Thursday, December 6, 2012

"I Have a Few Songs Stuck in My Head," Adam T. Smith

I Have a Few Songs Stuck in My Head

Adam T. Smith

Thinking about this paper, I had about 5 or 6 different ideas while I brainstormed listening to a medley of Coldplay, The Killers, and Matt & Kim. I realized all of my ideas had to do with the music recalling certain memories and inspiring me to write something awesome. Then it hit me to write about the really interesting effect music has on your conscious mind. I always listen to music when I feel stressed in order to calm down, or when I’m happy in order to progress to a kind of elated feeling. I listen to music when I work out too, as the power songs I listen to help to motivate me to work harder. For me those are extremely upbeat songs that get the heart pumping. Music has a powerful effect on the human mind. It’s very much like the mood organ from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a device that allows humans to alter their mood be it ready to do business or desire to watch TV (Dick, 2007). Music plays an extremely valuable role in my life, evoking memories and changing my emotion when I want or need it to.

Upbeat songs can be great for a mood lift if I’m feeling down, or inspirational if I’m working on something.  By upbeat, I mean genres like faster alternative or pop, not like techno or dance music. For me, my ideal upbeat songs are anything by Matt & Kim, and several specific songs from other artists, like “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, or “Lisztomania” by Phoenix. The actual music itself in the song may be what lifts my spirits, or perhaps the joy of the singer themselves.  There are several examples of how these songs affect me. A few weeks ago, I studied really hard for a psychology test, and thought I knew all of the material well. After getting back the test grade, I was extremely disappointed with my performance. Normally, I am an upbeat and happy person. So whenever I’m sad, I use music to try and uplift my spirits. I went on Pandora internet radio and listened to a Matt & Kim station for about 45 minutes. One line I remember very specifically was “Now take it in but don’t look down/ ‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay” (Reynolds, 2012). Afterwards, I was pretty calm and positive. I looked at the test as a way to improve for next time. My general optimism was enhanced by the positive music.

Slow and downbeat songs can have both a positive and negative effect on my mood. If I’m just lying down, listening to slow or dramatic music will bring back memories of times when I was happier or people I miss. For instance, I listen to a lot of songs from TV show soundtracks. A lot of the slow ones from Scrubs remind me of my once best friend Kaitlin McClamrock. Specifically, “Fresh Feeling” by The Eels, “New Slang” by The Shins, and “How to Save a Life” by The Fray. Whenever I hear these songs, or songs by Keane (just came on while writing, remembered they do it too), I remember how I came to know her, and even though I was only in the 11th grade, thought I had fallen in love with her. I know it was probably impractical for me to think that, but I did at least like her a ton and care about her. We were really good friends for only 3-4 months, and I can’t help reminiscing about that time whenever these specific songs come on. Some of the songs are just associated with her and things we talked about or even just songs I started listening to during that time. A line that always seems to get to me, “Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend” (The Fray, 2006) Others just make me think of when times were better, and so far, those months are the Golden Age of my life, for a myriad of reasons, but I know she was the main one.

Another good use of upbeat and slow music for me is when I’m trying to work on a paper or other work; it really helps me think of good ideas. For every paper I’ve ever written, I listen to music while I brainstorm, while I write, and while I read back over it. It speeds up my work too, because I don’t get distracted by everything else like I usually do. I once had a history essay to write and I started out without music. About an hour and half after starting the paper I had written the intro and watched about 3 or 4 episodes of The Office. I realized I needed to work, put on a playlist of whatever my current favorite songs were and got it done within the hour. I’m sure Coldplay was probably in that playlist at the time, as I was learning a few of their songs on piano. It definitely helps my productivity, and I can’t even imagine how to get work done without at least starting out listening to music.

Another huge influence I get from music is how I feel with techno songs and other high beat dancing songs. Songs like “Feel So Close” by Calvin Harris, “Hello” by Martin Solveig, and “Levels” by Avicii get my heart pumping. When I listen to them I have a huge urge to go do something active like racquetball or dancing like a maniac in my room. If I’m running on a treadmill, every time the drop comes in a techno song, I know I run harder and faster than before, moving to the fast-paced rhythm of the song. Techno songs make me feel like I need to be doing something worthy and awesome. A great example of this is a food run I went on with my best friend Ian Wright. We had to go to two places to pick up food. We figured we’d order online at the second place so we could go to the first place and have it ready for us when we got there. The second place told us it would only take 10 minutes. We sprinted to the car (I did a flawless slide across his hood, and still very proud of it) and sped off to the first restaurant, Tokyo Grill. This is where the music comes in. We put on Pendulum, a techno band, to be the soundtrack of our drive. We were probably speeding, but you can blame him for that one. The music had us put in the zone, driving fast but smoothly, swerving safely in and out of lanes to get around cars and speeding up to catch lights. We got to the first place with ease and in time, got out of there in a minute and half (it was ridiculously fast, and it’s not even a fast food restaurant), and sped off once more to get to the second place, a Five Guys, in time. Did we have to be in time? No. But Pendulum was playing, and man, were we motivated. We got there with seconds to spare, as they were finishing up the burgers. We were very proud of ourselves, but I know that the music had everything to do with it. Now Pendulum is ideal when I drive home, I just get through traffic easier and find good pockets where I can go a little faster.

Music plays a very important role in my life. I couldn’t imagine a world without music quite honestly. It is so integrated in everyday life, I feel like a lot of people might not even notice. Like at the grocery store, they play slow steady music in the background so you walk slower, see more, and consequently buy more. If there were no music, people would certainly notice how eerily quiet it would be, but they don’t take much notice to the music anyway. Try an imagine how different the holidays would be without the special overplayed holiday music. I for one like Christmas music, but not all of it, and certainly not 24/7 everywhere I go. Though Christmas music gets me in the mood for the holidays, a time right around the corner from when I type this. Music is extremely influential in how I think, both about myself and other things. It can change my mood with the click of a button and even change how complex my thoughts are. If there were ever a way to realize that mood organ from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I truly believe music will be involved. Imagine how much more this influence could be utilized in the future. I for one look forward to the advances.


Dick, P. K. (2007). Do androids dream of electric sheep? London, Great Britain: Orion Publishing Group
Imagine Dragons. (2012). On top of the world. On Night visions [CD]. Santa Monica, California: Interscope Records.
The Fray. (2006). How to save a life. On How to save a life [CD]. United States: Epic.

"It Makes Me Grow Up," Dannu Yuan

It Makes Me Grow Up

Danni Yuan

Growing up is always a teenager’s dream. When I was little, I always wanted to grow up sooner and sooner. Little girls will put on their mom’s high-heel shoes even though the shoes do not fit. All little children imitate adults. Although I am considered an adult now, I am not sure if I feel like one.

