Saint Louis U. United Students Against Sweatshops bare all — almost

By Leah Lavelle ST. LOUIS - “We’d Rather Be Naked Than Wear Sweatshop Clothing,” was the message presented in a publicity photo shoot held Tuesday by United Students Against Sweatshops. Krispie Kreme donuts and music with a beat set the scene as 26 students gathered -- wearing shorts, tank tops and underwear but baring their legs and shoulders -- in front of the cameras. The semi-nude photographs were taken as part of the organization’s rally to draw attention to the problem of sweatshop labor and how it could affect Saint Louis University. Before the photos were taken, students listened as John Carroll, a USAS coordinator, said that several pieces of apparel sold in the University bookstore might be manufactured by underpaid workers in the deplorable working conditions in sweatshop factories. Although the sources of all of the clothing are not known, Carroll said later, the bookstore is unable to claim that all of its apparel is made outside of sweatshops -- so far. The goal of USAS, presenters at the rally announced, has been to encourage SLU to affiliate itself with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent group that works with laborers at identified sweatshop factories to better their working conditions. If SLU does become affiliated with the organization, Carroll said, the WRC would help to ensure that none of the companies that produce SLU apparel do so with sweatshop labor. Carroll described a picture of the inside of one of the factories he visited in the Dominican Republic earlier this year: “You can tell this is not a sweatshop because it’s brightly lit, and two people have a lot of space in which to work and they were playing nice music in the background.” At a sweatshop factory, “I was not allowed to take pictures,” Carroll said. “[It was] darker, smaller; there were more people and they were making swimsuits for Wal-mart.” More than 40 students listened to the presentation, then some created posters using facts and quotes, provided by USAS, about sweatshop labor around the world. Later, interested students stripped down to their boxers, tank tops and swimsuits and stood behind the posters to create the look of nudity for the publicity photographs. “It’s a way of getting people’s attention and a way of getting people to open their eyes,” said freshman participant Laura Brandstetter. “It’s important that USAS is trying to get SLU to join [the WRC] that checks up on clothing companies I think we’re really behind the times on that.” According to the USAS presentation, 163 colleges and universities are affiliated with the WRC. Some participating schools are Boston College, Georgetown University, Tulane University and Loyola University Chicago. “The cost to SLU will be $1,000, exactly, to affiliate with the Workers’ Rights Consortium,” Carroll said during the presentation. He said that the group had been waiting for a specific number with which they could go forward in promoting the affiliation. The SLU bookstore is already affiliated with another workers’ rights group, the Fair Labor Association, said Kathryn Jonas, another USAS coordinator. USAS appreciates that the bookstore is associated with the FLA, said Jonas. Still, “just the FLA isn’t comprehensive enough,” she said. The FLA does its work through corporations, said Jonas, so it is funded by the corporations when it takes action to protect those corporations’ laborers. “This often presents a conflict of interests,” said Jonas. “But the WRC is funded completely by grants [such as SLU would pay],” she said, because it has “no corporation involvement.”

Student loan interest might fall

Students might see decrease in loan interest soon College interest rates on student loans may be cut in half now that the Democrats are in control of both Houses. The new House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has stated that if the Democrats gained control they would act immediately to make higher education more affordable by cutting interest rates on student loans in half, and increasing the tax deductibility of college tuition. This proposal could be passed as soon as next year when congress will reconvene after Christmas. This is good news to many students and their parents who have become burdened with debt due to the high interest rates. Beth Murphy, a Missouri Western junior, is one of the many students who could benefit from the lowering of interest rates. “Basically, if interest rates went down it would help me because I would not be in as much debt after graduation, which is a big concern for me especially if it becomes a challenge to find a job after graduation,” Murphy said. Murphy is just one of many students who have to take out loans to pay their way through college since many students and parents cannot afford to pay for it themselves. “I believe if congress could cut interest rates that would help us students who need help paying for school,” Murphy said. “Being a person who is trying to better myself, I feel that I and others like me shouldn’t have to worry about money when we should be focusing on our education.” Jeff Cunningham, a financial aid coordinator at MWSU, would be thrilled if the interest rates were cut. “Whatever they could do to help students would help me,” Cunningham said. “If they slashed the interest rates that would cost me less money now and less money later.” Though this proposal is high on the to-do list for Democrats it may never happen. Even with control of both Houses the Senate is very narrowly divided with the Democrats holding only 51 seats. Without enough support from Republicans and the president this proposed plan might never become realized. The Democrats are expecting to redraft the Higher Education Policy that was approved in Congress but was never heard by the senate. This effort may be put behind the renewal of the No Child Left behind Act, an act that the Democrats are eager to begin work on. Murphy hopes that this proposal will be realized sooner rather than later. “I hope this proposal goes through, I would love to be debt free before I am 30,” Murphy said.

