5-1-2015 12-00-15 PMLately, as I have done my daily scrolls through Facebook, I’ve noticed a new trend among people my age that involves posting articles and quizzes about politics. Most of these articles, though, are incredibly biased to one party or another. Rather than researching and becoming informed citizens, it seems like most of my Facebook friends who are participating in this trend are letting Southern tradition or pop culture dictate their mentality. While I think it is exciting that it is now my generation’s turn to get involved in our nation’s political system, I feel that many of my peers are taking the wrong approach.

To those who identifying themselves as staunch Republicans or Democrats, I pose these questions: Do you know exactly what they party you are so invested in stands for? If so, are you ready live by the principles set by the party? Also, do you believe that everything the other group stands for is completely wrong? I have a feeling that, if answered honestly, most people would say no to most of these questions.

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We are entering a very pivotal time in our lives. We finally get to take part in fixing the political system that our parents and other adults have complained about our entire lives. So, why would we let our parents’ thoughts and feelings, societal pressure, or any other will of those who have come before us influence the decisions that we make? Yes, I will concede that we should respect our parents’ thoughts and maintain the morality that we were raised with, but our parents and those who raised us are part of the generation that helped create this “broken political system.”

In our lives, we have seen partisan tendencies of American citizens tear this nation apart. This is our time to come together and let reason drive this nation. We should not cling to one party or another and cause more animosity; we should strive to be good citizens and try to understand one another’s points of views. For every hypothetical or real incident one party can bring up to shame the other, there is one for the other party to use in return. There is no way to make America perfect or to have everyone agree on everything, but there has to be a better way to handle things than what we have now.

So, I would like to challenge all of my Facebook friends to replace these posts bashing one political party or the other with posts that could actually help solve problems in our nation. Also, to those who are still in high school or will be soon, pay attention in history class and observe the mistakes Americans have made in the past so that we can help prevent making them again in the future. Most of all, I challenge you to take time to discover who you are and what you believe in. This way, our generation has more victories than mistakes go down in history and we can prove to our parents that we aren’t the half-wits they think we are.
By: Mary Kate Holladay

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Savor The Moments

4-17-2015 9-05-38 AMFor the past four years, I have been forced to endure high school. It has felt like the worst time of my life because of all the meaningless drama with friends, endless amounts of schoolwork for subjects I don’t even care about, and ridiculous fights with my seemingly ignorant parents. I have been convinced that high school has been nothing but a waste of my time. As graduation is rapidly approaching, though, my mindset about this chapter in my life is changing profoundly.

When I first entered freshman year, the countdown began. I spent the entire year wishing my life away, longing to become a sophomore and finally being able to drive. When that finally came around, I soon lost interest in driving and focused all of my efforts on trying to be cool and gain the respect of the upperclassmen. After doing so (and unknowingly completely alienating myself from my own class), I became overwhelmed with AP courses and the ACT my junior year.

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When I finally got to my senior year, I did some self-reflection. I asked myself, “Who am I going to become when I finally get out of here?” and “What areas of my life do I need to improve on before I end this chapter?” It was then that I realized, my high school career had been wasted time; but, it was not because of the circumstances I was in, it was the attitude that I had.I have so many wonderful memories from high school that will stay with me for the rest of my life, but I regret not taking the time to realize how special that time was whenever it was happening.

Now that I have come to this realization, I would like to thank all of those who helped me through this important time of my life. To the teachers who worked so hard to motivate me and help me reach my full potential, to my friends who helped me have the best experiences, and most importantly to my patient, loving parents, I would like to offer a most sincere thanks for helping me through this time of my life.

To those who are about to enter high school and those who are there now, let me extend some advice so that you don’t make the same mistakes I made. Savor the moments that you have in high school, because it truly is one of the best times of your life. Also, spend this time doing things that you find enjoyable rather than trying to do things to please others. I think the most important piece of advice I can give, though, is to listen to your parents, teachers, and anyone else who provides guidance to you. Although they seem overbearing and unreasonable now, you will one day realize that they are your biggest advocates and they know much more than you imagine. Graduation comes much faster than you imagine, so don’t wish the precious time you have left away.
By: Mary Kate Holladay

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4-3-2015 11-24-22 AMThe smell of racing fuel and burning rubber meets my nose, and I instantly recognize the scents I love so much. My heart begins beating rapidly when engines come to life with a roar at the command of the Grand Marshall. I rise out of my seat and begin cheering for my favorite driver as the speed of the cars causes the ground to shake while they head for the starting line. The green flag waves and the NASCAR race begins!

