Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

It took George Bailey a while to realize, but eventually he got it quite well. In the 1946 classic, Jimmy Stewart, as George, gets the opportunity to see what life would be like if he never existed. Unless you're massively cynical, or opposed to Christmas on a fundamental level, you should see this movie. Most, if not all, of us can relate to the idea of not making a difference in the world or living a pointless existence. Expect for those individuals that are too arrogant to ever acknowledge things happen that have nothing to do with them. Regardless, at one point or another, everyone has felt down, unappreciated, or neglected. In the movie, George is contemplating suicide amidst his mounting debts. Given the current financial crisis many may be doing the same thing now. This is tragic, because people do make a difference. At least in my own experience, God puts people into situations for distinct reasons, which may or may not be evident at the time. In fact, in my own life I can see evidence of this over the years, specifically in a few distinct instances although others most likely exist. I'll detail those, as well as some where people were put in my life at specific times to encourage, direct, or save my decision making process.

When I was younger, 5-8, I use to love visiting my grandfather. I still do, but the point is that when this event happened I was too young to understand its importance. My grandfather has dozed off at family get togethers for as long as I can remember, but I figured it was just what older people did. It might be; however, doing so in the car is not what anyone should ever do. For this reason my grandfather never drives at night, aside from the fact that his eyesight is rather poor. Still, the middle of the afternoon should be fine, right? One day it almost wasn't. I was around 6 or 7, maybe 8, and I went to stay with my grandfather for a week. It was after my grandmother died, so I know I was at least that old, but definitely younger than 10. Regardless, one day we decided to drive a mountainous and windy road to go see a year-round Christmas store. As we started to drive, my grandfather started to lean over and somewhat shut his eyes. I wasn't sure why, but I was too young to be scared or alert of any potential danger. Then he turned to me and asked me to keep talking to him to keep him awake. Looking back, I was suppose to be in the car. If not, he would have definitely fallen asleep and lost control of the car. Most likely he would have gone over the steep embankment, and I would have been without a grandfather for my entire life. As my mom's dad died before I was born. Or what if I had been asleep? We may have both been killed, my parents without a son, my brother without a brother, and the whole family without two James Moore's. God put me there so that didn't happen, and I will firmly believe that until I die. In a different, but equally memorable, incident, thanks to my brother, I developed a healthy fear of glass. My brother and I have always been big on sports, specifically taking each other on in them. He always wants to play, beat, me in one-on-one, and we had numerous homerun derbies, games of catch, and many pigskin tosses. Although, sometimes it got out of hand. One particular day, when I was around 12, I decided to kick a ball as high as possible. Unfortunately, it nailed my brother, who sometimes has anger issues, directly in the head. He went Bruce Lee on me, and decided to track me down. I backed, ran, away, and had made it to our back door. Unluckily for me, not fast enough. He plowed into me, and sent my head and neck directly through the glass. Looking back this is kind of funny. but not any less dangerous or fortunate for me. I had no cuts, despite the myriad of nerves running from your neck to your brain, not to mention the eyes, ears, and scalp are not usually things you want damaged. We both got yelled at, and looking back God wasn't yelling, but he was teaching me a lesson. This lesson was 'even when you do stupid things, I can and will protect you.' 'Now stop doing those things!'My lack of injury defied logic, but God is capable of that and then some. Also, it gave me great respect for the sharpness of glass, which I still have to this day. Example number three may seem harmless, but it is the greatest show of God's timing. Last spring, I returned home from school at the end of April. My family was really excited to have me home, especially my mom, since she is home by herself with my dad and brother at school. I was taking a break from all forms of work, so I hadn't started my summer job yet. Therefore, my typical day was to get up around noon. I know: very taxing. Still, I felt real worthless and unproductive. Anyway, one afternoon I was brushing my teeth, and I was about to go somewhere. Then I heard our dog barking, and what I thought was a voice. I walked out, and the dog was at the top of the stairs barking, as someone was at the bottom laying there. It was mom, who said her foot really hurt. I walked downstairs, saw that it was very swollen, and called my dad to come home. Now all that she had was a broken foot; however, it could have been so much more. She only missed the last two steps, but what if it had been the first two? Our basement steps are steep, and the potential for hitting your head is high. What if I had still been at school? My dad and brother wouldn't have been home for at least 2-3 hrs, more than enough time to potentially bleed to death from a cut, or to lapse into a coma from head trauma. This didn't happen, but I was supposed to be there regardless. She could have yelled, but no one was coming, and our neighbors wouldn't have been able to hear. God had me there to get her help as soon as possible. These are three examples of God using me, or teaching me a lesson, that was absolutely necessary. Call them George Bailey moments if you want. Aside from these, people have had their own moments in my life that were absolutely necessary.

When I first moved to Montoursville in first grade I knew no one. My first friends, and still some of my best, were courtesy of Community Baptist Church. I'm convinced, despite some trying times; God put these people in my life for a reason. They have given me good, and sometimes questionable, advice more times than I can count. These guys have been a good pick-me-up for as l long as I can remember, and I wouldn't trade 'em for anybody. Numerous times have arisen when I probably would have made a stupid decision without them, and some where I made stupid decisions because I chose not to listen. Additionally, last summer I got some great advice from an amazing girl. I was having my usual moment of self-pity, when I had a good conversation about relationships. Mainly, that the right one will come along when I stop hoping and start praying. She was right, and it completely altered my outlook going into this past fall. This was exactly what God wanted me to, and it was what I needed to, hear as well. Next, a set of twins is responsible for getting my spiritual life back on track. At the end of spring semester, I was the definition of a bum. I wasn't going to church, barely doing anything in my classes, and basically playing Halo or other video games till 4 am every day. These guys continued to encourage me to go to Cornerstone, but since I wasn't even going to church I made excuses. After an interesting summer, I decided a change was in order. I took their advice, and I know God put them there for that reason. Regardless, this definitely has been the best thing I've done since coming to Pitt. I've meet tons of cool people, gotten a new appreciation for worship and praise, and definitely grown closer to God. It's made my life much more functional, and lessened possible temptations and problems. In fact, one of the people I met at Cornerstone has been a big part in this. For the past 4 or so years, I've had an on, and, sometimes, off, I guess you could say, 'addiction.' Even on here, I'd rather not elaborate, regardless it has been a problem. It's not something I'm proud of, even given the prevalence it enjoys culturally. At the start of this year, after it prominently factored during the summer, it once again reared its head. I was sick of it, but I didn't have something to remove the feeling of need. Then I found it. After the fall retreat for Cornerstone, I begin to notice I gradually was removing my 'habit' from my life. Now for all you out there wondering, it was not tobacco or drug related just in case you thought I was a massive hypocrite. However, once I started to interact with this person it all but disappeared. Now with less interaction, it occasionally rears its head, but far less and quickly goes away. I owe this person a great deal of thanks for enabling me to begin to stop. It's the only thing that actively was an embarrassment for me, but now it won't be and doesn't have to be. This was the most notable of numerous improvements in my life. I'm convinced that God put this individual in my life for these reasons, and I'm so glad he did. There are others, but these most readily stand out.

So when you think you don't matter, or the world would be better off without you, you're dead wrong. God has a plan for everybody who seeks him, and wants to do his will and work. Prayer is instrumental is this process. Although as is an open heart, and a willingness to trust and admit our weakness. We are strongest when we admit we are weakest, and trust on God to hold us up and protect us. I'd like to think I can do it all myself, but I can't, it’s way too hard. I have to give my hopes, fears, and dreams to God. It's hard to let go, or to understand sometimes, but God has a plan. Some of the events I talked about I didn't understand at the time, although I certainly do now. God had me there, and put those people in my life, for distinct reasons. We can all be reminded: not our will, but His will be done. I like being that person God sends into people's lives for a purpose. Sometimes we don't recognize the people God sends into our lives. But this doesn't mean it's too late, sometimes our hearts are hard, but God knows this. He gave the best second chance ever: Jesus. In turn, he wants you to give his will, people, and situations second chances. When it eventually clicks you'll know. As D.C. Talk said, "sometimes you fall before you fly." Have faith for you will fly. It's a Wonderful Life for sure, and I hear the afterlife is even better.

The Final Four

Well, Saturday was a very disappointing day for Pitt fans everywhere. However, this was not the only let down of the weekend. The Elite Eight sent two #1's to the Final Four, and two home. Pitt and Louisville were the unlucky parties. I'll briefly, and with some difficulty, recap the Elite Eight. Then I'll give my picks for the national championship game.

