David Suzuki is the word on the street

At the end of a long sunny day filled with families, world-famous authors and millions of words, it was really an excited fisherman from British Columbia who stole the show.

On Sunday, acclaimed environmentalist David Suzuki made an appearance at the city’s annual Word on the Street festival to promote his newly published autobiography.

The well-attended talk at the Scotiabank Bestsellers Stage saw Suzuki give a short visual presentation on some of the highlights of his life, showing the audience private pictures of his family, experiences of his childhood, the early days of his academic career and his later life working on the popular CBC show The Nature of Things.

But throughout the talk, Suzuki always returned to the urgent issue of the environment and its impact on the future. This personal message emphasized as crucial to everyone came full circle with a final film clip of Suzuki’s daughter Severn speaking at the Rio Earth Summit at the age of 12. Her speech highlighted how the adults of the world were ignoring the effects of their actions on their own children and how everyone’s future would be threatened as a result.

More than just a publicity plug for his new book, Suzuki used this appearance to show the kinds of experiences and people that shaped his desire to affect change, while also paying tribute to those who have inspired him along the way. He urged much of his audience to continue fighting for environmental causes, emphasizing that it is an issue that affects all Canadians on an everyday basis.

But for one more example of how Suzuki has already inspired a generation of activists, you need to look no further than his daughter Severn as a great example. One politician in particular approached her after the speech at the Rio Earth Summit and highly complimented the younger Suzuki for her message. It was none other than American senator Al Gore.

Hidden cancer, sequenced genome

Treating cancer is the biggest challenge faced by modern medicine—one in three people will acquire some form of cancer in their lifetime—and many recent developments offer hope for an eventual cancer-free world. Francis S. Collins is leading this quiet revolution by looking at the instruction manual found in every single one of the human body’s 100 trillion cells: the human genome.

Hosted by the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, Collins spoke this past Tuesday in the main auditorium of the shiny, sleek MaRS centre in Toronto. He delivered an hour-long talk regarding recent advances in genomics relating to cancer research ranging from finding mutations to genetic screening for at-risk individuals. His message was direct and hopeful: current research on the human genome is offering vital clues to the origins of many forms of cancer.

Collins came from simple beginnings on a small farm in Virginia and ended up heading one of the most important scientific collaborations in history. He led the Human Genome Project starting in 1993, charged with the huge task of sequencing the human genome.

“Frankly not very popular as an idea when it first came along—a lot of people thought it wouldn’t be possible,” said Collins.

Incredibly, the project was completed in 2003, two years ahead of time and under budget. Looking at the U.S. $3 billion price tag, it is all too easy to wonder if the endeavour was worth the cost. However, the information provided is proving to be an invaluable resource for researchers around the world.

DNA is an elegant and simple system of data storage used by every living organism on Earth. It consists of four base molecules named T, C, G and A that match up with each other and form long strands. The order of these letters dictates the production of specific proteins when the cell’s machinery reads the base pairs and assembles the corresponding chain of amino acids. What is truly incredible is the compactness of this data storage system.

“Our genomes are made up of about 3.15 billion of these letters. If we were to read them out seven days a week, 24 hours a day, we’d be here for 31 yearsand you have that information in every cell in your body,” said Collins.

Cancer has a lot to do with DNA. In order for a cell to divide, its DNA must be copied accurately. Mechanisms exist to avoid errors—“like the spellchecker in your DNA copy system”—since mistakes in the replication process can be disastrous if they are not fixed. Even changing just one letter in a sequence can have serious consequences, as the protein described by the new instructions may not be functional.

“Cancer happens when it [DNA replication] doesn’t go well and you make a mistake copying or repairing DNA in a vulnerable part of the genome,” said Collins. “Fundamentally, cancer is a disease of the genome.”

Family history affects the types of cancers an individual is most at risk of acquiring. Mutations in the genome, passed down through generations, may increase one’s risk of cancer if they occur in certain areas of the genome. Researchers identified highly hereditary forms of cancer, such as retinoblastoma and certain forms of colon cancer and breast cancer, by looking at certain parts of the genome where they suspected inherited mutations would lie. The problem with the approach, Collins explained, is that it is like searching under a lamppost on a dark street for a dropped set of keys. If the keys happen to be near the lamppost, they can be found—but what if they are somewhere else on the street?

Here again is where a collaborative scientific approach comes into play. Researchers already suspected that changes in one base pair (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms) could be a source of runaway cancerous growths. Many scientists from around the world are currently working on a project, known as The International HapMap project, to identify all these single base pair differences of which there are an estimated ten million.

“SNPs are all the rage in the genetics community right now—we have a growing interest in tracking down the ones involved in disease risk,” said Collins.

The results from this work have been surprising. Rather than appearing randomly throughout the genome, these SNPs seem to occur in groups on certain parts of the genome. Even more curious is that certain SNPs close together have been found guilty of causing different types of cancer.

