Tricksters treat tots

Halloween, for many, is a ghoulish night of dressing up, staying out, and, most importantly, stocking up on free candy.

But, other children—who make up 41 per cent of food bank recipients, according to the Canadian Association of Food Banks—go hungry.

This All Hallows Eve, get ready to embrace your inner child and once again bang on your neighbours’ doors for victuals, and for a good cause.

The Trick or Eat food drive will have costumed students roaming university neighbourhoods, collecting nonperishable food and raising awareness about how communities can help feed those in need.

U of T’s Trick or Eat event is organized by the Hart House Social Justice Committee and Meal Exchange, a student-founded charity that tackles local hunger. Their other programs include collecting points from student meal plans to purchase food and gathering clothes for local food banks, shelters, and drop-in centres.

“A lot of people don’t understand what it would be like to be hungry while going to class,” said Pratima Arapakota, HHSJC executive and Trick or Eat coordinator.

Trick or Eat has collected over $1.5 million’s worth of food on 50 campuses nationwide since its 1993 launch, according to its website. Half of this year’s donations will go to the U of T food bank, with the other half benefiting the Scott Mission, a non-denominational Christian street mission.

So skip the grown-ups’ bash for a couple of hours—you can party any day of the year. Strap on that old Ghostbusters gear lurking in the back of your closet and banish a real-life bogeyman—hunger.

To volunteer, email ut@mealexchange.com or show up at Hart House on Wednesday, Oct. 31, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Book Review: The Upside of Down

Thomas Homer-Dixon’s latest book is the story of what happens to societies that grow too big for their britches. Through constant and clearly relevant use of metaphor backed up by vast amounts of empirical data, Homer-Dixon—who holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies here at U of T—masterfully sketches a picture of our civilization as a complex system— a sketch that is as much a call to action as it is a layman’s primer on society itself.

What could otherwise be cynically viewed as an attempt to cash in on the recently burgeoning cottage industry of climate cataclysm books, Homer-Dixon transcends this genre by linking human life with “the economy”—a term that other writers all too frequently use as if the economy exists outside of space-time, with its own rules inapplicable to normal reality—in a way that makes the subject matter as real as it is pressing.

The key focus to The Upside of Down is energy. Energy is harnessed by our civilization not just as electricity, but also as food powering human labour. In order for a civilization to grow, it requires greater and greater amounts of highyield energy, that is, energy that produces far more work than is spent in acquiring it— a concept of profit that should be familiar. The trouble with what we’re doing, Homer-Dixon argues, is that over time our depletion of the non-renewable resources such as oil will decrease their returns as the most accessible oil fields give way to less accessible ones, which in turn give way to scrambles for untapped fields and new (energy-intensive) technologies to extract more and more of the stuff, as is evident in the Alberta tar sands.

Targeting what he sees as the fallacy of unlimited and ongoing economic growth, Homer-Dixon weaves an elaborate indictment of our present unsustainable situation that seriously brings into question many of the central tenets of liberal capitalism. In this area, the book is rather scant on positive proposals for change, and Homer-Dixon gives the impression of holding back rather than not having an opinion. Indeed, in the spirit of building the more resilient, broad-based social networks he so firmly espouses, Homer- Dixon ends the book with a call to action of sorts: a reevaluation of the very existential values that shape how we perceive ourselves and our societies. He certainly provides plenty of ideas with which to start.

Rating: VVVVv

Muslim fashion makes a statement nationwide

On Thursday, Oct 5. Muslims and non-Muslims alike were seen with their hair covered in headscarves of various shades of pink. In fact, women all over the country donned the veil in a fight against Islamophobia and breast cancer.

The women were taking part in National Pink Hijab Day, which saw similar events across North America raising money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s mission to eliminate breast cancer, and raising awareness about the culture of the hijab.

“The primary objective of the event was to raise awareness of a disease that affects all women, whether they are Muslim or not,” said Canadian Islamic Congress VP Wahida Valiante.

Some, however, disagreed.

“Very often people attempt to kill two birds with one stone: promote their religion while they attempt to do something good,” said Justin Trottier, president of the Freethought Association of Canada.

Trottier added that, while breast cancer was a terrible disease, prostate cancer is just as deadly and gets one-quarter of the research funding.

Carlotta James, a student of International Relations and Acia Pacific studies at U of T, was one of many first-time hijab wearers who gathered new perspectives about the garment.

“It felt strange at first, but now it’s cool,” she said.

Like several others, James initially associated the veil with a subordinate role of women in society. “But I’m certainly getting strange glances.”

