The Hart of the Matter: Women in athletics deserve better representation

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games recently began, and my eyes have been glued to the television ever since. I wanted to ignore the politics and just “ooh” and “aah” at every perfectly executed triple axel, but the reality of the way the international competition is run cannot be hidden.

I grew up seeing the Olympic season as a time of wonder and amazement, marvelling at the most talented athletes in the world.

The Olympics were also a time whenI saw people like me. Throughout the rest of the year, screens around me were always showing men’s football, men’s basketball and men’s baseball. During the Olympics, I got to see women taking center stage, inspiring me to pursue athletics.

My wonderment towards the Olympics made it hard to recognize its fundamental issues. There is a real gender disparity within the international competition, and it breeds a hostile environment towards women.

Women make up almost half of the athletes in the Olympics. This fact is touted as a success as a representation of sexism within sports disappearing as we progress towards equality.

While the gender ratio among  athletes is close to equal, the Olympics as an organization is not. Women only make up a fifth of the members of the National Olympic Committee Executive Board, a fourth of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board and 15 percent of the International Federation Executive Board in 2015, according to the official Olympics website.

The fact that a group of only 20 percent is representing a group of almost 50 percent is a red flag in itself, and the the issue manifests into situations such as the Larry Nassar scandal.

Nassar was a doctor for the U.S.A. gymnastics team who was recently sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on criminal sexual assault charges, according to TIME magazine. He was accused of the offenses by over 100 athletes, most of whom were underaged. His abuse was brought to light by high-profile Olympian gymnasts from the U.S., such as Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, whose testimonies dated back through years of abuse.

Assuits were taken out against Nassar himself by his victims, those who endured his abuse also filed lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, for lack of sufficient action in regards to the reports of sexual assault.

After the Nassar trial, the chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the board of USA Gymnastics resigned, according to the New York Times. Kerry Perry is the new CEO and president.

“New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong,” the United States Olympic Committee’s chief executive Scott Blackmun said in a statement. “The Olympic family failed these athletes and we must continue to take every step necessary to ensure this never happens again.”

Larry Nassar’s years of inflicting abuse are a product of what happens when female athletes are represented by a board of men. USA Gymnastics and the Olympic committee made the correct decision in  replacing  these complacent men with a Perry, woman who understands the issues that women face.

However,  Larry Nassar is not alone, and his years of molesting are not an isolated event. Until the Olympic Committee Boards are equal, the Olympics are not equal.  

The call for justice of youngest siblings everywhere

The youngest sibling has it the hardest. The truth of birth-order stereotypes can only be confirmed when the story is heard from all perspectives.

Growing up as the youngest most definitely has its perks, yet, there are some major struggles the elder siblings will never understand.

As the youngest, this is the last chance parents have to raise a child right. This is the root cause of many complications from the primary years, to all the way past high school graduation. The youngest always has to battle for independence.

From miniscule mistakes to dramatic ones, any blunders older siblings have previously made will predispose an extensive list of unnecessary rules.

The varying age gaps between siblings seem to be the way of determining the amount of imaginable equality assigned. This works as a disadvantage for the youngest, as the gap grows bigger.

Then there is the emphasis on the innocence of the youngest sibling. With innocence comes assumptions of immaturity, leading to being treated as a kid even though you have proven yourself to be responsible.  

Other scenarios that cause further complications for the youngest sibling is the glorification of the eldest. Often found, the oldest sibling has already set the bar high, and as a result the youngest are expected to meet or surpass said standards. These expectations heavily influence a child’s development, according to Dr. Sylvia Rimm. They encourage feelings of inadequacy and encourages unhealthy competition.

These scenarios are most often disregarded as a nuisance one has to deal with however, there are situations where these disadvantages can be manipulated to mislead parents and serve to one’s own benefit.

There will come a time when the youngest siblings will no longer have to accept getting left out, not being taken seriously nor being tormented by their older siblings. But until then, we’ll have to live with it.

The Impatient Patient: Video game addiction more than a virtual reality

Part 1 of this series can be found here https://hhsepitaph.com/6416/opinion/the-impatient-patient-video-game-addiction-more-than-a-virtual-reality/

Gaming addiction now has a place into the World Health Organization (WHO) International Classification of Diseases. However, there has been debate over whether or not the decision to brand it as an actual disorder is a premature choice. The gaming world is already very stigmatized, and there are concerns that with its induction as a disorder, more stigma is added.