In the first game, #1 Connecticut squared off with #3 Missouri. The Tigers were hoping for the upset but came up short. The Huskies were up 44-38 at halftime, and were ahead for the majority of the game. Eventually, U-Conn finished off Mizzou 82-75. The speed of the Tigers kept them in the game, but Connecticut proved too much. So the Huskies were the first team to punch their ticket for Detroit. The night game saw #1 Pitt face #3 Villanova. This heartbreaking game was a nailbiter, which unfortunately saw the Panthers fall. Pitt held a slim 34-32 halftime lead, as the lead changed numerous times. Tied 76-76 with 6 seconds left, Wildcat point guard Scottie Reynolds hit a runner with .5 left to break Pitt's heart. The Panthers saw Levance Fields get off a look at the buzzer, but it hit off the backboard and harmlessly bounced away. This was a hard-fought game, and both teams were worthy of the win. However, it was especially disappointing for Pitt's three seniors: Young, Fields, and Biggs. With the win the Wildcats became the second Big East team headed to Motown. In today's action, #1 Louisville battled #2 Michigan St. Few expected a Spartan win, but Louisville played terribly, and that's exactly what took place. MSU was up 30-27 at halftime, and went on a second half run to pull away for the 64-52 victory. The Cardinals did not shoot well, and looked nothing like the team that dismantled Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. Tom Izzo and the Spartans get to essentially head home, since Detroit is only 90 miles from East Lansing. Finally, in a highly anticipated match-up, #1 North Carolina took on #2 Oklahoma. Despite another fantastic game from Blake Griffin, the Sooners trailed the entire contest. Up 32-23 at halftime, the Tar Heels never looked back winning 72-60. This marks the second consecutive Final Four appearance for UNC. With the matchups set, here are my picks for the national championship.

The first game will see #1 Connecticut tangle with #2 Michigan St. Most, myself included, didn't expect either team to be here. However, both have played well and definitely deserve it. Since both have beaten Louisville this makes for a tough pick. I'm going to give the Spartans the edge playing in front of the hometown crowd, and send Tom Izzo and crew into the national title game to meet...
#1 North Carolina who face #3 Villanova in the late game. Jay Wright and the Wildcats have had a great run, but, as for a lot of other teams it ends against the Tar Heels. Although UNC hasn't faced a defensive team of Villanova's caliber, the Heels simply have too many weapons. However, this one should be compelling, and Nova will keep it close. Maybe even close enough for the upset, if you want to call it that. There you go a North Carolina vs. Michigan St. national championship game. Will I be right? Wait and see.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sweet Sixteen-Day 2

Friday was not any more memorable than Thursday. Only one good game took place, as the other three were various forms of blowout by the higher seed. I'll quickly recap, and then break down the Elite Eight matchups and give my picks for the Final Four. Here we go!

Last night I said that #1 Louisville vs. #12 Arizona wouldn't be memorable. I was wrong. Arizona will remember it as their largest tournament loss ever. The Cardinals absolutely demolished the Wildcats. Massacre doesn't even begin to describe this one. Louisville was up 49-28 at halftime and poured it on from there. The final score was 104-63, as 'Zona was thoroughly embarrassed. Next up, #2 Oklahoma took on #3 Syracuse in a game that should have been closer than it was. It was close in the first half until the Sooners went on a run to go up 39-26. Syracuse never got close again, and fell 84-71. Blake Griffin continued his monster season, and tournament, going for 30 points and 14 rebounds. Maybe the Orange finally ran out of gas, or perhaps just didn't play well. In the late games, #2 Michigan St. faced off against #3 Kansas. This was the only compelling game of the night, and featured lead changes and comebacks. The Jayhawks were up 36-29 at halftime, but the Spartans hung around and tied it with a 1:50 left. Michigan St. then squeaked out the 67-62 victory. This win bounced the defending national champs out of the tournament. The evening's final game saw North Carolina destroy Gonzaga. Few expected a close game, and they weren't disappointed by the results. UNC led 53-42 at halftime, and used the second half to increase it. The Tar Heels eventually won in landslide fashion 98-77. Thus, the Elite Eight matchups were set. Analysis and picks are right ahead.

In the 4:40 game, #1 Connecticut takes on #3 Missouri. Both teams have looked good in the tournament. Although, Missouri's win over Memphis may be the most impressive in the tournament. Memphis allowed 102 points, the most it had all year, and Missouri looked unstoppable. It will be interesting to see if U-Conn can handle the fast pace of the Tigers. However, the Huskies have been the tournament's most dominating team so far. This one looks to be a test of which team can play better defense, and make free-throws and shots when needed. I'm going with the upset, and picking Missouri to take out U-Conn. At 7:05 #1 Pitt faces fellow Big East foe #3 Villanova. This is one of the most anticipated games of the entire tournament. Villanova beat the Panthers in the regular season, but DeJuan Blair was in foul trouble during the game. Both teams have dynamic players capable of stepping up and taking over a game. However, the Big 3 of Young, Blair, and Fields will be too much for the Wildcats. The Panthers will prevail in a close one. This one may come down to the final seconds. On Sunday, #1 Louisville will do battle with #2 Michigan St. Both teams are defensively sound and have fantastic coaches. However, after the beating Louisville inflicted on Arizona the Spartans will have a hard time getting into their game. The Cardinals will be too much, and Louisville will advance to Detroit. Finally, #1 North Carolina battles #2 Oklahoma. Everyone is already salivating over the player of the year matchup, Blake Griffin vs. Tyler Hansbrough. It will be interesting to see who gets the upper-hand, unfortunately for Oklahoma they won't in this game. UNC has too many weapons, and will return to the Final Four for the second straight season. Those are my regional representatives. Louisville from the Midwest. Missouri from the South. Pitt from the East. And North Carolina from the South. We'll see how close I get. LET'S GO PITT.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sweet Sixteen-Day 1

Thursday night brought the thunder. March Madness resumed, as eight teams were back in action. Only one game proved must see tv, which has Friday shaping up to be more thrilling.

First up, #1 Connecticut took on #5 Purdue. I didn't expect to see the Boilermakers in this game, but they were only down 30-25 at halftime. Unfortunately for Purdue things went down from there. Although kept close, the Huskies never trailed and triumphed 72-60. The Boilermakers didn't help their cause by committing 26 fouls compared to 12 for U-Conn. Those extra 19 free throws and 13 points were the difference. #1 Pitt was also in action against #4 Xavier. Once again the Panthers came out of the gates slow, and trailed 37-29 at halftime. However, the Musketeers were limited to 18 second half points and came up short. Pitt, off of a clutch Levance Fields 3 and lay-up, pulled out the 60-55 victory. DeJuan Blair once again had a double-double with 10 points and 17 rebounds. Still, the Panthers looked sluggish and never pulled ahead until very late in the game. In the night cap, #2 Memphis faced off with #3 Missouri. It was close until Mizzou used a pre-halftime run to go up by 13, 49-36. The game was effectively over with Missouri up 64-40, until Memphis used a furious comeback to get within 6. Regardless, Memphis played their worst defensive game of the season, and didn't look like the powerhouse they were hyped to be. Missouri won 102-91 in a high-scoring contest. Some see this as a major upset, but I had doubts about Memphis going into the game which were confirmed.The late contest saw #2 Duke face off against #3 Villanova. The Wildcats were only up 26-23 at halftime, but exploded in the second half to bury the Blue Devils. Duke looked frustrated all night and shot an anemic 26.7%. Villanova won in a blowout 77-54. Nova looks tough, and has won two straight by 20 or more points. Other than the Pitt thriller, Thursday lacked the usual Sweet Sixteen intrigue. Will Friday provide better thrills?

#1 Louisville takes on #12 Arizona. This most likely will not be an extremely memorable game. A Louisville loss would be shocking, and is rather unlikely. However, the game following promises to be a great match-up. #2 Oklahoma squares off against #3 Syracuse. Expect some fireworks in this one. The Orange sharpshooters: Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins vs. likely player of the year Blake Griffin. If Griffin is contained, which is a huge if, expect Syracuse to win it. However, this figures to be a thrilling contest nonetheless. In the late games, #2 Michigan St. tangles with #3 Kansas. The Jayhawks are the defending national champs, and will be looking to make it back to the Elite Eight. This one should be a good game. I'd put my money on Kansas, although no Tom Izzo coached team can ever be counted out. It may come down to the final seconds in this one. Finally, #1 North Carolina takes on #4 Gonzaga. This one isn't going to be close. The Zags have had a good run, but UNC is too focused and deep to exit yet.