My 18th birthday party was the best birthday ever, and it was the first party I had in my life. I invited all of my friends to come to my house. We had dinner together and BBQ in my backyard. We grilled our own food, ate it, and then chatted. My friend Grant brought his guitar with him, and he was singing “happy birthday” for me with his guitar while we sat around a bonfire. When my friends sang the birthday song to me, I was particularly touched. The flames were jumping and shining on their smiling faces; I felt closer to them than before. They slept over, and we watched one of our favorite TV shows, “The Big Bang Theory.” The next day, I woke at noon and made some waffles for them. We had a lot of fun that night.

I just felt extremely happy and lucky to know them and be friends with them. After I came to America, they have given me help when I need them. They always gave me some ideas when I make some hard decisions (for example, what kind of classes I should take in my senior year) and helped me to relax when I felt stress form my AP exam. They have always been with me whenever I needed support. When I had a hard time choosing my college, they supported my coming to Furman, because I would be more comfortable in small classes at Furman. One day they took me to a restaurant called China Town because they know I like Chinese food. I told them America does not have real Chinese food but that food was close. They think I’m so funny when I talked to the Chinese waiter in Chinese. This restaurant has a buffet, so it is a good deal for a student.

Also, my friends showed me a lot of American culture and tradition. They invited me to join their weekend. I went hunting, watched an NFL game, and went to motorcycle week. I had a lot of fun, and they defined my American life and helped me not feel homesick, even though I live so far away from home. Sometimes calling my parents is not the best choice, so I call them only when it is necessary. When I turned eighteen years old, I legally became an adult, and I shared this moment with people who are very important in my life. I can’t live without my friends. They help me grow.

Three years ago, when I walked out of Chinese Customs, I knew that I would spend a whole year in a country that I had never been to before. I would also be by myself. I would not only have to take care of myself, but also to do so in my non-native language. I remember when I was standing in the Washington airport and feeling lost. It was the first time that I felt alone and afraid. As all the people passed me, hurriedly walking away just like in a movie, I stood all alone; I thought that I must have looked lonely and helpless.

My aunt came to pick me up and took me to her house. I had only met her once on Skype, yet I felt an instant connection to her—not only because I knew who she was, but also because as a Chinese person, she was familiar. When she showed me my room, I saw that she had taken a lot of time to decorate it for me; when I walked into my room, there was a Chinese character that means lucky on the wall, and the bed and sheet were my favorite blue and pink. Also, there were cute flowers on my table and new towels in a clean closet. It is a sweet and pretty room just like the one I have in China. She and her family wanted me to feel welcome and feel at home. And they took me shopping and out to dinner. They also showed me my new school. I was glad that they did so much for me, but I knew that I would still have many obstacles that I would have to face on my own.

A year later, the first high school I went to in the U.S., Grace Christian Academy, was shut down, and I had no school to go to. My aunt's family was worried that I did not have a school to go to next year. I knew that I needed to face this on my own, so I contacted all of the high schools in the area online to see if they would accept an international student, and then made appointments for interviews.

Visiting schools helped me to understand the characteristics of each school and every school’s attitude toward me. In the process I learned how to pick the right school for me and make friends in one day that could never be taught from a textbook. Some schools were welcoming and patient, but others were not. Finally, I picked Pinewood Prep School; that is the one I liked the most, and now I know that I made the right decision. I had good experiences at Pinewood Prep School. I met many good friends and teachers there. They made my American life better.

This experience was my first step towards becoming an adult. I have been in America for three years, which is not a long time, but I have grown more than I did in China. At home, I am like a little girl; mom always cooks my favorite food, and I can have what I want all the time. I lie in my mom’s arms and talk to my dad about my American life and how I have become so fat in America!

Yet when I leave China, I will be mature me again, not a little girl anymore. I will drive by myself, write essays in the library at 4 o’clock in the morning, keep my dorm clean, and make more friends in a new school.

My parents said at first when I left home to study here, they were so worried about me because I always have been a little girl when I am at home. They called me everyday, and the first couple of times, I cried a lot on the phone. I talked about how sad I am everyday and how I can’t make friends with other people because I was afraid to talk to somebody who I don’t know. I just feel stupid sometimes.

But after all of my fear about talking to people in English and being uncomfortable in a new culture, I felt more comfortable now than before. I used to solve problems by myself. I knew that I can’t just throw my problem to my parents because that only makes them more worried. So I started to tell them some happy news, like I went to a great dinner with my friends and am making new friends everyday. I am learning to drive here, I have acquired a scuba diver’s license, and I am doing better on my tests. So, when I had my high school graduation, my mom flew all the way here to watch it. And the words she said after my graduation were, “I’m so proud of you, you really grow up.” She had never said that to me before.

However, I still do not really know when I will be really grown up—maybe when I start my own job and can afford to live on my own. But I know that I am still working on it. For right now, studying harder and learning more skills is important for the future. It makes us grow up. 

The process of me growing up has been successful. I have strived due to the support from my friends and parents. Growing up is a process. For me, this process is challenging—solving problem, making new friends, living and studying in a foreign country by myself. This process is painful and hard, but after all of that, everything, just like the rainbow after rain, is so pretty and amazing.

"Key Largo, Savannah L. Jennings

Key Largo

Savannah L. Jennings

Picture yourself sitting on the bow of a boat, your skin warm from the sun’s morning rays, with your arm outstretched to touch the spray of water flowing beside you. You’re grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of what you will see today. You’re loving every minute of the ride, but wishing the boat could go faster through the meandering mangroves to reach the reefs allowing you to plunge into the sea and join the vibrant fish sooner. Once you emerge into the open sea, there’s an eagerness spurred by the ongoing competition with all your cousins to see who can spot the most flying fish skidding across the turquoise waves. That you’ll see hundreds of parrotfish, sergeant majors and barracudas is a given, but if you’re lucky you may see a moray eel, a stingray, a nurse shark or maybe a hawk’s bill turtle. The excitement continues to well as you speed closer to the waiting reefs, inhabited by the creatures you’ve waited all year to see.

No place I’ve ever been has had a greater impact on my life than Key Largo, Florida. The shared joy and awe we experience while snorkeling keeps my family coming back every year. I wouldn’t trade a single moment I’ve had with my siblings and cousins, just relaxing in the boat eating sandwiches that taste so amazing after a full day of swimming, swapping reports of what we’ve been lucky enough to see in the water that day, and arguing over the correct classification of the fish we’ve seen.

