Editorial: Obama, King of Hearts

The election of Barack Obama is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary events our generation has ever witnessed. It’s something we had never expected to see in our lifetimes, so remarkable that it’s difficult to reflect on without emotion. The end of eight years of Bush administrations, two years of relentless campaigning, and months of trepidation as we watched the Republican campaign degenerate has brought us to light. The better man has won. In spite of the tumultuous state of affairs that Obama will inherit, it seems, at least tonight, that things are as they should be.

Obama’s election is a symbolic event of astonishing magnitude. Four years ago, the rookie Senator from Illinois emerged on the strength of his intelligence, political merit, and charisma. It can’t be overstated: he was born less than a century after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, and saw the Voting Rights Act signed during his childhood. Over the next four years, we’ll see whether his actions as president raise the incredible nature of his election beyond the symbolic.

We know that Obama will inherit a tremendous mess. He’s run an inspiring campaign, with capable people at his side, but whether or not he can repair the nation’s failures is uncertain. He takes over a country trillions of dollars in debt and facing, as Obama has stated, arguably the worst economic crisis of the last century. Despite his experience as a community organizer, minority rights and living standards can hardly be a priority at this time. His populist tendencies, his diverse and hopeful constituency, and his onetime statement regarding NAFTA renegotiation are encouraging. If anyone can convince a sceptical nation of the value of progressive thinking, Obama seems to be it, and his diplomacy, in addition to his ethnic background, will be a tonic for America’s ailing international reputation. But his rhetoric, however inspiring, will be difficult to realize—even if he keeps his promises, they may be insufficient.

Questions aside, Obama’s awesome achievement, the American people’s renewed optimism as evidenced by record voting turnouts, and the overwhelming hope springing from this event should inspire us Canadians, who witnessed our own excuse for a viable progressive party suffer a crushing blow not three weeks ago. Our pitiful approach to climate change has already embarrassed us on the world stage, and our government is too far to the right for comfort. Canada will now be following Barack Obama’s lead, and Harper’s initiatives will be tempered by his decisions, for better or for worse. This pair of elections was a stark reminder that Canada is not—never was—the progressive haven we (and so many disenchanted Americans) imagined it to be. But this exhausting election season has finally come to an end, and we can look to the future with much more hope than we had in the beginning.

Breast cancer cell line misidentified

Have the 650 breast cancer studies published over the last 25 years been in vain? In a bizarre case of misidentification, the breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-435, which until now has been the foremost model for metastatic breast cancer studies, has been reidentified as melanoma. A growing body of evidence that includes gene expression profiles, SNP arrays, and karyotype analysis have identified the source of 435 as the melanoma cell line M14, a cancer that arises from the pigment-containing melanocytes of the epidermis. The news has shaken the breast cancer community. Commercial distributors have discontinued the sale of 435, as researchers scramble to find a new model cell line from which to study metastatic breast cancer. Despite the overwhelming evidence that 435 is not a breast cancer line, some researchers are choosing to ignore facts and continue breast cancer studies using 435 as a model, prompting debate and controversy throughout the field.

Source: TheScientist.com

Last night changed it all

On Tuesday, America elected Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States. The news came just after 11 p.m., when the state of Virginia voted Democrat, ensuring Obama’s presidential victory.

The self-professed “least likely candidate for [this] office,” Obama’s campaign saw the death of public spending, an unprecedented voter turnout, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber. The American people have allowed the junior senator from Illinois a chance to deliver on his promise of hope and change.

To get there, Obama had to compete with a Mayor of New York, a Mormon, and a maverick. And let’s not forget the Clinton Political Machine—the mightiest machinery in American politics until today. Yet even to the veterans, Obama’s campaign was immaculate—free of the mistakes that often plague such operations. The precision with which he responded to his opponents’ attacks, the manner in which he was able to identify and exploit his rival’s flaws and slip-ups (while committing hardly any himself) provided the best answer to the accusations that he had no leadership skills or experience.

