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The Charger Bulletin

Who is ISIS?

by Steven Mahoney | September 10, 2014

The group known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria executed a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, last week in response to President Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. airstrikes in the region where ISIS operates, according to a ISIS fighter and Sotloff in what appeared to be a forced statement in the video of his execution.

ISIS, officially known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a Sunni terrorist organization operating in Iraq and the Levant region, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, a U.S. government organization that provides information on terrorist groups.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the goal of ISIS is to establish a caliphate: an Islamic state that is ruled under sharia law.

ISIS is lead by a man referred to as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but his followers know him as Caliph Ibrahim, reports the BBC. Baghdadi claims to be the Caliph: leader of all Muslims, and a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.

The group was formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in April 2004 as al-Qaida in Iraq, according to the NCTC. The group pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2004 and has been involved in attacks against coalition forces and civilians in Iraq, often using tactics such as vehicle born improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, and executions by beheading.

“Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri believed al-Qaida in Iraq’s indiscriminate attacks on fellow Muslims would erode public support for al-Qaida in the region,” CFR reported. “In July 2005 they questioned Zarqawi’s strategy in written correspondence.”

In 2006, a U.S. airstrike killed Zarqawi, and Abu Ayyuab al-Marsi took command as al-Qaida in Iraq’s new leader, reports CFR. A few months after taking command, Marsi changed the group’s name to Islamic State of Iraq to improve local support, which was dwindling from the group’s attacks on Shiite sites and the killing of Muslims, just as bin Laden and Zawahiri anticipated.

According to the NCTC, Baghdadi became the group’s leader after Marsi was killed in 2010. During the first half of 2013 the group caused about 1,000 Iraqi deaths, the most deaths seen since 2008. In April of 2013 the group stated that it was operating in Syria and changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

ISIS is just one of many jihadist and rebel groups fighting the regime in Syria, according the BBC. ISIS has a strained relationship with al-Nusra, the official al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, and many other rebel groups. Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida ordered ISIS to leave Syria and focus on Iraq, but Baghdadi refused.

“In January 2014, rebels from both Western-backed and Islamist groups launched an offensive against ISIS, seeking to drive its predominantly foreign fighters out of Syria,” reported the BBC.

Thousands have been reported killed in the fighting.

ISIS has made headlines for their adept usage of social media as a recruitment tool. The group has put out recruitment videos and internet memes to target westerners. These efforts have paid off.

According to the Soufan Group, a private intelligence organization, as of June there were over 12,000 foreign fighters from at least 81 different countries fighting in Syria. Of those, approximately 2,500 of them are from Western countries including most members of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Dr. Howard Stoffer, an associate professor for the national security program at the University of New Haven, said that these fighters represent a huge threat when they return to their home countries with the ability to build explosives and use weapons with the ideology that they are going to fight the governments of Western Europe and North America.

Stoffer, who also served on the United Nation’s counter-terrorism committee, said that he think’s ISIS has suddenly gained so much attention because of the speed in which they crossed western Iraq, almost making it within striking distance of Baghdad. He said that the group is also notable for their absolute brutality in the areas they govern, specifically beheadings of people they subjugate and starving of minorities that ran to the Sinjar Mountains.

“They are an urgent problem, a force that is living in medieval times in terms of the types of religious and administrative law they want to implement,” Stoffer said. “They threaten the vitality of Syria and Iraq as states, and if they succeed there, they can then threaten Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.”

The strength of ISIS forces is difficult to know, but it is estimated to be between 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, said Stoffer. At this point in time, ISIS is probably not capable of a strike on the U.S. or Canada and may not even be able to strike Western Europe, but Stoffer believes that they are capable of threating important allies of the U.S. in the region where they operate.

“For those reasons, I would say that their capability in the region is perhaps greater than al-Qaida’s was, but just in that region, not in the Maghreb of Northern Africa, and not in the Arabian Peninsula where al-Qaida is functioning, or in Somalia where al-Shabab is functioning, or in Asia,” Stoffer said. “Within the Middle East region, I think they are a greater threat than al-Qaida was, but on a global basis I don’t think they have achieved the capability al-Qaida had around the time of September 11.”

These Paper Bullets review

by The Charger Bulletin | April 23, 2014

By: Jessica Leeb

Contributing Writer

These Paper Bullets, adapted by playwright Rolin Jones, is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. These Paper Bullets was performed at the Yale Repertory Theater from March 14 to April 5.

Set in London in the 60s, this play features a four person band called the Quartos, based on the Beatles. These Paper Bullets is a comedy, yet almost a tragedy as well.

