Monday, July 6, 2015

Virginia Outdoors

No words can truly give these experiences justice. Go outside, leave your technology (with your camera as the exception) behind, with some good friends and make some great memories. Experience nature, respect it, and the rewards are innumerable.

- Stephen

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Little Morning Motivation

After each sunset, there is a sunrise. With the sunrise comes a new start.
Original photography.

I woke up this morning determined to change my attitude.

Working on a long-term academic project with a 40 hour/week work schedule is a new challenge to me, and am experiencing a bout with the mental burnout that normally accompanies these types of endeavors. So, as I searched for a quote of the day (a ritual that I have been performing every day this summer) I found this on

“Life is a short day; but it is a working day. Activity may lead to evil, but inactivity cannot lead to good.”

 - Hannah More (I highly recommend you look up who she is, an incredible and inspiring woman who thrived in 3 careers -- as a poet and playwright, writer on morals and religion, and a practical philanthropist)

“…but it is a working day…” In life, we are presented with a dynamic set of challenges and are blessed with unprecedented flexibility to face them. More importantly, we are recharged every night and given a fresh start every morning. Those are the tools given to us, what we do with it then falls under the domain of our beautiful free will. Men can build skyscrapers, scale mountains, heal the sick, consolidate a nation, or even sit at home all day. That is our choice. Where will you dedicate yourself? What will you do with the amazing tools bestowed to each of us, who will you impact?

“Activity may lead to evil, but inactivity cannot lead to good.” The first step, regardless of the path over which your choices will guide you, is to commit yourself to something, no, anything. Set a goal, an objective; something so perceivably unobtainable that only fools would conceive of its accomplishment. In reality, it is the fool who would tell you so. Then, have the vision. See yourself there, after the completion of that (those) goal(s). How have you changed? How did you grow, whether it be mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically? Think about that image you have created of how you have transformed from how you are today to how you will be tomorrow. Make the steps tangible. If you make it manageable, the summit suddenly becomes closer and closer. It’s amazing: once you begin taking the steps, there are less to be taken. Now, get there. No excuses. You have what you need; the flexibility, the access to technology, the ingenuity, and most importantly the ability to choose. If you drop the ball; no one will notice, no one will care, that is because you are responsible for your own success.

More so, the umbrella of that responsibility extends to failure. Embrace it, love it, learn from it, move on. “Activity may lead to evil,…” sometimes failure happen, unintended externalities may mitigate the gains you hoped to achieve. It happens, that is why life “is a working day…” you have to roll with it, adapt, be better the next time, be the best the time after that.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: YOU are the only one that is limiting yourself. If its grades, don’t dwell on what you did do, focus on what you will do. Study harder, study longer, make what you do different than what it was before and I’d guarantee that the result of those inputs will never be the same as the original.

“I’ve always figured out that there are 24 hours a day. You sleep six hours and have 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there that say ‘well, wait a minute, I sleep eight hours or nine hours.’ Well, then just sleep faster, I would recommend.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

If its your physique. Eliminate the phrase “I’ll start tomorrow” from your vernacular. Every. Single. Day. is an opportunity, a blessing, and a curse. “..inactivity cannot lead to good.” Each day can be one day closer for you to not only accomplish the objective, but embody the vision you have set out for yourself. Each day also presents the opportunity to tear down that vision. Take the chance, take the risk, and always move forward.

 Carpe Diem.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Bug

Unshakable. Insatiable.

It’s an itch and a thirst, a terminal infection. It’s travel.

Recently, I've come into a mild travel-kick. Beginning last spring, when I took a trip to the UK with my rugby team, I became enchanted with the freedoms of international exploration. Always being an avid backpacker and fisherman, I took every available moment during the next summer to explore a new corner of the state which I call home. This winter was highlighted by a trip to Ecuador to tune-up my Spanish abilities and tour the South American paradise. When every day for 2 weeks was characterized by new people, a new environment, new foods, and new culture I didn't want the excitement to stop.

It’s an addiction.

