Monthly Archives: August 2014

Impact of our microbes, Dr. Andrew Weil

Is Your Microbiome In Charge?
Is it possible that the hundred trillion microbes that make up the microbiome in the human gut “know” what nutrients they need, and in seeking them influence our dietary choices? This interesting theory holds that, in some cases, our intestinal flora nudges us toward fat or sugar and possibly obesity. A new review of recent scientific literature concludes that our microbes actually can trigger cravings, as their attempts to receive more of the foods they need for growth affect our eating behavior. The authors of the review write that it is “unclear” how the microbes might do this, but suggest that they may influence food choices by releasing signaling molecules into the gut, which has links to the immune system, endocrine system and nervous system. Another possibility: according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico, gut bacteria may sway our eating decisions in part by acting through the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain. On the upside, the reviewers note that our food choices can alter the microbiome within 24 hours. Better yet, the authors write that microbiota “are easily (manipulated) by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes…(offering) a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.”

My take? We know that our individual microbiomes are very different from one another, and it appears our own unique balance of organisms influences our health. Recent research suggests, however, that our microbiomes in general are becoming increasingly unbalanced for a number of reasons, including diets heavy in processed foods and increased exposure to antibiotics via both medical treatments and residues in foods from animals treated with the drugs. This review suggests that it’s likely we ultimately have the power to control our own microbiomes, instead of the other way around.

A Chinese young man compares living in Scandinavia

I can’t believe that I’m really in Finland!! sorry I still don’t have
internet connection in my room because it is really expensive. 20 euros a
month , so 240 euros a year–that’s 10 years’ internet service fee back
in my home town apartment. So of course I think it’s unbelievably
expensive, especially when I’m in a really advanced country renowned for
its technology.
I’m in the library. I just got my library card. So I can get on-line
here. But I will try to find more options to get internet connection.
I guess there are so much I want to tell you that I’m not sure where to
start.  But of course I’d like you to visit here and check everything
The first thing I noticed when I got off the train was that there were
no taxis. The bus passed by every 30 minutes. That’s quite different
from China.
Actually one thing can explain everything here—everything is too
expensive here!  Not many people would even consider getting a taxi
because they are too expensive. Before I came here, I thought it is that
only travelers and foreigners who are concerned about how expensive the
living expenses are, but only when I met people here I knew even local
people think everything is too expensive.
bus is also expensive, about 4 euro if it’s not further than one hour’s
drive, that is the fee of me taking a bus 100 times in Beijing.
Literally you will see only a few people on the bus. So how do people
commute or if they want to go somewhere—they bike.  You will find
parking lots for bikes EVERYWHERE!  I was pretty amazed when I saw many
elderly who are more than 50 and 60 years old biking to get their
groceries. The elderly here are quite independent. I saw many of them
traveling by their own. Everyone has a bike. A bike is like a car in the
U.S..  But Bike is not cheap either.  I don’t see many cars even in the
city center..
Because everything is so expensive , there are second hand stores
everywhere. I’m quite impressed when I saw many beautiful Finnish girls
picking up second hand clothes there. People here are so nice and so
fugal.  they live a frugal life, that is what I didn’t expect. My
Finnish tutor’s friend is using a Nokia phone that she bought 10 years
ago. And such a beautiful girl using a worn bag is not something I can
see in China. Let me give you a example of how thrifty they’re.( We
international students as well as local students all have a Finnish
tutor who will meet us in the train station or airport and show us
around in the town.and they will help us find the apartment and  show us
where we can buy second hand staff, show us the university, help us
adjusting to the Finnish culture. They are volunteer peer students. How
considerate the Finns are!!! ) On my first day to school, I happened to
meet a Finnish tutor showing his tutoree around the campus. I offered to
help them because they are carrying two HUGE luggage cases and two
bags.  We walked 1 hour and a half to her apartment carrying those heavy
luggages. When we got there, I saw a bus stop just in front of the
apartment. I asked the tutor why didn’t we take a bus. He said ” the bus
is expensive so I thought we could walk here. ”  in china, speaking of
4 huge luggage bags and one hour and a half’s road would first linked
to taking a taxi.

October 1

I am doing fine. All the weekdays were filled with lectures and seminars, and all the weekends were just crazy.. Gosh. International students are crazy. And suddenly I realize I am one of them. But different… Last week I just got drunk for the first time of my life and had my first hangover. Most of my neighbors happen to be Eastern Europeans (this city is close to Russian border, so I guess it’s natural.)  They were celebrating one Latvian’s birthday so I was invited to the party. Russians and Latvians drink like crazy. They drink vodka like beer, and drink beer like water. Inevitably, I had to drink for the celebration. I had my first cup of vodka and whiskey. By their words, a celebration without vodka is not a celebration.

