Palestinian students under siege

Riham Al-Nahhal is one of the lucky few who have left the Gaza Strip to pursue their education. But for now, university will have to wait.

Her original plan was to arrive in Toronto in time to attend Ryerson and pursue her graduate degree in biomedical science. Instead she was held for 26 hours at the Israel-controlled Rafah crossing, on the border between Gaza and Egypt. Riham said she arrived in Toronto on Sept. 4, too late to join class. She will not be starting school until next semester. “We are still deciding between Ryerson and U of T, but right now she is relaxing,” said Wal.

Riham completed her undergrad at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, and claims she has been trying to make it to university in Canada for a year.

Israel has imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip since the Hamas government took control in June 2007. The borders have mostly been kept closed, and when they do open, only a few hundred people are allowed to leave at a time.

Around 670 aspiring international students in Gaza have been prevented from leaving to attend schools in foreign countries.

Riham’s husband, Wal Al-Nahhal, sponsored her entry into Canada with a family sponsorship visa. Without such a document, most Palestinians wishing to leave the country have to rely on patience and luck.

“They seem only to open the border once every three weeks,” said Wal. “It’s like collective punishment for the Palestinian people.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had harsh words for the Israeli government when she visited the Middle East in May of this year. “If you cannot engage young people and give them a complete horizon to their expectations and to their dreams, then I don’t know that there would be any future for Palestine,” she said. Shortly after that, then-Foreign Minister and Prime Minister-elect Tzipi Livni made a few exceptions and allowed four of seven Fulbright scholars to leave the territory.

The current Israeli policy is to allow only “extreme humanitarian cases” to leave Gaza, according to Major Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the Israeli Military. International students, he said, “are not people who need humanitarian aid.”

Changing lives with WiFi

Dr. Eric Brewer believes WiFi can save the developing world.

Speaking before a crowd of budding computer engineers at U of T’s Bahen Centre last Tuesday, Brewer delivered a lecture entitled “Tech for Developing Regions: Computer Science Matters,” the first of U of T’s Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series.

An accomplished computer scientist himself, Brewer co-founded the Inktomi Corporation in 1996. Since 2005 Brewer has also been on partial leave as director of research at Intel. His current work focuses on connecting rural and urban regions of developing nations through a wireless networking scheme he invented called WiLDNet.

WiFi as we know it provides internet service within a radius of several meters, as found in coffee shops and school libraries. On the other hand, WiLDNet, which is short for Wireless Long Distance Network, will be used to connect rural communities across entire nations. These communities include three to four billion people worldwide who live on less than two dollars a day. His goal is to use technology to accelerate growth and prosperity among these populations.

Brewer’s driving force is his “wireless hypothesis” which claims that wireless systems are the first truly viable infrastructure for rural areas because they connect large areas at a very low cost. “Wireless is so affordable that you can put it in rural areas right now, and we’re going to do that,” he explained. He believes that introducing such systems can lead to increased rural income, bringing about other types of infrastructure such as health care, education, and government.

How feasible are these grand intentions? According to Brewer, there have already been a number of successful WiFi experiments where connectivity has increased rural income and quality of life. The introduction of wireless connectivity to the Aravind Eye Hospitals in Tamil Nadu, India has provided thousands of rural villagers with eye care they would have otherwise never received due to the severe shortage of doctors in the area. Connected by an antenna and a small Linux router, these one-room clinics are equipped with a single PC and a high-quality webcam which allows patients to video-conference with doctors in distant hospitals. For these doctors, who are used to working without instruments, the patient interview is the most important tool in diagnosis. Of the 80,000 patients who have used this service, over 14,000 have gone from being essentially blind to having effective vision, and 85 per cent have since been able to generate their own income.

Another company, I.T. Mountain, uses WiFi connectivity to send medical audio files to Bangalore, where trained workers transcribe the files and send the text documents back to the doctors. Outsourcing transcription from cities to isolated areas generates an average of eight dollars an hour—a huge amount by rural standards—for each employee.

Of course, the wireless revolution has its setbacks. The biggest challenge Brewer has faced so far is the low power grid quality in these areas. The unpredictable spikes and swells of voltage are responsible for 90 per cent of WiLDNet’s hardware faults, such as damage to power adapters and batteries. This poses a health risk to residents, who often try to refill the battery acid themselves. As solutions to these problems, Brewer’s team developed a low-voltage disconnect circuit which completely shuts off the power at the first sign of fluctuation. This includes a solar controller that effectively charges batteries independent of varying power levels.

For Brewer, who offers his software for free, the next step is to find a company that shares his goals to operate the WiFi networks. “It’s not about getting web pages to a rural village, it’s about using the technology to directly address the real problems, whether that’s health care, education, good governments, remittances, microfinance. All those need technical innovation.” Though it may take some time to convince companies of his project’s worth, Brewer shows no signs of worry: “I think they will come, if we’re patient about it.”

Free tuition for Lakehead nerds

Starting next year, Lakehead University will offer free tuition to undergrads who enter with a 95 per cent average and who maintain an 85 per cent average in upper years. Robert Perrier, manager for undergraduate recruitment at Lakehead, said the scholarships are a move to attract top students from all over Canada to northwestern Ontario’s only university.