I'll have tomorrow night's recap, and my Final Four picks after the games wrap up. Will it be four #1 seeds again? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rest for the Weary

Tonight once again showed me my limits. At Cornerstone, BJ Woodworth, pastor at Open Door, spoke just the message I needed. The topic was rest, not sleep or a break, but true rest. This is something most college students get very little of, and the general population seems not to find important. In some ways this will be a more eloquent post than the last. Basically, I'm going to elaborate on how to find rest and why it is important.

We are never satisfied. It's true. Almost everything I do is gain some measure of satisfaction or to impress someone else. We seek praise. We want to be accepted. This is fine, but it can become our only goal if we aren't careful. There's never enough time, so we must work longer, harder, faster, and without ceasing. Skipping meals becomes common, and we become slaves to our jobs and homework. I can't go a day without checking my e-mail, facebook, or the news.I need the connection or I might miss something. My phone is always with me and on, except when I'm asleep. It's hard to relax. Even when I'm not in class or doing homework, I'm always thinking about something. My mind is seldom at ease. I have to fix every problem, make everything the way I want it to be, and I need to be in control. I want perfection, nothing is ever good enough. If I got a 98 I want a 100. An hour after dinner I want more food, I'm always looking for something to top my current best. Even if it isn't my business it is. I care about my image, even though I claim not to, acceptance means a lot actually. I judge things before I try them. I'm jealous when other people succeed, my own failed relationships make me envy of those with successful ones. I think I'm better than other people, even when I'm not, and I show favoritism to people. I've been conditioned that I can do anything if I want to, so I don't accept no as an answer. My casual indifference is a symptom of my lack of direction. It's hard for me to be truly passionate about anything I'm suppose to be. It's hard for me to fake interest, yet even classes that I designate as 'boring' are capable of holding my interest. If given the chance I could talk about everything from football to geography and back again. If a job doesn't 'utilize' my talents I hold it as beneath me. It's easy for me to put very little effort in and still do a good job. I'd never choose a job over class, and I think working in an office is often slow torture. And despite everything I can't rest. Sure, I can sleep, but I seldom find peace. My heart is usually burdened with something, and I can't stop thinking as hard as I try. It doesn't turn off.

I always want to be something to someone. I'll listen, I'll give advice, which may suck and I might not follow, but I'll give it. I can be the realist, optimist, even the pessimist from time to time. I wonder about the pain other people feel and how I can stop it. I want to help people forget the past, or to embrace a beautiful future. I want to be the one to tell people how special they are. I want to be the one that doesn't lie. I want to be the one who isn't late, won't keep you waiting, and isn't going to walk away when it gets tough. I'll be the friend who would take a bullet, and the one who would show up even if everyone else refused to come. And I try, but I still don't find any rest. I'm never good enough, and I can never help the people I want to most. Although, there are people who get me close to rest. Some of my buddies from home can get my mind off almost anything. When we hang out and do nothing I feel like nothing is a problem. Even the worst day seem better. I forget my worries, my hopes, my fears, and everything aside from the distraction of harmless fun. At college, they aren't around and it's a shame. However, last semester I found similar feelings for a time. These were more meaningful feelings, and in moments I felt completely at ease. Then I begin to think about what happened if it ended, and then when it did I was once again drifting. It's a rare person who makes you better than you are just by being around you. I found that, and I'm thankful that I did, but I still try to re-capture it. But I'm missing the point. There isn't anything I can, do, say, or be to somehow re-create it. Still I can't find rest. Probably because I've been looking at it all wrong. The answer isn't with me, but it is with God.

I can't DO anything to find rest. Until I realize that I'll never find. If I don't turn my brain off, and stop trying to play God rest isn't coming anytime soon. It's time to get off facebook, turn the phone off, and put the remote down. Things are beyond me control, and I need to give them to God. Yes, it's really hard to do, and most of the time I fail. However, in the end this is the only way to find true rest. Sometimes work is too much, and you have to stop completely. This isn't a slow down or a change of pace, it's a complete and utter shut down of everything. The business of others is beyond my control, which is something I need to learn to accept, and I'm not the answer to the problems of the world. I have limits, I'm not all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-anything. My identity is not determined by my job, my zip code, or my paycheck. I'm a human being, flesh and blood, and I have a soul. It needs refreshed, refined, and rested. I need out of the dorm, out of Oakland, somewhere outside and isolated. My soul needs to breathe, my brain needs to turn off, and then I can find rest. My concerns, hopes, and fears all will go to God. I will shut my eyes and let God open them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why money sucks or (the gap between ambition and results)

Fear not! This is not a rant against capitalism or an advocacy for a handout. However, it is a commentary on an unfortunate necessity of turning ambition into results. College is expensive, for a variety of reasons, and someone has to pay for it. The government would like to, not really, but they have a massive federal debt and economic crisis to handle. As a result, dear old mom and dad, unless you have rich grandparents, end up footing the bill. Although some parents aren't committed to advancement, and mandate that their son or daughter pay the whole thing. This is absurd, especially if the individual is attending an expensive institution, but that's for another day. As a result, many are forced to sacrifice ambition for 'so-called' results. This is the side of college that doesn't get much attention in Time or on I'm going to attempt to examine my title and see why it rings true.

Money does suck. Having it creates opportunity while decreasing true joy. The rich aren't happy, they're miserable. Why? Mainly, because people forget to live when they can pay not to. The average American works every day, at a job he or she don't entirely enjoy, in order to live a reasonably satisfying existence. Those with large amounts of wealth work sometimes, being on Oprah or having conferences in Maui don't count, and live opulently with their things as comfort. Without struggle there can be no satisfaction, because when you get everything you've wanted, what then? This is post college, but what about in college? Well, unfortunately universities are conditioning their students to embrace monotonous, low paying jobs as satisfying in preparation for later 'cash cow' careers. It isn't exactly revolutionary, but these jobs suck. Taking classes is far more important than a pay check or so-called experience in an unrelated field. Sadly, many believe that having free time during the day is somehow wrong or lazy. It isn't. From 25 until 60, except for the very wealthy, a perk of cashing in on being in charge rather than subordinate, everyone will work some variety of an 8-5 type job. Some more hours, or at different times, others may even work far less. The point is this is the last measure of freedom, an opportunity to learn rather than follow orders and attend meetings about nothing. Working just for the sake of money is pointless, to buy what or pay for what? Work study jobs are just loans in another form. It's the university's way to get students to perform crappy, boring, rote jobs so they can 'pay' them less than if they hired someone in the work force. Think about it, you get paid barely above minimum wage and the money is intended to go to your total bill. If you go spend it, the university tacks that on to your bill and makes you pay the difference of what you didn't use from the work study. The word scam is appropriate. Additionally, other than food, supplies, and vanity purchases what do we need money for? Health insurance. Nope. How about electric, sewer, or heating? Negative. Property taxes? I don't think so. Our children? I'm hoping no one has this to worry about. Mortgage payment? No way. The list goes on, but you get my point. No one truly needs a job while at college, except in a few select instances. Those who live off campus do have to pay some of the mentioned things, and most likely need the extra cash flow. Also, if your parents are poor or just cheap and unhelpful you also need to work. I'm sure there are a couple more, although I'm drawing a blank at the moment. Unfortunately, for those of us with ambition, not those just interested in having money, there is a need for cash. This need is study abroad and affiliated programs.