So now, sitting on a chair at my desk, I am left to dream of future travel and postulate why it’s such an important activity in which to engage. First, it is an opportunity to define ‘you’. Travel offers a blank slate. No one knows who you are, you are not bound by any agenda, and your limits are those which you set for yourself. How you handle yourself with such autonomy will define your character: how do you use your time? Will you step outside of your own comfort zone? Will you make the effort to meet new people? How do you decide with whom you share your experiences? How will you decide which experiences to have? Along with dozens of other questions, only you have the ability to provide an answer through your actions on the trip. Second, travel will widen your perspective on everything. What matters to you, needs vs. wants, and daily routines all have the potential to be challenged by any one of the experiences you will have while abroad. Hopefully you will uncover some of the trivial problems in your life which may be done away through minimization. Furthermore, it is easy to come to grateful conclusions about the place you call home. The value of the “little things” will probably increase after the trip. Lastly, I cannot omit the rejuvenating properties of travel. We have all heard of the importance of rewarding yourself for hard work,  meeting goals etc.,  and travel is (potentially arguable) THE best reward for such behavior. Mind at ease, any length of travel provides both a physical and mental separation between you and the problems of reality. Placing yourself in such pleasant situations has to be beneficial (I mean, mental health days are a thing, right?)and when I’m a doctor I’ll be sure to do the research that would allow me to prescribe patient with “x Mandatory days of travel” as a legitimate treatment.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe all it will take is your first trip abroad. Either way, I know that I cannot get enough of the adventure entailed in travelling. The sites, the people, the cuisine, all of it cumulates in an experience that is as much about the journey as it is the destination. We cannot afford to maintain such a narrow perspective as is developed by those who never leave their home state. Not in a time of interconnectedness, of globalization, were we must subscribe to a global rather than statial way of thought. Opportunity is there: the money, the methods, and the destinations. There is no excuse to not go out and experience the world, our world. Go out and gain the perspective, BE a cosmopolitanis, a citizen of the world

safe travels.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Critical Thinking and American Academic Culture

It goes without saying that there are inherent flaws within the American academic system, particularly at the high school and undergraduate levels. These problems are born of the culture of “teaching (or learning) to the test” present within these systems. I’m not talking about the meritocracy of schools based on standardized test scores (which is, in itself, a massive problem which I will not here address for fear of pulling out all my hair), rather the lack of critical thinking among students and the short comings of methods used by teachers (not across the board; I’ve had several teachers who actually excelled at this, you know who you are) to encourage it.
Firstly, let me say that this problem is in part due to the culture of laziness that has become toxically present in American culture as a whole, which plays a large role in what I will go into here. I will use as examples two classes in which I am currently enrolled; a political science class and a philosophy class. It is important to note that I’m not saying critical thinking is more important in these fields than in others, quite the opposite, it is important in every aspect of life, these are just the examples I am using.
On the one hand, we have my political science class. This class features what would, in a perfect world, be a good method of encouraging critical thinking among students. We are assigned for each class period one or two pieces of academic literature to read, after which we are to think of a thought provoking question to be used during in class discussion. The catch? You don’t necessarily have to read the entire thing to be able to write at least a passable question. This is one example of learning to the test, of doing just enough to get the grade, of being too lazy to do the work thoroughly and properly. I’m by no means saying that I’m not guilty of this, because I am; I am, however, saying that this example represents one of the problems I see in American academia. While this method is intended to encourage critical thinking, it accomplishes the opposite; because it isn’t necessary to complete the reading in its entirety, thereby taking in all the information therein, it is not critical thinking that is achieved, rather a honing of BS skills, and I don’t mean bachelors of science.
On the other hand, we have my philosophy class. This class takes what I see as the opposite approach to critical thinking. The assignments in this course also consist of readings; however the written portion is not some thought provoking question, rather a summary of what you read. Assignments like this have been lamented since middle school for their simplicity, (supposed) lack of critical thinking, and lack of academic merit in general. I would contest, however, that they accomplish the task better than the method explained above. Because getting a good grade requires completion of the reading assignment from start to finish, the student is forced to take in all the information in the text, or at least look at it enough to write a brief summary. While not directly or intentionally targeting critical thinking, this method certainly exposes the student to more information and, thereby, provides a better understanding of the course material.
As I stated above, the real issue is American laziness. Methods like the ones above are necessary because American students, by and large, don’t want to think critically, they want to get good enough grades to walk across the stage in June. It will not be until this overarching cultural issue is resolved that students will learn for the sake of learning, think because they want to think, study to gain knowledge, as opposed to merely going through the motions to get the grade.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You Have No Excuse

