Saturday, December 31, 2011

The 50 Most Defining Moments of 2011

Another New Year's Eve, another chance to reflect back. 2011 has been a remarkable year, and I think history will look back on this as a time of intense change and scrutiny. As such, here are what I think will be the fifty most definitive moments of the year that was 2011. Let history affirm my selections...

50. Opposition to the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill
49. Rory McIlroy Cruises To Record-Setting U.S. Open Victory
48. Don Gorske Eats 25,000th Big Mac
47. Last Living American World War I Soldier Dies
46. Boston Bruins Win First Stanley Cup in 39 Years
45. World's First Artificial Organ Transplant
44. Introduction of Stop Online Piracy Act
43. New York v. Strauss-Kahn
42. Graphic Images To Be Displayed On Cigarette Packages
41. Los Angeles Dodgers File For Bankruptcy
40. Rare 5.9 Earthquake Hits Virginia
39. NFL, NBA Lockouts Threaten Cancellation of Seasons
38. NASA Space Shuttle Program Ends 30 Year Run
37. South Carolina Gamecocks Win Back-to-Back College Baseball Titles
36. Joplin Tornado Kills At Least 160
35. Southern Sudan Becomes New Country
34. University of Miami Booster Scandal
33. Death of Troy Davis
32. Indiana State Fair Stage Collapses, Kills 7
31. Death of Dan Wheldon
30. "Friday" by Rebecca Black Becomes Viral Hit
29. U.S. Representative David Wu Resigns Following Alleged Unwanted Sexual Advances
28. Death of Kim-Jong Il
27. Super Bowl XLV Sets Television Ratings Record
26. Amanda Knox Exonerated in Italy of Murdering Roommate
25. Rob Blagovich Sentenced To 14 Years In Federal Prison On Corruption Charges
24. Couple Gets Intimate Amidst Vancouver Riots
23. Super Tornado Outbreak Leaves 322 Dead Across Six States
22. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Ends
21. Japan Upsets U.S. In FIFA Women's World Cup Final
20. New York State Legalizes Gay Marriage
19. Mavericks Extinguish Heat to Win NBA Championship
18. Death of Muammar Gaddafi
17. 9.0 Earthquake In Tohoku, Japan Leaves Untold Amounts of Destruction
16. St. Louis Cardinals Win Epic World Series
15. Royal Wedding Between Prince William and Kate Middleton
14. Twin Terrorist Attacks In Norway Leave 77 Dead
13. U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner Resigns Following Sexting Scandal
12. U.S. Formally Ends Direct Involvement In Iraq War
11. Resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
10. Attempts to Overturn Universal Healthcare in America
9. Debt Ceiling Drama
8. Casey Anthony Found Not Guilty of Murder
7. Attempted Assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords
6. Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal
5. Death of Steve Jobs
4. Fluctuating Global Stock Markets
3. Death of Osama bin Laden
2. Republican GOP Carousel
1. Occupy Wall Street

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Soundtrack

As I've mentioned on here once before, I enjoy listening to music. I enjoy it so much, that back in January 2007, I started keeping records of my favorite songs, albums, and artists for each month. Looking back on these charts of mine years later act as a time capsule which really takes me back to a certain time in my life. I find it very interesting to look back on what a younger version of me thought was "it" and wonder what exactly I was thinking listening to a certain song, album, or artist on a loop.

Anyway, what I've decided as this year winds down is to give y'all an inside peak into my personal vault of favorite songs. What follows are thirteen songs, one for each month plus a bonus track representing my favorite song for 2011, which document a shifting change in my musical interests. Maybe none of these mean anything to you, but when I listen to them, it practically takes me back to that time in my life and what I was feeling. That's the power of great music. And let these tunes be pleasant to your ears, as well.

January: "Baby, Baby" by Amy Grant

February: "Right Now" by Van Halen

March: "Moi... Lolita" by Alizée

April: "Don't Tell Me Lies" by Breathe

May: "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)" by Jason Mraz

June: "Jam" by Michael Jackson

July: "The Living Years" by Mike + The Mechanics

August: "Jesus, He Knows Me" by Genesis

September: "My Sacrifice" by Creed

October: "I'm Not In Love" by 10cc

November: "Paradise" by Coldplay

December: "Laughter In The Rain" by Neil Sedaka

Song of the Year: "L'Alizé" by Alizée

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Picks for ESPN's College Bowl Mania 2011-2012

Ah, yes. My other favorite collegiate postseason.

For twenty four days from mid-December through early January, college football pits 70 teams with winning records against in 35 bowl games. For players, the individual perks that come just for playing in such a game are extravagant, to say the least. For fans, the unique match-ups make for a great excuse to watch even more football as one year ends and another begins.

And what better way for a fan than to have a little fun guessing the winners of each game? That's where ESPN's College Bowl Mania comes in to bring some cheer (or bah humbugs) over the next three and a half weeks.

It's a very simple premise. You pick the winners of each game and, as added pressure, rate the confidence you have in that team to win from 1 to 35, with 35 points representing the most confidence in a team to win and 1 point being the least. The max point total is 630, and the objective, of course, is to score as many points by making the most correct picks. As such, here are my picks for every bowl game this season. Read 'em and weep. (You may have to click on the below image to fully read my picks.)

Let's make it happen!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Excerpt #2 from 'Second Chances'

Click here to read my first excerpt from this book.

(This is another short excerpt from my literary project titled Second Chances. It has been more than two years in the making, and I figure it'll take me a few more before this will eventually materialize into a full-length novel I can publish. In addition, this piece may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition. End disclaimer. Meanwhile, the following features a monologue by the protagonist's father, Arnold, talking to his son, Ronald, about his immediate future. I wrote this piece on Friday, December 9, 2011. Enjoy.)

Arnold began to walk away in disgust, stopping just before the front door and signaling for Ronald to come over from the dining room. He meekly made his way over.

"Do you see this door in front of you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Well," Arnold said, "it's open for you to leave at any minute. I've tried all I could to get logical answers out of you, but all I've got in return is a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I don't know what the color of the sky is in your world, but on Earth, reasonable grown ups base their lives on fact, not whatever feels right in the here and now."

He sighed out of exasperation.

"If there's one thing I'll grant you, it's that you're now a legal adult with minimal restrictions. If you wanna play the lottery, have a smoke, or bang a coed, no one has the right to stop you. But with rights come responsibilities. It's the same deal with Duke. While you've certainly earned the right to attend that school, you've failed to take responsibility on how you're gonna pay for tuition, much less room and board and any other expenses. That, my son, is dangerous thinking.

"And know this, too. If you choose to walk out that door and leave for Durham by week's end, this is the last you'll ever hear from me. As much as I wanna knock some sense into you, I've come to realize that strategy will never work again. Y'know why?"

Ronald shook his head.

"Because you've officially, if not already, entered the age of accountability. I don't know how you can stand there with a straight face and say a timeless principle is 'irrational,' but you must live with your decisions and accept the consequences. If that means going there and getting straddled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt in the name of higher education, don't even think of running back to me to help bail you out. Because I won't answer.

"I'm sorry, son. I can't, in good conscience, allow you to matriculate to Duke. The university may be ready for you, but you're not ready for the university.

"If you want, you can always start off with the local community college on the other side of town. They accept anyone who's got a high school diploma or a GED. Their academic standards may be less... rigorous, to put it mildly, but you'd be learning the same things there that you would at Duke. Plus, it's a whole lot less expensive and more convenient for you and I."

Again, he sighed.

"I don't know what else I can say to enlighten you, other than this little nugget for you to chew on. What would you rather do? Take a world-class eduation with bleak job prospects and no support of any kind, or swallow your pride and work your way back up with nothing to lose? The choice is yours."

Arnold left on that note out the door that had been ajar the whole time. Ronald quickly went back to his room to see his father head for his car and out for a drive. His eyes began to well up again as he sulked back through the hallway and toward the front entrance. He closed the door.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Inside Story Behind The Charleston (S.C.) Waterfront Park

On the corner of Vendue Range and Concord Street in Charleston, South Carolina lay the north entrance to the Waterfront Park. Since the park was dedicated on May 11, 1990 and open for the public, the park has received near universal acclaim. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who oversaw its whole production from 1977 to 1990, called the Waterfront Park "this generation's gift to the future." In 2007, the park won the Landmark Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Type in "Charleston Waterfront Park" on a search engine, and you'll be hard-pressed to find aggregate reviews under 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. The park is simply that astounding.