“It’s like winning the lottery twice by playing the same number. Somehow, everything is landing on top of everything else,” said Collins.

Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology have helped genomic research greatly. The price of sequencing a piece of DNA has dropped drastically in the past 10 years, costing only an eighth of a penny per base pair. Having an affordable way to look at certain stretches of DNA allows for researchers to have a wider search beam: knowing which SNPs may pose a cancer risk allows for effective screening of individuals before it is too late.

“Cancer is a circumstance where within the DNA you have time bombs that could go off. All of us probably have dozens of these that put us at risk of one thing or another,” said Collins.

Unlocking the secrets held within the tightly coiled DNA strands of the human genome has already led to amazing innovations, such as Gleevec. A super-effective cancer fighting drug, it was administered to 32 patients with advanced chronic myeloid leukemia. Incredibly, 31 of the 32 patients made a full recovery and have been in remission for at least seven years.

From Nixon famously declaring war on cancer in 1971 to Terry Fox’s heroic battle against it, cancer is a topic that carries serious weight in the minds and hearts of many. There is reason for hope, however, and this theme was present throughout the entire lecture. Collins ended his talk with a quote by James Russell Lowell, one that describes neatly where the future of cancer research is headed:

“Not failure, but low aim, is a crime.”

He added, “We’ve finally figured out how to light up the street.”

Canadian army forced out of U Victoria

Student union bans recruiters, accused of shoring up left-wing support.

An already bitter left-right divide simmered as the University of Victoria Student Society announced its decision to ban Armed Forces recruiters from their career day, to be held in January, claiming the Armed Forces commits war crimes that make it unacceptable as an employer of the university’s students.

The left-leaning student union, registered under the Canadian Federation of Students, has recently been at odds with conservative, liberal and even several independent groups since the controversial ousting of a popular UVSS chairperson candidate in last year’s election. Right-leaning campus groups have expressed dissent, claiming that the student union has no business banning recruiters from the fair and that students themselves should decide where they would or would not like to work.

A Facebook group was promptly formed to campaign against the UVSS decision. Several angry students spoke up, condemning the lack of respect for the army, and lauding the opportunities it gave them.

“If nothing else, I would hope this whole debacle would inspire a new wave of political awareness in the student body,” posted Daniel Gray from the U of V. “This can be used as a slingshot to raise voter turnout at the next election and increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of the next UVSS board.” He then invited members of the group to stand as UVSS candidates in the next election.

A coalition of dissenting groups plan on moving to reconsider the decision at the next BoD meeting on Oct. 18.

Men’s hockey preview: Team confident and optimistic heading into a new season

After capturing their seventh consecutive Mid-East title, Men’s hockey looks to improve on last year’s success. The Blues finished with an 18-9-1 record and had a strong playoff run, shutting out and sweeping the ninth-ranked McGill Redmen 1-0 and 2-0, before losing two tough 5-4 games in overtime to Université de Trois-Rivières. Last year’s season was an improvement of 10 wins from the 2005-06 season, when the Blues finished 8-13-2-1, going 8-2-1-1 in the last twelve games.

“We have a number of players who have experienced both winning and losing. We were close to a championship last year and we are confident that we could be a good team. Last year was a big confidence boost,” said Blues coach Darren Lowe.

“Obviously you strive to be champions, but we want to at least match last year’s success,” said Blues rookie Stephen Duffy. “I would just like to have a positive impact and help the team as best I can.”

Last year’s team consisted of mostly second and third-year players. Coach Lowe says that about 50 per cent of those players have returned this year.

But there are two notable omissions from the lineup: Captain Simon Barg, who was second on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists, and OUA MVP goalie Ryan Grinnell, who led the Mid-East with a goals against average of 2.20 and a .920 save percentage.

“Both Ryan and Simon will be missed,” said Lowe, “but our point leader, Anthony Pallotta, is back, as well as our leading scorer, Joe Rand.”

Pallotta led the team in points last year with a score of 36, while Joe Rand netted 18 goals. To fill the void left by Barg, both team members need to have similarly successful seasons. On defence, the Blues will need the leadership of top defenceman Brenden Sherrard to galvanize the team from the back and ease the load off the net.

“We have two first-year goalies with good junior backgrounds. While they may not have the same experience as Ryan [Grinnell], they are more prepared than when Ryan started”, said Lowe.

Last season, stricter rules were imposed for stick infractions, making specialty teams’ success crucial for victory. The Blues only converted on 12.3 per cent of their power plays last season, but they are looking to improve other aspects of their game.

“Our power play is second right now,” said Blues defenceman Darrell Simich. “We have been working mostly on the penalty kill.”

“We want to focus on our defence and get that set so we can build from there,” explained Duffy.

