A review of DC’s Justice League

While my blog has distinct areas of focus and associated principles, I like to leave room for movie reviews. As stated in my bio, I have a love for Science Fiction and Super Hero movies going back to my childhood. In this review, I’m going to give my thoughts on the DC Extended Universe’s (DEU) Justice League movie starring Ben Affleck, Gail Gadot, Henry Camvill, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, and Ezra Miller.

I saw Justice League the weekend it opened, and with the release of the Avengers: Infinity War trailer, I want to give a quick recap before we all get swept back up into the excitement of Marvel’s upcoming offerings. After watching a couple of fan reviews of the Justice League movie over on YouTube, I’ve identified some common themes similar to those I thought of after seeing the movie myself. I’ll start with time. Before going to see the Justice League movie, I actually looked at the movie’s run time.  After seeing that it was only two hours, I immediately thought that it would be a short amount of time for this type of film where DC would be bringing together some of its signature heroes for the first time. As I told my brother Amahl afterwards, I suspect the Blue Ray will be filled with extras – extended and deleted scenes.

Something about the movie felt rushed and disjointed similar to Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Justice League because I did, but the production team had to cover a lot a of ground in a relatively short period time in terms of integrating Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash into the story all while also having to introduce the villain Steppenwolf. A key component to Super Hero, Fantasy and Science Fiction films are the villains who can literally make or break the stories. While Steppenwolf was physically imposing and brutally took out quite a few Amazons, there was something missing though I enjoyed the telling of his backstory which reminded me of something out of The Lord of the Rings. It let us know that we might in fact see some of the Green Lanterns in upcoming films.

I thought the members of the Justice League fit together pretty well once assembled – the chemistry of the group worked, and there were lots of laughs. The Flash delivered in terms of comedy and portraying a child-like innocence. Aquaman was a bit mysterious, as was Cyborg and their characters could’ve used a little more development. Growing up reading DC Comics more than Marvel, I was wondering how they would make a Justice League movie without Superman, and even if Krypton’s sole survivor would make an appearance in the film. I mean Superman is the leader of the Justice League. How could you have a movie without him? DEU’s answer to my question was unique and based upon my answer you’ve probably surmised that Superman does in fact return in the film completing this initial version of the team. Batman and Wonder Woman served as leaders of the Justice League until Superman returned and even had one of those stand off-like disagreements we usually see between the top members of Super Hero teams.

Similar to one of the reviews I watched on YouTube, I’ll give the Justice League a B-. In the next movie I want the villain and his or her plan to actually scare me, and make me wonder if the heroes will actually be able to save the world from some imminent destruction similar to the General Zod’s plan to turn the planet Earth into the new Krypton in the Man of Steel. This story teased us with that, but I want to feel it the next time. Based upon the clues left in the ending credits, the DEU may be setting us up for such a thing, and hopefully they’ll hit it out of the park the next time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. The next review on my blog will most likely be of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

A review of Thor: Ragnarok
A review of Bladerunner 2049
A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming
A review of All Eyez on Me
A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange

My Twitter handle is @BWArePowerful and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. If you enjoyed 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.

Michigan loses to Ohio State 31-20: Reflections on the 2017 game and the season

I’m going to try to keep this short as I’m still processing the Michigan Wolverines’ 31-20 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Late into the night I could still see John O’ Korn’s fateful final interception in my mind. As opposed to going into a play by play discussion of what happened in the 2017 matchup, I’m just going to reflect on the game, and the season in addition to some of what I saw on Twitter from our following the game.

Regarding of the game, I was pleased with the maize and blue’s effort despite the outcome. Honestly my hope going into the game was that we would keep it close and respectable, and not get blown out. I know that’s not a high bar, but based upon how this season has gone, having a chance to win was what I wanted, and which is right where we were at the end. After the Wolverines went up 14-0, I was feeling good – even optimistic that we were witnessing a miracle though in the back of my mind, I knew that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes would eventually throw some haymakers of their own which is exactly what happened when J.T. Barrett gashed our defense and ran into the endzone for their first score.

I also knew that there would be some miscues and mistakes here and there such as when Rashan Gary had J.T. Barrett wrapped up but somehow let him get away for a first down. There was also Quinn Nordin’s extra point that got blocked which I felt would come back and bite us eventually. Unlike the 2016 game, I thought the officiating was fair. Speaking of J.T. Barrett, when he went down, I thought for a brief instant that their offense would lose something, but that wasn’t the case as Dwayne Haskins entered the game and continued marching the Buckeyes up and down the field with his arm and legs. It looks like the Buckeyes have Barrett’s replacement for next season unfortunately.