Are cases in which people have died due to overexposure from video games simply an anomaly? Perhaps — the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study that seems to refute the validity of a gaming disorder, in that only a small part of the population may qualify for a diagnosis of it.

In addition, according to Professor Mark Griffith of Nottingham Trent University, an author on the study, to diagnose gaming without looking at other factors is harmful, as there is the possibility of a pre-existing mental disorder present, and that it is not just video games themselves that incite such destructive behavior.

However, in Asia, where video game addiction is surging and has taken form in its own culture, larger cases of those affected by gaming addiction have been cited. According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, in a study done, figures of 10 to 15 percent gamers addicted have been recorded in the East, compared to 1 to 10 percent of western gamers.

According to Nigel Henderson, president of Mental Health Europe, a lack of social connections or a supportive network of family and friends may spur an individual to turn toward  video games.

The need for human interaction is inescapable — in fact, friendship and intimacy have their own tier on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — and for obvious reasons. The advancement of human civilization was not borne out of a single individual making great leaps, but out of groups of individuals.

English poet John Donne once wrote no man is an island, and this makes for more than an impactful peace of poetry. According to psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a lack of social connections with peers increases chances of early death by 50 percent.

Does the culture in Asia mirror feelings of isolation, where social connectivity is perhaps not such an inherent part of the culture? It is possible, seeing as the Korean Institute for Health and Social revealed 90 percent of Korean adults were under some form of stress daily, while  Newzoo, a market intelligence provider,  reported that 49 percent of gamers in Korea are adults between 21 and 35.

As a matter of fact, WHO’s prospective induction of gaming addiction stemmed from pressure from Asian countries, according to WHO officials. In particular, the South Korean government has funded campaigns and treatment centers all centered around the problem of gaming addiction.

South Korea has even set laws in place to limit screen time within younger children. Noted in the Shutdown Law passed in 2011, in which children younger than 16 were disallowed from video games between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Though this law has since been dissolved following backlash, the addition of it highlights the South Korean government’s battle against video games.

While gamers in Korea do not fall into the age range of that of teenagers, the precedence of the Shutdown Law marks that methods of prevention are being implemented to rid of the use of gaming and the possible dangers it might incite among youth.

If stress and lack of connectivity are concurrent factors that might result in a video game addictions, Korean students may just be at risk. According to the New York Times, 53 percent of Korean students with thoughts of suicide attributed academic inadequacy as main contributor to such thoughts. Among teens in the rigorous Korean school system with little free time, the refuge of video games is an outlet for coping with stress from school, according to Engadget.  

In the end, it is undeniable that video games and their culture induced from stress pressure, whether in the East or West, has been elevated to a point where it causes seriously destructive incidents for those affected. An individual dying from playing too much video games is rare, but the fact that there are such individuals should be a cause of concern.

While a small group of individuals may not reflect an overall population, who is to say that similar incidents may not follow? It may be better to not propose a war on video games just yet, but making available treatment options for those in danger of spiraling can only do more good than harm.

The Ripple Effect: Where the triple Salchow meets foreign relations

If you tune in at the right moment to the right channel this Friday, you’ll be just in time to watch athletes in matching outfits meander along a path. Crowds will roar. National pride will sizzle. International amity will simmer.

Now, I’m talking about the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will take place in South Korea even as the specter of North Korean threats loom in the distance.

But wait —  clearly, the Olympics are a time of international cooperation! The two Koreas are even going so far as to march under a “unified Korea” flag at the opening ceremony, according to the BBC. We’ve seen headlines pop up on our phones about blistering-fast talks between North and South Korea to arrange an awkward truce for the games. Even Kim Jong-un’s sister plans to attend.

Things are sounding pretty good, considering how much of last year was overshadowed by threats and missile tests made by North Korea. But at the same time, we must keep in mind that despite the spectacle, the Olympics aren’t an event where athletes end up joining hands and making a toast to cooperation; they’re more a thermometer dipped into the cesspool of international relations.

For one thing, North Korea is planning on showing off its long-range missiles in a parade set to coincide with the start of the Olympics, according to CNN, which doesn’t bode well for peaceful negotiations post-games. And matters have been just as icy on the other side. While some South Koreans are ready to cheer at the sight of two sets of athletes holding up a unified flag, not everyone is happy about this turn of events regarding the North’s participation.

That dissatisfaction has especially made itself known in regards to the Korean unified women’s ice hockey team, the only such combined team, according to the Independent: South Koreans have argued, in over one hundred petitions, that it gives their players a disadvantage. Around the same time, President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating dived under 60 percent for the first time in his presidency.