New editions give video games a jihadist spin

By Rob Tricchinelli WASHINGTON - In September, a video game called “Quest for Bush” was released by the Global Islamic Media Front, an organization with ties to al Qaeda. In the first-person shooter game, also titled “Night of Bush Capturing,” players move through a variety of levels before a final showdown with a character that looks like President Bush. The game also features jihadist music. The game bears more than a slight resemblance to “Quest for Saddam,” a game created in 2003 by Jesse Petrilla. In that game, players also fight through several levels before a final confrontation with Saddam Hussein. Petrilla expected some copycats to pop up after he created “Quest for Saddam,” but “Quest for Bush” wasn’t what he had in mind. “I wasn’t expecting it from the terrorists,” said Petrilla. “What people don’t realize is that the war on terror is fought in the media,” he added. “This is another tool they are using to spread their message of anti-Americanism.” Petrilla also founded the United American Committee, an organization that lists one of its goals as “unity of all Americans against the threats of Islamic extremism which face our nation.” On Sept. 10, the UAC staged a demonstration in front of the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Calif., in which members hung an effigy of Osama bin Laden from a makeshift gallows. The gameplay in the two games is essentially identical; the major differences between the two are in music and graphics. In “Quest for Bush,” the game missions have titles such as “Jihad Beginning,” “Searching for Bush” and “Bush Hunted Like a Rat.” Zach Whalen, a Web master, writer and editor with Gameology, a site offering commentary and resources for game studies, offered an extensive comparison of “Quest for Bush” and “Quest for Saddam.” “There is very little ‘development’ evident in the game,” said Whalen. “It’s a straightforward re-skinning of ‘Quest for Saddam’ that simply exchanges references to Saddam with references to George W. Bush. ... Whoever modified this game didn’t have to do any programming at all.” Whalen also notes that even filenames of graphics are the same. In “Quest for Bush,” the graphics file for the Bush lookalike, is called “Saddam.png.” “Even to call it a mod is a stretch,” added Petrilla. Petrilla also created a game called “Quest for Al-Qaeda” in 2002. He defended his games as satire; something he does not believe applies to “Quest for Bush.” “What they’re doing is promoting violence,” he said. “Blasting Americans in the game, it’s certainly not satirical.” “What I think is important and interesting about both games, however, is the way their programmatic relationship reveals an underlying logical similarity between the anti-Saddam and anti-Bush messages,” said Whalen. The Middle East-based Afkar Media has produced several video games from an Islamic perspective, but they are far from propaganda. One of their most popular games, “UnderAsh,” features a young Palestinian fighting against Israeli occupation forces. Afkar’s developers have been quick to distance their games from ones like “Quest for Bush.” David Weigel is the assistant editor of Reason magazine, a libertarian monthly. In Reason’s “Hit & Run Blog,” Weigel said that, unlike anti-Bush games, “Games like ‘UnderAsh’ are inherently more interesting -- they’re the creations of fed-up Muslim nerds, not propagandizing Islamists. They’ve got more in common with Mecca Cola than ethnic cleansing.” Brian Bonner, who runs a right-wing blog called the “The Uncooperative Blogger,” wrote about “Quest for Bush:” “If you are playing this game, you are in bed with the terrorists, plain and simple.”