I live in the apartment regulated by government housing. It is provided by the student housing company owned by the city. ( universities here don’t have dormitories unlike US and CHN.)

After about two weeks’ orientation we are having class now. The entire orientation week is whole new experience for me when it comes to higher education. There is no such concept as orientation week for new students in China. Although the Chinese higher education system has substantially adopted the European counterpart’s entire framework, but many details are not well attended like the European higher education system. The orientation week is a missing link for the Chinese education system. As there is no such concept of orientation week in Chinese universities, in the beginning of their college lives, many students are confused about what to do. Much of the information comes from their peer students, and the delivery of the messages much relies on the head teacher of the class.  I found the whole orientation week is very usefully. It’s crucial for its introductory and informative role for new international students, and for Finnish students as well, according to my peer Finnish students’ comment. I read somewhere in the US all the schools have orientation for new students, right?

Yes. I registered for Finnish 1. It’s a really different language from the major language families.

Nov. 1

I found a job. because everything is so expensive here. i had a small accident when delivering papers. i fell from bike because the ice on the ground after the snow. it snows too much here.for people who don’t speak finnish, there are few jobs, actually just cleaning and paper distribution. and the salary is 80 euros a month, that’s actually less than Chinese labor workers. the university has positions for teaching assistant, but they are given to people who can speak and write Finnish report. i guess  I’m a little down. haven’t talked to anyone for a while.

November 16, 2014. Notes on our Skype conversation from Finland:

Equality is the key characteristic, like don’t hold out a chair for women. You see women on the side of the road fixing their bikes and men don’t stop to help. Fins have poker faces, they don’t show expression. The always talk about being shy. In a college class, no one raises their hand unless the teacher asks a question. They don’t want attention. My Czech friend I told me nobody is trying to impress somebody. I don’t see any same sex couples holding hands People are so modest so there’s much under the tip of the iceberg that you can’t see. Everybody should be the same. Teachers don’t think one student is smart or dumb. In the high school I asked if they had any questions in a Mandarin class, not one. So you don’t show you know more or show off their talents, or show you’re rich. Should be on the same level. They don’t buy a fancy car or big house. All the houses are almost the same, not rich neighborhoods. City government owns housing company to provide student housing. It’s astonishing that so many listen to rock and calm, and they’re calm when they listen not moving their feet. Kind of creepy. A student showed us a movie called A Man Without a Past. He lost his memory when he got robbed on a train. He was calm. Soldiers listen to radio playing rock and roll. Speed ticket based on income. TV cable too. Positive discrimination. If two people complete for job, give it to the less capable because the other one can find a job elsewhere.

Finland is very Americanized. So many TV shows they know like Grey’s anatomy, America’s Next Top Model, CSI, south Park, Once Upon a Time. A Finnish girl told me she was very concerned about the US elections; a factor is they’re anti-Russian. Another thing that surprised me most was they almost all speak American English, especially the German students almost without accent. i thought in Europe they would have a British accent but even the senior generation has an American accent, probably because they always have American TV shows

For the few weeks I was here, I didn’t feel like I was in another country because most speak English. This town is so beautiful, feel like home. At 4 it’s dark. It snows all the time. People feel tired in the winter. Lapland is the best place to see the Northern Lights.. It’s a dream come true, but it’s so expensive to live here. The students are very poor. So second hand stores are common. They have goods from America like makeup. Have affinity for American culture because they grew up with it.

You can go into a master’s program without applying. You can test again till get a good score. The student union plays an important role for students. Free education is a result of student activism. Volunteer mentor. Free health care with student card. Discounts at school restaurants. 8 euros for lunch, 2. 20 with discount. No inspection or evaluation for teachers on all levels except student teachers. Highly respected profession, like doctors and lawyers in the US. Younger people proud to be a teacher, not like China where it’s a last resort. We trust them. Get teacher training when they start, senior teachers observe student or probation teacher suggestions. They believe in education and the teachers. A teacher told me there are more and more naughty students, more rebellious. I talked with a teacher who taught for 16 years, now they’re more difficult to manage. There’s no ranking of students, they don’t show the ranking list in high school. Matriculation examination, college entrance exam, but don’t worry about it. They’re more motivated than Chinese students because they’re responsible for their own studies. Have electives, minors, as long as have enough credits to 180 credits. Required to learn 2 foreign languages, learn Finish and Swedish and decide the level of the exam. The government is cutting funding for universities. Before government pay their salaries, now they get less money. High school students earn more than college universities. The economy was hurt when Nokia was bought by Microsoft.