The reaction and reasoning behind it may sound mildly petty, especially amidst what some are touting as the “Peace Olympics,” but it makes more sense upon remembering that the Olympics are a sporting event, not a promise of harmony. With so many harping excitedly on the possibility of future peace talks, it’s easy to forget such shows of tentative unity are pageantry at their core, just like everything else in the Olympics: they’re reality TV, international politics and a game show compressed into one blindingly spectacular package.

But while displays of symbolic unity are easy to fake, underlying tensions and subtle sport-driven power moves are not. There’s a historical precedent for the games themselves being political —  not only the issues looming over the nations, but the very consequences of who wins, who loses or who even is allowed to enter.

The Munich Massacre, prompted by the ongoing Israel-Palestine dispute, killed several Israeli athletes in 1972.

The 1976 Olympic boycott held by 28 African nations was spurred by New Zealand’s breaking of the athletics embargo on apartheid South Africa, which it had toured earlier.

And in 1968, Vera Caslavska competed as a Czechoslovakian gymnast, defying the USSR, and ended up winning a silver medal — which was placed around her neck as the Soviet anthem blared in the background.

The Olympic charter has historically tried to preclude the mingling of politics with the sports extravaganza — tried, and failed. But the one thing binding these and countless other politically-driven events during the games is that they displayed the mounting pressure of the conflicts in the world around them. And these are always preexisting issues; no new international friends nor enemies are made in the Olympic process, but the cracks already there are condensed within a stadium and broadcast as faultlines.

So, no, the Olympics are likely not going to usher in a new era of peace on the Korean peninsula, at least not while the North Korean government stands firm in its position. Yet while the Olympics are a barometer of how different governments feel about each other, we should just as much keep an eye out for how people in the audience react.

In the meantime, we can spend these next few weeks ooh-ing and aah-ing over ice skaters and skiers.

Garlick Press: Bay Area Superfund sites need super attention

A weekend ago, I hiked with a friend at Fremont Older, both of us looking to enjoy the fresh air and find an escape from our schoolwork. As we finally ascended the lookout called Hunter’s Point, I could see Silicon Valley below. Moffett Field, Levi Stadium, the giant flying saucer of the new Apple campus and something I did not expect: a quarry right behind the rich mansions of Los Altos Hills.

The mining operation had dug deep into the residing rock, exposing sedimentary layers and machinery. It looked like a big bruise in the beautiful rolling hills.

Before this, I had believed most mined materials used to build our cities were imported from over the hills beyond the valley, so as to not affect our living environment. I was surprised by how close this quarry actually was to houses.

After more research, I found even more quarries located north of the small operation I had seen from Hunter’s Point, including the Stevens Creek Quarry by the reservoir and the Lehigh Permanente Quarry, which has sparked concern in the past over the threat it may pose to public safety.

Quarries dig deep into the earth for minerals, and can hit groundwater supplies as their operations grow in size. The mining process can release toxic heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic, leaching out from underground and into the water systems that serve the public.

Yes, it is essential to have building materials close by for a growing community such as ours, but such operations must be assessed for unintended health and environmental hazards.

Superfund, the governmental program set up by the EPA to remediate polluted and intoxicated land, is what should be fixing these local disasters.

The Lehigh Permanente Quarry, though not currently labeled as a federal concern, is an active National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund site, according to the EPA.

Created in 1939, the quarry has been the main source of cement for the valley, but  has caused multiple concerns to the public over the years.

However, after testing nearby creeks and Monta Vista Park for air particulate and mercury levels, the quarry was deemed safe for surrounding citizens, and plans for reclamation are being put into effect, according to the Department of Planning and Development of Santa Clara.

While Superfund approached this case quickly, this federal government program is being neglected by our current presidency. As for the other surrounding quarries, their effects on our groundwater and air quality still remain a bit of a mystery.

But quarries are not the only hazardous locations affecting our health here in the valley. Other nearby Superfund sites in our neighborhood are being put on hold. Santa Clara is home to 23 Superfund sites according to Quartz, as the U.S. county with the most sites.

In such a tech-central destination, the brownfields, or polluted sites, in our backyards are mostly from old chip manufacturing. The materials used contained toxic chemicals such as ethylene glycol ethers (EGEs), most of which were dumped into surrounding areas. According to NBC Bay Area, 518 toxic ‘plumes’ or spills have been reported.

These groundwater plumes reside under large companies such as Texas Instruments in the industrial working area, and Moffett Field, according to NBC Bay Area’s interactive map of old Silicon Valley’s “chemical legacy”.