Snorkeling unifies and impassions my family like no other activity has been able to. Our group of 15 is one of the most mismatched and diverse sets of people you can imagine, but when someone sees an eagle ray swim by, I can guarantee there will not be a single person in the boat within 45 seconds as we all jump in to share the experience.

Tradition is a very effective bonding mechanism. We’ve been doing this for so long that there is a set routine we do not deviate from, nor do we want to. The common understanding of this routine is like being part of an exclusive club. The first night we’re there, my grandmother makes lasagna, which we all eat in my grandparents’ motorhome, parked in the same lot every year. Some people now have to sit on the floor because there aren’t enough seats for our large group. The rest of the week each family takes a turn cooking dinner in their trailers. My cousins and I head to the volleyball court for a not too competitive game or to the pool to play chicken after dinner. This continues until late into the night, until we go to our rented trailers and get rest so we can go snorkeling early the next morning. The normalcy is comforting and easy.

The tradition of spending a week of the summer in Key Largo began when my father was very young, and I would love it to continue when I have my own family. My cousins, who all live at least six hours from me, are very important people in my life. We’ve been able to stay close, despite our distance from each other, due partially to this annual vacation to the Keys. The sense of belonging I feel in that tiny campground is unrivalled. Being a part of this tradition makes me feel incredibly lucky.

Anywhere else, a week spent with my huge, loud family seems a bit excessive, but in the Keys we are never ready to leave when we have to. There is always the feeling that if we go out to the reefs just one more time we’ll see something even more amazing than what we saw the day before. The temptation is often so great that we sacrifice our ability to shower before the long drive home in order to ride out one more time.

Even though I’ve been out to the reefs off the coast of Key Largo probably close to a hundred times in my life, I’m struck by the beauty of it every single time. Some say traveling makes the world seem smaller, but visiting reefs makes the world seem infinitely larger to me. So many different organisms exist, countless numbers yet undiscovered. They all rely upon each other and coexist together in a complex system, the extent of which we can only hope to understand fully one day. Every little task the tiny fish carry out serves a greater purpose than it recognizes, like the parrotfish that audibly chomp on the coral and create the sand all around, that serves as vital camouflage for the stingray buried beneath it.

Since I have been snorkeling so many times, I recognize most of the things I see from past years, but nearly every time I go out I see something completely new to me. Last year we saw a school of hundreds of huge tarpon. A few years ago my mother and I saw a group of about a dozen eagle rays, with their white spots seeming almost fluorescent against their magnificent deep blue wings. That was one of the most beautiful displays I’d ever seen.

Having the opportunity to see all of this close-up evokes passion and appreciation for my surroundings. This is especially true when I’m able to see first-hand the noticeably fewer healthy, algae-covered corals in more recent years. Every visit we see more patches of white, barren coral, which fish have been forced to vacate. The fragility of this complex ecosystem is so evident. Being able to see all that is at stake makes the problem seem exponentially more important and urgent. The idea that I may not be able to bring my kids there in the future is very depressing to me.

Going to the Keys in the summer is a very important part of my life, and I feel it has given me much to cherish. Every year my appreciation grows, rather than diminishes. The yearly vacations have allowed my huge family to stay close throughout the years. I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to the magnificence of the sea at a very early age, when most people never in their lives are able to fully appreciate the beauty and life that exists below the surface of the ocean.

You’re back out on the boat, putting your mask, snorkel and flippers on as quickly as is humanly possible, nearly bubbling over with eagerness to get out there before other boats show up and scare away the rarer finds, like sharks and rays. You plunge into the cold water, wait for the bubbles to clear and look around. To your left is a huge barracuda, swimming way too close for comfort, as always. Directly below you is a puffer fish, clumsily bobbing around the reef, searching for food with its ginormous round eyes. Everywhere around you is color, vivid and attention grabbing. Each fish, anemone, and coral on the reef is beautiful enough to study by itself, so taking it all in at once is almost overwhelming.

You hear a cousin yelling from above the water close by and eagerly look up, understanding that she’s clearly seen something worth following. This time it’s a tiger shark, huge and foreboding, but moving nonchalantly as if he couldn’t care less that we’re there, invading his space. After we watch the shark for a while we begin to break into groups, all headed in different direction in hopes of seeing something amazing. You head toward the shallower reef and scope out a hole where there is nearly always some large creature lurking. You take a deep breath and swim down to take a better look.

"An Errant Throw," Calloway Burns

An Errant Throw

Calloway Burns

Spring should be a time of rebirth, of April showers, of running to baseball practice with a bat slung over your shoulder and cleat shoestrings skipping along the asphalt. Eager to dig into the comfort of the beautiful game.This day lost its joy. This day the pitcher threw a wild pitch. It emptied itself of its creation. Contradicting itself by being both wonderfully sunny and dreadfully overcast. The grass, a patchwork of weeds and Bermuda, dances in newfound light, but my memories are shadowed by dark storm clouds—eager to remind me that the images in my head trigger torment.

That day there would be no baseball. There would be no chewing and spitting seeds or digging my toe into the batter’s box. The gnats would be free to fly without the fear of being slapped away by an outfielder. 

I pitter throughout the house following my older siblings as we search for our mom. Bryant had just picked up Anna and me from school. The normal routine of scurrying into Anna’s school to cut short her chirping with friends and then avoiding the classmates screaming, “Awww!” This is what happens when you’re seven and you’re the youngest by nine years. We escape to the van and the classic rock emanating from the radio. Usually we head home and we are safe. Usually a spring day follows its routine. Instead I find myself noticing the absence of the smell of onions being sautéed for dinner and the lack of the gentle lick of the family terrier, Eton, as I arrive home that day.

Beat. Nothing upstairs. The laundry room is eerily quiet. We turn our attention toward our father’s office.

His name was, is, Stanley Theodore Burns. He had that granola edge or rebel streak in him. From birth he was supposed to be a star wide receiver or safety for his Kingsport high school, he chose running instead. Just running. We used to run together. I nipped at his heels as he trotted around the block a couple of times. He would then shed me to run his marathon. Stanley, or Stan, I guess, was supposed to be an engineer or a doctor. Stan’s father wanted Stan to be the perfect cast of his father’s plaster mold. Since he was the first born, that was how it should have been. Instead he wrote. He wrote epics of bank fraud and children’s books detailing a bear’s life. For one more jab at his father’s meddling, he wore Birkenstocks.