After the game, as you might expect there was a little bit of everything on social media. Buckeye fans, and fans from other schools mocked the Michigan Football program,3 and called Head Coach Jim Harbaugh “overrated.” The Michigan fan base was split as it always is – some crying about how unacceptable this game and the season were, and others saying that it was a tough season but the results were unexpected. Some inevitably compared Coach Harbaugh’s record to Urban Meyer’s and Nick Saban’s – particularly that they had won championships in their third years. There was a little bit of everything.

Regarding the Michigan fan base, I proudly fall in the latter group. I started off this year with tempered expectations and anticipated some growing pains. Michigan fans must first consider that our football program lost a lot of seasoned and experienced veterans from last year’s team as described in my summary of the Maryland game. Those players had suffered their fair share of heartbreaking losses like yesterday’s and were eventually better for it. Also consider that our young team was riddled by injuries this year at key positions mainly on offense which is the one unit that struggled the most this year. Both Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters went down with injuries. Tarik Black who looked like he was going to be our deep threat, went down early changing the whole chemistry of our offense. In the middle of the season, our stable of running backs started to show signs of wear and tear as well.

In most sports but particularly in football, young players need time to grow, evolve and develop confidence and toughness, and I hypothesize that we’re going to see a much, much stronger unit next year – one that will hopefully win its rivalry games and shut everyone up. We should particularly have Grant Newsome back who blew out his knee early last season, and who will give us a much stronger and deeper offensive line which is a major key to Coach Harbaugh’s offense. What will probably have everyone’s attention going into the 2018 season though will be the quarterback position. It’s going to be to an intense competition the likes of which we haven’t seen since Tom Brady and Drew Henson.

Earlier this evening, ESPN reported that Wilton Speight is going to transfer to another school likely leaving a quarterback 9competition between Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey. Brandon Peters looked very poised and in control of our offense before getting knocked out against Wisconsin. Some fans such as one of my buddies want to give the job right to McCaffrey. Speight’s departure makes it much easier on Coach Harbaugh and his staff though the decision will be a critical. With both Peters and McCaffrey being young guys, Michigan will likely have continuity and stability at the quarterback position in the years to come barring injuries – something we haven’t had under the Coach Harbaugh’s tenure thus far. Either way, there’s no place to go but up for the Michigan Wolverines, and I think Jim Harbaugh is the guy to take our football program to the top, despite the clamoring by the critics.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back
Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you liked this post, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. 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. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at 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.

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back

I first heard about Author John U. Bacon as a graduate student at the University of Michigan where I regularly listened to ‘The Ticket 1050 AM-WTKA‘. I heard all of the latest news and commentary on Michigan sports on that station, and it was a lot of fun listening to it all, especially during football season. I later found that John was a fixture at the University serving as a faculty member, and as an Ann Arbor native he had a deep knowledge of the history of the University of Michigan’s athletics – particularly its storied football program. John U. Bacon has authored numerous books about the program, its coaches and players, and the world of big time college football in general. In 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington D.C. hosted John who presented his latest book Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football. The book chronicled the ascension of the football program, its descent into perhaps its darkest time, and then its magical return solidified by the hiring of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

I originally published this piece on the Examiner in November of 2015. We were deep into Jim Harbaugh’s first season – weeks after the heartbreaking loss to the Michigan State Spartans at the Michigan Stadium best known to alumni (such as myself) and fans as the “Big House”. With the exception of a graduate transfer from Iowa named Jake Rudock, Coach Harbaugh inherited Brady Hoke’s players and had begun implementing his own culture. Three years into the rebuilding of the program, we haven’t made it into the College Football Playoff (CFP) yet, but the maize and blue is much better off than in the years spanning from 2007 to 2015 – the eight-year stretch that John U. Bacon chronicled in Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football.

* * *

“When you’re selling Michigan Football, you’re selling one of the most fundamental things that humans have to offer: the need to be together, to stand for something, and to stand in the same place,” said Mr. Bacon, discussing his latest book, with his signature comedic energy and exuberance. “Michigan Football stands for a set of values. The Redskins don’t! The Bears don’t! The Dolphins don’t!”