But there's more to the park than twelve acres of natural landscape. It took a lot of politicking, and a failed attempt for a major airport hub, before the park was completed.

How do I know? My father was an elected official for the Charleston City Council during that time, and he rubbed shoulders with Mayor Riley to see this park through. What follows is his account on how one of Charleston's biggest tourist attractions came to be.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rock On... the Psychological Effects of Bullying

Bullying is a no-win situation, especially for those who have been on the receiving end. It is a phenomenon most commonly associated with school, but bullying has also found its way into the workforce. From a psychological angle, victims of bullying tend to suffer from a number of issues which could drastically interfere with their normal functioning. However, most of the people who have endured the ordeal of bullying go on to lead rich, fulfilling lives. Through it all, those who do get bullied suffer the most but typically become more productive members of society from their experience(s).

Wherever there’s a chance for social interactions, the potential for bullying is present. In the psychological field, bullying is defined as “repeated aggression in which there is a power differential” between two people (Craig & Pepler 86). Generally speaking, bullying is typically associated with school-aged children from kindergarten all the way through high school. The rates for bullying here are alarmingly high, as anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of students either bully or are bullied; this percentage remains constant in many well-developed countries, including Australia, England, and the United States of America (Veenstra et al. 672). As upsetting as that sounds, victims of bullying can (and do) tragically seek revenge against those they deem responsible for their suffering. Since 1997, roughly two-thirds of all school shootings have been executed as a result of bullying (Comer 559). The most infamous instance occurred on April 20, 1999, when high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve other students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves in Littleton, Colorado. Heinous events, like the aforementioned Columbine massacre, carry the assumption that bullying takes place exclusively on school grounds. However, bullying can take place among grown men and women in the workforce. Those whose occupation involves “high job demands and low job resources” are most likely to be victimized (Tuckey et al. 217). This occurs because an individual’s livelihood is at stake if their performance is not up to par. In certain job settings where internal competition is regular, some people may resort to forceful techniques to get what they want, even at the expense of others. But regardless of the environment, the subtle trauma that bullying brings remains unequivocal.

For those who have been victimized, the psychological repercussions are plentiful. School children and teenagers who have been frequent targets of bullying most commonly report “anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints” (Craig & Pepler 87). Even more damning are their abrupt objections about school. Warning signs that children surreptitiously avoid bullies include a sudden loss of interest in academics, hesitation about going to school, and a dismal disposition about themselves (Plestina). If left untreated, children can suffer psychologically in the long term. Those who are frequently bullied in their childhood and adolescence “are at greater risk of suffering from depression and other mental health problems, including schizophrenia” when they hit adulthood (Plestina). However, adults who are bullied at their jobs are not immune from the psychological consequences, either. Those who have reported being bullied in the workforce experience greater anxiety, more physical health problems, less job satisfaction, higher job truancy, and a decreased responsibility to join organizational activities (Tuckey et. Al 215-216). When compared, neither group is at a disadvantage with each other. Fortunately for all bully victims, no matter the age, help is out there.

Despite the stigma bullying presents to its victims, many who have been bullied manage to persevere. Having a strong support system – may it be from family, church, school, and/or professional counselors – can help see bully victims see past their pain. For example, in schools where a bully prevention program was implemented, teachers “felt more positively about working with parents regarding bullying problems” (Craig & Pepler 89). Additionally, those who have been bullied mature faster from their experiences because they are forced to face their problems up front and come to the realization that bullies only act out of callow measures. Children, however, who continue to be victimized by bullies “become increasingly powerless and unable to defend themselves”, and if this persists, it can carry over into their adult lives, where they’ll have a harder time coping with peer-to-peer relationships (Craig & Pepler 86). But under certain circumstances, bullying may even be beneficial. For instance, bullying in the police force helps in “maintaining the pecking order and enforcing discipline within the hierarchy” of different ranking officers (Tuckey et. Al 226). This may be tolerated because being a police officer is a highly stressful job, and some intimidation by the higher ranked officers can help alleviate this omnipresent stress. Either way, bullying can be an effective technique to either learn or teach affected individuals that they are stronger than any derogatory actions pitted against them.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010.

[2] Craig, Wendy M. & Debra J. Pepler. "Understanding bullying: From research to practice." Canadian Psychology, Vol. 48(2): 2007. Pp. 86-93.

[3] Plestina, John. "Bullies & Busses III - School Bullying Can Lead to Serious Adult Problems." Ely Times (NV), 31 Jul. 2008.

[4] Tuckey, Michelle R.; Maureen F. Dollard; Patrick J. Hosking; and Anthony H. Winefield. "Workplace bullying: The role of psychosocial work environment factors." International Journal of Stress Management, Vol. 16(3): 2009. Pp. 215-232.

[5] Veenstra, René; Siegwart Lindenberg; Albertine J. Oldehinkel; Andrea F. De Winter; Frank C. Verhulst; and Johan Ormel. "Bullying and victimization in elementary schools: A comparison of bullies, victims, bully/victims, and uninvolved preadolescents." Developmental Psychology, Vol. 41(4): 2005. Pp. 672-682.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Dialogue Between My Head And My Heart: Can South Carolina Still Win The SEC East?

With their 44-28 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on November 5, 2011, the South Carolina Gamecocks fell to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with three games still to play. For the garnet and black faithful, a seven win season in years past would be considered a success. After winning their first SEC East division title in 2010, anything short of a conference title game appearance or double digit wins is now a disappointment.

Heading into the 2011 college football season, South Carolina was the heavy favorite to repeat as SEC East champs again. But after a stunning conference loss to Auburn and a heartbreaker to Arkansas, the Gamecocks now find themselves half a game behind the surging Georgia Bulldogs (5-1 in the SEC), a team that started 0-2 and many left for dead.

But there is a caveat. Georgia's lone conference loss came against South Carolina, and a tie atop the SEC East would give South Carolina the edge by virtue of winning the head-to-head meeting. South Carolina has one more conference game left, a home game against Florida on November 12. Georgia still has to play Auburn at home on November 12 and Kentucky at home on November 19. A Gamecock win and a Bulldog loss in conference play would clinch the SEC East crown for South Carolina two years running.

Can it happen? Better yet, should it happen? It's something I've debated between myself with no closure in sight...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rock On... the Schizophrenic Stereotype

Negative stereotypes are difficult to overcome, and those afflicted with schizophrenia struggle with this unnecessary label. Among others, schizophrenics are generally identified as dangerous and even violent. Prejudice of this nature persists because the public holds onto farfetched notions about this mental illness. Additionally, portrayals of schizophrenics in contemporary literature have a greater impact on the public at large than in psychological research literature. The only way to change this perception is to improve public competency towards this mental disorder and community health programs treating for schizophrenia. By addressing these faults and taking appropriate measures, the fear of schizophrenia will all but disappear.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Still Music To My Ears

On October 28, 2006, I bought my first album: Faith by George Michael. Five years and 172 albums later (as of this posting), music has given my life a definitive soundtrack for all time.

It has only been recently that my taste in music has been stimulated. In my younger years, I wasn't much of a fan of music. Sure, there were some catchy tunes I heard on the radio, but no one song convinced me to buy the artist's/band's albums and build a steady library. And to be honest, I was okay with that until two chance events happened in 2006.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Lord Help Me, I'm Grieving"

At one end of today, I was sitting in church, jotting down sermon notes from my pastor on a series about grief, and thinking today was gonna be another peaceful Sunday. At another end, I read and saw a terrible story where two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 Indy Car champion Dan Wheldon died from "unsurvivable injuries" he sustained in a fiery fifteen car wreck eleven laps into the final race of the season in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wheldon was just 33 years old. It's all the more tragic considering that Wheldon, a British-born native of St. Petersburg, Florida, is survived by his wife and his two sons, ages two years old and seven months old.

Wow. You don't have to be a racing fan at all to feel remorse for those immediately involved in this tragedy. Well, you gotta at least be human. And have a soul.

