Crystal skull -Mystery of the Millennium

Crystal skull -Mystery of the Millennium
Vladimir Ciubotaru

 

Mysteries and riddles have always been very exciting and attractive to humans. Whenever we read another story about something we do not understand, we hope that we can somehow solve the secrets behind it or at least come up with some hypothetical solution.

The mystery of the crystal skulls deservingly attract the attention of millions of people all over the world. These objects are so unusual that many popular editions dubbed them “the Main Find of the 20th century”! Perfectly polished, crystal clear, glowing in the dark. The true origin of the skulls is still a mystery. There is something about them that causes shock, awe, and admiration.

 

How were the crystal skulls found? Reports of crystal skulls began to appear in the world press around the mid-19th century. The Pre-Columbian valuables immediately aroused intense interest among a wide audience. The first crystal skull was discovered in 1927 by the famous English archaeologist and traveler Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges when traveling through Central American cities.

 

Mayan crystal treasure

In order to truly understand how amazing these strange crystal skulls are, we need to immerse ourselves in history and briefly relocate to the lands of the ancient Mayan civilization. It was no accident that Frederick traveled to these amazing places where the famous Maya peoples lived centuries ago. Here, in emerald paradise, were the unique ancient relics created by the hands of the Maya.

 

To speed up the search process, it was decided to simply burn down the tropical jungle. On the ashes of the forest fantastic structures were discovered, stone pyramids and remaining walls of ancient cities. The Maya Indians even had their own amphitheater! Mitchell-Hedges began to call his find “the city of fallen stones“, which is what it is called today. With him was his 17-year-old daughter Anna, who was the one to discover a transparent crystal skull while walking through the ruins of one of the ancient Maya altars.

 

It was a human skull made of crystal – transparent quartz, surprisingly perfectly polished. There was one major flaw in the find: the skull had no mandible. But the value of the skull did not diminish, and the missing jaw was found nearby, in one piece, three months later. The crystal jaw was suspended on a special hinge made of the same crystal, and moved, if even barely touched, which was very exciting.

 

Supernatural at every turn

From the first hours of the discovery, the members of the expedition realized that they were facing something incredible and mystical. The first curiosities started happening with Anna who found the skull. That night she went to bed and put a crystal skull next to her bed before falling asleep. The whole night she was dreaming about the ancient Mayan people! She saw a clear and incredibly real picture of Mayan life – a dream the likes of which she had never had before. Her father, Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges, was shocked at how authentic his daughter’s “dreams” were. Being well informed with the historical facts of that era himself, he knew a 17-year-old girl just couldn’t come up with these, and she didn’t have that kind of knowledge before.

 

It took over three decades before the crystal skull fell into the hands of an international team of researchers. During this time, it was kept by the Mitchell-Hedges family, and only after her father’s death, Anna was able to transfer the skull to other scientists. Neither she nor her father could find a reliable answer to the question of the origins of the Mayan crystal treasure. The main question at the time was caused by the make of the skull itself, Its polishing was so skillful and perfect that it would be incredibly difficult to create one even in modern conditions with high precision grinding equipment. How could the Maya Indians, who lived a thousand years ago, do that?

 

Fantastic research results

Professor Dordland, an experienced scientist, found that an entire lens system had been implanted into the crystal skull with built-in prisms and channels, which apparently created the fantastic effects that the archaeologist’s daughter, Anna Mitchell-Hedges, observed. The prism located at the base of the rear of the skull reflects any luminous flux that enters the mysterious structure through the eye sockets. The tests were done with microscopes and other high-precision optics; no trace of grinding was found. It gave the complete impression that the object was cast from liquid quartz. But how? To get an answer, professor Dordland consulted Hewlett-Packard, already a well-known company at the time, which also specialized in producing quartz generators in 1964 and was a leading expert in the properties of quartz minerals.

 

Legends, mysteries, and incredible stories

In the winter of 1994, farmers in the American state of Colorado discovered a second crystal skull, which was immediately identified and handed over to researchers. In addition to the finding, UFO sightings were allegedly observed around the ranch, and there were reports of animals dying on this farm for unknown reasons.

 

Scientists were most interested in what crystal skulls are made for. Many theories were discussed, such as healing and clairvoyance. But most information about the “properties” of the skulls came from the owners of these mystical objects. One of them was Joan Parker, who got his crystal skull, as he said, from a Tibetan monk. Parker described in detail how he had successfully used the object for therapeutic purposes. After touching the skull, people would get rid of incurable diseases, discover new abilities, and rejuvenate themselves. However, not all people could use the “magic” of the skull.

 

Other stories claimed that the skulls were much older than the human civilizations that lived on Earth. Another interesting fact is that there are no mountain crystal deposits on the North American continent. Moreover, mineralogists immediately declared that mountain crystal of such high quality simply could not be found on our planet! What was truly shocking was the discovery that the skull was made from a whole piece of crystal. How was that possible with the complex system of lenses inside it?

 

But the technology for making these objects and the authors who made them are still not known.

 

What crystal skulls “remember”

Throughout the study of crystal skulls, researchers have certainly worked on more plausible versions of their mystical properties. Many mineralogists and crystallographers are still working on a hypothesis that explains the ability of crystals to store information. Its rigid structure, the unique spatial crystalline lattice of quartz “records” information like a gramophone plate. In fact, crystals are capable of storing almost unlimited amounts of information.

 

Crystals have the ability to store memory in the so-called thin biofield range, where they can keep and transmit information. The same crystal properties can provide a mysterious glow of crystal skulls, described by researchers and owners. PSI-fluorescence is a process of lightening that can be explained by the laws of physics.

 

In any case, the existence of many theories and many years of work of scientists still does not give an answer to the question: How was it possible to create such a super-complex device?

 

Crystal skulls today

Today, the world knows of 13 crystal skulls. Nine of them are in private collections. Four crystal skulls are exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as well as at the Museum of Primitive Art in Paris and the British Museum of London.

Three of them were found in the jungle of Guatemala by Eugène Boban, an antique dealer and archaeological advisor to the Mexican emperor Maximilian. After numerous studies, they were found to have been manufactured in the 19th and 20th centuries: an apparent forgery. The last 13th skull was found in German Bavaria. It is historically attested that this specimen once belonged to Nazi General Heinrich Himmler.

 

The world is not forgetting the crystal skulls. They continue to excite minds and worry millions of people. The theme of crystal skulls with supernatural properties is regularly used in mass culture; for example, on the episode “Crystal Skull” in the television series Stargate. Steven Spielberg’s movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, focuses on the mysteries of the skulls. The story with the crystal skull is the heart of the television series Secret Circle. Mystical crystal skulls are involved in video games such as Corsairs, Sandra Fleming Chronicles, Assassin’s Creed and many others. Even the alcohol industry touched upon this: Crystal Head vodka’s bottle is in the form of the famous crystal skull.

We hope that sooner or later the mystery of crystal skulls will finally be revealed, and that humanity will finally learn what is inaccessible to its modern consciousness.

 

Master Your Budget Strategy in 2020

Master Your Budget Strategy in 2020

Brandi Marcene

 

The New Year has kicked in with new hopes and new resolutions. We all make some promises and set some goals at the beginning of the New Year. Plans to lose weight, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, paying off debts, and saving money are a few milestones that almost every person wants to reach.

 

Half of the American population wants to become financially stable. Yet, you cannot achieve this target without managing your finances. Many people don’t have any plans or budgeting strategies to keep track of their money.

 

In addition, the majority of the people don’t have an emergency fund and don’t know how to balance spending and saving. If you don’t want to find yourself in a miserable financial state in 2020, now is the time to learn some tricks to master your budget.

 

You Need a Budget Plan for 2020

Before exploring the many ways of managing your finances, it is key to understand the importance of budgeting in the first place.

 

People who spend money without keeping track of their expenses and savings often find themselves in a precarious financial crisis. Budget is a financial plan that helps you keep the money trail. It helps you outline a strategy of how and where you are going to spend your money.

 

Home ownership is a dream that many Americans live for; they work day and night to turn that dream into reality. Budgeting or managing your finances narrows down the gap to get your dream house. With financial planning, saving up for a down payment becomes easier.

 

If buying a home is not on your list, there are still many reasons to make a budget plan. Creating a budget helps you:

  • Make well-thought-of financial decisions
  • Overcome life uncertainties
  • Step into the new year with a careful financial plan
  • Keep track of your expenses and savings
  • Pay off your debts/mortgage

Tips and Tricks to Master Your Budget Strategy

With budgeting, you can manage your finances more systematically. Whether you have a budgeting app or you make a list of financial milestones on paper, follow these tips to master your budget strategy.

 

1.     Set Your Priorities Straight

Do you know that everyday Americans spend only 2.24 minutes on managing finances? Imagine giving less than three minutes to manage money – one of the key forces that make things happen in life.

 

Define your priorities and make time to keep things on track. Schedule time to check your accounts and track your expenses. It helps you to know your financial net worth, i.e., your current financial position.

 

Your net worth is a snippet of things you owe and the things you own. It helps you set realistic goals and make better financial decisions.

 

2.     Keep Track of Your Expenses

Calculating your expenses is crucial to mastering your budget plan. Have you ever thought about where your money goes each month? Make a list of your monthly expenses including down payments, mortgage, utility bills, insurance, and loans.

 

Don’t forget to add variable expenses, such as grocery and mobile bills. Since there is no fixed amount for such expenses, include an average to your monthly budget.

 

It is impossible to remember how you spent every penny over a month. However, reviewing your bank and credit card statements can help you find out where the money goes.

 

3.     Create Realistic Financial Goals

The next step is to evaluate if you are on the right track. Monthly transactions reflect your spending behavior. Do you have a plan of how you want to invest your money, or are you just spending it? It is important to figure out what you want to achieve.

 

Set short-term financial goals. For instance, assign an target to save $1000 in the first quarter of 2020.  Make sure the targets you set are achievable; they should serve as a path leading you to bigger milestones.

 

Check your progress to determine whether you are achieving your targets within the set timeframe. If you meet the target, set a new goal. In case you fail, review and cut down some of your additional expenses.

 

4.     Tailor Your Budget to Meet Your Goals

Once you have established your goals, find ways to achieve those targets. Create a detailed financial plan that shows where your money goes and where you want to spend it. Factor your monthly expenses and allocate a specific amount for essentials.

 

Keep the amount for the mortgage, loans, and utility bills aside, and see what you are left with. Use that money wisely and, if possible, save a portion from miscellaneous expenditures. If you don’t have much left in your pocket, look for opportunities to supplement your monthly income.

 

You can find thousands of freelance jobs online. Many companies provide work-from-home opportunities. Try to manage your expenses without having to reach for your credit cards.

 

5.     Leverage Automatic Transaction Facilities

Even if you have a budget in place, managing debts, saving for emergency funds, and paying bills can be difficult. No matter how hard you try, dividing the money for different expenses is not easy. That’s where automation comes into play.

 

You can set up automatic transfers and payments for your expenses. Automating your financial life helps you take care of your essentials. With automatic debits, you don’t have to do the math:  the transactions will take place as soon as you receive your paycheck.

 

Final Word

Many people tend to forget their resolutions within weeks of entering the New Year. It is important to track your financial progress regularly so you don’t veer off the path. Review your bank statements to know your financial worth. When creating your budget, make sure to keep your goals in mind. Cut down unnecessary expenses and automate your transactions. This way, you can stay in the budget limit and manage your finances smartly.

How Does COVID-19 Compare to Past Pandemics?

How Does COVID-19 Compare to Past Pandemics?
By: Praachi K. Verma

 

After the concept of civilization emerged, the increased contact within different populations of humans, animals, and ecosystems paved the way for the spread of infectious diseases. The small and dispersed population of the pre-globalization era helped to contain the spread of these illnesses. However, cross-continental trade and travel soon changed the ecology to act as a driving force for the global outbreak of these epidemics. Pandemics have ever since persisted throughout human history.

 

After the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the novel coronavirus a pandemic, desperate measures have been implemented by more than 100 countries across the world to contain and map its spread. With the confirmed cases crossing the 2 million mark globally, it’s natural to compare it to other historical pandemics that reshaped the history of mankind.

 

We all know that the bubonic plague, or the black death of the 14th century, that killed more than 200 million across the world was the most lethal pandemic of all.

 

The smallpox pandemic comes second as one of the deadliest pandemics. It has claimed more than 50 million lives worldwide. The first-ever vaccine was developed against this disease and until today, smallpox is the only human disease that has been successfully eradicated.

 

Before we compare COVID-19 to the other deadliest outbreaks, it is important to discuss certain metrics that define the impact of a particular disease.

 

COVID-19

  • Caused by: SARS-CoV-2
  • Place of origin: Wuhan, China
  • R0: 2-3
  • CFR: 3.4% globally
  • Treatment: No treatment available, only supportive care is provided. Antibiotics help to treat secondary infections and some antivirals help in recovery.

 

R naught (R0) is a mathematical equation to calculate the average number of people one sick person will infect. The range for COVID-19 is 2-3. R0 represents the epidemic potential of a pathogen, but the numbers are highly situation-dependent. Situations like dense population, poor socio-economic conditions, the prevalence of malnutrition and other illnesses, and climatic factors increase the intensity of disease outbreak. R0 is a useful metric for health authorities, as an R0 lower than 1 causes the disease to die out in a population. Since there is a lot of uncertainty about the novel coronavirus outbreak, things become challenging for public health agencies to figure out how to effectively lower the R0.

