Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The eternal war

The bridge in Breberen where Jack was killed driving over a landmine.
Photos Courtesy Brendan Gibbons
SCOTIA, N.Y. – Jack Hemstreet was killed in the assault on Breberen, Germany in 1944, but he still haunts the lives of people he never met.

“He was kept alive and real to us in a very gentle way,” recalled Mary Hemstreet, Jack’s niece, born just a few years after his death. “It was normal to say, ‘Oh, would Jack have wanted to eat this?’ or ‘What would Jack have done today?’”

Jack enlisted within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy because he refused to be drafted to fight for a cause that he believed in.

“We were all patriotic,” explained Richard “Dick” Gibbons, Jack’s cousin and best friend. “We had a war to fight and it’s better to fight it over there than to fight it here.”

Jack had already shipped out with the field artillery by the time Dick turned 17 and enlisted in the aviation cadets.

“We were supposed to get together in Europe. In fact, he even had young ladies that he said we could date over there,” Dick chuckled. But the last letter he received had a more somber tone.

Jack wrote his final letter to Dick three days before the Breberen attack. “Kid, use your head and stay near home,” he penned, “I think we can win this without you.”

As far as the Gibbons-Hemstreet family knows, Jack was sent to England in 1943, and began preparing for the Normandy invasion shortly thereafter. He landed early on D-Day in the second wave, surviving some of the bloodiest campaigns of the entire European theater. On October 17, 1944, however, Jack was killed taking a bridge that was a decoy attack for a larger assault where he drove over a landmine with a war Jeep.

Dick’s grandson, Brendan Gibbons, is in the process of restoring his third World War II Jeep. “Each one is painted in honor of somebody,” he described. “The first one I got is painted with my grandfather’s markings, the second one for Jack Hemstreet’s, the third one for a friend of ours, John Moehle.”

Jack’s parents received a letter indicating that he was missing in action. Even after his death was confirmed, they never stopped hoping that he would find his way home.

“My grandmother was awakened from sleep,” Mary dictated. “She thought she heard something in the front hallway, and she went down the hall and she saw Jack walking down the stairs, and he paused when he got to the bottom and he said to her, ‘I’ll be fine,’ and she reached out to touch him and he was gone.”

Though Dick was relieved to hear the mystery of Jack’s whereabouts had more or less been solved, he was shocked to learn that he would never be reunited with his best friend.

“Everyday, the paper was filled with names of people that were either missing or found or were killed in action. But that’s the way we had to live,” Dick remembered. “[Jack’s] mother always left the door open—wouldn’t lock the door so if he came back, the door was open.”

Mary lost friends in the Vietnam War, which also left its mark on her, just about 20 years after the Second World War. “It makes me so aware of how fragile life is and the support that people need to get through that,” she sympathized. “They died tragically and had very serious injuries with no remains, and at that point, I got the full impact of what the family members would’ve felt as far as Jack’s situation went.”

Brendan fell in love with the history of World War II at a young age after watching the Band of Brothers series and receiving an original helmet from his grandfather’s brother, a veteran paratrooper. “It was neat being able to hold something that he went through so much in, and as a kid, I ran around with it on my head all the time and woke up Christmas morning with it on and everything,” he smiled.

And that’s why Brendan’s passion for the memory of fallen soldiers became a living reality that people can touch and see in use, as opposed to behind the glass case of a museum. It did not take long for Brendan and his Jeeps to become easily recognizable.

“I got an email from this guy who I had no idea who it was,” Brendan elaborated, and he was asking me if I had information. My grandfather was very taken aback that somebody was interested because for the years since 1945, we thought the grave was gone. We didn’t know what happened to it, that anyone was taking care of it.”

But Louis Hensgens in the Netherlands was. Jack’s final resting place is on American soil, but it’s not on this continent. As Brendan soon learned, it is commonplace for overseas citizens, many of whom still feel indebted to American soldiers who fought there, to adopt the graves of those who allowed them to live freely on their native territory.

“Hemstreet is a Dutch name,” Brendan revealed, “so when Louis found out about Hemstreet, he thought it was a very interesting coincidence that this man who came from Dutch heritage was back over and died fighting for present-day Holland.”

The memory of those soldiers who gave their lives to protect freedoms is very much alive over 70 years later. Consequently, Dick is adamant that war is a necessary evil.

“Either you fight it over there, or you hide under a rock until they show up here, and then you fight the war. If you’ve seen what war does and the results of it, you don’t want it to happen here,” Dick relived. “You don’t want your hometown to be strafed or bombed. You don’t want to see shells come in, you don’t want to see women and children killed.”

And that’s exactly was Jack did. He fought and died in a war in Europe to protect the human rights that had been stricken, hoping that people would never forget his sacrifice.

“Every morning I get up and I go out: there he is. So I see him all the time,” Dick memorialized. “And then you put it away. You figure, you say hi and that’s it. But you don’t forget.”


Monday, December 7, 2015

Turf: the latest possible carcinogen

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - Confidants of former and current athletes are reconsidering their declarations that turf is far superior to grass now that the former has been linked to cancer.

The faux grass surfaces made national headlines again earlier this month after former University of Miami goalkeeper Austen Everett was listed as one of four goalies who had fallen ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008.  Now, her mourning mother is questioning if those ubiquitous black pellets are the culprits.

“It’s a lot of them and they’re always on you,” Marist College tight end Kyle Hamrick grumbled.  “Those pellets will come up—they’ll get stuck in your eye, they’ll get stuck in your mouth.  It’ll be all over you, and sticking to your arm and sticking to your legs—just about anywhere that’s exposed.”

The potential threat is especially high for soccer goalkeepers who spend a great deal of their time on the ground. 

“Goalies have a difficult job,” Marist College Assistant Sports Information Director Kevin McCall affirmed, “and a lot of times they are diving in different directions, you know, they are pretty close to the ground when they’re making saves and when they’re out there on the field.”