These locations are near us, and this fact should fear us. Toxic sites must be acknowledged by our local water management facilities and government cleanup programs to ensure the safety of residents. Not to mention, exploitation of natural resources so close to reservoirs and state parks is harmful to local wildlife and disrupts the aesthetic of our surrounding natural reserves.

The need to be aware of these hazardous areas and to be proactive to their remediation is essential to a better neighborhood.

The Denome’s Advocate: A return to the Dark Ages for Silicon Valley

Downtown Mountain View is covered in them. Walk up the Stevens Creek Trail and you’ll probably notice at least three. Heck, according to the Wall Street Journal, they’ve ended up as far as the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

I’m talking about a Silicon Valley product, but certainly not the one you’d expect. In addition to the 700 million iPhones in circulation, about 1,000 colorful Google Bikes, known as G-bikes, have made their way around Silicon Valley and beyond, according to Fortune.

Google originally produced these bikes and stationed them around Mountain View as a way for their workers to get around, but the approximately 80,000 denizens of the city have taken to using them as well. In the previously cited Wall Street Journal article, one woman spoke about how she and many others use the bikes as a way to commute or simply ride around the city.

On the surface, there’s little reason for Google to do this (in fact, the company is beginning to try and crack down on non-employees who use the bikes). But at the same time, philanthropic actions to host communities by tech companies are increasingly becoming not a boon for the cities or their residents, but for the companies themselves.

In fact, companies have begun to use their mere presence as a way to manipulate hosts in a variety of way. Apple’s humongous new campus in Cupertino, just down Homestead Road, was granted to the company in order to keep it in the city, not necessarily because it would be beneficial to the populace, according to Wired.

This sets a dangerous precedent for the communities in which tech companies reside, especially South Bay cities where the economy is almost exclusively based off the industry. City councils are bending the wills of their communities and giving excessive amounts of power and land to communities, allowing them free reign over entire swaths of municipality.

Such an arrangement isn’t freedom; it’s feudalism, not much different from the kind practiced centuries ago in medieval Europe.

Beyond the G-bikes in Mountain View, Google also has control over an entire district of the city: North Bayshore, wedged between the San Francisco Bay itself and U.S. Highway 101. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Google has plans and permission to build 10,000 homes in the area for its employees.

Short-term, this arrangement seems wonderful, for all three parties involved: the city, the company and its workers. But as time drags on, Google gradually begins to benefit more and more, while the city and employees become less their own parties and instead subjects of the company.

Housing prices will initially drop for Google employees, but nothing will be done to help other struggling families in the area, who don’t work in tech. In fact, simply by giving Google the land to develop, Mountain View has already diverted resources that could otherwise be spent on low-income housing.

And while Google employees no longer have to live in trucks, they’ve become even more dependent on the company than they already have been, between the housing, food and services they receive for free in exchange for their job. They are Google’s serfs by choice, but,  as the company continues to expand, will see their wages drop and eventually become corporate slaves.

In that scenario — albeit the unlikely, worst-case one — current Google employees are the lucky ones. As cities begin to relinquish more control over to tech firms, low-income people and public employees will suddenly find their futures in the hands of private companies rather than the government. Google provides welfare benefits, Google pays you very limited wages in exchange for housing and food, public schools become Google schools.

There’s nothing — government regulations-wise — to stop Google from doing this in Mountain View, or Apple in Cupertino, or Amazon in Seattle. And as long as corporations can buy politicians with donations, there’s very little incentive for government officials to stop it.

The end scenario is that the U.S. becomes the U.C.: United Corporations of America. The average person will wake up every morning in corporate housing, eat three corporate-provided meals a day, use corporate transportation to get to their corporate job and, as payment, receive a certain amount of corporate credit that ultimately goes straight back into the system when they buy breakfast the next morning.

People will become serfs. Bosses will become nobles. CEOs will become kings. The only people this future is enviable for are all in latter groups. The majority will be cogs in a machine.

Thankfully, that’s all the worst case scenario, and quite an unlikely one as well. But it would greatly behoove the more vulnerable citizens of the Silicon Valley, and the rest of America by extension, to ensure certain safeguards are in place to prevent this for occuring.

More affordable housing needs to be built and regulated by cities, not private companies with their own interests. Government regulations allowing smaller companies a chance to compete need to be put in place. And most importantly, local politicians must learn ways to balance satisfying the business community and protecting the citizens of the municipality.