Lakehead’s current student body was not exactly jubilant. Calling the initiative “spearhead recruitment” for “garnishing attention in making people interested,” Richard Longton, president of the Lakehead University Students’ Union, said the university is shortchanging current students who will not benefit from this decision in any way.

University of Toronto Students’ Union VP external Dave Scrivener sees things differently. Scrivener said he’d like to see similar policies at other universities. “It’s great to see a university accept that access to post-secondary education needs to be centred on a system of merit, and not money,” he says.


Triple chocolate cheesecake, banana cream pie, and creme brulee. Are you salivating yet? Most of us are well acquainted with food cravings, but what many don’t know is cravings are usually an indication of some nutrient deficiency in the body. So when you’re yearning for a sugary treat, what your body really needs may be a handful of broccoli. Cravings are usually psychological in nature, but numerous studies by naturopathic doctors and food scientists have revealed that there is also a physiological aspect.

When desiring sweets, the body actually requires a multitude of nutrients such as chromium, phosphorus, or tryptophan. Most sweets do not contain these nutrients. However, eating one of the large varieties of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and even meats would successfully satiate this need. If you desire oily or fatty foods, the body is likely in need of calcium which can be obtained from cheese, legumes, and sesame. When in the mood for alcohol or other recreational drugs, this could be a sign of low protein, avenin, or potassium, which can be found in nuts, granola or black olives, respectively.

The body is a complex system, in which appetite, hunger and food cravings are under the control of hormones. Studies conducted at the University of California by Mary Dallman and her lab suggest that people tend to crave comfort food in response to chronic stress. They found that adrenal hormones such as glucocorticoids were elevated in rats under stress, which led to “pleasure-seeking behaviors” such as eating foods high in fat and sugar. Abdominal obesity is often the result, and excess fat deposits act to inhibit the stress system. According to Norman Pecoraro, a post-doc in Dallman’s lab, “it could explain […] why solace is often sought in such foods by people with stress, anxiety or depression. It also could help to explain bulimic and night-binging eating disorders.”

Indulging in the occasional treat is no crime, but if you constantly crave food high in fat, sugar, or salt, this can result in severe health problems such as hypertension or cardiovascular heart disease. Pecoraro suggests, “In the short term, if you’re chronically stressed it might be worth eating and sleeping a little more to calm down, perhaps at the expense of gaining a few pounds. But seeking a long-term solution in comfort foods—rather than fixing the source of the stress or your relationship to the source of the stress—is going to be bad for you.” Get to the root of your food cravings by opting for the healthier alternative.

The full list on healthy food craving solutions can be found at

Hello Finland!

This summer, eight students will travel to Finland in U of T’s oldest student exchange. The Hart House Finnish Exchange has been operating since 1951, and has sent 95 U of T students abroad while hosting 108 Finns in Canada.

The program runs on a four-year cycle: Canadians and Finns take turns going abroad every two years. Canadian Students head to four host schools in Helsinki.

The 10-week trip kicks off with two weeks of orientation and travel, with the remainder as a sort of working holiday. The program has also helped students find employers ranging from publishing houses to organic farms.

U of T English major Marja Applefort, who took part three summers ago, said the small size of the program allows for a much more intimate atmosphere. “I think it’s something that’s really different, it’s not like going to teach English in Japan,” she said. For more information and applications, or to apply, go to

U of T student wins Ontario Genomics Institute fellowship

Xinchen Wang, a 3rd year Biochemistry student, was one of the lucky few that got down and dirty with scientific research this summer. He was the only U of T student to receive a 2008 Summer Research Fellowship with the Ontario Genomics Intitute (OGI), along with six other students around the province.

This highly regarded Fellowship, which has been offered for the past six years, is intended to promote research in the fields of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Students are given the opportunity to participate in meaningful research under the supervision of an expert in a genomics-related field.

Wang’s research involved the use of microarrays to predict acute lung injury (ALI) in transplant patients using tissue samples from donor lungs.

“It’s about 75-80 per cent accurate. Right now, we’re using both rat and mouse models, but to actually predict ALI, we used human library data sets. We looked at genes that were commonly expressed in all sorts of studies, the most statistically robust. Hopefully it’ll apply to actual people so that we can test the tissues before transplantation to see which lungs should be transplanted and which should be thrown out,” Wang explains.

In addition to being able to conduct clinically relevant work, the OGI Summer Fellowship also provides the chance to discuss projects with other fellows in the program every two weeks. “It feels more personal, because this year we only had seven people. You get to talk to them, and you actually learn a lot more because you get exposed to what everyone else is doing in their different fields. It was a lot better than the one I took last year, the Summer Student Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, because even though you met every week, there were three hundred people in the program.”

The OGI Fellowship consists of a mandatory orientation session, journal club meetings, and an opportunity to present your research at the end of the summer.

Besides research experience, Wang also believes the Fellowship gave him invaluable insight into the scientific private sector: “OGI is a not-for-profit organization in the private sector, so they aren’t as academic as St. Mike’s, or [Toronto General Hospital]. It’s kind of nice to see how the world is like outside of academic research, because that’s rare to see in your undergraduate experience.”

