a screeching halt to the detriment of that organization.  Soft kills are critical in navigating interpersonal issues and conflict resolution.

Emotional Intelligence” can fall under soft skills.  According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.  The other are explanations for it, but I tend to think of it in terms of forming alliances, and not burning bridges.  This involves awareness of self and of others – understanding what drives your colleagues, understanding current and past rivalries between colleagues, understanding who is on the fast track towards promotion, and also being more emotionally proactive and less reactive in adverse circumstances, particularly in groups – meetings for example.  A good example of Emotional Intelligence is being happy for a newly promoted colleague as opposed to being outwardly bitter – or at least not openly showing your disappointment and letting it affect your performance.

Where does one learn soft skills?  We actually learn our soft skills from a multitude of places.  Here I will defer to Dr. Ralph G. Perrino’s essay titled, “The Socialization Process and Its Impact on Children and Learning”.  In his essay Dr. Perrino, a veteran educator, describes the most profound external forces on the development of children and teens all of which have lingering effects well into adulthood:

  • The family from which one’s “Ascribed” status is derived;
  • Attendances at a public school or an exclusive, elite private school;
  • The composition of peer groups;
  • Exposure to mass culture and media;
  • Involvement in voluntary groups and;
  • Religious affiliation/spirituality.

Soft skills can further be learned and improved through reading and formal trainings.  One of my favorite trainings offered through my job is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  Soft skills can also be learned through in depth discussions with mentors – particularly those in leadership positions with years and years of experience leading others.  Lastly, Soft skills can be learned just by observing others.

I’ll close by going back to Mike Rowe’s question.  Is technology negatively impacting our soft skills?  I would say that it can.  In some instances, communication over email and or text-messaging can be easily misunderstood which is particularly detrimental when there are conflicts to be worked out.  Digitally you can’t look into someone’s eyes, see their body language, or gauge the dynamics of a group in real time.  These are all things for “Millenials” and subsequent generations to be aware of.  With the new technologies that captains of industry such as Elon Musk are working on, and with the coming of Artificial Intelligence, this is something to be very cognizant of for students, educators, employees and employers alike.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?

The field of Pharmacology is centuries old and it is very complex with respect to the wealth and depth of information available.  It is still evolving today.  The goal of this post is not to address every detail of the field, but instead to give readers a basic introductory understanding of the discipline.  Further details about the many aspects of Pharmacology can be accessed online, or in scientific journals.

I earned my Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan.  I admittedly didn’t understand the field initially, although I did know that it dealt with drugs and hoped that a degree in it would one day secure a position for me in the Pharmaceutical industry.  Since starting my studies in 1999, completing my degree in 2005, and starting my current career as a Regulatory Scientist, I’ve gotten the same question over and over again, “You have a background in Pharmacology?  Are you a Pharmacist?”  At Career and STEM Fairs, I get this question a lot, and thus following my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success“, I wanted to write a brief overview of the field – particularly for parents and young students who have an aptitude for science and may be interested in Pharmacology as a career one day.

“Simply put, Pharmacy is the study of what drugs do to man, and Pharmacology is the study of what man does to drugs,” said one of the Cancer Pharmacology faculty in our Principles of Pharmacology course during my first year of graduate school.  This statement explained in a very simple way some of the differences between the two disciplines.  Pharmacy is the study of the actual drugs administered to patients as therapeutic agents and its practitioners work at various institutions including hospitals, medical centers, and drug stores – CVS for example.  Pharmacists are health professionals, earn Doctor of Pharmacy degrees (Pharm Ds), are experts on medications, and are responsible for dispensing medicines.  Pharmacology is a basic research science that studies the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of pharmaceuticals and potential drug candidates with the goal of developing and testing of new drugs.

All medical practitioners (Anesthesiologists, Physicians, Pharmacists, Nurses, Surgeons, etc.) must take Pharmacology courses as they all need some understanding of the mechanisms of the drugs they ultimately prescribe.  Pharmacologists are the actual researchers performing experiments trying to create new drugs and identify new drug targets.  They further seek to characterize how mammalian systems (in most cases human although they are also involved in developing veterinary drugs) handle molecules at the molecular, cellular, tissue and whole organism levels.  It’s a vast field with many areas of specialization that I’ll discuss in the remainder of this post.

