The right-wing blogosphere is up in arms over President-elect Barack Obama’s voluntary service plan. So far, it’s been called Orwellian, radical, and the first step to a national draft. One blog claimed that the plan was devised to brainwash youth to protest capitalism, staff AIDS clinics, hand out condoms, bail criminals out of jail, help “illegals” jump the fence, and get food stamps to the homeless. First of all, Obama’s plan for a universal voluntary citizen draft will not create an army of hippie-activists engaging in illegal activities to overthrow Wall Street. Second of all, there’s nothing wrong with students becoming more aware of health epidemics like AIDS, educating others in safe sex methods, practising their freedom of speech, or—heaven forbid—volunteering at soup kitchens to feed the homeless. Perhaps the program, which encourages students to volunteer at local non-profit organizations, could (gasp) actually make America a better place.American individualism has been passed down from generation to generation, but even the Pilgrims understood the value of giving. Understandably, some Americans are worried that their children will be forced to volunteer at partisan organizations that they do not support, such as Planned Parenthood or ACORN. The beauty of free speech is that those organizations are free to exist, and their opposition is free to complain. Americans should relax—Obama’s plan will not force seven-year-olds to hand out condoms at the AIDS clinic. It is a voluntary program with diverse opportunities.Obama wants to expand the successful Americorps program that Clinton created in 1993. It is a domestic venture, mirrored after the Peace Corps, which encourages adults (many of them recent college graduates) to spend a year volunteering in some of the forgotten corners of America. Americorps’ program sends new teachers into the inner city, helps clean up parks, responds to national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and helps build affordable housing, among many other projects. Full-time service members receive $4,725 to help pay for college. Obama wants to expand Americorps from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 volunteers to create five new Corps: Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veteran Corps, and Homeland Security Corps. Why are Republicans and Libertarians outraged at the idea of citizens donating their time to plant trees, train with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a national disaster, or help out at a Veterans Affairs facility?The program Obama proposes will ask middle and high school students to complete 50 hours of service each year, and college students to complete 100 hours. Right-wing commentators are only outraged because they are misinformed—or never had to apply to university. Unlike many Canadian universities, the American college application process is complex and excruciating. Schools do not only look at transcripts, but extra-curricular activities. They question why John Doe spent three years writing for his award-winning high school paper and running on the cross-country team, but failed to run for school president, or play an instrument in the high school band. Anyone who has applied to university in America knows that additional service hours will make it easier to get into a dream school. There are currently 1.7 million 16-to-24-yearold Americans who have dropped out of school and are unemployed. These students need a second chance, and volunteering will not only boost their resumes, it will create positive contacts and mentors and strengthen their communities.Of all the partisan issues that deserve debate—comprehensive healthcare coverage, gun control, and troop withdrawal in Iraq—one would think that Republicans could find a more divisive topic to engage their party’s base. They have compared Obama’s plan to Hitler’s Nazi youth groups, a comparison that demonstrates political rhetoric at its worst. Civic engagement and volunteerism doesn’t just help the less fortunate; it enlightens the activist. It doesn’t matter whether Joe is a Republican or Democrat—he hasn’t eaten in three days, and he hasn’t had a clean pair of socks for longer than he can remember. Maybe if bloggers got off their computer chairs and spent an hour working with homeless people within their own communities, they’d realize this. If someone asks for your help and you can provide it, it’s unpatriotic not to.