The play is about love; the struggling romance between Claude and Higgy, and the denied love between Ben and Bea. These Paper Bullets starts off with the Quartos returning from their tour only for Claude to see Higgy and realize how in love he is with her, and that he had never realized it before. He then goes through the process of planning to ask her to marry him, as well as getting permission from her father.

The wedding is planned and everything’s set, but Don Best, band member Pedro’s brother and former band member himself, had other plans. He wanted to ruin the Quartos as revenge, so he staged a scandal. He paid for a Photoshopped picture of Higgy cheating on Claude and gave it to Claude. Claude then decided that he was going to expose the truth on live television during their wedding. Claude succeeds and humiliates Higgy only to find out that it was fake. So, Claude apologizes and marries Higgy.

While this is going on, Ben and Bea are madly in love with one another, but both are too stubborn to admit it. It takes the scandal and the final resolution of it to force them to realize their feelings and for Ben to finally propose to Bea, who finally says yes. Although there were some points of the play that were controversial, overall the production was a success.

There were elements in the production that both added and took away from the success of the play. Taking specific lines from Much Ado About Nothing enhanced the effect of the points being portrayed. Shakespeare’s language isn’t always easy to understand, so it forces the audience to pay closer attention to what the actor is saying. This amplifies the purpose of what is being said. Also, the lack of music during almost every scene in which the Quartos aren’t playing, either live or recorded, places focus on the characters and their dialogue.

I believe that the play is effective in speaking to modern audiences since the 60s are a relatively well known time period. However, being over 50 years ago there is still room for the audience to displace themselves. The cast of the production, however, discovered a way to overcome the time gap. They involved the audience in the production themselves. Interviewing them, talking to them, referring to them, and dancing among them all helped pull them into the experience.


Amanda Knox: What Comes Next?

by Kardelen Akkus | February 12, 2014

Alleged femme fatale Amanda Knox is the key to a controversy that has sparked the interest of a global community. First guilty, then not, and now guilty again: the sorrows of “Foxy Knoxy.”

Knox is at home in Seattle, WA, since 2011 having been found not guilty for murdering Meredith Kercher in 2009, after being found guilty before, in addition of having spent four years in Italian jail. Prosecutors have appealed the verdict resulting in a sentence of 28 and a half years in prison. If it is upheld, Italy could have Knox extradited from the U.S.

In order to shed light on the recent activity, two professors at the University of New Haven have been asked questions regarding the case. Dr. Tracy Tamborra, assistant professor working in the Criminal Justice department for nine years, holds a Ph.D. and uses her knowledge that is specialized in violence against women, race and class in the legal system as teaching material. Additionally she has written a manuscript titled, “Cultural Offenses and Italian Criminal Law: A Complicated Relationship.” She was a former apprentice of Dr. Joshua Sandman’s who taught her political science classes, while she attended UNH. Dr. Sandman has been a professor of political science and pre-law advisor at UNH for more than 40 years.

1. Which legal system is fairer (Italy or U.S.)? Would Knox’s legal process have been different in the U.S.?

Tracy Tamborra: Yes it is, and no it isn’t; both criminal justice systems have some really good safe cards to protect the rights of the accused. However those who have power often abuse the systems. In the U.S. prosecutors abuse power, and in Italy judges abuse power. Both abuse the systems, so neither is better. The U.S. has much harsher punishments than Italy. Italy doesn’t have the death penalty and rarely puts someone to prison for life. The longest sentence should generally be to 20 to 30 years. So when talking about fairness from punitive standpoint, then yes, the Italian system is fairer. Some think the U.S. is fairer with the use of a jury, however; only five percent of cases in the U.S. ever see a jury. The other 95 of cases will be plea- bargained with a prosecutor. So in essence it’s the same exact thing: one person making a decision.

Joshua Sandman: The U.S. system is fairer. The legal process would have been different and fairer in the U.S.

2. What if an alleged Italian committed Knox’s crimes in the U.S.? How different would the process be?

TT: I don’t know because the U.S. has a very long and documented history of treating persons who aren’t citizens or don’t represent the status quo (white, middle-class etc.) harshly. It is difficult to compare cases with different judicial systems in different countries, it’s much more complicated.

JS: He would be tried based on American law. Double jeopardy, as it happened here, would not be allowed in the U.S. Knox’s third trial contradicts the American system of justice, where we don’t charge a person twice for the same crime.

3. What role did the media play in Knox’s case?

TT: I read both American and Italian newspapers, and except for when there’s a trial decision, I don’t see any coverage in the Italian newspapers about Knox. The media sensation is much greater in the U.S. than it is in Italy.