On October 29, 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosted a book signing by Mr. Bacon. The event took place at Squire Patton and Boggs, and started with registration, followed by an initial book signing. He then gave a detailed discussion of the genesis of his latest book, followed by an overview of its story.

“It’s actually stunning how badly things were going for the Football program, and I’ve never seen the dominos fall into place so well and for a story to come out the way that it did,” Mr. Bacon said describing what led to his writing Endzone. “The inspirational part of the book which I hope the readers get, is that to me, this is Michigan’s finest hour. The Students, the Faculty, the Alumni, the Letterman, the Regents, all of these people recognized Michigan values and sought to restore them and I think that’s the ultimate story.”

“If you’re running Michigan athletics, yes, you have to have sound business practices. However, you also need to understand that the reason the thing exists is that the people see it as a religion and not a business, and that’s a fundamental difference between the Redskins and the Wolverines,” Bacon said, discussing the magic behind Michigan Football.

Endzone chronicles the ascension of the University of Michigan’s football program spanning from its earliest days unde9r Fielding Yost to its recent golden age under Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. He then discussed how the magic of the program was lost in recent years, due to poor administrative, business and political decisions made off the field that, negatively affected the product on the field and support of the program. The book also discusses the current re-ascension of the program with the recent hiring of Jim Harbaugh, one of the program’s legendary quarterbacks and most celebrated figures.

John U. Bacon has become the official Historian of the Michigan Football. He has authored numerous books, many capturing the history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program, and the current state of college football including:

Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football;
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football and;
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership.

Endzone is not only a chronology of Michigan Football, it’s also a story of how not to run a business,” said Erik Ruselowski, Treasurer of the DC Alumni Club during the introduction. Following the discussion, Mr. Bacon finished signing books for the 100-plus attendees who purchased all of the available copies of Endzone that evening.

* * *

I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan towards the end of Lloyd Carr’s tenure as Head Coach of its football team. My first year was actually Tom Brady’s senior season and the inaugural year of the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – the predecessor to the CFP. Coach Carr’s teams were talented and competitive but in the new era of the BCS, he was unable to recapture the magic that carried the Wolverines to the National Championship in 1997. During that stretch there were always two to three losses that took Michigan out of contention. Our fan base began calling for his head and ultimately they got the coaching change they wanted. They also got several things they didn’t want or anticipate. As Mr. Bacon describes in Endzone, there is a lot more that goes into a college football program than what you see on the field on Saturdays, in the bowl games, and at the NFL Drafts.

Since publishing Endzone, Mr. Bacon has published two more books: Playing Hurt which he co-wrote with ESPN’s John Saunders, and The Great Halifax Explosion in which the story’s main hero is the University of Michigan’s first hockey coach. To learn more about John U. Bacon his books, and speaking engagements, go to: www.johnubacon.com.

A special thank you is extended to the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. for allowing me to cover John U. Bacon’s visit in 2015. Thank you also to John U. Bacon for chronicling the history of Michigan Football’s vast and storied history. If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten Officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

The University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosts many events throughout the year for its alumni, in addition to its sports game watches, for which the University and its alumni are well known. If you are a University of Michigan alumnus in the Washington, D.C. metro area and would like to keep up with the club’s events, please go to www.umdc.org. GO BLUE!!!!

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.

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game

On Nov. 11, Coach Jim Harbaugh’s No. 21 ranked Michigan Wolverines pushed their record to 8-2 overall, and 5-2 in the Big Ten East with a 35-10 victory over the Maryland Terrapins in College Park, MD. Michigan’s dominating performance started early holding Maryland scoreless until the third quarter when the Terrapins scored their first three points. With redshirt freshman Brandon Peters under center, the Wolverines used a balanced attack where the running game gave Peters time to sit back and find targets like tight end Zach Gentry who rumbled into the end zone in the second quarter to put the maize and blue up 21-0 (see ESPN’s box score for more stats). Other scores were by Chris Evans who actually leapt over a Maryland defender late in the game as Michigan wore down the clock, Henry Poggi and Sean McKeon.

“Go Blue!!!!!” we Michigan fans said to each other on Washington, DC’s metro system as we commuted to the game to sit and watch our storied football program in 30 degree temperatures. It was pretty much a home game for the maize and blue, as we all sung “The Victors” in the stands after Michigan’s scores. Many of the Maryland fans left the stadium at halftime with their team down 28-0.

