Monday, November 24, 2008

South Park -- Still Naming Trends 12 Years Later

South Park continues to dominate television airtime and minds of pop culture gurus 12 years after it first aired for two reasons – it’s accurate and it’s funny.

The show continues to provide viewers with accurate summaries of fads in American pop culture. Each week Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Kenny McCormick, and Eric Cartman send fans and non-fans alike into fits of laughter through their witty-remarks and outlandish “potty” humor.

Not only that, but they’ve done this consistently for 12 years.

The final two episodes of this year’s season paid homage to the South Park tradition. They captured two American trends and taught America how to laugh at themselves.

“Twilight”, a young adult book series based on a young and attractive male vampire and “True Blood”, a television show revolving around the escapades of humanized vampires, appears to be the latest craze.

“Twilight” debuted this weekend, grossing $70.5 million domestically at the North American box-office, which makes it the fourth-highest November opening weekend of all time. “True Blood” isn’t as successful as the Stephanie Meyer book series hitting the big screen, but it’s impacted the clout of vampires on the mean streets of middle and high school hallways.

South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone nailed that point home last Wednesday night.

Their ability to take trends and mock how people act during the time of a trend’s popularity is the entire basis for why South Park is still on the air after 12 years.

South Park is the pop culture history book of the past decade. People should embrace South Park for its ability to capture a moment in pop culture. Some historians have trouble documenting wars and homeland security situations, let alone remembering what teenagers found cool on a weekly basis.

The season 12 finale, “The Ungroundable”, captures the new vampire trend at South Park Elementary. The always love-able and always awkward character, Leopold “Butters” Stotch, thinks he’s seen a vampire roaming the halls at school. Little does he know that these kids just think they’re vampires. He never figures it out and becomes a part of the occult against his will because all the cool kids are doing it.

That’s why South Park gets away with the degrading humor, constant profanity, and unresolved character conflicts – all the cool kids are doing it. Or at least, someone out there is.

Vampires aren’t the only pop culture moment icons with a staring role this season. The Emmy Award-winning Disney Channel Original Movie, “High School Musical”, hit South Park Colorado by storm during season 12, leaving every character on screen singing and dancing about their love for each other (or lack their of). For those out there who still have doubts as to why or how anyone in their right mind could ever enjoy “High School Musical” at all – just have to watch “Elementary School Musical”. It’s funny. It’s all a joke. And, the songs are so catchy that you can’t help but learn and then mock them over and over again.

When “Guitar Hero” was released, South Park added the rock star wanna-be video game to their season 11 arsenal of pop culture reviews. When young video game addicts found themselves chained to their computers playing “World of Warcraft”, South Park spent a half hour showing how pathetic some of the players really are. They even went as far as to do an entire episode about “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” – only the Queer Eye Guys end up being Crab people from another planet. Go figure.

With season 12 in the can, there’s a lot to look forward to next season. We just don’t know what’s in store for us yet. Comedy Central signed a contract with the South Park creators, extending its run to 15 seasons with 14 episodes each.

Either way, one thing’s for sure, South Park is a lot easier than sitting down with a history book. And, it’s a hell of a lot funnier.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Second Chance at Life Leads a Transplant Recipient to the Track

Linda Cheatham, 60, takes all the proper precautions when revving up the engine on her 1997 white Porsche Boxter and hits the track at Virginia International Raceway. It’s been an 18-year-habit to fasten her five-point harness, cover her peppered hair with a helmet, secure a neck brace, and zip-up her white Nomex racing suit.

Cheatham decided she wanted to learn how to race cars on Aug. 10, 1990 – one day after her kidney transplant.

Cheatham and her family share a hereditary disease known as polycystic kidney liver disease, which affects more than 600,000 Americans and is the second leading cause of kidney transplants in this country. Half of the people with this disease will suffer kidney failure and need a transplant – 10 members of Cheatham’s family have had kidney transplants as a result of the disease. And, on Aug. 9, 1990 Cheatham became number 11.

When she’s not racing her Porsche, Cheatham works as a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner in Alexandria, Va. – just outside Washington, D.C. – to pay the bills.