To skeptics who questioned his foreign policy credentials, he demonstrated his grasp on the use of power. This became ever more prevalent with the Jeremiah Wright controversy, but reached its pinnacle with the onset of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. While McCain teetered in between policies and messages, Obama stayed true to form and, most importantly, remained presidential.

To be sure, winning the election will be the easiest part of the Obama presidency. The to-do list is long, and after the longest and most expensive campaign in American history, Obama now carries the burden of great expectations. Over 130 million Americans reportedly voted in this presidential election, with certain states claiming an 80 to 90 per cent registered voter turnout.

As Obama mentioned in his election victory speech, the challenges will be great. Obama faces two wars, an economic recession, a defunct healthcare system, and a “planet in peril.” Many projects may serve as foreign policy tests, as America’s enemies angle to challenge the newly elect—just as JFK was challenged with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Facing such immense challenges with the pragmatism that has become the trademark of his campaign, Obama remarked to a crowd of over 100,000 at Chicago’s Grant Park: “I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree…to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn—I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.”

What breath of fresh air. Not only was his speech free of partisan rhetoric, it stayed humbly away from basking in the glory of the electoral college landslide, and the triumphant victory of the Democrats gaining control over the House, the Senate, and the White House. During his eloquent and thoughtful speech, not once did he draw attention to his own personal successes. “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to—it belongs to you,” he told his supporters.

Having spent the better part of my childhood in Southern California, I recall partaking in a mock 1996 Clinton-Dole presidential election in our elementary school. We had voting booths, pre-election rallies, and if I recall correctly, election fraud when a few upper years decided to get creative with their paper ballots. I was in grade three, and I voted for Bill Clinton mainly because I didn’t want to cast my vote to a fruit processing company.

So much has changed in such a short span of time. And for the first time in a long time, the American people can proudly carry the unyielding hopes that a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, has not perished from this Earth.” A president whose name means “he is with us” has promised to heal the divide and to remake the nation that once stood for liberty, to restore its moral authority, “block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”

According to transcripts provided by the White House, Mr. Bush called Mr. Obama to congratulate him and to promise a “smooth transition.” Mr. Bush added, “You are about to go on one of the great journeys of your life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself.” We might as well do the same.

Blues fight to the end

University of Toronto men’s soccer head coach Anthony Capotosto knew that it was going to be a difficult game. The Ontario University Athletics semifinals saw the young Blues go up against the defending OUA champions York Lions, who are widely regarded as contenders for the national title.

The Lions were ranked first in the country until a scandal broke in early October, revealing a failure to disclose that one of their players was in the lineup for Toronto FC. As a result, their rating was brought down from #1 to #9. Yet York was still the team to beat with six players later named all-stars, including MVP Francesco Bruno. The Blues devoted much of their effort to finding a way around the intimidating Lions.

“[The York game] was one that we had prepared for all week and prepared for very diligently,” said Coach Capotosto.

As the game got underway, Toronto’s preparation appeared to have paid off as the team held on while York looked for an early lead. Veteran Blues goalkeeper Luciano Lombardi came up with a big save twelve minutes into the half, shortly after all-star midfielder Mario Nallira got the first shot on goal for the Blues. In the stands, the Toronto crowd came out in full-force, outnumbering the small and quiet York contingent. But the Lions kept their composure, creating more offensive opportunities—the most promising of which came late in the half when Bruno struck the ball off the left upright. The Toronto defence lived up to their reputation as the best in the OUA, keeping the game scoreless throughout the first half.

In the second half, the defending champs came on strong when a corner kick by Bruno was headed in by York defender Jamaal Smith, who had come up field for the play. While the Lions pushed relentlessly for a deal-sealer, the Blues didn’t let up, despite few offensive opportunities. When York all-star striker Adrian Pena got inside the Blues box in the 59th minute, Lombardi and Toronto captain Dustin Chung made short order of the threat. Despite the belief that York dominated this half, the play was not entirely one-sided. The Blues employed a strategy used against offensive teams like Carleton—stopping the ball in the back and feeding it quickly down the wing channels, where they’ve found recent success with young players like Geoffrey Borgmann and Kilian Elkinson.