One of the goals of this summer fellowship is to cultivate undergraduate interest in genomics or bioinformatics. Although Wang still finds himself switching subject POSts every two months, he displays a strong passion for clinical research. “If I’m going to do research, I’d like it to be something applicable to people,” Wang says candidly, “but I’m probably going to change my mind again from now and when I graduate.”

Shock and awe?

The line snaked around the block at Bloor Cinema, but it wasn’t for a classic film or a Hollywood blockbuster. U of T’s chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group played host last Monday to Naomi Klein, author and U of T alumna, in town to promote her latest book. In The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein challenges the idea that democracy and laissez-faire capitalism go hand in hand, arguing the coupling only benefits the elite.

A cornerstone of Klein’s thesis is that times of shock, such as political upheaval and natural disasters, are exploited to push through economic policies. When the majority of the population is either too distracted or powerless to form any kind of opposition, says Klein, the drastic deregulation of markets and public spending slashes characteristic of Chicago School economics are often implemented.

Klein pointed to the recent Wall Street financial crisis. “[This] is one of those shock moments when the shock doctrine is applied,” she said. “I think what we’ve been witnessing in Washington and on Wall Street is a very concerted effort to benefit the very people who are most responsible for creating that economic crisis.”

The night was also devoted to the importance of grassroots activism in pushing issues into the political limelight. “Why can’t First Nations rights be that kind of national, broad-based issue?” asked Klein, comparing First Nations advocacy with climate change initiatives. All proceeds from the talk went to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and the Algonquins of Berriere Lake.

Prominent Toronto activists also took to the stage. John Clarke, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty founder, was among them. “In this city […] there has been massive under-funding of public housing,” he said. “People are living under conditions that are beyond belief.” OCAP led a street takeover at Gerrard and Parliament on Oct. 4 to highlight these issues.

Other speakers included representatives from the Tyendinaga Support Committee, No One is Illegal, the Coalition Against Israeli Aparteid and the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War.

Klein echoed their call for action. “These powerful forces are much, much weaker than we think and it’s time to remember that we’re much, much stronger than we think,” she said.

Naomi Klein is also the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, as well as the writer and producer of The Take, a documentary about Argentinean labour struggles.

Men score three straight wins

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team recorded two strong offensive showings Sept 27 and 28, first against the Trent Excalibur and the Royal Military College Paladins. With Trent being the only team this year to shut the Blues out, the 4-2 result on Saturday came as a welcome reassurance in the team’s finishing ability.

The Excalibur looked ready to score an early goal off of a miscue by the Toronto defense, but John Smits, the rookie keeper who took over for the injured Luciano Lombardi, came up with the early save. Two minutes later, Toronto attacked the right wing as first-year midfielder Geoffrey Borgmann crossed the ball to forward Seung Bok Lee, who got the height on the Trent goalkeeper, heading the ball in to give Toronto the 1-0 lead. Toronto conquered offensively for the rest of the half with a second goal at the 22 minute mark. The Borgmann-Bok Lee team hooked up again, when a cross by Borgmann bounced around the Trent box before a goal by Lee.

Toronto captain Dustin Chung praised Borgmann’s play. “Geoff’s our key man on the right-wing,” he said. “He put the work in today and we’re just glad that it was productive.”

A third goal was scored at 27 minutes off of a free kick redirected by third-year striker Nordo Gooden. The first-half ended with Trent taking advantage of a pass back to the goalkeeper, slowed down by weather conditions on the synthetic field. Trent striker Thaddeus Bolton capitalized on the error by intercepting the pass, maneuvering around Smits to score for his team.

Coach Capotosto singled out Toronto’s defensive play as an area to improve on in the weeks ahead. “We were taking things for granted on the field. We weren’t getting into position early and we were a little disoriented defensively.”

Second-half action saw striker Alexander Raphael score Toronto’s fourth goal on a penalty kick shortly before Bolton tapped the ball towards Toronto’s line at the other end of the field. While Smits looked to have successfully cleared the ball, the line-judge ruled that it had crossed the threshold. Trent recorded their second goal.

“We were a little disappointed that we tied [Trent] 0-0 about a week ago, so we went back to the drawing board in training sessions and we worked on the wing channels and getting crosses in. We did exactly that today,” said Chung.

In Sunday’s game against the RMC Paladins, the Blues continued this show of offensive finesse with a convincing 4-0 win over the bottom seed in the Eastern division. Niko Pesa, a first-year forward from Burlington, Ontario and striker Raphael each scored two goals.

Asked about the team’s performance this year, particularly on the offensive side, Raphael commented on the team’s chemistry. “The difference between this year and previous years […] is the way we work together. Last year, we had a skillful team, but we weren’t really able to connect. This year the team has gelled within the first couple of weeks which has just been amazing.”

With these two wins, the Blues move from eighth to sixth place in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranking for men’s soccer. Last Saturday, the Blues picked up another win with a 3-1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers. If the Blues can continue these dominating offensive performances, Toronto fans can look forward to a very interesting post-season.