Transplantation isn’t as sexy as it was 15 to 20 years ago, Cheatham admitted. “It seems like every time I tell someone I have a kidney transplant, they say, ‘Oh I have a friend, co-worker, cousin who has had a transplant.’”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, over 17,000 kidney transplants take place each year in addition to the 18,659 overall transplants in 2008 so far. Surgeons perform kidney transplants more often than any other transplantation, the reason being that because people have two kidneys, they can act as what the transplant world calls a “living donor.”

Cheatham’s donor, Robin Ward, is among the living donor population. Ward and her husband were legally adopted by Cheatham’s family 25 years ago. Praised for her desire to help others, the full-time licensed physical therapist and Missouri community college professor was a worthy kidney candidate for Cheatham. Since every other Cheatham family member genetically contracted polycystic kidney liver disease, Ward was the ideal donor – still in a family but not blood related.

The surgery itself was the least of Cheatham’s worries. She wasn’t only close friends with her donor, but with her surgeon as well. Cheatham’s friend Dr. Hans Sollinger was and still is the head transplant surgeon at the University of Wisconsin hospital in Madison. It calmed her nerves to know that Dr. Sollinger, a man she trusts for his world-wide reputation and friendship, would be taking care of her during her kidney transplant.

Ward and Cheatham went into the hospital the night before surgery and were the first transplants the next morning. The procedure was as routine as kidney transplants can be and both donor and recipient were up and walking by the day’s end. “They purposely put donors and recipients far apart to force activity,” Cheatham said.

The University of Wisconsin’s recovery program didn’t have Ward and Cheatham in bed for long. Nurses in the Madison Transplant ward push donors to walk and visit recipient’s rooms and vice versa to encourage physical activity. Less than 24 hours later, the surgical team told their patients, “You’re well now, so no laying around and acting sick.” That’s how the university’s recovery program is designed – its purpose is to keep the patient active.

Back in the 1990s, the university hospital kept patients for a three-week period, Cheatham said, to ensure that all of their medications were regulated and that this did not have an early rejection episode. Rejection is the biggest fear transplant recipients face after surgery. While Ward’s road to recovery was a week, Cheatham’s was one day shy of two weeks. It was nice, Cheatham said, “Since I lived in town and the surgeon was my friend I was allowed to go home early and come back for daily labs.”

Cheatham’s main concern is that people today aren’t as astounded by the miracle of transplantation as they used to be. The once unimaginable medical procedure is treated as serious but doable, as far as she’s concerned, “Because it isn’t as unusual anymore.”

She isn’t alone in her thinking. TRIO, an organ transplantation advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. is full of transplant recipients like Cheatham who volunteer to spread how people can donate life.

When Cheatham met Mary Lamm, a founding member of the Nation’s Capital Area Chapter of TRIO at a Polycystic Kidney Disease annual conference in Kansas City, they were on a panel together. The two spoke and discovered that they lived less than one mile from each other.

After getting involved in 1992, Cheatham started serving on the National Board of Directors for TRIO since 1993 and is still on it today. All together, Cheatham has sat on the TRIO’s national board for 9 to 10 years and now helps serve as the assistant treasurer in addition to her duties as local chapter president for the Washington, D.C. area.

“The only thing we have in common,” Cheatham said, “is transplantation. We are very age, race, religion, and socio-economically diverse group.”

After her transplant, Cheatham wanted to give back to her community. Cheatham now spends a lot of time on raising awareness of transplant related issues. Her work with transplant issues does not rest with TRIO, Cheatham spreads the importance of organ donation. One of her favorite ways to do spread the word is by racing.

This year is Cheatham’s thirteenth time racing in the Cannonball One Lap of America. Cheatham, who’s first race was in 1994, takes great pride in her yearly completion of the eight day, cross-country racing trek.

Cheatham is known by her friends as being comfortable in many settings – hanging around the raceway is one of them.

