The cup stops here

The first Friday of October saw the return of a long-standing U of T sports event: the World Cup of Clubs Tournament. U of T students took to King’s College Circle in the cold and early morning hoping for a warm victory, and as the rain started coming down, male and female athletes, undergrad and grad alike, slid through the muddy field, their club jerseys plastered to their backs.

The soccer tournament, founded by the University of Toronto Italian-Canadian Association, has been running for over a decade, bringing together a number of U of T clubs to fight for the championship. This year’s teams were all culturally oriented: competing with UTICA were the Étudiants Francophones de l’Université de Toronto, the Chinese Undergrad Association of U of T, the university’s Korean-Canadian, Portuguese, Croatian, and Greek students’ associations, and the Iranian Students’ Union. The tournament is not restricted to cultural clubs, though it began as an imitation of the World Cup with four competitors: Italy, Portugal, China, and Croatia.

Vince Messina, assistant coach of the Portuguese team, explained that due to restrictions, the tournament’s organizers are forced to give priority to teams that have participated in previous years, making it difficult to expand the event to include other kinds of university clubs.

The mentioned restrictions include, notably, space and play time. “The play time is short, standard time being only forty-five minutes, and the field should get more protection,” said Chinese undergrad student Richard Yako-Ming, who was playing for the second year and was disappointed by the conditions. The season’s rainy weather made the open Front Campus field, in one student’s words, “a mudpie.” “The Office of Space Management doesn’t give us enough time on the pitch,” said Antonin Mongeau, coach of the EFUT team. “We want to expand the tournament to draw in more students, but the administration seems to resist that. OSM needs to step its game up.”

Increased university support, with a designated field dedicated to the event for an entire day, would allow a broader range of clubs to participate, and help develop a more colourful event.

Nonetheless, the only regulation demanded of this year’s participating teams was that 11 players be on the field at all times, and that at least one of those players be female. Francesca Imbrogno, an Italian student originally playing for UTICA, switched to the Croatian team during one of their matches in order to help them fulfill the female player regulation and stay in the game. “I think it’s a great rule that one girl has to be on each team,” Imbrogno said. “It brings balance to the teams and gives some real star female players a chance to shine.”

Attention to detail on the part of the organizers resulted in a successful event and good sportsmanship from the participants. Relations remained friendly although the players showed a great deal of dedication, many of them not having had the opportunity to play in a league since high school. “After years of playing pick-up, the World Cup of Clubs gives these guys a chance to get competitive,” added Imbrogno.

According to Massimo Rotondo, UTICA member and alumni advisor, the advantage of such an event is that “it’s not just about soccer. The idea is gaining membership, exposing clubs.”

As many students have learned, at a university with such large campuses, clubs are an important way to find solidarity and a sense of community. In one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the tournament is a way to combine school spirit with personal cultural pride. Each team had a gathering of supporters screaming words of encouragement through the rainy fog. “I came out to support my team because it’s an opportunity to see people I know and meet new people,” said Silvija Metelko, a member of the Croatian club. For many students the game carries more weight as a cultural event within U of T than as a sports championship.

The final game between Korea and Greece ended in a 4-2 victory for the Koreans, breaking a tug of war between Italy and Croatia and marking Korea’s first year as the champion club. Andrew Park, coach of the winning team, embodied Korea’s gracious approach to the game. “We’re very excited and we’ll definitely be back next year,” he said. The tournament’s character can be best judged by the reactions of the Greek coach, Dimitri Kyriakakis, who smiled under the tumbling rain after a tough defeat: “16 players came out at 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, we played two to three girls at all times, we brought out very passionate, young players, most of whom were first-years, we had an excellent turnout, and we’re very proud of everyone.”

Q&A: Michael Ignatieff

In the late 1960s, Michael Ignatieff was a student at the University of Toronto and an editor at The Varsity. Now, more than 40 years later, he is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada facing a potentially volatile parliament. In August he stated his intention to challenge the Conservative government on matters of confidence, possibly forcing an election this year—though the Bloc and New Democrat support for the government, and the Liberals sinking poll numbers, make this prospect unlikely. With this new break in the action, Ignatieff had time to answer a few questions via email for The Varsity about national identity, the current situation in parliament, and his experience as an undergraduate at U of T.