There are fewer things I find more repulsive and disgusting that fatness. Fatness is weakness, weakness is unacceptable, and the acceptance of weakness is downright intolerable.
            You can probably tell by now that I’m not a huge fan of the relatively recent wave of “I am beautiful” campaigns. In fact, I hate them with all that I am. I hate this settling for mediocrity, this acceptance of sloth, and this glorification of gluttony. They’re nothing more than a bunch of weak willed, soft bodied, initiative lacking, weaklings who are seeking acceptance despite their shortcomings and attempting to convince themselves that it’s okay to suck.
            Physical fitness is one of the single most important aspects of human life. Being physically fit leads to higher energy levels, higher libido, better rest, longer life expectancy, and improved mood, to name a few things. Despite all these plus sides, a disgustingly high number of people, Americans in particular, are not doing anything to preserve their physical wellbeing; they eat a shit diet, they can’t be bothered to get up and walk a mile, much less go lift weights or do actual cardio for an hour. It’s disgusting (get ready to see that word a lot). It is a duty of a man to keep himself in good physical condition, I’m not saying you have to look like Jay Cutler or be able to run like Hickam El Garouj, but you should strive to maintain the best physical condition you can. Whether you lift five or six days a week, swim laps, run trails, row, or bicycle, physical fitness is one of the keys to not only being healthy but being a man.
            Alongside keeping active and challenging yourself physically, one must also eat a healthy diet (as in what you eat, not some plan from a magazine). It’s not hard to do at all. I don’t mean cut out carbs or fats or anything of that nature, quite the contrary, those things all aid in proper recovery from exercise. What you should cut out, or at least cut back, is processed foods, trans-fats, saturated fats, and empty calories. This is nowhere near hard enough a task to justify the amount of obesity in this country. Instead of eating deep fried potato chips, eat some unbuttered popcorn or some baby carrots, substitute oatmeal for sugary cereals, eat more vegetables (I find raw spinach to be excellent and filling). It’s not that hard.
            This year, an English television personality by the name of Katie Hopkins undertook a weight gain of fifty pounds to show that obesity was purely the fault of the person in question, not genetics or some other factor outside their control. After gaining her fifty pounds, she said she would lose the weight just as easily as she gained it through simple exercise and a sensible diet. She has 35 pounds to go. I’d tend to agree with Katie, except for maybe a handful of percentages of serious conditions that actually do cause obese levels of weight retention, I’d say that obese people have no one but themselves to blame. 
            Fat people are fat not because they’re big-boned, they have bad genetics, or some bullshit made-up psychological disorder (notwithstanding actual rare psychological disorders associated with severe chemical imbalances in the brain), but because they are weak willed, they lack the personal initiative and drive to get off their lazy, entitled asses and exercise, to actually think about what they put in their bodies as fuel, and are ultimately undisciplined. They expect to be able to live and eat like sedentary filth and not have any negative repercussions, and when they do, they don’t have the fortitude to admit that it’s their fault, so they make some ridiculous excuse and then scream at the world that they are beautiful and that we should accept them and their weakness because they’re too lazy and pitiful to change anything about themselves.

            I say no, stop accepting mediocrity, stop glorifying fatness, stop being weak. Get off your asses, show some self-discipline, exercise some personal initiative, and make a positive change in your life.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rites of Passage, Part II