It’s been an interesting football season for the 2017 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan’s victory over Maryland wasn’t a surprise to the fan base. Having fallen out of the Top 25 following our loss to Penn State two weeks ago, I didn’t realize that Wolverines had crept back into the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll at Nos. 21 and 22 respectively after blowouts of Rutgers and Minnesota. The question now is will the maize and blue still be ranked when the clock expires on November 25, in two weeks? The final two tests of the 2017 Michigan Football Wolverines may be their biggest of the season; a match up with the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium who are ranked No. 3 in the Coaches Poll, and then our old friends the No. 11 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at the Big House who just crushed Michigan State last night 48-3.

As described in my recap of the season opener against the Florida Gators, the results of this season haven’t been completely unexpected, at least by some of us in the fan base. Going in, I saw this season as a rebuilding year where there might be some growing pains. While quarterback Wilton Speight returned, he did struggle down the stretch of the 2016 season albeit while healing from a broken collarbone. Even with his experience, and bringing us close to beating Ohio State in that controversial 2016 loss, we graduated three very experienced receivers in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and tight end Jake Butt, replacing them with a talented but young receiving corp. Tariq Black, probably our best deep threat was lost early this season to a foot injury, and the rest of the group has made its share of mistakes; dropped passes, fumbles, and an inability to get separation from defenders. While he wasn’t the most explosive running back, we also graduated De’veon Smith who was a very effective pass blocker – a key component of the pro-style offense Coach Harbaugh runs.

Pass protection has been a major area of struggle for the Wolverines since the beginning of the season which arguably led to Wilton Speights three cracked vertebra. It’s remained a problem as backup quarterback John O’ Korn also struggled and had been on the run the majority of the time after taking over for Speight. Against Rutgers, Coach Harbaugh inserted Brandon Peters in relief of O’ Korn who has looked good, although against weaker opponents. The positive is that the running game seems to be rolling now which may simplify the game for our young offense and will open the passing game for Peters, or Wilton Speight should he return. Recent reports are saying that he is on the mend and I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Harbaugh plays him against Ohio State in two weeks.

The one constant for the 2017 Wolverines has been the defense led by Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, and Devin Bush. Coach Harbaugh and Coach Don Brown have done an excellent job not only replacing last year’s veterans like Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, but they’ve also kept this unit motivated and hungry even when the other side of the ball hasn’t delivered much help. Our kicking game has been pretty consistent as well.

Many Michigan fans have grown restless as this season has gone by. Coach Harbaugh has been criticized for running too complicated an offense for the crop of players he has. One high school buddy with very little patience has been particularly frustrated that the maize and blue isn’t in this year’s College Football Playoff discussion this season often comparing Coach Harbaugh to Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. My buddy actually isn’t alone though as part of the Michigan fan base has short patience and is sometimes unrealistic in its expectations causing us to squabble amongst ourselves.

If one is being realistic, the results from this season make sense. Once again the Wolverines graduated several experienced players at key positions from last year’s team which was in the playoff discussion throughout the year. In pretty much any arena, it takes time, experience (some mistakes) to figure out how to excel. As a mentor often tells me, “Success and failure live side by side, and you can’t have one without the other.” My guess is that the experiences from this season will make the 2018 team and those going forward very solid units, perhaps even championship-caliber football teams.

This year’s team has also been nipped by injuries. While Wilton Speight didn’t charge out of the gate early on like many of us hoped he would, but he was our most experienced quarterback who played in some very big games last year. The loss of Tariq Black also took away our best deep threat. Lastly if you look at Coach Harbaugh’s records at the University of San Diego and at Stanford, his successes were gradual until his teams became powers, both in his fourth years I believe. Since coming to Michigan he had a crop of players he didn’t recruit, and coached them up well all while bringing in his own recruits who are getting on the job training right now.

I’m going to approach our two remaining games with a controlled optimism as I did this season in general. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State have no doubt been watching game film on Michigan and know that the big question mark for our team is our passing game. Our defense will likely buy time as it has all season, but our opponents will likely “load the box” to stop our running game and then try to make Peters or Speight if he comes back, try to beat them. My prediction is that our passing attack, will dictate the outcomes of the next two weeks. I have to think that Coach Harbaugh has thought about this as well, and may have a few tricks up his own sleeve.