Though the Blues may be in a weaker division with Ryerson, Queen’s, and Royal Military College, who had a total of 17 wins between them last year, U of T needs to create a strong defence, as all three teams continue to get better. “Last year Ryerson and Queen’s both had a full-time coach for the first time in quite a while. RMC has hired Adam Shell, McGill’s old coach, who has worked with a successful system. All three teams will be much improved by these coaching changes in all aspects of the game,” , advised Lowe.

The Blues head into the last portion of their exhibition season with a tournament in Michigan against tough Division 1 American teams. This will be the ultimate test for the Blues, a chance to see what they have accomplished in camp and during the preseason. “You can’t really prepare for Division 1 teams,” said Simich. “You just want to play your game and play the system, and try and gauge where we are at as a team and what to improve on.” The Blues begin their season with two road games on Oct. 12, against Guelph, and Oct. 13, against Brock, before returning home for two games, against York on Oct. 17 and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology on Oct. 19.

Halal food hard to swallow at UTSC

The Muslim Students Association at UTSC has ignited a fierce debate on the particulars of halal food on campus, refusing to support a long-awaited halal option at a Bluff’s, a UTSC campus restaurant.

The result of numerous faculty, staff and student requests, the new menu was introduced to the campus on May 29, making all chicken and beef options certified halal. Despite this, many MSA members say that any establishment that also serves alcohol and plays dance music is an unsuitable environment for their dietary needs.

This disagreement between the MSA and the university is not the first. Halal food has long been a hot topic at UTSC. With its large population of Muslim students and the politically active MSA counting hundreds of members, the issue of proper accommodations for halal food has repeatedly come up as a major point in student elections and public task forces.

Some students said the restaurant, in failing to accommodate those who prefer not to eat at an alcoholic establishment, made more of a negative gesture than a positive one with the menu option.

“This initiative was brought forth solely by Bluff’s without ever consulting the MSA or Muslim students. If this was a deliberate accommodation, it’s kind of offensive in giving us the food in a manner unsuitable to us,” said Ahmad Jaballah, a former MSA executive and current Scarborough Campus Students Union VP students and equity.

Jaballah also argued that patronizing such an establishment is wrong because Muslim students would provide revenue for Bluff’s to purchase alcohol—an action forbidden by hadith, a Prophetic saying.

But Food and Beverages Manager Zalia Conde disagrees, noting that the Bluff’s restaurant serves alcohol under the university’s liquor license, rather than a license of its own. In fact, it is through the university that U of T dining establishments purchases alcohol.

When asked about the controversy, a few students argued that simply paying tuition supports the purchase of alcohol by contributing to the salary of the VP business affairs, who oversees the University Alcohol Policy.

While many Muslim students say they will continue to eat only tuna sandwiches from Subway, halal hot dogs, or vegetarian meals and halal-topped pizza from UTSC’s H-wing cafeteria, and while the MSA has officially stated its lack of support, the new venture at the campus restaurant has seen positive results from the new menu.

“A lot of students choose to eat halal at Bluff’s, and there are definitely enough sales to know it’s viable,” says SCSU president Rob Wulkan. “People seem to like these options.”

Reports from Conde agree with this analysis. While refusing to reveal exact sales numbers, Conde does remark upon the “significant number of orders” she observed during the summer testing period that called for a complete switch in the menu. Conde also noted the multiple inquiries by faculty and staff for including halal food in catering orders, in an effort to be inclusive to all students.

Muzna Siddiqui is one student who disagrees with MSA’s stance and now sees Bluff’s as another inclusive option for her.

“Personally, as a Muslim student, I’m happy the SCSU and UTSC are accommodating us,” she said. “For me, I don’t see how alcohol can contaminate the food like pork does. Unless someone is cooking with it, I don’t see the problem of being in an environment that serves alcohol, because it’s not something directly touching my food.”

Women’s hockey preview: With a talented roster the Blues will be tough to beat in 2007

This Friday, Oct. 5, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team will take to the ice and kick off the 2007-08 season. Following last year’s bronze medal fi nish in the OUA Championships, the team is gearing up for what they anticipate will be another successful season.

The Blues hope to continue the success they achieved at the end of last year’s campaign. As the 2006- 07 regular season came to a close in February, the team found themselves leapfrogging over the Queen’s Golden Gaels into the second spot in the OUA. Fittingly, it was the Gaels they met in the semi-fi nals, and though the Blues outshot their opponents, Queen’s prevailed 2-1 when the fi nal buzzer rang. Despite their obvious disappointment, the women put forth a valiant effort in the bronze medal game against the Guelph Gryphons and walked away with the hardware, thanks to Emily Patry’s overtime winner.