At any rate, the death of Dan Wheldon is a reminder of two things just about all of us take for granted: professional race car drivers, especially those in open-wheel racing, risk their lives at every event, and death is imminent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Letter To The Lisbon Girls (Fiction)

The following is a "letter" I penned as the father of the Lisbon girls in The Virgin Suicides as part of an English assignment I had earlier this week. I wrote this piece to convince these girls not to contemplate suicide as a means of dealing with distress, for their youngest sibling, Cecilia, killed herself by jumping out of her second story bedroom and onto a spiked fence. Other pertinent background information to keep in mind was that the setting of this book and subsequent movie is Detroit, Michigan in the early- to mid-1970s. The parents of the Lisbon girls were devout Catholics, and the mother was especially strict. It was my objective to remind these girls, as their father, that God would watch over and safeguard them from harm's way. Enjoy, dear reader.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rock On... Cloning

One of my favorite classical novels is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s a story where Victor Frankenstein creates a superhuman out of body parts to prove that man can manipulate science to transcend natural boundaries. The main underlying premise argues, however, that some scientific endeavors are just better left unfulfilled because the consequences bring more problems than promise. In the same way, I think the cloning of human organs and pets would be a dire case of life imitating art.

As far as scientists in the United States go, I think they have many more practical issues to deal with than in cloning human organs. In general, I am against human cloning of any kind because I believe that desecrates the sanctity of life and opens up a huge Pandora's Box over what could arbitrarily deemed right and wrong. Then again, science is a perpetually progressive field of study that is always looking for the next major breakthrough. But cloning human organs is one step too far.

For instance, one scientific approach involves cloning an exact replica of another person for the sake of having a perfect match if an organ transplant is needed [3]. It sounds like a fantastic idea because it virtually guarantees an individual won’t suffer from the rejection of their own organs, should they need them in an emergency. However, several ethical concerns are raised by this notion. Among others, cloning a human being to harvest back up organs would "violate the clone's individual autonomy and liberty", as well as it's Thirteenth Amendment right to be protected from being treated like a piece of property [3]. Another possible option scientists have looked at is to create genetically modified pigs in order to produce organs suitable for transplant in humans [1]. The problem with this idea is that pigs and humans are not one and the same anatomically. They may closely emulate each other, but pig organs work best with pigs and human organs work best with humans. Whatever their m.o., there’s bound to be more concerns than closure.

On a related issue, I think pet cloning is as absurd as cloning human organs. I love domestic animals, but I'm not a fan of having copies of an original pet. The main reason I disagree with pet cloning is because the animal in question has no say in the process. It's unethical, really. For instance, I have a cat, and if I wanted to replicate him, he can't object and tell me I'm violating his rights. He may hiss and emit blood-curdling screams, but those can be easily misinterpreted by the people looking to clone him.

As it turns out, I'm far from alone in thinking this way. An independent study conducted by the American Anti-Vivisection Society found that 80% of respondents were opposed to pet cloning and 84% objected to companies selling genetically engineered animals as pets [2]. Even though pets are subordinate to humans, they're just as real and don't deserve to undergo a process that does little, if any, long-term benefit to anyone.

Not only are cloned pets controversial, they carry a hefty price tag, too. Some go for up to $50,000 [2]. I think if I were to spend that much money to keep a pet from my past, I probably have unresolved psychological issues only a professional counselor can correct.

In the end, cloning of pets, like the cloning of human organs, is a novel idea that's better off a rough draft in the minds of inquisitive scientists.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] "Cloning Fact Sheet." Human Genome Project Information. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, 11 May 2009. Web.

[2] "Ethics." American Anti-Vivisection Society, n.d. Web.

[3] Hilmert, Laura J. "Cloning Human Organs: Potential Sources and Property Implications." Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 77 (363). Pp. 363-386. Web.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock On... Religion and Mental Health

Beyond all the dogma and traditions, faith is the cornerstone for religious beliefs of all creeds. When those beliefs are positive, an individual can feel confident to do all things through a deistic being (e.g., God) with it as their strength. As a result, one can improve their mental health simply by putting their faith in faith. However, in a secular field of study like psychology, positive religious beliefs have been criticized for being narrow, subjective, and abnormal. Even various polls and studies have provided checkered results for the psychological benefits of religious beliefs. But with an ever-growing acceptance of religion as part of an individual’s lifestyle, disciples of psychology must recognize the potential for productive mental change of Biblical proportions as a result of religious beliefs.

The main reason positive religious beliefs can help one’s mental health is because it provides an individual with a sense of hope and meaning in life. By believing in a higher, deistic order, one can put confidence in that being for spiritual guidance, in both this life and the afterlife. The best part is that an individual need not belong to a religious community to feel better about their life. For example, one study conducted on 271 male and female psychiatric patients, who also met the criteria for major depression or bipolar disorder, found a negative correlation between an increase in religious beliefs and depression/hopelessness (Murphy 1104). In fact, during Murphy’s study, church attendance and private practice - the other two independent variables - actually increased depression and hopelessness, albeit by a few degrees (1104). While not clearly indicative of the entire population, this particular study does corroborate one thing: faith alone is powerful enough to positively influence an individual‘s outlook on life.

Still, it is not merely enough for an individual to have religious behavior; religion must also become one’s way of living in order to achieve greater psychological benefits. By attending more formal religious services in life, one develops a stronger religious social identity, thereby maintaining “higher levels of subjective psychological well-being” than those whose participation in the religious community remains stagnant (Greenfield & Marks 255-6). In addition, having a strong faith can keep people from being swayed by less commonly accepted beliefs. One study conducted by Kia Aarnio and Marjaana Lindeman of over 3,000 individuals found a negative correlation between having strong religious convictions and believing in “paranormal claims” (5). Like many things in life, hard work is necessary to achieve success, and enlightenment in religion is no different.

Historically speaking, though, religion and psychology were incompatible for the longest time. This dissonance came about because religion depends primarily on faith and hardly, if any, on objective findings. In the twentieth century, for instance, clinicians saw individuals with an adamant sense of religious beliefs as “more suspicious, irrational, guilt-ridden, and unstable than others and were less able to cope with life‘s difficulties” (Comer 73). Their school of thought wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims religion brought upon by society. Likewise, religious leaders wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims psychology brought upon by society. In fact, Agostino Gemelli, an Italian psychiatrist, fell back on his background as a Catholic priest to denounce any form of psychological treatment, specifically Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (Farr et al. 1825). But as the twentieth century progressed, religion became a viable force once again, and the field of psychology had no choice but to embrace its impact.

Nowadays, religion has been accepted into the field of psychology, though discrepancies remain. The big objection comes from clinicians, who have remained skeptical about religion in mental health because religion provides highly subjective viewpoints into an already soft science. In 1990, for instance, the American Psychiatric Association Committee on Religion and Psychiatry released a set of strict guidelines so psychiatrists could not impose their own religious beliefs toward their patients (O’Connor 611). The amendment kept personal beliefs incognito while still openly discussing a patient’s choice of religion in their rehabilitation, if needed. Even then, experts remain divided on how to address the issue of religion in the professional setting. For example, one study of psychiatrists in the United States show that while 90% of respondents are okay about discussing religious beliefs with patients, 82% feel religion and spirituality can cause “increased patient suffering” (Eichelman 1774). Such an anomaly sounds farfetched, but this paradoxical notion is preferred when exploring diverse issues within different religions practiced in various cultures. The irony of it all is that psychology thrives on controversies like these, so when the debate over religious beliefs became more commonplace, it was sacrilegious to not discuss this issue with conflicting viewpoints. Call it an intellectual purgatory, but this amicable stalemate between religion and contemporary psychology appears to stay until the end of time.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Aarnio, Kia & Marjaana Lindeman. “Religious People and Paranormal Believers: Alike or Different?” Journal of Individual Differences, Vol. 28 (1), 2007. pp. 1-9. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[2] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010: Chapter 3.

[3] Eichelman, Burr. “Review of Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec., 2007. pp. 1774-1775. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[4] Farr, Curlin A., Ryan E. Lawrence, Shaun Odell, Marshall H. Chin, John D. Lantos, Harold G. Koeing, and Keith G. Meador. “Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine: Psychiatrists’ and Other Physicians’ Differing Observations, Interpretations, and Clinical Approaches.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec. 2007. pp. 1825-1831. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[5] Greenfield, Emily A. & Nadine F. Marks. “Religious Social Identity as an Explanatory Factor for Associations Between More Frequent Formal Religious Participation and Psychological Well-Being.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 17 (3), Feb. 2007. pp. 245–259. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

[6] Murphy, Patricia E., et al. "The relation of religious belief and practices, depression, and hopelessness in persons with clinical depression." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 68 (6), Dec. 2000. pp. 1102-1106. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[7] O’Connor, Shawn & Brian Vandenberg. “Psychosis or Faith? Clinicians’ Assessment of Religious Beliefs.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 73 (4), Aug. 2005. Pp. 610-616. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What In The World Is Growing In My Front Yard?