The exhilarating and exhausting One Lap for America is where Linda divvies her time between the track and the rest of the raceway. When she’s not behind the wheel, Cheatham walks the around handing out donor literature to raise awareness.
Cheatham also uses the Porsche for holiday parades, health fairs, and company picnics.

The biggest misconception of people with transplants, Cheatham said, is that recipients are stuck in bed the rest of their lives with an IV in their arm. Cheatham is living proof, taking auto racing and SCUBA diving after receiving her new kidney.

Even though some people have criticized her for her dangerous hobbies, Cheatham takes pride in living life. “The only things my surgeon told me I couldn’t do for the first year were sky diving and tackle football,” she said. “The purpose of a transplant is to get your life back, not to live in a bubble.”

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blowing Out the Candles for Iraq

On March 20, 2003 all I could think about was my birthday. The next day, I would turn sweet sixteen. My parents would lavish me with gifts. My friends would serenade me over cake and soda with the birthday song. Every perfect detail that epitomizes a teenage girl’s birthday was scheduled to make an appearance in my life. But then, the celebration came to an end before it started. President Bush declared war.

Bombs flew over the airspace in Iraq while my parents and I watched the news from our living room. Scenes of bombs flying from the sky looked reminiscent of the post-attack battleground from the 1996 alien-thriller “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Bill Pullman. My 15-year-young stare focused in on the history being shot before my eyes. It was really happening. We were at war.

American occupation in Iraq is closing in on six years now. To me, this makes no sense. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure the majority of my fellow Americans have no idea why we’re still there either.

Iraqi’s don’t want us there. We’re spending money we don’t have during a vast economic decline on a war most people don’t want to fight. This needs to end.

The Wall Street Journal announced today that the Iraqi parliament hopes to pass a security deal that would call for U.S. troops to withdraw at the end of 2011[1]. If Iraq can take the initiative, why can’t we?

According to the New York Times, troops and equipment under the Bush administration were so overtaxed that the Pentagon does not have enough of either for the

fight in Afghanistan – a much more important war, at least for national security’s sake – let alone money to confront inevitable threats in the future[2].

So, not only do Americans have no idea what’s going on in Iraq but we also don’t have the money to do anything about it. President-elect Barack Obama faces this issue. The man’s got quite the juggling act to perform come Inauguration Day.

It will be no easy task to fix a frail economy and play Commander-In-Chief, but someone’s got to do it. And, given the historical significance of this year’s presidential election, let’s just hope we chose the right man for the job.

Let’s put this into perspective – consider the recent bailout. The government solicited taxpayer’s money to bailout the banks. Now, the auto industry is in a similar situation. According to the Detroit Free Press, the amount of money the auto industry needs to be bailed out of trouble is equivalent of what American taxpayers are spending in Iraq[3]. It’s up to President-elect Obama to eradicate this problem.

Reallocated federal spending may help here. But, no one really has a quick fix. President-elect Obama said he knows he must earn the military’s respect by delivering on

some of his promises[4]. The Obama administration is expected to draft and deliver its first defense budget within three months of Inauguration Day. Obama also promised a troop

withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months of taking office if the conditions allow. All America can do now is wait.

When the clock strikes midnight on the 6th anniversary of the war in Iraq, the voice inside my head will silently pray for resolution. Who knows, maybe if I shut my eyes real tight and keep my fingers crossed while I blow out my birthday candles 24 hour later, that wish will come true.

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[1] Chon, Gina. “Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Deal.” The Wall Street Journal.

[2] Editorial. “A Military for a Dangerous New World.” The New York Times.

[3] Dzwonkowski, Ron. “What the critics of an auto bailout don’t get.” Detroit Free Press.

[4] Maze, Rick. “The Army under Obama.” Army News.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Dawn of a New Day in America -- Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th President of The United States of America

I never find myself glued to a television anymore. But on Tuesday night I huddled around a friend’s television set in Washington, D.C. eagerly awaiting the millions of votes to trickle into the news stations.

Millions upon millions pieces of paper are what determined the outcome of this year’s historic presidential election. When the predictions started dominating the airwaves close to 11 p.m. on the east coast, my friends and I saw history – Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America.