I can't think of something I would like to do more than study abroad. Well, that isn't true, but I'm not going to put anything I'd rather do more on here. Anyway, unfortunately these programs are usually expensive. My parents aren't loaded, so my options in this area are rather limited. I could work for the money, but a poor paying campus job isn't going to get me anywhere close to what I need. Working over the summer isn't an option, because this money is already going for books and other related expenses. I could look for aid, which usually is hard to find. Also, most people are cheap and are uninterested in helping you leave the country to 'site-see.' So what can be done? This is where the gap between ambition and results kicks in. The ambition is there, but the results are lacking. I feel unaccomplished and lazy. I'm never what I would call 'busy,' I've never pulled an all-nighter to write a paper or study, and I don't volunteer if I don't have to. Yes, I know if it's mandatory it isn't volunteering. Regardless, it isn't that I'm apathetic. I care deeply, I just don't like commitment specifically the kind that requires time of a mandatory nature. 'Extra-curricular activities should be in addition to class, not an extension or equal with them. Having terrible time management or not being able to say no magnifies the problem. If finishing assignments is a problem, because of outside the classroom activities, then quit them. You pay to go to class not to feed the children in Africa. It isn't that the cause isn't noble, it's just that failing out of college isn't going to help you or help anyone else either. If you want to truly help: go to the people. Sending money and raising awareness doesn't do anything if no one goes to where help is needed or the money never gets there. I want to go somewhere and help, but until I see some of the world I'm not going to know where I'm needed. Every Italian wants to go to Italy, and girls love Paris, but what about those people in the other 200+ countries? The ambition is here, not the money, and certainly not the results. Yes, it takes money to produce results unfortunately. There is no greater feeling than the feeling of helping someone truly in need. That's why I can't do it here. America is selfish, I feel no spirit of compassion towards the 'suffering' in this country. They've had an opportunity, or at least the opportunity to get help and find opportunity, but those over-seas have not. I don't want to be part of a self-righteous frat, go sing at a nursing home, or make Pitt green-friendly. Sorry, but I don't. I do want to be a part of democracy in a former dictatorship, enable a child to go to school instead of work, or lead the lost to salvation. However, right now I'm stuck ambitious without results. I could be doing so much more, I know that. It wouldn't kill me to volunteer, get a job, or take a heavier course load. But it won't get me any closer to being a part of the solution either. It just looks good on a resume, tells everyone how involved you were, and what a good person you are. Maybe you are, or maybe you're just self-serving. Maybe constantly being busy is a charade you maintain to hide unhappiness or lack of fulfillment. Maybe you can't take free-time, because you've been conditioned that time=money, and you're a failure if you stop, slow down, or ease up. Maybe you want to be busy to compete with your peers, maybe being able to complain makes you feel like you fit in, or you've convinced yourself that using 'volunteerism' to further your own ambitions is noble. Maybe you've been guilted into it, maybe you think God wants you to prove yourself to him. Maybe you hold everyone who doesn't think like you in contempt, maybe you schedule things so rigidly because if decisions were left up to you you couldn't make them. Maybe you hate free time, because you can't handle the thought of not being engaged, maybe you think you can solve the world's problems and get everything in your life in order if you try hard enough. Maybe you actually enjoy everything you do, but I highly doubt it. I often wonder what would happen if my effort matched my ambition. I'm sure the results would be there, but would they be mine or God's? Are you doing God's work or your own? If it's for you, you'll always feel somewhat hollow. But don't worry the money, prestige, or praise can fill up that hole. I leave my schedule open, so that God can put some of his time in. Yet, there's still a gap between ambition and results. I am a failure. The truth hurts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Giving up, second chances, and failure to try

The lull in college basketball affords me the opportunity to once again engage deeper issues. This one has been coming for a while, but it didn't hit me just right until this week. Our lives are all about these three components. We're told never to give up, to always give things second chances, and always to try. For the most part this is true; however, different circumstances call for different approaches. I've got a particular viewpoint on each. In fact, some of these viewpoints might surprise all the regular readers out there. I'll begin with what I should probably end with, giving up, get it. Moving on.

This is obvious, but it's hard to give up. Completely quiting on something is one of the hardest things in the entire world to do. Addictions are so hard to break, because they require something to be given up. An addiction is almost always bad, so stopping that action or behavior is a good instance of giving up. Just imagine how much cleaner the air would be without cigarette smoke. Or how many poor decisions could be avoided if alcoholism didn't exist. Unfortunately, these addictions will continue to persist, and continue to be extremely difficult to give up. Other things are easier to give up on. Many people make proclamations, but give up on them quickly after making them. New year's resolutions are a good example. Going to the gym, walking more, and eating less sweets usually go out the window quickly. These activities, despite being positive, are usually seen as ideal but not necessary. In addition, it is easy to "give up" on people in speech, but not in action or actuality. As a result, people often stay in unproductive relationships rather than 'give up' on them. Usually the rationale is: I didn't want to hurt them, I couldn't bring myself to take that step, or I thought I could make it work. This is admirable, but some things need to be given up on. Sometimes people don't want to change, and other times people say they will change to produce a desired effect when they have no intention of doing so. When it causes emotional, mental, and especially physical anguish it's time to give up on it. It isn't easy to do, but sometimes giving up is a good thing. Everyone wants to be strong, but some things are beyond your control, Those things that YOU can't change, you have to give to God and give up on. Hard work and determination only go so far. As much as you might like to, you're never going to move a building on your own. You can't fly, live under water, or jump to the moon. We, men and women, have limits. Some things; however, aren't impossible or necessary to be given up on. These things usually deserve a second change, as initial impression can be deceiving. Often another perspective or taking a look at it from a different angle is enough.

I use to think second chances were pointless. To me, it seemed stupid to try to convince yourself an initially unappealing thing was now appealing. However, then I gave some things a chance and proved myself wrong. In high school I hated Coldplay. Of course, I also never really gave them a chance, but that didn't matter since they sucked. Then I came to Pitt, and decided to give Chris Martin and crew a chance. Now I like, not love, Coldplay. Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head are good albums. Also, Viva la Vida ain't half bad either, although X & Y is still awful and I do not own it. Regardless, I had an initial premise of hating Coldplay without ever having given their music a true chance. Another music example: I despised worship and praise songs. I felt they all sounded the same, had pathetic lyrics, and lacked passion when sung. Then I started going to Cornerstone, and my attitude completely changed. Worship and praise songs can be very engaging, I recommend checking out Hillsong United. Anyway, now I really enjoy going to Cornerstone, and especially enjoy the worship and praise portion each Wednesday night. I always hated 'romantic movies,' which could be its entirely own post. Even so, for whatever reason I was not a fan, and anything that even remotely suggested 'romantic' I was against. This probably would have survived, but I was 'persuaded' into watching a movie I vowed to never watch: Tristan & Isolde. It actually wasn't terrible, much to my surprise. Although, I would still not consider myself a fan, 'romantic' movies are better than I made them out to be. The list could continue, but the point is if I can do it so can you. I'm stubborn, which makes second chances always difficult to grant. However, some things need closer inspection and a little more time. Sometimes relationships are like this. Maybe getting to know someone takes longer than one would think. Circumstances change and produce new chances. Too often I've talked myself out of things without giving them a change. I use to think, for some bizarre reason, girls with glasses were incapable of being my type. I still don't know what my 'type' is, but I know that my initial premise is completely false. If the reasoning for dislike is irrational it probably deserves another shot. However, many don't give it a shot. This leads to a failure on multiple levels.

Everyone hates failure, even though it's everywhere. No one wants to not finish, leave answers blank or a test, or have to retake their driver's test. However, these failures happen multiple times even day. Still, nothing is more pathetic and worthless than a failure to try. This isn't apathy, a lack of care, it's fear of failure or even success. Some people don't try, because they give up before they even start. Many have defeatist mentalities, the idea that too many things need to work out that it isn't even worth attempting to try. This is a sad and terrible attitude. Innovation would have been impossible if no one had tried. It's better to try and fail miserably than to never try at all. In addition, some don't try because they fear the past. This is the 'history repeats itself' mentality. "My last boyfriend/girlfriend treated me badly and the relationship ended horribly, so I won't even try this time cause the same thing will happen." "I've gotten an 80 on the first three tests, so I won't try on this one because I'm just going to get another 80." These arguments many seem valid, but they aren't. The first is built on the premise of fear, and unwillingness to take risk out of inability to separate the past from the present. The second is just ridiculously stupid, and is poor manipulation of laziness as a justification for performance. Yes, trying is difficult, this is true. However, without taking a chance and trying you'll never know success. Although, you may find failure in life, in the end God will show you to true success. If you believe in Jesus, and that he saved you from your sins and wants to be your savior, you'll find this success in eternity. Luckily, this is one thing you don't have to try for. For now, we do have to try as a presently earth-dwelling being. This often involves trying, and being hurt, disappointed, or let down as a result. However, this doesn't mean we can give up on trying. Those people who try to get close to you, and aren't out to hurt you, don't push them away. The world is too brutal to be callous. Trust is a part of trying, and often this trust can get broken. Don't lose heart though, keep trying to trust. Forget the past, or learn to live with it, and then stop judging everything on that basis. Remember the people you push away. Those that keep trying to come back are worth giving another shot. Giving up may be easier, but trying is more rewarding in the end. If someone cares, they'll try to demonstrate this as best as possible. You can question motives, truth, and character, but not effort. No one tries for something that means nothing to them. But I'd make a fool of myself trying for something worth trying for. I have. Try to understand that, if nothing else, this isn't pretend.

There you go. Stop giving up before you try, and go give something/someone a second chance. Take my word for it you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March Madness-Day 4

After four action-packed days, March Madness takes a break before the Sweet Sixteen. Second round match-ups wrapped up today, and there were some dandies. No upsets, but a couple of close calls and scares. I'll recap today's contests, and then give a Sweet Sixteen preview with my picks to advance to the Elite Eight.