Speaking of Coach Harbaugh, similar to the 2015 Maryland game, I caught a glimpse of him and the team as they shuffled out the locker room under the night sky, and onto their busses dressed in their maize and blue sweat suits. That year it was 12 or 1 pm kickoff, and the graduate transfer Jack Ruddock was our starting quarterback beating out both Shane Morris and Wilton Speight for the job. That season Coach Harbaugh inherited a team consisting mostly of Brady Hoke’s recruits – many of which were very talented players who themselves had taken their share of lumps and growing pains.

I recognized offensive and defensive coordinators Tim Drevno, Don Brown, and defensive line coach Greg Mattison immediately. As a Michigan alumnus, I also recognized longtime radio analyst Jim Brandstatter. Some of the players went straight to their busses with their postgame meals in hand which looked like Chik-Fila. Others stopped, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans. I also recognized wider receiver Grant Perry. Coach Harbaugh who is a rock star in his own right created a buzz when he came walking through. I recognized Maurice Hurst as well whom I follow on Twitter. He took a picture with me and godson, a freshman football player at Bowie High School. He was nice enough to wait while I turned my phone back on, which was almost dead at that point.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subs3cription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at 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.

A review of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok

While my blog has distinct areas of focus and associated principles, I like to leave room for movie reviews. As stated in my bio, I have a love for Science Fiction and Super Hero movies going back to childhood. While I normally team up with my brother Amahl as we recently did for Blade Runner 2049, I’m going to tackle Thor: Ragnarok on my own. This review will thus focus on the third installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU’s) Thor series starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Kate Blanchett, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins. Karl Urban also stars in it and Benedict Cumberbatch makes a cameo as well. As you might guess, Stan Lee also makes his usual appearance.

If there is one word I can use to describe Thor: Ragnarok, it would be humor. I have to admit that I only saw parts of Thor: The Dark World, and while it did stay true to its title in terms of darkness, Thor: Ragnarok goes completely in the other direction in terms of laughs – a hallmark of the MCU’s productions particularly when Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man is involved. In both Avengers movies Tony Stark and Bruce Banner form a comedic duo, and thus Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/The Hulk lends several laughs to Thor: Ragnarok, in addition to the main character himself. Speaking of the Hulk, I really enjoy backstories and answers to previously unanswered questions. Thor: Ragnarok gives us an idea of what happened to Bruce Banner/The Hulk when he fled from Sokovia towards the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron hoping to disappear back into anonymity.

As per usual, the Thor movies are otherworldly and more fantasy-like. Thor: Ragnarok gives Thor and the Hulk their own movie who were the two Avengers coincidentally mentioned but absent in Captain America: Civil War. This version of the Hulk is more in control and self-aware readily having discussions with Thor, and it’s even speculated that he now knows how to maintain his form over his Bruce Banner half. Without spoiling the film, the movie starts with Thor defeating Surtur who vows to unleash something called “Ragnarok” on Asgard. After defeating Surtur and foiling another one of Loki’s schemes, Thor and Loki are led to their father Odin coincidentally by Dr. Strange before both of them are initially defeated by Hela and displaced through space time to the world of the “Grandmaster” who is portrayed by Jeff Goldblum. Hela is too powerful for either Thor or his brother Loki. I’ve long been a fan of Kate Blanchett’s since the Lord of the Rings series and she wears her dark colors and fitted leather outfits quite well in this film.

“YEEEESSS. We know each other. He’s a friend from work,” Thor happily says in the trailer themed by Ledd Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” (now in my head).  Thor and the Hulk humorously re-unite on the planet of the Grandmaster who collects fighters and makes them battle to the death for sport. Thor who has “lost” his hammer “Mjölnir”, ultimately teams up with Bruce Banner/Hulk, and Valkyrie portrayed by Tessa Thompson and returns to Asgard to attempt to take it back from Hela with the aid of Heimdall who has prevented her from using the “Bifrost” to take over the other realms.

What is the significance of the name “Ragnarok”? Well let’s just say that it impacts the end of the story and pretty much changes Thor’s story world going forward. Thor ends this movie a changed god. While there is humor throughout it, the protagonist is forever altered both mentally and in terms of his physical being. Thor: Ragnorak is a very entertaining film which has been said by many to be the best of the series which has also been said to be the weakest franchise in the MCU. Next up from the MCU is The Black Panther which is gaining more and more steam in terms of excitement and anticipation. Ultimately though I’m looking forward to the Avengers: Infinity War when all of the heroes will be back on the screen together fighting their most formidable foe yet.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. The next review on my blog will most likely be the Justice League. If you enjoyed this one, you may also enjoy:

A review of Bladerunner 2049
A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming
A review of All Eyez on Me
A review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange

Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. My Twitter and Instagram handles are @BWArePowerful and @anwaryusef76.  You can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. If you enjoyed 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 or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. 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 ADME/Drug Metabolism?