What Boyhood film tells us about teen philosophy

In Boyhood (2014), filmed over 12 years, Mason is the main character. At age 18, he tells his girlfriend that they’re being turned into cyborgs by being lost in social media, losing their humanity. He deletes his Facebook page to show his independence. He’s been called an existentialist, not having religious beliefs, finding meaning in his photography and love for his family. The last scene shows him the first day of college hiking in a majestic canyon with his new friends after eating a marijuana brownie, expanding freedom.

Global Young Women’s Power

Global Girls’ Power

After dialoguing with young women and men for a decade, what’s most striking is the courage of Muslim women, as Malala takes on the Pakistani opponents of education for girls despite being shot in the head, Saudi women drive by themselves knowing their jobs could be taken away from them or they could be put in jail, Egyptian women face tanks and police snipers, Libyan women activists face death from extremists who want women to stay home, and Tawakkol Karman ignores her father and husband and death threats to lead Yemen’s uprising. They’re motivated by a sense of justice and equal rights with an international support group on social medias.

The best organized are the student groups with active young women co-leaders in Chile and Quebec. Some of them decided to run for political office in both places. It will be most interesting to see if they are able to change the system from the inside. Some studies show that women leaders do more for their constituents and work more harmoniously in a group, even that they’re less likely to enter warfare. We’ll see.

The fear of “feminization,” or reverse sexism is a reaction to girls’ success in education as the majority of global college graduates. Plus their ability to adapt to the information society with its jobs that emphasize flattened horizontal organizations and cooperative relationships rather than competitive individualism. If young women graduates become the majority of professionals, will they get past the glass ceiling to make a difference? Are they the harbingers of future organizing? The global uprisings that started with the Arab Spring in 2011 all advocate horizontalism, direct democracy and consensus decision making, as advocated by the Second Wave of feminism, as the social system of the future.

The success of privileged educated young women is in sharp contrast to illiterate poor girls who live in rural areas of developing countries or urban slums, represented by the interview with Mashal in Pakistan who has no autonomy and had to turn down an opportunity to be educated in our Open Door Literacy Project. Since over 80% of the world’s young people live in developing countries, this is a major problem. Because of their over one billion populations, India and China are the countries to watch to see if they can overcome patriarchal control of society and government and if they can lift more people out of poverty.

Multinational businesses define “girl power” as the power to buy popular brands and products. Consumerism is bad for the environment, our most pressing problem. In the West, Miley Cyrus feminism has devolved into discussion of “slut shaming” and the right to show a lot of skin, influenced by neoliberal individualism. We need a global feminism that unites around providing education and health care for young people and gets over the fear of being called man haters when women are most of the victims of domestic violence and early marriage and childbirth. Surveys of people internationally show that the majority of humans favor equality with the exception of some Muslim men. The future depends on educating girls, especially about how to protect the environment and stop global warming.

Transition from communism in Eastern Europe

The transition from the USSR to capitalism hasn’t been easy in the newly independent transitional countries either. For example, in Kosovo more than 60% of the population is under 25 old without hope for the future. Xheraldina Cernobregu reports, “While few years back we would say that there is hope, currently we are witnessing fatigue with youth. The perception of closed opportunities and not many prospects for their individual development is having a great impact to the attitude.”


I would like to create more job opportunities for the villagers so that they earn to eat.” Alexander, 15, m, Romania


I think that Czechs are pessimistic because they still want more and everything is wrong I would say. We were a communistic country till 1989. Now, we are pretty fast growing democratic country, but most of the people are not happy with what they wanted and got (freedom of speech, freedom of traveling, democratic election of parliament, foreign investments and a lot of other benefits and new opportunities); they still want more and they still complain about our politics, schools, health care… but they already forgot that it was way worse and that it needs time. I’m proud to be Czech and I hope I’m not the only one. Robert, 17, m, Czech Republic

In America you cannot do anything without the car, you cannot get anywhere you want. What I liked as a high school exchange student was that people were usually nicer to each other than here. In European cities, people do not care about each other. Mishka, 17, f, Slovakia

In the Ukrainian uprising against the corrupt government of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, few women appeared in leadership roles although they’re more educated than men on average. The exception was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Under Soviet rule quotas established a third women in parliament, but the former president refused to debate with Tymoshenko in 2010 because women’s place is in the kitchen. Women guarded barricades, provided medical care and food, and formed self-defense units. Estimates are they were almost half of the protesters.[i] They created a Facebook page called “Half the Maidan: Women’s Voice of Protest” and a YouTube video where a young female student named Yulia Marushevska explains why the uprising occurred, generating over eight million hits.[ii] She asks viewers to share the video to support their quest for freedom.