Karen Hughes, returning bench boss, said that this year’s roster will have a good mix of returning players and fresh faces. Defence appears to be the team’s strength, with a plethora of returning blue-liners that include fifth-year Sarah Poirier, thirdyear Lyndsey Ryan and second-year Ali Foster. Jill Clark, team captain and OUA All-Star, will be the anchor on the back end and the clear leader of the group. New additions Kelly Setter and Bianca Mirabelli will fi t in nicely with the already solid group, said Coach Hughes.

The team’s forward contingent is getting an infusion of youth and energy with Karolina Urban, Lindsay Hill, Amanda Fawns, Brenley Jorgensen, Alanna Komisar and Nayima Neerdaels. The newcomers will not only provide scoring, said Hughes, but will also act as two-way players, a vital component of any winning team. The rookies will compliment the returning forwards Emily Patry, Laura Foster and Annie Del Guidice. And the team is very excited to have Stephanie Lockert back in net.

All in all, although it is a bit early to tell, Hughes is sure that this year’s group seems to be a better skating squad than last year’s, and with the addition of the aforementioned forwards, they will have a better touch around the net. Hughes’ principle concern is specialty teams, which she hopes will improve with practice.

Last season’s achievements can easily add pressure for the team, but Captain Clark said this is not the case.

“As a group we like to think in the present,” she said. “We certainly can learn from last year and build upon it. However, we do not like to compare ourselves to what we were. Rather, we like to focus on what we need to do now to become the best possible athletes we can become.”

Brother, can you spare $2,220?

Faculty Associations has released a report calling for a $1 billion increase in education funding over the next five years—money they said Ontario universities need to keep pace with other Canadian schools.

OCUFA argued that the funding increase was feasible, on the grounds that the provincial government made comparable expenditures on post-secondary education in the 1970s, during another period of undergraduate growth.

The report detailed a $2,220 funding- per-student gap between Ontario and the rest of Canada, calculated using figures gathered from Statistics Canada and a 2005 financial report by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, an organization representing university management and administrations nationwide.

According to OCUFA, the $6.2 billion in additional post-secondary education funding the provincial government announced in 2005 will amount to only a one per cent increase in per-student funding over the next five years. When the funding was announced, the government estimated post-secondary enrolment in Ontario would grow by 46,000 students by 2009. In their report, OCUFA projects enrolment at 92,000 by that year.

GTA universities have observed the same trend in student enrolments, leading to talk of creating a new, undergraduate- only “feeder” university in Toronto, which would stream graduate students into existing Toronto institutions

Busting the myth of Jesse James

If the title was simply The Assassination of Jesse James, this film probably would not play out any differently than the countless portrayals of the mythical American outlaw that have come before. Yet as the title goes on to proclaim, Jesse James was killed “by the Coward Robert Ford,” which is the first indication that this film seeks to demystify the downfall of the legendary desperado.

Though director Andrew Dominik plays to the mythic air of Jesse James, he delves further to discover a contradictory man whose knack for violence, paranoid demeanor, heroic whimsy and hazy moral standing stood as a reflection of the America that was infatuated by him.

If the murderous and unpredictable Jesse James can pique your curiosity or rack your nerves, it’s because after countless portrayals he’s still a mystery, still a legend, still uncomfortably lingering in popular Western culture. He’s an unknowable being, at times volatile and ready to maim even the innocent, and at others he’s the charming and loving father of two. Queerly straddling the line between heroism and villainy, Jesse James is an ideological conflict that has always been explained away by mythology.

Brad Pitt lends his larger-than-life aura to Jesse, whose own celebrity hauled in no shortage of fans obsessed with his every move. One such fan is the titular Bob Ford, whose eerie and pathetic nature is played to perfection by Casey Affleck. Like us, Bob only knows Jesse as the legend splashed across the pages of his contemporary dime-novels. The amount of time Bob spends with the man behind the myth does nothing to enlighten him; in fact, it perplexes him.

Jesse is all legend now, consumed by his own premature myth and weary of those who wish to profit from it. He has lost touch with the man he once may have been, the one whose adventures his admirers read about. The violence is still in him but any purpose to it, assuming that it existed in the past, has been forgotten, much to the disappointment of Ford.

The only thing left to be done to this legendary figure is to drive a nail in his coffin and elevate him to martyrdom. And Ford is all too ready to be attached to such a deed—to become the man who stopped the legend—regardless of the emotional emptiness at its core.

If the literal assassination of Jesse James serves any purpose, it’s simply to feed the legend with a befitting conclusion. At the core of Dominik’s film there is no martyrdom, just the unnecessary murder of a man who murdered others. This is precisely what may perplex audiences: the lack of a grandstanding ideological purpose or meaning to this death.

If scratching too deep reveals nothing, it’s because nothing is there: the nothingness of legend, myth, and celebrity all in equal measure.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Dir. Andrew Dominik

Rating: VVVVv