University of Washington women’s soccer associate head coach Amy Griffin visited two goalies who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2009.  When the nurse made a comment about the number of goalies who had been considered at-risk in that week, Griffin took the initiative to compile a list of 38 American soccer players in 2014 who had been diagnosed with cancer.  Thirty four of them were goalies.

“For a long time, they’ve been trying to prove one way or the other: are they safe?” oncologist Dr. Howard Schlossberg said.  “Mechanically, they’re pretty sure.  But there’s still some debate over the chemicals and cancer situation.”

He attributes the dispute to the small sample sizes of studies conducted, such as Griffin’s.

Scientists in academia and government agencies have conducted minor studies, almost all of which have produced results that lead researchers to conclude that turf exposure is harmless, according to Beth Mole of Science News.  But the pattern of lymphoma in former or current goalies is puzzling.

“A lot of the goalies that have been looked at, whether formally or not, it seems to be lymphomas, which is a particular kind of white blood cell cancer,” Schlossberg explained.  “Some of the chemicals associated with tires—benzene, aromatic hydrocarbons—are linked to blood cancers, and so it’s certainly possible that there’s a link.”

Decades worth of exposures are only just being analyzed.  Coaches and players have praised the synthetic textile because it enables a higher speed of play and guarantees a consistent surface.  But it’s possible that they are all getting more than what they bargained for.

“I can think of plenty of athletes that are older,” Hamrick revealed, “that have cancer that were ex-athletes.”

The Auburn Enlarged City School District in Auburn, N.Y. alleges to be conducting extensive research on artificial turf prior to the commencement of construction on the district’s new stadium.  The district has little choice in which type of synthetic turf infill it opts for, with a committee of community members acting as investigators and a limited budget.

The challenge lies in deciphering which forms of turf are harmful, if any. And that is not a question researchers will have the answer to any time soon.

“These particular fields are second and third generation,” Schlossberg articulated.  “We know from prior cancer studies it can take many years, decades even, of exposures to lead to problems.  They can’t conclusively prove danger and they can’t conclusively prove safety either, which does give people room for concern.”

The U.S. women’s soccer team launched a campaign against turf leading up to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.  The Synthetic Turf Council claims that evidence shows that artificial turf is safe, despite outcries from some of the most prominent women’s soccer players in the world.  Not only do the women worry about the long-term health effects of turf, but also they are apprehensive about the vicious physical effects of “plastic pitches” on their bodies, according to 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year recipient Abby Wambach.

“It’s great that people are asking the question now,” Schlossberg asserted.  “If there’s any doubt, it’s worth altering what we do, whether it’s we use the fields or we use different protection while on them, because we might not know the answer to this for another 10 years.”


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Heroin is the biggest problem we didn't know we had

The stunning blonde writhed on the floor like a butterfly trying to escape from the seemingly impenetrable walls of its cocoon. She put up a respectable fight, until the cocoon of heroin consumed her, completely cutting off her oxygen.

That was just days before Good Friday 2014, the holiest day in the Christian faith, and the last day Jayme Lynn Campbell spent alive.

“The date of that changes every year, so it’s almost like her death almost has two anniversaries,” Jayme’s cousin McKenzie Cloutier smiled. “My aunt says, like she goes, ‘I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she passed on the holiest day of the year.’”

The somewhat responsive 27-year-old left doctors hopeful after her first days in the hospital that the brain damage was reversible. It was not.

Thus is the case for so many Americans—over 8,000 in 2013 alone. From 2001 to 2013, there was a five-fold increase in the number of heroin deaths, as tracked by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This opioid drug made from morphine is a natural substance extract, but there is nothing natural about the human body’s reaction to injection, smoking, or snorting of the matter. The drug user may immediately experience warm flushing of skin, clouded thinking, and heavy feeling in the hands and feet. Continued use leads to collapsed veins, abscesses, and infection of the lining and valves in the heart, the National Institute on Drug Abuse warned.

It began with Campbell’s decision to attend nursing school in San Diego. “She wanted to become a respiratory nurse,” Cloutier recalled. “She suffered from the most serious chronic asthma ever. Like she nearly died so many times. My aunt would find her blue in the face because she’d have such bad asthma attacks.”

Campbell’s love for her new home distanced her both physically and emotional from her family back in Pennsylvania. When her brother got married, Campbell was not in attendance.

“It starts to get in the way of relationships,” Cloutier explained. “It starts to affect the way you’re relating to your friends and your family. If you’re abusing it, it becomes the most important thing, even if you don’t want it to be. Some people try it once, and that’s all it takes.”

That’s all Campbell needed to become hooked. She was at a party trying what she allegedly thought was “hash” or hashish, a form of marijuana. Unbeknownst to her, it was laced with heroin.

Clouiter remembers the phone call her mother received from Campbell’s mother as they realized the danger Campbell was in.

“It was like a bad movie,” Cloutier illustrated. “They had to track her. They found her in a random hotel. At that point, she wasn’t living anywhere—she was just living on the streets or she was just getting by in hotel rooms with this guy.

Once Campbell’s mother and aunt were successful in tracking her, she began the arduous path of rehabilitation, bouncing in and out of treatment facilities for numerous months. She faced several complications in her rehabilitation, which is typical in the United States, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman. “We don’t have enough rehab facilities. Doctors need to be alerted,” she warned. “But the reality is people are dying and you’re maybe sort of putting your finger in the dyke, but to the extent that I can take a drug seller off the street, that’s however many packs of heroin are not making it out there. And all it takes is one.”

By the time spring rolled around, Campbell was back at home living with her father. Her parents were separated.

Then Cloutier received the phone call. “I just felt frozen and I was aware that everyone was moving, but I couldn’t, I felt like I couldn’t really see anyone.”

Campbell had overdosed. The brain damage came as a result of the significant time in which Campbell was cut off from oxygen. When the ambulance arrived, the dealer—the boyfriend of a friend—told the paramedics it was an asthma attack. Instead of treating her like an overdose patient from the onset, paramedics treated her as an asthma patient.