[i] Palash Ghosh, “Women Playing Crucial Roles in Euro-Maidan protests,” HistoriaViivens, February 28, 2014.


Chinese college students unhappy

A survey of 50,000 Chinese college students reports 60% of them aren’t very happy, because of mistrust in the government and increasing inequality as the rich get richer,[i] environmental problems, and lack of ways to express dissatisfaction in a controlled society that emphasizes stability and harmony. National Public Radio did a story about happiness in China, finding contradictory reports.[ii] A Pew Global Attitudes study found that 87% of Chinese people surveyed were satisfied with their country, making them the most satisfied respondents. But a European Union survey ranked China 128th out of 150 countries in happiness. We see that polls and social science are inexact.



Feminist Girls Create Media

Girls Make their own Media

Girls created their own media with feminist Zines, (homemade magazines) and independent punk rock music albums in the 80s and early 90s. The Bikini Kill band was influential, led by lead singer Kathleen Hanna, with its Riot Grrrl Manifesto published in 1991.[i] It included goals such as “creating non-hierarchal ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.” The Manifesto stated that they hate capitalism and are “angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl =Bad, Girl = Weak.” Today girls write Internet blogs and make videos about their issues. “Global Girl Media” was set up by women broadcasters and journalists to assist girls in “under-served communities” to become journalists, to correct the problem that “young women pass silently under the radar” of mainstream reporting.[ii] Their webpage includes videos by girls. The Women’s Rights Campaign put together an “Info-Activism Toolkit” for how to create a successful campaign by telling a story, inspiring action, and grabbing attention.[iii]

A European website called “grassroots” corrects the view of vapid consumers: “The preconception of youth, and in particular of girls and young women, as culturally unproductive and as passive consumers of mass culture and media is still very much ingrained today. However, girls and young women are capable cultural producers who create a wide variety of their own films, music, media, and festivals.” The website features those feminist creations and activities, mainly European. Other sites discuss the role of girls and women in media.[iv]

“Culture jamming” exposes advertising tactics to sell products. The term was coined in 1984 by a band called Negativland. Examples of tactics are pasting stickers such as “This insults women” to counteract the message on billboards (called “stickering”[v]), changing company logos, performance art, graffiti, and hactivism. Adbusters magazine satirizes ads and was the first to call for Occupy Wall Street in 2011. The Guerrilla Girls, created by New York City feminist artists in 1985, wore gorilla masks in their demonstrations against exclusion of women in art and film, as shown on their website.[vi]

Bitch Magazine was founded by Third Wave feminists to comment on popular culture.[vii] The three founders, two young women and a man, were recent college graduates in 1996 who were “pop culture obsessives.” They wanted to do fun feminist analysis of sexism in the media. A compilation of their favorite articles is called Bitchiest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (2006). Their website is called “Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture.” In response to the Supreme Court decision in 2014 permitting some corporations, like Hobby Lobby, to eliminate some kinds of birth control from their medical coverage the site suggested fun ways to protest such as chalk slogans on the street in front of Hobby Lobby stores, produce a zine with the addresses of other craft stores, or put images of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on nail polish.[viii] She wrote the dissent in the case. Other publications for girls and women, including blogs, are listed by Women in Media & News.[ix]











International Films Comparing Urban and Rural Youth

Stolen Life about Chinese rural migrants to the city. It shows the class system where city people look down on rural peasants. A freshman university student is corrupted by a scheming boyfriend. (China, 2005)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  During the Cultural Revolution, two intellectual city boys are sent to the countryside. The shows the impact of the country on them, and visa versa, especially the young seamstress who falls in love with reading. (2002)

The Road Home. An 18-year-old girl in a mountain village falls in love with the new 20-year-old schoolteacher. There’s no kissing in this love story, lots of eye contact and cooking food for him. (1999)