Chewing on the leather ties in our gloves. Something that could so easily be crude and unhealthy carries immense nostalgia at the same time. The little knots slowly come undone—threatening to let a ball slip through the leather basket. Not at any predictable pace, but just at the exact time when there is a lull in the game. When the batter can’t squeeze his helmet on or the pitcher can’t find the strike zone, there are those leather straps. An odd yet comforting taste. An odd yet comforting memory.

Beat. Stan’s office was built from a garage. He had given me the little loft area so I could have my own play office and still be with him while we writes. He writes of banking improprieties whilst I doodle on paper titled “The Calloway Group.” They say we are most alike of all of my siblings.

Beat. We found the door to his office open. Inside was an image I could draw, paint, or write perfectly as if it were occurring this moment. My mother was hunched over the desk with the old corded phone to her ear. Eton at her feet anxiously looking up at his caretaker. Her tears grasping her cheek unnerved us the most. We had never seen our mother cry except for her tears of laughter.

Beat. My brother holds me on his lap in the front hall. It could not have been comfortable yet the memory is my most comforting. Our father was dead.

There is something about the game that relaxes the mental muscles. Looking up at the brim of your hat and seeing the graveyard of gnats who have the audacity to invade the sanctity of your vision. You stand there listening to the chirps of infielders and parents chattering up the batter or whatnot. The temptation just to plop down and sit desperately tries to reach out and take over. Surely in coach pitch they cannot hit into the outfield. This is baseball though.  With all of the stats that are applicable—OPS, WHIP, or ERA—there is an incredible amount of chance, of the unlikely.  It is comforting in that manner.  You know that no matter how many times you tap the plate, twist your toe in the dirt, or spit your seed, there is no sure thing. Baseball is life. The objective is to go home.

I desperately wanted to go home. I desperately wanted to skip onto the field behind the local high school and work back into that routine. There was an art to that routine. I needed something beautiful, something to shine in this murky world.  Something as artistic as a shortstop popping into his stance to snatch a ground ball. Something like the sound of the ball smacking the mitt.

It seems like the clock during those weeks should have had more hours. Should have made it all come together into one day. At least, that is how it seems.

Beat. We are all a cohesive family. My grandfather forgets his woes about a son who never followed the predetermined path. The cousins we fell out of touch with appear. Family friends from across the pond fill pews. Feuds have been forgotten and we return to our elemental, caring relationships. A collection of those who have lost that which is dear sits silently in the anteroom. The only flutter is the image of the little redheaded toddler of a cousin pouring his tears into the slightly compressed seat of the old church chair.

Beat. I wedge comfortably among my mother and sister in the dark, gothic sanctuary listening raptly to Bryant’s stories of my father. Those whom I missed. The church’s historical stained glass provides an element of monstrous oversight. A bulwark of peace and tradition nestled in the streets of Baltimore.

Throughout the April showers we still play, our feet desperately seeking grip in the muddy infield. The batter’s leg splays out after swinging, his body falling to the ground embracing the soft, wet ground. He rises laughing. This is why we play. We play for the rush provided by sliding in the soggy outfield as the ball splashes toward us. We play for the surge that smacking a pitch provides and for the regret as we find the fielder tossing the ball to the base with ease and elegance. There is no clock. The game may take the course it desires. This is how it has been—a bulwark of peace and timeless tradition nestled in a sea of green.

We stand in the spring heat of the Greenville sun. This is where his family began. The walls seem to be straining to hold local family in. I have the memory of wandering the cemetery with him. We walked, my hand tugging at his trouser leg, as we moved further and further towards the end of the cemetery. We were going back to the grave of my namesake. This was no battlefield with soldiers’ cries seeping out of the ground but there seemed to be that wispy fog that people always talk about. We passed a great uncle, another who killed himself on his son’s grave. With each grave my father recounted the gothic southern tales of its resident. This day though I walk alone. I trace the same steps. This day though his story is among those that I tell. There is no longer the need to doodle on the pages he gave me as he wrote. Today I read what he wrote. I hear his stories.

When spring comes again, there is still that rebirth. It always begins with the hopes of baseball. The crotchety old manager hoping to make a dream out of nothing. The team pulling together to stun the powerhouse. No matter the prospects my father always had hope for the rebirth of something special. He always believed. He always wrote of this. He wrote of the man who always failed but constantly tried to do something spectacular. There was no room for mediocrity. His family begins at Bethuel Chapel but ours begins here. With hope. With spring.

"Happiness—Where is it?," Jake Saine

Happiness—Where is it?

Jake Saine

When you wake up in the morning, if you could wish for one thing, what would it be? When you lie on your death bed, if you could have wished for one thing during your life, what would it be? Would it be happiness?

First, consider the play Death of a Salesman. In this play Willy Loman, the main character, is completely focused on material success. He believes the key to success is being well liked and considers himself to be a much more prominent member of society than he is in actuality. While striving to live the American Dream, Willy actually leads a miserable life. Effectively, his miserable life conveys that the American Dream can be much harder to achieve than many believe and that this materialistic success may not be a key to happiness. Willy has two children, and one of these, Biff, discovers that he does not find true happiness in business. Biff first mentions his struggle for happiness in dialogue with his brother Happy:  

Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future. (Miller, 1949)

Biff desires to work outside, but attempts to conform to the blueprint of what society considers an accomplished man. Although he realizes that an occupation in business is a measly manner of existence for him, Biff firmly believes it is the only proper way to build a future.

As the play continues, Biff struggles to justify any happy existence outside of the office. Again while conversing with his brother, Biff discusses his life after high school and away from home:

Hap, I’ve had twenty or thirty different kinds of job since I left home before the war, and it always turns out the same. I just realized it lately. In Nebraska when I herded cattle, and the Dakotas, and Arizona, and now in Texas. It’s why I came home now, I guess, because I realized it. This farm I work on, it’s spring there now, see? And they’ve got about fifteen new colts. There’s nothing more inspiring or—beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it’s cool there nowsee? Texas is cool now, and it’s spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not gettin’ anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I’m thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin’ my future. That’s when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don’t know what to do with myself. [After a pause] I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life. (Miller, 1949)

While talking to his brother, Happ, Biff articulates his true happiness in ranching horses, but still considers a blue-collar occupation to be a waste of his life. When Biff describes ranching, he becomes inspired and passionate, but then fights this passion and dismisses it as a waste.  This inspiration and passion indicate the happiness Biff experienced while ranching.

Further in the play Biff experiences an epiphany. While pursuing a job in an office that he abhors, Biff realizes this object-oriented existence is the very manner of existence he despises. Biff has an epiphany over where happiness truly lies:

I ran down eleven flights with a pen in my hand today. And suddenly I stopped, you hear me? And in the middle of that office building, do you hear this? I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw —the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! Why can’t I say that, Willy? (Miller, 1949)

Biff comes to the realization that a life in an office is neither the person he wants to be nor the person he wants to become. This existence in an office is in no way associated with what he loves in the world. Confronting his true identity, Biff realizes that he has been avoiding the life that will lead him to the most happiness. For Biff, happiness supersedes monetary wealth. Happiness resides in personal values.