Campbell’s first days in the hospital consisted of angry reactions that eventually yielded a comatose state. According to her aunt, it would take a great deal of therapy to get her to walk or talk again, but doctors were still hopeful.

But when things went from bad to worse, Cloutier had to find out for herself on social media. “[My mom knew that] I had a big project I needed to get done, so I was trying to focus, but, of course, like always I’m procrastinating so I jump on Facebook,” Cloutier relived the moment. “I’m just kind of scrolling through my aunt’s page and people just being ignorant and naïve were posting things like, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’”

As her family prayed for a miracle, Cloutier rushed home to visit her cousin in the hospital.

“I remember the first thing I thought when I walked in was like, ‘She’s brain dead and she’s barely here, but she’s still beautiful,’” Cloutier sighed. “She looked so cute, she looked like a little kid and, to me, she just looked like innocence and it just made me think of, like, that’s what the drug does to you.”

Doctors said that if anything was left, it could have been her ability to hear, so Cloutier and her mother and brother took the time to say goodbye.

“I just remember hoping that she knew I was there,” Cloutier revisited the hospital room in her mind. “I remember just playing with her fingers and feeling like, in that moment, extremely cheated of time. I didn’t want to stop touching her because I knew I probably never would be able to again. And just like how soft her skin was and just how beautiful she is. I didn’t want to let go, I just felt so close to her.”

Cloutier’s Aunt Lisa looked forward to spending that night with her baby girl: “I just can’t wait to sleep with her, I can’t wait to lay next to her, cuddle with her.” Holding her dear daughter, she felt the peaceful last breath of the young woman who lost her battle against addiction.

As Cloutier coped with the loss of her role model, she had the opportunity to see Campbell’s bedroom. The walls had been painted sunshine yellow, detailed with peacock feathers, a method to cope with the loss of her independence.

“It’s terrifying to feel so, like, a victim to yourself almost, and to not really know how or feel like you’re able to stop it,” Cloutier empathized. “[Peacocks represent] protection from bad or evil spirits, they represent confidence and pride, and that’s what I think of her. I think of her as just, like, kind of radiant.”

While Campbell’s legacy lives on through symbols, her family can also find solace in a federal statute that allows for the prosecution of anyone who causes the death of another person by distributing that drug.

“When you suddenly realize that you’re facing maybe 20 years, which is minimum, if that gets the message out to one guy who thinks twice about selling heroin on the corner, so be it,” Freedman asserted. “Maybe it brings some closure for the family knowing that that person can’t hurt anybody else. I don’t know how much that helps the victim’s family because nothing’s going to bring your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife, your brother, your sister back.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The new diet pill

 Yet another generation fixated on weight loss has ushered in the reinvention of the diet pill quick fix: skinny tea.

Promoted with sexualized imagery, these teas are geared toward women, primarily young adults.

“I went into it thinking, ‘Okay, maybe it’ll curb my appetite because I’m hungry throughout the day, and I’m eating more than I’m losing,’” recalled Carolena Realmuto, 20, who started using Tiny Tea after a friend recommended it. “I felt a little better, my stomach felt a little better, but I didn’t see any seen results or anything like that.”

Mindless quick fixes do not facilitate the consistency necessary for sustained weight management.

“We have a highly consumerist society that wants to have problems resolved quickly without a lot of effort,” explained Dr. Kristin Bayer, a women’s studies and history professor at Marist College.

The “teatox” plans are about as healthy for the wallet as the purchase of a pack of cigarettes. In terms of ingredients, the major brands list only natural, herbal elements. However, none are FDA approved. In other words, just as herbal supplement companies can include whatever they want on their labels, herbal supplement teas to promote weight loss can do the same legally.

“The teas are actually better than a lot of the weight loss supplements out there because they’re actually made of real herbs,” asserted Marist College Biology Professor Kristin Dragos, who has researched detox teas extensively. “Some of the detox teas have an ingredient called cena, and that ingredient has a laxative effect, so it leads to dehydration and electrolyte loss. It also cleans out the colon, so it will lead to weight loss, short term.”

What consumers are missing is the fact that skinny teas generally follow a regimen, which would naturally make drinkers more conscious of intake, whether it is food or liquid. Hydration is a known weight loss necessity, so it is no surprise that the consumption of teatox products would impose a decrease in weight and/or bloating upon users. Several brands also provide diet plans and exercise ideas to encourage patrons to live a healthier lifestyle.

“There’s a lot of products. Very few of them are effective at causing weight loss or leading to weight loss,” Dragos illustrated. “There’s a couple of mechanisms by which some drugs can increase metabolism. That doesn’t affect how much energy somebody’s exerting, it doesn’t affect how many calories somebody’s taking in, and also it doesn’t play into factors like genetics, age, or anything like that."

Lifelong health enthusiast Margaret Gibbons, 80, remembers the diet pill of the 1960s/1970s, liquid diets of the 1980s, and other fad diets. As she reminisced about her earliest memories of body image issues, Gibbons cited the increased news consumption of the average American in her lifetime. With that has come the amplified imagery pertaining to beauty standards: “Thin, thin, thin,” she scolded.

Read: skinny. Many diet/detox tea companies have applied that word heavily to their marketing strategies. Just like sexuality, “skinny” sells.

“The particular body image issues that we face are unique, and the focus on an unhealthily skinny female body is unique to our own time period. Even a few decades ago, women’s bodies were expected to be much larger than today,” articulated Dr. Angela Laflen, author of Confronting Visuality in Multi-Ethnic Women’s Writing. “As women attain political and social equality in so many areas today, they are simultaneously being trained that their bodies are what make them valuable. It seems like a way to control women and keep them distracted from pursuing goals more in their own self-interest.”

Body-shaming and the desire to be thin and model-like, even amidst this era of embracing curves, has ingrained in the minds of men and women alike a sort of sensitivity when it comes to body issues.