Yes, it's been a week and a half since my last post.

Yes, I've been busy with schoolwork all this time.

No, I haven't completely forgotten about this blog.

However, I finally got around to asking myself what's the name of a certain plant or flower or whatever it is growing in a garden of mine. I don't know what it is because it was here before I moved to my current residence. It would surprise me none if it's a southwestern variant, especially considering it's growing in a field that resembles cacti, but again, I haven't clue.

So I've decided to take to the World Wide Web (old school, I know) and ask you, the reader, if you know a thing about the thing that's been budding up a lot in recent memory. I've attached some photos below to help in this... investigation.

Drop a line or several if you know what it is, and many thanks for any helpful suggestions!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

What else is there to be said on the tenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil?

It's almost incomprehensible to think that they've happened, but so much so that it's been ten years since it happened, and it's devastation has impacted our lives to this very day, from an ongoing war in the Middle East to heightened security measures when going through airports.

I bet you've no doubt seen, read, and heard countless of tales regarding what happened on September 11, 2001, so I won't bore you to tears about how the attacks is my generation's equivalent to the Vietnam War, or something along those lines. So I'll say this.

If you're reading this and you remember where you were when 9/11 happened, feel free to leave your account below in a response to this post.

I'll start off by saying that ten years ago for me, I was attending fifth grade in Florida. I stayed home from school for a second consecutive day because I had a relentless fever, and I was ready to go back to school the following day. I was watching Oswald on Nickelodeon when my mother came in the room a little after 9 AM and changed the channel to some news program. I didn't understand the severity of two towers with smoke billowing out of them until I saw them collapsed and realized nearly 3,000 people died in those horrific attacks. That, to me, was the end of my childhood innocence. From that day onward, I was thrust into the cold harsh realities the world has to offer. That was how I saw it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rock On... Mass Madness

For as long as there have been superstitions and uncertainties about the unknown, mass madness has been prevalent. It is a phenomenon both documented in the field of psychology and popularized by contemporary media. Threats such as weapons of mass destruction and end-of-the-world speculations have helped fuel bouts of mass madness in recent memory. Other isolated, minor incidents have resulted in scores of people become physically sick from these overblown events. In addition, technological advancements have been used to perpetuate the hollow claims of fear found in the preceding examples and in cases yet to develop. Due to its sensitivity, treating mass madness has become an arduous task, but it can be handled appropriately by seeing these events as just psychological abnormalities toward changes of unfounded magnitude.

One of the first outbreaks of mass madness of the twenty first century came shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. When the United States of America declared war on al-Qaeda, talks for the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) took precedent. WMDs soon dominated newsprint, news television, and other forms of news media throughout the country. However, talks of these nuclear weapons brought forth a fear through the media and governmental agencies that WMDs would ultimately be used to arbitrarily annihilate untold numbers of people. Upon closer inspection, this mindset of Armageddon fails on two levels, psychologically speaking. First, history had shown little, if any, significant impact on civilians when faced with WMDs. Before and after World War II, for example, the British government and U.S. Civil Defense planners (respectively) assumed German bomb raids would bring about chronic mass madness in various European countries. In actuality, research on individuals who lived through these attacks in England, Germany, and Japan provided “little evidence of mass panic incidents” (Pastel 44). Second, long-term mass madness based on weapons alone proves to be nothing more than a façade. Professor Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry once remarked that “when psychological weapons [of mass destruction] lose their novelty, they lose their primary potency, which is their capacity to cause fear” (Moscrop 1023). In time, this realization came to light as the United States braced itself for war in the Middle East. The hype surrounding WMDs came to pass and was relegated as a hollow threat.

A more dynamic form of mass madness today involves the alleged apocalypse to occur on December 21, 2012. After the Y2K scare went out with a whimper rather than a bang at the turn of the millennium, the next end-of-the-world event focused on the year 2012, which is the final year according to the Mayan calendar. Various rumors and studies have led to conflicting results about this finding, and the attention this supposed event should occur allowed for the media and pop culture to capitalize on its potential, going so far as to release a film in 2009 based on this event. But, by trivializing a topic of serious matter into tabloid fodder, a sense of uneasiness comes upon the general population in the form of moral panic through the media. News outlets understand the only way to entice their audience is to lure them into a psychological threshold, even if it means using moral panic as the “central means” through which to transmit events (Hier 331). In the long run, this strategy will lose steam when this event passes, nothing happens, and the exponential growth of mass madness sharply declines. Like many other doomsday tales before it, the 2012 phenomenon is set to become the next failed prophecy.

Unlike the two preceding examples, certain events as the cause of mass madness can cross over and affect a collection of individual’s health and well-being. These typically remain isolated to a particular region, and the physical ailments that befall this group are indicative of a phenomenon called mass sociogenic illness. In one instance, a group of over 800 schoolchildren in Jordan became ill from what they believed were side effects of a tetanus shot, even though a substantial amount were affected more from a psychogenic illness than they would with a shot (Weir 36). Yet, this is not uncommon. Approximately 50% of all episodes of mass madness leading into mass sociogenic illness take place in schools, and “nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness or lightheadedness” are the primary symptoms for these incidents (Pastel 44). The cause for these outbreaks remains largely unknown, but after a few days, normalcy returns.

Regardless of the effect, the main difference between episodes of mass madness then and now is the medium with which it travels. Historically, the most notable example of mass madness came about during the Middle Ages when people claimed to have suffered from either tarantism or lycanthopy and acted as if they were possessed by the devil (Comer 10). Like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, this should come as no surprise when taken into context. As the church grew into power, they began to oversee all facets, including what influenced individuals to behave abnormally. If people were productive, they were deemed good stewards of the Lord. If not, and they behaved in certain manners detrimental to society, they were seen as lunatics and ostracized from the rest of a God-fearing society. Fast forward several hundred years into the twenty first century and things have become much different. Now, the church has taken a backseat to mainstream media for control of the status quo. And unlike the church in the Middle Ages, the media can transmit information within seconds across the globe. This new wave of distributing news through various forms of modern technology has proven to be more of a blessing than a bane. But when used to broadcast fear under suspicious circumstances, mass madness gets passed down to an unsuspecting public quicker than ever before.

Explaining mass madness is no easy task either, since individuals who go through these episodes have difficulty remembering what they did. For example, a sample assessment was conducted on patients who suffered from delusions at an intervention center in the United Kingdom. 75% of the participants reported no alternative responses toward their delusion because it “was their only explanation” for why they believed in what got them into an intervention center in the first place (Freeman & Garety, et. al 677). This is a scary number to take into consideration because this shows that, typically, the only people that believe in their delusions are themselves. The fact then that large numbers of people can potentially share the same case becomes coincidental. Broadening the horizons to incorporate every delusionary individual into the same realm for further psychological analysis would be downright crazy. Thus, it is important to treat each person suffering from mass madness under individual circumstances.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010: Chapter 11.

Freeman, Daniel & Philippa A. Garety, David Fowler, Elizabeth Kuipers & Paul E. Bebbington, and Graham Dunn. “Why Do People With Delusions Fail to Choose More Realistic Explanations for Their Experiences? An Empirical Investigation.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 72 (4), Aug. 2004. pp. 671-680. PsycArticles. Web. 6 Sep. 2010.

Hier, Sean P. “Conceptualizing Moral Panic through a Moral Economy of Harm.” Journal of Critical Sociology, Vol. 28 (3), May 2002. pp. 311-34. Web. 6 Sep. 2010.

Moscrop, Andrew. “Mass Hysteria is Seen as Main Threat from Bioweapons.” British Medical Journal, Vol. 323 (7320), 3 Nov. 2001. pp. 1023. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

Pastel, Ross H. “Collective Behaviors: Mass Panic and Outbreaks of Multiple Unexplained Symptoms.” Military Medicine, Vol. 166 (12 Suppl.), Dec. 2001. pp. 44-46. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

Weir, Erica. “Mass Sociogenic Illness.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 172 (1), 4 Jan. 2005. pp. 36. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stopgap #2

I know what you're thinking. Did I publish six posts this month or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this confusion, I've kinda forgotten myself. (Turns out I've only done four this month, counting this one. Hmmm...) So you got to ask yourself one question: Where have you been all this time, man?!

Good question, me. To which I'll say the following. I've been busy the past few weeks prepping, and eventually pushing, myself to continue a little thing I'd like to call college. On the positive side, I have no more a.m. classes this semester! Or possibly next! Hooray for good mornings!