 

CFR, or Case Fatality Rate, indicates the number of people who have died after contracting the disease. This rate differs according to location, lifestyle, and age. For instance, the CFR for COVID-19 in China has been 4%, while in Italy, it is close to 10%.

 

The Spanish Flu Pandemic-1918

  • Caused by: H1N1
  • R0: 1.8
  • CFR: 2.5%
  • Treatment: None, antibiotics and antivirals didn’t exist back then.

 

The influenza pandemic of 1918, which caused close to 50 million deaths worldwide, was the third deadliest in the history of pandemics. Though the COVID-19 outbreak is not caused by the influenza virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the scale of the 1918 influenza strain might be the best match to understand the pattern of COVID-19 outbreak.

 

With an R0 of 2, COVID-19 is slightly more infectious than the Spanish Flu. While the 1918 flu was more widespread and mostly affected the younger population (20 to 50 year-olds), COVID-19 is more dangerous for older adults.

 

Hong Kong Flu-1968

  • Caused by: H3N2
  • Place of origin: Hong Kong
  • R0: 1.2-3
  • CFR: 0.5%
  • Treatment: Antibiotics were effective against secondary bacterial infections.

 

The H1N1 viruses were the ancestors of H2 & H3 variants. That being said, when H3N2 first emerged in 1968, people who were over 50 had their immunity set by other similar viruses that circulated since 1918. The improved health care system coupled with the developed immunity of the aged population resulted in a lower CFR of the H3N2 as compared to the 1918 outbreak.

 

Nevertheless, the Hong Kong Flu was one of the biggest flus of the 20th century. In comparison to the 1968 flu, even with a higher CFR, COVID-19 is less widespread and has resulted in fewer deaths so far.

SARS-2003

  • Caused by: SARS-CoV
  • Place of origin: Guangdong province, Southern China
  • R0: 2-5
  • CFR: 15%
  • Treatment: No cure available; symptomatic treatment with antivirals and steroids worked for some people.

 

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is another type of coronavirus that was identified in 2003. This droplet infection was passed from bats to humans to infect 8,098 people across 17 countries. Unlike COVID-19, contact tracing was effective with SARS as severe symptoms made it easier to identify and contain the infection. COVID-19 has already claimed more lives than SARS and in comparison, COVID-19 is more widespread and has a lower CFR.

 

As per experts, SARS virus lacked the fitness to persist in the human population, which eventually led to its end in July 2003. On the contrary, COVID-19 is capable of spreading and thriving on human bodies.

 

Swine Flu-2009

  • Caused by: H1N1
  • Place of origin: Mexico
  • R0: 1.2-1.6
  • CFR: 0.1-0.5%
  • Treatment: Antivirals like zanamivir were effective.

 

The Swine Flu, or H1N1, was a novel strain of the 1918 flu virus back in 2009. Just like COVID-19, there was no immunity at the start of this outbreak. Swine Flu was declared a pandemic in June 2009 and even with a lower CFR, the disease claimed over 284,000 lives worldwide.

 

Unlike COVID-19 which affects the aged population the most, children in the age group of 5 to 19 years were the most affected group with Swine Flu. COVID-19 also has a higher CFR and longer incubation period as compared to Swine Flu.

MERS-2011

  • Caused by: MERS-CoV
  • Place of origin: Saudi Arabia
  • R0: <1
  • CFR: 35%
  • Treatment: No specific antiviral treatment.

 

MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, infected the human population via contact with infected camels in the Arabian Peninsula. MERS has infected close to 2,494 people across 27 countries and has claimed 858 lives.

 

Compared to MERS, COVID-19 is more widespread, has resulted in more deaths worldwide, spreads more effectively among humans, and has a lower CFR.

 

Ebola Virus Disease-2013

  • Caused by: Ebola virus (belongs to the family Filoviridae)
  • Place of origin: South Sudan and along the banks of the Ebola river
  • R0: 2
  • CFR: Exceeds 50%
  • Treatment: No treatment available, only supportive care.

 

The Ebola virus disease is a severe acute viral illness that predominantly spreads through body fluids like sweat and blood during the later stages of the illness. Hence, Ebola is less contagious than COVID-19. Also, the severe symptoms made methods like contact tracing and isolation effective against the containment of this disease. Ebola has spread to 10 countries and has infected close to 31,000 people.

 

However, the virus can lie dormant for extended periods and hence reinfections surfaced months or even years after the initial outbreak. In comparison to Ebola, COVID-19 is more widespread and has a lower mortality rate.

 

Seasonal Flu-Recurring

  • R0: 1.3
  • Caused by: Mainly by A, B, C and D influenza virus
  • CFR: 0.1%
  • Treatment: Antivirals and many vaccine options

 

The seasonal flu strikes every year, but its strains mutate each year. Though seasonal flu is the most common human disease, residual immunity in the population helps to reduce its spread. Most deaths associated with seasonal flu occur among the very old, very young, or immunocompromised.

 

As compared to seasonal flu, COVID-19 is ten times more infectious and results in more deaths.

What Can We Learn From Past Pandemics?

While it’s preferable to have a set plan before the pandemic kicks in, the hard truth is we cannot prevent a pandemic from occurring. Past pandemics have taught us the importance of quarantine and the fact that the outbreaks may have a second and even third wave.

 

Past pandemics give us some sense of the trajectory of this specific virus, but since this pandemic is still active, it is difficult to assess the true scale of this outbreak. The present medical system is far more advanced to prevent infections and treat the diseases, but we don’t know how much the virus is going to vary in subsequent waves. For now, the global efforts and research seem to be the most effective methods to slow COVID-19.

Want To Visit Egypt?

Want To Visit Egypt? Here is your Egypt Tourism 2019 Guide

Egypt or Kemet Egypt — The land of ancient civilization, Egyptian Gods, kings, Great pyramid, and charming nature. Egypt’s civilization is thought to date back to 7,000 years ago. However, if you visit Egypt, you will be fascinated with its glorious heritage that preserves the beauty and uniqueness up to the moment. Here is your Egypt travel guide.

Egypt – A Destination For All Tourists

What makes Egypt a must-visit destination for tourists from the whole world? Three reasons.

  1. Heritage: Egypt has a unique, rich and various heritage that you cannot find in any country. If you think Egypt is only pharaonic; think twice. Egypt’s heritage includes different cultures related to pharaohs, Romans, Alexander the Great, Christianity, and Islam.
  2. People: People in Egypt are nice, kind, warm and friendly.
  3. Nature: Egypt has natural reservations, moderate weather, with an astonishing landscape appropriate for joyful activities, such as:
  • Snorkeling
  • Surfing

Egypt Travel Map — Where is Egypt located?

Egypt is located in the Middle East, definitely in the northern part of Africa, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea as well. Inside Egypt, there is the Nile River that was thought to be originating from heaven. By the banks of the Nile River, the pharaohs were fond of building temples and tombs.

Egypt Travel Guide

If you are thinking about visiting Egypt, here is Egypt tourism 2019 guide, including destinations, activities, tips, and warnings that can help you plan and enjoy your trip.

Egypt travel destinations

Egypt Cairo & Cairo City

Egypt Cairo or Cairo city is the capital city of Egypt where kings of different civilizations lived. Here is a list of awesome monuments, astonishing palaces, holy and unique churches, cathedrals, mosques, and temples you can visit in Cairo.

Elegant Cairo

  • Manial Palace
  • Al-Minsterley Palace and The Nilometer
  • Al-Amir Taz Palace
  • Baron Palace
  • Citadel of Salah Eldin
  • Cairo Tower

Abrahamic Cairo

  • Historical Religious Complex, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Coptic Cairo

  • Hanging Church (El Muallaqa, Sitt Mariam, St Mary)
  • Church of St Sergius and Bacchus
  • Greek Orthodox Church of St. George (Mari Girgis)
  • Ben Ezra Synagogue
  • St Simon the Tanner Monastery
  • Church of St. Barbara

 

Islamic Cairo:

  • Mosque of Al-Azhar
  • Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan
  • Al Rifai Mosque
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas
  • The Qalawun Complex, including Mosque of Ibn Tulun
  • Madrasa of Sultan Barquq
  • Al-Aqmar Mosque
  • Sharia Al Mu’izz Li-Din Allah
  • Midan Hussein
  • Mosque of Syeda Zainab
  • City of the Dead (Northern Cemetery)
  • Liberation Square (Midan El-Tahreer)
  • Al-Hakim Mosque
  • Bab Zuweila
  • Fort of Babylon
  • Mastaba of Kagemni
  • Bab al-Futuh
  • Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

Giza City — Giza Egypt

The Great Pyramid is the main landmark of Giza Egypt. However, it is not the only one. While in Giza, here are the pyramids you can visit:

  • The Giza pyramid complex: This is where the most famous Egypt pyramids are located, including:
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Great Pyramid of Khofu.
  • The Pyramid of Khafre
  • The Pyramid of Menkaure
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza – Also known as Alabaster Sphinx
  • Pyramids of Dahshour

Other Egypt Travel Destinations in Giza

  • Tomb of Queen Khentkaus I
  • Memphis Egypt & Sakkara
  • Pharaonic Village

What makes Egyptian Pyramids Great?

The greatness of Egypt pyramids comes from the purpose of building pyramids and the unique design of Egypt pyramids that has stood for thousands of years, as well as the geographical location that was chosen by scientists.

The Great pyramids of Giza were built to preserve the bodies of Egypt’s ancient kings for the afterlife. Science reveals mysterious secrets about the Great Pyramids of Giza from time to another.

Egypt Pyramids Inside: Kings Souls & Gold Coffins

Inside the Great Pyramids of Giza, there are tunnels and tombs where the golden coffins containing the cadavers of Egypt’s kings were discovered.

Luxor City — The Capital of Ancient Egypt

Luxor city is the capital of Ancient Egypt. Imagine! How much pharaonic heritage is there? Egyptians believe that Luxor city contains 1/3 the antiquities in the whole world. While in Luxor, here are things you can do in Luxor at night and day, depending on the weather. Visit:

Luxor Travel Destination

  • Luxor Sound and Light Show
  • The Valley of the Kings and Queens
  • Visit Karnak Temple
  • Tomb of Queen Nefertari
  • Temple of Medinat Habu
  • Luxor Temple
  • Tomb of Ramses VI
  • Tomb of Sennedjem
  • Tomb of Ramses III
  • Obelisk of Thutmoses I
  • Tumba de Ramses IV
  • Valley of the Artisans (Deir el-Medina)
  • Tomb of King Tutankhamun (Tut)
  • Temple of Amun
  • Ramesseum (Mortuary Temple of Ramses II)
  • Avenue of Sphinxes
  • Temple of Amun
  • Tomb of Amonherkhopeshef
  • Temple of Hatshepsut
  • Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari

Do you want to have fun in Luxor?

When it comes to entertainment in Luxor Egypt, there are unique things to do in Luxor, such as:

  • Hot air balloon tour
  • Sailing felucca in the River Nile
  • Camel ride

Aswan Egypt – Aswan City

Aswan Egypt or Aswan city is also a destination for Egypt tourism. Aswan is located at the southern part of Egypt, which is called Upper Egypt. Here are some examples of Egypt travel destinations in Aswan City.

  • Abu Simble Temples
  • Temple of Philae – If you go in the evening, you can enjoy the Sound and Light Show.
  • Nubian Village
  • New Kalabsha
  • Sehel Island
  • Agilkia Island
  • Temple of Amada
  • Sehel Island

Sinai Egypt Travel — Nature, Heritage and God

Sinai Egypt, including Sinai South City and Sinai North City, is a destination where you can enjoy the charming nature in a holy atmosphere. While in Sinai Egypt, you may visit a holy mountain called El Tor Mountain.

You may visit the cities listed below where you can enjoy staying in magnificent resorts, classy hotels and nice camps on the red sea beach.

Sinai Egypt Destinations

The list is long. Here are just some examples:

  • Sharm El-Sheikh
  • Dahab
  • Taba
  • Arish
  • El Tor Mountain

Egypt travel tips

Here is a guide of Egypt travel tips that may help you enjoy to the max in less time.

  • While in Cairo, visit Giza. Cairo and Giza are just a few minutes away from each other.
  • Beni-Suef: A neighboring city — Two hours away from Cairo where there is an awesome cave called Wadi Sannur Cave Protected area.
  • While in Luxor, visit Aswan and Qena via a Nile cruise. In Qena, you may enjoy a Dandera Temple tour in the great Dendera Temple complex.
  • While in Sinai, visit all the regions of both Sinai South and Sinai North, then head to Hurghada Egypt via a cruise in the red sea.

What is Egypt language?

Egypt language is Arabic. However, the English language is common in Egypt, especially in destinations, hotels, airports,… etc.

Is it safe to travel to Egypt?

Some people wonder whether it is safe to travel to Egypt. Sure, it is. Egypt is extremely safe. Not only for tourists; but also for expats. There are thousands of expats settling down in different cities of Egypt.

What about visiting Egypt pyramids?

Some tourists ask, “is it safe to travel to Egypt pyramids?” Yes, it is. However, there are three warnings you need to take into consideration.

Egypt Travel Warnings

  1. Do you want to visit Egypt pyramids? The best time to visit Egypt pyramids is early in the morning to avoid hot temperatures. Sunblock can also help if you would prefer to visit Egypt pyramids in the afternoon.
  2. Avoid trying to climb the pyramids. That is illegal and can be risky as well.
  3. Suffocation: If you are struggling with breathing problems such as asthma, you may need to think twice before entering inside the pyramids.