The Blues’ defensive strategies worked until late in the second half when the officiators made the first of several controversial calls. In the 82nd minute, Lombardi was called for bringing down York right-winger Jarek Whiteman, and a potential game-deciding penalty-kick was awarded to the Lions. Bruno took the kick but missed the net completely, echoing David Beckham in the famous 2004 European Cup quarterfinal against Portugal. Lombardi anticipated it perfectly by diving to the left, ensuring that even if it had been on target, he probably would have blocked the shot.

Toronto was awarded a free-kick when a York player mysteriously fell backwards after stepping in towards Toronto rookie Dylan Bams. Elkinson sent a high ball directly to Dustin Chung, who headed the ball in, giving Toronto a fighting chance. The Toronto fans erupted in cheers as a York player appeared to touch the ball in the York box, which would give the Blues a penalty-kick and a chance to finish the game. The officials weren’t about to let the nail-biter end in a penalty-kick for the visiting team. With the Blues energized after the upswing in their offensive fortunes, they sought to put the game away in the final minutes and committed to finding a second goal. The Lions set up a bold three-man counterattack in the 90th minute, when most of the Blues were still up field. With clutch passing, midfielder Douglas Sereti set up Jarek Whiteman in the middle, who put the ball past Lombardi and finished the game for York.

“We went into the game wanting to come off the field with no regrets and we did that,” said Coach Capotosto. For the most part, the game was evenly matched—a testament to the Blues’ extensive preparation, their ability to objectively evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and to adjust to what many said was a superior team.

The Blues’ season came to an end on Sunday with a 3-0 loss to the Carleton Ravens, currently ranked #1 in Canada. The Blues were the only team to beat Carleton this year, prior to their semi-final loss against the Laurier Golden Hawks. Before losing to the Blues, the Ravens had enjoyed an astounding 32-game winning streak in the East.

“The win over Carleton was the turning point for the team,” said Chung. “That’s when we really started believing in ourselves and saying ‘You know what, we can make it to the final four.’”

U of T soccer fans were rarely disappointed this season, as the team lost only one game (and later avenged that loss). Their performance was honoured with five OUA all-stars: defender Yannis Gianniotis, defender and team captain Dustin Chung, midfielder Mario Nallira, striker Niko Pesa, and midfielder Lawrence Buchan. In addition, Nordo Gooden picked up the Community Service Award for his local coaching work.

“The whole season has been unbelievable. In my five years, this has probably been the best one so far. We’ve just been the tightest team,” said goalkeeper Lombardi. “It’s great in the [locker] room. We all get along and it’s just unbelievable.”

“What really made the difference was the preparation in training sessions,” explained Chung. “Our [strength and conditioning] trainer Yuri [Elkaim] had us in top shape all season and [Coach Capotosto] prepared us from top to bottom, from goalkeeping to defense to midfield to the strikers. The main story of the season though would have to be our young players like Dylan Bams, Kilian Elkinson, and a lot of these guys that have come in and put in the work.”

Coach Capotosto added praise for the newcomers: “A lot of the first-year players stepped up and did a great job for us. I think we have a very bright future here with this program and these players.”

“I thought it was just a phenomenal season,” said Chung. “With so many young guys on this team who are eager and willing to learn, things are looking good for next year.”

Cracking Harper’s cabinet

A certain Cabinet Secretary once remarked that cabinet ministers must possess a unique talent: propensity for constant activity with no actual achievement. Well, Stephen Harper has exceeded this standard with his new ministerial rollout. By expanding his crew to 38 (up from 34), the Prime Minister has confounded critics yet again, charmed supporters old and new, and laid the foundations for the next step in his master plan.

Anyone who knows anything about Harper’s style will not be surprised to learn that the various appointments, demotions, and lateral movements involved a great deal of calculation, yet these moves raise more questions than they answer. Consider the increased number of female MPs now holding portfolios. After the 2006 election, Harper took heat when he appointed fewer women to cabinet than the Liberals did—a mistake he went out of his way not to repeat. The number of women Harper appointed this time around (11) is exactly the same as his predecessor back in 2003. Coincidence, or an attempt to match (but not exceed) the Liberal track record? One thing’s for sure—this move will definitely consolidate the slow gains made by the Conservative Party among female voters in the last election.