            It’s been almost a year since my original post about rites of passage (look, I used the proper form of the word, this time). In the time bygone, I have had a few experiences that I think allow me to now compose part two.
            I’ll start with this summer, when I was employed as a miner in a limestone quarry. Whilst working in this mine, I was subjected to not hazing or purposefully instituted rites of passage in so many words, but to the stereotypical blue-collar “Fucking New Guy” (FNG) stuff. Let me preface what I’m about to say; I don’t come from some posh white-collar upbringing, I was raised doing farm work, earning my keep at home, and hunting because we needed meat, not because I had a new $12,000 shotgun that daddy bought me – my point is that working in a blue-collar environment was nothing new to me. Back to the quarry; as the FNG, I unfailingly drew the most undesirable job: driving a haul truck. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t too many engrossingly interesting jobs in a limestone quarry, but driving a haul truck in a half mile long semi-circle for ten hours straight for six days a week is the pinnacle or boredom. So, as the new guy, I was relegated to doing this for the duration of my employment (don’t mistake this for ingratitude, because I’m very grateful to have had the job, money, and experience). However, working in this quarry provided me with opportunities not only to learn how this industry operates, at least one a base level, it got me a lifelong certification as a miner in the state of Virginia, a basic knowledge of how to operate a few different pieces of equipment, improved my driving skills immensely, and provided me a chance to work with down to earth men. I was never made fun of or joked about any more than the new guy on any job site and I was never made to do anything dangerous or embarrassing (there isn’t any room for these types of fuck fuck games in a mine), but I knew that the jovial shit talking and joking radio transmissions were all part of being the new guy and earning a place on the quarry crew.
            On another level, I began this summer my second year at VMI. A 180 from last year, I found myself in a position of power and influence as a member of the cadre in charge of preparing and training the newly arrived rats. Firstly, let me say that the cadre with whom I worked displayed nothing but the utmost professionalism and expertise in their methods. As I went through the process of Hell Week, this time on the other side, I thought back to my own experience as a rat; methods I thought helped me learn, things that I thought were impractical, etc. and used this tool box I’d accrued over the past year to make my own training more effective. Now, my Hell Week was no walk in the park, by any means, but there was never a moment that was easy or even pleasant, and I made sure, as a member of cadre, that this year’s rat mass had the same experience of constant physical and mental strain while also achieving basic aptitude in the ways of a cadet. They were never hazed, they were never needlessly embarrassed, they were never made to do anything dangerous (these things are not the cadre’s job), but the whole ordeal represents one of the most rigorous rites of passage in the US higher education system.

            Now that I’ve been on the receiving and delivering ends of these rites of passage in several settings, I think that yes, society is certainly getting softer (something I think needs desperately to be remedied), but the fact that rites of passage still exist in mundane places like a work site, that young men still want to come to such a challenging place as this to test their mettle, and the fact that people like me continue to insure that the FNG’s get the same tough and testing experiences as we had says that rites of passage are not dead, they’re just sick, and society needs to provide the medicine.


New Market Battle Painting, Jackson Memorial Hall, VMI

"Walking into JM Hall, an individual will pass through the narthex, through antiquated double doors and into the main chapel. The painting’s dimensions immediately draw the gaze of the audience and will humble the viewer by its great size."

New Market Battle Painting

New Market Battle Painting by Benjamin Clinedinst attempts to encapsulate the spirit on which the institute bases its traditions. VMI's Chapel is a perfect place for this painting, unveiled in 1914; it stands tall in place at one of VMI's most revered buildings. Under its grandeur, VMI holds some of their most important ceremonies including, weekly General Committee trials where cadets govern each-other, class meetings, award ceremonies, weekly mass and the occasional wedding. The painting serves to remind its audience of the amazing actions of VMI’s corps of cadets during Civil War conflict on May 15, 1864, and to motivate them towards meaningful lives. In the presence of the painting, VMI’s cadets administer the institute standards, housed in a place of worship, and are often the gathering point for groups of men and women who come together every year to make strides towards honorable lives. New Market Battle Painting is set on display to inspire a mood of reverence and divine power in Institute cadets by the painting's sight lines, focal points, situation, and color palette.

