The Importance of Satire and Freedom to Mock

It may be an unpopular opinion nowadays, but the notion that people’s personal beliefs can’t be mocked or laughed at bothers me. To me, free speech is exactly that — the freedom to speak about whatever or whomever one wants to speak about. There should be no limits on freedom of speech and expression.

Those who practice religion can rub their holy books in anyone’s faces they like — we see this all the time, especially with athletes and the Bible. When Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a conference title last weekend, he proclaimed that God was the reason for his performance, and that God made him throw interceptions to set the scene for a dramatic ending. If someone so prominent in American popular culture can wag his personal religious beliefs in everyone’s faces, why can’t, say, an atheist satirist boast his beliefs and mock the other’s on behalf of those who also don’t conform to Christian ideals? Those who claim that religious folks have a God-given (pun intended) right to share their beliefs, which nonreligious people somehow lack, are propping up a dangerous double standard.

That’s why Pope Francis’ comments in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting irked me.

“Every religion has its dignity,” he said. “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. … If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal.”

While I don’t exactly expect the Pope to be a fan of mocking religion, it’s incredibly discouraging to see a public figure of his stature give free speech such a cruel gut-punch. It’s just plain wrong.

Satire is inexpressibly important to the health of our society. It’s a clever way to challenge ideas, both popular and unpopular, and force people to think critically about those ideas. It casts those ideas in a different light than usual and causes people to reconsider long-held opinions. It is a potent weapon against dogma and prejudice, but it is not violent in the least.

Jokes will certainly offend people. Such is life; not everything will please you. Your beliefs, whether they concern the Quran, the Bible, the Torah or any other holy book, will be mocked — if not for the fact that, using scientific evidence, those religious teachings are historically inaccurate and impossible to prove, then simply because free speech has no boundaries.

Satire has existed for centuries, even among our Founding Fathers. Benjamin Franklin, for example, is commonly identified as a man who always poked fun at what he found ridiculous. Publications all over the world, both foreign and domestic, verbally and photographically eviscerate religions, politicians and celebrities; just check out Punch, Mad and The Onion, to name a few. Charlie Hebdo, despite the fact that it deliberately provoked and took aim at a specific religion and set of beliefs, is no different. As Michael Taube of the Washington Times notes, the French weekly newspaper is not “anti-Muslim,” “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Christian.” They are an equal opportunity offender of all religions, all groups of people, all political parties and so on. To them, no group of people is too sacred to be scrutinized or made fun of. And, frankly, no group should be.

Last summer’s racially-motivated protests in the aftermath of events in Ferguson and New York led to widespread protests and the pursuit of equality — i.e., the idea that no individual person or group should be prioritized over others. That ideal applies to this conversation as well.

The goal of terrorists, whether they be radicalized Islamists or not, is to force their beliefs onto others and squelch any dissent. Tolerance is important, but it does not mean we must focus on pluralism to the extent that we curtail our own liberties. If we prioritize sensitivity to those radicalists over freedom of speech and expression, we’re giving the terrorists exactly what they want. The world must not go in that direction.


A State of Disunion Reaction to Obama's State of the Union Address

Yet another State of the Union address has gone by, and once again President Obama has had the glorious opportunity to tell us that the state of the union is strong. Employment is rising, the deficit is shrinking, and the middle-class grows richer by the day. Gas prices are low, health care is cheap, new immigrants bring promise to our future, and if Republicans in Congress try to derail this progress, their bill “will have earned my veto.” And to be fair, the President did not lie. But as is all too often the case in politics, that does not mean that he was telling the truth.

This speech was Obama’s sixth State of the Union address, and he gave the speech with confidence, affirming the victories his administration have overseen despite a hostile, often gridlocked Congress. Yet however strong the President’s rhetoric, it cannot hide the fact that his victories have been rather paltry and his defeats all the more crushing for that. President Obama’s optimistic comment that the United States is “stopping ISIL’s advance” seemed more delusional than admirable. His insistence on protecting sick leave in the workplace, providing community college education to citizens free of charge, and investing more heavily in infrastructure are all good ideas—but the funding necessary to provide them seems highly unlikely to be approved by a Republican Congress, a fact Obama knows perfectly well.

