Gay-themed music video a YouTube hit

Grand's first music video, for his country-tinged rock ballad "All-American Boy," was posted on YouTube last Tuesday. By last night, it had exploded, attracting more than 400,000 total views — nothing for top-charting videos from big-name recording artists, but an impressive figure for one from a complete unknown whose only promotion has been Internet buzz.

The video cost just $7,000, a fraction of the major-names' going rate, but it was a fortune to Grand, who came up with the entire budget himself by maxing out his only plastic to tell the video's story.

"All-American Boy" portrays a young gay man who misreads signals from an apparently straight "all-American" male friend. On a day hanging out with the gang, the two guys and a girl take off in a car. She drives, as the guys sit together in the back, with the straight man, at one point, falling asleep on the gay man's shoulder. Feeling like a third wheel, the girl eventually, angrily drives off, leaving the two men to pal around in the woods, where they end up stripping down and going skinny-dipping — even sharing a quick kiss. Ultimately for the straight guy, it was just all in good fun. But for the gay man, it was something much more significant, and he is left dazed, confused and longing.

"I was a 13-year-old boy (at camp)," noted the 23-year-old singer-songwriter, speaking by phone from his hometown Chicago. "One of my counselors was warm and strong and he took an interest in me — not sexually, but as a friend, and it really moved me. I remember leaving with a horrible ache in my heart."

While "All-American Boy" is told from the gay man's perspective, Grand said he knew its tale of unrequited love would resonate across lines of sexuality. He's received hundreds of postings on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook from viewers, both straight and gay, saying they understand such rejection and heartache.

"I'm not a cryer," noted Grand. "But since this all began, since people have been reaching out, I've been beyond moved, because so many people have felt what I felt, been through what I've been through."Grand said that upon discovering he was gay in eighth grade, he told friends, which quickly got back to his parents. They insisted he go to so-called "straight therapy," which he endured for five years. But it didn't work.

He logged his full freshman year at Belmont University in Nashville, but, due to the costs, returned to Chicago. His recent employment has run the gamut from modeling to supplying music for Catholic church events, the latter being what he called the "food-money" gig.

Grand said he has no idea where the YouTube success may take him, though he does admit he's "not much of a singer" and more of a songwriter. "Of course, I want to continue to grow as a man and grow as an artist," he commented.In contrast, there are all of those thrifty people in emerging markets. They save vast amounts of money that can be used for investments in growing economies. With strong family traditions, they eschew debt in any form. Or do they? Actually they don’t. Given the chance, consumers around the world act more or less the same. Credit card abuse is a universal past-time. But this time the credit bubble is no longer in the US.

Consumer debt meltdowns are not exceptional in Asia. Before the American crisis, there were three. Over the past 15 years Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan have all experienced excessive household debt which threatened the stability of their financial systems. But these countries and their issues were relatively small and localized.

The combination of rapid economic growth in emerging markets, combined with trillions in stimulus money and the search for yield has provided borrowing opportunities never before available to millions. The result is that non-mortgage consumer credit in Asia outside Japan rose 67% in the past five years. It now amounts to over $1.66 trillion. Car, motorcycle, appliance and electronic loans all more than doubled while credit card loans grew 90%. These issues are no longer small or local.

But is this a problem? Overall, consumer debt in Asia is far lower than in many more developed countries. The difference is income. As a percentage of income, debt burdens in Asia are up to 30% higher than in the US. Overall, debt burden relative to GDP is higher in India, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, China and Malaysia. It is only less in than the US in Taiwan and Hong Kong, two of the countries that have experienced consumer credit problems. 

One of the most vulnerable economies is Malaysia. Unusually, strong economic growth has led to an explosion of consumer credit. Consumer debt is approaching developed world levels. Malaysian household debt has risen to 76.6% of GDP from 65.9% five years ago. It is the highest in the region. Malaysian consumer boom has followed the country’s economic expansion. A lot of this expansion has been due to commodity producer exports to China.

Much of the credit has been due to the inflow of money from developed countries specifically the QE program of the US Federal Reserve. With China slowing and the QE program ending, consumers specifically and the Malaysia economy as a whole may be vulnerable. But they aren’t the only ones.

Indonesia has also benefitted enormously from the export of its mineral wealth to China. Indonesian non-mortgage consumer credit nearly tripled in the last five years. Domestic consumption has become the other main driver of Indonesian economic growth and has been driven by easy access to credit cards. The central bank has belatedly realized the danger and is trying to rein in credit by imposing minimum down payments for car and motorcycle loans. But unlike some of the other South Asian countries, Indonesia manufactures essentially nothing. That makes it particularly vulnerable when the two main sources of economic stimulus, commodities demand and cheap money, dry up.
  1. 2013/07/09(火) 16:36:29|
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Breast reconstruction after cancer a personal decision

When I received my second diagnosis of breast cancer in November, it came with good and bad news.The good was that, unlike the first, Stage 3 cancer, this one was in the early stages. No chemotherapy or radiation would be required. The bad was that the treatment was surgery: a mastectomy, removing the entire breast.The first time, I had no decisions to make; I did what I was told to save my life. The second time, I had a big one: Whether or not to undergo reconstructive surgery. It’s an intensely personal decision, and it involves more than body image. A little research at the beginning can help to ease possible regrets later on.