Two #1's were back in action today. First up, Pitt took on Oklahoma St. This one was even at halftime: 49-49. However, the Panthers used some of Sam Young's game high 32 points to pull away for the 84-76 victory. Pitt almost let the Cowboys take it, as they squandered an 11-point second half lead. However, a double-double from DeJuan Blair, and clutch shooting from Levance Fields sealed the win. In the late game, Lousiville clashed with Siena. The Cardinals led 42-35 at halftime, but allowed Siena to go on a run and take the lead in the second half. However, Louisville was determined not to be the first #1 to fall, and pulled out a 79-72 win. Terrence Williams had a monster game: 24 points and 15 rebounds, including 4-6 from 3. A lone #2 played: Michigan St. The Spartans squeezed out a 74-69 win over USC in a thrilling game. Michigan St. was up 40-37 at halftime, and held on in a back-and-forth contest. Neither team ever gained a large lead, and the outcome wasn't clear until the final minute. Three #3's had games. The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks defeated Dayton 60-43. Despite remaining close in the first half, the Jayhwaks never trailed after the opening minute. Kansas increased its lead in the second half, and played stingy defense throughout. Syracuse had few problems with Arizona St winning 78-67. The Orange were up 41-32 at halftime and never looked back. Pac-10 player of the year, James Harden, was held to 10 points. The Sun Devils fired off 35 3 attempts, and actually drained 13 to avoid being blown out. The final #3, Missouri, played a thriller with Marquette. Unexpectedly, Dominic James returned for the Golden Eagles, and even though he was held scoreless his presence motivated the team. Jerel McNeal had 30 points but it wasn't enough. Missouri pulled out the close 83-79 win. Xavier was the lone #4 in action. The Musketeers squared off against Wisconsin. Many had not expected the Badgers to beat Florida St., and Xavier made sure they wouldn't win this one by holding Wisconsin to 29% shooting. Despite being up 27-25 at halftime, the Badgers couldn't hold onto the lead as Xavier won 60-49.The final match-up pitted #12 Arizona against #13 Cleveland St. in a game almost no one expected. Cleveland St. never got going, as the Wildcats were up 35-25 at halftime and never trailed. Arizona eventually won 71-57 in a game lacking drama. This concluded the second round. Now for my Sweet Sixteen picks.

On Thursday, #1 Connecticut squares off with #5 Purdue. Unfortunately for Purdue, the Huskies are playing better than anyone else in the tournament and were the only team to win each of their games by 20 or more points. The Boilermakers have had a good run but it ends here. Look for U-Conn to advance into the Elite Eight. Their opponent in the West regional final will be either #2 Memphis or #3 Missouri. Many have Memphis in the national championship game, which is fine, but I'm not buying it. The Tigers are good, but they haven't played a team as fast as Missouri, This should be an excellent game. I expect Mizzou to squeak out a close win over Memphis, but this one could go either way. However, I'm going to send Missouri into the Elite Eight to face U-Conn. In the East Thursday's two other games take place. At 7:27, #1 Pitt will do battle with #4 Xavier. So far neither team has looked especially great. Pitt played poorly against East Tennessee State, and needed 32 from Sam Young to beat Oklahoma St. Xavier comfortably beat Portland St, but didn't look impressive against a mediocre Wisconsin team. It's difficult to say how this one will go. Pitt has a terrible history of losing in the Sweet Sixteen, but this is the most talented Pitt team this decade. As a result, I'm ignoring history, and putting the Panthers into the Elite Eight. Xavier will have trouble will DeJuan Blair, and Sam Young will once again have a good shooting day. Pitt's opponent will be either #2 Duke or #3 Villanova. Villanova looked very impressive in their win over UCLA, while Duke almost fell to Texas before pulling a victory in the final minutes. Duke can shoot from the perimeter, but so can the Wildcats. This should be a close, hard fought, game. However, I look for Villanova to win and advance to face the Panthers in an all Big East final. Friday presents the final four Sweet Sixteen contests. In the Midwest, overall #1 Louisville faces off against #12 Arizona. Although the Cardinals were not impressive today, look for a fired up Louisville team to dominate Arizona. Many felt the Wildcats shouldn't have been in the tournament, and this will be the game where they prove the doubters correct. It won't be close as Louisville will advance to the Elite Eight. In the night cap, #2 Michigan St. faces off against #3 Kansas. This proves to be a very intriguing match-up, as the defending national champs will look to get one step closer to a second consecutive title. Even though they probably won't get it, they will move on to face Louisville in the Elite Eight. It will be close, but in the end the Jayhawks will pull it off. Finally, in the South, #1 North Carolina battles #4 Gonzaga. The Tar Heels are considering anything less than a national title a letdown, and will be pumped up to face a sweet shooting Gonzaga team. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, Ty Lawson is back and dangerous as ever. His return to the line-up makes UNC very dangerous, and the Zags aren't going to be able to pull off the upset. Look for North Carolina to once again move on to the Elite Eight. The late game features their eventual opponent, either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse. This promises to be, one of the most, if not, the most exciting game in the Sweet Sixteen. Probable player of the year Blake Griffin facing off against Syracuse's fantastic shooters. If Griffin is limited the Orange will be moving on to face UNC. However, if Griffin has a game similar to the one against Michigan it's anybody's game. In the end, I look for Syracuse to contain Griffin enough to win and advance to the Elite Eight. Although this game should be fantastic nonetheless.

These are my picks and I'm sticking to them. I'll be on basketball hiatus until Thursday, but I'll have a recap of the action that night. LET'S GO PITT!!

Family, Friends, and the Dividing Line

Two posts in one day?!? Yep, I'm making up for the post I should have put up last night. This one is my take on those special people in our lives: family and friends. Mainly, what happens when friends became pseudo-family, and how some friends often become pseudo-friends. Some say friends are overrated, and you are stuck with your family regardless of whether you like them. Well, the latter may be true, so I encourage you to like them, but having true friends is not overrated it may even be underrated. Keeping that in mind, I value quality over quantity. I'd rather have 5 great friends then 50 mediocre ones. Don't be anti-social, but don't expect everyone to like you, and you shouldn't want that anyways. When you find friends who act like family you've found the right kind.

I love my family. It may sound cliche , or, for some of you, impossible to do. I know every situation is different, but a lot of times forgiveness can fix the problem. However, I lucked out fortunately. My parents are two of the greatest people I know in distinct but equally important ways. They're great at encouraging and unconditional love is an amazing feeling. Aside for them, my brother is one of the coolest people I know. He's my buddy, and I always try to provide a good role model for him to look up to. We talk about everything, especially sports, and sometimes I even learn a thing or two from him. Overall, even when they can be annoying, I wouldn't trade any of them for anyone else in the world. Having said that, I have some friends who are pseudo-family.

Three of my boys are basically brothers. We've done so many ridiculous things, and talked about everything under the Sun. These guys are going to be at the wedding, if it ever happens someday, for sure. If they ever needed help they'd get it, and we don't keep track of who owes who because we've all picked up the tab at some point. I will keep in touch with these guys until they put me in a home, or one of us moves into eternity. Yeah, sometimes they get on my nerves. But at the end of the day it's like nothing ever happened, just like with my family. In addition, I've got a few 'sisters.' These are my girls, and I've occasionally been more like a protective father than a brother. We've had our fights, and an estrangement or two. However, I can't stay mad at any of them, and they've been there for me on multiple occasions. Also, you know what they say, you can't date your sister. I wouldn't consider it, not that these girls are un-datable, but that potentially sacrificing the friendship isn't worth it. It bothers me to see any of them hurt, and some of them have been treated like crap by a guy or two. Next, there are the rest of the guys from high school. We go way back, and these guys form the rest of the crew. We all have been to each others houses, and I've had cool, and different, times with all of them. Some are the backyard football gang, others are the Dunkin' crew, and the rest are a little bit of both. There have been Halo parties, countless night at Joey's, and a good movie or two. These guys are the extended family. Most of the time you love seeing them, but some days you're really glad you don't see them every day and that they don;t live in your house. Then, unfortunately, there are the pseudo-friends. These are people who claim to like you, but only hang out when they want something or as a last resort. Most of the time, these people continuously bum money or insult you in a group. However, then they tend to act very differently in a small group or one-on-one setting. Generally, you always owe them something, according to them, and you often have a hard time figuring out when, if ever, you like being around them. These are the kind of people who sometimes ignore you in public settings if with other friends. Not true friends, they 'forget' to invite you to things and often lie to you. Avoid this kind of person and do not refer to them as a 'friend.' Being at Pitt had taught me a lot about the nature of friendship, while proving an exercise in frustration at the same time.