Event organizer Sajda Khalil said she was very pleased with the overall response of the community.

“There was a non-Muslim this morning who said that she had never worn the hijab before but might consider starting to wear it,” said Khalil.

After the main event outside Sid Smith, many participants went to an open discussion over (halal) pizza to talk about their day in hijab. The conversation turned to negative media portrayals of the hijab.

“Especially after 9/11 it was this Western thing of critiquing Islam and it would always be women’s rights and it would always be pointing to the veil and they would always be showing…it just serves to perpetuate the image of Islam that they wanted to perpetuate,” said Khalil. Everyone in attendance seemed to agree that the hijab was being singled out due to the current wave of Islamophobia in the West.

“Women’s hair is a part of their sexuality,” said Khalil. “The reason for the garment is to conceal one’s modesty.”

“I found that a lot of people looked at me kind of confused, like they just didn’t know, they were inquisitive but you could tell that they were scared to ask,” said Zarie Lorne, a third-year.

The event was well received by other groups on campus as well, including Abby Ralph, president of U of T’s chapter of Hillel. “At U of T we are always talking about intellectual dialogue, and this was an opportunity for it to actually be put into practice,” said Ralph. “It was a really positive experience for me, meeting new people, you know, and speaking with them.”

The sweetest thing

As the main ingredient in candy, sugar is what Halloween is all about. White gold for candy companies and pure joy for kids of all ages, sugar keeps dentists in business.

Sugars are made from three monosaccharide primary derivatives— glucose, fructose, and galactose. Depending on how they are linked, these molecules have the potential to make large, intricate polysaccharide compounds. The molecule that we call sugar is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose, forming a disaccharide referred to as sucrose, or table sugar (C12H22O11).

A naturally occurring compound, sucrose is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable as a major product of photosynthesis. Plants absorb sunlight and use that energy to extract carbon from the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. These captured carbon atoms are combined with hydrogen and oxygen (derived from water) to create fructose and glucose. To store these compounds for a longer period of time, plants convert them to sucrose. Interestingly, sugar cane and sugar beet are the only two plants that make enough sucrose to be commercially viable. Refineries—such as the former Redpath sugar plant located on Toronto’s waterfront—purify and concentrate raw sugar to the solid, crystallized form that we know and love.

In 1953, while working in the National Research Council’s lab at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Raymond Lemieux became the first scientist to synthetically produce table sugar from its components. Tests for blood types, new vaccines, and other medical advances are attributed to his discovery, which was critical, as the scientific understanding of sugars was limited at the time he began his research.

By determining the three-dimensional structure of sugar molecules and understanding their chemical properties, scientists found the configuration by which fructose and glucose combine to form sucrose. From Lemieux’s work stemmed further discoveries on how sugar is utilized in the human body, such as the finding that the shape of sugar molecules on the surface of blood cells determines what blood type we have.

Oligosaccharides—otherwise known as simple sugars—are also found on the surface of organs and tissues. Sugar molecules differ from one body to the next, so rejection of a transplanted organ is likely if the recipient’s body recognizes the differently- shaped molecules from the donor’s body as a foreign object. The transplanted organ can be destroyed within hours, possibly minutes. The shape of sugars affects their function, and by studying the structure of oligosaccharides, Lemieux and other chemists have been able to create antigens that promote the integration of transplanted organs.

Sugar is the fuel that powers life, including us humans. In mammals, the stomach readily digests sucrose then transfers the broken-down products into the bloodstream. People with defects in glucose metabolism may not be able to cope with this rapid rise of blood sugar. An imbalance in blood sugar levels can lead to chronic diseases that are potentially fatal.

A greater than average level of glucose in the bloodstream is referred to as hyperglycemia, commonly caused by a deficiency of insulin, type I and II diabetes, excessive food intake or defects in the pancreas. The opposite of this condition, lower levels of glucose, is known as hypoglycemia and be caused by insufficient sugar intake, an overactive metabolic system or too much insulin, which can make a person hungry, irritable, and tired.

For a balanced diet, sugar should be consumed in moderation. Cavities are a common adverse effect if sugar is consumed in large quantities. Bacteria in the mouth use sugars as energy, leaving an acidic by-product that deteriorates tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay. Sucrose has an extremely high energy content— 17 kilojoules per gram—which may sound beneficial, but will displace other necessary nutrients and could lead to obesity and insulin resistance.

As with so many things concerning the food we eat, moderation is key. Sometimes, the best things in life aren’t sweet.