Actress Angelina Jolie recently put the subject in the foreground when she went public with her own situation: With a genetic disposition to breast cancer, she had pre-emptive mastectomies and reconstruction. Most women have to make their decisions quickly, in the emotionally charged wake of a fresh cancer diagnosis.

Almost 300,000 women receive new breast cancer diagnoses each year. That’s a lot of decisions, and oncologists and surgeons come at them from different perspectives.Dr. Matthew Ellis is chief of the breast oncology section at the Siteman Cancer Center, and an internationally noted researcher into the causes and cures of breast cancer. He’s opposed to leaping into anything without consulting a full team of physicians.

“My personal, deeply felt belief is that (patients) are best served if they can have a decision made in collaboration with a medical oncologist, a surgeon and a radiation oncologist, so that a balance can be set,” he said.

Mastectomy and reconstruction offer “an incredibly complex set of issues,” he added. The option to have reconstruction “is always there, but often inappropriate. Patients need to be carefully counseled as to the real risks and benefits of going through reconstructive surgery.”Jolie’s situation is rare. When breast cancer is present, reconstructive surgery must be carefully timed with chemotherapy and radiation, Ellis said. “People who’ve been through chemotherapy are at high risk” of complications.

For decades, breast cancer has been treated with “cut, burn and poison” -- surgery, radiation, chemo. In recent years, the order has changed, with chemo coming first and often shrinking the tumor to the point where it’s possible to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy.

Increasingly, said Ellis, “we’re trying to get the systemic therapy, the chemotherapy, out of the way first. Only when that’s all complete, when the patient is healed (from chemo), do we proceed with mastectomy and reconstruction. The cure for breast cancer is the priority.”Radiation adds “a real wild card” to the equation, he said. If breast implants are already in place, it can damage them, as well as the overall appearance of the breast. It also can damage the chest wall, making reconstruction more difficult, and can result in complications.

Dr. Julie A. Margenthaler, a surgeon at Siteman, focuses her practice on breast cancer.“Reconstruction is a part of every single discussion I have” with new patients, she said. “There are very few contraindications (for it). I would say that the surgical decisions are more focused on the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon.”

Margenthaler said she usually offers immediate reconstruction, done at the same time as the mastectomy. Federal law mandates that insurance cover it. “I help (the patient) understand how she would look with and without reconstruction, and what it would feel like.”

Margenthaler agrees that chemo and radiation are considerations, and that killing cancer cells comes first, but noted that there are ways to preserve appearance that don’t get in the way of treatment. “There are some data out there to suggest that there are psychological and emotional benefits to reconstruction, with self-image and issues of sexuality.”

Reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy means better-looking results; skin and sometimes nipples can be preserved. It does come at a cost. Reconstruction adds to recovery time and the number of procedures, it adds pain, and there can be complications, some of them serious. The reconstructed breast “is all look, no feel,” said Margenthaler. “There’s no sensation.”

When implants are used, spacers are put under the muscles of the chest wall. Over a period of months, they’re injected with saline solution until they reach the desired size; then permanent implants are put in place. When the patient’s own tissues are used (the technical term is “autologous”), a muscle flap is cut from the back or abdomen and secured in place. The recovery time is longer, and there can be permanent loss of muscle strength.

Dr. Marissa Tenenbaum is a plastic surgeon with a focus on breast issues. She said that she consults with oncologists — “cancer treatments come first” — but she believes “the vast majority” of women are candidates for immediate reconstruction.

Nationally, half of all mastectomy patients have reconstruction. “In St. Louis,” Tenenbaum said, “especially at Siteman, it’s upwards of 90 percent.” She attributes that to the medical resources available in St. Louis; in areas with few plastic surgeons, reconstruction is more apt to be put off.“Most of the breast surgeons at Siteman will encourage their patients to meet with us,” she said. “Women can be overwhelmed with the diagnosis, and it’s easy to get shuffled along the path.”

Kara Kuhns, 34, is an elementary school speech pathologist from Arthur, Ill.; she and her husband, J.D., have two daughters, ages 5 and 2. Diagnosed in April 2012, Kuhns “figured from the get-go” that she would have reconstruction. “I just thought it would be best and easiest long-term on my self-esteem to have reconstruction. Whatever my doctors thought would be best is what we went with.”

Kuhns had chemo all last summer and surgery in the fall, followed by radiation. She had her final reconstruction in May, and she’s very happy with the results. “I think it looks very natural.”When Jane Feibel faced a mastectomy, she “roamed the Web for information about reconstruction. But, in the end, I saw no point in adding to the list of possible complications.” She also feared that she would be “jarred by the sight of this alien thing on my chest every time I glanced in the mirror.”

With “questionable densities” in the other breast, and in consultation with Margenthaler, her surgeon, Feibel had both removed. She has no regrets. She’s symmetrical, her scars have healed well, and prosthetics, she said, are easy to wear. “Currently, the big mistake I make is going shopping and forgetting to wear my prosthetics.” Her attitude toward the loss is “something like ‘Too bad.’”

In my case, a lumpectomy from the first cancer meant that I was already asymmetrical. My oncologist advised that radiation on that side made me a poor candidate for reconstruction.
  1. 2013/07/09(火) 16:35:55|
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