Not all of the President’s speech was empty rhetoric. His emphasis on increasing diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, despite fierce Republican opposition, shows that Obama has a backbone when it comes to protecting good policy. Yet he spent far too much of his valuable time on empty rhetoric about “middle-class economics,” a decision that seemed to me as nothing more than a ploy for popular opinion against his opponents in Congress. When the President’s presented the challenge, “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” he may have struck a chord with millions of citizens, but he spoke in question, not affirmation, because nothing he said leads me to believe that he is capable of changing that, regardless of what he “accepts”. And many Americans are starting to see through the charade— only thirty-two million people watched the State of the Union this year, far less than in other years. The State of the Union is “strong” as always, but the Union does not want to hear it, and rightly so.


Vanessensation A Look at Vanessa Kara's Soccer Career


On the soccer field, senior Vanessa Kara commands everyone’s attention as she effortlessly skips past the opposition with explosive movements and her electrifying pace.  Ever since she was a young player, she had dreams of playing Division I collegiate soccer.  However, her aspirations were nearly extinguished in her freshman year when she went down with an ACL tear.  Resilient and determined to overcome this setback, Kara wasted no time feeling sorry for herself.  She turned down that energy in the required rest and expelled it during grueling training which got her back to the field for her first college showcase in March of her sophomore year.

Kara took the field at Jefferson Cup that Spring of 2013 and began a scoring frenzy that college coaches couldn’t help but notice.  Numerous colleges promptly expressed strong interest in her. However, her return was soon halted, when, in the semi-finals of the New Jersey State Cup, Kara was once again cut down, this time by the opposition’s goalkeeper, and forced out of the game.  Later, she discovered she had torn the ACL in her other knee.  The news ripped a hole through her heart and her Division I dream.  Normally this would halt any further consideration of placement within a D-I college team, but not for Vanessa.  She had overcome all the odds before, and with the grit and determination of a true athlete, and the unfaltering resolve that is unique to her, she once again began her return to the game she loves.

Amazingly, she had no sooner wiped away the tears from her second surgery when her phone started to ring.  College offers began pouring in.  When asked why colleges would sign a broken player like Kara, they could only respond that nothing could break her spirit.  She had proven to the collegiate world that her skill and spirit to bounce back from adversity and her willingness to do whatever it takes to play her game were unstoppable.  She returned once again to play for her club and even for her high school soccer team.  With a hat trick, Kara led the Moorestown Friends Girls Soccer Team to win their first NJSIAA Non-Public B South championship in school history and beyond to their first State title match, in which they narrowly lost 1-0.

WordsWorth sat down with Kara to learn more about her story.

WordsWorth: What was the recruiting process like for you?

Vanessa Kara: The recruiting process was extremely stressful for me, considering I missed half of my sophomore recruiting season recovering from my first ACL injury. Once I played my first game in March, I had interest from a few schools. However, when I got hurt the second time, a little over two months after I was cleared, some schools backed off and told me to give up on going D-I. Going into my second surgery, I was very stressed out that I wouldn’t receive any offers.

WW: How many schools emailed/called/contacted you?

VK:  Altogether there were about twelve to fifteen schools that expressed interest in me, and from those schools I picked seven to visit. After those visits I cut it down to my four top schools.

WW: What were the last four schools you considered?

VK: The last four schools I was interested in were Drexel, Lehigh, Rutgers, and St. Joe’s.

WW: How has this past high school soccer season impacted you as a player?

VK: This high school season impacted me because it reinforced to me that all heart, belief, and teamwork can produce incredible things.  To get back on the field for MFS was especially important to me after my injuries, and I will carry the accomplishments of this season with me my next four years.

WW: How have your injuries impacted your relationship with soccer?

VK: My ACL recoveries impacted my view on soccer in a very big way. Before I got hurt I always knew I loved soccer but it was not until I was rehabbing, watching my teammates play, that I discovered how much I loved and wanted to pursue it. My experience helped me way more than it held me back because I started working a lot harder and gaining confidence. My recoveries showed me that I could overcome challenges and achieve my goals if I worked hard enough and believed in myself.

WW: Who is your favorite soccer player?