Thousands protest afghan war

On Saturday, Oct. 27, protestors in 25 Canadian cities called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afganistan. At least 2,000 demonstrated outside the U.S. consulate in Toronto, according to Sid Lacombe, president of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

Canada participated as a result of U.S. foreign policy, said Lacombe. “[It] was never, never about the liberation of the people of Afghanistan.” He cited reports developed by various anti-war NGOs, arguing that progress in areas such as women’s rights and democracy has been limited.

“The Taliban is stronger now than they were in 2001 because they are fighting the invaders,” Lacombe said.

Ryan Hayes, president of the Arts and Science Students Union, attended the rally in an unofficial capacity on behalf of No One Is Illegal, an organization that supports immigrant and indigenous rights.

“Students definitely were the most energetic, had the most rhythm, and were bringing the most energy,” Hayes said of the rally, which saw students from all three U of T campuses.

The protests followed the Stephen Harper’s Oct. 22 announcement of the plan to extend the Afghanistan mission by an additional two years, to 2011.

Only two weeks ago, Harper appointed an independent panel to explore Canada’s options in Afghanistan. The newly-announced extension was not one of the four options that the panel was assigned to investigate. Whether the panel’s recommendation will coincide with the prime minister’s intended policy, and how it will be taken into account, remains to be seen.

The Liberals called for the removal of Canadian troops from a combat role by 2009, while the NDP favoured an immediate withdrawal.

Staphylococcus infection rate ‘astounding’, may soon surpass AIDS deaths

It is well known that AIDS takes numerous lives every year. What is less well known is that drugresistant bacterial infections are becoming a similarly serious problem. A shocking new study has found that the number of deaths due to drugresistant Staphylococcus infections may soon exceed those caused by AIDS in the United States.

Staphylococcus bacteria are responsible for more than 90,000 infections and nearly 19,000 deaths annually in America, although it remains unclear if the bug is the direct cause of death in every case. A high-school student in Virginia, for example, died due to complications after an infection took over his heart, liver, and other organs. In its invasive form, the bug enters the bloodstream

or becomes a flesh-eating disease with often deadly results. The incidence rate is approximately 32 invasive cases per 100,000 people— astounding, according to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than half of these cases involved patients within a health-care setting. Transmission is often through the hands of health-care workers, as healthy people can carry the bacteria without experiencing any symptoms. Bacteria typically colonize the nose and skin of a patient and are transmitted to a nurse or doctor when that patient is examined. If proper sanitary measures are not taken between patient visits, the healthcare worker will carry the bacteria and possibly transmit it to the next patient. Open wounds and a weakened immune system leave patients more susceptible to contracting an infection. In addition, many cases were discovered in low-income urban areas, prisons, school gyms, and locker rooms.

The new study investigates the pervasiveness of these potentially invasive bacteria, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. After surveying nine urban areas considered representative of the American population, the study found that bloodstream infections accounted for the majority of probable deadly cases. Flesh-eating disease was also a contributor in 10 per cent of cases.

The case fatality rate (number of deaths per number of infections) was 6.3 per 100,000 people, or 18,650 deaths in 2005. If every one of these deaths could be directly attributed to MRSA, then this death rate would exceed the 17,011 Americans killed by AIDS in 2005.

Treatment is still possible, although penicillin or penicillin derivatives are ineffective because the bacteria have developed resistance to these drugs. Antibiotics that were designed to kill the bacteria are no longer effective, as MRSA has evolved over many generations to become immune. In this case, medicines that are normally prescribed when no other treatment is successful, such as the antibiotic vancomycin, are utilized. It may only be a temporary measure, though, as researchers believe it is only a matter of time before MRSA develops resistance to these alternative drugs as well.

Ideally, exercising preventative measures will reduce the use of antibiotics so that when infection does occur a treatment will still be available. It seems inevitable that MRSA will eventually develop resistance to all treatments and that an effective vaccine is needed. Dr. Buddy Creech, a specialist in infectious disease at Vanderbilt University, emphasizes the need for a vaccine as “the holy grail of staphylococcal research.”

The Russian bear is back in a big way

Does Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran signal the formation of a new strategic alliance between the ex-Soviet republic and the Islamic revolutionary state? Upon initial consideration, the answer seems apparent given that U.S. post-9/11 interventionist military policies have irked the governments of both countries. But looking past the political theatre, it is painfully obvious that Russia is demonstrating diplomatic maneuvering not seen since the height of its power during the Cold War. The association with Tehran will last only so long as it is in Russia’s national interest, and Russia is only using Iran as a stepping stone on its rising path back to its role as a great power on the international stage.