For approximately nine months of the year, I spend every Sunday afternoon possible watching NASCAR racing. I love watching the cars and drivers race around the track at astonishing speeds, while trying to avoid crashing into other cars. Auto racing is unpredictable: a crash can happen at any moment, the engine could blow, or a myriad of other problems could occur that will affect the outcome of the race. The unpredictability and thrill that accompany a NASCAR race are just two of the many reasons that racing is my favorite sport.

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I have been raised watching NASCAR since birth. My dad, (who is an engineer) is the main reason I was exposed to the sport. He has loved cars for as long as I can remember, and I have many memories of being in the shop with him while he worked on cars. He has taught me everything I know about mechanics, engineering, and racing; I inherited my love of motor sports from him. We watch the races together, and he explains terms to me, as well as the techniques and strategies of racing. We not only talk about NASCAR, but also about drag racing, dirt track racing, go-kart racing, and more. Because I was raised in this environment, I grew to love automobiles and racing of all kinds.

A major component of racing is the engineers who work on the cars, make the cars faster, and improve its performance. Auto design engineers design the cars to be as aerodynamic as possible while being able to handle the horsepower the engine produces and staying within certain guidelines given by NASCAR. There are many different kinds of engineers that work for the racing teams, but they all work together to create a car that can help their driver win the race.

My love of racing, mechanics, and automobiles has inspired me to pursue a career as an engineer, working towards my dream of being a part of a racing team in NASCAR’s top level of competition. I aspire to spend my life doing what I love instead of working in a cookie-cutter job that I will not enjoy. I know it is going to be a long, hard road to get there, but I am willing to put in the hard work needed to reach my goals.

Just like in a race, there will be complications that I will have to overcome in order to “get the win,” but I know the rewards will be worth the struggle. I believe in dreaming big and not settling for mediocre. Reach for the stars, pursue what you love, and do not let anyone convince you to do less.

Remember, anything is possible.
By: Hunter Rogers

4-3-2015 11-24-56 AM

Choosing To Be A Minority

3-20-2015 9-44-07 AMIn today’s world, many teenagers center their attention on the opinions of others. They worry about whether they are too fat or too skinny or too tall or too short, and they constantly think about what people are thinking about them. While asking themselves: “What does everyone think of me?” they fail to ask themselves: “What do I think of me?”

Oftentimes, teenagers, and even adults, place tremendous pressure on each other to do this or say that or go here or wear that, which causes a person to make a choice between conforming to people’s expectations and being accepted, or standing their ground and becoming subject to the criticism that follows. When forced to make this choice, many will choose to succumb to the pressure and join the crowd. A minority, however, will hold their ground and stay true to who they are. We should strive to break the mold and join this minority.

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Although I am homeschooled, I too have been faced with many of the same dilemmas as other teens. I have to choose whether to be moral or be profane. I have to make a choice not to use foul language. I have to make the decision to never use drugs or drink alcohol if I am presented with them. All of these are examples of things a teenager is often faced with. If they are leaning towards making the correct choice, others will often pressure them into making the wrong one they themselves have already made. In an effort to be accepted, that person will make the wrong choice too.

The choices a person makes early on will affect them for the rest of their life. For this reason, we should try to make the moral choice that will bring about a positive effect on our lives. Religious people like myself should seek answers in the Bible and follow God’s standards, not the world’s. God’s opinion of us and our opinion of ourselves should really be the only two opinions that matter. We should not focus on what others think of us. We should try to make ourselves and God proud, not our peers. We should respect the opinions of others, but we should not live by them.

Not everyone believes in God, however. People who do not follow the Biblical standard should rely on what they have been taught was right. It may not always be correct, but if they stick to what they have learned, then they have stayed true to themselves.