Pharmacology classically can be divided into two parts; Pharmacokinetics, which deals with how the drug is absorbed and eliminated by the body, and Pharmacodynamics, which deals with how the drug exerts its medicinal effect mechanistically.  The following sub-disciplines within Pharmacology generally fall under one of these two umbrellas or, in most cases, are a mixture of the two.  Each of us or someone we know has taken a drug or a treatment which has been impacted by one of these areas.  Any pharmacologist reading this can easily further parse this list out into greater detail, but again this was written for a general audience:

  • ADME/Drug Metabolism: Deals with how the body handles the therapeutic molecules in terms of absorption (entry to the body), tissue accumulation (distribution), biotransformation (metabolism) of the molecule, and excretion (elimination). Another focus of ADME/Drug Metabolism is “Drug Transport” which focuses on how drugs are absorbed and effluxed from cells using membrane channels and transporters impacting their effectiveness.  I will revisit ADME/Drug Metabolism in greater detail in a separate post as me and some of my peers know it pretty well and find it to be a very exciting aspect of both Pharmacology and Toxicology.
  • Antimicrobial Pharmacology: Involves the control of bacteria, fungi, and viruses to fight off or prevent infections.
  • Autonomic Pharmacology: Deals with how the drug interacts with the Autonomic Nervous System (that part of the nervous system responsible for controlling bodily functions that are not consciously directed such as the heartbeat, breathing, and the digestive system) particularly through pathways involving epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and seratonin.
  • Cancer Pharmacology: Deals with drugs used in the treatment of cancer – usually some form of chemotherapy.
  • Cardiovascular Pharmacology: Deals with drugs used in treatment of heart disease and regulation of blood pressure.  A well-known class is the “Statins” – cholesterol lowering drugs such as “Lipitor“.
  • Endocrine and Receptor Pharmacology: Deals with how a given drug binds, interacts or even blockades a given cellular receptor, and then what the receptor does or doesn’t do to impact the homeostasis of that cell or tissue. The receptor can be membrane bound or cytosolic (many hormone receptors).
  • Drug Discovery: Typically associated with the private sector and deals with the identification of new drug entities and the identification of new drug targets. In industry, pharmacologists generally refer to drugs as either “small molecules” which are our classic drugs like Aspirin (~180 g/mol), or “large molecules” (as heavy as 150,000 g/mol) also known as “biologics” which are generally proteins which have therapeutic effects.  An example is Abbvie’sHumira”.  The units “g/mol” or grams per mole designate a chemical’s molecular weight and as you can see the size difference between the two classes is considerable.
  • Neuropharmacology: Similar to Autonomic Pharmacology but deals with all of the other parts of the nervous system such as pain responses – analgesics and anesthetics for example.
  • Pharmacogenomics: This new and exciting field looks at the genetics unique to individuals to determine the best treatments and dosages for that individual.

For each of these sub-disciplines there is a clinical side and a research side.  The clinical side is self-explanatory – it involves treating patients for various diseases as well as the prevention of illness by the above mentioned medical practitioners.  Think of the many medications you have been prescribed when you go to see medical doctors when you’re sick or for checkups, emergencies or surgeries.  But where do these medications come from originally?  Also, where will new medications come from in the future?

This is where the research side come comes into play.  At institutions like my alma mater, and in the private sector, there are scientists working year round on research projects asking questions about current medications in addition to trying to unlock the secrets of nature to create new therapeutics.  The investigations they perform involve testing molecules using whole animal models, cellular models, and in vitro systems to ask questions at the molecular level (proteins, lipids, DNA and RNA) about what the compound does.  It’s this research that can get very esoteric to the general public and that is published in academic journals including: Drug Metabolism and Disposition, the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Experimental Therapeutics, and Molecular Pharmacology.

Pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Pfizer conduct research as well but instead of doing it strictly to find new knowledge, it’s to create new drugs that they can sell.  The same is true for smaller Biotech companies like Biogen.  Both need scientists with backgrounds in Pharmacology.  The Federal Government also employs scientists with backgrounds in Pharmacology to determine the safety of new drugs before they can be prescribed to the general public.  The same is true for food products and chemicals used in those products, so Pharmacologists are literally everywhere.