The Varsity: Thanks for speaking with us. First, on a personal note, do you have any memories from your time at our newspaper—or our university—that you could share with us?

Michael Ignatieff: I was at U of T in the late sixties. It was probably the most exciting time to be a university student in the last century. Vietnam was on. Mike Pearson had just kept Canada out. There was a culture of passion and protest that was everywhere you looked on campus. We started doing these teach-ins, which were sort of half-lecture, half-protest, with a good amount of conversation thrown in. And there we were, in our late teens and early twenties, arguing the biggest issues of the day and never trusting anybody over thirty. It was incredibly exciting. And I had the most incredible friends, who became co-conspirators in all this stuff—Bob Rae and Jeff Rose and others.

TV: A common theme in your newest book, True Patriot Love, is the notion that Canada is somehow an “unfinished project.” You assert that Stephen Harper has approached the country as a finished product and that this has been one of his failings as prime minister. In the last 30 years, Canada has faced fundamental challenges to the character of its federalism: two referenda on Quebec sovereignty, the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, and the recent constitutional crisis, among others. Could you comment on the underlying problems facing Canadian federalism and on the “unfinished” nature of Canada as a national project?

MI: For as long as we’ve existed, Canada has been a country of epic undertakings and national dreams. In my great-grandfather’s day, it was the transcontinental railroad. Since then, we’ve had the Trans-Canada Highway, universal health care, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Big ideas, big projects—and, above all, national projects—that pull the whole country together to say, yes, we can get this done together.

We’re a big country. Vast. And very different, from one end of the country to the other. And when you’ve got a federation as big and broad as Canada, you can start to pull apart if you focus on the differences. The story of Canada is the story of resisting that, of pulling together. Our national unity is the biggest national project of them all.

So these great national endeavours are some of the adhesive that holds this big country together, that keeps us moving forward together, that unites us—not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

We need to set ourselves new projects, new national undertakings. I’ve talked about high-speed rail and West-East power grids. We live in a great country, the best in the world, but as soon as we let ourselves believe that our work is finished, we’ll start falling behind.

TV: You’ve spent much of your career as a journalist and scholar exploring some of the most troubled regions in the world. Countries in the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East are still affected by conflicts between secular, religious, and ethnic forms of nationalism. True Patriot Love begins with a passage about the meaning of national feeling as an “act of imagination” defined collectively by a series of competing viewpoints. Is the conflict between different conceptions of a nation the symptom of a healthy country or of an unhealthy one?

MI: This is the magic of Canada. The immigrant who was born somewhere else but moved here, or someone who’s worked abroad and come home, or someone who’s been here all their life—we all imagine Canada in different ways. You can be Quebecois and a Canadian in the order that you choose. Or Acadian or Jamaican or Indian or Chinese. Our diversity is our greatest strength. We’ve built a country where our different viewpoints are more than the sum of their parts—they add up to a richer country. This isn’t just healthy, it’s what makes us Canadian.

TV: You also comment in your book that Canadian political culture has a somewhat anti-rhetorical tradition when compared to, say, that of the United States–a country whose tradition of rhetoric has perhaps reached its apex in the age of Barack Obama. First of all, what do you think accounts for this difference? Is it a strength or a weakness?

MI: Pierre Trudeau made “reason before passion” his motto, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t passionate. Far from it. He channeled his passion through his actions, through the arguments he made in defense of his policies. I think Barack Obama is similar in that respect.

In Canada, we talk about peace, order, and good government. It’s a philosophy that puts our collective wellbeing, the health of our whole society, first. Americans talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is a more individualistic take. I think that’s where the difference between our rhetorical traditions begins. Americans look for presidents who can rally and inspire the nation to greatness. Canadians look for prime ministers who take their inspiration from our whole society, and who will move us forward together.

TV: One of our country’s most respected political journalists, Chantal Hébert, concluded the introduction of her recent book, French Kiss, by saying: “On the left and on the right, in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, the old coalitions that saw Canada through the twentieth century have broken down. The next majority government in Canada will belong to whomever is the most adept at reassembling the pieces of the federation before it is broken up for good into irreconcilable blocks.” Canada is in the midst of a unique period in its political history: three successive minority governments and the recent crisis in which, in your own words, “the prime minister pitted region against region, province against province.” Are we destined for an age of more minority governments, or do you believe majorities are attainable in the present circumstances?