JS: Knox was portrayed in the Italian media in a negative light. It wasn’t favorable to her and left an image that was harmful. She was made out to be promiscuous and was referred to as Foxy Knoxy. The American media is less oriented to sensational details about an individual’s personal life and it would look more into the nature of the crime and at DNA evidence against the accused not being conclusive. The Italian media in general focused on the symbolic nature represented by an arrogant American acting in a way that wasn’t in accordance with the Italian society and culture.

4. What do you think about Knox’s entry in Maxim’s top hot 100 list in 2012?

TT: We have an obsession with criminals, even alleged criminals, so we have often made media sensations of individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. Look at Charles Manson; there’s shirts, posters, and kids even dress up as Manson for Halloween, or Cops and Robbers and Bonnie and Clyde. We are a country who gets obsessed with criminals when they fit a certain characteristic.

JS: I am not familiar with Maxim or its hot top 100 list.

5. Many say that Knox has fallen victim to a sexual obsession. If she weren’t as attractive, her case would not have taken on as much negativity. Do you agree?

TT: Data suggests that people who are more attractive tend to be more frequently exonerated or not found guilty. I don’t know if there is any research that claims the contrary.

JS: If she has been stereotyped due to her physical appearance and sensationalism around it, then the trial wasn’t fair. Her reputation should not be brought into the trial; no media bias is allowed.

6. The evidence that was found is controversial: the confession, false accusation, alibi, computer and telephone records and staged break-in; any thoughts?

TT: The Italian criminal justice system looks at the evidence as a whole. Once presented, is there another explanation? If you cannot think of another logical explanation, then the evidence in its entirety is used to move forward. Italian system seems to be certain that there is more than one party involved because of the nature of the crime scene. Therefore the Italian justice system creates a plausible explanation that has evidence. In the U.S. we might use any one piece of information to raise reasonable doubt. If they have weak evidence in collaboration with strong evidence they don’t use the one weak piece to exonerate, which is slightly different from U.S. systems. Whereas we take each piece at face value, they take them collaboratively.

JS: The case should be based on legal and DNA aspects. We can’t allow a high-profile public media type of reporting to influence the case. The DNA evidence was questionable, and when Knox was in court she was unfamiliar with the culture, legal system, and additionally was under pressure. This could result in saying contradictory things. We don’t know how well she was represented by legal counsel or how many opportunities she had to present evidence or testimony with her legal representative present. This could explain how confused she acted and how inaccurately it represented what she wanted to say.

7. What would John Kerry, U.S. State Dept., have to lose if he would extradite Knox?

TT: He would have to extradite her because we have extradition agreements with Italy. Italy doesn’t violate human rights; have a cruel and unusual system or punishment practices, so there is no reason for us to extradite her. Just because we don’t like the outcome, we cannot say we don’t cooperate with you. That would be very bad politics. I feel 99.9 percent certain that if Kerry would be asked to extradite her, he would.

JS: Kerry does not have much to lose by opposing extradition. I hope they won’t extradite her and if they do make such an attempt, I hope that she fights as strongly as possible to beat extradition. Just on the basis of double jeopardy there wasn’t a fair trial in Italy. Hopefully the judicial system here in the U.S. will work in her favor.

8. What about the ethical implications presented by the judge who found Knox guilty last week and talked to news reporters about his thoughts on the case?

TT: No it couldn’t because that’s not the issue. You can’t be concerned with what the judges thought and felt. As long as you have an established system, with an established set of laws and you follow a process – that’s it. We don’t have a problem with how they found it, which is what governments are concerned about when they work together. Does the U.S. really want other countries to come in and say how we treat our prisoners? Or what our prosecutors or judges think? We don’t open that can of worms.

JS: It’s totally inappropriate and totally contradictory to the American judicial system. That alone should work in her favor regarding extradition, as this behavior is a gross violation of U.S. law and ethical conduct.

The Sochi Games: Raising The LGBT Flag

by Kardelen Akkus | February 12, 2014

The University of New Haven’s Institution for Social Justice along with UNH Pride held an informative social on Thursday, Feb. 6, in light of the harsh treatment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender society in Russia, where the Winter Olympics commenced Friday.

Photo Provided by Leila Dutton

Photo Provided by Leila Dutton

The event attracted about 25 people, including students, faculty members, and people outside of the UNH community. Guests were welcomed by the organizer and director of the ISJ, Dr. Tracy Tamborra, an associate Professor at UNH in the Criminal Justice department.

