Short Term Memory

The country has a long, and at times painful, history of alleviating itself from the responsibility of remembering the lessons of the past. This is a rational enough trait to have though. It allows the potential guilt we feel as a nation to slowly but surely wash away over time. This is not a societal issue pinned to the subject of race alone, as you might believe from recent events, but as the unnerving parallels between our involvement in the Vietnam and Iraq wars show, it permeates our entirety in a complex and complete way.

I’ve wanted a lot of things for this country, as I’m sure most people do. The most important of which, the de-gamification of our entire political and economic systems, people have largely lost hope of ever changing. I feel under-served by the leaders in our country in both the private and public sectors. The dearth of empathy from the top says volumes about the place we find ourselves in as a people. As long as we willfully retread the missteps of our past, the odds of anything, however small, changing for the better, are losing ones.


Financial Aid’s Hidden Flaw




For college students throughout the United States, affording college without at least some assistance from federal financial aid has become increasingly challenging. As competition for funds has risen during the recession, the amount of financial aid for those most in need is being squeezed by the demands of a more financially insecure middle class.

While this higher demand for financial aid understandably reduces the amount of aid that each student can receive, the biggest losers are the poorest students. The reason? The Department of Education has an interesting loophole that allows middle class families to claim more financial aid than they rightfully deserve.

In theory, the federal government determines aid by examining the tax records of both the student and his or her parents to see how much income is available to pay for college. This system should be a straightforward way of giving the most aid to the students with the least ability to pay.

However, in practice, middle class students whose parents are divorced have the option of putting just one parent on their financial aid forms, often the parent with less income. They have found an effective way of getting around the conventional financial aid logarithm. The result is a student who might need little to no financial aid, receives a lot. In a country where citizens are constantly being told there just isn’t money for improvement in the educational system, loopholes like this need to be addressed.

Complaints about government spending tend to be accompanied by individual devolvement of responsibility. It is ludicrous and hypocritical to whine about waste in government spending, and simultaneously use problems in the system to your advantage.

Corruption in the healthcare system is widely acknowledged as prevalent, whereas the financial aid program is left on the back burner. Corruption in any government funded program should be addressed, not just the programs that less fortunate take advantage of.


Why do teens bully rape victims?

In the last year, there have been numerous reports about high school girls who were allegedly raped by their classmates. Equally disturbing has been the response of many students in both blaming and bullying the victims through texting and by posting images of their sexual assaults online. This phenomenon highlights the horrifying evolution of social media bullying by making public one of the most traumatic events a person is likely to experience.

One of the latest teen rape cases making international headlines is that of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

According to her family, Parsons was gang-raped by four boys in 2011 when she was 15-years-old. In a move uncomfortably similar to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, one teen used a camera phone to take a picture of one of the boys allegedly assaulting her. Afterwards, the image was distributed to a number of other students and went viral.

Instead of the image causing outrage, Parsons was labeled a slut. Anonymous male students started sending her text messages asking her to have sex with them. The messages kept coming for months.

A subsequent criminal trial of the students brought no charges against the boys due to a lack of evidence, leaving Parsons suicidal, according to her mother, Leah Parsons.

On April 4th, Parsons hanged herself in her home, her parents removed her from life support on April 7th.

Sadly, blaming the victims of sexual assault is not a new or uncommon phenomenon. Yet the growing use of social media to publicly shame victims has made the practice exponentially more damaging and traumatic as victims discover explicit images of themselves distributed online, and learn that people throughout their school had seen the images as well.

Since the initial Steubenville, Ohio rape case started to make national headlines late last year, a growing number of similar sexual assaults in which students distributed images of girls being allegedly sexually assaulted, have been brought to the public’s attention.

In September 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott committed suicide after she discovered explicit photos of her posted online by three 16-year-old male friends who allegedly sexually assaulted her while she was passed out at a house party.

In another recent case, in Torrington, Conn., 18-year-old football players Edgar Gonzales and Joan Toribio, were charged with raping two 13-year-old girls. After one of the girls came forward to report the alleged rape, she started receiving messages on Twitter blaming her for her promiscuous behavior.

One tweet published on HLN read: “wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes.”

Another tweet: “Sticking up for a girl who wanted the D and then snitched? have a seat pleaseeee.”

Why are teens bullying sexual assault victims and what can be done to stop it?

Part of the reason why teens bully peers who have been sexually assaulted is simply denial that a friend or classmate could be capable of such a heinous act. Instead, teens blame the girl, accusing her of being overly promiscuous. While teens may be fully aware of the psychological damage that distributing explicit images would cause, they do not recognize the girls as victims.