MI: I’ve said that we’re a big, broad country, and that our diversity is our strength. But there’s a deep consensus among many Canadians that we want government to lead in growing the economy, we want Canada to have a respected voice in the world, and we want to be united as one great people sharing one great country. That’s the vision we’re going to offer Canadians in the next election, and it’s very different from what we’ve got from Stephen Harper.

TV: The Liberal Leadership convention held in Vancouver in early May was different from other conventions that have been held by your party in the past. What was the overall mood, and what were some of the most important things to emerge from the gathering?

MI: The convention was part of a long process of renewing and uniting the Liberal Party. In Vancouver we came together as party and we came out of that weekend with a resolve to do politics differently. Vancouver was about refocusing our energies on being the party of our national unity and our national purpose. We also moved to a one-member, one-vote leadership process so that every Liberal will have a say in who leads our party.

TV: Pierre Eliot Trudeau is often criticized for alienating the western provinces through his national energy program. In one of your first major speeches as leader you said that the Liberals had made mistakes with Alberta in the past. What kind of relationship should the Liberal Party try to cultivate with that province?

MI: Alberta and Western Canada should never feel like they’re left out of the debates that shape our country’s future. I’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta, and I work closely with a good number of Albertans. They’re some of the most fiercely proud Canadians you’ll ever meet. The whole country has benefited from Alberta’s entrepreneurial, risk-taking, cutting-edge spirit. We need as much of that Alberta spirit as we can get, if our economy is to grow and create the jobs of tomorrow.

TV: Both the Liberals and the NDP had a pretty strong showing in Atlantic Canada during the last election. Nova Scotia has just elected the first New Democratic government east of Ontario, and Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams remains one of Stephen Harper’s most vociferous critics. Though your party supported the Conservative budget, you allowed your MPs from Newfoundland to vote against it. Could you comment on this decision and on the broader picture that exists in that part of the country?

MI: Stephen Harper used a federal budget to settle a personal score with Premier Williams. That’s no way for a prime minister to behave, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were justifiably angry. So were we. We needed to send a message to Stephen Harper, and to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we did.

We listen to Atlantic Canadians. We hear what they expect from their federal government. And Liberals are ready to deliver for Atlantic Canada.

TV: Lastly, parliament resumed on September 14 and Senator David Smith indicated at the time that the question of EI Reform is “not a defining issue that merits bringing the government down.” How will the Liberal Party position itself on EI Reform, and is there still the possibility of an immediate election even if this issue is no longer central?

MI: We believe in regional fairness for EI. We want more Canadians who pay into the EI system to be eligible for benefits if they lose their job through no fault of their own. The bill that the Conservatives finally brought forward on EI falls well short of these goals.

Our experience in trying to make progress on this issue with the Conservatives tells us two important things—two things that go well beyond EI, and that Canadians should consider when they’re asked to choose their next government. The first is that the Conservatives have no real interest in making parliament work for Canadians. They’re only interested in holding on to their own jobs. The second is that helping laid-off workers isn’t just a matter of compassion for Liberals, it’s an integral part of our economic recovery. It puts stimulus in the hands of people who will spend it immediately to provide for their families while they find their next job, and it helps to ensure we don’t leave people behind as our economy recovers. But EI is just another political bargaining chip for Stephen Harper.

Canada can do better. That’s why we oppose this government.

Twenty20 cricket: Sport or spectacle?

Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils, and Chennai Superkings might be names worthy of exotic amusement park rides, but they’re also franchises in the world’s most popular cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League.

The IPL has revolutionized the sport since the league began in 2008. It has exploded in popularity around the world, despite purist critics who argue that it is more spectacle than sport. The IPL has had two very successful debut seasons, capturing the attention of the world’s cricket fans and nations. The league saw Bollywood A-listers and South Asian industrialists rush for ownership of the eight new franchises.

Although a game of English origin, cricket-crazy India was the first country to capitalize on the sport in a massive way. Developing countries usually have their athletes “poached” to play in European and North American leagues. The IPL can take some pride in hosting the tournament where the best cricket players in the world make a trip to the sub-continent to play in what is becoming the first elite cricket league at the club level.