Dr. Tamborra said, “Anytime a political system or institution oppresses one group, it’s not far until they start with other groups.” The powerful words refer to the oppression of the LGBT community in Russia, who are being hunted down and punished for a victimless “crime.” She clarifies that standing together as a group employs diversity and raising the LGBT pride flag symbolized a moment of solidarity and celebration of infusion.

The next speaker, Dr. David Schroeder of the Criminal Justice department, spoke on behalf of Dean Gaboury of Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. “On a personal note, it’s kind of amazing to see this. When I was in college, this didn’t happen,” he said. Dr. Schroeder expressed that sexuality should play no part in the discussion as it is happening in Russia at the moment. Groups are being separated on the grounds of sexual preference; and policies have been put into place to maintain the separation. He hopes to see continued change of conditions and laws in this country and set an example for other countries.

The campus minister, Dr. Martin O’Connor of the Fire Science and Professional Studies department, introduced his speech by quoting Amos 5:21, “ Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” As he elaborated, Dr. O’Connor mentioned how remarkable it is that people have used the phrase for centuries as a reminder for social justice.

Junior Brittany Bauch, criminal justice major and member of UNH’s victimology club, emphasized the importance of awareness of victimization. She specifically discussed sexual assault, of which anyone is capable of, and the higher rates of such in the LGBT community. Somewhat related, Bauch relays actress’ Cynthia Nixon’s statement, “Gay people don’t want to redefine marriage, but simply want to be invited to the table,” to the discussed topic.

Sophomore Mary Merena, forensic psychology major and member of UNH Pride, said even though people have changed their attitudes towards the LGBT mindset, “we still have a long way to go to achieve equality.”

Freshman Robyn McBurney, member of the Institution for Social Justice, reminded the audience of what the Olympics stand for, “unity,” “peace,” and “celebration.”

McBurney mentioned President Putin’s Gay Propaganda bill and Adoption, which resulted in violent crimes against the LGBT community. Many renowned Olympic athletes, celebrities and Nobel laureates have spoken out. President Obama, Vice President Biden, German President Gauck, French President Hollande and EU commissioner Reding have all declined their invitations to the games as their own form of boycott.


West Haven Elects Ed O’Brien as Mayor

by The Charger Bulletin | December 5, 2013

By: Zachary Lange

Voters in the City of West Haven elected Ed O’Brien last month in what was a very close election. He beat four-term incumbent, John Picard by 80 votes.

Image By New Haven Register

Image By New Haven Register


Mayor O’Brien’s platform when he was running for mayor was to work closely with the University of New Haven, as the university is a critical component to the city. He also wants to make investments to UNH, along with Yale University as well. He also plans to boost economic development as the city faces a budget deficit and is about $160 million in debt as of Sept.

O’Brien was sworn in as mayor on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, and in his speech he said, “The Boston Post Road and transit hubs are a big time economic driver in towns and cities from Maine to Florida. And it will be West Haven again.” He added that development needs to be increased around the train station.

In order to attract shoppers downtown and to other parts of the city, he will institute a city cleanliness program. He also vowed to make sure the parks, municipal buildings, and streets are better maintained. He is going to be working with West Haven Police to make sure the streets are safer, which is also an attempt to attract residents back to downtown.

The Game Changer

by Jenn Harrington | October 23, 2013

Candidates in West Haven’s Mayoral Race Debate on Current Issue

Elections for the office of Mayor in West Haven are less than a month away, and in preparation for polling, all three candidates took time out of their Wednesday night to meet at Carrigan Middle School to debate their ideas on the future of our city.

The line-up for November includes Edward O’Brien (D), Bart Chadderton (R), and incumbent John Picard (write-in). Each candidate sat on stage of the Carrigan Middle School auditorium, waiting for questions to be verified and attendees to find their seats. Each prepped with notes and talked to supporters to ease nerves.

The crowd was smaller, filling only a third of the room, but each West Haven resident was eager to hear what the candidates had to say. Former University of New Haven Professor, Gary Fetzer, hosted the debate leading in the evening stating that all questions were submitted by audience members and were verified for validity beforehand.

A hush fell over the auditorium and ears began to lean forward in an effort to hear which candidate chose the best response toward solving current issues that city residents find most imperative. If politics is a game, then a debate is the defining play on the field. Each candidate rotated turns in answering the proposed questions and followed with a 60 second rebuttal.

First question: What makes you qualified?

Picard started off in round one stating his experience, education, and ability to lead are qualities that make him the right fit for reelection. He went on to discuss local accomplishments in West Haven through job creation and tax revenue. O’Brien worked off his message of being born and raised in our city holding the qualities of honesty and integrity.

Chadderton, who began on a slightly different tone, referenced a recent article published in the New Haven Register regarding dirty politics and a feeling of being personally attacked. To keep in tow with tone, he also brought forward the lack of financial stability and the cities position of worst bond rating.