Throughout the book Into the Wild Chris searches to find a life of happiness. Although he is from a background of affluence, Chris discards all of his material possessions in pursuit of an existence where material status does not rule life. Additionally, he cuts ties with his family and any previous relationships as he sets out on an arduous journey to experience life as a wanderer. He strives to discard the baggage of his previous life in search of true freedom.

Along his journey, Chris encounters many people whom he drastically impacts. When Mr. Franz decides that he is going to tell Chris to find a job and make something of his life, Chris has the quick rebuttal “you don’t need to worry about me. I have a college education. I’m not destitute. I’m living like this by choice” (Krakauer, 1996, p. 51). The conventional view of society is that Chris is a hobo and consequently his life has amounted to little value. On the contrary, Chris believes that his life has much more value without dependence on material goods. For Chris, his life has value simply because he is happy. Such a radical leap in lifestyle has brought Chris to experience events that most other people could never fathom.

Chris has found happiness through a personal lifestyle choice. However in finding happiness, he cut all previous relationship ties, and then precariously danced on the boundary of forming any new relationships, careful never to step over the line. This implies the question—For one to have true freedom can they have any relationships? Mr. Franz was one of the many acquaintances Chris made along his journey. Krakauer (1996) remarks as Chris leaves Mr. Franz:

On March 14, Franz left McCandless on the shoulder of Interstate 70 outside of Grand Junction and returned to southern California. McCandless was thrilled to be on his way north, and he was relieved as well—relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He’d successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arm’s length, flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. (p. 55)     

Through the many experiences Chris has had wandering across the country, Chris believes that he now has a better notion of happiness. Chris presents the inherent value of happiness found in constant change and adventure:

            So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun (Krakauer, 1996, p. 56). 

While wandering across the country Chris has constant new experiences. Because this is a happy period of his life, he associates happiness with change. Moreover, Chris determines happiness is not associated with relationships since he does not establish any real relationships while wandering. Hence his conclusion:

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living. (Krakauer, 1996, p. 57)

In the Death of a Salesman and Into the Wild a few common themes are apparent. Happiness seems to be an existence that one chooses, an existence that is undoubtedly not the product of force, an existence in which materials are irrelevant and unvalued, an existence where relationships (if they exist) are unbinding, an existence lacking the hand print of conventional wisdom, and an existence where passion is prevalent.

First, Biff chooses to ranch cattle, and Chris chooses to live the life of a hobo. Next, Biff finally deduces that he needs to escape the boundaries of his forceful father and Chris just can’t be forced into anything as he cuts all relationship ties. Through witnessing his father, Biff concludes that ample money and a high social status built on materialistic values can be very detrimental. However, Chris literally discards his material possessions. Moreover, Biff discovers that his family relationships are restricting him to value ideas that he no longer consider worthy. Thus, Chris conspicuously ends all relationships. Finally, Biff and Chris are each forced to arrive at the fact that—conventional wisdom is in stark contrast to what they believe. A life as a hobo or cattle rancher is not what most would equate with a happy life. Last, both are very passionate about their way of existence.

Although Chris and Biff are very similar in many respects, they are also different since Chris is functionally living his idea of a happy life, while Biff merely discerns what he believes constitutes a truly happy life. Unlike Chris, Biff never actually lives the life he associates with happiness. Biff had previously lived a joyful life as a rancher, but at the time he had considered it to be a very low manner of existence.  

But perhaps Thoreau (1854) best captures the essence of happiness:

            No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal,--that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. . . . The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

Thoreau truly understands that we struggle to appreciate the minuscule occurrences during life that should make us happy.

I would like to contest the theory that Biff, Chris, and Thoreau each seem to insinuate—happiness can’t be found in human relationships. Personally, I believe that the strongest bit of happiness can be found in the warm smile of another or the amazing act of kindness one does for another. Happiness is best when it is shared. I perceive happiness to the most potent as a contagious disease. I contend that if we all look for the small things in life to appreciate, and continue radiating this happiness to others, that the world would be a much happier place.

I feel at peace and am consumed by a sense of honesty emanating from my true self whenever I am helping others. I undergo an indescribable feeling of effervescence, bubbling up from the core of my being, signifying that I am doing what is meant for me. For me, helping others in whatever capacity is when I am happy.

Consider this hypothetical situation. Pam, a 29-year-old mom, stopped her car to ringing cries of a homeless man calling out in anguish. The man had been robbed and injured very badly. From the streets where drug addicts, murderers, and the worst types of villains prowl, Pam took this homeless man, Peter, to her home to bandage him. The overwhelming amounts of blood stained her car and drenched her clothes to point in which cleaning was impossible. Forgotten were the price tag of her designer clothes and BMW.

Then, thirty years later Pam told her son this story and admitted that she had never told anyone else. Pam told her son that while Peter had recovered in her house the next week, that she had experienced real joy for the first time in her life. She had taken a risk and experienced something outside of the norm of her conventional life. The homeless man repaid Pam in the only way he could—by saying thank you. But Pam told her son that the sincere thanks from Peter was more fulfilling than any other monetary thanks she could have ever received.

Little known is that an affluent and powerful senator first sped past the ringing cries of Peter, the homeless man, on his way to what he considered more important affairs. Little known is that the senator attempted suicide the next month from severe depression. Little known is that Peter is now in charge of the 4th largest homeless shelter in the United States.


Krakauer, J. (1996). Into the wild. Villard, NY: Anchor Books
Miller, A. (n.d.). Death of a salesman. Available from
Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden. Retrieved from

"A Healthier Way of Life," Kara DeGroote

A Healthier Way of Life

Kara DeGroote

A staggering 67% of the American population today is overweight and 34% is obese. Another 16% have high cholesterol, 30% have hypertension, and 21% smoke. Even 42% of people will develop cancer in their lifetime (Fahey, Insel, & Roth, 2011). Technological innovations sometimes lead us to believe that we are healthier today than early humans were thousands and thousands of years ago. Today we have the benefit of cars, television, cell phones, and readily available food and drink, but could we actually be taking steps backwards in terms of living healthier lifestyles?            