The IPL adopted Twenty20 cricket on the assumption that fans of other sports could get excited about cricket if it duplicated the pace and formula of other major sports. To a new follower of the game, cricket can be painfully slow. The joke about cricket is that it is known as the “gentlemen’s game” but is actually the “unemployed man’s game,” in reference to its lengthy match times.

When the 2007 Twenty20 Cricket World Cup reduced the length of games, the move received a positive reaction from current and new fans alike. Twenty20 is essentially the shortest form of the game and refers to the number of overs (one over equals six balls or deliveries by the bowler) each team has to play. Combined with a new three-hour limit on games, the sport has become more marketable and profitable. Since basketball is watched for jaw dropping slam-dunks and hockey for bone-jarring body checks and light-speed puck play, Twenty20 cricket called for a faster run rate and pace as well as hard hitting. Teams need to hit 6ers—boundary-clearing shots that are the equivalent of home runs—to score the maximum amount of runs within a team’s 20 overs at bat. For this reason, some cricket purists refer to the Twenty20 as spectacle because the time constraints and limited innings take away from the strategy and skill of the longer games. Twenty20’s supporters defiantly maintain that the format is more explosive and requires more athleticism and energy.

Until now, the largest prestige and salary a cricketer could receive was through playing for his country. Professional cricket is very different from the sporting culture of North America and Europe, where NBA superstars and English Premier League footballers are constantly seen in the colours of their club and only don national jerseys for the international gig like the World Cup or the Olympics.

Cricket was different in this regard until the cash-rich IPL entered the picture. With England international Andrew Flintoff and Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni signing in the $1.5-million range, the divide between club and country widened. Cricket doesn’t pay as well as other sports, especially internationally. Almost all of the top cricketers in the world wanted to play in the IPL and were willing to sacrifice their spots on the national squad. The lucrative IPL has therefore in effect forced national cricketing boards to relax their policies to deal with players wanting to play in the IPL. Twenty20 cricket now engages in the signing, drafting, selling, and trading of players just like other franchised sports, though it’s something new to cricket. The IPL has shown its influence in other regards as well: the International Cricket Council now accounts for IPL scheduling and has attempted to reduce the number of international tours to accommodate for Twenty20 leagues.

It is fascinating to observe how the Indian Premier League and Twenty20 cricket have not only reshaped the game, but also changed certain social aspects in the sub-continent. Cheerleading is a huge part of North American sports franchises. The pure sports entertainment value is obvious: it gets the home crowd going and the rowdy fans whistling. Conservative Indian society probably never imagined a day when cheerleaders would invade India, where young women showing skin is generally frowned upon and provocative dancing is considered taboo. The IPL introduced cheerleading to sports in India in 2008 to criticism and social disapproval. The IPL even flew in Washington Redskins cheerleaders to represent the Bangalore Royal Challengers franchise. Other teams soon followed suit, and foreign cheerleaders became the norm in the first season of the Indian Premier League. Although some dancers were told to tone it down at times, the idea of cheerleaders slyly climbed away from social disapproval. Indian television networks even aired reality shows about selecting cheerleaders during the off-seasons. Cheerleading is now generally accepted as part of the Twenty20 cricket game.

Cricket apparel was also drastically altered for the IPL seasons. Traditional cricket jerseys are often white with minimal colour and no advertising. Compare this with the flashy black and gold jerseys of the Kolkata Knightriders franchise, emblazoned with a golden Nokia logo, a clear attempt on the IPL franchises’ part to duplicate the wildly successful merchandising tactics of savvy European football clubs. The ploy to make cricket exciting is visible in the colourful and corporate-charged display that is IPL on TV. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas all claimed pieces of the cricket pie and the endorsement deals in the first two seasons would make even Lebron or Kobe do a double take.

The future of Twenty20 cricket looks very promising, and only proves that the sport of cricket is not immune to the effects of globalization. Attendance has skyrocketed, and the sport is getting the younger audience it craved internationally. The eight franchises modelled themselves after North American and European clubs and teams, in the hope of expanding into a global game, like soccer. Although cricket is already larger than life in India, the sport’s new and trendy image may help it grow in other countries. It provides younger fans with a more exciting forum to idolize their favorite stars, and younger players to dream about the glory and fame associated with making it big in the sport.