“There’s an emphasis in all of our society about focusing on something natural, even if it’s naturally not good for you,” Bayer specified. “What might’ve evolved or change would be the marketing of it. There was an emphasis on herbs recently, maybe the past five or 10 years, like fen-phen. I think that is has to do with consumerism and getting people to buy something, to pay money for something that will solve a problem that isn’t really necessarily something that can be a quick fix or solved by purchasing.”

Though Gibbons has been mindful of her weight for decades, she has never witnessed such an impulse of “health” consciousness. It used to be all about monitoring food intake and exercise accordingly.

“I eat everything I want, but I still am aware of it,” she affirmed. “You have to really be watching it all the time, careful not to let it flip.”

Weight loss is incurred by the deficit of calories through energy use. While there is validity to many instantaneous fixes, drinking tea alone without proper nutrition and exercise yields little to no effects.

“The detox tea, a lot of them are not actually detox teas at all. They claim to be, but they’re really just mixes of teas, which are just good for you,” Dragos revealed. “The good thing about the tea is there are very little negative effects associated with it, whereas everything else is sort of just like these key words and terms.”

Skinny tea companies most commonly name green tea and oolong tea mixtures in their ingredient lists. Essentially, consumers could just as easily mix their own leaves together and skip the miracle branding.

“It is just a kind of logical response to being inundated by media messages telling women they have to be skinny in order to be valuable,” Laflen stated. “These messages start so early that most women don’t remember their first exposure to them or internalizing these values.”


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

District consolidation pushes residents to defend students

NISKAYUNA, N.Y. – Pat Lanotte puts the students of Niskayuna Central School District above all else, which has become increasingly difficult for the parent and school board member as Governor Cuomo urges upstate districts to merge.

“I started to go to board meetings and I don’t think I missed one,” Lanotte recalled, now Niskayuna Board of Education President.  “My background is in accounting and I started to notice that things weren’t adding up.  That’s kind of what gave me the idea that, I think, maybe I could help the district with a certain skill set.”

Cuomo suggests the consolidation of districts suffering as a result of his decision to allocate greater education funding to downstate schools, where supposed need is the highest, Yahoo! News reports.  But there are more than just numbers to factor into the equation.

“In Niskayuna, this is what we have.  This is why everyone’s here; it’s for the schools,” Lanotte described.  “If you take away that ability to drive the type of education in your school district from the residents, you’re going to run into a brick wall.”

Former teacher, principal, superintendent, and administrator Dr. Edward Sullivan lists the concept of home rule as one of the multitude of reasons why many are so against this proposition.

“I loved my school district,” Mohonasen Central School District 2013 graduate Marisa Piccirillo said.  “I feel like they provided for me, but I definitely saw where budget cuts were hurting us and, you know, it saddened me to see, and I don’t want to see my school or other schools go downhill because of such budget cuts.”

Sizable districts would undoubtedly increase competition among students. Economically, this provides an optimal buying environment for consumers.  For the young learners battling through it, however, amplified opposition is far from ideal.

“Extra competition just puts more stress on the student,” 2015 Niskayuna graduate Ericka Stewart argued.  “I don’t think that it’d be beneficial to all students because everyone learns at a different level and have different capabilities than others.”

Lanotte fears not only for her children, one of whom is still in the Niskayuna school system, but also for the students who may lose out if the budget is no longer feasible to maintain.

“My greatest fear for all kids in our district is that our district does not provide the tools and resources to support them from not only an academic standpoint, but from and emotional and social standpoint,” Lanotte revealed.  “They’re facing things when they get out of school, online or whatever, that I never faced growing up.  As school districts strive to meet the pressures of a tax cap with declining state aid, the first programs that they tend to go after are those social programs.”

Residents without children in the schools actually make up the majority of voters in most districts, as stated by Sullivan.  Those voters ought to be as concerned as involved parents like Lanotte.

“People choose the community in which they live largely based on the schools, and if they feel they don’t have a connection to the schools, there’s a concern that real estate values might not be what they are,” Sullivan explained.  “It’s real estate and personal values of the homeowner in terms of wanting—if they’re going to be paying the taxes, they want to have in the concept of politics is called home rule.  And if they consolidate school districts, they won’t have home rule the degree to which they had by keeping small school districts.”

The policy behind these so-called mega-districts may solve the economic crisis board members across New York State, including Lanotte, are grappling with.

“A mega-district, to me, has to be done from the perspective of, ‘We’re doing this because we’re going to increase opportunity for kids,’ and if that’s the driver, then I’m all in favor of it,” Lanotte conceded.  “If you’re doing it because you want to take away local control from school districts, from school boards, or you want to just cut taxes and minimize the amount of state aid, then I think it’s not a well-thought out plan.”

Districts with immense student bodies can be run most economically, according to Sullivan.

“[Smaller districts] can’t offer the breadth of classes, the kind offerings that you would have in a larger school district,” Sullivan advocated.  “That’s where the greatest efficiency is, and therefore that’s where the savings would be.  While it’s a challenge in the local school districts, what’s our purpose in education?  To provide the best opportunities.”

Recent upstate high school graduates can attest to the fact that changes as a result of funding issues seeped into the classroom.

The diminishing number of Advanced Placement courses offered each year concerned Stewart.  “The curriculum changed.  It was mostly just numerical—just tracking your progress numerically, as opposed to your actual intellectual capabilities.”

Class sizes increase when districts are forced to provide students with fewer courses of any level.  But they also increase when there’s a major spike in the student population.

“I’m all about class size, so I think that if you can keep class sizes at a reasonable level, I wouldn’t necessarily oppose combining of school districts,” Lanotte reasoned.  “But, on the other hand, I like the size of Niskayuna, I like the number of schools that we have, and I chose to live here and pay taxes for years before my kids were even in school for the opportunity to attend Niskayuna schools given the demographics that kind of have stayed relatively flat and stable.”