Some of the ministers Harper hired are political neophytes, such as Lisa Raitt, the former Toronto Port Authority boss who soundly whupped the floor-crossing MP for Halton. Garth Turner was appointed. So was Peter Kent, the famous face of Global News who erased Susan Kadis’ 10,000 vote lead from the 2006 election, and Bob Dechert, the Tory insider and Bay Street lawyer (now that’s an odd career choice for a Conservative MP, eh?) who now holds Mississauga–Erindale. What do these three have in common? They represent newly held GTA ridings and possible command centres for a storm-the-gates operation to be conducted in the 416. One wonders why Paul Calandra, who snatched Oak Ridges–Markham in a shocker, and Lois Brown, who took Belinda Stronach’s former riding of Newmarket–Aurora, were left out.

The moves Harper made with his senior ministers have brain-cramping implications, both good and bad. Promoting Quebec lieutenant and steady hand Lawrence Cannon to Foreign Affairs will bring some stability to the portfolio and cover Harper’s French flank. Moving U of T law school grad Tony Clement to the less-scrutinized Industry file cements Clement’s reputation as a jack-of-all-trades (he previously held Environment, Transport, and Health portfolios at the provincial level) and suits his quieter personality, while clearing the way for the new Nunavut MP, Leona Aglukkaq to take over the reins at Health. Keeping Jim Flaherty in Finance was the logical extension of Harper’s “stay-the-course” message on the economy, while putting former Natural Resource Minister and B.C. MP Gary Lunn in the Ministry of Sport penalty box defused the anger over Lunn’s role in the isotope crisis of last year, and ensured that the Vancouver 2010 Olympics are overseen by a West Coaster.

However, returning Gerry Ritz to Agriculture Minister despite his mishandling of the tainted meat scandal, while demoting Heritage Minister Josée Verner to Intergovernmental Affairs for failing to deal with the fallout of the Conservatives’ arts cutbacks makes little sense. The widely-respected James Moore takes over Verner’s Heritage post instead of a high-profile portfolio, despite being one of the most put-together people on Parliament Hill. Equally baffling are Parliamentary brawler John Baird’s move away from Environment to Transport and Infrastructure, while Red Tory and rumoured Harper successor Jim Prentice is appointmented as Baird’s replacement on the Climate Change file. Prentice is widely respected (even by Liberals) and enormously capable, but unless he can withstand Liberal attacks on the Harper government’s climate change record, he may be steamrolled. Baird has the opposite problem: if he goes toe-to-toe with the management of cash-strapped people-movers (such as our TTC) and resentful provincial governments over infrastructure payments, he could get himself into a fight he can’t win.

There’s no easy explanation for Harper’s cabinet choices. But one thing’s for sure: he’s got every pundit in the whole country (including yours truly) trying to find answers. If your decisions leave the entire country trying to read your mind, you couldn’t have done too badly.

Josh Lieblein is a pharmacy student who likes politics, which makes him a political scientist of a different sort. He encourages left-wing students to denounce his writing as loudly as possible, because he needs the publicity.


We emerged from watching the election results into the heart of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A noise from a cheering crowd was audible from around the corner and my friends took off to see what was going on.

People had enveloped the street from all sides and brought traffic to a halt. The spirit of the crowd was pure joy and disbelief at such good fortune. A huge weight had been lifted as the starkest contrast between political moods had taken place. There was so much joy people didn’t even know how to express it. Some were making noise however they could, banging wooden spoons on pots. Some felt that they needed to climb on top of things. Every car had to stop for the crowd whether they liked it or not, cars were now props for people to climb on top of and demonstrate the revolution. One person climbed on top of a bus.

Someone I was with climbed on to the back of my bike and as I rode down the street, I contemplated the hopefulness of the country in which I now reside.

The entire city seemed overjoyed, every person you passed on the street was eligible for a high five. It felt like a shared victory, something everyone could take credit for.