 

Ezat M. Eldkak is an expert copywriter, blogger and content-strategist. Ezat helps businesses to thrive and build forever brands. Get the free guides Ezat writes for entrepreneurs, CEOs and business leaders: Reach Intelligently & Affect Deeply — Sell and Propel
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Healthy Eating Myths Debunked

Healthy Eating Myths Debunked

Jill Vance

 

Most people try to eat as healthy as they can these days, but unfortunately there are many food myths around that make it hard to know what is and what isn’t healthy.

Anyone can post ‘news’ to their blog, and if this travels the internet often enough it becomes established as ‘true’, even when it sometimes isn’t.

 

A lot of ‘healthy eating’ information is correct, but let’s look at the often repeated and believed myths that are not.

 

Myths like superfoods and super fruits are just that…myths, and do no harm. If it motivates you to eat more fruit, that is good, even if you are eating it for the wrong reasons. These terms come from marketing, not from nutrition or health experts. The truth is that a simple banana often contains more nutrients than any ‘super fruit’, but a banana isn’t as interesting from a publicity or marketing point of view. Even so, if such a ‘superfood’ did exist in the plant kingdom, it would probably have to be kale which contains more nutrients than many other vegetables or fruit.

 

On the other hand, there are myths that can cause harm. They can lead people to believe they are choosing a healthy alternative, when in fact the option is more damaging to their health. Some people believe they can have more of the so-called healthy alternative just because it is healthier, doing considerable more damage than if they consumed the original product.

 

One example of this is coffee and tea, and the possible damage due to myths here is twofold. Decaffeinated drinks are healthier, right? That is what we have been led to believe for years. First the term ‘decaffeinated’ is misleading. It isn’t caffeine free, as some caffeine remains after the process is complete. In Europe a drink must be 99.9% caffeine free to be allowed to be called decaf. However, the international standard is lower, at 97%. In the United States of America, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have strict regulations in place regarding decaf, you don’t actually know what you are getting. This means you are not totally avoiding caffeine, so if your reasons for choosing decaf are due to an allergy, you should avoid even decaffeinated products.

 

Red tea and herbal teas such as chamomile, ginger and peppermint contain no caffeine at all, so they are a good alternative, and are healthy too.

 

Now, the original decaffeination process used the chemical Benzene. This is one of the few chemicals the World Health Organization has classified as being definitely cancerous. It has since been replaced with other chemicals in the decaffeination process, mainly methylene chloride, what we call “paint stripper”, and ethyl acetate, used in glue and nail polish. In theory, these chemicals are washed off after the decaffeination process. Ever tried washing paint stripper, glue or nail varnish off? It isn’t easy and nearly impossible to remove it all!

 

Beware of ‘natural’ decaf too, as it isn’t as natural as they would have you think. The same chemical, ethyl acetate, is used, but because it is derived from fruits, it is deemed ‘natural’, but the one typically used in the decaffeination process is synthetically made. Remember belladonna, also known as Deadly Nightshade, is natural. It is a plant. Toadstools are natural, so is arsenic, as it occurs ‘naturally’ in many minerals, but these chemicals can kill you.

 

Now, if you want to sweeten your tea of coffee, you may turn to artificial sweeteners, rather than sugar. Again, this is not necessarily healthier. Research studies have linked saccharin to cancer, and as a result, it had to carry the warning ‘saccharin may be hazardous to your health’, not so long ago. It was then decided, seemingly without further tests, that this might have not been accurate, and the requirement was eliminated. This decision seems a bit hasty and based on no further evidence. So which one is right? Does saccharine cause cancer or not? So far, the result is 1:1 in that debate. Do you want to take the risk? Saccharine is only one of many artificial sweeteners, and the jury is still out on final results. This makes ‘sugar-free’ and ‘diet’ drinks and foods, suspect.

 

Sometimes it is better to go for the original, in any form, be it caffeine, sugar or something else, and limit your intake, rather than trying a man-made alternative. The process for removing whatever substance is in question is sometimes riskier than the substance itself. This applies to ‘fat free’ foods too. Yes, they have less fat, but as the fat gives many products the flavor, to make the taste appealing extra sugar, sodium, and chemicals are added, so while they have less fat, they are also less healthy.

 

As the sales of bottled water soar, it seems like many people believe bottled water is better than tap water. Not always the case. Some bottled water is actually tap water with added chemicals. Tap water is generally strictly regulated, and any impurities must be eliminated. Not so for bottled water. Regulations regarding bottled water are generally not severe enough to guarantee the safety of anyone who drinks it. Chemicals were found in random tests on bottled, but these were explained away as ‘coming from the plastic bottle, not the water’, and it appears that satisfied the authorities as the water continues to be sold with those chemicals.

 

There are four basic types of water bottles:

  • Polyethylene Terphthalate, (PET): expensive to produce, this is the classic plastic bottle, usually only the small ones due to cost. This does not contaminate the water but gives it a sweeter taste.
  • High-density polyethelene: generally used for medium sized bottles. It absorbs whatever is near it, so during its journey from manufacturer to your home, it can pick up untold chemicals or other substances.
  • Polycarbonate: used for large bottles (for example, water coolers). It can let harmful chemicals seep into the water.
  • Glass: It neither absorbs from nor adds anything to the water.

 

Food labels in Europe must indicate when they are genetically modified, so consumers can make an informed decision when buying. In the United States, it is not required, so customers do not know what they are getting. Experts are still battling about whether genetically modified food contains dangerous substances that may cause cancer and allergies, so why risk it? Whenever possible, buy non-modified food to be safe.

 

Natural or herbal products are not necessarily safe. They undergo no form of control, and many may cause adverse reactions, so natural is not always synonymous with healthy. Even organic food is not exempt. It does not contain any more nutrients than normal food; it simply has been grown with natural, rather than non-natural, fertilizers and pesticides. Always remember to rinse vegetables and fruit before consuming to remove any harmful substances on their skins.

 

Conclusion

Food companies and personal blogs set up for profit will tell you what is healthy and what isn’t. They push products and ideas that let them earn the most money. In some cases, they take advantage of people’s desire to eat healthier.

 

Anyone can publish anything on the internet, where a lot of people get their information from, but there are few laws that ensure the information is correct, so always check your sources.

HOW ARE YOUR NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS GOING?

HOW ARE YOUR NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS GOING?

 

Happy New Year!

 

With the New Year just starting and the effects of eating, drinking and partying too much during the holidays over, people are probably settling into their routine for the year. While everyone knows the origins of Christmas, what about how and when New Year’s resolutions came about?

 

The first known people to make New Year’s resolutions were the ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. At that time the New Year was in spring, when crops were planted and promises were made to the gods to ‘be good’, ‘pay any debts’, and ‘be loyal’ to keep favor with the gods and have a good harvest. The Roman Emperor Julius Caesar changed the calendar and moved the year-end to December, circa 46 B.C.E. The first month of this New Year, January, was named for Janus a two-faced god. Apparently, Janus used the two faces to look back at the previous year and forward to the year ahead. To keep favor, Romans offered the deity sacrifices and promises of good conduct for the coming year.

 

How are your resolutions going? Will the gods favor you and your harvest be abundant? It is still early in the year, but some of you have probably already let your resolutions slide away into the dust. If this is the case, you are not alone. Many people never even start working on the goals they made in a haze of excitement and booze on New Year’s Eve. Others start full of good intentions, but by the end of January those intentions have waned or disappeared as real life takes over. Statistics say that by February, 80% of people have stopped even trying to keep their New Year’s resolutions (how these are compiled remains a mystery). But do not despair. The year is not over yet; in fact, it has only just begun, so it isn’t too late to start working on your goal, unless your resolution was to do something within the first few days of the new year. So take another look at what you were aiming for, and see if you can still make it work. Don’t beat yourself up if you truly can’t manage everything you set out to do. New Year’s Eve isn’t the only time to start improving your life; it is an opportunity, so set new targets that you can reach and aim for those.

 

Don’t just look at your goal, but at the road that gets you there. Find the road blocks and remove them. Examine the forks on the road to see which ones are a false start and carefully choose the best path. Set up milestones along the way, and don’t look at how far the finish line is, which might be discouraging; Stay focused on the next milestone, then the next. You will be crossing the finish line before you even know it!

 

Let’s look at why some resolutions fail and how to keep them ‘alive and kicking’, to quote the rock band Simple Minds.

 

It seems that resolutions fail for a few reasons: one being the drink-induced bravado of the celebration on New Year’s Eve. What seems like a fun and good idea after numerous glasses of something considerably stronger than water often seems pointless and impossible in the throes of a massive hangover. Not every resolve to do better is alcohol induced; but even in abstinence, the excitement of the moment can influence a decision that under other circumstances would not seem as great or important.

 

Many New Year’s resolutions are made thinking about what you want to change for the better, without thinking through how to do it. “I want to run or walk 10 miles a day” is a good idea, but if you are working two jobs, it may not be practical as there is simply no time to do it. This example highlights another reason why many resolutions are not seen through to the end of the year. However, if you look at your resolve from a different angle it might still be possible. Instead of looking at the 10 mile walk as an event, think only of walking 10 miles a day. You can buy some sort of pedometer (could be an old-style step counter, a bracelet, or a phone app) and count the distance you walk during a normal day and then see how much more you need to add. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; park the car farther away; get off the bus at an earlier stop. You might be surprised how much farther you walk without it taking too much extra time.

 

Many goals are set so high that achieving them seems such an impossible feat, so people give up. To make them seem attainable, set up several mini goals. For instance, losing 30 pounds before summer might seem impossible, but losing at least one pound a week seems more like something you could do, and you will not be far away from your goal of 30 pounds by summer.

 

Vague resolutions tend not to work because they are vague. You might have an idea of what you hope to achieve, but unless you make it more specific, it is very hard to stay on course. Think of the intention: eat out less often. This is vague. What is less? Only the person who expressed this desire knows what it means, and even then, they may not have an exact idea. Set a target of only eating out two or six times a week, depending on how often you normally do it.  If you eat out every night, then gradually reduce to six, then to five, and so on. Again, it makes the target more attainable, plus every time you manage to reach your goal, you feel better about yourself. This in turn inspires you to stay on course.

 

Phrase your goal in a positive way: “Eat out less often” and “Eat more often at home”, sound different, yet the end result is the same.  Positive thinking makes us more positive, whether we realize it or not, so try to formulate your resolution is a positive way. Not only does it make it more appealing, it encourages you to achieve it.

 

When it comes to your New Year’s Resolutions next year, remember how things went this year and plan accordingly. Having good intentions is not enough; you need a plan to achieve your goals. It is satisfying to be part of the very small group of people who achieve their New Year’s resolutions. If you are still on track to keep all the promises you made, well done and keep it up!

Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

Rodna Guguljanova

 

It is difficult to imagine life without the impact of the Internet and machine learning. Technology nowadays has defined our lives, but never more than in the practice of medicine.

 

You might be asking yourself how reliable computers are in making decisions about our health. What are the possibilities being offered? In this age of technology, artificial intelligence has no boundaries.

 

The purpose of AI is not to set man against machines, but to ease the physician’s burden and expand the possibilities of treatment to solve complex clinical problems and diagnosis.

 

Why is the algorithm intelligent?

In order to become a doctor, there are many years of medical schooling, exams, studying, receiving higher and lower grades, and more importantly – learning from mistakes. AI algorithms work in pretty much the same way: they must learn how to do their job.

In order for an AI algorithm to work, human intelligence is required to set the patterns, speech recognition, decisions over problems, and image analysis. Humans are the ones telling the computer how to work and what to look for.

 

Algorithms learn from the data that is first typically structured, and then perform either a probability or a classification.

 

Recent Advances of AI in Medicine

 

  • 3D Printed Human Heart

 

The traditional way of organ transplantation is a very long and painful path. Finding a donor isn’t easy, and not everyone is lucky to find one. Really soon, this will become a thing of the past.

 

Researchers from Tel Aviv’s University in Israel have just made a great breakthrough in medicine by printing a 3D heart that is made from real human cells. In the past, this was done only with non-organic materials like silicon.

 

Researchers have explained that the heart came from donors fat tissue that were transformed into stem cells. These stem cells were then differentiated into several different cell types in the heart. The researcher succeeded in creating the heart’s chambers and veins, something nobody had been able to do before. Researches intend to create 3D printed hearts that will be compatible for human transplants and that can regenerate defective tissue. Prof. Dr. Tal Dvir said, “This was the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers”.

 

The cells that have been created have the ability to contract, but they can’t pump. Creating a cell that will possess the ability to pump is the next main challenge for the researches. But, compared with the traditional organ transplants, the method of 3D printing still offers many advantages that researchers are optimistic about.

 

In the normal process of organ transplantation, there is always a possibility that the body may reject the incoming organ. This is the immune system’s reaction, detecting antigens in the cells of the transplanted organ that are not compatible with the rest of the body cells.

For example, 20% of the patients that had a kidney transplant experience an episode of severe rejection within the first year of the transplant. For patients that have had a heart transplant, the percentage rises up to 40%.

 

So, how does it work? For printing this 3D human heart, human tissues are used as bioinks. A sample of cells is taken from the patient, and a 3D organ is printed with a personal hydrogel made from their own cells. This will potentially solve the rejection issue.

 

3D printing in medicine has been also used for developing new medicines. For instance, doctors can customize it instead of giving a one-size-fits-all medication. A team of researchers at the Mc Master University in Canada has been able to develop a rapid magnetic 3D bioprinting system. This system builds a replica of a cancerous tumor for a period of six hours. Their goal is to test different drugs and treatments in various doses to see which one works the best. After the lab testing, the patient will actually receive a tailor-made treatment program. This method would decrease the side-effects and increase the chances of survival.