If we follow what we know is right, what our parents have taught us to be right, or what the Bible has taught us, we will be able to make better choices and be ourselves. We will not feel like we are forced to conform to everyone else’s ideas of how we should act, or what we should look like, or how we should live our lives. We will be happier if we can just be ourselves, break the mold, and be different. Being different from the status quo is a good thing! God made us all different, so we should embrace it and encourage others to be different, too.
By: Hunter Rogers

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1-3-2014 5-05-06 PMYour great aunt’s pictures of the new dog are now cluttering your newsfeed, and someone missed the fact that they were on caps lock all afternoon. Your best friend found a new stash of Pinterest cake stands to appreciate, and as much as you love her, you’re wishing she would find a hobby that doesn’t send you notifications.

Social media is not just a database or a forum – it’s a world unto itself. A world so structured, it has its own legal system. Break the code, and you end up in someone’s black book. Or, like your cake-stand-happy friend, your acquaintances start considering blocking you out of their social media lives.

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As a public service announcement, I have listed a few of the more commonly broken laws below.

First, don’t stalk. That sounds simple, but it’s actually a fine line. You are stalking if you comment on a picture someone posted a long time ago; you are not stalking if you comment on the picture immediately after you become their friend. Posting on someone else’s wall is not stalking, but if they aren’t your best friend, you’d better do it very rarely and for very good reasons. If you’re confused, don’t worry – so is everyone else. This brings us to the second rule.

Act like you know what you’re doing. The uncertain ones don’t make it far. Pretend if you must, but always give the impression that you are totally confident. It’s a vicious world out there, and you don’t want to be the one left reciting mule-in-the-hole stories to yourself. Believe me, they aren’t nearly as funny the second time.

NEVER POST IN ALL CAPS. There’s no reason for this rule, it’s just hard to read. Online, caps mean yelling, and if you read enough posts or comments or tweets by someone who yells all the time, the little person screaming at you from inside your head gets very tired.

Get to the point. When you post things like, “I’ve been so sad this week,” and “Guess what I did today,” you are shouting that you need someone to give you their attention and ask what you mean. Again, this denotes insecurity. Never act insecure.

On the other hand, avoid too much information. That picture of you in a Rockette outfit in your bathroom mirror? Well, good for you, but you remember that you friended your father, and he can see that, right? And the next time you meet an acquaintance in Wal-Mart, you think they’re just shaking your hand, but they’re actually envisioning you with reindeer antlers on your head.

Anyone can get online and “like” and “heart” and post pictures that no one else cares about, but to climb the ladder of social media popularity, and gain all those friends and followers you’ve dreamed of, a strict observance of the regulations that govern this world is a necessity.
By: Melissa Kirby

The Lost Art of Apologizing

12-20-2013 3-39-45 PM

Despite the growing popularity of internet shopping, this month tends to be one of traffic, travelers, and shoppers on a frantic mission. If you’ve been out in the holiday shopping this season, you may have ended up, like me, wrestling for a simple lane change in what should have been a mid-afternoon lull.

12-20-2013 3-39-02 PMI was raised on winding roads where hay bailers and cotton pickers are the only things that slow you down, and you wave when you pass another vehicle. In four lanes, scattered red lights, and 60 mph, I tend to do some of my worst driving.

Years ago, as a teenager, I took a car full of people to an event. The officer who pulled me over said I was going 58 in a 45. I couldn’t believe I had been moving that fast, but I was in a hurry and distracted, and – it didn’t matter. It was my word against the officer’s.

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I didn’t try to argue with him; I took the blame and apologized. Taken aback, the officer let me go with a warning.

I was told later that having a speeder simply apologize is so uncommon that he probably wasn’t sure what to do with me. Granted, I was also on the verge of tears, and I don’t care what you wear on your belt, no man likes to make a woman cry.

But the power of an apology is hard to overrate. Think of how many times a dangerous situation has been defused by someone taking the blame. Unless it’s a major, or a repeat offense, it is hard to hold something against someone who will totally accept that they are at fault. What would politics be like if those who ran our government contritely offered their apologies and their willingness to make amends, rather than denying the obvious? What if we had leaders who actually understood that the first rule of leadership is, like Hopper tells the princess in “A Bug’s Life:” “Everything is your fault.”