This mood, which I think is shared in all of urban America, is the greatest success of this election.

Science throws a wrench into the gay rights debate

When it comes to gay rights, penguins are an example for humanity: certain species sometimes form same-sex, monogamous partnerships. In 2004, two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo were given a fertilized egg from a heterosexual couple. They cared for the egg and raised it as their own. This story was picked up by most media outlets, re-igniting a long-standing debate about gay partnership. In the field of genetics, there is a related million-dollar question: is there a gay gene?

This proposition could prove to be watershed issue for certain groups. If it turns out that homosexuality is entirely determined by one’s genes, it may lead to genetic screening and possibly selective abortions in a worst-case scenario. Gay rights groups already grapple with Evangelical Christian organizations such as the infamous Exodus International, who treat homosexuality as something that should be “cured” by the almighty power of Christ.

Research on the topic is hard to decipher. In the battle between nature and nurture, the outcome seems to be a tie. In studies using identical twins (to control for the influence of genetics, as their genes are identical), both genetics and the environment have approximately equal influence on an individual’s sexual orientation. If one identical twin is straight, the other has a roughly 50 per cent chance of identifying as a homosexual later in life. Fifty-fifty probabilities are a gambler’s dream—but also a frustrating answer when it comes to this long-standing debate.

The outlook becomes increasingly cloudy when one considers the prevalence of homosexuality in nature. It occurs in many animal groups, particularly in social animals. Many species of monkeys and apes display homosexual behaviour in various forms; it is well known that the amorous Bonobo chimpanzees use homosexual sex as a way to peacefully resolve conflicts between males. Observed in over 1,500 species, it seems unlikely that homosexuality is a negative side effect of natural selection. Rather, it serves in binding social groups and reducing aggression between members of the same species.

Defining homosexual relationships as an anomaly is a fallacy. Rejecting the influence of human evolution and replacing it with the edicts of conservative religions and societal norms automatically marginalizes those who break the mould. If the freedom of choice we’re given in the Western world affords us liberties ranging from free speech to the right to carry weapons, surely we can allow ourselves a choice of spouse that comes without conditions?

The idea that same-sex marriage is a danger to the traditional family model and erodes the sanctity of marriage is ludicrous. Although evolution dictates that only heterosexual partnerships can result in fertile offspring, this is no reason to expect all members of society to subscribe to the heterosexual, monogamous model.

At either end of the spectrum, finding an answer to the gay gene question is problematic. If homosexuality is determined to be a genetic difference in one subset of the human population, it is all too easy to erroneously describe homosexuality as a disease. If we move to the opposite side of the debate and consider homosexuality a choice, “curing” people of homosexuality—treating it like an addiction or worse—unfortunately gains traction.

Homosexuality, for better or worse, is most likely a combination of environmental and genetic cues. There is much evidence indicating that brain structure and response to hormones may affect one’s sexuality. What bearing this has on one’s sexual orientation may never be absolutely certain.

When it comes to societal pressures dictating a response to same-sex marriage, the proof is in the pudding: only Spain, Norway, and Canada give same-sex couples the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples. The various statuses afforded to same-sex couples form a patchwork quilt across the American states—unsurprisingly banned in the unflinchingly socially conservative Bible Belt, but allowed in “dangerously liberal” California. But the battle is seemingly unending. Proposition 8, which passed on Tuesday’s ballot, will ban gay marriage on a state constitutional level if a court challenge doesn’t put a stop to it.

Surely, if a couple of flightless birds have figured out same-sex partnerships, we can too.

Bond Reborn

“The theory was, we make Casino Royale as if there had never been a James Bond movie made in the past,” said co-producer Michael G. Wilson, describing the creative process behind what’s quickly become a new generation of Bond films.

When Wilson visited Toronto to promote the latest Bond venture, Quantum of Solace, he brought to the roundtable interview director Marc Forster, new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, and 007 himself, the steely-eyed Daniel Craig. Over a series of interviews at the Hazelton Hotel, the group discussed how they set out to dramatically change the Bond franchise.