Last year was an experience. Everything was new. This meant that it was time to make new friends. By the end of the year almost everyone on my floor was an acquaintance, but a select handful were friends. At the same time, I quickly realized some of my so-called high school friends were far from it. This left me in an interesting position. All the girls, I thought were friends, down here, felt betrayed and angry and were no longer talking to me. This was largely due to the actions of my friend, which bothered me and I did nothing about. As a result, I lost that link and never apologized. I would still like to, although this becomes less likely to happen with each passing day. At the same time, I realized most of the guys I would not see again after we left Towers. For the most part this has proved true. Although, many were never friends only people sharing a similar living space. Therefore, it has seemed less united this year, but a more genuine reflection of life. Even so, second semester last year was not good and I was eager for summer. However, summer produced one of the most helpful and least helpful events simultaneously. Due to my actions one of my best friends stopped talking to me. This bothered me, but I was too stubborn to apologize and I felt I had nothing to apologize for. This did enable me to move past something I needed to, but at the same time it left me feeling disconnected. The end of summer was fantastic and I was ready for the start of this year. Little did I know, the fall would prove my most memorable and enjoyable semester. When I arrived back in Oakland it was sweltering and McCormick lacks AC. Regardless, I was so happy to be back I didn't care. I spent a good portion of time before classes at the house of my best friend at Pitt. It was an amazing time and gave me plenty of stuff to do before classes arrived. As classes started I was in a really good frame of mind. However, in the spring semester my spiritual life had suffered, and I knew I needed to find some 'good' friends. Don't get me wrong, the people in my suite are awesome, but they were getting me into a routine I wanted to avoid. Finally, upon taking the advice of two of the coolest, twins, people I know at Pitt, I decided to go to the university ministry, Cornerstone, and find some 'good' friends. Initially, I felt out of place, since I hadn't gone to a Christian group in so long. People were friendly, but I only knew a handful of people, and I hung by myself if they weren't there. Then, Chris, one of the leaders, began talking about the fall retreat. I was hesitant about going, at first, but eventually came to realize I needed to go if I wanted to meet people. As I got in the car, I had no idea what to expect but I was ready. Upon arriving, everything operated in standard retreat fashion. I still felt out of place, but I was glad I came. Later that evening, a friend introduced me to some of the coolest people I've met at Pitt. These guys weren't like most of the Christians I knew. They were into the same things I was, and really held me attention too. In fact, one of them was, maybe, the most interesting person I've met at Pitt. Although, at the time I didn't realize that. However, the rest of the weekend went fantastic, and I came back feeling better than ever. The rest of the semester went from there. Everything seemed to go perfectly, and I thanked God for letting me go on the retreat and meet all those awesome people. By the end of the semester, my enthusiasm cooled off and I was really confused. I figured Christmas break might provide some answers, and I went home ready for relaxation. I didn't really get any, as it was the worst break of my entire life. This was for a variety of reasons, but it left me extremely ready to come back. I arrived back to Pitt on good terms with my friends of high school, but unsure of how things stood down here. It seemed that things were ripe for me to drift from some people. Unfortunately, my fears proved correct, and I tried everything to prevent it from happening. Regardless, things weren't meant to happen, and I had a hard time excepting that. I questioned myself, others, and even God. This led to various stupid childish actions on my part, as well as a variety of misunderstandings and disagreements. Also, I felt like people were avoiding me, which I didn't know why was happening. After a while I figured that maybe my attitude was wrong, maybe I had been responsible for the way things turned out. However, ultimately really I was just scared I would lose these people as friends. Particularly one individual, who I realized after a good deal of time, had quite a lot on her plate. Additionally, I never saw many people I had grown use to seeing, and it felt very disconnecting. As spring break approached,I was once again questioning my intentions and what my direction should be. Then Mere Christianity and my three 'brothers' came to the rescue. Through reading, and a four hour conversation at Dunkin' Donuts, I got my thought process back on track. In addition, I reconnected with some old friends from last year, and have gained a whole new appreciation for them. Additionally, I realized that I hadn't been understanding of some people's circumstances. Yes, things have changed and might not be able to go back to the way they were. However, this doesn't mean friendship disappears. At the same, this doesn't mean there are things I don't miss. I miss talking, and I know why some things no longer happen, but I can't forgot how I felt when they did. I still want to try. I don't like when a great friend seems to become just a friend. Some people are too spectacular to be just one in a million or even one in a billion. I stopped questioning, asking, but not caring. When the time is right, hopefully, things can change. Of course, only if there's a desire from the other person. My friendships never seemed to be lacking, despite any disagreements or situations that arose. Then I finally found a friendship that really meant something. Some sayings bother me, like "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." Although, now it actually means something to me. There are places, times, and events I can't forget. Maybe I'm not suppose to. But I would like to remember them again. I know what's gone, and it isn't an ordinary find. I'd walk it off, but I'd rather have some company. If it's ok of course.

Thanks to all who inspired this. The family, the brothers, the sisters, the extended circle, and everyone somewhere in between. When time runs out I want to see you all standing next to me in eternity.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March Madness: Days 2 & 3

Yes, I know I'm a day behind. The past two days have had their share of close calls and surprises. First, I'll recap the action yesterday. Then I'll move on to today. Finally, I'll close with a preview of tomorrow.

The two remaining #1 seeds, both from the Big East, had interesting days. Louisville took down Morehead St. 74-54. The Cardinals were only up 35-33 at halftime, but pulled away in the second half for the win. Pitt struggled against East Tennessee St., and looked pretty bad most of the game. In fact, the score was only 26-23 at halftime, and the Panthers had 18 turnovers. The only starter not to have a turnover was DeJuan Blair. However, in the end Pitt pulled it out 72-62. Only one #2 was in action: Michigan St. The Spartans had little trouble with Robert Morris winning 77-62. Up by 11 at halftime, Michigan St. held the Colonials without a basket for 10 minutes from the 4 minute mark in the first half. Three #3's had games on Friday. First up, Missouri beat a pesky Cornell team 78-59. The Tigers never trailed in the second half, and the Big Red never got close after half time. Defending national champ Kansas had a tough time with North Dakota St. Kansas won 84-74, although, the Jayhawks didn't pull away until the end of the game. The final #3, Syracuse, showed no signs of exhaustion, easily beating Stephen F. Austin 59-44. The Orange were up 38-22 at halftime, then both teams went cold in the second half. Two #4 seeds had game, which ended with mixed results. Xavier had little trouble with Portland St. winning 77-59 The Musketeers led almost the entire game, and lived up to their seeding. However, the other #4 did not. Wake Forest got spanked by Cleveland St. In fact, the Demon Deacons trailed the whole game, and were down 39-30 at halftime. Cleveland St. won 84-69 in the biggest upset of the tournament. Another upset came at #5, as Florida St. lost to Wisconsin. Despite being down 31-19 at halftime, the Badgers came back and tied it to send the game to overtime. After that overtime, Wisconsin had itself a 61-59 win. The loss by Florida St. capped a poor two day stretch for the ACC. An upset for some, #5 Utah lost to Arizona. Some felt Arizona didn't deserve to be in the tournament, but the Wildcats proved the doubters wrong winning 84-71. Three #6's had contests. First up, Marquette squeaked out a nail-biter over Utah St. 58-57. This was one of the more exciting tournament games and a back-and-forth contest. In another upset, West Virginia became the lone Big East team to fall. The Mountaineers couldn't figure out Dayton losing 68-60. This screwed up bunches of brackets, including my own, as many had WVU going to at least the sweet 16. Arizona St. maintained their nine point halftime lead over Temple and won 66-57. The lone #7 seed played poorly and lost by a good margin. Boston College was up 34-30 at halftime, before getting outscored 42-21 by USC and losing by 18: 72-55. Combined with the Wake Forest loss it was not a good day for the ACC. Once again, the 8-9 games provided the best games of the day. In the early action, #8 Oklahoma edged #9 Tennessee in a heart breaker 77-75. The game featured so many lead changes and ties that it wasn't decided until the eight second mark in the second half. This would have been the game of the day if not for the nightcap. #8 Ohio St. and #9 Siena played a barn burner. Siena's Ronald Moore made a 3 to force double OT and won the game with another 3 in that frame. Siena won a tight 74-72 two OT deciaion. With the first round done, Saturday brought second round action.