I’m not talking about the kind of apology that is immediately followed by a “but.” That’s not an apology; that’s a quantifier. An excuse, wrapped in its politest form. I’m talking about saying sorry, and meaning it.

A true apology is a forgotten art.

Section 32-5A-11 of the Alabama traffic law says, “This chapter shall be so interpreted and construed as to effectuate its general purpose to make uniform the law of various jurisdictions.”

When you get pulled over, the verdict is up to the person in the uniform. Anyone who has seen Barney Fife at work knows that you don’t flaunt your disregard for the law without consequences. But what about asking for forgiveness? How about admitting a fault, promising to turn it around, and penitently requesting a pardon?

We all mess up. There’s no shame in admitting your guilt, and promising to do better, as long as you do as you promise. Let’s make an apology, and carry it out. Let’s remember the forgotten art.
By: Melissa Kirby

12-20-2013 3-39-31 PM

Carrying a Popsicle Stick

12-7-2013 10-21-00 AMTheodore Roosevelt was the first to record the proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” a term that would be used to define his foreign policy. Meaning, roughly, that you smile nicely until you have to use force – and then you make sure you have that force available.

As policies go, this one has proven to be pretty effective, but it is highly reliant on your enemy believing that you have the ability to use force. And sometimes, to prove it, you have to actually use it.

Fifty years ago, the United States believed that we had a president who was young and healthy, when JFK was actually in such terrible physical shape that he wore a back brace that would prevent him from dodging the second and fatal bullet.

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And when he had to act on the illusion he had created, he ended up dead on a hospital bed in Dallas.

In 1980, Ruhollah Khomeini, the Ayatollah of Iran, did not believe that President Jimmy Carter was actually carrying a stick. Or at least, he thought it was a popsicle stick. Unfortunately, he was right, and for 444 days, 52 Americans were held hostage by Iranian terrorists. Khomeini also believed that Ronald Reagan had the power that Carter did not, and that this new American president was willing to use it. He believed it enough that he let 52 hostages walk free, rather than risk Reagan visiting his doorstep.

Forty years before that, the country of Japan believed that the United States didn’t have the strength to hold onto dozens of islands in the South Pacific – or, in fact, the strength to avenge a strike on a large naval base.

They were wrong, but it took four years and 16 million soldiers to convince them otherwise.

Famous despots such as Caesar Nero and Joseph Stalin were so terrified of dying that they saw plots against their lives everywhere they looked. They knew that when it came down to it, given an assassin and a weapon, they were just like everyone else: human.

Interestingly enough, both Nero and Stalin suffered violent deaths as a direct result of their tyranny.

When you’re afraid of having your strength tested, you may not have any left.

As a nation, having the ability to back up what we threaten is paramount to our ability to sway the world, to force other countries into some semblance of social freedom and equality.

A military operation into Syria would be an awful thing to have to do. And our ventures into Afghanistan and Iraq haven’t been the rose-strewn avenues we optimistically hoped for.

But the day we refuse to use the strength we hold over our enemies’ heads, is the day we will officially be carrying a popsicle stick.
By: Melissa Kirby

12-7-2013 10-24-53 AM

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11-1-2013 6-07-21 PMYou didn’t know that, did you? But it’s quite true. The ABC liquor stores’ advertisements and displays – all the marketing that makes the stores more pleasing to the customer – are paid for by you, the taxpayer.

You see, for the sake of a slight profit margin, we are, to quote State Senator Arthur Orr, “putting the state in competition with the guy down the street – the one paying taxes.”

11-1-2013 6-07-31 PMJump back to post-prohibition-era. In December of 1933, the Twenty-First United States Amendment permitted the sale and distribution of intoxicating beverages, privy to local and state laws. There are currently 18 “control” states, who, while allowing the sale of alcohol, keep it highly regulated. Alabama is one of the dozen or so that actually staff, promote, and stock their own liquor stores – on the state’s dime.

The Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control board serves as a warehouse and supply center for the liquor retail stores. It also has an enforcement and licensing division for the regulation of spirits and hard liquor, as well as beer and wine.