 

3D printing is a very promising method for the health care system and for human lives.

 

  • DLAD and LYNA

 

DLAD stands for a Deep Learning-based Automatic Detection algorithm. Researchers from Seoul National University Hospital and College of Medicine had developed the DLAD AI algorithm to analyze chest radiographs and detect abnormal cell growth, like potential cancers.

 

After this algorithm, a second one called LYNA (Lymph Node Assistant) was developed by researchers at Google AI Healthcare. This algorithm analyzes histology slides stained tissue samples in order to differentiate metastatic breast cancer tumors from lymph node biopsies. The LYNA algorithm can identify suspicious regions that are not distinguishable to the human eye in the biopsy samples. LYNA passed the tests on two data sets and showed 99% accuracy with cancerous and noncancerous samples. With LYNA’s help, the average slide review time is now halved.

 

It is predicted that the role of artificial intelligence in medicine will continue to grow drastically. But experts and researchers warn that the growth must be step by step, since the machines’ “brains” are not thinking logically like the human brains.

 

The key to creating an algorithm that will be functional and practical in medicine is a real understanding of the possibilities by physicians. As much as the algorithm might seem perfect, errors are always possible that can be solved and improved by the widespread audience. Setting up stable relationships between doctors that have the knowledge and the programmers that create the algorithms, it will be less likely for an algorithm to learn to make incorrect choices.

 

Implementing artificial intelligence in medicine is a real challenge, but it is worth trying in order to increase the accuracy and efficiency of medical practices for numerous diseases.

The only question that can’t be answered yet is, How much longer can we possibly extend human lives by replacing body parts?

Economic Consequences of Coronavirus By Brandi Marcene

Economic Consequences of Coronavirus
By Brandi Marcene

The devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has left everyone hyper-vigilant. People who have real-time access to data and information related to the virus are working round-the-clock to maintain stability or introduce affordable adoptions.

So far, the world has seen 2.74 million confirmed coronavirus cases from which there have been nearly 192,000 deaths since the initial outbreak. A healthcare issue of this scale and magnitude, compromising so many lives, has severe effects on the economy of the world as well.

In this article, we give you the most prominent effects, hits, and consequences the world economy is facing as well as the possible prediction of what could happen after the peak of this pandemic.

Global Impact of COVID-19

Since the outbreak, the pandemic has encompassed over 190 countries in the world, including all 50 states of the US. The measures taken to control its spread, as well as the disaster left behind by the virus, it all contributes to a noticeable massive impact on the global economy.

If the currents conditions persisted, experts estimate global economic growth to be reduced by 2% per month and the global trade to fall by 13 to 32%. These numbers are also heavily dependent on the extent and depth of the global economic downturn. Experts further state that they will know the complete information only after the pandemic peaks.

On a more positive note, the environment, especially, in those places experiencing quarantine lockdown, are returning to its original form. We are observing pollution-free air, clear blue skies, and crystal clear waters after a long time. This was the only positive news out of this whole ordeal.

Wall Street Feels the Impact

No one was more surprised at the failure of the financial markets in 2008 than the former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. He infamously expressed his shock and disbelief in having some of the smartest people in the world and not predicting something like this.

This is why today, most people find themselves second-guessing the wisdom of wall streets in the wake of coronavirus. Although generally keeping stable, the market has been seesawing since the start of this outbreak, and pundits predict it to head toward depression.

In March, the market experienced its initial plunge, and the increasing unemployment rate is only going to add fuel to the fire. The so-called gig economy will also come under the effects of economic downfall, and the recovery from this fall will not be an easy one for anyone.

Jerry Seib, a columnist in the Wall Street Journal, explained how, although the coronavirus pandemic will be damaging for the entire economy, but its effect will be most prominent on the millennial. He went on to explain how the millennials were just recently catching up to the economy in 2017-2018 after the great depression of 2009 when the virus put their jobs, wages, and insurance all at risk.

He says how most millennials had postponed important life events like getting married, starting a family, buying a house, or a car, in the whole of stabling themselves first, only to be thrust into another recession.

A Slump in Chinese Economy

China experienced massive shrinkage in its economy for the first time since 1992. The Chinese economy shrank by 6.8% during the first quarter of 2020. The GDP was not the only thing suffering badly from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Over 4,000Chinese’s lost their lives, retail sales fell by 15.8%, and roughly 5 million people lost their means of earning. The lack of confidence in the authorities also resulted in an investment halt, which explains why the fixed-asset investment market shrank by 16.1%.

However, the Chinese government and authorizes are making every effort to stop the mounting job losses, which explains how the urban jobless rate started recovering from 6.2% to 5.9% in March. The stock market of china also seems to be climbing despite the dismal GDP data.

Slump in Oil-Demand

With the ban on travel, quarantines, lockdowns, and economies shutting down temporarily, the effects are apparent in the oil industry. While the demand for oil rose to as close as 1 million barrel per day until February, the world’s three big oil forecasting agencies predicted a horrifying slump in demand. The new demand for oil translates in a slump of 5 to 9 million barrels a day.

Rystad Energy AS presents an even more terrible number of falls by 27 million barrels a day for April. It seems like the pandemic wiped out the demand for crude oil from the entire world.

Other Disruptions

Other economies and sectors most disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • South Korea, Japan, and Australian economies
  • The economy of the US and other major European regions
  • Travel and tourism industry
  • Hospitality industry
  • Other industry revolving around high social interactions like restaurants and sporting events

Impact of COVID-19 on Insurance Industry

If there is one industry capable and expected to prepare for the unexpected events, even the pandemic it’s the insurance industry. Yet the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on the insurance industry, include the following:

  • Insurers will experience a time-lag in the notifying, insuring, assessing, and payment of their claims.
  • Failing interest rates and equity markets will put pressure on the balance sheet of insurers, the life product profitability, and the products of savings-investment management fees.
  • Insurers with the most well-diversified portfolios will be least affected by the losses arising from the pandemic.

What are the Predictions by Pundits?

The future is an unpredictable thing, which is why many people refrain from making predictions that can very well end up right in their faces. Pundits, however, are experts in their field, and are called to provide their educated opinions. This is why, in the case of coronavirus, we turn to pundits to give us relevantly reliable predictions.

Some pundits are predicting that while the world will feel the effects of the pandemic for a long time, mostly, there will be no change. Other pundits predict it as the end of peak globalization.

Conclusion

To sum it up, the news is grim, and the situation is looking bleak. Even with the most prompt actions form the world leaders and authorities, we can still expect the effects of the pandemic to be long-term and exceptionally brutal to the people of lower socio-economic class.

Travel in Israel

Stephen Smith

 

The climate of the Mediterranean and its proximity to densely populated countries within Europe have made the nations bordering the Sea extremely popular for tourism. Spain, Italy, and Greece come to mind immediately, and increasingly Turkey, but there is a jewel at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea that can be overlooked. Israel not only offers excellent value for those wanting a coastal-based holiday, but it also has a history as rich as any. Its significance to three of the world’s major religions cannot be underestimated, and travelers interested in history and culture will find much to see and do.

 

Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is the main airport for international travel, although there is a smaller airport in the south serving Eilat. Israel has been conscious of the importance of security and the safety of visitors for many decades. As a result, its national carrier, El Al has proven to be extremely thorough in ensuring its flights pose no risk whatever. Traveling within the country itself poses no safety issues either.

 

Israel is a relatively small country, over half of which is desert, yet it actually exports fresh produce such as tomatoes, an indicator of its advanced agricultural technology. Its Mediterranean coastline stretches 170 miles with sophisticated cities like Tel Aviv, offering a vibrant nightlife, top quality hotels, and fine cuisine. Those keen on scuba diving will find few better places than the coral reefs in the Red Sea just offshore from Eilat on its southern edge. Yet the seas are just a small part of the story of Israel.

 

With over 300 days of sunshine annually and mid-winter temperatures rarely much below 20ºC, Israel is an all-year round destination and a great escape from winters further north and west. It offers excellent value, both in flight costs to get there but also in how far tourist money stretches while exploring its many attractions.

 

Jerusalem

This iconic city is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is difficult to imagine a satisfactory solution to the political argument over the City, but the United States of America has now recognized it as Israel’s capital whereas other countries still regard Tel Aviv as capital. Visitors to Jerusalem can enjoy a number of landmarks: the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, while others may seek to retrace the steps that Jesus took hauling his cross before the crucifixion.

 

The architecture of Jerusalem illustrates the rich history of the region: Persian, Roman, and Ottoman influences are all evident. There is history at every turn in Jerusalem with over 230 museums adding to its attraction, the most per capita of any country in the world.

 

Bethlehem is the next natural stop after Jerusalem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ and a ‘’must’’ for all Christians visiting Israel.

 

South of Jerusalem:

Masada and the Dead Sea

Masada is a rock plateau that stands above the Judean Desert close to the Dead Sea. It is a place where Zealots seeking refuge from the Romans made their home in the first century AD. Herod the Great had built two palaces there a century earlier, but its fame relates to the siege by Roman troops. At their highest point, the cliffs rise 400 meters above the surrounding land. Almost 1,000 people took refuge from the Romans who finally found a solution.  They moved huge quantities of rock to create a manageable slope up which their army could reach the summit.

 

As soon as it seemed inevitable that the 8,000 troops would succeed, the order went out for everyone to commit suicide. Just a handful ignored the instruction and hid from the Romans. They survived to tell their story.

 

Excavations throughout the second half of the 20th Century have revealed an interesting site with cable car access ensuring tourists are easily able to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

The proximity of the Dead Sea means that these two desert locations are natural partners. Floating in the salty water is an experience not to be missed. The Dead Sea forms part of the border with Jordan with its surface 430 meters below sea level. Commercial use of its water and the almost complete lack of rainfall has meant the Sea is slowly shrinking.

 

Eilat

Stand looking out to the Red Sea in Eilat, the extreme south of Israel, and you can see Egypt a short distance to the right and Jordan a simple walk left along the beach, though access is forbidden. Look further to the right of Jordan and that left shoreline of the Red Sea is Saudi Arabia. Scuba diving in the Red Sea is a delight, but those heading out on a boat to dive are likely to need to take their passports because the trip goes into Egyptian waters.

 

North and West of Jerusalem:

The Mediterranean Coast

Tel Aviv is a very modern city with a lot of appeal for those wanting to enjoy the best of Israeli cuisine, nightlife, and accommodations. There are other settlements perhaps richer in history including Acre, where records show there was a settlement dating as far back as 3000BC. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is located beside the modern city.

 

Nearby Haifa is a major seaport and also the port of entry for those visiting on cruise ships, often arriving from Cyprus.

 

Galilee

Those wanting to enjoy a region that rarely welcomes the crowds that head for the sites already mentioned should look at the region of Galilee in the north. It is a fairly mountainous region and greener than almost anywhere else in Israel. There are some interesting landmarks such as the ruins of the Crusader Montfort Castle with lovely views of the surrounding area.

 

Nazareth in Lower Galilee is regularly mentioned in the Bible with reference to Jesus and Mary. It has a significant Arab population, getting it the nickname of ‘’Arab Capital of Israel.’’

 

North of Haifa near the border with Lebanon, Rosh Hanikra is a white cliff with a series of grottoes created by the sea over centuries. A short cable car ride down to sea level allows tourists to explore the grottoes and their waters. This place is a photographer’s dream with the contrasts of blue and white.

 

Summary

Israel offers a holiday of infinite variety. There is something for everyone: those wanting an active holiday, tourists simply wanting to relax and enjoy the sun, and of course travelers passionate about religion and culture.

Little Caesars Pizza franchise has served over 150,000 pizza slices to the Homeless

“We just do it because it seems like the right thing to do.”

Pizzerias make a lot of promises between having piping hot pies and making quick deliveries.

But one pizza shop in Fargo, North Dakota, is really delivering on its commitment to feed the homeless in its community. In just two years, it’s given away over 142,000 slices of pizza — and it all started with a note.

Jenny and Mike Stevens opened their Little Caesars Pizza franchise in May 2015 at 1020 19th Ave. N. in the north Fargo neighborhood. Four months later, the couple and their two adult daughters, Sunday Stevens and Paige Loftus, noticed that a man had been sitting outside of a nearby gas station for two hours.

“My daughters and I were looking out of the window and saying should we get him something,” Jenny told TODAY Food. “We brought him a pizza. He was so thankful and so gracious. Then we ended up doing it again for a different person. And again for a different person. And again for another person.”

By the summer of 2016, the couple realized that people were sometimes looking for pizza in the restaurant’s dumpster, so Mike put up a sign in the window:

“To the person going through our trash for their next meal, You’re a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster. Please come in during operating hours for a couple of slices of hot pizza and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked.”

Although the sign reads “a couple of slices,” Jenny told TODAY Food that “if someone comes in and they’re asking for our donation pizzas, we don’t give them a slice, we give them a whole pizza.”

By November 2016, the couple started working with one homeless shelter in the area by offering more free pizzas. Although Mike was battling leukemia at the time, he was focused on how they could continue to help others.

The couple then extended their reach to three homeless shelters and put together a program to provide pizzas at no charge every week.

“He said we have more than we need and these people are struggling to find their next meal, so why not help?” Jenny told TODAY Food.

The pizzas are freshly baked, then frozen before they’re shipped out so the shelters can use them when needed, Jenny explained. Volunteers from the shelters come to the store every week to pick up the pizzas.

One of the shelters, New Life Center, has made the donated pizza part of a weekly program that people look forward to attending.