While most fans have welcomed the bloody realist aspects of the new films, some mourn the loss of the larger-than-life technical elements that were Bond’s trademark for generations. “Hopefully through this process we’ll create the new icons rather than trying to just re-adapt the old icons,” said Wilson.

If, as Wilson implied, Casino Royale was the death of the old franchise, Quantum of Solace might very well be the funeral, paying respects to old spectacle while charting new terrain.

Marc Forster—whose previous work on Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland made him a surprising choice for a Bond director—has introduced an unprecedented “art film” agenda into the new series. He also pays homage to past installments with retro visual cues, including one nostalgic set piece that will send audiences all the way back to Goldfinger.

“I felt it was an interesting era for Bond,” remarked Forster on the earlier installments, “so I wanted to bring that back into it and sort of juxtapose it to the modern look of MI6.”

Forster’s acknowledgment of the Bond tradition certainly doesn’t hinder him from taking bold artistic steps in Quantum. He gives the action sequences an elemental theme, played out over land, water, air, and blazing fire. Using abstract techniques for a gunfight that takes place during the opera Tosca, itself containing parallels to Bond, a massive blue eye onstage resembles 007’s ever-watchful peepers. That’s a lot to chew on for an action flick.

Another refreshing element is Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who delights in the fact that her character Camille is the first in the series who doesn’t sleep with 007. “She’s different,” said Kurylenko. “She’s like Bond in a female body. She’s almost equal to him. What’s nice is that in this film, she has her own story. She exists without Bond—she has her own mission. Other girls, somehow existed [through] Bond only.”

While everyone celebrates the updated series, the film’s star is doing as much as he can to maintain the tradition.

“I haven’t done anything to modernize the character,” said Craig, speaking to his Bond’s harder edge. “If anything, I’m trying to cling onto the past.”

“There’s something archaic about him. I want him to remain misogynistic to a certain extent because I like the debate between him and M, because M is the balance there. He’s the one that’s sort of behaving badly as a man, and she’s the one that’s slapping him down.”

Craig had his arm in a sling, due to an old injury that hasn’t quite healed over the course of two Bond movies. But it doesn’t prohibit him from bouncing with enthusiasm while describing his onscreen persona.

“He likes fast cars, beautiful women, champagne. He likes all the things that James Bond has always liked. I tried to come at it from a new angle, to refresh it as opposed to trying to re-invent it.”

Another change that Quantum introduces is a direct engagement with current sociopolitical issues, concerning dwindling resources and the evil powers trying to control them. Craig insisted that such developments were plot choices that “just happened to get more and more relevant as the hours tick by.”

“Bonds have always been naturally apolitical,” the actor reminded us. “I’ve always maintained that it’s a Bond movie. We can’t go down the political road. We mustn’t because it’s not our job to do that. But ultimately, to comment on it and make it as pressing as possible is also very important because it’s a modern movie.”

Craig would rather see elements of the old series returned to the new films, particularly recurring characters like Q and Moneypenny. However, he recognizes that these additions can’t simply be thrust into the creative process.

“I don’t think you could offer a good actor a part and say, ‘The part’s Q, remember how it was played? That’s exactly what I want.’ I think that’s kind of offensive to give to an actor. I would love it to be properly written it and give it to an actor, saying, ‘What are you going to make of that? Invent something.’”

While Craig advocates for Bond’s old tricks to be retained, he won’t compromise the integrity of the story being told. In the new film, Bond doesn’t go topless (to the dismay of women everywhere), doesn’t bed the Bond girl, and doesn’t even utter such famous catchphrases as “Shaken, not stirred” and “Bond, James Bond.”

“It didn’t fit,” explained Craig. “Putting it in because it should be there just doesn’t make sense to me. It jarred in the final cut. It was something that didn’t fit in with the movie.”

But such an absence won’t be disorienting. There are still the exotic locales, beautiful women, luxury cars, countless martinis and the iconic music. As Craig assured, “You’re never in any doubt that you’re watching a James Bond movie.”

Quantum of Solace opens November 14.