As questions continued each candidate stuck with a theme. Picard chose accomplishments to highlight success of the future, O’Brien pushed forward economic development on a large scale, and Chadderton ensured he would work on city finances and “get ducks lined up in a row.”

Through the debate as Chadderton worked to promote his platform ideas, a heated banter occurred through rebuttal with O’Brien and Picard. The idea of economic development was in discussion.

Picard promptly praised the planned addition of a CVS for providing 35 new jobs. O’Brien refuted that economic development is not a CVS or deli in an effort to provide examples of small-business, but what is needed is the addition of big business and large-scale developing.

Picard hit strong in his rebuttal. “Small business is the backbone of the country,” said Picard, “they account for 75% of jobs.” A round of applause resonated in the crowd.

O’Brien stood by his notion that big-business will bring in revenue, create more jobs, and provide for a friendlier city.

Chadderton resonated that “money is everything.” Finances are at the top of his priority list. “Take care of the money first.” Once that is handled then the city can work on spending in the right direction to balance the budget and get the city out of debt.

Another hot topic on the floor was Education; where funding should be placed and what changes could be made.

Don’t spend on structure; money can be used for resources. Books are old and classes are decrepit stated O’Brien. “We need to do better with what we have.”

Chadderton reminded the audience that grades and test scores are low. There isn’t a need for more money to be pumped in, but for it to be redirected and for the leadership in schools to become stronger.

Picard chose to show the positives on West Haven education. He mentioned the University’s initiative to provide scholarships for local students and said that more support through resources and lobbying can help the local education system.

Other topics in debate included zoning in Allingtown, high-end versus affordable housing, the asphalt plant, and consolidation of fire departments.

Each candidate was given the opportunity for a few final words. Chadderton’s closing remarks reiterated his fury at allegations from the Register article he mentioned in opening and stated that this is the example of a need for checks and balances.

Picard continued to delight on all of the great accomplishments the city has seen thus far. O’Brien revisited economic development and stated that the city needs to get a handle on its quality of life.

The evening closed with an overall feeling of interest in seeing the election results. Each candidate gave effort for their platforms, but the debate was one that provided for residents to hear how their political leaders think. Will our city have the right man in place? Only time will tell.

The debate was sponsored by the West Haven Chamber of Commerce, and updates on the West Haven Mayoral Race can be found online

Second Annual Fit Week

by Samantha Mathewson | October 16, 2013

fit week 2 Fit Week 1The second annual FITWEEK took place in the Greater New Haven and Fairfield Counties of Connecticut at local gyms Sept. 30 – Oct. 6. This event encouraged local residents to try something new and turn their workweek into a FITWEEK.

Shana Schneider, the founder of FITWEEK, also a Zumba and group fitness instructor, feels it is important to provide new types of exercises and fitness tips for those who question “How do you find time.” Schneider explained that while you are doing every day activities; even something as simple as brushing your teeth, you can find the time. “You don’t have to have an intense background, just see what excites you.”

FITWEEK is a weeklong event, where participants can purchase a Fitweek pass, which provides free access to hundreds of fitness classes at participating businesses and resources throughout the area. Classes cover a wide range of activities, including Jiu Jitsu, Pound, Zumba Fitness, Crossfit, Yoga, Boot Camp, Pilates, Kettlebell, Spinning, Barre; a combination of yoga, ballet and pillates, an Aerial Skill class, and more. 50 facilities in the area participated and can be found online at

Some of the aspects that make these classes exciting are the music and the lights. Sometimes even live bands perform, explained Schneider. Getting participants involved in workouts that they enjoy, gives them the excitement to commit and find the workouts that fit their lifestyle.

The passes were sold for $20, and all the proceeds from the individual sales were donated to the Closer to Free Fund, which supports cancer research at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. “The money raised is to support cancer research, patient care and emphasize the importance of exercise in lowering the risk of getting cancer and the benefits of exercise for and during recovery,” said Schneider. The total amount that was raised, and number of passes sold, is still being calculated.

“Closer to Free provides essential financial support for breakthrough cancer research and compassionate patient care. Support is critical to ensure that new research is pursued each day, promising treatments are developed in real time, and patient care is continuously enhanced.”

The kickoff event, in conjunction with On 9 New Haven, was held on Friday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at Pitkin Plaza, located near the corner of Orange Street and Chapel Street. The festivities included free outdoor Zumba Fitness and Yoga class, giveaways, and other fitness demos.