Complicating the matter is the fact that many teens are voluntarily distributing explicit photos of themselves in the form of sexting. One study found that a third of teens are sexting their peers (sending nude photos via phone or email). The same study also found that girls who sent nude photos of themselves also were more likely to take part in risky sexual behaviors like, having multiple sexual partners and using drugs or alcohol before having sex.

This association with sexting and promiscuity could explain why rape victims become targets for bullying even when their assaults are photographed or recorded. With so much voluntary sharing of sexualized images, teens may not stop to think that what they are seeing is in fact sexual assault.

There is evidence to suggest that teens are not nearly as good at recognizing signs of sexual abuse as they should be. One national survey found that 66 percent of young women and only 46 percent of young men said that they would recognize signs of sexual abuse among their peers. An act that an adult would see as an assault, may not be as clear-cut to a teen.

Pack Mentality

As with any other type of bullying, normal scruples tend to get lost as more people become involved in targeting the victim. While individual teens may have the common sense to recognize that distributing explicit images of a classmate is wrong, the effects of the pack mentality can lead students to target a rape victim simply because that is what everyone else is doing. The ability to remain anonymous online emboldens bullies to say whatever they want about the person, without any fear of reprisals.

How do we stop this from happening again?

Parents and educators can lead the change by altering how they discuss rape and bullying with teens.

While there is a tendency to think about rape as a violent crime that is perpetrated by strangers, in fact 38 percent are committed by a friend or an acquaintance, and 66 percent are committed by someone the victim knows.

Teens need to be more aware that just because a victim may know or even be friends with her attacker does not mean that what happened to her was not rape or sexual assault.

Teens also need to know how sharing explicit photos of a classmate could get them in legal trouble for distributing child pornography. At the same time, both the educational system and the federal government need to standardize punishments for students who post and share explicit images so that both educators and law enforcement have clear-cut ways of cracking down on students who are disseminating these images.

Finally, parents and educators need to put greater emphasis on teaching boys about appropriate sexual behavior. While many girls learn from an early age that they could easily become the victim of a sexual assault, especially if drugs and alcohol are involved, boys are not taught that they could easily become rapists. Even if boys know that rape is illegal, they are just as likely to view rape as a violent act done to an unknown women. Boys may not think that groping or having sex with a friend while she is too inebriated to give consent falls also constitutes rape and can land them in jail.

While there is no way to completely stop sexual assaults or teen bullying, raising awareness and consistently holding students accountable for both sexual violence and disseminating explicit images will go a long way towards preventing similar tragedies.


Brazil’s Broken Attack

Neymar and Kaka
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Brazil’s latest starlet, Neymar, has shone bright for three years now. Chosen as the face  of a nation longing for their next superstar, this supremely talented footballer has been tabbed to lead a young Brazilian side to World Cup glory. The pressure to perform in any World Cup for the Brazilian national side is incredible. The fact that the 2014 World Cup being played in Brazil will ratchet up that immense pressure to rarely seen levels. Brazil has consistently been a contender for World Cup trophies, but unfortunately for Neymar, this current Brazilian side has far less direction than previous years. The lack of leadership, and a consistent starting XI has seen Brazil lose its spot amongst the world’s best. A FIFA world ranking of 18th in the world demonstrates the dire situation the squad is facing. The plan to relegate the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Luis Fabiano to bit part players without established replacements has left Brazil void of an attacking focal point.

Manager Luis Scolari has played an attack focused around Neymar. He starts Neymar on the left wing, Oscar or Hulk on the right wing, Kaka or Ronaldinho in the playmaker role, and Fred as the lone striker. To the naked eye this selection of attacking players looks awfully potent. So the question is, why does this combination of stars lack goals?

The obvious place to start would be the striker. Fred has long been a consistent goalscorer in Brazil’s top-flight division. Coming off back to back 20 plus goal seasons, he is very efficient as a goal poacher. The Brazilian Serie A, is notoriously known as an attack-minded league, with little in the form of defensive resistance. Fred is much more Mario Gomez than Mario Balotelli. He lacks pace and rarely provides that little something extra.