I'll also say this much. I'm not dead (yet), and I've actually got several other posts already typed up to be uploaded later this year. [Here's a hint. They all have (Academic) Works Cited at the bottom.] Plus, now that I'm starting to work on all cylinders, I can practically feel all those creative juices come flowing through me again.

But was this wait necessary? I'm not entirely sure.

When I started up Rock Talk earlier this New Year's Day, I was uploading content at a clip of one post every two to three days. And ever since I got out for summer vacation in early May, I've just about gone in a writing rut. I've struggled to write meaningful content, save my takes on the South Carolina Gamecocks' incredible title runs in the 2010 and 2011 College World Series, as well as two articles on Casey Anthony following her not-guily verdict (here and here). Maybe I needed this time off. After all, for a hobby like this, devoting so much time and energy after several months can really take its toll.

For those of you still reading this, you're the reason why I write. I thank you hanging around long enough to give just another face in the crowd his time in your life, if only for a couple of seconds. It's that kind of impact I wish my writing will have on a bigger scale someday. But for now, it's just me, myself, and Irene far, far away from the southeast.

Time to get back to doing what I do best.

Click here for Stopgap #1.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Leaving Aggression On The Field

In the world's most popular sport on the world's biggest stage, the pressure to win is paramount. For German soccer forward Birgit Prinz, she had the biggest burden to carry. As the longtime face of her country's national team, they were hosts of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and looking to win an unprecedented third consecutive title. Had they reached the championship game in Frankfurt, it would've been held in Prinz's hometown where she also played professionally for 1. FFC Frankfurt. It couldn't have been scripted any better, but more questions than answers were raised by her performance, or lack thereof.

After failing to score in close one goal victories in Germany's first two opening round games, commentators close to the German team urged for head coach Silvia Neid to pull Prinz out of the starting line-up. At the time, Prinz was 33 years old and arguably the most prolific scorer in the history of women's soccer. She was to Germany what Abby Wambach is to the United States. But unlike Wambach, Prinz was eventually benched for the final game in group play against France. She was also benched for the quarterfinals, where Germany was stunned by eventual champion Japan in the final minutes of extra time. She played a total of 109 minutes and had zero goals in the tournament.

It's difficult to play down the role of an aging superstar, like Prinz, without a media backlash. After 128 goals in 214 apperances for the German national team, one would think that Prinz would be given the benefit of the doubt, especially in her home country. But with the emergence of a few up-and-coming German soccer players, coupled with a right ankle injury she suffered weeks before the Women's World Cup, Prinz became an easy target. Though she later admitted her poor play warranted a benching, she referred to the media criticism as a "witch-hunt."

What she went through was unique due to her skills and circumstances, but the way she dealt with the negative criticism can be applicable to just about any athlete. When it comes to leaving aggression on the field, it's ultimately best not to take any criticism too personal. Whether one plays an individual or team sport, the overall record one shares means nothing to critics. They will find fault with practically anything one does, so it's wise to avoid giving them additional reasons to overanalyze one's game. It's equally important not to let emotions, positive or negative, get the best of one's attitude. Discouraging comments can bring unnecessary attention, but statements made after an important win can prove troublesome, too. Finally, understand that the game is just a game. Sports certainly play an entertaining role, but life is more than just scoring goals or winning championships. However, the life lessons learned in sports are invaluable. By appropriately dealing with criticism now, one won't be intimidated by the pressures of life later.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Want To Get Noticed? Go Bare

(The following is a short piece I wrote for my brief stint on a freelance site, only for it to be rejected and rewritten. I understand it reeks of a sales pitch. Just take a few seconds of your time to read my shameless advert, and be thankful I'm not doing this for a living. You're welcome.)

When wearing cologne, keep the scent to a minimum. Not only can too much prove overpowering, it's a sign of insecurity that anyone can pick up on, males and females alike. To achieve that brisk, desirable smell, keep the can or bottle six to eight inches away when applying your fragrance. Allow each spray to gently waft over your desired area before you get dressed because your skin can absorb and retain the scent longer than your clothes. For best results, aim for your chest, neck, forearms and undersides of your wrists with only one spray each.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Will The U.S. Ever Default On Its Debt?

Had Democratic and Republican members of Congress not voted to approve a deal to raise the debt ceiling on Monday, today may have been a reprise of Black Tuesday. But they did, and it won't. For now.

Neither side got what they fully wanted, but the deal was a compromise between President Barack Obama and leading Congressional Republicans in a day and age where the word bipartisan has become a sign of weakness. In sum, it will allow the United States to borrow up to $2.1 trillion and cut $2.4 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. Notable additions include that of a new twelve member committee to recommend further spending cuts and a proposed amendment that would require the federal government to have a balanced budget, a lack of which has raised this country's debt ceiling time and time again.

For those of you reading this who didn't know or didn't care about the consequences of the United States defaulting on its debt at this time, here's the sobering truth. Those dependent on federal aid, specifically the elderly, disabled, and armed forces, would have had to wait weeks, even months, for compensation. Federal employees and contractors would have their paychecks suspended, as well. Interest rates on mortgages, loans, and credit cards would've skyrocketed. Stock markets, both in this country and the world over, would take a nosedive. Take all that, combined with the fact that the U.S. economy is moving upward at a snail's pace of 1.3% right now, and this country's financial reputation would've been permanently tarnished.

But most Americans aren't upset that a debt deal was passed. Its the political grudge matches that have got them fired up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Bummer

(I'm back, y'all!

Before I move on to the topic at hand, I'd like to briefly say that the past 15 days have been a test of my will and stamina. And I'm in no mood to write when all my energy has been zapped by noon. That's why my blog has been stagnant during this time, if anyone out there cares. But as I was saying...)

It's late July, and this is a unique crossroad over the journey of a calendar year.

Whether entering the next grade up in elementary school, college, or somewhere in between, most children, teenagers, and young adults across the nation will be a slave to academia in the next month or so. Those three little words, "Back To School", are a gold rush for many stores (as I'm typing this, #VZWBack2School is trending on Twitter), but are treated like fool's gold for their target audience. Just the idea of shopping for new clothes and school supplies sounds like nails going across a chalkboard. Ah, the horror!

Surely, you must sympathize for those caught in this perpetual rut for yet another year. I mean, who in their right mind would trade in three months of relaxtion for nine months of grueling work on a whim? No one, that's who! And at this time of year, the mood has shifted from joyful innocence to a gradual discontent.

Every day from here on out is one day closer to that first day of school. Oh, sure, that's always been the case since school let out for summer, but no one (again) in their right mind would think about the forthcoming school year in May, or June, or the first half of July. But now that the second half is almost at a close, it'd be dumb not to think about learning anew.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Does Science Matter?

With scientific discoveries come an enhanced quality of human life and greater public interest from those findings. In the field of clinical pharmacology, for instance, scientists in this specialty have become trailblazers by developing better drug treatments. Over the last 50 years, their research vastly improved the efficiency of a drug's effect and duration in the body, measurements to track the progress of a given medication, and follow-ups to treat potential side effects [2]. Had it not been for their tireless efforts, many people who need medication today may either not be alive or still suffering from their ailments.

This is one instance why science is still held in high regard today, despite its lack of appropriate coverage in the media. According to the 2008 General Social Survey, more than 80% of Americans were "very" or "moderately" intrigued by current scientific discoveries [3]. Even though most people are not actively involved in scientific research, the preceding statistic shows that they're still curious to find out what is being uncovered. Science may not be interesting in America now as it was during the Cold War, but its efforts to find solutions to numerous, contemporary problems keeps science relevant.

However, for all its blessings, the bane of scientific discoveries means that people's livelihood will be subjected to greater threats than they could've foreseen. Some opponents of science claim that field of study to be "intrinsically evil" because its discoveries either permit unwarranted corruption or destruction with newfound scientific aid [4]. Indeed, scientific studies can be manipulated to sound beneficial, when in fact they are dangerous, possibly even fatal. For example, controversy arose in 2007 when the Food and Drug Administration kept Avandia, a pill for diabetics, on the market even though several studies found the drug caused adverse cardiac reactions in up to 43% of users compared to those who took placebos or similar medication [1]. A scientific discovery of this magnitude should've raised serious red flags and never been approved for treatment in the first place. Still, the FDA's insistence to keep the drug available shows the audacity one will do to sweep any malignant issues under the rug, especially when they stand to make a profit. As long as science continues to generate positive and negative implications with its findings, addressing its role in society will remain a checkered affair.

