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?

Why I’m voting ‘no’ on UTSU’s referendum

Having been a member of several campus groups over the years, one would expect that I would be first in line to vote yes on the funding referendum for the new “Student Commons” proposed by the University of Toronto Students Union. Well, you couldn’t be more mistaken.

The idea of a shared space for students to rehearse, perform, pray, eat, and lounge 24 hours a day sounds highly appealing. Hearing about such a utopian area certainly sent sinful thoughts of beautiful dance studios and majestic theatres (all for free!) racing through my mind. However, upon examining the notices of the referendum, I was horrified to find that few specific plans have been made.

Being the keen user of campus space that I am, I hoped that there might be some more information on the UTSU website so I could tell all my friends and group members to vote “yes.” Sadly, my hopes were crushed as I was unable to find any information available to the public.

Because of this lack of specific information, two big questions kept running through my mind; “What will this space look like?” and “Who is going to be running it?”

Thinking about this only spawned more uncertainty: has a design even been drawn up for this building? What if I do not like the design that I voted to pay for, or the space is not adequate for my group’s needs? If no design exists, is the $30 million price tag an estimate? Could the price increase? Does that mean another referendum in 10 years to support any unanticipated costs? Will alumni get to use the space we partially paid for? How can we guarantee all student groups have equal access to the facilities? The list goes on.

With U of T constantly growing, one would naturally assume we will never have enough space. The problem is not a lack of facilities, but a mismanagement of them. A multitude of buildings are virtually deserted at most hours of the day. Surely it would be possible to reevaluate the space we already have and use it more creatively.

At the end of the day, it is not about money. I would not mind paying for something well-designed and well-run. Nonetheless, until specifics are given, I will, regrettably, be voting “no.”

Rain, sweat, and tears…

They say that every cloud has a silver lining, but as skies darkened earlier than expected on Varsity Centre, the men’s and women’s soccer teams could only look back on a season that likewise ended too early, and wonder what could have been. “We came a long way from last season but I just think we could have gone a lot farther with the talent that we had on this team,” said a disappointed Rosanna Dalimonte following Saturday’s loss to Carleton.

It had rained for most of the day, but when the game ended the real water-works began. A teary-eyed women’s soccer team left the field to a standing ovation from the crowd of family, friends, and other Varsity athletes. It was a tribute not to the outcome of one game, but for the season that was, and all the toil and sweat it took to get to that point.

On the men’s side, there was a feeling of shock and disbelief, the players’ silence illustrating their disappointment after having fought back from a slow start to the season, finishing second overall in the Eastern Conference (8-3-3). Two months suddenly came down to a single game and in the blink of an eye their season was over. “It’s tough to take,” remarked Blues midfielder Nevin Korompay. “We feel bad because we’ve had success against them [Queen’s] throughout the year, but in the playoffs anything can happen.”

Entering the game against Queen’s (6-4-4), the Blues were confident having beaten the Golden Gaels 4-0 in their last meeting. Toronto would come out strong, attacking and putting pressure on the Queen’s from the opening draw. Blues forward Evan Millward was the first to draw blood for Toronto, on a penalty shot in the tenth minute of the first half. He was a Queen’s antagonist throughout the game, generating many scoring chances with his speed, and drawing a warning from a referee during one altercation with a Queen’s player.

In the 30th minute of play, the Golden Gaels would answer with a goal by midfielder Nick Milonas. Blues fourth-year goaltender Luciano Lombardi was caught out of position, turning a seemingly innocent play into a tied game after he couldn’t get back to his net in time. Lombardi would finish the game with four saves.

The Gael’s would capitalize again early in the second half with Alexander Makin scoring to give Queen’s a 2-1 lead. Toronto tried to battle back, creating scoring opportunities off four corner kicks by Joe Rini that almost resulted in header goals. It was a game with a fast pace and a lot of intensity coming from both sides. With the team trailing by a goal late in the game, Toronto’s Michael Yat would try to fire up his teammates, almost pleading as he yelled, “dig deep boys, dig deep, let’s go.” The closest the Blues would come to a point was a shot over the Queen’s field goal post. The Blues would go on to lose 2-1 in a game that started with a bang but ended in a whimper. “It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said men’s coach Anthony Capatosto. “We’re extremely disappointed right now. We didn’t meet the goals that we set at the beginning of the season, and the standard for men’s soccer at U of T should be the highest in Canada. We made two critical errors and Queen’s capitalized on both. That was the difference in the game.”

Both soccer games were hard fought and the final result should take nothing away from the teams accomplishments this year. The women’s game in particular was a grueling match undecided until the final play. It was a scoreless affair without many opportunities. Mary Anne Barnes was her usual steady self finishing with her 12th shutout on seven saves to keep the score deadlocked through regulation and overtime. In contrast, her Ravens counterpart, Katherine Shaugnessey, made only three saves in the game, but would have the last laugh by making two more stops than Barnes in the shootout. Carleton would notch four straight goals to start the shootout, from Hilary Pierce and Aisha Stinson, among others. For Toronto, Laura Arduini, Kristine Fantozzi, and Rosanna Dalimonte would try to keep the Blues’ hopes alive with one goal apiece. But after a Barnes save on the Raven’s Heather McKim gave the team life, Shaugnessy stopped Blues captain Katie Hill to end the game 1-0 in Carleton’s favor.

“Katie wanted to win more than anyone,” reflected midfielder Heidi Borgman. “There’s nothing the coaches can say to make us feel better right now, we feel awful for the leaving players.” Hill is in her last year with the Blues, and so exiting under these circumstances was less than ideal. She is joined by men’s captain Joe Rini, and leading scorer Mike Bialy as Varsity Blues who will also wave goodbye to the team after this season.

“It’s just a heart breaking way to lose,” Borgman said, “It’s unbelievable, there’s no way that I thought we were going to lose that game.

It was a bittersweet farewell for the Blues, with the rainy night providing an appropriate setting. At the end of the movie Casablanca under dark skies, Humphrey Bogart—no stranger to heartbreak or bittersweet goodbyes— coined the phrase: “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Reflecting on the end of her team’s season coach McCharles seemed to echo Bogart’s sentiments saying: “I’m really proud of the girls and what they accomplished this year. It’s the start of a fantastic program.”