“Once a week is pizza night and they’ve invited us to come and serve the homeless men,” Jenny told TODAY Food. “I’ve been told that’s their favorite night. To have this little night, one time a week that’s pizza night and movie night, may sound like a silly thing, but it’s making a continual difference in these peoples’ lives.”

Mike passed away on Dec. 1, 2017 at 66 years old. Since her husband’s death, Jenny hasn’t slowed down with helping to feed the hungry and homeless.

As of Oct. 1, the pizzeria had given away over 142,498 slices, which is about 17,812 whole pizzas and about $70,000 worth of food.

“Our cost is 50 cents a slice, so we’ve presented it to the community so they can know where [the] donation will go,” Jenny said.

MY THOUGHTS ON ‘LEAVING NERVERLAND’

I spent the last 2 nights watching the documentary about Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse of 2 little kids (now adults) titled “Leaving Neverland”. I watched it, not because I’m a big Michael Jackson fan, I’m not really, but simple intrigue. There’s no denying that he was probably the biggest star in the world through timeless songs and dance moves etc. But these 2 victims bring forth so many details of Michael Jackson “the private person” that it makes both cases explosively compelling.


As a straight man, I’m so removed from any sexual activities that would involve same sex that hearing these 2 men describe sexual acts and customs with Michael Jackson (in graphic detail) made it very difficult for me to process. I was disturbed to say the least. But more so, because it was done to 7-year-old little kids, which in my mind were just 2 years removed from 5 years old, which is still a baby. My God! Who can be attracted to a child??? But then I told myself, “A Pedophile”. That’s what that is. That is what they do.


It made me think about the Catholic Church and how faithful parishioners sometimes cannot accept when their favorite priest is accused of these same crimes. I mean, who has more secrets and scandals than the Catholic Church? They have covered up so much for maybe the 2,000 of existence. Today, social media and technology easily exposes anything, so now we know more. But why isn’t there a mass exodus of the Catholic Church? Or at least some rebuke for what they have allowed. Broken little innocent kids have been left destroyed all over the world because of priests and sometimes even nuns. Christianity is such a beautiful thing. Why tarnish it? I asked myself. The only conclusion I can reach is that human beings are deeply flawed, and some born sick. Just sick in spirit with no moral compass.


How do these priests and pastors get access to these children? It’s the parents. The parents are so mesmerized with reaching higher levels that these mere mortals become God’s themselves. Sad that a parent would freely give access to their little children in the name of any cause. But this is the case in the ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary. There are 2 victims and 2 sets of parents. These parents became so enthralled with Michael Jackson that they literally gave their kids away to his bedroom. They did this long enough and frequently enough so that a crazy sexual relationship formed, a relationship that lasted many years.


So, do I personally believe Wade Robson and James Safechuck? I absolutely do. The details, timelines, faxes, hand written notes, and vivid recollection is too clear for bullshit lying sessions to have taken place in order to make these allegations up. I believe that Michael Jackson was an evil predatory pedophile that methodically used his star status and money to brainwash little boys into sexual relationships. Some feel that justice will never be served for these victims. And God only knows how many there are around the world… but justice may have been served with that lethal shot of Propofol on June 25, 2009. Sometimes justice comes in unexpected ways. But why is our judicial system so lenient with Pedophile offenders? Why isn’t it a 25-year sentence followed by the electric chair? That seems fitting to me. I mean, why are we giving lengthy prison sentences for financial crimes? That doesn’t make any sense.


So yea, Michael Jackson was a demon. Im sure his family knows it but will continue to deny it. And I can’t help but feel that the parents of these 2 boys should have been punished in some way. It is they that delivered the baby cattle to the slaughter house. It’s a cautionary tale that should remind every single parent that they SHOULD NEVER GIVE ACCESS OF THEIR CHILD TO ANY OTHER ADULT, PERIOD.

Rise of the Instagram Influencer

R

Instagram influencers can make up to $100 for every 10,000 followers per sponsored post.

The Instagram influencer as a species is easy to spot.

Defined by their large social media followings, content from this class of marketers is typically awash with the flossy trappings of young money: trendy designer outfits modeled in exotic locations; marble countertops under carefully crafted flat-lays of pricey beauty products. Even the Instagram mavens with a grittier, every-girl style, all Polaroid grunginess, are dotted with on-brand T-shirts perfectly half-tucked into the hot jeans du jour.

It’s enough to make even the most over-stimulated perusers pause and say, “How much are they making off this, exactly?”

The answer, if they play the game correctly, is a lot. 

A wealth of jaw-dropping figures emerged in 2018, from makeup vlogging virtuoso Jeffree Starr’s reported $18 million in yearly earnings, to fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni’s wedding, elaborately chronicled with the hashtag #TheFerragnez, which garnered a whopping $36 million in Media Impact Value for her partner brands.

“You can’t toss a rock in New York City without interrupting an Instagram shoot,” said Brittany Hennessy, author of “Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media,” and former director of Influencer Strategy and Talent Partnerships at Hearst Magazines Digital Media.

That’s particularly true this week as New York Fashion Week wraps up, seeing influencers rub elbows with fashion editors and buyers at designer shows and parties across the city.

“There’s lots of money at play. These girls make so much money. There are families of four who make $20,000 and girls can clear that in two campaigns.”

The most successful influencers can command more than six figures for brand campaigns, but even those just starting out can earn a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Why? Technology and consumerism have changed. Ad blockers are eating away at traditional digital marketing, such as banner ads and video pre-rolls. TV commercials aren’t reaching Millennials and Gen Zers who long ago cut the cable cord. Phones, influencer’s native habitats, are everything.

Brand spending on influencer marketing is expected to hit $101 billion by 2020, according to a study from the Association of National Advertisers and PQ Media. That’s up from $81 billion in 2016. Of brands surveyed, 75 percent said their company is currently using influencer marketing, and 43 percent of that group said they planned to increase their budgets in the next year.

The result is a gold rush in the form of street style pics and #mirrorselfies.

Influencer math: How many likes to a $100K contract?

The economics behind the Valencia filters can be elusive. Influencers and brands are exceedingly tight-lipped about the ins-and-outs of individual contracts, leaving audiences without a firm grasp of just how much went into that strategically placed Fendi baguette.

Most standardized price structures, USA TODAY found, start with follower counts.

An industry rule of thumb, verified by USA TODAY through interviews with nearly a dozen influencers, marketing professionals and influencer platform founders, is a baseline rate of around 1 percent of follower counts per sponsored Instagram post, or $100 for every 10,000 followers. Meaning someone with 100,000 followers might start around $1,000 per sponsored post, while an influencer with one million followers could charge $10,000. And some experts called that conservative.

“If you only do one a month you’re making $100,000 a year. That’s a lot more than most of these girls were making at their full-time job,” Hennessy said.

(Lindsay Silberman in Mexico)

Lindsay Silberman, who has more than 140,000 followers on Instagram, left her full-time position as an editor at Town and Country magazine in October to focus on creating her own luxury lifestyle content. The tide turned around at the 100,000-followers mark, she said, typically considered the “made it” moment for influencers.

“I was getting offers from brands more and more often,” Silberman said. “I got to the point where it would have been fiscally irresponsible not to pursue it.”

After the first several months, she says she’s on par to break six figures for the year and clear her previous salary.

Rates are also determined by factors beyond follower count, including engagement, quality of content, audience demographic and name/facial recognition and skillset, said Hennessy.

In her book, Hennessy provides a sample breakdown that starts with $250 to $2,000 for a sponsored Instagram post for influencers with follower counts of 10,000 to 99,000, and goes up to $7,500-plus for follower counts of 1 million and up.

Captiv8, a platform that connects influencers to brands, has a similar baseline for clients that starts with $8,000 for a sponsored Instagram post for influencers with 500,000 followers or under, increasing to as much as $75,000 for 3 million to 7 million followers.

“Some influencers do sponsored content quarterly. Their content is so good, and engagement is so high, they can charge $30,000 for an Instagram post,” Hennessy said.

Engagement. That’s where you come in.

A dollar for your thoughts

Every time you decide to add yourself to an influencer’s million existing followers, you’ve given that #blessed creator about $1 per campaign in future earnings. Add another if you frequently double-tap or tend to leave comments filled with fire emojis. A message about wanting to try that drink / lipstick / type of denim pictured? That’s the stuff of brands’ dreams.

As companies have become more savvy to the social media sphere and wary of bots and fake followers, engagement has emerged as a desired measure.

Along with pricing structures based on follower counts, CPEs (cost per engagement) have emerged as another way to calculate marketing rates. Engagement is typically defined by interactions with content such as likes, comments, clicks or shares. Engagement rates can be found by adding up all engagements on a post, dividing it by follower counts and multiplying by 100.

Hennessy equates the audience element to buying an album from your favorite musician. If you love their content, “you gotta like it, comment, share it, do all of the things because that’s how advertisers will see that she’s successful. … That’s how they’re making their money and that’s how they can keep doing this work.” 

The micro-influencer next door

The shift in priorities from reach to engagement has opened the floodgates for content creators who may not have the same scale but have found a specific niche, dubbed micro-influencers.

Influencers like Angela Davis, who started the food blog Kitchenista Diaries in 2012 and has 58,000 followers on Instagram, tend to have higher engagement and a more intimate connection with their audience. Davis’ 80,000 Twitter followers respond to her by the hundreds with the hashtag #kitchenistasundays, inspired by her Sunday night dinners.

“Now it’s more than I can keep up with,” Davis said. “Dinner parties, public ticketed events, that all spun off from that one hashtag.”

After unexpectedly losing her accounting job in 2014, Davis turned to food blogging and private catering full time. Nearly five years in, her self-published cookbooks account for more than 50 percent of her income. And she’s seen more emails and diverse opportunities from marketing agencies in her inbox in the last year. In December, Royal Caribbean paid for her to go on a seven-day cruise to highlight their dining options.

“My work with Royal Caribbean was specifically because of how engaged my audience is,” Davis said. “They really noticed, ‘You actually talk to people and are having conversations on a daily basis.'”


(Angela Davis, creator of The Kitchenista Diaries, posing for a selfie.)

Brand payouts

The advantages for brands seem obvious: direct access to target audiences for a fraction of what they’d pay in the traditional space.

Content creators routinely value their work at a much lower rate than marketing professionals expect to pay, according to marketing software company IZEA. In 2018, marketers surveyed said they estimated paying more than $3,000 for a sponsored video, while content creators expected to charge $471.

Because influencers bake the creative costs of producing advertorial content into their fees, even the high end of influencer rates can seem like a deal.

“You have to recognize that for a marketer to get that same photo from an ad agency, they’re going to pay 10 times that,” said Ted Murphy, founder and CEO of IZEA. “When someone from an ad agency takes a picture, they’re paying a food stylist, paying people for a recipe, shooting location, a photographer, a project manager and photographer rights. That’s why there’s still a lot of room for growth here.”

And ROIs can be as much as 11 times that of traditional digital marketing like banner ads, Nielsen Catalina and influencer marketing platform TapInfluence found by tracking in-store sales through loyalty cards.

Much of that is directly attributed to the look and feel of sponsored posts, and the way they seamlessly blend with an influencer’s organic content.

“A lot of these brands that are spending money with influencers are also spending money on paid media. And these brands are seeing much higher engagement rates, much higher ROIs on influencers, because content the influencer is creating is not looked at as an ad, it’s very much look at as content,” said Krishna Subramanian, co-founder of Capitv8. “People recognize the individual within the content as much more authentic and that’s what’s really driving that ROI.”

Platforms that connect influencers with brands (and vice versa) back up the effectiveness. IZEA’s State of the Creator Economy report found that one in three consumers have purchased a product after seeing it used by an influencer. According to a 2017 study by Olapic, an influencer marketing platform, 31 percent of consumers said they have purchased a product or service based on a social influencer post.

But calculating exact returns can be tricky. Native platforms like Instagram provide only certain metrics, which don’t get at conversion rates.

“What they don’t show is how many people went into a store to make a purchase based on the influencer’s recommendation, or how many people bought the product or booked the hotel at a later time,” Silberman said.

Silberman says she screenshots direct messages from followers who buy $300 face creams or five-day honeymoons based on her recommendations.

Dannia Hakki, founder + CEO of MoKi Media, a boutique PR firm, said it’s now routine to include social media placements in press reports to clients, right next to outlets like The Washington Post and Conde Nast Traveler. But some things, like highly effective word-of-mouth referrals, are impossible to capture.

“I recently overheard two people at a party talking about checking out a venue we represent, in which the client gave us an entire budget to pay a list of social media influencers. One of them said, ‘Do you follow @narrativeofnic? She posted about that new bar. It looks so cool, we should check it out.’ I couldn’t believe my own ears.”

Influencers are supposed to disclose sponsored content.
But …

The idea that influencers are authentic, and that the products they promote are recommendations, not ads, is the lynchpin of influencer marketing. It may also be its undoing.

Fyre Festival, the ill-fated “greatest party that never happened,” is often cited as the ultimate example of this dynamic. The 2017 event – back in the news this year after the release of two documentaries, Netflix’s “Fyre” and Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud,” – was promised to be a luxury experience before it’s epic implosion from mismanagement and fraud.

Organizers paid a bevy of celebrity influencers to shoot extravagant promotional material and spread the word on social media, including a reported $250,000 Instagram post from model Kendall Jenner. Most did not follow Federal Trade Commission guidelines that require sponsored content to be clearly labeled as such, and have resulted in ongoing legal battles.