Ultimately, science matters because its results affect many facets of life, from fighting the common cold to fighting various types of cancer. This relationship between science and society is not an unrequited love affair; both need each other so the circle of life will keep moving forward. But, it's not just clinical pharmacology making a difference. Many fields, such as physics and ecology, play an important role in people's lives by offering applicable insight into the world they live in.

Most of the time, new findings corroborate or provide alternative explanations for falsifiable hypotheses as part of the scientific method. Other times, such discoveries are not pleasant to hear – like the Avandia case – and skeptics will subsequently excoriate anything related to science. Nonetheless, to reject every scientific finding would be as nearsighted as the Catholic Church once was when they thought Galileo's theory of a heliocentric universe was heresy. Simply put, without science, there is no progress.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Calabresi, Massimo and Alice Park. "After Avandia: Does the FDA Have a Drug Problem?" Time. 12 Aug. 2010. Web.

[2] Dollery, Colin Terence. "The Scientific Contribution of Clinical Pharmacology." European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Vol. 64 (2), 3 Jan. 2008. Pp. 99-106. Springer Berlin/Heidelberg. Web.

[3] "Information Sources, Interest, and Involvement." Science and Engineering Indicators 2010. National Science Board, Jan. 2010. Web.

[4] Siegfried, Tom. "Ease of Destruction Poisons Society's Affair with Science." Dallas Morning News 2 Mar. 1998: 7D. NewsBank. Web.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Casey Anthony Is Better Off A Free Woman

Casey Anthony, the 25-year old Floridian mother who was found not guilty this past Tuesday in the death of her two-year old daughter, Caylee, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday, July 7, 2011 for providing misleading information to police. But considering she's been incarcerated for roughly three years from the time of her initial arrest to her acquittal on a first degree murder charge (among others), the judge has ruled that she be released from the Orange County Jail on July 13 the following week. She was also ordered to pay $4,618 in various fines and costs related to her criminal trial.

Ever since her acquittal, Casey Anthony has received several deals to keep her name in the limelight, ranging from books, movies, and even pornography (though the latter offer was rescinded within hours of its proposal).

For most people, it's almost incomprehensible to believe that she'll walk away from prison practically unscathed. Okay, okay, she spent three formative years of her life away from the general public. But the rallying cry amongst the majority of American society has been one of injustice, that the punishment didn't fit the crime.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Did Media Scrutiny Acquit Casey Anthony?

At approximately 2:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday, July 5, 2011, the fate of 25-year old Casey Marie Anthony was in the hands of twelve jurors in an Orlando, Florida courtroom. Casey Anthony stood trial for the murder of her two-year old daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. Allegedly, Casey drugged Caylee with chloroform and suffocated her to death around mid-June 2008. In addition, Casey waited a month before reporting Caylee missing, during which time Caylee's body was stashed in Casey's car trunk (allegedly). Caylee's skeletal remains were later discovered in a wooded area in December 2008, and a subsequent autopsy ruled her death a homicide.

Initially, Casey Anthony was jailed for several misdemeanors, ranging from lying to police about her employment with Universal Studios, to obstruction of a criminal investigation, to forgery of checks and illicit use of a friend's credit card. That was in July and August 2008. But by mid-October of that year, she was formally indicted by a Florida grand jury of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated child abuse, and four counts of providing misleading information to police. She pleaded not guilty to all charges. If she was found guilty, especially on the first degree murder charge, Casey Anthony likely would've been sentenced to death.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ten More Nights In Omaha: That Same Fan's Take Toward Back-To-Back Titles

"Line drive, right field, base hit! South Carolina wins the College World Series!"

With that statement by ESPN announcer Mike Patrick on June 29, 2010, the South Carolina Gamecocks closed out the final College World Series game at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, christening a new era for both the program and the Series.

As I explained earlier in Faulknerian prose, the whole athletic program at the University of South Carolina prior to the 2010 College World Series struggled mightily to win a major national championship, save the women's outdoor track & field team in 2002. And in the three big sports (football, men's basketball, and baseball), the Gamecocks had been close, closer, and closest to winning that elusive title, always falling short.

But on that endless summer night one year ago, the fortune of Gamecock athletics changed forever. In so doing, the pressure to come back to Omaha and win at a new stadium - TD Ameritrade Park - was enormous for head coach Ray Tanner and his team.

In the weeks before the 2010 College World Series ended, seven Gamecocks were taken in the MLB Draft, and three of them would go on to start their professional careers. They were senior starting pitcher Blake Cooper, junior starting pitcher Sam Dyson, and junior right fielder Whit Merrifield. All three played a critical role in putting the Gamecocks in position to win the school's first major men's athletic title. Cooper recorded ten strikeouts and allowed only three hits through eight and one-thirds innings in Game 1 of the final round against UCLA. Dyson pitched two quality starts that saw the Gamecocks win on both occasions to stave off elimination in Omaha. And of course, Merrifield became an instant Gamecock legend by driving home the championship winning run in Game 2 of the College World Series finals.

Even with their departures, the whole team was practically back in their bid to become the first team since the 2007 Oregon State Beavers to repeat as national champions in college baseball. Notable returnees included senior second baseman Scott Wingo, junior center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., junior starting pitcher Michael Roth, sophomore first baseman Christian Walker, and sophomore closer Matt Price. This team had no intentions to fall short of a return trip to Omaha, and their play on the field proved it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Something's Queer About The Homosexual Movement, Part II

If you haven't done so, please read Part I before continuing. Thank you.

Homosexuality went from practical obscurity in as late as the mid-twentieth century to a publicly endorsed media circus in this day and age. The main reason for this abrupt spike in the approval of homosexual behavior stems from said media. Executives in print, radio, television, and movie industries understand that they have a vast influence over a captive audience and what they see, hear, and watch. These executives know it, and the homosexual community knows it, too. Oftentimes, the media is more influential than the school, church, and even one's family. As such, it doesn't take much to add two and two together and realize that normalizing illicit behaviors en masse will eventually tear down what once were unshakable values. The staining of the American fabric that homosexuality brought came in no small part to the gradual portrayal of homosexuals as freedom fighters and their heterosexual counterparts as bigots.

Perhaps no greater medium is indicative of this than television. The average American spends nearly three hours per day watching television and, unless you're into educational programming or CBN, are bound to stumble upon homosexual characters/themes at some point. Today, MTV leads the way in devoting prime time coverage of the homosexual lifestyle per year at 207.5 hours, which is equivalent to 42% of their programming. MTV has long been notorious for airing programs that condone drunkenness and fornication, so this is nothing that's too surprising on their part. But what's more surprising are the underlying influences that practically shove these representations down their audience's throats. While there may be no conclusive evidence that any one individual or sponsor directly encourages the spread of homosexuality, I find it more than coincidental that certain stations who back homosexual ideologies are themselves backed by homosexual organizations.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ode to Michael Jackson

Dear Michael Jackson,

As a Thriller, you may have been Off The Wall, but you were never Bad or Dangerous. You told us to look at the Man In The Mirror if we want to Heal The World. You told us it's important to Beat It, Jam, Scream, Cry, Smile, and Keep The Faith. And whether you're Black Or White, The Way You Make Me Feel has turned you into Another Part Of Me. You Rock My World. And you were Gone Too Soon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ten Nights In Omaha: A Fan's Take On An Improbable Run To A National Title

On the eve of yet another forthcoming College World Series, I have a sudden impulse to give my own firsthand account about the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks and the week and a half long journey that culminated in the school's first major athletic title. But first, some context.

As stated on here and my Twitter account, I am a South Carolinian, born and bred. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand up when my home state is mentioned in a positive light. By extension, my loyalty to the University of South Carolina is as much a part of me as are my green eyes and wavy, sandy brown hair. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I've had memories. I've also donned the garnet and black associated with the school, too. And with the latter, those colors have long held an ignominious distinction with their athletic program.

Leading up to the 2010 College World Series, the South Carolina Gamecocks (as a whole) were always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.

In football, they've only won one conference title: the ACC in 1969. By the way, their football program dates back to 1892. It took them until 1995 to win their first bowl game, and they once lost 23 consecutive games between the 1998 and 1999 seasons. True, they did produce a Heisman trophy winner in running back George Rogers in 1980. And yeah, things are looking better heading into this fall, but Gamecock football has historically trended downward as the year neared its end.