South Africa, which hosted the second season of the Indian Premier League, has since established a popular Twenty20 league. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also followed suit. Canada’s own Scotiabank National T20 Championships was also a surprising success this year. The Airtel Twenty20 Champions League tournament in India this October has picked up from where the previous two seasons of the IPL left off, glamorizing the game even further. The Champions League, a concept like UEFA’s soccer tournament, was planned to take place in India in the fall of 2008, but was cancelled after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. It debuted on Oct. 8 this year, and can be seen on ATN Cricket Plus or ATN CBN until Oct. 23.

The dead letters

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is not only an encounter with antiquity, but also an insight into the preservation and restoration of ancient documents.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a series of approximately 900 assembled documents. The manuscripts were written between 150 BCE and 70 CE, and found in 11 caves in the ancient settlement of Qumran on the Dead Sea. A fortunate mix of humidity, temperature, and darkness kept the scrolls intact for thousands of years.

“In caves, temperature and humidity are always stable,” said Dan Rahimi, VP of Gallery Development at the ROM. Rahimi assisted with the exhibit’s curation and contributed to the excavation of the scrolls.

Rahimi added that dry, dark caves preserved scrolls well, even those that were left on the ground, trampled on and damaged by both animals and insects.

The scrolls were removed between 1947 and 1956, and transferred to a department called the Scrollery in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum.

Conservators and biblical scholars sorted and catalogued thousands of pieces of scrolls. Although some had been kept in jars and remained mostly undamaged, most were found in thumbnail-sized bits. One cave alone contained more than 10,000 fragments.

The team compared each piece by texture, colour, and handwriting, assembling the pieces like a massive jigsaw puzzle.

“You have to realize that no computers or analytical tools were used at the time,” said Rahimi.

When a match was found, the pieces would be scotch-taped together and sandwiched between two glass panels.

This process proved to be devastating to the scrolls. Although some were written on papyrus, most were parchment, an organic material highly sensitive to changes in temperature and light. The natural light from the Scrollery’s large windows, combined with the pressure of the glass plates and chemicals from the transparent tape, proved to be detrimental.

One of the most surprising things at the ROM exhibit is photographs of the scientists of the time piecing together ancient scrolls while blithely holding lit cigarettes between their fingers.

As technology improved, so began an effort to restore the scrolls.

First, the scrolls were recorded and photographed. Scientists then removed the adhesive residue from the tape using organic solvents. The pieces were cleaned of any oils and stains, and the back of the scrolls were reinforced if needed.

Conservationists then arranged the scrolls on acid-free cardboard and attached the pieces with hinges of Japanese tissue paper. These sheets were then put in protective boxes in a climate-controlled store room and checked periodically.

When being prepared for exhibition, each scroll was cross-stitched through a frame in order to hold it together.

Only about one-third of the scrolls found are biblical; some are translations but most are commentary on scripture questioning the meaning of life and the end of the world.

“The scrolls give us a look into the worldview of the time. Many wrote about a looming apocalyptic war and believed that a messiah would come,” said Rahimi. “It shows us what people were thinking around the time Jesus of Nazareth came around.”

Rahimi added that the scrolls are valuable because prior to their discovery, the oldest known manuscripts dated from 1,000 CE.

At the ROM, about ten framed scrolls are placed in individual table-height window units with just enough light to be seen. As Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Beth Tzedec Congregation of Toronto says in one of the exhibit’s videos, you “put your eyes, and your nose, close to antiquity.”

The room is kept dark to protect the scrolls while a recording plays traditional Jewish prayers sung acapella. Translations are provided, although the scrolls are enchanting on their own.

One woman at the exhibit stared at a scroll segment and remarked “I can’t believe that someone penned that so long ago.” Those nearby agreed.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit runs until January 3, 2010. Admission for U of T students is $6. All full-time post-secondary students who present their student card and photo identification are admitted to the museum without charge every Tuesday, and need pay only the separate exhibition fee.

Welcome back, Justine

Justine Henin, formerly ranked number-one in the world in women’s tennis, announced on Sept. 22 that she would return to competitive tennis next year. “I am really happy and deeply moved to be able to announce tonight that I’m coming back to competitive tennis,” said Henin on live Belgian television.