The FTC issued educational letters to 90 influencers in 2017 reminding them to follow the guidelines for disclosing endorsements. It sent 21 of those a follow-up warning letter citing specific posts that broke compliance. The impact on influencers who do not heed the FTC’s warning could be dramatic, experts warn.

Because influencers build their audiences and reputations on content perceived to be authentic, their followers expect that they are true supporters of the brands they pitch and will disclose when a monetary action is involved.

“From the consumer perspective, it’s really challenging because the disclosures for most people aren’t very clear and ultimately that erodes the trust with the creator and erodes the trust with the brand,” said Murphy. “That’s the whole trick to this space. If all of a sudden there’s no trust between consumers and people producing this content then overall effectiveness is going to plummet and there will be no opportunity.”

Murphy says they’re still seeing 30 percent of marketers asking influencers not to disclose sponsored content. In their State of the Creator report, they also found two in three consumers might unfollow an influencer if they suspect them of not disclosing a paid relationship.

“There are a lot of people skirting the rules right now that don’t understand the long-term implications of what they’re doing,” Murphy said.

Every influencer who spoke with USA TODAY stressed the importance of authenticity with their audiences, particularly when it comes to sponsorships.  

“I make a point of being as transparent as possible with my followers about everything influencer-related because there’s so much mystery surrounding this business,” Silberman said. “During a Q&A on my story, someone asked me what influencers get paid for a post – I thought about just telling everyone what my rates are for the sake of being honest, but I also didn’t want to limit my ability to negotiate for future deals.”

Silberman says some brands are solely looking for quick hits. She turned down a skincare company she was unfamiliar with that didn’t want to wait for her to test their products before completing the deal.

“To me, it just felt like a transactional, inauthentic exchange.”

Many influencers interviewed said they’ll only work with companies whose products they like and use without payment.

Jeanne Grey, who started her blog The Grey Layers in 2011 and now has 470,000 followers, said she saw success after learning to say no.

“I started seeing growth when I really found my aesthetic and mastered what kind of brands we wanted to align ourselves with, instead of saying yes to everything,” Grey said. “Initially it was like, ‘Everything works for us!’ But no, that’s not necessarily true.”

The Holy Grail: Real money moves, then your own brand

Influencers say developing long-term relationships with brands not only builds audience trust, but it’s also where they can make real money moves.

“I would call it working smart instead of working harder. Better in quality instead of volume,” Grey said.

Brands often restrict influencers they’ve partnered with from subsequent work with their competitors, but if that exclusivity is costing the influencer potential deals, she can use it to negotiate an increase in her contract.

“If they’re being offered $10,000 to do a Revlon campaign, then that means they can’t work with competitors Almay or Covergirl. So you’re like, ‘well, off of all of these brands I normally work with I’m going to lose $50,000 in the next six months.’ Now that brand has to pay you an extra $30,000,” said Hennessy.

Influencers can also charge more depending upon the length of time brands want to use their content and how they use it. If that brand wants to turn a video from the influencer into an ad on TV or in stores, and run it for several weeks, that’s an additional cost.

“If she was only charging $10,000 for campaign, then you add in usage and exclusivity, and she could easily walk away with $80,000.” 

At the very top of the influencer pyramid sit traditional endorsement campaigns and ambassadorships, the likes that have long kept actors well-heeled as they pursue less lucrative passion projects. Those can include print ads, billboards, in-person appearances, TV commercials and the like.

In 2017, Bare Minerals reportedly paid more than $500,000 for beauty YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen to be the face of two flagship foundations – one of the largest known contracts between a blogger and brand at that time, according to Women’s Wear Daily. Hennessy says she wouldn’t be surprised if Nilsen could charge $1 million today.

Those types of deals represent the gold standard but are still few and far between.

“We may do, like, four of those every year,” said Lisa Filipelli, manager for vlogger Amanda Steele and a partner at Select Management. “They’re really hard to get.”

Steele started on YouTube when she was 11, signed with Filipelli at age 13 and now has 2.7 million YouTube followers. She’s been the face of a Bulgari fragrance, worked with Marc Jacobs on watch and perfume campaigns, and starred in an American Eagle campaign.

“I’d compare Amanda to, not top billed A-list movie star money, but it’s comparable to a working actor,” Filipelli said.

And like many actors, Steele says those campaigns allow for her passion project: her own fashion line, Steele, which she launched just weeks ago.

Such trajectories represent the pinnacle for many influencers – an ironically analogue end-game to their digital journeys. 

“The holy grail for an influencer is picking a vertical niche, becoming someone who really understands the space and launching your own brand,” said Subramanian. “If you’re an influencer and you want to win the Superbowl, it is launching your own brand and having it be successful and selling to a L’Oreal.”

All of the influencers who spoke to USA TODAY expressed similar end-goals that have little to do with the digital spaces where they started.

Angela Davis is working towards a brick-and-mortar location where she can host events and live cooking classes.

Grey is looking to write a book, create a lifestyle product and partner with a store like Target or Sephora.

“A platform is just a platform,” Grey said. “I think doing this for other brands we’ve realized, ‘hey, we can be a brand, too, and do this for us.’”

Don’t quit your day job, yet

Influencing may sound like a sweet gig, but many influencers say they work harder and longer hours than they did in their salaried jobs.

“I’m tracking my screen time and it’s about nine hours a day, on good days it’s about eight,” Grey said.

Influencers told USA TODAY they spend entire days responding to comments and direct messages and providing recommendations like their favorite products or travel tips.

Some, like Silberman, rely on their husbands and partners to help handle the workload and take photos. Grey’s husband quit his full time job last year to work with her.

And though brands are increasing their influencer budgets, IZEA found that there were still more content creators than opportunities in 2018.

“A lot of content is uploaded to YouTube every day. Getting through the noise is really hard,” Filipelli said. “When I started out there were only two people with millions of subscribers, now it’s thousands.”

One billion hours of video are watched daily on YouTube, while Instagram users post more than 95 million pieces of content a day. There are no statistics on how many influencers are currently out there, Hennessy said, but she can no longer keep up.

“Every day I see a ton of new influencers, and I’m someone who that’s all I follow.”

The gold rush shows no signs of stopping, said Fred Cook, director of University of Southern California’s Center for Public Relations. He notes there’s even a cottage industry springing up around influence, including startups like Wildlink that allow anyone to earn commission off their recommendations.

“Some day we may all be influencers and this may be one giant marketplace. We’ll all be talking about products and services and being reimbursed for that in one way, shape or form,” Cook said. “I think it’s just the beginning.”

HISTORY OF SOCIAL MEDIA

1997: The Birth of Social Media when a website called “Six Degrees”.  It was named after the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory and lasted from 1997 to 2001.

-From there, ICQ was born and most members of Generation X remember ICQ.

-The service that was created shortly thereafter was America Online, with AOL’s instant messenger especially prominent in the social media lineup.

-By the year 2000, around 100 million people had access to the internet, and it became quite common for people to be engaged socially online.

2003– the website Myspace was the popular place to set up a profile and make friends. Until it started to become stale and founder Tom Anderson & partners sold it for $580 Million to News Corporation. He set off to travel the world. Today, Myspace is still around for music artists and actually making about $800 million in revenue.

2004-2005: We have Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook with about 1 Billion users worldwide.

2006 -the popularity of text messaging or SMS inspired Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams to create Twitter. Which until very recently you could only type 140 characters and now you can type up to 280 characters.

2010 to today– The rest of the pack, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, and of course thousands of social dating sites and other social sites.

 

My Travel To Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey – largely unknown to many fellow Americans, compared to other places to visit. However, Istanbul is filled with rich history by way of charming sights & neighborhoods that will make a believer out of any traveler. And the new Tom Hanks movie “Inferno was mostly filmed here.  Not to mention the delicious foods and deserts. I learned about Istanbul some years ago from an ex-girlfriend that went and I remember her telling me how much she loved it. Well, now I know why… This is my experience:

People / Safety 

I will start with the very topic that is on everyone’s mind. When I mentioned to some of my friends and family that I was going to visit Egypt and then Turkey, the consensus was that “I was crazy” because “now is not the best time to go there”. Basically because of any political discord and news of terrorist’s incidents (anywhere). But I knew that It was deeper than that. Because of all the terror attacks performed in our country and abroad, the media has portrayed a world where people of Muslim faith simply hate Americans and Christians. Let me not be a hypocrite and say that for the most part, I also believed that this was true. At least because of the repeated theme that terrorists chant when committed evil acts which is that they are doing it in the name of ‘Islam’ or ‘Allah’. So does the media help shape this belief? Yes. Not to mention that TV Shows and Movies also use this theme to sensational drama in a story. But what about in Real-life? You be the judge…

Upon arrival to Istanbul, I saw some women covered up but not nearly as many as I did in Egypt. So I can sense that the Muslims here were a little different. Then I started to see that most people looked “European” with lighter features than most people from Arab nations. So this confused me at first, because I was told that Turkey was also a Muslim country. As my stay in Istanbul went on, I learned more and found out that many of the Muslims in Istanbul are from Italian & Greek decent. So they look different. Also, Istanbul sits on the European continent mainly but they also have the Asian side as well.

Most Turkish people in Istanbul tend to me mostly “moderate” Muslims. Unlike most of the conservative Muslims in other parts of Turkey and other countries. As I understand it, most people there do not like the current President because he is in favor of those more conservative ways of Islam. But now that I provided some background on that, we can move on to the rest.

 

So I used Uber to get to my hotel which was the Jazz Hotel which is an ultra modern boutique hotel with a tribute to Jazz Music theme.  Each room is unique in that its named after a specific legendary Jazz musician- and here I have to brag… 😉   They gave me the Miles Davis room. What greater Jazz man than that? ( You can see a video of the room in my Facebook photo album here) Now, on the drives and walks in Istanbul, I can tell you that its absolutely beautiful! Building structures sit on hilltops and so many colors around.. cats & dogs can be seen in all areas which adds to the charm of the city.

istanbul    istanbul-2    istanbul-3     istanbul-4

Istanbul is going to be one of those places where words or photos will not do it justice. Its just a special place… and I cant wait to go back! Oh, and so much history!

Currency 

Because of a decline in tourism and their own internal political matters, currently here is the conversion: 1 USD =3.07086TRY

This is of course a great benefit to travelers.

Food

While you can find most of the fast food chains and American entrees in Istanbul, they have so many awesome mom & pop places to eat.. and the food is amazing! Delicious everything! Make sure you try their version of Gyro meat called “Doner“. And so many deserts. As for seafood, Seabass is their most common fish.

Visa

You need a very simple Visa, which is nothing more than paying $2o on the Turkish Government website.

Transportation

Yes, Uber exists in Turkey. So if you’re already accustomed to the comfort of using Uber, go ahead and continue.

Booking & Flight info

I typically always travel by using Expedia. The combination of booking Flight + Hotel together does save money. However, Expedia is only good for 1 destination trips. So if you want to get creative and jump around country to country, Expedia becomes difficult to use- it goes counter to their business model. Keep that in mind… 1 country, 1 hotel, go Expedia.

The flight was about 12 hours.

turkey-1

Now about tours & sightseeing, there are 2 types of travelers:

1. The one that likes researching points of interests, likes to rent a car, take public transportation, find their way around the city to the sites. Basically use a map to “figure it out”.

2. This traveler likes to operate on a set and organized schedule. This means that hiring a tour company is the way to go because it typically includes transportation, English speaking guide, more safety, and more activities per day since its all prep scheduled in a tour program.

Which of the 2 travelers am I? Yes, that would be “B’. I am a highly organized person and structure is what I prefer. I don’t like any downtime in the day time when I am traveling. I want to see and do as much as I can and with as much ease as possible – I don’t want to struggle with anything or anyone. If this sounds like you, then book a tour.

 

Tours

For my Egypt Adventure, I hired Turkey Travel Group and it was the best decision I could have made. They are ultra-professional, responsible, and highly rated by travelers on TripAdvisor. The operations manager that initially set up my tour requirements was Ozlem Batal. She was really helpful in all of the aspects. And the tour guide I was given, of course, was awesome! Ece Dagdevren speaks perfect fluent English and is just so nice and accommodating. So kuddos to her and the company!

If you want to see more of my travel photos from my adventure in Istanbul, feel free to visit my Facebook page here.

 

whilly   whilly-2   whilly-3

Let me share with you my Tour Itinerary: 

Those are the places you have to visit as they have historical importance:

Day 1

Topkapi palace ( 40 TL per person )
Hagia Sophia ( 40 TL per person )
Blue Mosque
Sultanahmet Square
Basilica Cistern ( 20 TL per person )
Grand Bazaar

Day 2

Fener Balat area & fener patriarche
Chora Church ( 30 TL per person )
Taksim square
Bosphorus Cruise
Dolmabahce Palace ( 30 TL per person )
Day 3

Kadikoy area
Moda Neighborhood 
Beylerbeyi Palace ( 20 TL per person )
Camlica Hill
Kuzguncuk

 

So I recommend Istanbul, Turkey to any friend or family member. And if I can answer any questions, please feel free. So I thank you for allowing me to share the photos from my experience with you.

Deepest Thank you,

Whilly

 

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be a safety expert or scholar on international relations. You have to utilize caution when traveling anywhere. You should always do your own research and contact the American Embassy for any specific questions. The positive experience described here is simply my own.