Pharmacologists generally receive their training at major research universities.  While undergraduates can get training in Pharmacology – nursing students for example, degrees in Pharmacology are usually conferred at the Masters and Ph.D. levels and support for the student’s educational expenses as well as a modest salary are provided.  Upon attaining these degrees, scientists then determine which sector they want to pursue – academia, the private or public sectors, or nontraditional careers.  With the skills obtained in graduate school, scientists with these backgrounds have the flexibility to combine their knowledge sets with other disciplines to go into a wide variety of areas in addition to drug discovery in pharmaceutical companies and biotechs including: consulting, Toxicology, patent law and even starting their own companies.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting field of Pharmacology, I suggest that you visit the website of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).  You can then click on the link on Education near the top of the page and once there, click on “What is Pharmacology” on the left side of the page.  In the last paragraph on that page, there is a link to a brochure entitled “Explore Pharmacology”, that provides a great deal of interesting information.  Speaking of ASPET, all scientific disciplines have their own professional societies with annual meetings that rotate cities every year, and where scientists congregate to show their results, and network.  The two major professional societies for pharmacologists are ASPET, and the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX).

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I hope I was able to shed some light onto what Pharmacology is.  A special thank you is also extended to Dr. Paul Hollenberg, Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at The University of Michigan when I was a student, who graciously looked at this post and gave feedback prior my publishing it.  The next posts in this series will talk about: the research aspect of Pharmacology, Drug Metabolism, Toxicology, Inhalation Toxicology and Regulatory Science/Risk Assessment.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming

I recently wrote a review of the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me.  Prior to that, shortly after starting my blog, I co-wrote movie reviews with my brother Amahl Dunbar for Marvel’s Dr. Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – both of the Super Hero and Science Fiction genres.  We followed those two films up with a review of Hidden Figures which had a more historical focus.  In this review we’re returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a review of their latest offering, Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man/Peter Parker), Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), and Michael Keaton (The Vulture).

Amahl Dunbar:  This latest version of Spider-Man was designed to fit neatly into the MCU.  For that reason I feel the script was too safe.  It had a couple of twists I didn’t expect, but I felt the biggest surprises were the explanations of his powers for this version of the character which differed from the previous versions.  As an inventor myself, I really enjoyed the winged flight suit worn by Spidey’s villain, the Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton.  Whenever the Vulture suit was on screen, I was almost taking notes in my head regarding designs and how something like that might work in the real world.

Anwar Dunbar:  I think Spider-Man: Homecoming was well worth the wait and anticipation.  I won’t give an overview of the whole movie so as not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Instead I’ll just touch upon what stood out to me.  Spider-Man: Homecoming tells the story of the Tom Holland’s Spider-Man who has had two previous incarnations (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield).  As Amahl stated, the story was now intentionally told as a part of the MCU.

I think Tom Holland played very well as Spider-Man/Peter Parker albeit slightly younger than Maguire’s and Garfield’s renditions.  What stood out to me though was how the writers modified the story in comparison to the previous versions where a key thread was the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben, and his subsequent tending to his elderly Aunt Mae.  In this version, Aunt Mae (Marissa Tomei) is much younger, and there is no mention of Uncle Ben up to this point.  There were other slight changes to some of the other characters – specifically a more ethnically diverse cast.

In Uncle Ben’s absence, Peter Parker’s mentor has become Tony Stark/Iron Man which we first saw in Captain America: Civil War.  It creates a much different dynamic but it causes Spider-Man to contemplate joining the Avengers – a major underlying thread of the story.  Speaking of the Avengers, the writers and director did a masterful job weaving the Spider-Man: Homecoming story into the events of Captain America: Civil War and remind us that Peter’s journey is not happening in isolation.  The same is true for Michael Keaton’s character the Vulture.  His story is also not happening in isolation and instead is a part of the Avengers story arc.

The ending surprised me in numerous ways but mostly in terms of the characters.  As Amahl discussed about the Vulture’s suit, I thought the technology was very impressive, particularly the Stark Industries version of the Spider-Man suit and all it could do.  I really enjoy how the Marvel writers weave science into their stories in general.  Overall I thought the movie was a lot fun and kept the trademark humor and whit of the Spider-Man franchise.  Spider-Man: Homecoming does a good job keeping our MCU stomachs full while we wait for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review.  Our Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful.  If you liked this review, please do click the “like” button, leave comments, and share it.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly in addition to Twitter, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.