#1's U-Conn and North Carolina were back in action. The Huskies demolished Texas A&M 92-66. Connecticut was up 51-33 at halftime, and led the whole game. U-Conn looks downright dominate and presents a formidable opponent. UNC had a tougher time with LSU. Although down 38-29 at halftime, the Tigers used a second-half run to gain the lead before eventually falling 84-70. Ty Lawson returned to the line-up for the Tar Heels, and provided a big second half boost scoring 21 of his 23 after intermission. Three #2 seeds had games. Memphis easily handled Maryland. Up 53-33 at halftime, the Tigers won 89-70. The game wasn't close really at any point. Oklahoma was only up one, 30-29, at halftime over Michigan. However, Blake Griffin's 33 points led the Sooners to a 73-63 victory. The Wolverines had no answer for Griffin who also grabbed 17 rebounds. The final #2, Duke, pulled out a close one over Texas. Texas tied it with less than two minutes to play, but the Blue Devils squeezed out a 74-69 victory. One #3 was in action: Villanova. Nova put a pasting onto UCLA winning 89-69. The Wildcats were up 44-31 at halftime and never let up. Playing in front of a hometown crowd never hurts either. Both #4 seeds produced excellent games. First up, Washington gave Purdue all it could handle before falling 74-72. The Boliermakers were up 39-28 at halftime until a furious Husky rally got it to 2. However, Washington came up short, which really messed my bracket up since I had them in the Final Four. Anyway, Gonzaga was given all it could handle by Western Kentucky. Last year, the Hilltoppers made it to the Sweet Sixteen by beating #4 U-Conn. However, this year they weren't so lucky. Western Kentucky was up 37-35 at halftime, but couldn't hold on against the Zags falling 83-81. This was the most exciting game of the day, just edging the Washington-Purdue contest. Tomorrow promises some interesting matchups and possible upsets.

The most intriguing matchup may be #12 Arizona vs. #13 Cleveland St. These are the two lowest seeds remaining, aside from #12 Wisconsin. Either way, for a second consecutive year a seed of 12 or lower will be in the Sweet Sixteen. Tip-off is at 2:40. Also in the Midwest, many will be watching to see how the #3 Kansas Jayhawks perform against #11 Dayton. Most expected West Virginia to be in this game, so it would be surprising indeed if the Flyers were to pull the upset. At 5, in the same region, #2 Michigan St. faces off against a hot USC team. The Trojans won the PAC-10 tournament, and are looking to pull the upset as an athletically gifted team. In the West #3 Missouri will face Marquette. The Golden Eagles barely won the opening round game, and figure to have a tough time against the speedy Tigers. The South produces the other match-up of the day, as #3 Syracuse faces off against #6 Arizona St. Both teams are explosive and can shoot. This figures to be a thrilling contest with an early 12:10 start. In the East, #4 Xavier faces #12 Wisconsin in a game many expected Florida St. to be playing in. The Badgers will be looking to pull the upset against The Musketeers. Finally, the #1 Pitt Panthers are back in action against the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. Pitt will need to play much better in this one to avoid bowing out in the second round for the second year in a row. The Panthers do not want to be the first #1 to fall. Look for another big day from DeJuan Blair, as he had 27 points and 16 rebounds in the first game. Tip-off is at 2:50, be sure to tune in.

That concludes my wrap-up. I'll give you results from sunday's games,and my picks in the Sweet Sixteen tomorrow night. Hope your bracket isn't busted, yet.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness 2009-Dia Uno

The first day of March Madness just wrapped up, and overall it was rather uneventful. There were no overtime games, buzzer beaters, or extremelymajor upsets. I'm going to break down today's games, and provide a preview for what to look for tomorrow.

Both #1 seeds won handily. U-Conn annihilated Chattanooga 103-47. This was the largest margin of victory for any team, and has Connecticut looking a lot stronger than people believed. North Carolina, sans Ty Lawson, also cruised to an easy victory. The Tar Heels demolished Radford 101-58. These victories were expected, but the extremely large points differentials are impressive nonetheless. The #2 seeds also breezed to easy wins, with the exception of Memphis. Duke took out Binghamton 86-62. The game wasn't close, as Duke led virtually the entire time. Oklahoma also had no trouble in their game. The Sooners easily dispatched Morgan St. 82-54. Blake Griffin had 28 points and 13 rebounds, as OU was up 19 at halftime. Memphis almost became the victim of a massive upset. Down in the second half to Cal St. Northridge, the Tigers used a run at the end of the game to pull it out 81-70. Had Memphis lost, many would have been left scratching the heads with extremely messed up brackets. Only one #3 was in action today: Villanova. The Wildcats were down 10 at halftime to Patriot League champ American. However, Nova mounted a second-half comeback and eventually won 80-67. Still, this provided a scare to many, including myself, since Villanova was playing essentially a home game at the Wachovia Center, and I picked them to go to the Elite 8. They'll have to avoid a sluggish start against UCLA to avoid an early exit. Both #4 seeds won their contests. Washington defeated Mississippi St. 71-58, in a game some picked as an upset. I did not, as I put Washington, as my long shot, in the Final Four. Mainly, on the fact that a less skilled team took Pitt to the brink last year, and lost by a single point. The Huskies won the Pac-10 regular season crown and will surprise some people. The other #4, Gonzaga, dispatched Akron 77-64. Akron played better than expected and was up 38-35 at halftime. Eventually, the Zags wore down the Zips. Two #5 seeds were in action. In the only real upset, Illinois was sent packing by Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers almost blew an 11 point halftime, and 17 point second half lead . But they held on for a 76-72 victory. Last year's team was also a #12 seed, and upset #5 seed Drake and #4 U-Conn before falling to UCLA. So, Gonzaga better be careful on Saturday when it plays Western Kentucky. The other #5, Purdue, squeezed out a 61-56 win over Northern Iowa. It was unlikely for both Big Ten #5 seeds to win, so this time Purdue lucked out. One #6 was in action, UCLA. The Bruins eliminated, broke the hearts of, VCU. One point victories are always especially tough, as this one ended 65-64. VCU had been the "trendy" upset pick, because they upset Duke as an 11 seed two years ago. However, Darren Collison blanketed Eric Maynor, and made sure he wouldn't put the game winner in as he did two years ago. Three #7's had games, and to borrow Meat Loaf "Two out of three lost." Clemson couldn't make up its three point half-time defecit to Michigan and lost 62-59. The Wolverines are making their first tournament appearance in 11 years. Clemson tanked down the stretch losing 4 of 5, and apparently carried that lack of momentum into the tourney. California also fell victim to its 10 seed Maryland. Down three at the half, The Golden Bears took the lead in the second half, but eventually fell 84-71. Cal seemed to run out of steam, which considering they lost 4 of their last 6 is understandable. One #7 did win: Texas. The Longhorns were down early, but never trailed in the second half winning 76-62. AJ Abrams went off for 26 points and made eights 3's. Finally, two sets of 8-9's battled. In the first game, #8 LSU squeeked out a four point win over Butler 75-71. It was a back-and-forth game, which saw Butler come back but eventually fall short. The second game , a rematch from last year, wasn't close, as #9 Texas A&M once again knocked off BYU. The Aggies led the whole game, and won 79-66. Overall, I had five incorrect picks, as: VCU, Illinois, Clemson, BYU, and Butler lost. 11 for 16 isn't terrible, but I'm hoping day two will be kinder to me.

Here are some things to watch for tomorrow. In the Midwest #8 seed Ohio St. will battle #9 Siena. This figures to be the best of the late games with tip-off at 9:40. #5 Utah vs. #12 Arizona will provide an interesting prime time game. Many felt the Wildcats didn't belong in the tournament, and many are anxious to see how they'll perform. Tip-off is set for 7:10. Some feel the most compelling game in the region is #4 Wake Forest against #13 Cleveland St. In fact, these same people see it as an upset. I can't see that happening, especially as Wake watched Clemson lose and will be motivated to show the ACC is as good as its seeds should indicate. Finally, at 7:20 in the same region #7 Boston College will battle #10 USC. This figures to be a solid affair, as USC came on strong at the end of the year winning the PAC-10 tournament. Unfortunately, the West region is lacking in the thrill department tomorrow. With only two games scheduled, neither especially compelling, viewers will most likely be focused elsewhere. The South is in a similar boat. Although, it will be interesting to see if #3 Syracuse shows any effects of its extended play in the Big East Tournament. Two East games are of note. In an 8-9 tilt, #8 Oklahoma St. faces #9 Tennessee. With the early 12:25 tip-off, this figures to provide early afternoon entertainment. Finally, #1 seed Pitt takes on East Tennessee St. Yes, I don't expect this game to be close, and I see Blair and Young both having 20+ points. However, the Panthers can't afford to overestimate this opponent. Although, since Biggs, Young, and Fields are seniors I don't expect this to happen. Make sure to be around for the 2:55 tip-off. I certainly will be. Hopefully, Pitt won't need a 40 minute effort to win this one. Enjoy day two, and I'll have a recap of that tomorrow night.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My little slice of conformity

Hi, I'm James Moore, I have a blog, and I'm a conformist. It's true. Go ahead and laugh, but you're one too. In a strange way, my public speaking class and Cornerstone this week both dealt with conformity. As a result I give you this post. If it's popular, trendy, or "cool" then most likely it's got conformity written all over it. Everyone at college drinks coffee, huge generalization, but the prevalence of starbucks is shockingly obvious. I find it funny that everyone goes to starbucks to "study," even though talking and facebook seem to be the only real activities. Also, why else would people continue to visit a place that is distinctly designed to sell coffee, which I have been told has mediocre to crappy coffee. I know: conformity. Going to starbucks says I'm cool, because I'm earth friendly, and I love their smooth jazz and singer-songerwriter background music selections. It validates your desire to be seen, and to tell people "hey, I'm at starbucks studying, you know, cause that's what I do." It's harmless, but a lot of people probably couldn't honestly tell you why they enjoy starbucks. Although, they can tell you that lots of people like it, so all those people must know something. Maybe they do.