First we must define what it means to be healthy. According to Fahey, Insel, and Roth (2011), leading a healthy lifestyle means being physically active, eating a healthy diet, choosing a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, managing stress effectively, and avoiding harmful substances. Consequently, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other common health issues are related to leading unhealthy lifestyles typically associated with sedentary lifestyles, overconsumption along with large portions, smoking, and genetics.  As you may have guessed, unhealthy lifestyles have increasingly become the norm for average people (Fahey, Insel, & Roth).

In contrast to humans today, the earliest humans, sometimes referred to as Cro-Magnons or cavemen, led entirely different lifestyles (Lambert, 2012). These Cro-Magnon people inhabited the earth as early as 140,000 years ago up until about 10,000 years ago with the advent of the agricultural revolution (Cavalli-Sforza, 2002). They were physically the same as modern humans today, but they led successful nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles. They usually foraged for seeds, berries, roots, and nuts, and hunted game such as mammoth, reindeer, red deer, bison wild horses and fish (Lambert). Since there was no farming, they didn’t eat large amounts of grains (Khan, 2009). They were physically active for the majority of the day (Hutchinson, 2011).

You might be thinking why, in the era of the iPhone 5 and hybrid cars, would a lifestyle similar to that of a caveman be beneficial for a person like me? Hutchinson (2011) answers this question quite simply. He explains that evolution takes place over thousands and thousands of years. The human DNA must develop successful mutations over time which support more modern ways of life.  These successful mutations occur when mutated DNA in a specific individual enables that individual to live more successfully in his or her environment, thus giving that individual a higher chance of surviving and passing on the beneficial mutated gene to future generations. Examples include mutations that allow humans to digest dairy or better digest grains. While humans are evolving faster now that the population is much larger (allowing more chances for gene mutations), human bodies are still not adjusted for their modern agricultural diets and (lack of) physical activities (Hutchinson).

Consider a day in the life of a caveman versus a day of a typical person today. Our aboriginal ancestors might gather berries or hunt some game upon waking (Hutchinson, 2011). Today, a person wakes up, puts on his or her eyeglasses, walks a few steps into the kitchen, and then prepares some buttery pancakes. A caveman would continue his or her day by looking for food or fashioning tools (Lambert, 2012). A person today would walk to his or her car, drive to work, and sit at a desk from nine to five. On a good day, he or she may briefly exercise. Next will be time to watch some television. For a caveman, exercise was necessary in order to keep pace with other nomadic tribal members and find food (Hutchinson). Cavemen were constantly performing a wide range of activities (Lambert). The option to sit still might not always present itself. Now let’s think about dinner. A modern day person might microwave a convenient frozen pasta dish and maybe have a little ice cream for dessert. A caveman would once again have to forage for his or her next meal that would consist of largely of lean meat, fruits, and vegetables (Hutchinson).

First let’s look at why a caveman’s diet is healthier in so many ways than the average human’s diet today. When Cro-Magnons roamed the earth, they were nomadic hunters and gatherers (Lambert, 2012). They ate what they could find which consisted of wild game, fruits (and not the extra sweet and less fibrous varieties we have today), and vegetables (Khan, 2009). The advent of agricultural grain products and animal domestication didn’t come until later, ultimately leading to our modern-day lifestyles (Hutchinson, 2011). Countless diet books advocate cutting carbs and dairy products while enjoying fresh produce and lean meats (Bhatia, 2011).  Thus, a buttered pancake is unnatural for a human body. The flour pancake is filled with carbs, and the butter has trans fats and dairy products.

You might be wondering why our bodies would crave such seemingly unhealthy foods like the carbs found in pancakes. Carbs like grains, potatoes, and sugar were difficult to come by for cavemen, and these agricultural products were loaded with energy (Khan, 2009). This extra energy could make a huge difference for a caveman struggling to find food, so cavemen were naturally inclined to eat as many carbs as they could. Today, however, carbs are in abundance. People typically eat more than 300 grams of carbs per day (like pancakes, pasta, and ice cream), a figure drastically more than the recommended amount of 130 grams (Fahey, Insel, & Roth, 2011). Our bodies cannot handle carbs in excess and react by converting them into fat (Khan), leading to a plethora of problems associated with obesity for people today like diabetes (Fahey, Insel, & Roth).

For all the drawbacks of carbs, there are equal incentives to eat fruits and vegetables (Khan, 2009). Fruits and vegetables filled are not only with nutrients, but also with phytochemicals or antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent free radicals and cancer. Fresh foods like cavemen ate are far superior to processed foods we typically eat today (Hutchinson, 2011).

Furthermore, cavemen employed a better method of eating. They ate small meals throughout the day because of their hunter-gatherer lifestyles (Hutchinson, 2011). This style of eating maintained their blood sugar at relatively consistent levels. Today, when people eat three meals per day, their blood sugar often drops in between meals. These dips in blood sugar cause them to crave snacks and thus overeat to compensate for the cravings Additionally, eating small meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism active. When you eat big meals a few times per day, your metabolism slows which can result in weight gain (The importance, 2011).

Common knowledge tells us that those who lead more physically active lifestyles are healthier. Cavemen were constantly physically active, traveling average distances of five to sixteen kilometers per day (Hutchinson, 2011). Cavemen also had short bouts of vigorous and intense exercise that modern day health experts are beginning to recommend (Bhatia, 2011) instead of prolonged, less intense exercise.  Today, 60% of Americans don’t meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity, and 25% of Americans aren’t active at all (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). The constant exercise of a caveman is a sharp contrast to the majority of modern Americans who aren’t even attaining the bare minimum exercise needed for a healthy life.

One rather unfortunate consequence of our modern-day medical developments means that the human race as a whole is growing genetically weaker. Only early humans who possessed genes that enabled them to survive long enough to reproduce were able to pass on their genetic code. Today, medical advances such as asthma medication allow physically weak people to pass on their weak genes. A caveman with asthma most likely would have died early in life or would not have been able to compete with others to collect food. Today a person with asthma, like me, is able to live a long life instead and perhaps give my own future children asthma. According to Cavalli- Sforza (2002), medicine “allows the survival of certain types of disabilities, which are bound to increase their incidence” (p. E-53).  The author also adds that “curable genetic diseases and handicaps are likely to increase in numbers, both relative and absolute” (p. E-53).  Experts predict that human’s current antibiotics will eventually be unable to compete with infectious parasites that have evolved alongside them over the past 150 years. Thus, technological innovations are creating an overall less fit human race (Cavalli-Sforza).