Lanotte’s modest childhood reinforced her parents’ recognition of the value of education, as well as the opportunities American students have that are not presented internationally.  When she attended high school in Japan, she remembered having to wear gloves in school because there was no heat. She also attended school seven days a week.

“It’s not so much the delivery mechanism.  It was a great education over there,” Lanotte recollected.  “I really don’t think that you can do anything better in your life than to provide a quality education for your kids, whatever that takes.  A person can have all the money in the world, but if they don’t have an education and all that goes with it, I think they really missed something.”


Friday, November 6, 2015

Community members of a Troy police gun battle victim are visibly protesting the actions of local authorities

TROY, N.Y. - Just one month before officers Joshua Comitale and Chad Klein shot and killed 39-year-old Thaddeus Faison of Albany, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo named a special prosecutor to investigate deaths caused by police shootings. However, the August 2015 shooting of Faison does not fall under this executive order because Faison was armed, according to Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove.

“There is a reason why there is this groundswell of anger and animosity among minorities in the U.S.,” Troy native Dr. James Snyder said. “I saw it a lot in Troy, growing up. [Police officers] were tough, and there was definitely a lot of discrimination that went on there.”

Police Chief John Tedesco estimated, in an Albany Times Union article, that as many as 20 shots were exchanged between the white officers and the black victim.

“If he was a fellow white person, I don’t think that they would’ve shot to kill,” student activist Hakim Alex Cunningham affirmed. “But at the same time, they had a right to defend themselves.”

Comitale and Klein responded to a report of an attempted gunpoint carjacking as a result of a call from the vehicle owner’s friend. When Comitale arrived at the scene, he followed Faison on foot, who ran when pursued. Klein then reached the location and was promptly shot at point-blank range through the window of his patrol car, according to Tedesco. Faison proceeded to open fire on Comitale. In response, the officers pulled the triggers of their .45-caliber service weapons, but Faison continued to struggle after being struck multiple times, as cited in Times Union and Time Warner Cable News reports.

Comitale, a 7-year member of the force, was hit in both lower legs. Klein, an Air Force Reserve veteran and member of the SWAT team, underwent multiple surgeries to repair bullet wounds in the back of his shoulder. Faison, who walked to a nearby Hannaford grocery store to buy formula for his children just hours before the shooting, was later pronounced dead at St. Mary’s hospital.

“As soon as something like that happens, they immediately pull up the person’s criminal report,” Cunningham said of media coverage. “Their criminal history has, in my opinion, no impact on what happens in that moment.”

Friends of Faison attributed the shooting to a case of mistaken identity, rather than an actual crime, reporters at the Albany Times Union write.

A shootout that left one teen injured and the other dead sparked riots in the city of Troy just days prior. Faison’s death bourgeoned the heated crowds that antagonized law enforcement officials as they entered and exited the various hospitals where gun violence victims had been sent that week, according to an ABC News 10 piece.

About half of the 385 reported fatal police shootings in 2015 (as of May 30) were white, half minority. “But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims,” as The Washington Post states, “two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic.”

“People shouldn’t be rioting,” Cunningham attested. “People should be, kind of, honoring his life but at the same time understanding that he made a mistake in shooting at police officers.”

Conversely, Cunningham referred to the abuse of power on the part of law enforcement as a product of the current societal hierarchy in the United States. Passive acceptance of this kind of discrimination is what perpetuates the problem, he explained.

“People should protest,” Hispanic student Soribel Núñez said. “Your voice can be heard, and this country has a long history of suppressing people’s voices, especially African Americans, especially Hispanics, especially those who aren’t white.”

While the angle of police officers abusing their authority in dealing with minorities has been rampant in national headlines, this instance in Troy received minimal media attention. Much to the dismay of rioters, the shootout was covered as any other crime that yielded casualties would have been, had race not been an issue.

“It goes both ways,” Núñez argued. “[Discrimination is] also from minorities to whites. The media covers more of whites against minorities. It happens; it’s just, we don’t see it.”

Though residents of the neighborhood where Faison was shot acknowledged the increasing danger of the area, Tedesco stated that Comitale and Klein became the first Troy officers shot in the line of duty in at least four decades. While many cry racism, others note that officers put themselves in harm’s way daily in order to protect the general public, including the minorities.

The August 2015 gun battle in Troy is not an instance of police overstepping their boundaries, according to Snyder. “But that’s not to say that police don’t do that all the time.”


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When coffee gets its own holiday

Though it is hardly unusual to root for the underdog, the vast majority of people would not expect most underdogs to usher in a renaissance. When Starbucks tested a pumpkin flavor on a sample of customers, who were by no means spellbound, no one anticipated the flavor revolution that followed.

With a decade of service under her belt, Mid-Hudson Starbucks Café Manager Erin Binford-Markou remembers the original pumpkin spice, which she says was improved most recently with the addition of actual pumpkin. While it is not syrup like most of the company’s drinks, it contains caramel coloring, which is a known carcinogen, New York Daily News reporter Meredith Engel writes. Yet customers refuse to make alterations to the beverage when placing their orders.

“We’ll start to sell more once it cools off,” Mid-Hudson Barista Tyler Smith said. “People make changes to other drinks, but not PSLs. They won’t even ask for it iced.”

Starbucks started developing the flavor in January 2003 after the company observed the success of its peppermint mocha and eggnog lattes, winter seasonal beverages, Peter Dukes, Starbucks’ director of espresso Americas, told The Daily Meal. The lengthy brainstorming process consisted of flavor laboratories exuding the fiery aroma of cinnamon sticks, the burnt oranges and brilliant reds of fallen leaves that crunched and crumbled as workers scurried across the floor, and the uniquely autumnal taste of pumpkin pie—a different family recipe for each employee. The result: 10 products to present to customers. Chocolate and caramel flavors worked best in testing, so the idea of a pumpkin coffee drink was a leap of faith for Starbucks, which selected the flavor because there wasn’t anything like it at the time.