In men's basketball, their shining moments spanned one decade from the late '60s to the mid '70s. In that time, Frank McGuire coached the Gamecocks to a 205-65 regular season record and three consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 1971 to 1973. Since then, they've fallen off the map, but they regained relevancy in recent memory, including back-to-back NIT titles in 2004 and 2005. Then again, who cares about the NIT? Just the bridesmaid.

In baseball, however, they've had their biggest chances to lay claim to a national title but failed to capitalize. The Gamecocks first shot came in 1975, their first appearance in the College World Series, where they lost in the championship game to the Texas Longhorns. South Carolina was coached by native son and former New York Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, who turned the program around practically overnight from his first year coaching in 1970. After the 1976 season, Richardson left and June Raines took the reins to steer the Gamecocks into national prominence. They went back to the College World Series in 1977, where again they lost in the championship game, this time to the Arizona State Sun Devils. They made it back to Omaha, Nebraska – the site of the College World Series – thrice in the 1980s and nearly every year in that decade for the NCAA Tournament preceding the College World Series. In 1997, Ray Tanner became the new head coach, and the baseball program really took off from there. With the exception of two, the Gamecocks reached the NCAA Tournament every year Tanner has led the team. In their first trip back to the College World Series with Tanner in 2002, the Gamecocks once again played in the championship game, where again they lost to Texas. The following year, the final round became a best-of-three series that stands today. South Carolina was eliminated after three games in 2003 and fell one victory short of having a championship rematch with the Longhorns in 2004, and that was the last time they made it to the College World Series until last year.

Somehow, someway, in spite of all the bad luck Gamecock baseball suffered when the lights shone brightest, 2010 just felt different.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How To Tell If Someone Is Saved

Do you know what's gonna happen to you when you die? For three-quarters of Americans, Heaven is their destination because that many people identified themselves as Christians in a 2008 report by the American Religious Identification Survey. Despite a ten percent drop from nearly two decades ago at the time of the report (1990), 76% is still a healthy percentage of people who have admitted, believed, and confessed that the Christian God is the one true God and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

Then again, there's a difference between a professing Christian and a practicing Christian.

It's easy to call yourself one when you go to church regularly, donate a percentage of your income to the church or charity, and say all the right things to the right people in the right settings. But Christianity is different. It's not what you do, it's how you do it that speaks volumes about your character. Anybody can put up a front, but only a true, biblical Christian will tear down that façade and do the aforementioned activities at will without a hitch.

So, how can you spot fact from fiction? Well, shy of having the Man upstairs Himself explicitly tell you, the answer is not that black and white. The next best thing to do is to evaluate the person you think lives not by the Christian faith based on my top-five criteria below. Ask yourself...

1) Do They Have A Change Of Heart?
The Christian way of life is like metamorphosis. People start out – figuratively speaking – as fat, ugly catepillars. In time, they build a cocoon, and here is where Jesus makes His entrance into their hearts... if they let Him. But should they do so, they'll emerge a beautiful butterfly, soaring to new heights on the wings of faith.

What I hope you get from this cheesy analogy is that being a Christian changes you from the inside out. WWJD? doesn't become a cliché acronym, it becomes a practical way of living. No longer will life be focused on carnal pleasures nor monetary desires nor retribution. No, there are greater purposes worth pursuing.

All of a sudden, people who're truly saved will want to read their Bible, want to go to church, want to get involved in mission trips, and want to spread the Gospel to all the corners of the world. 'Coz in the end, that's the true calling in life for those who desire the Lord. One may have their limitations, but that should never stop them from wanting to do good.

2) Do They Love As They Live?
One of the central themes in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, is in God's love for humankind. People love because God loved us first. And it's more than just sexual love (eros), one of the four types of love. There's familial love (storge), friendly love (philia), and unconditional love (agape). In this day and age, most people who are non-Christians or Christians in name only will pick one type of love, usually eros, and use that to measure their successes (or failures) in life. True Christians will not champion one over the other, but rather, they will seek all four to play an active role in their lives.

This is not to say that people can't have their dislikes and disagreements between themselves and others. It just means that, in spite of each other's differences, there's a sense of respect that translates into one of four types of love because every human being is an equal, so to habitually rebuke anyone for no just cause shows an absence of true love. They simply have no empathy, no heart.

Perhaps the easiest way to test this out is to surround the individual in question with a domestic animal. As I mentioned earlier, people can act real well in front of each other. But put someone up against a pet, and their true colors will show. Sure, some people may have a dislike for certain animals due to allergies or repressed feelings, but it's impossible for one to genuinely loathe any pet without showing the baseness of their soul. If one can't treat a defenseless animal with dignity and respect, how can they truly love a fellow human being on any level? In short, they can't because it's not there and it will never be there without the love of God in their heart.

3) Do They Have Nothing To Hide?
Okay, technically, this is difficult to define, since everyone has their own skeletons in the closet. What I mean to say is that true Christians live with no overarching shame hanging over their heads.

This means they have no good reason to sacrifice time spent with friends, family, and other acquaintances. There would be no good reason to hesitate when asked about a particular topic out of curiosity. There would be no good reason to declare certain areas, both tangible and intangible, off-limits without a justifiable excuse. And for that matter, there would be no good reason to live life like they're the only ones on the planet that matter.

The controversy is in deciding what is one's personal business and what isn't. The way I see it, anything that involves personal contact is open access into one's life. For instance, if one has a colleague they've known for a long time and he or she becomes increasingly defensive when asked simple questions, then something must've happened recently to stroke their ego and withdraw from society, as if denial will be a sufficient cover up. It isn't and, like it's been said before, the cover up is always worse than the "crime" itself.

This can span many areas, from extramarital (or premarital) affairs, to actual white-collar crime, to mismanaged finances, among others. Since these are incidents that occur between the person in question and at least one other individual, ignoring these issues do nothing to advance one's faith. If anything, it reveals vanity in motion because it means one doesn't trust God enough to get them out of their own mess. God never promised an easy life, but He did promise to forgive us if we own up to our faults for perpetuating our own selfish agendas.

4) Do They Care About Humanity?
This is a vital condition to living the way as Christ did. Caring for humanity means more than the people who live in your neighborhood, or your town, or your state, or even your own country. It means treating and looking upon people of different nationalities, skin tones, and even creeds with dignity and respect. Racism, jingoism, bigotry, and other forms of prejudice are not becoming of a Christian.

Here in the United States, anyway, I see a lot of people who speak so highly of themselves just because they've got a big house, or a big car, or a big bank account. These are also the same people who, most likely, don't care about the rest of the world's problems because, in their mind, America is the world, and everyone else are sub-human. Even without the big house, big car, and big bank account, those who are struggling to survive in the U.S. are many times richer than a few billion people who happen to be elsewhere in the world (outside of America). So for any American to say they have it rough shows they don't care about people who spend their lives in poverty in far less ideal circumstances.

In this day and age of social media and technological gadgets that change with the seasons, everyone in the free world has the capability to promote themselves, but too often, the focus is on the self and not the realization that most others would never imagine gadgets like smart phones, tablets, and touch-screen MP3 players exist. It's not that I don't think people in advanced countries are ignorant to the plight of others the world over. Rather, people become too complacent when everything's handed to them, may it be paid for or free. When that happens, they lose track of world issues, which is just as bad as contributing to them in the first place. People who step up in the name of Christ will not sit back and merely reflect upon the situation. They'll take a stand and recognize their blessings. If that means living with minimal material possessions, so be it. 'Coz in the end, we're merely stewards of this Earth for a short time.

5) Do They Take Accountability?
Of all, this may be the most quintessential factor in evaluating one's stance as a Christian. There will come a time in everyone's life where a lie will (inevitably) do more damage than healing. It's not a matter of if, but when, the situation arises. At that point, one of two things can happen: fess up and assume full responsibility for all that has happened, or continue to ignore the situation and repress its existence like a bad dream.

Look, I know it's very easy to hide behind a cloak of denial, repeating that whatever problem will come to pass. And the sad part of it all is that virtually everyone accused of wrongdoing will declare their innocence. That's fine. But it doesn't have to be a lie in order to dodge impending punishment. It can be the little things, like not doing one's share of the chores when housing with roommates. Any situation where there's an out can lead to being "safe," no matter how big the pickle to ensue.

There's an old saying that goes, "You can't get out of debt by borrowing money." In the same way, you can't expect to defer a lie by telling more lies. It just won't work. I also know that it is human nature to stick around for the good times and run away from the bad. But again, whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger. For those who constantly look for ways to get cheap one-ups in life or see to it that their mistakes are taken by someone (or something) else, theirs is a lifestyle that is antithetical to the Christian way of life. A real, God-fearing individual will own up to their shortcomings, no matter how big or small, because we are imperfect by nature. To accept this reality is to receive God's grace. In so doing, those who are genuinely saved will carry out their lives with a greater purpose than ever before.