Putin’s visit was hailed in the Iranian press as a victory for the country’s position on the nuclear issue. Iran’s leaders have been desperate to gain international support in light of the two rounds of imposed sanctions by the UN Security Council which have put the squeeze on Iran’s tanking economy. Putting aside historical animosities, which had peaked after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1975, Putin was received by both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Islamic Revolution Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei—a sure demonstration of Tehran’s determination to court Russia’s support. The question is, at what price?

Notwithstanding the urge to exploit any opportunity to stick it to the United States, Russia’s foreign policy is a complex creature. Spurred on by the skyrocketing price of oil in the past five years, Russia is on-track to re-establishing itself as an international superpower. With the U.S. facing formidable challenges in Iraq, the scent of injured prey has emboldened even the most reluctant of predators. Russia’s primary objective concerning Iran is to prop up the regime, and while Moscow is defending Tehran’s nuclear program (supposedly for civilian purposes), even Putin wants to prevent the mullahs from getting their hands on “the bomb.” Russia’s alliance with Iran is in line with its national interests; the possibility of Iran as an independent nuclear power is not.

Besides its strategic benefits, the alliance also has positive economic repercussions for Russia. The ever-present threat that the U.S. could invade Iran is proving profitable for Russia’s weapons industries. Already, Iran’s leaders have purchased a $700 million air defense system from Russia. These are not going to be the last petrodollars finding their way to the Kremlin.

After having witnessed seven years of his administration, we should recognize that Putin, for better or for worse, is a shrewd politician. Despite the appearance of friendship, Putin is all too familiar with the irrationality of Islamic revolutionaries, and in light of Iran’s geographical proximity to Russia, will not support Iran’s presupposed determination to build a nuclear bomb.

The degree to which Russia has control over Iran’s nuclear program is uncertain; however, demonstrations of support such as Putin’s visit to Tehran pose an obstacle to the West. If the West is truly concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-capable Iran, it will have to come to terms with Russia’s re-emergence as a great power and its determination to exercise its strategic and economic muscle in the region. In short, the U.S. is going to have to play ball. The merits of Russia’s re-ascendance are not immediately apparent, but it is about time we re-evaluate the U.S. leadership in the nuclear standoff and consider whether it is capable of diplomatically resolving this issue under the administration of George Bush, the bumbling “decision-maker.”

Real-life ghostbusters?

From Shakespeare to primetime television, supernatural beings pervade human culture, tantalizing us with questions of the afterlife. For some, however, ghosts are more than just a scary campfire tale. One-third of those who recently took part in an Associated Press poll believe in the existence of ghosts, and one in four claimed to have seen or been in the presence of a supernatural spirit.

Ghost-hunting clubs and paranormal research organizations have been around since the late 1800s, yet it is American psychologist William James to whom present-day ghost hunters, or paranormal investigators, are the most indebted. James’s contribution lay in applying the scientific method to these studies. His small number of followers, including British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace and British philosopher Henry Sidgwick, founded the Society for Psychical Research to gather evidence about claims of paranormal activity through case studies and tests. Despite attempting to keep their findings scientific by applying statistics to their results—they were apparently unsatisfied with small sample sizes—as skeptics claimed the society performed nothing more than pseudoscience.

Lack of proper equipment and reliable methods for identifying ghosts are the main reasons why some scientists distrust ghost hunting evidence. Now more than ever, ghost hunters are using technology to detect the presence of spirits. One of the most popular pieces of equipment is the electromagnetic field meter, commonly used by physicists to detect changes in electromagnetic radiation. Ghost hunters who use this instrument believe that ghosts emit an electromagnetic field that can be detected in the spirit’s vicinity by higher levels of electromagnetic radiation. Other signs that paranormal investigators believe accompany a ghost’s presence are cold spots, ectoplasm, an excess of negative ions, orbs or bright spheres found in photographs, and electronic voice phenomena (speech-like sounds that are only audible upon playback of a recording). Many skeptics challenge these claims, arguing that none of these signs have been shown to accompany a ghost’s presence, and that no equipment is manufactured specifically for ghost-detection. Ghost hunters improvise by using scientific instruments designed for other purposes.

Despite the large number of people studying paranormal phenomena, there has yet to be irrefutable evidence of ghost detection. Claims are often debunked as fakes, especially in the case of video or audio “evidence”. This is the most popular criticism of television programs such as SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters. However, not all ghost hunters are out to trick you. Most are just hobbyists who enjoy the hunt and the idea of finding something supernatural. Besides, if ghost hunting was truly about finding scientific evidence to support the existence of paranormal entities, wouldn’t that take all of the fun out of it?