“As a working woman, I can easily empathize with those who say they don’t have time to add a fitness program into their busy schedules,” said Schneider. “Through the annual FITWEEK event, we are excited to provide an easy and fun way for people to learn how to incorporate fitness into their everyday lives by offering them access to hundreds of FREE classes, which they may not have otherwise tried. We’re also delighted to help raise awareness about the importance of exercise in the prevention and recovery of cancer by providing 100% of the proceeds from the FITWEEK Pass to support the Closer to Free Fund. ”

Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director, The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital says, “We are grateful to Shana and the many sponsors of FITWEEK for donating 100% of the proceeds to the Closer to Free Fund supporting cancer research and helping to raise awareness about how exercise can help with prevention and support recovery from this widespread disease.”

Additional events taking place throughout the week included themed FITWEEK Walks, FITWEEK Happy Hours and FITgroup Events that allow people to be social and try new fitness trends and activities together.

FITWEEK is sponsored by Higher One, Being Well at Yale, Yale WorkLife, The United Illuminating Company, The Shops at Yale, Cymplify/Campus Customs, Elm City Market, TYCO, Pinpoint Promotions, Trailblazer and Fitbit.

In addition, FITWEEK also helps fitness businesses meet new potential clients, and assists non-fitness businesses or organizations in providing a service that cultivates a healthy workforce and community. Along with the FITWEEK week-long event, Schneider posts weekly workouts and tips at, and coordinates monthly fitness events, which can be found on their website or at; she encourages everyone to stay connected.

Interview with Ra Ra Riot’s Rebecca Zeller

by Elissa Sanci | October 16, 2013
Photo Provided by Elissa Sanci

Photo Provided by Elissa Sanci

Ra Ra Riot, an indie rock band, started off at Syracuse University in 2006. Shortly after their creation, the band moved to New Haven to get their start. Nearly eight year later, they’re back; Ra Ra Riot performed at the Center Church on the Green in downtown New Haven Saturday Oct. 12.

Before the show, I was able to interview Rebecca Zeller, the violinist of Ra Ra Riot and ask about the band’s new sound, current tour and what it’s like to be back in New Haven.

Elissa Sanci: Ra Ra Riot formed as a band while you guys were attending Syracuse University. How did you guys get to know each other?

Rebecca Zeller: Milo [Bonacci], our guitar player, served as a catalyst. He and I had an electronic music course together and through that, he found out I played the violin and he had a vision for a band. He asked if I knew a cellist, and I brought in Ally [Alexandra Lawn, Ra Ra Riot’s original cellist]. Milo had played in a band with Matt [Santos], our bassist, and had heard of Wes [Miles] from somebody else and we sort of just came together for this band and obviously ended up becoming friends. The first time we had all met was at our first practice.

ES: I’ve read in interviews that you guys started off playing during campus parties. How did people receive your music, considering it’s not your traditional house music?

RZ: It started off more as a dance band, so we sort of catered to the audience. So a lot of the sounds had “dancier” beats and it worked out really well. Our first show was actually with a drum machine because our drummer was late.

ES: Where did you come up with the name Ra Ra Riot?

RZ: It’s not as exciting of a story. We formed over winter break going into my senior year, which was January of 2006, and we had already scheduled a show for two weeks after our first practice, so we sort of had to get our act together really quickly. Obviously coming up with a name was really difficult before we even knew what we sounded like. We had a good friend who had this band name with no band, and we had a band with no name, so she let us borrow it, and keep it.

ES: Obviously Ra Ra Riot has gotten very big since you guys started. Did you expect that to happen?

RZ: We just really expected it to be a semester-long thing, kind of like an extracurricular to pass the time and to record some music before we all went our separate ways on our own paths. Milo wanted to do something in architecture, and Wes was going to do something in physics.

ES: What were your plans for the future before Ra Ra Riot?

RZ: I had a job lined up out in L.A. to work in a talent agency.

ES: What happened with Ra Ra Riot before you were able to say “I want to take this, instead of, I want to take the job in L.A.”?

RZ: I guess we had gotten enough traction and response [to Ra Ra Riot]—but looking back, I think I was insane to do it. I did fly out to the job in L.A. and I spoke to them and they very generously said “That’s a great, once in a lifetime opportunity and when you’re done doing that, you’ll still have the job here,” and so that sort of gave me a safety blanket, the security to just dive in whole-heartedly into the band knowing that I would have something to fall back on.

ES: How do you guys write your material? Does one band member bring most of his/her ideas, or do you all collaborate?

RZ: It sort of depends—for the most part, ideas will come from one particular member and then they are brought to the group, but it really just depends on the song.