Ultimately, this list is not meant to condemn any one person or group of people to Hell. No one on this Earth has that power. This list is also not meant to suggest that every true Christian will act the same way. Who knows? There may be practicing Christians out there who are naturally introverted, pessimistic, skeptical, or chauvanistic, but they carry out their lives on their own accord with few people in the know. That's certainly a possibility.

I must also point out that I believe in eternal security, which means that once one is saved, then one is forever saved because for anyone to lose their salvation would be contradictory to God's character. Ergo, one can claim salvation and continue to live life as if nothing happened, and they'd still be assured a spot in Heaven.

But to that, I say this. Unlike most world religions, Christianity is a dynamic relationship between one and God. If you're truly a Christian, you can't be the same person now as you were before you received Christ nor even the person you're expected to become in time should you keep the faith. Granted, born-again Christians will have their doubts and insecurities about life as it progresses, both this one and the next, and that's fine. But in the end, actions speak louder than words. Not only will that be the standard by which the rest of the world will judge you now, it will be the standard God will use on your Judgment Day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Self-Pity Can Be Therapeutic

Today's just one of those days.

That's the sentiment many people feel when they're being persecuted to the fullest extent of Murphy's law. In those cases, the best advice can often be found on one's pillow in more ways than one. Not only can a good night's sleep help ease one's mind profoundly, but it's typically better than whatever lip service provided by those who think a "woe is me" attitude is a greater sin than a blasphemous tongue.

But is it really that bad? And are there more constructive measures that can be taken?

In short, no and yes. Now let's elaborate.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Room for Error, Part I

Life is fragile. There's no guarantee you'll live to see tomorrow or even the rest of today, for that matter. If what you think, say, and do are reflections of your character, may they be upward focused.

For most people, this consists of going to school or work to better themselves and their community. Every day, week, month, and year is another step toward achieving their ultimate goals. Graduating from college, increasing their chances of getting a well-paying job, keeping (and moving up in) said job, retiring early with enough money to live comfortably, whatever.

Of course, few consistently leave nothing to chance when taking this path. Many of life's hassles are the result of give and take, and most everyone knows what forms they encompass. Mortgages, loans, credit cards, various forms of insurance. Just about anything that's intangible which can buy you tangible goods or protection, if only for the time being. That is not to say they're intrinsically evil, but far too many people bank their future on nothing more than empty promises.

I mentioned in an earlier post that more than three-quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. When you think of it, that's a scary number in today's turbulent economy. As long as the cost of living goes up while wages remain stagnant (or get cut altogether), people will resort to using money that's not even there. Sure, they can drop a service here and save a little extra there, but life is not about downsizing. It's about growth and prosperity that blossoms in time. I can certainly sympathize with individuals, couples, and families who do all they can to keep their head above water without drowning in debt. Yet, part of me wonders if all their efforts are in vain.

Allow me to explain myself.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Something's Queer About The Homosexual Movement, Part I

This past Sunday, I was watching Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. Halfway through the first quarter, Bulls center Joakim Noah was sent to the bench after drawing his second personal foul. Shortly afterward, a fan did something to irk him, and Noah replied by dropping the two, obscene "F" words: one of which dealt with copulation, and another with one's sexual orientation. Unfortunately for Noah, the incident was caught on camera, and he was subsequently fined $50,000 by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Last month, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant dropped a similar bomb, this time to a referee, and he was fined $100,000.

In response, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) condemned both actions as serving no purpose in a civilized society, much less professional sports. They've also agreed to work in conjunction with both franchises to promote greater accpetance towards the homosexual community.

Earlier this month, Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts came out of the closet and declared that he was gay, which is a big shock for a man of his position and power. To support Welts, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has teamed up to feature two Suns players, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, in a commercial lambasting anti-homosexual speech that will air during the NBA Finals in June.

Three isolated events, two negative and one positive, have done much to address the issue of homophobia in one section of the sports world as it applies to the rest of the world. Clearly, there's no harm in urging people to watch their wandering tongues. And I wholeheartedly agree. Certain words describing gay men and lesbian women flung loosely in the open are offensive because they undermine the subject's dignity as a male or female. Men and women who happen to be homosexual should never be subjected to such ignorant drivel, especially, for they are as much human as any straight person in the world. I, for one, don't hate homosexuals and I would never treat a homosexual like a slave in the Antebellum South.

With all that said, it is their lifestyle that, so long as it's tolerated, will bring a more devastating blow to the United States than the Great Recession of the late-2000s.

And the worst part of it all? That's exactly what the homosexual community wants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How To Have A Successful Yard Sale

So, you've got a lot of crap... er, I mean, secondhand goods that you would like to get rid of, for one reason or another. Well, you can trash them, burn them, bury them, donate them to a thrift store to get a tax refund, or sell them for pennies on the dollar. Which sounds most appeasing to you?

If you picked the last choice, then you took the first step in clearing out excess junk and making some extra money on the side. Good for you! If not, did you even look at the title of this blog post?

Regardless, yard sales are the literal representation of the old adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." They're a conglomerate of strangers who come face-to-face to accomplish one common goal: move old stuff out for a nominal fee.

Perhaps you've been to several yourself, and you feel it's time to give it a go. Or maybe you've held some in the past, but have been discouraged with the results. Either way, I present to you a pick six of tips, "Do's" and "Don'ts" if you will, that will prepare you to have a successful yard sale. Buona fortuna.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should the U.S. Government Have Quarantined Andrew Speaker?

Four years ago today, American lawyer Andrew Speaker sparked a transcontinental game of cat and mouse when the U.S. government discovered he had a rare, infectious, and deadly disease before he flew overseas to get married. What followed was a controversial set of consequences that made headlines around the world.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rock On... "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream"

Title: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream
Author: Pastor David Platt
Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah
Genre: Non-Fiction/Christian
Year of Publication: 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60142-221-7

This Book In 100 Words: So, you're a Christian who proclaims to love God and live life as a testament to His glory. But have you ever really understood what it means to be a biblical Christian? Would you still be a follower of Christ if you didn't have financial security, several technological gadgets, sanitary food and water, or even a stable roof over your head? If you were hesitant toward any of these conditions, your faith has been warped by the American Dream, an antithetical mentality to the Christian doctrine. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can change right away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rock On... "Subtle Serpent: New Age In The Classroom"

Title: Subtle Serpent: New Age In The Classroom
Authors: Darylann Whitemarsh & Bill Reisman
Publisher: Huntington House
Genre: Non-Fiction/Christian
Year of Publication: 1993
ISBN: 1-56384-016-2

This Book In 100 Words: Today's students are learning more than just reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. They're learning how to compromise their own values and are all but forced to accept everyone's wavering opinions on right and wrong. This is being reinforced in the school, where children and teenagers spend nearly half their waking time. As a concerned parent or citizen, you can't help but wonder why gang violence, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide rates are at an all-time high amongst the youth of the nation. The problem rests with a millennia-old philosophy repackaged for the twentieth (and twenty-first) century: New Age.

Friday, May 13, 2011

If You Think This Post Is Too Short...

... you may qualify for a diagnosis of ADD. And FYI, tweets, status updates, and blog entries – including this one – do not count as intensive reading. Try a novel once in a while. That'll give your brain plenty of food for thought. Or at the very least, a conversation starter longer than 140 (or 420) characters.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An 8 Point Plan to Curb Homelessness

If there is one thing I dread the most, more than I do failing grades, failing job expectations, and failing health, it's failing to have a stable roof over my head. Did you know that more than three-quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, so any financial setback could cost them their home? I say the home above all else because it's practically the hub for everyday life. It's the place where people sleep, eat, get creative, pay bills, and be entertained. Without a home, you can't have a job nor a driver's license, two essential things to have in this day and age for there to be any forward progress. Some people don't know what this is like, either because they're financially successful or they have family nearby to shelter them when their money well dries up. But for most others, the threat of homelessness looms like a continuous black cloud over their head. It's a constant living with fear because the chances of planting a new life on hard ground are slim to none. Save a winning lottery ticket worth tens of millions of dollars, homeless people are stuck in a perpetual rut. But there is hope: you. The following are eight steps you can take to either treat or support the homeless with dignity and give them the resources they need to make something of their lives.