VK: Lionel Messi.  I believe he is the best player of all time. His style cannot be matched. He has also overcome a lot of physical challenges which has inspired me to not give up when I was hurt.

WW: What was the highlight of your soccer career?

VK: The highlight of my career was winning the National Championship with my PDA team last July.

WW:  Do you have any words to live by?

VK: “Two things will change your world, all heart and incredible self belief” – Jeremy Beardsley

Kara will continue her soccer career at Drexel University next fall.


MFS Basketball Exceeding Expectations

The weather is getting colder, but the MFS basketball teams are just heating up.

The girls and boys alike are playing very good basketball and posting very strong records. The Boys’ Team have a record of 7-6, already just two behind their 9 wins from the entire last season and three more than their 4 wins from 2012-13.  The girls have an even more impressive record of 7 wins and just 7 losses, with a 2-2 record in the Friends League. They are on pace to have a better season this year than their last two (12-11 and 10-13).

For the first time in the last few years, the boys are very exciting to watch.  The biggest difference from past years is the energy on the defensive side.  Their tenacious defense keeps opponents from running their offense properly, and often sparks fast breaks for the foxes.  Senior and defensive specialist Shailen Doshi attacks opponents with the ball with relentless intensity, and will stop at nothing to prevent him from scoring.  Another key reason for the Foxes’ success this season is that they are finishing around the basket.  Big men on the team John Nutaitus and C.J Eni are both scoring with more efficiency.  The majority of their offense is run to get players a close shot at the basket, thus increasing their chances of scoring. It also helps when you have a player like Jordan White, who assists many of Joe Beideman’s 17 points per game.  Significant wins for the team include a 53-25 shellacking victory against George School, a 54-42 win at Friends Select, and a comeback victory against LEAP 57-52.

The girls’ basketball team this year may be the deepest team that fans have seen in a while.  After star freshman Charlotte Stern went down with an high-ankle sprain, senior Olivia Sowa stepped up and filled Stern’s role exceptionally well.  To put it simply, the main reason this time is so successful is that they can score.  Each starter on the team has the ability to drop 15 points on any given night, and, each can do so in a different fashion than the other, thus making it even harder for teams to stop them.  Alaina Shivers, with her tremendous shot from behind the arc, can sink 5 three-point shots in the blink of an eye.  Sarah Henig can drive the ball and score from the free-throw line, or by making tough, contested layups.  Alyssa Runyan can do a little of everything; her combination of outside shooting prowess and ability to drive the basket make her a nearly indefensible weapon.  Camille Aguilar, when she isn’t facilitating shots, can score up top or down low.

Overall, both of the MFS Basketball Teams have made great strides towards success this season. With a great roster on both sides, and plenty of potential to go far this season, let’s hope success awaits them on the road ahead.


Unbroken Review

Angelina Jolie made a wise choice of movie for her directorial debut; the life story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic athlete turned U.S. Air Force Captain could not help but make a great film. With Unbroken, Jolie picked an essentially fail-safe story to tell, and she succeeded in not making it a failure. However, she didn’t take the story’s potential to nearly as great heights as Zamperini’s extraordinary life deserved..

Unbroken tells the inspirational true story of Zamperini’s survival against incredible odds during World War II. After his plane went down in the Pacific ocean, Zamperini floated in shark-infested waters on a raft for over a month. Zamperini then survived over two years in a Japanese POW camp before the war ended.

Jolie’s decisions as a director were passable at best. I found the storyline in the POW camp somewhat confusing. It was unclear how much time was passing, and the interactions between Zamperini and one of his captors was confusing. Very little music was used in the movie, and that absence weakened the emotional impact of the story.

The movie’s most significant flaw is how much important detail was left out from the book it is based upon. A significant portion of the book was about Zamperini’s life after the war and his religious devotion, but the movie ended with the end of the war, and merely displayed a few facts about Zamperini’s life after the war. Obviously movies have to cut out sections of the books upon which they are based, but Zamperini’s postwar religious journey was too important a section of the book to exclude.

While Jolie had some serious shortcomings as a director, the film’s remarkable source material still made for a very entertaining watch. The story of Zamperini’s incredible survival is inspiring regardless of how it is told, so I definitely recommend checking out Unbroken.