“If you swallow a pill and it simply sits in your stomach, and then passes out through your feces, it technically wasn’t absorbed into your body.”

Similar to the fields of Pharmacology and Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism is a well-established field dating back to the nineteenth century, 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 ADME/Drug Metabolism can be accessed online, or in scientific journals.

In my Pharmacology and Toxicology posts, I briefly discussed Pharmacokinetics, Toxicokinetics, and the Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism and Excretion (ADME) of drugs and other xenobiotics.  These areas collectively comprise the exciting field of “Drug Metabolism”.   Whenever a new drug or industrial chemical is produced, several key aspects of the chemical must be characterized; how much of it gets absorbed into the body, where it goes in the body, and how long it stays there.  The answers to these questions are collectively known as the molecule’s “ADME” profile, and a tremendous amount of work goes into this type of research.  It’s very critical information as it helps characterize the chemical’s subsequent pharmacological or toxicological effectiveness and properties.  As you read through this post keep a couple of key questions in mind.  How much of the molecule gets absorbed into the body?  Where does it go once absorbed?  How long does it stay in the body?  Is it transformed into something new?  How does it leave the body?

Before walking through the ADME acronym in greater detail lets first talk about the three organs that impact a chemical’s ADME profile the most: the Liver, the Kidneys and the Small Intestine.  As described later in this post, other organs can impact a chemical’s ADME profile but these are the three major players.  I will try to explain these organs in the context of this post in the simplest way possible.

“If you take a pill and it simply sits in your stomach for a brief period of time, and then passes out through your feces, then it technically wasn’t absorbed into your body,” said the same professor from my Pharmacology post who distinguished the discipline of Pharmacology from Pharmacy.  This anecdote described how drugs and man-made industrial chemicals in the classic sense must be absorbed into the blood stream to actually have been absorbed into your body.  There are other ways a chemical can get into the body (inhalation and dermal exposures), but for this post I’m focusing only on oral absorption.

If absorbed in the small intestine, the molecule of interest then passes through the “Hepatic Portal Vein” into the liver where any number of things can happen to it (described in greater detail below).  After leaving the liver and entering the general circulation, the molecule is for the most part cleared through the kidneys via the urine, but in some cases it can be deposited back into the GI-Tract and leave the body through the feces.  Molecules can also be exhaled depending upon what they’re transformed into once absorbed.  Any molecule not absorbed by the small intestine leaves the body through the feces.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the liver and kidneys which both perform numerous critical functions in the body.  For this particular context, the normal function of both, are critical to the body’s handling of both endogenous and exogenous chemicals which is why physicians, nurses and pharmacists inquire about their function early on when patients are admitted for care in clinical settings.  With that in mind, I’ll now break down the ADME acronym and why these skill sets are so valuable for scientists who gain an expertise in them:

  • Absorption: As described earlier, the “Absorption” aspect deals with how much of the chemical is absorbed into the body following oral ingestion, passage into the small intestine, the liver, and finally into the blood stream. The properties of the chemical itself can dictate how much of it is absorbed – particularly its size and for simplicity whether it’s charged (+ or -) or neutral.  As described in my Pharmacology post, pharmaceutical companies designate molecules as either “small” or “large”, and many large molecules can only be administered by injection into the bloodstream.  While there are several experiments that can help characterize a molecule’s oral absorption, “Pharmacokinetic” and “Biliary Excretion” studies (discussed below) are the most specific.  Just briefly, by treating animals (usually rodents) with radio-labelled compound, the amount of compound absorbed can be determined by quantifying the amount of radioactivity in the blood, urine and feces over time telling scientists how quickly the molecule was absorbed in addition to the amount absorbed and if these two metrics change with increasing dose.
  • Metabolism: Once in the body, molecules can undergo “Biotransformation” – that is, classes of proteins called “Enzymes” can transform the structure of a given molecule by breaking it down into multiple pieces or adding on new “Functional Groups”, altering its properties so that it’s more readily eliminated from the body (discussed below).  In some instances, this biotransformation turns the molecule into something toxic which can cause injury to the liver or other tissues in the body.  The Metabolism aspect of ADME, involves a separate discipline called “Enzymology” which focuses just on the enzymes themselves; their levels in cells (Protein Expression), the rates of their reactions (Kinetics), their structures, etc.  There are actually multiple classes of drug metabolizing enzymes but the most prevalent class at least as it relates to the liver, is the “Cytochrome-P450s”.  Pharmaceutical companies pay particular attention to this class of enzyme (and a host of others) as they greatly impact the “Bioavailability” of the drug.  The “First Pass Effect” or “First Pass Metabolism” occurs when a drug is significantly metabolized before it gets into the general circulation due to metabolism by liver enzymes.  Some of the clinical aspects of metabolism will be further discussed later in this post.  By the way, while Cytochrome P450s were classically associated with the liver, we now know that they are expressed throughout the human body as well as all plants and animals.
  • Distribution: Once in the body’s general circulation, the molecule can travel to many of the tissues of the body and can accumulate there for short- or long-periods of time depending upon the tissue and the properties of the molecule itself.  If the molecule is particularly non-polar (neutral), it can accumulate in fatty tissues or for pregnant females, it can partition into breast milk and be transfered to nursing offspring.  Molecules can also bind reversibly to blood plasma allowing for an increased internal dose.
  • Excretion: Excretion refers to how the molecule is eliminated from the body.  Typically the urine and the feces are measured to determine how the molecule is eliminated.  Detection in the urine indicates that the molecule was absorbed to some degree into the bloodstream as the kidneys filter out aqueous waste from the blood.  Poor kidney function can actually lead to a prolonged bioavailability and subsequent toxicity which is why clinicians always inquire about it as described earlier.  Not all of the absorbed chemical exits the body through the urine though.  It turns out that absorbed chemicals can empty out back into the GI-Tract from the liver via the bile and then be eliminated through the feces.
  • Drug Transport: This aspect doesn’t traditionally fall under the ADME acronym, but it’s an important field that is now being actively researched in academia and industry.  It deals with how cells may concentrate the chemical in tissues or remove the molecule from the target tissue before it can exert its function.
  • Pharmacogenomics/Toxicogenomics: These new and exciting fields look at the genetics unique to individuals to determine the best treatments and dosages for that individual. Genetic differences in levels in the drug metabolizing enzymes mentioned above can result in drastically different effects of treatment with a given dose of a drug depending on the individual.  The same is true for an individual’s reaction to a toxicant.

So why is all of this important?  Whether in a hospital setting, a pharmacy, or in the chemical industry creating a new food additive, pesticide, or cosmetic, it’s important to have as clear an understanding as possible of where the molecule goes in the body and what its fate is following ingestion.  As described above, physicians, whether in general practice or in the emergency room, have to gauge a patient’s liver and kidney function as those two organs will dictate how long the pharmaceutical stays in circulation – again, its “Bioavailability”.  Even a pharmaceutical designed to be therapeutically beneficial can be toxic if it remains in the body too long, if its levels exceed a certain dose level, if it’s transformed into something toxic, or if there is a drug-drug interaction.  “Drug-Drug Interactions” are typically the result of one drug causing an increased internal dose of another drug due to inhibiting or preventing metabolism by the enzymes described in the metabolism bullet above.  In graduate school we learned about the classic case of Terfenadine causing abnormal heart rhythms that could lead to death by increasing the amounts of circulating Erythromycin – both of these drug molecules normally work by with non-cardiac mechanisms. Terfenadine was removed from the market once it’s ability to cause this deadly drug-drug interaction was recognized.

Chemical, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical companies all have to know what happens to their molecules in the body for several reasons.  A drug can be highly effective at preventing cancer cells from multiplying in a laboratory setting in dishes and flasks, but unless it is readily absorbed in the intestines and can actually get to its target tissue in the body as its untransformed structure, it’s useless.  In some instances, a drug can get to its site of action, but the cells of that tissue can adapt and effectively expel the molecule before it gets a chance to exert its function as described earlier.  Pesticides which are sprayed on agricultural commodities often make it to our dinner tables in low levels where we do ingest them to some degree.