WIth these actions, cities and business in the South Bay can thrive in harmony for years to come. Otherwise, we’ll be bowing at the feet of His Majesties Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook. Here’s hoping that they at least let us keep riding the G-bikes.

Follow Thomas Denome on Twitter at @thomas_denome

The Impatient Patient: Video game addiction more than a virtual reality

Video game addiction now has a place on the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases draft for 2018. For now, it falls under the very general umbrella term of behavioral and drug disorders that stem from addiction.

For a long time, there has been debate on video games, such as, does it invoke violent behavior in those playing? And with its new introduction on WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, further debate arises.

Not only is there debate on the validity of this addiction, but Higher Education Video Game Alliance, a group that advocates for video games in academic settings,  opposes this addition, stating a “clear lack of consensus” between doctors and scientists. The group also addressed the potential stigma that might follow in their statement.

I definitely see where this apprehension is coming from — video games are one of those things that are not only so common in daily life, but also seemingly harmless. Some play video games at sleepovers, others as an outlet for negative emotions. We throw around the word “addicted” carelessly and forget the actual gravity attached to it.

Those affected with video game addiction, according to WHO’s guidelines, possess no control on how often they play — WHO cites a general timeline of a year or more for concerns to be raised. Gaming addiction affects critical areas in an individual’s life from work to school to relationships. And, as a matter of fact, people have died as a result of video games.

Take Lee Seung Seop, who played video games for more than 50 hours, consumed little food and took one one bathroom break throughout, according to an article on BBC and. Shawn Woolley, according to a CBS news article, killed himself while his video game continued blaring across his computer screen. His mother believes the game contributed to his death, but Sony Online CEO says players need to take responsibility.

Seop was so entranced by the world of video games he neglected to attend to his basic needs. Woolley may have found solace in video games, only to become a victim of it. These individuals entered the gaming world and never left, and such a thing could happen to the 42 percent of Americans who play video games as well.

I do not know these men or their circumstances, but what I do know is that their deaths could have been prevented. Video game addiction is more than just a virtual reality its poses real consequences, and now that is has been addressed, it needs to be taken seriously. For one to ignore it or even oppose its induction into WHO is highly insensitive.

It should not take another story on the news for one to accept the validity of gaming addiction. You may not understand it, but, at the very least, understand the serious consequences of it, the direness of it and how video game addiction’s official classification does only good, such as raising awareness and offering more widespread treatment and coverage.

Times are changing, and they always will be changing. Video games, their increasingly real virtual landscape, dialogue and addictiveness are all part of it.

The Hart of the Matter: Marching towards progress

It has been almost 365 days into the Trump presidency, and it would be a fair statement to summarize the previous year as absurd and disheartening.

However, it is also almost the one-year anniversary for the Women’s March.

As the second Women’s March nears, its value has come into question. The gathering of people to chant with signs is not necessarily the peak of modern reform, but there is an importance to the march.

Last year, the march took place on the first full day of Trump’s presidency to create a statement that not everyone in the United States aligns with the values in the White House. It was likely the largest organized protest in United States history, according to the Washington Post.

One of the most damaging aspects of Trump’s presidency is that his disrespectful, unprofessional and impulsive and behavior is normalized, paving the way for the same behavior to continue in politics. Take the example of the Greg Ginaforte, a Republican who ran for a congressional seat in Montana. According to the Washington Post, Ginaforte grabbed a reporter from The Guardian by the neck, slammed him to the ground and punched him repeatedly. Ginaforte won the election the next day.

The Women’s March is the anti-Trump; it is a march for everything he is against, a reminder that not everyone accepts his bigotry.

When I attended the protest last year, there was an air of community. I met hundreds of people throughout the march, coming up with chants and discussing politics and the weather along the way. Every single person I talked to was holding a different sign for a different cause, but each person was friendly and positive. It was a breath of fresh air after the general hostility that followed the 2016 election.

The march was integral in building positivity and community, showing the world that Trump was not America. And, sure, it’s one thing to say that something is supportive and encouraging, and another to suggest it actually makes a difference.

The Women’s March organization did make a difference, by channeling the energy created by the five million people across the world who attended a march into legitimate change.

The organization gained a significant following after the marches across the world occurred, and used this influence to promote a campaign called “10 Actions for the First 100 Days.” This campaign encouraged people to send postcards to their representatives about issues that they care about, introducing the concept of contacting representatives to many unaware of such an act.

Since the “10 Actions” campaign , groups with the focus of helping the average citizen send their representatives messages have become more and more popular. There are numbers to text and websites to use to make the process as easy as possible, such as ResistBot or contactingcongress.org.