Into the Woods Review

Disney took on the task of adapting a successful Broadway play into a movie this winter. Into the Woods premiered on Christmas Day 2014. As a contemporary twist on the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm, the movie follows Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood as their lives intertwine in the Woods, all tied together with the story of a Baker and his wife.

Overall, the movie was fantastic.  I’ve always enjoyed a complicated plot, with stories-within-stories, and Into The Woods did not disappoint. The twists on the classic stories we’ve all heard a thousand times made the movie fresh and interesting; even when I thought I knew what was going on, there was a twist that makes the old story seem new again. For example, Cinderella doesn’t really want the Prince, because  the Prince is full of himself, and, quite frankly, annoying. This twist is definitely not the classic fairytale cliche. The movie was engaging; whenever there is a complex storyline with a story-within-a-story, you have to pay attention as to not miss anything. And the shocking ending—I won’t give anything away, other than that someone dies—which I was quite surprised to see, considering this is a Disney movie (even if it is an adaptation), and there are always Happily-Ever-Afters in Disney films. Even the soundtrack was catchy, and it is clear how the original musical won a Tony for Best Score, along with two others.

Many well-known stars appeared in this adaptation, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Daniel Huttlestone, James Corden, and Johnny Depp, many of whom I was excited to see. Daniel Huttlestone, recognizable from his part in the movie adaptation of Les Miserables, played Jack, and was easily my favorite character; he was absolutely adorable.

This film also marked the fourth movie that Lucy Punch played an evil stepsister role; she was also in Ella Enchanted, Cinderella 2000, and a BBC adaptation of Cinderella. I had recognized her from Ella Enchanted, and was surprised to see how many times she has played this role.

Johnny Depp was great as the Big Bad Wolf, as well; he took on the part fully, and somehow made the whiskers, hat (with built-in fox ears), and even the tail frightening in the extreme. However, it seems like Depp is always playing the same role: the mysterious and crazy character, like the Mad Hatter in Alice and Wonderland. I’d like to see him branch out more, and let someone else step up to the plate for these types of roles.

Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen were especially hilarious, with the ‘Agony’ scene easily being my favorite part of the movie both musically and comically. If you don’t see the movie for any other reason, I’d say to see it for this scene.

My rating: a must-see.  Everyone can enjoy this movie for children of all ages and bring out their inner Disney.


MFS Reacts to Local Teen Suicides

Many teens around the Burlington City area have expressed sorrow about two Burlington Township High School students, Mike Steve, 18, and Adnan “Ado” Halkic, 15, who recently committed suicide.

“When I heard about the first kid, Ado, I was pretty surprised,” said MFS junior Jess Richards.  “As far as I knew, he was a cute kid, popular, a varsity football player as a freshman.  A lot of my friends were upset since they go to the same school, and it was hard to see them that way … I was really heartbroken when just days later, Mike, a senior, took his own life on Monday night. There was hardly any time to get past Ado, and then another classmate passed … no one had any idea that neither Mike or Ado had issues and everyone was caught off guard upon hearing of their deaths, that bothered me. All I could think about is whether or not I knew anyone who could be struggling with the same things.”

Richards attended Halkic’s memorial service, posted a picture on Instagram, and stood up in Meeting for Worship to raise awareness for Ado, Mike, and the issue of suicide in general.

Susan Batastini, Educational/Psychological Coordinator at MFS, noted important lessons to be taken from the situation.

“It’s a great tragedy of course to see any teen or young person take their life. I think what it does is affects us all … People are struggling with a lot of things. I think we need as students and staff to be aware … and be sensitive to the whole thing. We always encourage students to come to me if they’re worried about something, or someone else. It’s important to reach out to a person if they’re struggling. Saying, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ is really important … to support and be sensitive to what’s going on with our teens can not be stressed enough.”


Key Cards Replaced

In an effort to stop the constant nuisance of students trapped outside the building with no key cards, MFS administration has replaced the cards with individual five-digit PINs, reasoning that students will have an easier time remembering a short number than constantly carrying around a key.

Hartman Hall, a relatively new building to MFS, is beloved for its comfortable sunroom, stylish classrooms, and sweet air conditioning. But as great a building as it is, one thing has consistently been a source of stress for students and teachers alike, and it’s not the trek to get there; it’s the key cards required to enter the building.