In May 2008, when the Belgian player still topped the Women’s Tennis Association world rankings chart, Henin, only 25 at the time, shocked the tennis world by announcing her immediate retirement from professional tennis. “It’s the end of a wonderful adventure, but it’s something I have been thinking about for a long time,” said Henin at a news conference

Henin then went back to her birthplace, and started her own tennis academy with her long-time coach, Carlos Rodriguez. In various interviews, the Belgian has repeatedly stated that she was enjoying her life after retirement, and had no intention of returning. When everyone was convinced that Henin would indeed leave professional tennis for good, she returned to the spotlight. But this is hardly surprising, as there is still a place the holder of seven Grand Slam titles has yet to conquer: the All-England Club. “The desire to win Wimbledon is one of the main reasons she’s come back,” announced Rodriguez on Belgian television.

Henin’s signature Federer-like single-handed backhand is undoubtedly phenomenal, but it was her determination and aggressiveness that established her as one of the most prominent figures in women’s professional tennis in recent years. Many perceive these qualities as distinguishing Henin from her compatriot, Kim Clijsters, who had never beaten Henin in all three Grand Slam finals that matched the pair. The rivalry ended abruptly when Clijsters made a surprising retirement announcement of her own in May 2007.

Henin admitted that she was inspired by Clijsters’ successful return a few months ago, with the latter winning the U.S. Open title in 2009. “It is a source of inspiration and motivation,” Henin said of the rivalry which began when both were teenagers. “I have come to realise that I would not have been this strong if she had not been there at the time.” But she added that it was not the main reason for her comeback.

Since Henin’s retirement, a few players have been crowned but not one of them has truly dominated women’s tennis. The Williams sisters’ performances were sometimes shaky and inconsistent, and Maria Sharapova suffers from a niggling shoulder injury. Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, and Dinara Safina are simply no comparison to the Belgian player.

It is very unlikely that Henin would become a second Martina Hingis, who made a not-so-successful return in 2006, and finally retired in 2008 after testing positive for cocaine usage. Power plays a large part in Henin’s playing style. When on court, Hingis, the “Swiss Miss” well-known for her graceful skills, found herself bombarded with powerful shots by teenage players. On the other hand, it is widely believed that Henin still possesses what it takes to win the game, but she will have to work hard to again become a force to be reckoned with.

Whether Henin will become the second Clijsters or the second Hingis remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Henin, who no longer has a world ranking, has already been promised a wildcard to compete in next year’s Australian Open. The date is none too soon for tennis fans who want to see Henin back in action.

What seems obvious is that women’s tennis nowadays is lacking the spice that attracts worldwide attention. Henin’s return might be the answer to that. Now that Clijsters is back, Henin’s launch of her “second tennis career” would definitely continue the eye-catching rivalry between the Belgian pair. Clijsters welcomed her compatriot’s return, stating that it would be good news not only for Belgium, but for tennis in general.

Justine Henin’s return will boost the worldwide popularity of women’s tennis, news that everyone loves to hear—well, perhaps everyone but her competitors.

Just a theory? Dawkins begs to differ

Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous living evolutionary biologist, was in Toronto on September 29 to promote his latest literary offering, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, released on September 22.

Held at Isabel Bader Theatre and sponsored by Indigo, Dawkins spoke briefly, read a series of excerpts from his book, and went on to take nearly 30 minutes of unmoderated questions from the audience.

Dawkins’ previous works, such as The Selfish Gene (1976) and The God Delusion (2006) assumed that evolution is a fact but did not explicitly provide evidence in support of it. While reading an excerpt from his new book’s first chapter, Dawkins said, “Evolution is a fact and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it. No unbiased reader will close the book doubting it.”

While his readings definitely whetted the appetites of those not already working their way through the book, it was the subsequent Q&A period that made the event memorable.

It was obvious that Dawkins was “preaching to the converted” as the audience’s support was palpable—nearly every question asked revealed a firm belief in the speaker’s core tenants. There were no protesting creationists in the lobby and no shouts of “liar!” from saboteurs in the audience. In fact, questions quickly migrated away from the evidence for evolution toward the coexistence of atheists and the religious.