The Women’s March organization also created initiatives like Empower, which is dedicated to offering resources in order for youth to build groups that benefit their communities. They also started Power to the Polls, a voter registration tour. These initiatives have gained momentum through the popularity of the march.

The Women’s March is a collection of people across the country coming together for a day to juxtapose the bigotry in the White House and inspire everyday people to participate in government. It may not have an obvious major impact, but it is an accessible action to take, with many positive effects.

The Ripple Effect: Being frank about our lingua franca

What language do you speak?

I like to say that at most, I’m bilingual-and-a-half, although it depends on whether my third grade language arts class, my Spanish teacher or my mother is passing the judgment.

One of the languages I count in my comprehension is, obviously, English, which is the most widely studied second language in the world thanks to the expansive former empire of its country of origin. With 1.5 billion English learners in 2015, plenty of aspiring polyglots have it high on their list of languages to learn. Yet on Sunday, the Iranian government banned English-language education in primary schools, citing it as the root of a “western cultural invasion.”

In fairness, this isn’t a drastic blanket ban — English is usually taught in schools after the age of 12, but in recent years, Iranians have pulled that starting date down to a spot earlier in the educational process, sending kids to after-school classes or private tutors if a course isn’t available at their primary schools. Yet standing in the way of early foreign-language education for children, no matter the country or the language at hand, puts these children at a disadvantage.

Now let me put this out there: I am absolutely for the preservation of your native language. It’s reasonable for an Iranian primary school to teach in Persian, because that’s what a  majority of Iranians speak. It’s reasonable for an American public school to teach in English, because that’s what a majority of Americans speak. Allowing language attrition to take place is a tragedy — there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not frustrated that I, an Indian-born immigrant, don’t know my native tongue well enough to pronounce words other than “mom,” “dad” and (maybe) “food.”

After all, a language is never just a dictionary or a dry lexicon turned into towering structures through complicated grammatical rules. A language is the key to a culture. From in-jokes and idioms, gendered nouns to gerunds, your first language is entrenched in your psyche, as seen in countless scientific papers debating the idea that language can gently nudge your perception of the world.

An experiment described in the New York Times gives us an example of this influence: native French speakers wanted a cartoon fork to speak in a female voice; native Spanish speakers expected it to have a masculine voice. The reason? “Fork” is a feminine noun in French (“la fourchette”), while it’s masculine in Spanish (“el tenedor”).

This concept taken to an extreme, then, must also be the reasoning of the Iranian government. Why pull people away from your shared culture and potentially shape everything from how they conjugate verbs to how they process events, all due to the addition of a second language? Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei even argued it this way: English education for children is the “promotion of a foreign culture in the country and among children, young adults and youths.”

But a second language in the curriculum for younger students shouldn’t be treated as an enemy.

We’ve all likely heard the benefits of multilingualism from our language teachers, but they bear repeating. The most obvious benefit is that it facilitates travel, but in the increasingly globalized workplace, knowing someone else’s language could endear you to a client or help you make sense of business trips — unless, of course, you’re an absolute pro at charades. Multilingualism even improves mental flexibility and multitasking skills, what with all the self-control required to not blurt a sentence out in, say, German to your French teacher.

According to the BBC, 60 to 75 percent of people in the world are multilingual, but the issue of monolingualism isn’t actually in nations like Iran — most monolinguals are, in fact, native English speakers. Perhaps it’s the complacency of already having learned the lingua franca of the past several hundred years.

Or, perhaps it’s because we don’t start on other languages at a young age. According to NBC, people learn foreign languages best between their births and the age of seven. Many European countries kick off their schools’ foreign language programs within this time frame, with over 20 requiring students to learn two languages in-class for at least a year, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet only a measly 15 percent of American elementary schools offer such classes, seeing as they usually begin in middle or high school, missing the linguistic window of opportunity by several years. Thus, American students often have low foreign language retention, their knowledge of the lexicon they made hundreds of flashcards for in high school fading rapidly away.

Iran cannot force its children down an ultimately monolingual path, the English learned as teenagers peeling away over time like wallpaper off an old room’s walls, if what’s truly best for them is kept mind. Neither can nations like the United States. The world is growing ever more interconnected: we can either travel to France and frantically flap our arms around in an effort to find out the directions to a hotel, or we can be able to immerse ourselves in the full, rich tapestry of a culture because we understand the words.