I found it necessary to never take an obvious side in this election. My stance on politics is a trait that I internalize unless my last nerve goes awry. Last night, I watched the faces of six other 21-year-old American University students as our country ushered in its new and unknown future.

Our generation and every other generation of American citizens were promised change. We elected the man who said he would help us get there. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of our country as a whole than today.

One story stick out in my mind from Election Day. Rain misting from a gray Washington, D.C. sky didn’t keep voters away from the polls. A class of mine at AU wrote and conducted an exit poll for voters in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia polls nearby. I was stationed in a precinct in Northwest Washington.

There, I saw parents toting their small children to the booths and elderly couples linked by the arm with umbrellas in hand. Young, old, white, black, Asian, Hispanic – everyone voted.

I won’t lie, I was fearful for our country until the announcement that Sen. Obama became the President-elect. Not once during the 21 month election did I ever tell anyone which candidate my vote was going to. But watching Chicago's Grant Park on CNN last night made me proud to be an American.

My city of Chicago ushered in a new era of American history and I wasn’t there to see it. That's why it's a good thing there will be many more historical days to come. This chapter in our history books has only just begun. From here on out, it’s our responsibility along side President Obama to make the changes we seek for the future.

I tip my hat to you today, Barack Obama -- despite the fact that you're a White Sox fan. Here’s to a new day dawning in The United States of America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Time to Unite the United States -- Enter Election Day 2008

The following piece was written as a "dissent" to a pitch by a classroom editorial board in Professor Nick Clooney's Opinion Writing class at American University in the Fall of 2008:

Let’s face it – America has a lot of problems right now. Families are stressed by finances, individuals are scared about what outcome we’ll reach on Election Day, and the only thing anyone can agree upon is the fact that America is a lot like a confused teenager.

I agree with fellow editorial board member, Dory Samuels, that we need to get the economy back under control – bank regulation and restoring accountability on Wall Street are guaranteed weights on the new president’s shoulders. But it’s important to note that the problems facing the economy could have been avoided. Now we have to fix them. But I don’t think that the economy is necessarily the number one problem to fix on the new president’s list. We need to unify our country first.

We can all agree that one of the greatest freedoms our country enables us with is the ability to vote. Democracy has worked for over 200 years in America. It’s been reliable even in times of doubt and fear. We’ve gotten through two World Wars, The Great Depression, assassinations, the atomic bomb, September 11th, and many more historically notable experiences. But now, we’re at a point where Americans have unknowingly taken sides. We’ve become far too extreme in our vantage points. Bi-partisanship has been lost.

"This presidential cycle would not be possible without the sacrifices and the courage of those people on the bridge," said Selma, a resident of Malika Sanders-Fortier, to the Daily Monitor in reference to Obama. "This is the time to put our right to vote to the test. To pick a side isn’t the answer in this year’s election. It’s picking who’s right for our country.

I realize that in order for Democracy to work, more than one side needs to be represented and heard. However, our nation is so divided when it comes to the political spectrum that all hope for compromise is gone. It’s either black or white, red or blue,never any shade of gray anymore. Moderation is the key to getting America back on track. We need to empower our nation’s citizens to become a united force once again.

Our country is a joke around the world. A survey written by the Pew Global Attitudes Project center in the spring of 2006 and conducted in 15 nations, found that global perceptions of the United States continue to worsen. The percentages said that the British favorability of Americans fell from 56 percent to 83 percent in 2000 and, even the brief era of good feeling in 2005 that stemmed from the U.S.-led Asian tsunami relief effort seems to have faded in countries such as India and Indonesia. That isn’t good.

Don’t forget, we were named the United States for a reason. Let’s unite on Election Day to the best of our abilities. Let’s make it a point to give America the future it deserves. Let’s not get held up with focusing on the little hiccups along the way. We can’t let hiccups like the economy, education, energy, and the environment weigh us down or define us. We can fix all of it, we just have to come together to do so.

Never forget, what the goal is. It’s in our name and it always will be. So, be proud – unite.

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