One questioner asked for Dawkins’ opinion on Ray Comfort’s plan to distribute to various U.S. colleges copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species with a 50-page, pro-creationist introduction. For those unfamiliar with him, Comfort is a controversial evangelical Christian minister based in California. Dawkins first responded by re-enacting a significant portion of the infamous Comfort and Kirk Cameron “banana video” for the benefit of those who have missed it, likening the video to a Monty Python sketch (if you haven’t already, check YouTube for this gem). “I can’t really get that excited about it. Presumably, the people in universities are capable of seeing through that kind of thing and I imagine they would be rather flattered to be given a free copy of the Origin of Species. Just rip out the 50 pages […] and use the pages for the purpose they’re best suited,” said Dawkins. His defence of Charles Darwin’s work is why many refer to Dawkins as “Darwin’s Rottweiler.”

One questioner asked, “Will [religion] die with a bang or with a whimper?” To this the former Oxford professor replied, “There are people whose dedication to religion, probably largely based on childhood indoctrination, is so strong that they seem to be literally immune to evidence. Some of them, the more extreme ones, will even explicitly say, ‘I don’t care what the evidence shows.’” Addressing the idea of religion dying with a bang (interpreting “bang” to mean the possibility of armed conflict), Dawkins said, “I hope it doesn’t come to that. If it ever did, I don’t know whether it’s any consolation that presumably [the scientifically inclined] would have everybody who knows how to actually design weapons.”

Only one question touched upon the role of God in evolution by proposing that God created the evolutionary process itself and then allowed it to run its course. Dawkins replied, “This is a point of view which is quite popular. If you think about it, evolution by natural selection is not a process that needed inventing at all. The whole point of it is that it just happens. It doesn’t need an ingenious inventor to put it in motion. It happens without invention. It happens without planning. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how it works. So if God decided to do his creating by inventing evolution by natural selection, he was doing it in a way that made himself superfluous and I find it, to say the least, unpersuasive.”

Dawkins’ demeanour throughout was cordial and humorous. Given the grim personality often ascribed to him in the media, this came as a surprise to some attendees. “He was actually pretty funny,” one attendee stated, while waiting to have her book signed. Prompted by one questioner to discuss the public perception of atheists, Dawkins remarked, “The image of an atheist is somebody rather grim, who never laughs, has no sense of humour, that sort of Scrooge-like figure.”

It remains to be seen if The Greatest Show on Earth will find its way into the hands of lay readers who are unaware of the evidence for evolution and it is unlikely that the author’s entrenched critics will allow themselves to be swayed. In response to a question regarding the communication of his message to such individuals, he said, “I have worked hard, and I hope effectively, to achieve what [I set out to do]. I may have failed, in which case I will have to give it another go.”

Evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins, at the Isabel Bader Theatre promoting his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

The Big Sig

A patient reclining on a vast velvet divan narrates his life history in a dimly lit room. Meanwhile, the therapist twiddles his thumbs through a 50-minute hour. This classic psychoanalysis scene has become one of the most pervasive images of therapy today, thanks in part to Sigmund Freud.

Freud’s influence on popular culture and the way we view psychology is undeniable. Ever been called “anal retentive”? Heard about the Oedipus complex? The image Freud left behind fails to capture the field of psychology as it has evolved over the decades since his work. However, the novelty of his approach is often ignored in favour of caricatures of a sex-obsessed old Austrian guy.

Among his most influential ideas, Freud hypothesized about the unconscious. His psychoanalytic theory provided an explanation for behaviour based on the interaction between conscious and unconscious drives.

According to Freud, personality is divided into three components: the id, the ego, and the superego. The interactions between these three components explain how our behaviour is shaped by conscious and unconscious drives. The conscious mind is regulated by the ego, which interacts directly with the outside world and acts as the decision-maker. The subconscious is divided into the id and the superego. The id acts as the primitive and instinctive component of personality, and tries to influence the ego to act on impulses and whims, regardless of what is proper or right. While the id acts on the pleasure principle, the superego counteracts it, and follows a moral principle. The superego is the moral force behind our actions, and regulates the ego’s interactions with the world. According to Freud, all three of these components are distributed differently in individuals, which explains how we behave according to unique motivations.

Freud also famously theorized about the “psychosexual” stages of development in childhood. He believed that personality is dependent on our experiences as children. Each stage of development corresponds with a part of the body that is stimulated during that period. For example, the second stage in development, which occurs in children two to three years old, is called the anal stage because children are more aware of (and according to Freud, derive erotic pleasure from) their bowel movements. It is also the typical time for potty-training in most children. Depending on the level of stimulation received at each stage, the child will acquire various personality traits, or in Freudian terms, fixations or retention. For example, an anal retentive person is someone who was potty-trained too early, or too strictly in their development. The resulting personality in adulthood involves obsession with orderliness and small details.