Leone’s Chronicle: The feud between religious rights and the LGBT community

The Supreme Court began hearing the arguments for the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Dec. 5. The lawsuit began after Jack Phillips, a devout Christian, declined to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig.  He offered to sell the couple any other premade cakes as he did not feel comfortable customizing a cake endorsing a lifestyle which went directly against his religious beliefs.

Proponents of Mullins and Craig argue that a ruling set by the Supreme Court in favor of Masterpiece Cake Shop would allow people to reject serving others in restaurants, hotels, and other markets. To prevent this, the court needs to create a precedent narrow enough to protect religious freedoms but not wide enough to overturn Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. US and the anti-discrimination laws in the Civil Rights Act, both of which made equal service in restaurants, hotels and public accommodations.

Mullins and Craig’s counsel has successfully painted Phillips as a vindictive bully and bigot. Phillips however, behaved very reasonably. He politely declined making the cake for Mullins and Craig, then offered to sell them any other. The couple screamed, cussed, and made obscene gestures at the bakery employees, reported Fox Business. For weeks afterwards, Masterpiece Cakeshop was harassed with phone calls insulting Phillips with terrible names and taunting his faith.

The couple’s behavior was despicable. Phillips is a man of faith who wants to design his cakes and live his life, not to be at the center of the massive national spotlight. He treats every customer with respect, even if their desired cakes do not align to his religion.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is so much more than religious bakers versus the LGBT community. This case is about the right of religious liberty and freedom of speech. To command an artist to create a work expressing views he does not endorse is blatant bullying. It is wrong to force a gay baker to design a cake pushing an anti-LGBT agenda. Bakers have certain parameters about what cakes they will or will not make, and nobody has had a big problem with it until now.

It is so much more important to protect freedom of expression than the right to a cake. Although Phillips is instructed by clients on what cake to make for each occasion, he still expresses himself through his unique style. Phillips isn’t asking for any extra rights. He simply wants to use his artistic abilities in a way that is consistent with his personal beliefs.

Issues with forced expression in the Supreme Court has come up just like this in the past in the court case Wooley v. Maynard. The words “Live Free or Die” are stamped on the New Hampshire license plates. Jehovah’s Witnesses successfully took the issue to court and were allowed to reject the view they do not hold by covering the word up with tape. Religiously, the Jehovah’s witnesses didn’t feel free, and the courts recognized it. The precedent set in Wooley v. Maynard allowed for increased religious freedom over forced expression, similar to what Philips’ lawyers are asking for.

In a capitalist society like our own, selling goods is an agreement where both parties consent to trade. However, Mullins and Craig are arguing they deserve the ability to demand a wedding cake without the consent of the other party. This idea of forcing labor against consent is deranged and un-American. It’s why companies have the right to refuse service.

Nobody is entitled to a wedding cake. Nobody deserves to be forced to labor. But a ruling in favor of Mullins and Craig would lead to exactly that: artists being forced to create works that jeopardize their own personal views.

The Impatient Patient: Why TV shows catered to children have the responsibility of representation

Is television the glue of American society? Perhaps, seeing as we devote five hours daily to a screen, according to the New York Times. For children between the ages eight to 18, a eerily similar figure of 4.5 is cited.

When kids and teenagers devote such a significant chunk of time to television, the question that needs to be answered is: how are these shows influencing them? While television has been linked to positive learning (for example, shows like “Dora the Explorer” or “Sesame Street”), studies have connected types of television programs watched that may present suggestive themes to violent behavior in kids to reckless sexual behavior and subpar academic performance, according to the National Library of Medicine.

While most TV shows for children do not contain such mature themes, the fact of the matter is that what children watch on television transcends just a few minutes of screen time.

Most kids’ TV shows follow a specific formula of a perfect nuclear family and a leading character who gets into wacky situations, living in a utopia where real issues cease to exist. While the intention of this formula is to produce 20 minutes of light-hearted slapstick for kids to look forward to, TV producers have an influence that is not always used as wisely as it should be.

As such, I found it appropriate to analyze the programs I watched growing up on Disney Channel, where the bulk of my treasured shows aired. Disney Channel also happens to be one of the top rated networks in the nine to 14 age group, according to Nielsen co., a market research firm.

My findings represented a downward trend for the most part, in that shows from 2001 on featured episodes concerning racial, gender and societal issues in their episodes than their later counterparts. Still-airing TV show Andi Mack, is an exception, having the highest percentage of issues featured, with episodes dealing with familial, gender and LGBTQ+ issues.