Then there is Oscar, a player played out of position at the club and international level. He is at his best in the number 10 role. A creator with decisive vision and a powerful right foot, he impacts the game far less when pushed out to the right wing. At Chelsea FC in England, Oscar is often the afterthought. Stuck behind his gifted midfield teammates Juan Mata and Eden Hazard on the depth charts, he usually finds himself played out of position. The first choice player in the central role is Juan Mata, who to his credit, has blossomed there by producing 10 Premier League goals as well as 10 assists. Oscar’s work rate with both club and country has left a lot to be desired. This tendency causes a bigger issue with his national side, considering his partner on the right is the attack minded right back Dani Alves.
The alternative on the right is Hulk. The former striker is also not at his best as a winger. At his former club FC Porto in Portugal, Hulk formed the most lethal strike partnership in Europe with Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao. His incredible pace and dangerous left foot make him the kind of player who can turn a game on its head. His best position is as a support striker or as one of two strikers. Those are two roles in which his tendency to be trigger-happy is less detrimental to the team’s attacking rhythm.

Kaka and Ronaldinho have been somewhat of a nuisance to Scolari, and Mano Menezes before him. The two former stars are far from their brilliant best, but have still had very good seasons. This has made the transition away from using them in Brazil’s attack that much harder. Ronaldinho has shown on occasion that he still has the ability to make you dream. He has the creativity and the brash confidence to see and try the impossible, a skill you simply cannot teach. Kaka, has largely been stuck on the Real Madrid bench behind Mesut Ozil. The 2007 World Player of the Year, has played well when called upon by Real Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho. He offers something different from the German, as less of a creator and more of an elusive support striker. Kaka has played better in the Brazilian shirt than Ronaldinho as of late, and should be the one picked out of the two by Scolari.

Then we have Neymar, the focal point of Brazil’s attack. He has been played out of position on the left wing, where he opts to cut in on his right foot, instead of pushing out wide to provide crosses like traditional wingers. At the club level in Brazil, Neymar has been a prolific goalscorer. At his club Santos, he instead plays as the left striker in a two man strike team, a role in which he thrives. In Brazil’s Selecao he has yet to become a menacing goal threat, an issue which Scolari needs to quickly sort out.

The solution is playing Neymar as the lone striker, in a “free” striking role. He would cause issues for any back four with his dribbling ability and pace. His roaming in that position would make him much more of a threat than the predictable and stationary Fred. Deploying Ramires as the right winger instead of his usual midfield role, would allow his unbelievable work-rate and pace to provide a security blanket for Dani Alves. On the left playing Lucas Moura, who has similarly blistering pace, and a wonderful attacking repertoire, would give Brazil a player who can get in behind defenders. The central role could be filled by either Oscar or Kaka, depending on which of the two is on form. Hulk could come on as a great super sub to wreak havoc late in games when opponents are tired and get heavy legged.

For Brazil to have a chance at the next World Cup, they’ll need to get the best out of their best players. The only way to accomplish that is to play them in their preferred positions. There is a just over a year left until the world’s eyes fall on Brazil, and anything less than winning the World Cup would be deemed a failure at home.

Fresh look for Didier Deschamps’ France Team

Under the careful tutelage of Didier Deschamps, Les Bleus finally look like one of the world’s footballing powers again. This is a team almost completely devoid of the group players that disgraced France in each of the four previous major world football tournaments. First, the now infamous Zinedine Zidane head-butt in the 2006 World Cup. Followed by the back to back last place group stage finishes at the 2008 Euro Cup, and 2010 World Cup, where in the latter the team refused to train. Lastly, Samir Nasri had a nasty spat with a reporter after France bowed out of the 2012 Euros this past summer. Player discipline has clearly taken precedence in this latest edition of the French national team. The absences of world class players like Patrice Evra from Friday’s starting XI against Georgia, and Samir Nasri from the squad in general, show that the point has been made clearly. Fall in line with Deschamps vision, or be left out. The likes of Nasri no longer have the leeway for their talent excuse their bad behavior. France now has competition at almost every position, which pushes the starters to be at their best or risk being left out.

There is a bright new generation of French stars emerging in Europe. None more frighteningly talented than 19-year-old Raphael Varane. The Real Madrid man is a towering centre-back, with a strong physique and incredible recovery speed. After playing sparingly for the last season and a half, he has exploded onto the world scene in the last few months after sensational performances against Barcelona (twice) and Manchester United. The most impressive part of this feat isn’t playing for a club with the prestige of Los Blancos at 19, it’s that he is keeping great players like Pepe off the pitch. Varanes emergence as one of the world’s best defenders, was a gift Deschamps and the French national team weren’t expecting for at least a couple more years. This now gives him ample time to figure out the best centre-back partner to play alongside him before the 2014 World Cup.