While many psychologists have criticized Freud’s views of human personality and behaviour for being too focussed on sex, the historical and social background to his theories is important. When you think of his primary clientele—affluent and sexually repressed Austrian women in the 1920s—his theories make more sense.

Wild Things makes our hearts sing

Memory has a way of stripping down childhood to its essentials. We have blurry images of the happiest moments, as well as the times that were particularly sad or embarrassing, while the more mundane passages tending to fade away. In the first 20 minutes of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, Max (Max Records), the very young protagonist, tries to keep himself occupied by running around his house in a wolf costume chasing his cat. He wants to play with his older sister, but she is more interested in her friends. When he tries to get his mother’s attention, she is occupied with a date. It is difficult for Max to communicate in any meaningful way to the older people who surround him, and his life generally consists of tedium punctuated by occasional retreats to the world of fantasy.

“I didn’t set out to make a children’s movie,” says Spike Jonze in the press notes for Where the Wild Things Are. “I set out to make a movie about childhood.”

Jonze’s film is based on Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, first published in 1963. Unless I heard it during kindergarten, I read it for the first time standing in an Indigo bookstore on my way to see this film. Sendak’s book is striking in its brevity: 48 pages and, except for nine little sentences, all pictures, with spare prose that evokes the simple precision of a haiku. I wish I had been exposed to it when I was younger. “That very night in Max’s room a forest grew—and grew—and grew until his ceiling hung with vines.” This is beautiful imagery, but if my enthusiasm for the book is somewhat muted, I suppose it’s because I am no longer at an age where I regularly turn to fantasy for solace. (Well, not fantasies involving friendly monsters, anyway…)

The book has only as much of a story as is needed to provide a framework for its images and emotions. The film provides Max with an on-screen mother, played by Catherine Keener, and gives the big, furry “Wild Things” names and personalities, but it remains more interested in mood than plot. Comparing a feature-length movie with a children’s storybook is really pointless, but I’d like to say that I—a Where the Wild Things Are virgin—had an easier time connecting to the film than the book, as the movie is a story about childhood for adults, not children.

Hire Spike Jonze (director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) to make a kids’ movie, and you get… a Spike Jonze movie. I have no idea what kids are going to make of this thing. Just as the book drew much of its power from a child reader’s instinctive feelings of fear of parental punishment and comfort in imaginary friends, adult viewers of the film will appreciate the exquisite sense of childhood melancholy that Jonze evokes with his slow pace and earthy colour palette. I predict many kids will be bored by such a meditative experience, and I suspect that childhood melancholy is an emotion best understood by those who are no longer children.

The story is told through Max’s perspective, to the point where our hero has even defaced the Warner Brothers logo (“A Time Warner Max Production”), and we are not privy to any information about his family that does not immediately affect him (in the credits, characters are known as simply “mother” and “the boyfriend”). How refreshing to see a kid in a movie who’s actually a kid, with self-centeredness and irritability to match his sweetness, and whose emotional maturation is real, but modest enough to be believable.

The imaginary wild things are all reflections of Max: Alexander (Paul Dano) is small and often ignored; Carol (James Gandolfini) is big-hearted, impulsive, and naïve; Judith (Catherine O’Hara) is sharp but casually cruel; KW (Lauren Ambrose) is kind and loving but unsure of her position in the world. These are tremendously lovable characters, all the more so because of their flaws. Unlike most voice actors in Hollywood family movies, the famous cast members approached the wild things as actual characters and not excuses for star turns, and speak their lines with real nuance and feeling. As delivered by Ambrose, the famous line “I could eat you up, I love you so” achieves special poignancy.

Where the Wild Things Are takes its sweet time. Jonze sees no need to hurry to the next contrived plot point when he can just relax and spend time with his characters. Maybe the biggest (and most backhanded) compliment I can pay to this film is that I wanted even less plot and even more of those pure scenes where Max and the wild things are napping together in a great big pile, or causing the “wild rumpus,” or wandering aimlessly in their surrounding deserts. Where the Wild Things Are is pitch-perfect at many things, and none more so than its remembrance of the deep, soothing comfort of fantasy.