My Travel To Egypt

Egypt– the enchanting country that we have seen in movies since childhood. Such films capture the pure essence of history, love, & betrayal. Its probably most people’s dream to visit the Great Pyramids one day! For me, that day came… This is my experience:

People / Safety Part 1

I will start with the very topic that is on everyone’s mind. When I mentioned to some of my friends and family that I was going to visit Egypt, the consensus was that “I was crazy” because “now is not the best time to go there”. Basically because of any political discord and news of terrorist’s incidents (anywhere). But I knew that It was deeper than that. Because of all the terror attacks performed in our country and abroad, the media has portrayed a world where people of Muslim faith simply hate Americans and Christians. Let me not be a hypocrite and say that for the most part, I also believed that this was true. At least because of the repeated theme that terrorists chant when committed evil acts which is that they are doing it in the name of ‘Islam’ or ‘Allah’. So does the media help shape this belief? Yes. Not to mention that TV Shows and Movies also use this theme to sensational drama in a story. But what about in Real-life? You be the judge…

Upon arrival to Cairo, I will admit that I was nervous and since the flight aboard Turkish Airlines, I was already thinking of every Aikido technique that came to mind to try and disarm or take out anyone that threatened me or the innocent aboard the plane. Yup, that’s what watching too many moves do! It sounds crazy, but this is what I was thinking about on the flight and upon initial arrival. The first thing that I saw that shocked me and sent chills down my spine was seeing Muslim women completely covered up. I mean they were dressed in all black and only their eyes were visible. This was a scary sight for me because it’s what I have seen in movies previously. Typically, this would be the woman that has a bomb strapped to her underneath. So this was the surreal moment for me. (of course such perceptions are unfounded)

As I waited for my driver, I saw more covered up women and some of the men dressed in their traditional clothing which resembles a robe of sorts (also what I have seen in movies). As we began the drive to my hotel I can see more of the common people and their surroundings which I thought to be very poor. The makings of a 3rd world were clearly apparent to me. With that realized, myself & the driver could not communicate- he didn’t know English and I don’t know Arabic. It was a relatively silent drive to the hotel.

As we pull up to the hotel, which was the Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, I can see the Great Pyramids in a very close vicinity to the hotel (therefore Its why I chose this hotel). So seeing the pyramids immediately from this distance was exciting and I can see that Méridien was a luxury hotel. But wait, our car had to have the trunk searched and a bomb sniffing dog had to make its round as well. As you can imagine, like you, I’m not used to seeing this, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it except to just accept that its always better to be safe than sorry. As I walk into the hotel, yes you guessed it, I had to put my luggage through an X Ray machine and walk through a metal detecting machine. More security? You think?

Immediately, all the staff there, were friendly, smiling, all telling me “Welcome”, Welcome”. I checked in and went up to my room. The room was still from the 1980’s.. but hold it there. That was my fault, I wanted the view to the Pyramids. The renovated suites are on the other side of this huge hotel, with beautiful lobby, 2 huge pools, etc. I sacrificed some luxury in order to have these views. Here is the view from room # 4030:

pyrimids

Ok now that I described my arrival as the introduction to this blog, let me back up for 2 short points (I will return to the safety topic, Muslims, and the people of Egypt shortly…

Currency 

Because of a decline in tourism and their own internal political matters, currently here is the conversion: 1 Egyptian Pound = 0.112630 United States Dollar

This is of course a great benefit to travelers.

Food

While you can find most of the fast food chains and American entrees in Egypt, I don’t think that they are a “Foodie” country. We visit for the history and the people and not really for the food. So that should probably not be a focal point of interest of traveling to Egypt.

Visa

You need a very simple Visa, which is nothing more than paying $25 at the airport.

Transportation

Yes, Uber exists in Egypt. So if you’re already accustomed to the comfort of using Uber, go ahead and continue.

Booking & Flight info

I typically always travel by using Expedia. The combination of booking Flight + Hotel together does save money. However, Expedia is only good for 1 destination trips. So if you want to get creative and jump around country to country, Expedia becomes difficult to use- it goes counter to their business model. Keep that in mind… 1 country, 1 hotel, go Expedia.

The flight was about 11 hours and stopped in Istanbul, Turkey for 3 hours or so.

flight

Now about tours & sightseeing, there are 2 types of travelers:

1. The one that likes researching points of interests, likes to rent a car, take public transportation, find their way around the city to the sites. Basically use a map to “figure it out”.

2. This traveler likes to operate on a set and organized schedule. This means that hiring a tour company is the way to go because it typically includes transportation, English speaking guide, more safety, and more activities per day since its all prep scheduled in a tour program.

Which of the 2 travelers am I? Yes, that would be “B’. I am a highly organized person and structure is what I prefer. I don’t like any downtime in the day time when I am traveling. I want to see and do as much as I can and with as much ease as possible – I don’t want to struggle with anything or anyone. If this sounds like you, then book a tour.

 

Tours

For my Egypt Adventure, I hired Ramasside Tours and it was the best decision I could have made. They are ultra-professional, responsible, and highly rated by travelers on TripAdvisor. But I will let you read those reviews on your own. The part from me, that deserves honorable mention and why my time is Cairo and the touring was so great, was because they gave me a great tour guide in Mr. Waleed Elakbawy. His English was perfect, he explains clearly, is very knowledgeable and is totally invested in your experience. Beyond the service he is provided, he is kind, and just an all-around nice guy. So far away from the pretense of an evil terrorist or anything of that nature 😉 This is Waleed:

whilly-bermudez-gOn my 3rd day, I flew to Luxor so that I can also experience the Valley of the Kings & Karnak Temple.

If you want to see more of my travel photos from my Egypt adventure, feel free to visit my Facebook page here.

After 3 days of visiting all of the main sites- Great Pyramids, Spinx, and others with Waleed in the lead.. it was time to catch a flight to Luxor to experience the Valley of the Kings & Karnak Temple and other temples. Here I met another star of a tour guide- Mr. Shahhat Wannan. He is a scholar of archaeology and really knows his stuff! Also fluent English, great personality, and all so kind. How can I get lucky twice? Well, I did. I only have great things to say about this tour company. So I recommend them and these 2 tour guides without hesitation!

And here is Shahhat showing the international symbol for Appreciation:

shant

Let me share with you my Tour Itinerary: 

Day 1: Cairo Photo Tour

Tour guide will pick you up from your hotel to start your photo tour in Cairo which includes the best photos stops you can make by the Pyramids, The Sphinx ,  old pretty mosques and old churches.

Visit the old streets of Cairo and tour Islamic Cairo; old mosques, houses, and palaces while passing through local markets including the famous Souq Khan al Khalili. Then transfer back to your hotel.


Day 2: Old Cairo (Islamic and Coptic)

Start your tour visiting the Citadel of Salah El Din, The Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque, after that you will move to Old Cairo to visit the Hanging Church, Abu Sirga Church and Synagogu, finally move to your hotel in Cairo.

 

Day 3: Luxor Day Tour from Cairo by Flight

Pick up by your Ramasside Tours Representative from your hotel in Cairo by air conditioned vehicle to Cairo Domestic Terminal at the Airport to fly to Luxor, upon your arrival our guide will be waiting you with sign of Ramasside.

From the moment your tour starts, your guide will give you full attention. Once in the car, your guide will talk to you about all the things on the way as well as other aspects of your tour that will interest you

Travel by air conditioned vehicle to visit the magnificent Karnak temple the largest temple ever built, Walk through the Avenue of Sphinxes, visit the Hypostyle Hall with its 134 gigantic columns, see the Obelisks of Queen Hatshepsut and Tutomosis III, and witness the temple of Amon, adorned with exquisite lotus and papyrus designs.

Followed by the world famous Valley of the Kings, original burial site of the boy King Tutankhamen where the magnificent Tombs were discovered carved deep into the desert rock, richly decorated and filled with treasures for the afterlife of the Pharaohs, and have the opportunity to visit three Tombs. (The three tombs visited are determined by the Egyptian Government as to preserve them from the large flow of visitors, therefore are rotated throughout the year and cannot be confirmed as to which tombs prior to your visit. King Tut’s tomb is with extra ticket purchase only.

Continuing on to visit Hatshepsut’s Temple at El Deir El Bahary. This impressive Temple was dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut the only female Pharaoh, which rises out of the desert plain in a series of terraces and merges with the sheer limestone cliffs, On the return journey stop-off at the Colossi of Memnon, 2 gigantic statues representing Amenophis III facing the Nile.

Then transferred to Luxor Airport for your flight back to Cairo and transfer to your Hotel.

stand

People / Safety Part 2 (conclusion)

Egypt is considered a conservative Islamic country. So most people observe the more traditional ways of being a Muslim. I was told that there was a certain aggression towards women tourists in Egypt because of their attire. I personally did not witness this at all. However, you have to be smart and know where you travel to. If its a conservative Islamic country, it would be disrespectful to wear booty shorts & etc. So be smart and dress comfortable without being revealing. Then, when you get back to your hotel with your man, you can let it all hang out! But lady in the streets and freak in the bed is the way to go in Egypt! ( actually everywhere 😉

You may encounter hustlers and scam artists trying to confuse you with currency while you buy something. But this happens in every country. You have to be alert and use your currency conversion app so you don’t get fooled.

So in closing…

Life is so short. We have to spend it wisely. Not hating, being angry, being jealous, or being afraid- we don’t have time for that. We have to spend our time loving, being kind, and exploring beyond the barriers of our own land. We have to know what awaits us to learn from, awaits us to be.

Before this trip, I was apprehensive of Muslims in general. What we hear on the news is so terrible that it leads us to a place where we generalize an entire religion- millions of people for the vile acts of a few. I will be writing about this in detail in my blog soon, so I wont go further on that now, but an example of why we need to go out into the world and learn things for ourselves is this trip to Egypt. Where a kid from Miami can be Indiana Jones for one day just because he decided to be brave and explore another side of the world. In this short life, we have opportunities. We just have to embrace them.

So I recommend the country of Egypt to any friend or family member. And if I can answer any questions, please feel free. So I thank you for allowing me to share the photos from my experience with you.

Deepest Thank you,

Whilly

 

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be a safety expert or scholar on international relations. You have to utilize caution when traveling anywhere. You should always do your own research and contact the American Embassy for any specific questions. The positive experience described here is simply my own.

Being American – The Greatest Privilege of all

Arriving from the gate at Miami International Airport, I saw a man coming from a different gate go to the ground & kiss the floor. At first I thought about how dirty that floor must be. Then I thought about how great it is to be standing on American soil. How 9/11 is a reminder… How at our worst, we are still the very best. Even when we get angry at how some things may be here, we just have to get on a plane headed for anywhere to know that even if there is no such thing as “perfect”, were the closest country to such a definition.

My friend Alice from Australia agrees, a couple from Belgium that I met also agree. My friends in Lima, 2 Italians from Milan do too. But they don’t have to confirm what I already know- because its been universally confirmed time & time again. Even when people from other nations criticize us- its just conversation with a little bit of envy. They know that the navy blue pocket size, multi page document with the United States seal imprinted on the cover-is priceless. (They wish they had it) That small booklet that some take for granted, actually carries the weight of the world. It is the greatest privilege of all civilized societies and most of us didn’t even have to sacrifice anything to get it. For years, the members of our armed forces have gone ahead and risked all that they know & embraced the possibility that they may, at any given moment, lose their lives. All In exchange for the honor & privilege of upholding what America is, what being an American means, & what pride it eternally provides.

So we have to be amazed at what the founding fathers built. All these years later, the beacon of light that we are is the lantern for all other lands. They don’t have to always admit it, but we know the truth. So when some people in our own backyard want to sit during the national anthem, protest against us, complain about us, burn our flag… to them I say, save all of that effort and simply trade that little blue booklet for one of a different color, with a different country seal- so that when you reach that other place you will almost immediately realize what the rest of all us proud Americans have always known- There is no place like the USA. Because were not just in the United States, we are the United States.

Don’t just call yourself an “American”.
Be a real one, a proud one, a patriot- from sea to shining sea #USA

– Whilly Bermudez

Do I Post too much? | Social Media Ethics

Doing it too much? Not enough?

Some folks might say that I know a little bit about social media, so it is rewarding to have engaging conversations about it with colleagues and in turn, advise clients on some of the different facets.

Talking to one of my clients in particular, the nations largest grape grower and producer of Juices asks “Am I posting too much or too little?”. I’ve offered this answer previously and so here are my thoughts based on my experience….

Keeping people engaged to your posts is very difficult and honestly its hard work. Trying to transform an ‘audience’ into a “captive audience” is not the same thing. If we are seeing another persons or brands post’s, we are (recipients) and by default, we are members of their audience- if even for a few minutes.

A captive audience means that you regularly enjoy those posts and engage with them by frequently clicking “like” or sharing them. This also suggests that you look forward to seeing them. Having a captive audience is a great thing for marketers. However, they are much more difficult to impress and thus keep engaged. Coming up with content that is fresh and appealing is the key. Although easier said than done, it will be trial and error. Some will be winners and some will be losers… Even the celebrities with millions of followers sometimes post something that only generates a minimal amount of interest (likes & comments). But other times, it’s a slam dunk and it goes viral and shared 150,000 + times.

Posting on social media is all about the quality of the content and the frequency. Social media success is relative but it takes the ability to anticipate what the audience will respond to.

 

What is quality content?

Engaging content is usually content that is original. Not the same news updates that everyone else is sharing. (that’s redundant and boring) It can be a photo where the lighting was perfect, the positioning was right, and the landscape was beautiful.

Quality can also be images or videos with emotional triggers. This is content that connects with a recipient through anger, sadness, or love. If it makes you feel something, you will want someone you care about to maybe experience that too. So if it connects you will share.

 

Do I post too much or too little?

Here is where it gets interesting! Up to now, what I’ve described can best be geared towards marketers, digital marketers, etc. Right? ummm not necessarily. This can also be applied to any and all users of social media.