Shows after 2003 failed to produce episodes highlighting racial issues, which is irresponsible, at best. The characters in shows may live in a world where discrimination is not prevalent, but some of the children watching are forced to confront hateful incidences much earlier. By producing television shows stuck in a bubble, it inadvertently causes the children watching to be stuck in a limited worldview.

To exclude issues of race only reiterates that it is and has been a growing issue in America. Racial tensions may not be the easiest topic to talk about, but progress cannot be made if it is suppressed. Including ongoing and often difficult issues does not subtract from the lighthearted air of kids TV shows, nor does it decrease the learning value intended.

To argue that ignorance is bliss is irresponsible — racism, sexism and discrimination are all themes anyone is bound to experience, and as mentioned above, for some this is experienced earlier than most. For shows with tremendous influence and a wide audience, effectively presenting such issues in an appropriate and positive way can teach kids watching life lessons that will segway into making them better equipped in life.

If a culture of acceptance and understanding is instilled in children from a young age, I can only wonder how many more issues could be easily resolved, from encounters in real life to contentious political issues today.

In particular, “That’s So Raven,” produced in 2003, showcased an episode in which the titular character Raven does not get a parttime job because of her race — the employer explicitly states that she does not hire black people. Such a plotline may be absent in children’s programming today, but discrimination is still a very real issue.

In an episode of “Lizzie McGuire”, the characters learning to empathize with an immigrant from a different country despite initial mockery of his English. With the immigration bans and anti-immigration rhetoric being thrown out today, I cannot think of a more appropriate lesson to teach kids. Children’s shows featuring people of color simply cannot understate or ignore such issues. There should not be a disconnect between what a young person experiences in real life and the TV shows they watch at night.

That being said, Disney Channel’s shows do feature an upward trend in LGBT representation, with a character on “Andi Mack” recently having come out gay, and “Good Luck Charlie” having aired episode with a same-sex lesbian couple. While it may have been groundbreaking, it was also long overdue.

Instead of being stuck in a rewind of back jokes and vapid fashion trends, Television should be representative of the society we live in.

Leone’s Chronicle: Just say Merry Christmas

As the Christmas season rolls around, it’s pretty obvious the spirit of the holidays has undergone change over the last few years. Just a few years ago, December was marked with beautiful Starbucks cups, Christmas trees and lights in storefronts and greeting each other with “Merry Christmas!”

Now, the month of December is not “Christmas season” anymore. It’s “holiday season.”

It’s not just corporations that have phased out Christmas spirit. I get odd stares from waiters, teachers and friends when I tell them “Merry Christmas.” Almost every store has winter-themed decorations and few are brave enough to put up a Christmas tree.

Proponents of the term “Happy Holidays” claim it’s a minor change for everyone, but so much effort goes into stripping down Christmas-related garb.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) have initiated efforts to remove Christmas from advertising and public displays through lawsuits and boycotts. In the town of Mesquite, NV, teachers were no longer able to say the words Merry Christmas on campus according to David Courtman, an attorney on the case. Courtman noted how employees at most major corporations can no longer wish their customers a merry Christmas without their company risking formal complaints or legal action.

For example last year, students at the University of North Carolina were forced to sell “holiday” trees instead of Christmas trees to fundraise for their clubs out of “respect for other religions.” I guess the holiday of giving is offensive.

Except, the fact is that the majority of Americans are not happy with the greeting of “Happy Holidays.” According to a study by Rasmussen Reports, a little over two-thirds of Americans prefer to be greeted with “Merry Christmas” by companies instead of “Happy Holidays.”

Furthermore, the ACLU has discussed initiatives to remove secularly-celebrated Christmas as a national holiday. In doing so, millions of federal employees would lose a day off for Christmas, and companies across many states would no longer be required to give holiday pay to workers or even allow workers the day off.

It would be one thing if a small minority of Americans celebrate Christmas, either religiously or secularly. However, a Pew Research study found that 92 percent of Americans, a large portion being non-Christians, celebrate Christmas.

The group of non-Christians who celebrate Christmas generally do so completely secularly. Non-religiously celebrated, the day turns from a holiday of Jesus’ birth to a day of giving, family and feasts.

Besides, Christmas, celebrated secularly, is a national holiday. Without the religious aspect of the 25th, Christmas could still be celebrated as the day of giving. There is nothing religious about lights, trees and giving gifts. I wish my fellow Americans a merry Christmas because it is a secular national holiday.

So please, celebrate the greatest treasure in life this 25th. The gift of giving and the treasure of family, or the day of Jesus’s birth. Merry Christmas to all.