The other young star for France, is Paul Pogba. At 20-years-old, he is forcing his way into the Juventus starting midfield. A midfield that is one of the very best in the world. Lead by Andrea Pirlo, who has had a personal renaissance under Antonio Conte, this is a midfield that is incredibly complete. Flanking Pirlo are two talented workhorses, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. Both are capable of staunch defending when Pirlo decides to push forward, and of making powerful runs when he controls the ball deeper. In short they patch up his faults, to allow his best to shine.

Pogba is a complete midfielder in his own right. Blessed with a great long range shot and excellent stamina, his contribution on both sides of the ball to his club can’t be understated. Like Varane, he has shown more than capable of holding his own the the biggest matches.

Ever since the great Zidane left international football, the French national team has lacked an effective, game changing playmaker. The failed trials of Olympique Lyons’ Yoann Gourcuff, and Manchester City’s Samir Nasri in the number 10 playmaking role, seem to coincide with the national teams recent struggles. They saw a slightly better performance in that role from Newcastle Uniteds’ Yohan Cabaye while playing alongside Nasri at the 2012 Euros. However, over the past few months Les Bleus seem to have found a real solution to their pressing need in Mathieu Valbuena. The Marseille man is thriving in his new central role. He has formed an excellent rapport with the ever controversial winger Franck Ribery. With their midfield taking shape, France seem just one striker away from a complete team.

Karim Benzema is the frustrating number 9 that the French team has been trying figure out for some time now. A man blessed with world class talent, he, like his countryman Ribery, is wildly inconsistent. The striker has improved markedly in certain areas like endurance, in part due to an improved physique, and his link-up play. His dilemma is he has long droughts without any goals. Strikers above all are counted on to put the ball in the back of the net, and unless he can start to come good for France, they’ll struggle to be a legitimate contender for the 2014 World Cup.

The emerging quality and team discipline in this latest edition of the French national team is a welcome sight for it’s suffering fans. A country with such a rich history of success rightfully has the bar set high for its expectations. With Spain at a noticeably lower level than years past, and Germany seemingly missing that little extra something to reach the next level, the door has cracked open for France. Tuesdays’ clash between France and Spain should be a great test to see if Les Bleus can take that next step.

The Hidden Struggle of an American Muslim

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

As a Muslim living in the United States, my relationship with my faith is one marked by confusion. On the one hand I was raised to be proud of my religion, but at the same time I have to live with the public perception of Islam, one that is far from positive. Should I have been proud at school to be a Muslim, even as most of my classmates were surely exposed to the endless TV documentaries about my “hateful” religion? Growing up, the contradiction between my personal experience and others’ opinions was an understandably arduous concept for me to grasp.

Before moving to the United States, being a Muslim was much more straightforward. 

In Ottawa, where I lived until I turned 10-years-old, the majority of my neighborhood was not only Muslim, but Somali. This led me to believe that the rest of the world was as ethnically proportionate as my home neighborhood. Most of my friends and I were actively involved with our mosque, attending Quran school every Sunday. Islam was not a fringe religion where I was from, but rather as normal as being Protestant or Catholic.  I never once had  second thoughts when mentioning my religion to anyone who inquired about it.  My pride in my faith was unflinching.

Then, when I was in fourth grade, my whole perception of my religion was turned on its head.

The United States brought a stark contrast to my life in Canada, a contrast I hadn’t anticipated. To understand the culture shock of moving, you’d have to see the differences I had to deal with through my eyes. My families move to Amherst, Massachusetts was a one marred with personal disappointments. My assumptions were all wrong. My immediate observations were; less black people, fewer kids who played sports, less freedom for kids, a boring small town, and no Muslims. To a rational adult, these issues might not seem like life-altering circumstances, but I wasn’t rational. I was young, and only knew of one way things should be.

Over the next three years (from 1998 to 2001), I noticed shifts in my life. My mother, a Somali immigrant, was clearly showing the wearing effects of the lack of contact to other Somalis or Muslims. My siblings and I were decidedly worse at speaking and writing the Somali language. And worst of all, 9/11 had just happened, making middle school almost unbearably awkward for me. I was the lone Muslim in all my classes, so as time went on, the more I could feel the peering eyes of my classmates. I could almost hear their thoughts questioning the validity of the widespread claims my faith was based on hate.That’s when I started to realize I was different from them all. I wasn’t ever going to live a equally open life in this country. At least not as open as my Christian or Jewish friends. I already had my black skin color going against me, an now it was joined by my misunderstood religion.