ES: Your first two albums have a very distinct sound, but your third album, Beta Love, takes on a completely different sound. How did you guys come up with this newer sound? What made you move towards a more electronic sound?

RZ: It was just something we wanted to experiment with. I think we felt a bit bound by following the same formula that we did for the first two records and we just wanted to have the freedom to do something else. Like I said, our first show was with a drum machine so it [the new album] wasn’t really a departure from what our interests were.

ES: Were you worried about how your fans would receive your album because it was so different from the first two?

RZ: Yeah, of course, there’s always a concern, but all you can really do is make something that you’re happy with and proud of, and hope that people respond to it in a good way, or respond at all.

ES: You guys are active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Do you feel social media helps you cultivate your fan base and keep in touch with your fans?

RZ: It definitely helps us keep in touch with them, and definitely keeps us engaged with them. It’s a platform where we can very quickly and easily get feedback and that sort of thing.

ES: Are you guys thinking about making a fourth album?

RZ: I think we’re planning on taking a bit of time off right now. We’re kind of burnt out; it’s been a really busy year, and we’re going to take some time off before we dive back into that.

ES: You’re finishing off your tour in Japan. How do you guys feel about that? Have you guys ever played internationally before?

RZ: Yeah, it’s going to be our fourth or fifth time to Japan and this trip’s particularly exciting because we’re going to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea in addition to Japan so we’re really going to some places that we’ve never been to before and we’re pretty stoked for that.

ES: What’s your favorite song to perform live? Do you have any special connections to a specific song?

RZ: Off the new record, I really like playing “When I Dream,” but it depends on the day.

ES: I’ve read in previous interviews that you guys have a connection to New Haven. Are you excited to be coming back?

RZ: It’s always fun to come back. We did live there for a few months back in the day. Milo was working at an architecture firm, and we played at Bar years ago. We always go to Pepe’s to get some pizza. It’s nice to feel a connection to the places we go, and its nice to come back to it and for it to feel familiar.

Crowning of Miss America

by Emily McGinty | September 25, 2013

On September 15, a new Miss America was crowned. Nina Davuluri’s journey to the title, however, started almost a year ago.

Photo Provided by AP

Photo Provided by AP

To better understand pageants, there are two televised beauty pageants: Miss USA and Miss America. There are other pageant systems that are international such as International Junior Miss, Miss Collegiate and National American Miss. Each system has its own areas of competition such as interview, talent, personal introduction and swimsuit. In any pageant system, one thing is true to all: it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.The Miss America Organization has three levels of competition. The first is a local title, which are given throughout the state. For this competition, girls vying for a title must fill out an application, which includes answers to a few questions as well as a detailed description of their platform. A platform is a contestant’s personal charity or organization that they will support throughout her year.

Before competing, all contestants must raise at least one hundred dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network. Before the pageant starts, all of the contestants go through a panel style interview in which the questions could range from platform, personal opinions or current events. When the pageant starts, the contestants perform a dance number and then answer an on stage question relating to their platform. Next, there is a talent competition in which each girl has a minute and a half to show their talent. Talents can range from tap dancing to opera. Then there is the swimsuit portion, which is also known as the lifestyle and fitness competition. Girls are judged on how well they stay healthy and fit. The last portion is the formal wear competition, in which the contestants can wear whatever style of dress they desire. These local title-holders then go on to compete in the statewide pageant. The state pageant has the same competition areas. The winner of the state pageant then goes on to compete for Miss America.

This year was especially exciting because Miss America went back to its birthplace, Atlantic City, New Jersey. This level of competition can be very rigorous. Girls arrive two weeks before the final pageant to start competing. During these weeks videos are filmed to be aired during the final pageant, appearances are made and preliminary competitions occur. Then on the day before the final pageant the Show Us Your Shoes parade takes place. During this event, each contestant gets to wear an outfit and pair of shoes that shows off their state or story. Some of the standouts this year were Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas clad in her military uniform and boots. Miss Missouri who brought Kate Middleton to Cardinal Nation, a bright red Cardinals cape and a feathered hat, and Miss Idaho, who wore a potato sack to represent her home state. After this event the current queens were around the boardwalk to take pictures and sign tons of autographs.

The final pageant was held on Sunday night, everyone was dressed to the nines and there was no shortage of crowns and banners. Titleholders from all over the country, from all different systems, came to cheer on their favorites. The show started with a tribute to families of fallen service men. Then the top 18 girls are called, 17 of these girls are chosen by their performance in the preliminary competitions and one was chosen by America. This years America’s choice was Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, who is a current member of the U.S. Army. Another unbelievable event was when Miss Florida was called to top 18; she tore her ACL earlier in the week, and would have to compete again in all the events. The top 18 then competed in swimwear, which was all from the Miss America line by Catalina. After the swimsuit competition Miss Arkansas, Miss Kentucky and Miss Mississippi were eliminated.