Benjamin Clinedinst utilizes sightlines and focal points to depict the painful and ambiguous situation experienced by the New Market Cadets while communicating elements of divinity and reverence to his audience. The first observation the viewer will make is the sight line given through the battle lines of the cadets clad in Confederate uniform. From this first visual cue, we are able to determine the actions of the subjects. The cadets are seemingly led in a charge from stage right to stage left. This also brings the viewer to notice a focal point in the first few cadets. They are positioned at the front of the battle ranks with their bayonets forward, indicating direction and offering a contrast to the majority of cadets in the battle formation, who display their rifles as shouldered. Possibly the most interesting focal point is the artist’s use of battle smoke to portray that element of bravery amidst a chaotic battle. He further develops this cue by extending the focal point into a sight line of smoke that weaves between the legs of the cadets in the charge. Benjamin Clinedinst uses the smoke to symbolize bravery by insinuating war’s element of uncertainty, a notion that was especially prevalent in the moment that VMI’s young corps of cadets was ordered into battle. Connoting divine power, Clinedinst guides the viewer through the line of charging cadets, to the cloud of smoke, and portrayed the cadets heading into the unknown. The audience should succumb to a solemn reverence, observing these teenagers engaged in war. They were boys who became men and epitomized the institute’s definition of citizen soldiers and model VMI Cadets. Their act of bravery, highlighted by New Market Battle Painting’s focal points and sightlines, should resonate as reverence not only within JM hall, but as admiration in the minds of its audience.

The situation of Benjamin Clinedinst’s grandiose canvas on which he chose to portray his New Market Battle Painting facilitates the sentiment of reverence and encourages a divine presence. Walking into JM Hall, an individual will pass through the narthex, through antiquated double doors and into the main chapel. The painting’s dimensions immediately draw the gaze of the audience and will humble the viewer by its great size, subject matter aside. It seems as if Jackson Memorial Hall was built around New Market Battle Painting. The pews all face it, it is raised above all other objects, and it remains present behind preachers and judges alike. Admiration gains a foothold in the mind of the view as he is able to study the piece. While reflecting on the battle scene depicted, New Market Battle Painting’s dimensions allows the viewer to become lost in its detail and place themselves into the situation offered by the piece of art. Institute cadets, therefore, experience the scene depicted by personally inserting themselves into the battle, gaining an understanding of the sacrifice and perseverance of the subjects, and gaining perspective on the standard which was set in 1864 for all other classes to follow. They reflect, in VMI’s only place of worship, before Clinedinst’s piece and those he chose to portray in it.

Completing the interpretation of New Market Battle Painting by Benjamin Clinedinst is his choice of color palette. Using a dark mixture of greens, greys, blacks, fiery reds and oranges, Benjamin Clinedinst conveys the intensity of the battle. The sky is dark, the smoke is thick, almost as if the subjects are being suffocated in an ominous field, by an entity that is above their own understanding. The peach colored faces become indiscernible in the gray, making the unit of individual cadets charging forward seem like one mass flowing forward together. Fire arises in the background to highlight the intensity and peril that awaits the cadets. Clinedinst’s colors complement each other in a way that not only conveys the intensity of the battle, but as a reflection, portrays the motivating selflessness of the individuals involved. He painted a mass of gray soldiers uniting under their ensign to fight not only for their beliefs, but for those beside them, and the honor that they each hold. By utilizing these intense, sombering, colors he was able to create an image – and therefore a message – that will be remembered by his audience.

Beginning with his use of focal points and sight lines, Benjamin Clinedinst presents the masses of smoke connecting the cadets at New Market. He brings that smoke to a mass representing an ethereal uncertainty before the cadets. It provokes questions such as: would the cadets be able to emerge on the other side? Would all of them make it? The questions lead to conclusions involving the presence of a higher being among the cadets. Clinedinst further developed this conclusion with the chosen setting of the piece. While he could have created this dedication to VMI’s New Market cadets in barracks, where today’s cadets live every day, or an academic building, as the institute is first and foremost a college, he chose to set his piece in VMI’s chapel. As previously mentioned, the painting dominates the structure. New Market Battle Painting is at the front, regardless of the event in the venue. Principally, every Sunday, the painting remains. The pews face it; the worshippers sing in its direction, and the institute chaplain gives his sermon before it. To solidify the feeling of divine presence and reverence experienced by the painting’s viewers, Clinedinst’s color palette allows the painting’s subject matter to resonate beyond the building’s confines. In a place of worship, subject to reverence and admiration of its audience, Benjamin Clinedinst’s New Market Battle painting takes its place behind the altar.


"Benjamin West Clinedinst." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Oct.        2014.
"New Market Battle Painting by Benjamin West Clinedinst :: VMI Archives Photographs             Collection." New Market Battle Painting by Benjamin West Clinedinst :: VMI Archives           Photographs Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014.