Another very important context for ADME/Drug Metabolism is actually “Food Safety” which is a key consideration for food and beverage companies like Pepsico and Quaker Oats.  As a matter of fact, at a family dinner earlier this year, a discussion of about Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), a preservative used in “Cap’n Crunch” cereal which had other industrial uses, caused a stir amongst my relatives.  I had to remind them that both the ADME and toxicity profiles of this preservative had already likely been characterized and cleared through extensive studies by the company and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

We’ve discussed what ADME/Drug Metabolism is, but where do these scientists work and where do they receive their training?  ADME/Drug Metabolism scientists work in Pharmaceutical and Chemical companies, and in government performing “Regulatory” functions (visited in an upcoming post).  They receive their training for the most part in academic settings in labs specializing in Pharmacology and Toxicology, both of which have ADME/Drug Metabolism as a major component.  There are some labs that strictly study one of the many aspects of ADME/Drug Metabolism but they are in the minority of the research groups in the biomedical sciences.

“Scientists with training in Drug Metabolism will almost never be with jobs,” said one of the professors in my graduate department at the University of Michigan.  While we know that there is no job that is 100% secure, this particular professor was stressing that ADME/Drug Metabolism scientists are critical parts of most companies.  The divisions of those companies responsible for these types of studies are typically titled Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics (DMPK).  No matter what disease the company is interested in (Diabetes, Cancer, HIV, etc.), it is essential that they understand the chemical’s ADME/Drug Metabolism profile for their own purposes and when submitting packages for approval by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies.  The same is true for chemical companies. Depending on the degree level earned and where the scientist is employed, ADME/Drug Metabolism scientists can earn starting salaries of $60,000-$70,000.

There are numerous scientific tools and technologies that ADME/Drug Metabolism scientists use, but I’ll mention two of them briefly.  The first is the Mass Spectrometer also known as the “Mass-Spec”.  The accompanying picture shows a Mass-Spec.  Click on the image to enlarge it.  Mass-Specs are not used solely in ADME/Drug Metabolism studies, but they’re very important to the field because they can detect and identify molecules in whole blood, blood plasma, tissue samples, urine, and fecal samples at very, very low levels.  More importantly they can detect changes in the structure and identity of molecules once they have gone through the body and can help to predict a drug/industrial chemical’s efficacy or toxicity.

Technologies and methods are always changing and evolving but the Mass-Spec is currently a very important tool for ADME/Drug Metabolism.  Currently, Pharmacology and Toxicology scientists in industry are moving towards decreasing animal usage and towards more in vitro and in silico methods which are giving rise to the use of Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic Models (PBPK) where the fate of molecules can be predicted using various constants and inputs into computational models.  We’re currently in the early era of these methods.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting field ADME/Drug Metabolism, I suggest that you visit the website of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).  You can then click on the link titled Education & Careers.  In the right hand column, there is a link titled About Pharmacology, that provides a great deal of interesting information.  Speaking of ASPET, all scientific disciplines have their own professional societies with annual meetings that are held in various cities (eg. Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Washington,etc.) every year, and where scientists gather to show their results and network.  The two major professional societies for ADME/Drug Metabolism scientists 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 ADME/Drug Metabolism is as a field.  The next post in this series will discuss the field of Inhalation Toxicology.  If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new a conducting business and record keeping

A special thank you is extended to Dr. Paul Hollenberg and Dr. Chester Rodriguez for their contributions to this post.  I also want to acknowledge Dr. Yoichi Osawa of the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology for the picture of the Mass Spectrometer used in 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.  Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at 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.

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 to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp
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Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional careers and coaching

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.  Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76, and at 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 or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader.  Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discusssions76.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, on Instagram at @anwaryusef76 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 and technology 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.  By the way, to see why it’s critical to have an Emergency Fund and to be prepared for disasters, I recommend reading An In-Depth Guide to Financial Emergency Preparedness by Brian Robson.

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.  Years later I would learn that it ran off of something called “Blockchain” technology.  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. You must be prepared.

This involves knowledge and resources. Study your investment of choice, minimize your debt, save for emergencies, and then allocate your money to invest – money you won’t be adversely affected by the if the investment doesn’t work.

If you’re not in a 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) who can make sure you’re on sure footing. They may be able to give insight into what type of investments are best for your particular financial goals. Click here if you want to know more about your options.

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 enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Your net worth, your gross salary, and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal
A look at STEM: Blockchain technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping
A Cryptocurrency App Case Study
Why SEO really is the key to a successful online business
The Best Apps for Crypto Investment
Who will have the skills to benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?

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