Then the girls competed in formal wear; Miss Missouri and Miss Wisconsin were eliminated. The next round was talent. This year there was a Bollywood dance, an opera, baton twirling, pointe ballet and Miss Connecticut’s Irish step dance that got a standing ovation. However, Miss Connecticut’s collective score was not high enough and she was eliminated along with Miss Texas, Miss Maryland, Miss Kansas and Miss Georgia.

The final portion of the competition was on stage questioning. The questions started with the first relating to Miley Cyrus’ twerking video and another discussing Syria. Miss Florida was cut off because of the time limit, causing the entire audience to react by booing the hosts, and yelling very angry comments. However, once the audience calmed down, the crowning started.

The top five girls included three of the five Asian-Americans competing, Miss Florida, who had competed the entire evening barefoot with a sparkly knee brace, and Miss Oklahoma who was a huge crowd favorite. However, the night ended with Nina Davuluri being crowned Miss America. She started out as Miss Syracuse, Miss New York, and made it to Miss America.

Davuluri’s platform is Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competence, which many believe is much needed after the reaction to her winning. This is the second year in a row New York has held the title of Miss America.

If you are interested in competing for a local title, Miss New Haven and Miss University of New Haven is being held Dec. 8, 2013. Contact for more details.

A New Physical Ability Test for Potential Firefighters

by Samantha Mathewson | February 20, 2013

The University of New Haven’s fire science program provides an advanced technical background for students, but are they not preparing them enough?

Although the city says it has no plan on following through with a new measure that would require potential employees to pass a Candidate Physical Ability Test, the New Haven Fore Union, Local 825, supports the proposal.

“The CPAT is an agility test that measures ones ability to perform the essential job functions of a firefighter.”

Other organizations say it is a racist tactic used to deny city residents opportunities, especially communities of color.

The test is recognized by the Justice Department as job related, but not everyone agrees. Victor A. Bolden, the city corporation counselor, said, “From the outset, the City’s Fire Department intended to ensure that candidates for the entry-level firefighter positions had sufficient physical agility skills to do the job, but not by using Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).”

The CPAT is viewed as a “racial controversy” after the union agreed to support a measure introduced by the Fire Commission to require a CPAT as a perquisite at time of application, and it is now being debated on whether to use or not based on the promise of equality among all applicants.

“This test will deny many New Haven residents the opportunity to be firefighters, especially women and communities of color,” said Lt. Gary Tinney, who is first assistant director of the black professional firefighters. Tinney believes in a diverse workforce and advocated that this career has gotten inner city youth off the streets, reducing both crime and gun violence.

After ensuring that the union would make sure a potential applicant was not discriminated against based on their economic status, they made a unanimous vote at last months meeting in favor of the CPAT. They also voted to send a letter to the mayor recommending that all new employees of the city be required to take it.

Union officials support their claim by stating, “We can’t find any documented case where a candidate failed out of any training academy in the nation for lack of physical fitness once they passed CPAT and that the applicant after passing should be confident that they can meet the physical fitness level necessary to complete the academy.”

In addition to ensuring that no discrimination will take place, Frank Ricci, union vice-president said the union is “providing preparation classes and transportation to take the practice and final tests,” and the costs of the application process will be covered. This is an attempt to settle citizen’s claims of “hardship.”

The rebuttal for his argument, made by Mike Neal, president of the New Haven Fire Birds Association, is that the city cannot afford such costs. The test costs $150 per person. It is not state mandated, and Neal thinks that the city will not be able to provide the adequate amount of services for all New Haven applicants.

The CPAT is going to have many who either agree or disagree with it, but Rev Boise Kimber, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, stated an alternative option, “no one is afraid of the CPAT, but allow the CPAT to be done during the training academy after people have been hired.”

Kimber, against the CPAT, said “this is an old trick; you change the game when it appears that a large numbers of blacks are applying.”

As times change and new standards are set, there are going to be more prerequisites necessary. Citizens who have commented on the issue have stated, “the most effective workforce is one that is educated, able, competent, and diverse, which is what this will test, and question how a ability test is viewed as racists.”

A comment on the New Haven Register article concerning the topic stated, “In my opinion it is to easy. We replaced our physical agility test with the CPAT many years ago. Since then, the failure rate in in our recruit academy has jumped to almost 30%. I have served as a training officer, and I can definitely say, that we have hired candidates only to release them due to a lack of physical strength.”

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