Mao’s Last Dancer: An Australian film about a peasant boy—the sixth son in his family—who was raised during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, trained in Beijing to be a ballet dancer. The film is based on his autobiography, with flash backs from his rural boyhood to dancing in Texas. (2009)

Born in Brothels. It follows the stories of several children growing up in the red-light district of Calcutta, and the impact made on them when they are given cameras to record their daily lives. (India, 2004)

Slumdog Millionaire. A slum boy ends up on a quiz show and his friends as they grow up in poverty. (India, 2008)

City of God shows crime life in a favela/slum in Rio, Brazil. (2002)

City of Men. About two 18-year-old boys who grew up in RIo slums. (2007)

Bus 174: A documentary about a former street kid who hijacks a city bus in Rio. (Brazil, 2003)

Only When I Dance. 18-year-old Irlan succeeds as a ballet dancer, stating, “My greatest desire is to give my parents a better life.” Isabela, 17, struggles less successfully to leave slum life behind. Her dark skin keeps her from being accepted in a Brazilian dance company. (Brazil, 2009)

The Zone. A walled compound of wealthy families in Mexico City is broken into by three teen boys who try to steal from one of the homes. One of slum boys, Miguel, hides out and is befriended by another teen who lives in the compound, Alejandro. The film shows the gap between rich and poor, how the police can be bribed and the rich take justice into their own hands. It’s violent. (2007)

  1. Hermano. Two teen soccer players live in a Caracas slum, one of them is in a gang. (Venezuela, 2012)
  2. Yesterday. An illiterate Zulu farmwoman, whose husband works in the mines in Johannesburg, learns she had AIDS. She is determined to stay alive until her daughter starts school. Shows village life. (South Africa, 2004)

Beat the Drum is about orphans who live on the streets of Johannesburg. (South Africa, 2002)

A Separation. A middle-class couple in Tehran separates because the mother wants to leave Iran. The father brings in a lower-class caregiver for his father who has Alzheimer’s disease. She brings her young daughter with her. Their 11-year-old daughter Termeh is caught in the middle of her parents’ disagreements. She lies to prevent her father from going to jail after an incident where he pushes the caregiver out of his door and she has a miscarriage.  Masoud Ferasati, an Iranian writer close to government said: “The image of our society that A Separation depicts is the dirty picture Westerners are wishing for.” It’s similar to the film Divorce Iranian Style. (Iran, 2011)

Bliss tells the story of an ex-commando who is ordered by his family to kill his 17-year-old cousin, an “honor killing,” because she was raped and “tainted.” It contrasts the differences between rural and urban lifestyles and shows the girl’s increasing strength to stand up for herself. (Turkey, 2007)

Nairobi Half Life. A young aspiring actor, Mwas migrates from a village in rural Kenya to Nairobi and is exposed to slum life and gang crime. (2012)

  1. Machuca. The film takes place in 1973, when the first socialist president democratically elected in a Latin-American country, President Salvador Allende is murdered. The story is about an upper-class boy who meets a lower-class boy when their Catholic school is integrated. Their friendship is torn apart by the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. (Argentina, 2004)

To Be and to Have. A documentary about a dedicated teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in a rural French village. 2003

Owl and the Sparrow. A 10-year-old orphan girl lives on the streets of Saigon. (2006)

The Story of the Weeping Camel. A family of nomadic shepherds raises a white camel calf. (Mongolia, 2004)

In America: an Irish immigrant family comes to live in a tenement in New York City, told from the point of view of the little girls. (US, 2003)

Beasts of the Southern Wild. A six-year-old black girl lives on an island in the Louisiana bayou with her alcoholic and sick father in poverty without electricity, both of them first-time actors. Her father refers to her as “man,” and teaches her to be a tough and survivor. (US, 2012)


Films about discrimination against indigenous young people:

Map of the Human Heart. About an Eskimo boy Avik, nicknamed Holy Boy, by a New Zealand filmmaker. It shows his corruption by western culture. (Eskimo, 1993)

Walkabout tells the story of an aboriginal boy who befriends two lost children. (Australia, 1971)

Rabbit-Proof Fence. True story about three indigenous girls (ages 8-14) who are kidnapped and taken to a missionary school in the 1930s because they are half white, and escape to travel hundreds of miles on foot with no food or water or map to get back home. The girls had no previous experience as actors. (Australia, 2002)

Kite Runner: Takes place in Afghanistan in the 1970s, about a Pashtun boy and underclass Hazara boy. (Afghanistan, 2007)