Energy drinks, alcohol equals unhealthy combination

By Jennifer Hoffman PITTSBURGH - It’s safe to mix alcohol and energy drinks right? Wrong. Mixing caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull and Full Throttle with alcohol puts unnecessary stress on the body, dehydrating it and “pulling your brain and your central nervous system in two different directions,” Joe Mull, substance abuse prevention specialist from Student Health Services’ Health Education Office, warned. “Understand that when you’re putting that much caffeine into your body, it’s going to mask the effects of alcohol, and you’re probably going to feel more sober than you are,” he said. Energy drinks mixed with alcohol is also a concern for the cardiovascular system. “One of the concerns is that when you have a lot of caffeine, your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up,” Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC’s Center for Sports Medicine, said. “Now we have double stress [on the heart] because alcohol dehydrates.” Caffeine appeal aside, Red Bull’s Website lists taurine as a special ingredient in its energy drink, a “conditionally essential” amino acid naturally occurring in the body that cannot be replenished quickly enough during high-stress, physical activities. It also notes “taurine acts as an antioxidant and has been shown to promote detoxification by binding together with harmful substances and thereby accelerating their excretion from the body.” “What you’re probably seeing is a ... tremendous amount of marketing without a lot of substance,” Meg Mayer-Costa, dietitian in Student Health Services’ Health Education Office, said. “Unfortunately, herbal supplements aren’t regulated in this country, so you end up with a lot of mythical effects. What you’re left with is a caffeinated beverage trying to fight that depressant effect.” A nonessential amino acid, taurine “doesn’t have any harmful effects, but it doesn’t have any beneficial effects either,” Bonci said. For Mull, this marketing strategy “is kind of a fancy way of saying that our drink will make you pee.” The best way to recover from a night of drinking is to sleep it off, Mull said, so long as the person is not seriously intoxicated. “You really impair the body’s healing as fast as it wants to because you’ve added all this other stuff,” Mayer-Costa said. “The liver does not multitask well,” Mull said. “It doesn’t really focus on anything else until it’s done with the alcohol.” For a college student that adds several energy drinks to the drunken mix, “you’re going to increase the drunk experience many times over,” Mull said. And that goes for the hangover, too. “The body can only process half an ounce of alcohol per hour -- no more, no less,” he said. “[Drinking an energy drink with taurine] is not necessarily going to speed up your body’s processing.” For the one person in 25 who is a diabetic, the large amount of sugars in energy drinks can also throw the body’s blood sugar levels out of balance. While blood sugar levels may not be the first concern for an average consumer, the calorie content may, despite Red Bull’s Website claiming its product “stimulates metabolism.” “It really adds up calorically,” Bonci said. “A lot are 200, 350 calories a can, and if you’re going to mix alcohol with that - that’s a lot.” Seth Wimer, sophomore, consumes about one energy drink a week. “They’re for exams, when I’m writing papers, when I know I’ll be [awake for awhile],” he said. Wimer says he probably won’t try mixing them with alcohol anytime soon. “I’ve realized the power of energy drinks after drinking them and not being able to fall asleep. Mixing them with alcohol is probably not a good idea,” he said. Wimer is more responsible with energy drink consumption than many of those University of Pittsburgh athletes and students that Bonci talks to at UPMC’s Center for Sports Medicine. “Nobody’s thinking about the possible downsides [to mixing energy drinks with alcohol],” Bonci said. “We just cannot be enamored by some of the claims. If we’re going to consume [energy drinks with alcohol], we must be aware and do so in moderation.”

Study shows casual sex harmful to women

By Michael Shelton UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Casual sex can be a depressing experience, a recent study said. A study done for the recent publication of the Journal of Sex Research, “No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students” concluded that college-aged women who have a history of casual sex tend to feel more depressive symptoms after their sexual experiences than men do. The study found that 18 percent of females and 3 percent of males thought their most recent casual sex experience was “the beginning of a romance,” and this disparity, the authors said, could be the reason for the difference in depressive symptoms. The study’s sample included 404 undergraduate students in introductory psychology courses at a large public university in the southeastern United States. The study excluded the results from lesbian, gay and non-traditional students -- those married or older than 21. More than half of the students surveyed who were sexually active said they engaged in casual sex -- sex with someone who they were not currently involved in a romantic relationship with. Seven percent of the males in the sample said their recent casual sex experience was “experimentation,” while 14 percent of females described it as such. The study also found that casual sex occurred more often between friends than between strangers. Simon Holowatz, a community health educator at Penn State University Health Services, had some concerns about the study’s findings. People on TV have casual sex all of the time, but the consequences are never shown, he said. “People have a perception [about sex] that’s not really accurate,” Holowatz said. Holowatz said a romantic relationship is the best place for sex because there is security in knowing that someone can be open with his or her partner. It creates less anxiety and makes each partner feel more valued, he said. “People should do what most fits with their values,” said Debby Herbenick, a psychologist and lecturer at The Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Herbenick said she prefers to use the term “uncommitted sex” rather than casual sex to describe the encounters in the study because it better describes the type of relationship people are engaged in. “For some people, there are benefits,” she said, adding that practicing communication and sexual skills may benefit people engaged in these kind of non-committed relationships.