But the ABC board has another function. It actually operates liquor stores, such as the one in Athens on Hwy 31. We, the state, are in the retail business.
Senator Orr is spearheading a bill to privatize these stores, while carefully controlling the privatization. The number of stores will be highly regulated. The city of Athens, for instance, may not be allowed to have more than four. The “liquor store on every corner” phenomenon is not prevented by a state-run store; it is prevented by enforcement, which liquidating the state’s retail interest will leave the ABC board free to focus on.

The ABC employees don’t have to worry about losing their jobs: they will get hiring preference for other government positions they may qualify for, and private businesses that hire them will get preferential treatment in the bidding for limited slots.

There is some concern over losing revenue. Here is where a bit of speculation has to be incorporated into the plain ole’ math, because it’s hard to tell who buys from where, and why. That’s called marketing, as a matter of fact; something that started this conversation in the first place.

If we’re being honest here, the only things the government does better than the common man are enforcing the law (mostly because they made sure no one else has the authority to), building roads (that’s because the common man doesn’t have a paving machine out back), and going to war (same problem with a tank). Some would add printing money, but that’s debatable.

The ABC stores do see a small profit margin. But that’s not considering government pension plans and retirement and health care. That’s ignoring inefficiency and the possibility of mismanagement that would be eliminated in the private sector. And that’s assuming that we want our state to be in the business of selling liquor.
Alabama has had less financial difficulties than plenty of our fellow states. But watching the distress around us without changing what we’re doing would be idiotic. We cannot place the burden of more pensions, more departments, and a bigger, badder beast of a government on the shoulders of the next generation. It isn’t fair, it isn’t kind, and it really isn’t smart.
By: Melissa Kirby

11-1-2013 6-12-34 PM

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10-19-2013 8-24-58 AM

By now, you’ve probably heard that the federal government has shut down. Of course, going into this, we could probably have guessed that the IRS and the EPA would close, and Yosemite National Park wouldn’t be staffed. We didn’t exactly expect an error message when trying to locate abducted children and the criminals who kidnapped them, but that’s beside the point. And given that most computers don’t have an elephant key, we’ll assume White House keyboards are still intact.

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In case you haven’t been keeping up, a quick history lesson: the House of Representatives – currently Republican controlled – proposed a budget in the days leading up to October 1st. Unfortunately, they were selective about what they funded. In other words, healthcare wasn’t on the agenda, which was problematic, since that’s the president’s new toy, and taking away politicians’ new toys is generally a bad idea.

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A second proposal suggested delaying healthcare for another year. In a conversation about the hiccups on the brand new website, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer seemed to agree. “If they had three years to get this ready,” he said; “if they weren’t fully ready, they should accept the advice that a lot of Republicans are giving them, delay it another year, get it ready, and make sure it works.” Given that we’re talking about a site that provides propaganda and a calculator, I’m going to suggest that it might also take some extra time to implement a healthcare plan that covers 314 million people. But then, the government may turn out to be wildly efficient on this one. You never know.

10-19-2013 8-26-50 AMThe Affordable Care Act is law, they say. It can’t be changed. Like the Medes and the Persians, we’ll stand here and be eaten by lions, ‘cuz that’s how this works.

(I wouldn’t mention the implemented delays for businesses, or the fourteen wording changes, that have occurred since it was “signed into law.” It’s a sore point.)

As Thomas Sowell wisely reminds us, this was the reason for a government with three separate branches. They are checks and balances for each other. Our executive branch has decided that we need healthcare. Our judicial branch has upheld the validity of a legal requirement to enforce the purchase of healthcare.

And our legislative branch just stood up and said, “No.” Right or wrong, that means they’re doing exactly what they were organized to do: create balance.

Pointing fingers at a legislative branch that can’t “get it together” is like a pilot who blames his plane’s reaction to turbulence on the spinning instruments.

Or like a political opportunist who sees widespread disease in other countries, and blames it on the absence of an agenda that coerces healthy people into buying a product they don’t want, to remedy a problem American insurance can’t fix.

Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re doing.

Well, like I said. Just because government and efficiency have been mutually exclusive in the past is no guarantee that they won’t settle their differences before federal workers start perishing in the street. After all, at this point, adding money to the Affordable Care Act to pay for starvation treatment would be practically impossible.
By: Melissa Kirby

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