“It used to be when you thought of fall, you thought of cider, falling leaves, and hot soup,” wrote Forbes contributor Micheline Maynard. “Now, as autumn begins, the American landscape is dominated by a single force: pumpkin spice.”

The highly anticipated release date each season has evolved into a sort of national holiday. And once it’s here, it’s everywhere.

It’s the epitome of promotion tactics. Starbucks’ brand values are not just about serving coffee, but also the people who drink it. “Everything they do is about delighting their customers,” Marist College Professional Lecturer in Advertising Kathleen Boyle said. “All the seasonal products are just the outward manifestation of that purpose.”

Starbucks has been able to “stimulate unique sensory experiences through interpersonal connections,” according to Marist College Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Ann Davis. Through hackneyed images of fall, the company transforms this “affordable luxury” into something more nostalgic: “wanting to connect to something that might’ve been authentic once.”

But for naysayers, the pumpkin spice latte craze is an awful lot of hoopla that “has gone a little too far.”

“People live on the stuff,” Clarkson University student Brendan Gibbons said. “When I think of pumpkin spice lattes, I think of all the stereotypes” of those coffee connoisseurs.

John Reilly, on the other hand, claims he has not paid much attention to the autumnal festivities. “The seasonal aspect […] plays into it somewhat,” the Boston College graduate said, “offering a certain sense of scarcity, which I imagine would increase demand.”

Of course, “scarcity” is no longer an issue.

Waltz into any Starbucks after the first week of September and the focal point of the coffeehouse is a metallic board, displaying a coffee cup framed by leaves and, of course, pumpkins. “HELLO, PSL: so glad you’re here,” it reads.

Nowadays, trek into any Walmart and a plethora of artificial titian packages, upon which the words “It’s Back” are inscribed, will overwhelm the entry. When other companies took note of Starbucks’ top selling drink, they hopped on the bandwagon.

Dunkin Donuts recently introduced Pumpkin Swirl to its flavor lineup in order to compete with Starbucks and other chains with the demand for pumpkin spice beverages during the fall season. McDonald’s has their own version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte to pair with their new take on the famed apple pies: pumpkin pie.

But the worship of artificial flavors does not end with coffee. Bigelow, Stash, and Davids Tea have their own collection of pumpkin spice tea bags.

Should carbs be more appealing than a cup of tea, look no further than Arnold Bread and Thomas for pumpkin spice sliced bread, bagels, English muffins, and lasagna. Snack time can be pumpkin time too, with Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles and Pumpkin Spice Latte M&Ms. And for the dog: pumpkin flavored dog treats from Trader Joe’s.

What seems “excessive” to some is a cause for celebration for others. Though Boyle prefers gas station coffee, she attests, “Seeing all the pumpkin products as a whole reminds us that fall has started.”

Indeed it has. Few events scream autumn louder than a worldwide celebration of the 10th anniversary of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. “To celebrate Starbucks PSL fans’ decade of pumpkin devotion,” the 2013 festivities included décor homey enough for Grandma’s house, exclusive discounts, and specially-designed merchandise, according to the Starbucks Newsroom website. But not all the marketing was done in stores. Starbucks offered a limited edition Swarovski PSL 10th Anniversary Mug online for a mere $338.00.

“It’s been great to see the trajectory over the past decade, because when we launched PSL ten years ago—yes, it has a nickname now—we took a bit of a risk on a new innovation,” said Dukes. “You just didn’t see pumpkin-flavored food and beverages ten years ago the way you do today.” In its 12th season, pumpkin spice has continued to exceed expectations, harnessing the decisive image of the fall spell.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Marist women's soccer vs. Rider

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - While Marist College’s women’s soccer team always has perfect hair, their messy play is what gets the job done.

The women toppled reigning MAAC Champion Rider 1-0 on Saturday night, amidst braid adjustments and ponytail fixes.  Capitalizing on the pressure Marist was able to maintain in Rider’s half, the lone goal came from freshman Kristen Reilly just five minutes into the game off a high-pressure long ball that soared into the back corner of the net.

“We had the talent to compete with the best of them,” said head coach Katherine Lyn.  “To be able to sustain not only a goal for, but also a shutout against a team that’s been able to score consistently throughout the season, it really shows that we can be so much better than our record shows.”

This win brings the Red Foxes to a record of 2-6-1 (1-1 MAAC).  Marist out-shot Rider 13-10, including 7-5 on goal.

“We had a lot of good individual performances from players today,” said assistant coach Sam Kirschenbaum.  “From the starting 11 to the last kid that came onto the field, they put their heart and soul into the game.”

Leading scorer Brianna Robinson was not able to crash the box as she usually does because Rider made a point of over-guarding her.  At any given point during the game, multiple Broncs surrounded Robinson.  However, Robinson and teammate Juliette Loccisano were each able to achieve one shot on goal. 

Rider goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard’s six saves were not enough to keep the Broncs on top.  Marist’s Makala Foley saved five shots, giving the Red Foxes an imperative shutout.

Rider had an opportunity to score toward the end of the first half on a breakaway by Ellie Smith.  Though she beat Marist’s back line, her individual attack on Foley yielded a wide shot.

Local ODP girls play at halftime

Between the aggressive nature of the match and a fast-paced first half, the second half of regulation was considerably more lethargic.  Both teams found themselves looking for foul calls that would not come.  Marist had a string of methodical corner kicks that made no mark on the scoreboard, but slowed the pace of the game.  Rider was able to gain some composure with about 20 minutes remaining, shifting the field and moving the ball.

“We were lucky to have a week’s worth of rest,” said Lyn. “Getting […] time to train our weaknesses and better our strengths really allowed us to show better in this game.”

The Red Foxes will need to proceed with caution as they take on Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y. on Sept. 30.  Starting defender Devon Cummings received a yellow card with 14 minutes of match play left off a disputed tackle with Rider’s Heather Maierle.

“This is a start to a good conference result,” said Lyn.  “We’re […] looking to get into the tournament as a top-six team.”