I find it misleading that many Americans, including our very own President, have the audacity to portray the United States as nation with separation between church and state. From the currency in our pockets to the oaths taken in courtrooms across the country, many aspects of our daily lives scream of an archaic tie to Christianity. I’m sure to most, many of these occurrences fade seamlessly into the backgrounds our their daily lives, just part of “how things go”. For others like me, it’s not so easy.

I’ve heard President Obama say that every American child has a chance to become President of The United States. A statement that sounds awfully inspiring, until of course you realize he’s dead wrong. I am an American citizen. I was born in this country. And I will never become president. While my skin color would make winning an election unlikely enough, my religion would make becoming president downright impossible.

During both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the Republicans even went as far as to label President Obama a Muslim, in order to steal votes from him for being “Un-American”. Meanwhile during the entire campaign process, Islam was thrown completely under the bus.

President Barack Obama is a symbol of endless possibility for many African-American children and adults in this country. His story has been one used to inspire people and set free life long notions of preordained restrictions on achievement based upon race. With the fight for equality between different races and genders making noted progress, the time has come for it to apply to religion in this country.  I want to be comfortable in my country, I deserve to be.

The Lazy Runner’s Log: Week 3

The Running Shoe Dilemma

I have always been a strong believer in my running shoes, in particular my brand of running shoe. Ever since I started running 13 years ago, I have worn either Asics or my personal favorite– Saucony Hurricanes. My high school coach recommended the shoes to me because I have, as one orthopedist indelicately put it, really deformed feet. They have almost no arch and pronate dramatically when I walk and run, resulting in painful shin splints that returned with clockwork regularity each cross country season.

I have combated this unfortunate problem with my arsenal of regular icing, periodic Ibuprofin use, custom-made orthotics and of course my trusty Hurricanes. These rigid and fairly heavy shoes help keep my feet stable when I run, and make a $140 dent in my wallet every few months. I firmly believed that without these things, I would not be able to run very well at all.

For years this system has worked pretty well for me, but lately, I have been having a crisis of faith. Last summer I read “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall and suddenly I began to think that my approach to my running injuries was completely wrong.

The book tells the story of a mysterious running tribe from Mexico’s Copper Canyons, the Tarahumara, who run ultra-marathon distances in nothing but sandals and are amazingly injury-free. McDougall makes the argument that the running shoe industry has led us to believe that we need shoes like my Hurricanes, but in reality, the rigid structure and the high heel in most shoes makes us run unnaturally. While most runners run with their heels striking the ground first in traditional running shoes, McDougall insists that runners should run with their fore-foot/mid-foot striking the ground first and land with a lighter stride. We can avoid injury not by adding artificial supports, but rather by working on strengthening muscles in the feet, ankles and legs an re-learning running like we did as barefoot children. (Even if you aren’t a fan of barefoot/minimalist running I would recommend this book for anyone looking for some running inspiration).

The idea of barefoot-style or minimalist running is not new, but it has become much more mainstream in recent years.. I remember the first time I saw my first pair of five-finger toed shoes at the gym three years ago and thinking the guy wearing them looked like a freak. Since then, I’ve seen more people with the shoes, practicing their mid-foot striking stride.

Others are taking the less extreme route of wearing minimalist shoes that offer little protection beyond thicker soles than that five-fingered shoes. My dad, a two-time Boston Marathon runner, has been using minimalist shoes for a number of years now, he made the change after taking courses in exercise science and has been trying to convince me to toss my Hurricanes ever since—to no avail. Proponents of this method say that while the transition to running with less support can take a long time, ultimately, the benefits are well worth the extra effort of re-training the body.

However, critics caution that switching to less supportive shoes is far from a panacea for all running injuries. Changing methods too quickly can lead to a whole new repertoire of injuries to the feet and ankles.
Others say that heel-striking runners aren’t running unnaturally at all, and it is a mistake to try to convince people that they have to change their running form.

Would minimalist running work for me? Right now I’m long overdue for a new pair of running shoes. My shins are starting to twinge worryingly again and I can’t wait much longer. However, now I don’t know whether I should switch to a less supportive shoe than my Hurricanes, or if I should stick to the status quo.

After reading the Ask Coach Jenny column in Runner’s World, I think the best solution for me will be to stick to my shoes for now, but also to find more ways to strengthen my feet and ankles by working on balancing exercises and incorporating some short barefoot running spurts once the last of this snow has melted and the weather warms up. Maybe I will even buy a second pair of running shoes for special training runs, but only if I can stick to these strengthening workouts. For now though, it’ll be just me and my trusty Hurricanes.