Another "fad" I find conformity laced is the wearing of Northface. Look at me, I've got this cool jacket and so does half of my floor. Do they make other colors than black? I find it impossible to believe that it can possibly be as comfortable, warm, and amazing as made out to be. So why do so many people have them? Well, mainly because so many people have them. It's cool and expensive, which means it's absolutely necessary. If I sound jealous, I'm not, just suspicious of the cult-like potential of Northface wearers. Girls seem to especially play into this. In fact, sorry ladies, most fads of conformity seem to be female centered. Like: Uggs, those ridiculous purses, and my personal favorite Twilight. I'm probably not suppose to get the appeal of any of these, but still I really don't get the appeal. Are they more comfortable than other boots? Doubtful. Do the purses carry more than others? Not really, they're all huge and duffel bag like. Is the guy in the movie really that hot? Honestly, that's beyond my ability to judge. I'm sure the book are great, but most girls seem more concerned with trying to kidnap Robert Pattinson than anything else. Is it genuine attraction or just mass female hysteria that if you read the books you have to think he's the greatest thing ever. This reminds of when Transformers came out, and every guy immediately wanted Megan Fox. No lie, she is really hot. Regardless, a lot of this attraction was conformity based. Any guy who would have claimed to not be attracted would have been called gay or some other insult which questions manhood or is designed to mock the individual. This brings me to my next point. These obsessions, fads, and the like are mostly harmless. What happens when conformity produces something that isn't?

Throughout history, fear, dogma, and rules have been used to encourage conformity of the wrong kind. As a result, the masses hold many beliefs that are irrational and often entirely false. Many Christians believe that drinking is evil, which is funny actually. Jesus drank wine, it was a cultural thing. Alcohol consumption isn't evil. However, massive consumption of alcohol is unhealthy and stupid. Yet in college conformity, and Greek culture, encourages binge drinking. Why is this cool? Well, because everybody is doing it, and it feels really good when your grilled cheese from lunch comes shooting out of your mouth. Also, it's fun to wake up with a stranger, especially if they haven't been tested. Not to mention, I really love falling down stairs and random bruises. This is dangerous conformity, and it doesn't stop there. Sexual experimentation, drug use, and other questionable behaviors are also a product of conformity. Suddenly following the crowd isn't so fun and harmless. Of course, Christian conformity can be just as dangerous. The idea that you have to listen to a certain type of music, wear those clever t-shirts, and follow all these rules. Aside from biblically absent, these ideas are just plain wrong. God gave us free will to live and choose our course of action. As a Christian, man is suppose to converge his will to God's, and let God take the wheel. Following arbitrary rules isn't a part of this, and actually prevents God from leading the way. This is the only kind of conformity we really need, the kind that has us following Jesus. Sure, you can follow the crowd for harmless fads, but they'll fade away before you know it. Given the chance everyone would trade temporary pleasure for lasting peace. This is what God offers, the promise of eternal peace in the most pleasurable place, so much so that it isn't even imaginable. Feelings last for a night, a high for hours, and a pair of shoes for like a year. So, yeah, I'm a conformist. I'm just glad I won't have to bring my yo-yo, Pokemon cards, and Wii to eternity.

Why I Wish I Could Be Indiana Jones

I understand very well the absurdity of this statement. So let me clarify. Everyone has a dream, or for the ambitious and bold multiple dreams. Some are childhood fantasies, while others are desired, often lofty, career or personal goals. Nothing is wrong with this, even when some are rather ludicrous. Better to attempt to fly then to never leave the ground. Regardless, I have never had "dreams" of the usual variety. I don't want to be famous, wealthy, or even conventionally successful. I don't care what kind of car I drive, what my house looks like, or that I marry a supermodel. My idealization of life has always been rather vague, and typically somewhat bizarre. To me a life on the road is close to "ideal," never knowing where I'll be next, or what I'll be doing. I know I can't work the same job for 30 years in an office, it would drive me to insanity. Travel will be essential, meeting new people, seeing new places. This seem acceptable to me, but it has always lacked the hint of focus it needs. This is where Indiana Jones comes in. I love the idea of constant change. One minute Indy is in Shanghai, and the next he is back teaching students as a professor of Archaeology. He is awesome without trying to be, and extremely passionate about what he does. Yes, and completely fictional. My biggest question has been, how do I mesh my interests and the absurdity of obsessing over a fictional character with my faith in Jesus to impact lives? So far my best idea has been government work. Of course, for a long time my best idea was the only one. Then I read something so honest and heartfelt that I began to think deeper about direction.

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it. I had thought I'd heard it all before. Growing up in a "missions" oriented church almost everyone seems to view that as their calling. Now I can't question God or a person's heart, but I often did self-righteously. It seemed absurd that individuals of different backgrounds and talents all felt called to tribal based missions. Not to lessen their importance, but there are other groups of people in the world. Also, everyone seemed concerned with saving souls, but not with improving quality of life or really utilizing interests and talents effectively. I came to Pitt, and I still thought I had heard it all. The usual: I want to be a youth pastor, I want to campaign for human rights, I want to work with inner city youth, etc. All noble, yet, areas already saturated with an abundance of individuals. I had heard it all, and then suddenly I hadn't. Freshmen year my uncle sent me an article listing the highest paying undergraduate jobs upon graduation, which I found interesting. Near the top was pharmacy at over 100,000 a year. When I came to Pitt I knew one individual from my high school who dropped out of the program, and another who was considering it (until she also left it at the end of freshmen year). I assumed the starting salary was the motivation for most people, since the program is rigorous and difficult. However, then one person changed my entire perception. Of all the people I've met at Pitt she is one of the hardest working, genuinely intriguing, personalities I know. Also a pharm major, I figured her goal was similar to most, and she seemed more capable of anyone else I knew in the program of attaining it. Only her goal wasn't the usual. Going to Africa to dispense medication for a disadvantaged and extremely poor population is not the usual. It is the extraordinary. I have, in all honesty, never been as inspired, intrigued, and impressed as I was after finding this out. This quickly made me realize I had things wrong, and that this was exactly the kind of thing I needed to consider. Using my talents, with my faith as inspiration, to impact lives globally. I already love travelling, and I've had a geography obsession since childhood. Needless to say, this led to some, perhaps, rapid developments, which may have been too rapid. Regardless, my opinion of the nobility of the dream remains unchanged, despite its altering by a unnecessarily difficult organic chemistry professor and class. Some would say it wasn't to be, but I know that God always has a plan even when it looks lost.
Maybe I can be Indiana Jones. Not in the same manner, but as a Christian who wants to impact the lost. I have come to see God may want me to leave the country for him. Sometimes our interests and God's will do mesh without a struggle. Ultimately, fighting God's will for your own interests is a losing battle. I will go where you send me. Still, it is hard to stay motivated and direction often seems lost to the darkness. However, I have seen bright lights, and they have shown me how to find mine. Gratitude is hard to express, but I have a great deal for those who truly deserve it. Keep pushing me, I need it. I could be doing more, one class isn't enough, and a little work never hurt anyone. Thanks for the inspiration. Take a break every once and a while, you've earned it. If government is the answer, then I trust that I will feel a push in that direction. Some say wind is the result of weather patterns, upper atmospheric air currents, but when it's at your back it's something more. God says he will uphold you with his right hand, and who can say the wind isn't an extension of God. Sometimes it's a breeze, sometimes it's a gale, but either way God has it under control. And that is all I need to know.