The Red Foxes must continue their exploitative offensive tactics in practice and on the field if they are to defeat MAAC competitor Canisius in the coming week.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

WWC 15: USA vs. GER

In the most highly anticipated game of this year's tournament, defensive powerhouse USA and dangerous attack Germany will battle it out for the opportunity to become the first team in history to win three Women's World Cup titles.

The contest--more likely to look like combat--takes place tonight in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where No. 1 Germany narrowly advanced past France in the quarterfinal game last week.  Third-ranked France maintained possession for the majority of the game, scoring early in the second half, following 28 touches in the attacking third as compared to Germany's mere five within the first ten minutes of the match.  Germany's only goal during regular play came off a penalty kick, which tournament-leading scorer Celia Sasic put in the back of the net.  Though this quarterfinal was expected to be an entertaining competition, most fans and analysts forecast a W for the Germans.  As a player who has watched a win slip from my grasp as the result of a shootout, I can affirmatively say that is no way to win or lose a game.  The Germans ought not to be as confident as they might have been earlier in the tournament.

I relay the same advice to the Americans.  Though I'll be cheering for USA every moment of the match, I am worried for our women.

"Although offensive play is important," says US defender Becky Sauerbrunn, "it's defending that gets you titles.  Even when matches don't work out the way you planned, you've always got to stay strong in defense; it's a matter of willpower and intelligence."  This comes in response to team USA setting a  FIFA Women's World Cup record for consecutive scoreless minutes: 423.  After beating China in last week's quarterfinal, the US became the first team to reach the semifinals of all seven World Cups.  But contrary to Sauerbrunn's vote of confidence, teams that don't score cannot win games, either.  The statistic I'm looking for is most Women's World Cup titles, and semifinals and shutouts do not equate to that.

That being said, the Americans have been able to move through the tournament while not at their best.  Missing starters Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday on a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, USA was still able to make a big enough impact on the front line and hedge over China 1-0.  Goal-scoring has not come easily for the Americans in this tournament, in contrast with the Germans who have scored 20 goals so far.  But the quarterfinal against China showed that the US has some depth on the front line, a weapon that will come in handy against the beat-up Germans, laden with yellow cards, and likely still trying to recover from their hard-fought meeting with France.  What's more, the Germans do not have the technical ability of France, which the Americans are better equipped to handle after the match "confidence gained from playing higher pressure defense against China" that will allow them to "come with even more pressure on both sides of the ball," says espnW analyst and former US women's national team midfielder Julie Foudy.

Maybe they're not the favorite, but I pick the Americans to emerge the conquering heroes at the end of regulation this evening.  Historically, when Germany and team USA have met in the World Cup, the winner has gone on to win it all.  The teams' last meeting in April 2013, ended in a 3-3 tie, though this World Cup alone shows how much both teams have evolved since then.

As forward Abby Wambach put it, "If you've got to play two more games you might as well play in the final."


Friday, March 6, 2015

Man, I feel like a woman

March 31, 1776.  Abigail Adams, wife of second United States president John Adams and mother of sixth U.S. president John Quincy Adams, urges her husband to "remember the ladies," for women "will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

1784.  Hanna Adams is the first American woman to support herself by writing.

1826.  The first public high schools for girls open in New York City and Boston.

1833.  Oberlin College in Ohio opens as the first co-educational college in the U.S.

1869.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association in order to win the constitutional right to vote.

1893.  Colorado becomes the first state to grant women the right to vote.  Utah and Idaho follow suit three years later.

1916.  Jeanette Rankin becomes the first woman to serve in Congress.

August 18, 1920.  Women are granted the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

1921.  American novelist Edith Wharton becomes the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel Age of Innocence.

1933.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins as the Secretary of Labor, making her the first American female cabinet member.

1941-1945.  The outbreak of World War II necessitates women in the workforce.  After the war, many women returned to their domestic roles in the home, but many remained working while their husbands went back to school under the G.I. Bill.  Though female numbers in the workforce dropped off after the war, they never returned to their lower pre-war levels.  It is also during this time that America's pastime is played in skirts.  During its twelve-year existence, more than 600 female athletes had the phrase "professional baseball player" attached to their names.

1972.  Title IX of the Education Amendments bans gender discrimination in public schools resulting in the substantial increase enrollment of women in athletic programs and professional schools.

1974.  The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy becomes the first U.S. service academy to enroll women.

1993.  President Bill Clinton appoints Janet Reno to serve as the first woman U.S. Attorney General.

2007.  Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

2015.  Where are we now?

March is Women's History Month.  The fight for equality is one that will never end.  As we continually strive for improvement, we also tip our caps to the women in sports who have paved the way for female athletes and non-athletes everywhere.

We are working toward an environment in which we are judged by our character and abilities, not by race, gender, sexuality, or religion.  As my high school soccer t-shirt reads, "I'm an athlete, and I'm proud of that athlete.  It's not a girl thing, it's not a guy thing; it's a skill thing."


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day Link-Up

Happy Valentine's Day, all! In addition to their Valentine's Day award, Sophia and Katelyn have come up with a Valentine's Day Link-Up.  Admittedly, my Valentine's Day OOTD pictures were taken in advance as I am wearing running clothes instead of a festive outfit.  My track team is competing at Boston University's Valentine Invitational this weekend, so I've swapped my skirts for spandex and my blouses for sports bras.  Here's my (almost) Valentine's Day outfit:

Gloves: Old Navy (similar); Coat: Anthropologie

Sweater: Old Navy; Popover: J.Crew; Jeans: Hollister; Boots: Bass

How are you spending Valentine's Day?


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valentine's Day Award

My Fab Girl Bloggers friend, Sophia from California Belle, has nominated me for the Valentine's Day Award that she and Katelyn from A Sprinkle of Kate worked so hard to put together!  This award is all about showing appreciation for fellow bloggers.  I am honored to be considered one of their favorite bloggers, so for my favorite bloggers...