Posting too much is the worst thing you can do. I strongly dislike the overuse and exaggerated use of social media. It becomes annoying and makes users disconnect and even unfollow you. This is where social media ethics and etiquette come into play…

The reality is that no one cares about your life and activities as much as you do. (I know that was painful to hear, but so very true) So when you post 50 vacation photos ‘back to back’ as separate posts, people will tune out. The correct way is to create an album and upload them all in 1 shot, one process, one time. Everyone will receive the alert and not ongoing alerts every few minutes. This way, those that are most interested, can go into the album and see each photo and perhaps appreciate them individually at their own pace.

Another negative is simply to post every few minutes or every hour. When someone checks their social media they also want to see a variety of content from different people- not from the same person or company. By the way, the more you post through out the day, the more it seems that you have no life. No job, nothing going on, and starving for attention and may be even approval from others. We all know that everything we see can be very far from the reality, but for this conversation, I’m only talking about the frequency of posts not the perception of what is posted 🙂

The last negative to mention, that is also worth a good and healthy unfollow is too much posting of negative content. Posts that complain about government (politics), life, love, etc. should be kept to a minimum. Good dialogue is important but overdoing it can make your audience associate you with that same negativity, and ain’t nobody got time for that on their news feed or their life! Those are the reasons people sometimes break away and take time away from social media.

The world needs more positive energy and a whole lot more love. And hat’s the best subject matter for social media.

 

How often should I Post?

For obvious reasons, I am very engaged with social media usage and its metrics. I have a personal Facebook page, a Public Facebook page, a Twitter page, and Instagram Account, and a Snapchat account as well. What has worked best for me, is to just post 1 thing in the morning and another in the middle of the day or at night- that’s usually it. Then maybe a skip a day. My public Facebook page gets most of my attention, that is because the captive audience there is over 60,000.

So 2 times per day and maybe 3 times. But beyond that, You Are Doing It Wrong.

(This is where the biggest offenders say “I don’t care what other people think”) Well, that’s a big fat lie because if you didn’t care – You Would Not Be Posting at All. So lets not kid ourselves 😉

This is the same thing with the amount of attention – likes / comments a post gets. Those that don’t get too much attention will tell you that they don’t care. So if this is true, then ask them to delete their account. When you don’t care it should be easy, but they wont. Because they do care. And no one would post if there wasn’t potential people to see it on the other end.

Social Media is the way that we all communicate in this day and age. Maybe its good, maybe its bad. Either way, its part of our social culture. So why not try to do it better?  There’s nothing wrong with that.

-WB

RALEIGH POLICE OFFICER TALKS MAN OFF BRIDGE AND GIVES HIM A HUG

Powerful video from a NC DOT camera shows a Raleigh police officer’s act of compassion Wednesday evening.

It happened on the Beltline over Wade Avenue just after 7 p.m. when police got a call about a man who was hanging over the edge of the bridge.

Obviously, the man was in distress and needed help. Officer Dan Hicks reached out to the man and developed a rapport with him.

After a short period of time, the man agreed to come off the bridge. That’s when Hicks hugged the man for quite some time, then walked the man back to a car.

The story is a reminder that there is help for people in mental distress. Call the HopeLine at (877) 235-4525 or go to https://www.hopeline-nc.org/

We are Americans

It’s true. We are a flawed nation.  Were fast paced, loud, materialistic, vain, and argumentative – we take a lot for granted. Some of our political leaders are corrupt & operate in the dark, our judicial system is far from perfect, and too often we allow main stream media to shape our opinions. Our priorities are not always in order.

But there is still much more to our people and this land we call Home. We are a nation of honor and dignity. Our fore fathers laid down the foundation for a country of freedom where sweat equity paves the way for dreams to materialize.  We are a nation with 226 years of tradition of humanity and kinship. Our technological advances have served as road maps for scientists & innovators since the beginning of modern civilization. We are the example and even the defenders of independence for other lands.

Even when we get divided by social and political issues we quickly band together in the face of evil. In the September 11 attacks we stopped our routines and united as one. We demonstrated courage and unity and showed the rest of the world why we are the example. We are the lightning rod of justice, and even mercy.  We are a proud people and some hate us for it. The cowardly attack in Boston again shows our true colors, where the New York Yankees play ’Sweet Caroline’ to show their support & TV networks pull any episodes that may have been offensive.

Before I fall asleep each night, I feel no doubt that our will could never be broken. People like us could never be kept down- we will defend against any foreign or domestic enemy. Together we rise up and become one –Men, women, gay, straight, blue, green, brown, yellow, rich, poor, short, tall, democrat, Republican, and all other types of people.  Even at our worst, we are at our best. Because…

We are Americans.

Whilly Bermudez

What cruise lines don’t want you to know

By James Walker
 

A Carnival cruise ship was adrift 150 miles off the coast of Mexico after an engine room fire. Cruise passengers were complaining about the lack of air conditioning, hot cabins, cold food and toilets that wouldn’t flush.

As I watched the news broadcast, I thought it was a documentary about the Carnival Splendor, which suffered a disabling engine room fire in November 2010 off Mexico. But the story was about the Carnival Triumph, which caught fire early Sunday after sailing from Galveston, Texas, with more than 3,100 passengers.

The cruise industry says cruise ship fires are rare, but they are not rare. They happen with alarming frequency. In the two years between the Splendor and the Triumph fires, more than 10 cruise ship fires were reported in the media. Several cruise ships were completely disabled, including the Costa Allegra, the Bahamas Celebration and the Ocean Star.

The Azamara Quest was partially disabled and had to crawl back to port in Indonesia. The Allegra and Quest broke down in waters where pirates frequent, to add to the drama.

A fire aboard the Queen Mary II was later determined to have been caused by a “catastrophic explosion.”

Other cruise ships experienced what the industry would either deny or call “minor fires,” including the Adventure of the Seas, the Crown Princess, the MSC Musica and the Allure. But there is nothing minor about a cruise ship, filled with thousands of passengers, catching on fire on the high seas, even for a matter of seconds.

I have attended seven congressional hearings since 2005 regarding issues of cruise ship passenger safety. At the last hearing, before Sen. Jay Rockefeller, cruise expert and author Ross Klein said fires broke out in 79 cruise ships from 1990 to 2011. Most of these fires received little coverage in the U.S. press. It is a topic that the travel publications avoid and travel agents do not like to hear.

The cruise industry does a remarkable job advertising that cruising is a safe and affordable family vacation. It certainly is affordable, in large part because major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia. Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. federal taxes, labor laws and safety regulations.

In 2011, three-quarters of the nearly 16 million cruise bookings worldwide were made from the United States, according to the industry group Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 26 cruise lines, including the world’s largest, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

You can’t find a cheaper vacation than spending a week on one of these “fun ships.” But the vacation comes with a hidden price. The cruise lines are working their crew members excessively long hours and paying them extremely low wages.

The Cruise Lines International Association says its “crew members are provided wages that are competitive with international pay scales.” But a cleaner aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, will work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as $156.25 a week with no tips. U.S. labor laws are not applicable to provide protection to crew members at sea, nor is there any real oversight of the cruise lines’ operations.

The cruise industry insists that it is regulated and that the safety and security of its passengers and crew is its highest priority. Ships are subject to inspections by the countries they call on. In the United States, ships must pass initial and annual U.S. Coast Guard Marine inspections.

But the Coast Guard is underfunded and understaffed and can’t possibly conduct adequate inspections of the hundreds of cruise ships that call regularly on U.S. ports across the nation. And the ships are getting bigger and carrying more passengers ever year. For example, Disney Fantasy – whose safety is not in doubt — is 14 decks high and more than three football fields long and can carry about 5,500 people.

Cruise ships theoretically follow guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization and the recommendations in the Safety of Life at Sea. But the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations organization, does not have the authority to enforce its own guidelines, nor can it impose fines or criminal sanctions against cruise lines that flout Safety of Life at Sea recommendations. This obligation falls to flag states, like Panama.

The result is that cruise lines are largely unregulated. They offer low-price cruise fares to get the passengers aboard and then make their profits from alcohol sales; casino, spa and photography activities; and shore excursions.

The cruise lines operate their ships virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Cruise ships do not make money unless they are operating. The cruise lines push the ships just as hard as they push their crew members. A ship out of service for a week for routine maintenance means the loss of tens of millions of dollars and thousands of dissatisfied customers.

It is in this environment that the 13-year-old Carnival Triumph was trying to sail back to Galveston.

Cruise ships, like their foreign-based crew members, are treated as fungible goods. When crew members get debilitating injuries because of overwork and exhaustion, they are left in their home countries. The Triumph, sailing since 1999, will eventually end up being sold to the European market, renamed and abandoned as well.

The push to always keep the show on the road without long delays causes the same problems in investigations of passenger disappearances, shipboard crimes and gastrointestinal illnesses. These investigations are often rushed so the cruise is held up for as little time as possible.

When there is a norovirus outbreak on a ship, cruise lines are faced with the prospect of disembarking hundreds of ill passengers, sanitizing the ship and then reloading several thousands of passengers on board. It is an impossible prospect to locate and kill the virus on the massive ships given the short turnaround on an embarkation day. But the business model of the cruise industry is: Strike up the band and hand out the daiquiris, the cruise must go on.

It is also impossible for governmental entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a thorough, painstaking epidemiology study to ascertain the type of virus and its origin. Cruise lines quickly blame the passengers for not washing their hands, but the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that the most likely and common source of norovirus is contaminated food or water.

Crew members say that infected workers often do not complain of their illness out of fear of not being paid or of losing their jobs. Cruise lines tell the passengers to use hand sanitizers, but the culprit may be norovirus-laden salad.

Unlike the U.S. commercial aviation industry, with strict Federal Aviation Administration oversight that can ground a fleet of aircraft, the cruise industry is largely accountable to countries like Panama or the Bahamas — which may or may not want to offend their cruise line friends in Miami.

Editor’s note: James M. Walker is a maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate involved in cruise ship law and maritime litigation with his law firm, Walker and O’Neill. He has represented crew members and passengers against cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Formerly, he worked as a lawyer for the cruise industry.

Mini Darth Vader uses force for good

By Rebecca Angel Baer

One of the most memorable Super Bowl ads in recent years starred a pint-size Darth Vader attempting to use the force all over his house, finally succeeding, or so he thought, in starting his dad’s car.
These days the boy behind the Vader mask is strictly using his force for good. Max Page, the 8-year-old actor who stole audience’s hearts in the 2011 Volkswagen ad, was born with a rare congenital heart defect and has undergone eight surgeries, most recently last summer. But his medical problems haven’t dampened his spirit.

As head of the Junior Ambassadors Program for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Max has dedicated much of his young life to raising awareness and funds for other kids in need. Or as he says, “It’s the first time Darth Vader’s been good, so that might be a little change.”

Max had his first surgery at 3 months old after being diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. The congenital heart defect, which changes the normal flow of blood through the heart, occurs in about five out of every 10,000 babies, according to the National Institute of Health.

Mini Darth Vader uses force for good 2

Max’s charitable efforts began almost as soon as his medical troubles did. By the time of his first birthday, he had already endured four surgeries. His parents, Jennifer and Buck Page, said they felt grateful to the families who came before them and others who donated to keep the Los Angeles hospital and neonatal intensive care unit open.

“We feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure the doors stay open for us and families that follow us and to do our part,” Jennifer Page says.

Every year, Max and his younger brother Els, 7, pick a charity and ask for donations in place of presents for either of them.

“We’ve raised over $50,000 over the years for charity causes of all kinds. Now everyone looks forward to what the boys are going to do,” Jennifer Page says.

Max’s fame from the Super Bowl ad has widened the family’s reach and strengthened his impact.

“Hopefully, I can just use my force for even better good, and I hope that it works,” he says.

The vivacious youngster regularly speaks and campaigns for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as well as smaller organizations such as Saving Tiny Hearts in Chicago. Max also visits children in the hospital and has become something of a role model. He takes his responsibility seriously since he also looks up to someone — snowboarder Shaun White. He has yet to meet the Olympic gold medalist, but he says he will have a lot of questions when he does.

His mom watched White compete in the Olympics the same year Max was first diagnosed, and after hearing from doctors about the limitations her son would face, she says she found hope in White, who has the same heart defect.

“I remember watching, and the significance for me was that Max could have energy. We could actually focus on hope that Max could have energy, and it was actually possible,” she says.

She adds, “I looked at what his (White’s) parents must have had to do to let him live so free. Because I just want to wrap Max up in bubble wrap and not let anything touch him. And they didn’t. Shaun White’s parents said go for it”

It’s been seven months since Max’s last surgery — an open heart pulmonary valve replacement — and he has been cleared for all activities by his doctors. He’s back campaigning for the hospital, and he’s learned to snowboard and also plays Little League Baseball. Soon he’ll even return to his role on the CBS soap “The Young and the Restless.”

In his own words, “I’m back to being me.”

His mother says that she and his father try to lead by example but attributes much of the boy’s positive attitude to Max himself.

“There’s just this innateness in him that says I’m going to fight, I’m going to conquer it, I’m going to win. From the very beginning, he’s had to fight. From his very first breath, he’s had to fight hard for every breath, and … I think that is just part of his nature.”

While he was the breakout star of a previous Super Bowl, this year Max will be watching the game at home with his family. He says he’s a bit overwhelmed with his two favorite teams competing against each other.

“I’ll win and I’ll lose. So I’m not going to root for anyone,” Max says. “I’m just going to hope it’s a good match.”