Besides opening Hartman Hall, the key cards were once necessary to open several entrances to the main building, including the door to the Field House Commons. Now, all these entrances have been fitted with new keypads, and students can open the doors using their own five-digit code.

Student reactions have been quite mixed.

“My number didn’t even work for the first two days! Key cards are so much easier — you can just swipe them. Now you have to lean down and enter the code, which takes a lot longer. Plus no one told me which keypad to use,” said senior Erica D’Costa.

Senior Katherine Thai agreed that the numbers were confusing, saying, “I was almost late to class because no one told me about the star after the number.  Thanks for nothing, MFS.”

On the other hand, Sophomore Rachael Whitley said, “I like the new codes because I haven’t actually had a key card since seventh grade.  It was a personal record. So now I can actually get into the building when I need to.”

Teachers have been similarly hesitant to embrace the new system. Middle School teacher Kathi Bernard, whose classroom is right beside the entrance to Hartman Hall, has long faced the annoyance of letting in students who have lost their cards.

“To be honest, I had some doubts about moving to number codes,” said Bernard.  However, she has been satisfied with the results so far.  “From what I have seen, the transition has been smooth.  I suppose it makes sense to use numbers to get to math class!”

Only time will tell if the new system is an improvement upon the old one. But as the freezing New Jersey winter goes on, only one thing is certain: regardless of whether they use cards or codes to get there, students and teachers alike will be eager to get indoors quickly.


Boys’ Basketball Preview

Senior Joe Beideman hopes  this year to lead his team to victory

Coach’s Corner
Despite losing the team’s second leading scorer, Dhalil Sadiq, and another key guard, Dan Richards, Head Coach Colin Haynes remains optimistic.
“We have a great senior class with most of them having Varsity experience, each of them having certain skill sets,” Haynes said. He also specifically referenced sophomore point guard Jordan White, whom he expects to have a “phenomenal” year, as well as a talented and hard-working group of freshmen.
Despite the major losses, he isn’t wavering one bit: “We would like to remain as Audubon Holiday Tournament champions, make the Friends League playoffs, make the NJSIAA playoffs, and get better each and every day.”

Player Expectations
“I think we have great chemistry this year with many seniors on the team,” Senior co-captain Joe Beideman said. “We are looking to be competitive in the friends league, while not getting down on ourselves for losing to future NBA players. We hope to win the Audubon Tournament for the second year in a row and overall have a fun year as a team.”

Last Season
Last season was a bounceback year for the Foxes, posting a 9-13 record with three Friends League wins and an Audubon Tournament title. They put their brutal 4-21 campaign in 2013, during which they went winless in the Friends League, behind them.


Girls’ Basketball Preview

Coach’s Corner
The Foxes will play must-watch basketball this winter. “My expectation for the year,” Coach Mike Brunswick said, “is for us to make both the state playoffs and the Friends League Playoffs.”  Brunswick believes that these are very achievable goals due to the sheer talent that the Foxes will have on their roster this season. He is very optimistic about the season but recognizes that because of the youth, it is going to be a learning process when he noted that “[the young players] will make great plays, but they will also make rookie mistakes. Our success on the season will be determined by how quickly our players get adjusted to the speed of play”.

Players to Watch
This team is very deep, meaning that they have a lot of players that can contribute to the team’s success this year. Coach Brunswick mentioned a group of five freshmen whom he was especially excited about. The five girls that make up this solid group of freshmen are Charlotte Stern, Alyssa Runyan, Alexis Watson, Samantha Ghazal, and Gwen Gignac. Along with the newcomers to the team, there are some returning players who can contribute to the success of the team greatly. Sophomore Camille Aguilar is expected to shine this year after impressing her coaches last season. Coach Brunswick stated that “the senior leaders will have to step up because of the team’s youth.”

Last Season
The Foxes posted a 12-11 record last season against a tough schedule. In terms of their Friends League record, they ended the year with a 4-5 mark, and just missing out on the playoffs. With a harsh finish to last season, losing to Gil St. Bernards by a score of 82-24, the girls look to make a statement early this season.