1. If you are tagged to do this award, copy the rules into your post.
2. Link the post back to Sophia & Katelyn's blogs.
3. Recognize the blogger who tagged you and link back to him/her.
4. Tag five bloggers who you believe deserve this award.
5. Let all of the five bloggers you tagged know that you have awarded them!
6. Answer the 10 questions.
7. Include the image.

1. What is something you are looking forward to doing in February?
I am looking forward to going home for the weekend of Feb. 27.  I see my family more often than most college students, yet that never seems to be enough.  Home truly is where the heart is.

2. Pink or red for V-Day?
Red! Pink is my favorite color, but I prefer to go for a bold red in the bitter cold and dreariness of February.

3. What inspires you to blog?
I have always had an affinity for writing.  Blogging has become an outlet that almost forces me to make time to write outside of academic assignments and the like.  What's more, blogging has opened far too many doors for me to consider stopping in the near future.

4. Who are your style icons?
Audrey Hepburn, Taylor Swift, and my mom

5. What is your favorite item for winter?
My favorite item for winter is my new Anthropologie peacoat, which will make an appearance in my Valentine's Day Link-Up post this weekend.  I searched tirelessly for this jacket after it sold out online and was ecstatic when I finally found it (probably because it makes me feel like a princess).

6. If you could go on a trip anywhere in the world and blog for a week about it where would it be?
As uncultured as I might seem for writing this, I would love to go to Walt Disney World Resort to blog for a week.  The little princess in me contends that it is the happiest place on earth.  What I would give to explore every nook and cranny of the Disney Parks...

7. Who are your blogger icons?
Carly from The College Prepster, Sarah from Classy Girls Wear Pearls, and Ashleigh from SportsAsToldByAGirl are my current blogger icons.  Though she is no longer blogging, I cannot forget Hannah from The Pink and Green Prep, who was one of the first to inspire me to start my own blog.

8. How would you describe your style?
Classic, vintage, preppy, and, of course, sparkly

9. Which is your favorite, East or West coast?
East Coast (original 13 colonies represent!)

10. If you could pick one blogger to be, who would you choose?
Sarah Vickers is living the dream! A marriage proposal in front of a European castle and fireworks? Yes, please.

My favorite bloggers:
Keep up the good work, everyone! Happy (almost) Valentine's Day!


Monday, February 9, 2015

An editor who's changing the game

Ashleigh Binder, the owner of and senior writer for a sports blog with a feminine flourish, is building her brand from the convoluted intersection of gender norms and athletics. What began as a senior class project has evolved into SportsAsToldByAGirl, a brand that, Binder says, “allows women a voice in sports.”

Inspired by her love of sports to start SportsAsToldByAGirl, Binder, a Rutgers University graduate, writes, edits and posts on all of the brand’s social media accounts. “Right now we are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google Plus,” Binder said. In the hopes that SportsAsToldByAGirl will create as many opportunities for women across multiple journalistic mediums as possible, she has made the upkeep of the brand her fulltime job. Though ESPN and other media sources provide opportunities to women, Binder holds that sports journalism is clearly a male-dominated field.

SportsAsToldByAGirl divaricates from other media outlets in the way in which its writers present stories. Fantasy Football Girl Liz Loza “has fostered a vast and diverse community of fans with her spirited wit and expertise,” Binder writes. Loza’s extensive experience with video, radio and the written word, as well as her indepth knowledge of football have allowed her to redefine major media spheres and make a name for herself outside the “blogosphere.” Loza was one of only three media representatives to obtain access to the NFL Pro Hollywood Bootcamp in Spring 2013. 

Writers such as Loza are critical to the future of SportsAsToldByAGirl as it evolves, further exceeding Binder’s expectations. Binder advises her writers to take a genuine interest in their respective article topics. “I want real fans talking about what story lines they care about most,” she said. Acknowledging that such a standard may hurt her in trying to recruit reliable writers, Binder understands the resulting benefits. “No one wants to read an apathetic post,” she reveals. “It is the authenticity that brings people back to the site.” 

Binder majored in psychology, later considering a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She knew she liked psychology because of her interest in the study of mental health issues, which she concedes are a tangible problem in this country. Now in graduate school, she feels honored that her brand produces pieces that not only inform and elicit positive responses from readers, but also inspire women to write for the site. 

As Binder’s higher education continues, so does her blogging knowledge. “I have learned that you might not see it right away, but hard work does pay off,” she said, conceding that hard work in the name of passion is beneficial. She also stresses the importance of blogging for the sake of the blogger, not the reader. It is essential for writers to approve of their own pieces, even if their readers have converse opinions. 

Following her own advice, Binder has transformed her lifetime sports fandom into a niche website. As SportsAsToldByAGirl evolves, Binder aims to continue promoting the voice of women in sports with the utmost integrity. She gives the brand an edge with her gossipy take on sports stories, over 2,000 of which have been published in the two years the website has been active. As the brand continues to grow, Binder intends to add to the existing six female contributing writers, and to expand into radio, television or both. When medium shifts occur, Binder has yet to determine whether she will be a main personality. 

For now, Binder is compelling SportsAsToldByAGirl onward with the help of writers such as Loza, as well as sheer passion for sports. Based out of New Jersey, Binder’s website transmits the essence of a New York Giants, New York Mets, New Jersey Devils and Boston Celtics enthusiast. A personable blogger, ever intrigued by the art of amelioration, Binder has converted her once senior project into “a girl’s account of all things sports.” Though in the infant stages of its launch, SportsAsToldByAGirl covers basketball, baseball, hockey, football, college sports and gossip, among other topics. Binder is a blogger with a vision, a student of the industry. Her well-rounded academic history combined with her acquired sports blogging knowledge makes her and her team of writers a force to be reckoned with. 

The unique perspective presented as part of the SportsAsToldByAGirl brand, spearheaded by staff editor and main writer Ashleigh Binder, drives the conversation about where women intersect with athletics forward. “I never expected the site to even get to this point,” Binder said,” but now I see that this is just the beginning.”