Last, cavemen lived in an environment that facilitated health and wellbeing. Cavemen lived in a world free of the pollution and carcinogens we must deal with today. They had no cars to produce smog, no cigarettes, no pesticides, and no plastic to microwave. They didn’t have the ease of a grocery store that we do today. They had to work to find wholesome, healthy food. Without the same benefits of shelter, they were forced to be in the sun. With later discovery, we now know that sun is a necessary part of our lives.  Those of us who spend their entire days inside are not acquiring our fill. People need time in the sun to create Vitamin D that is necessary for bone health, and cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention. Finally, cavemen were not only healthier physically, but mentally. They had much lower levels of stress than we do today. According to Hutchinson (2011), “In the typical hunter-gatherer life long periods of low stress were punctuated with short bouts of acute stress that triggered the fight-or-flight response. In contrast, modern office workers often show signs of chronically elevated stress, which can have consequences such as a weakened immune system.”

All in all, cavemen led healthier lifestyles than people today in more than one way. They ate wholesome, healthy foods, all the while limiting their carb intake. They ate small, frequent meals, therefore maintaining their blood sugar. They were physically active for far longer everyday. They naturally maintained only their healthiest genes, thus creating a strong race.  They even lived in an environment that fostered health and wellness.

While we may no longer need to live in caves or hunt and forage for our food, we can still learn something from the caveman way of life. We can take advantage of modern day medical advances and transportation, but still incorporate a diet and exercise similar to that of a caveman.


Bhatia, R. (2011, February 06). Adopt a caveman lifestyle. Mail Today. Retrieved from"Adopt a caveman lifestyle")
Cavalli-Sforza, L. (2002) Human genetic and linguistic diversity: Genetics and the future of humanity. Encyclopedia of Evolution.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 07). Exercise statistics. Retrieved from
Fahey, T. D., Insel, P. M., & Roth, W. T. (2011). Fit & Well: Core concepts and labs in physical fitness and wellness.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Hutchinson, A. (2011, November 21). Paleo lifestyle; should you go caveman? The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from"THE PALEO LIFESTYLE: SHOULD YOU GO CAVEMAN?")
The importance of eating small portions. (2011)Fitday. Retrieved from
Khan, A. (2009, November 7). Why low carb diets work. Retrieved from
Lambert, T., (2012). The Cro-Magnons. Retrieved from

"First Passion’s Let-down," Lily Statzer

First Passion’s Let-down

Lily Statzer

BOOM!!!CRACK!!!WOOSH!!! As a little girl these simple sounds would drive me into the most sheltered corner of my parent’s room with tears streaming down my face as I shiver from pure fright while my mother would attempt to comfort me while holding back snippets of laughter. Now, why was my mother laughing while her little girl was scared to death? It was probably that ever since I can remember, I would plant myself in front of the television every time my favorite tornado and violent weather TV shows would air.

Yeah, that was me, deathly afraid of thunderstorms, yet I marveled over the magnificent twisters on the TV shows “Stormchasers” and “Storm Stories.” I was caught between reality and fiction. Typical right? The girl whose dreams are bigger than her fears, the girl who dreams for a fairytale ending, although that’s all just in the movies. “Suck it up!” I kept telling myself, “you are never going to be like the storm chasers if you can’t even sit through a tiny storm without crying your eyes out!” I could barely stand to see lightning, crippled over at the sound of thunder, and ended up shivering at the sound of torrential rain and violent wind. Yet, I would be in awe over streaking lightning bolts, crackling thunder, falling  in love in the sheer beauty of tornados.

Some are short and fatothers are tall and sleek. The massive, blacker-than-black twisters appear to be nothing more than an ominous thundercloud approaching over the land, but they bear down upon a town like a pro-wrestler would upon that skinny nerd from math class. The slender ones dance, twist, and turn sporadically in their gray and earth-toned bodies wearing skirts of a transparent black. How this amazingly murderous force of nature is able to draw such love and admiration from a five-foot girl who couldn’t stand a small thunderstorm? Well, that’s a mystery.

My love for violent weather events began when I was little, but my passion jumpstarted when I saw one “Stormchasers” episode in particular that compelled my heart and soul towards storm chasing. I sat mesmerized as I watched the team cease their pursuit of the mile-wide EF4-tornado to aid the recently stricken town and quickly realize that they were by far the first ones on the scene. As they rummaged through the rubble, they heard a man yelling for help. When the team dug him out, they discovered he had a serious neck injury and carefully carried him almost a mile to the nearest accessible road where an ambulance was waiting.

I aspired to be like the people on “Stormchasers,” to risk my life researching the sciences behind the twisters in order to better the warning systems and save the millions of people who live in tornado-prone areas. And in order to fulfill my aspirations and passion, there was one place I needed to be: The Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami.

You know that feeling when you first discover your life’s passion and you do your best to climb those necessary steps you need to get there, then you discover each step seems to become steeper as you climb and eventually you feel obligated and conflicted to see it through all the way to the end?

I do.

I applied to the University of Miami early decision, I had excellent recommendations—one of whom was an alumni who went on to discover genetics behind multiple sclerosis and teach at Harvard and Yale. I did interviews with the Dean of the Rosensteil School, I kept constant contact, I kept my grades up—I was deferred—I waited, I kept positive, I had even more recommendations calling the President of UM on my behalf, I heard nothing, my friend was accepted early action—I was waitlisted and accepted for spring semester. So I gave Miami a big FU and then went to Furman University instead.

Just to be clear, I’m not hating on my good ol’ FU, but it did mess up my entire life plan. Instead I began on an Environmental Science major narrowed to Earth’s systems and atmosphere so I could continue to Miami for graduate school.

After a little over a month at Furman of learning, growing, and attempting to discover myself as one is supposed to when they enter college, I began to think, “Is environmental science really the best choice for me? Will it take me in the direction I want to go in?” And in that moment, my mind drifted through my past landing on an indescribable combination of shock and excitement. The neuron—dendrites, cell body, axon, Schwann cell, node of Ranvier, axon terminals—I understood it, the one area in my AP Biology class that instantly anchored itself in the depths of my mind. The body’s control center and billions of its workers, constantly sending and receiving packages of chemical signals.

They say when people leave for college that they come back a new person, that they have changed. They’re wrong. What people become in college is what they have always been. That part of them was just buried and slowly dug up with each passing day until eventually they uncover his or herself. Maybe that’s what really happened to me. Maybe meteorology has always been a part of who I am, but just maybe neuroscience was always there hiding in the shadows of my passions slowly being drawn out like a scared child. My AP Biology class, the enthusiasm of the teacher, my friend’s tales of his time as a neuroscience major, and my excited response to the complaining of my roommate about the brain science in her psychology class all lured my interest in neuroscience to a place of serious consideration.

What should I major in, environmental science or neuroscience? What if I change my major too many times and I don’t have enough credits to graduate in time? What if I fail in neuroscience? What do I do if I can’t handle the amount work neuroscience requires? I have no idea what my future holds for me or how I will handle the challenges. All I know is that I am in the process of discovering who I am and I know not going to the University of Miami will not be the first major speed bump in my life plan.

So what do I think about all of this?

Yes, it’s commonly known that the average college student changes his or her major three ftimes or something. Yes, its true that the life you plan for yourself will definitely not be the life you will end up with. Yes, its probable that I will change my major three times or something. Yes, its probable that my life plan will be shot down and twisted until its unrecognizable again.

No, I will not let the inevitable crush me again, I will stand tall and embrace it because I know it will bring me to the place I belong.

"The Failing State of North America," Colin Pitts

The Failing State of North America

Colin Pitts

Mexico has for years been a stable regime under one political party with similar ruling patterns from president to president.  However underneath this regime grew an increasingly influential and sophisticated crime syndicate that has become an international presence and has become known as the drug cartels.  With the money and power that these cartels gained and exploited they began to work their ways into local governments that are easier to infiltrate than better-financed national officials (Zapata, 2012).  As the power and influence of these cartels expand the ability of the Mexican government to react and respond to their influence over the general population.  Is the Mexican government in danger of becoming a failed state and allowing the cartels to take significant power in Mexico?

In order to classify whether a state is failed one can follow several components of Max Weber’s theory regarding failed states (Clark & GolderGolder, 2009).  The first of these components is that a nation must have a given territory by which they can rule and collect taxes etc.  Mexico has gone over several border control issues over their years since independence from Spain but have never had any serious issue with loss of their or inability to tax certain parts of their nation.  In this sense the nation of Mexico seems to be holding its own and the national government is doing what is expecting by keeping a large landmass under political and governmental power.

The next component regards the use of legitimate force by the state however many scholars have found this definition to be difficult to quantify as the term legitimate has to do with who is viewing the action (Clark & Golder,Golder, 2009).  For example from the view of the cartels or one on the payroll of some of the cartels the use of force to protect your rights to operate freely within the nation of Mexico would seem like a legitimate use of force. 

The third component of Weber’s definition of as state is it must have a monopoly over the use of force (Clark & GolderGolder, 2009).  This aspect is where Mexico becomes interesting with respect to the cartels and their power.  Just recently in March of 2012 police officers were ambushed by an organized group of gunmen working for a cartel and 12 of the officers were killed (Booth & Kaphile, 2012).  This organized killings shows that while the Mexican army and police force has the man power, funding, and intelligence edge on the cartels, they don’t have the monopoly of force as people are killed nearly every month in cities all over Mexico and the government has no ability to stop it.

The start of this war on drugs in Mexico doesn’t have a clear beginning but one can start with President Filipe Calderon taking office in December and mobilizing 6,500 troops to fight the cartel threat.  This event was the first time that a political leader had taken a stand against the cartels and made an effort to combat their violence.  However, despite the action by president Calderon, the killings don’t stop and by December 2008, just two years after his stand against the cartels, the town of Ciudad Juarez experienced 1,600 homicides in just a year.  This statistic makes Ciudad Juarez one of the most dangerous places in the entire world (Booth & Kaphile, 2012).  The raise in the killings show that not only can a political change do nothing to stymie the cartels ability to operate but introduces a backlash that results in more violence and death.

The killings and assertion of violence by the cartels is always accentuated during the months and weeks leading up to an election or major political action.  The political desires and influence by use of violence can be seen in the street of every major city as elections and political actions flare in Mexico City. While to accurately quantify the amount of people killed in order for cartels to make a political statement, the BBC estimates 12,903 have been killed by January 11th 2012 (Mexico’s Drug Related Violence, 2012).  This number increases every year and cities become less safe during election time when the cartels make their presence known. 

The war on drugs within Mexico has brought about problems with security with officials being killed like the recent murder of Mayor Gorrostieta on November 17th (Mexican Mayor Maria, 2012).   Mayors and local officials have become the target of the violence and brutal methods of coercion to keep local governments scared and submissive to the cartels whims.  All these events happening right under the nose of the national government and police forces that are plagued by corruption.

With the start of the campaign against the cartels and the trafficking of drugs came a new concern, some of the worst corruption in a modern law enforcement system.  In recent months violence has been at its peak and Ted Galen Carpenter reports:

In another incident, a bloody gun battle ensued in downtown Tijuana when police attempted to stop a drug trafficker’s armed motorcade. The commander of the police unit and three officers were killed by the trafficker’s bodyguards. Those bodyguards, it turned out, were local police officers.

The real plight of the war against drugs has turned out to be, how well can the Mexican government as a collective entity work towards a similar goal.  This has proved to be a more trying task then originally anticipated by the Calderon administration when they took their stand in 2006.  The fight against drugs has been plagued by the corruption of police and law enforcement agencies that work for, or provide crucial information to, the cartels that ravage the country with violence.  Not only is this a fundamental problem in controlling drug trafficking and violence within the Mexican state, but also a larger issue of being in control of their personnel, and having the ability to in turn control their nation.  The inability to trust personnel has caused several reforms that have slowed and staggered the process of fighting drugs and has transferred focus internally.   Scott Stewart (2012) writes about these reforms:

In addition to consolidating the federal police forces, Calderon's 2008 police reform plan also called for existing agents and new recruits to undergo a much more thorough vetting process and to receive higher pay. The idea was to build up a more professional force less vulnerable to corruption and better able to fight the cartels.

Its speaks to the control that the government has due to the necessity to raise pay and perform more intense and focused cleansing process to ensure loyalty to their duty spells trouble immediately.  The new professional force is the culmination of distrust and internal struggle that has marred the process that has become known as the Mexican drug war.  In the fight against an organized and deeply influential crime syndicate like the cartels, the last incident that is needed, is to have internal issues regarding your own organization and where law enforcement officer’s loyalties lie. 

The state of Mexico’s state is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state due to their inability to control and tame the violence that has been consistently displayed by the crime organizations that hold so much power in their cities.  The monopoly of force is apparently lacking in Mexico as it has been proven for nearly 7 years that the Mexican government is incapable of maintaining this drug war and effectively stopping the cartels.  While the government has been able to fulfill the first two conditions to be a successful state, the manner in which the cartels have taken the violence to the street exemplifies the fact that there is not a monopoly of force being exercised by the Mexican government whether it is legitimate or not. 


Booth, B. ,  & Kaphle, A.  (May 9, 2012).  Timeline: Mexico’s drug war.  The Washington Post.  Retrieved from
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