OLA: Obama’s Liberal Army
The Guantánamo question
Since Obama’s victory, human rights groups have pressured the President-elect to make good on his campaign promise to shut down Guantánamo Bay.Guantánamo has long been under fire for its violation of constitutional rights, such as the indefinite detention of suspects without cause. Over 750 detainees have been held at Guantánamo since 2002. Currently 255 prisoners remain, 60 of which have been cleared for release but cannot return home because they are unwelcome or face torture.Obama advisers are trying to make his campaign promise a reality. The Obama team proposes to bring detainees back to U.S. soil and try them under a new hybrid court system, combining aspects of military commissions and the U.S. criminal trial system. The new court system would afford fewer rights to detainees than the current criminal justice system.This proposal has generated controversy. Critics have argued that bringing detainees to U.S. soil would pose a major security risk. Those who are acquitted may be able to stay in the U.S., making some observers uncomfortable. The CIA fears that evidence introduced during trials— specifically witness accounts of terrorist activities—could be too sensitive for public courts. Undercover agents could be called to the stand, thus placed at risk.There are legal difficulties as well. Government agencies fear that evidence obtained through questionable means—military interrogation or intelligence sources—might be rendered useless in the face of due process. Even human rights groups are voicing complaints about the new court system, claiming that the system does not guarantee enough rights for detainees.With criticism coming from all sides, one wonders how Obama will manage to please all those concerned. Guantánamo has undoubtedly been one of the most controversial parts of President Bush’s legacy. Getting rid of it would not only boost Obama’s popularity, it would help rebuild the country’s reputation. Unfortunately, implementing the new court system will be difficult at best. The Obama camp has yet to consider the full implications of the proposed system: if transfer difficulties are insurmountable due to the possibility of torture, detainees might stay in the U.S. indefinitely. And the U.S. could be forced to atone for human rights abuses if detainees who have suffered wrongfully sue the government.While Obama has shown initiative, he has yet to find the ideal solution. He and his advisers must tread carefully, as the Guantánamo question could make or break his political career.
Food before politics
Robert Mugabe must step down. This is what many Zimbabweans expect from the ruling leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), who constructed Zimbabwe’s current crisis with his own hands.Half of Zimbabwe’s population is facing famine, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, 80 per cent of adults are unemployed, and the rule of law has been replaced by a self-appointed elite. ZANU-PF has faced strong opposition from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, and from the country’s suffering populace. Although many Zimbabweans have spoken out against the ruling party’s illegitimacy, they’ve suffered the consequences. The crackdown on Tsvangirai supporters during the country’s election season demoralised many. Under Mugabe, dissidents have been tortured, imprisoned, and murdered, while others have been forced into exile. Those who remain in Zimbabwe have suffered immensely, and their empowerment is the country’s last hope. For that reason, humanitarian aid should be the international community’s fi rst priority in dealing with the crisis. Resolving the political power struggle comes second.Mediation efforts have largely failed, and a tenuous power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai seems to have reached a standstill. Mugabe refuses to give up Home Affairs— the ministry in charge of the police force, which brutalized Tsvangirai supporters during the election—and Tsvangirai refuses to let him have it. This impasse has caused riots in Harare. Zimbabweans desperately need humanitarian aid, cut off by Western leaders who oppose Mugabe’s tyranny. Tsvangirai’s and Mugabe’s stubborness is quickly pulling Zimbabwe into a state of emergency.Inflation is hitting record highs, food supplies are dropping, and deadly cholera outbreaks further threaten citizens. The World Food Programme warned that it would have to cut rations due to a lack of funds from donors, requesting $140 million in donations to prevent supplies from running dry. Western nations have agreed to supply the nation with aid as long as Mugabe’s regime is not reinstated. If a resolution isn’t agreed upon soon, the country could collapse.But political stability is not Zimbabwe’s highest priority at the moment— the survival of its citizens matters much more. Neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai seem to recognize this. If Mugabe is disposed of before aid is issued, then pro-Mugabe supporters may run rampant under an MDC leadership; a civil war could be the inevitable conclusion. An agreement with Mugabe as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister may be the only way to resolve the conflict without additional violence.Humanitarian aid must be unconditional. UN forces should intervene and administer help before more people starve and disease spreads. Only afterwards can negotiation and peace be made a top priority. Disposing of one leader too rashly could foment a civil war as tensions continue to mount.
Ancient Egyptian culture illuminated at ROM symposium
The 34th Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities (SSEA), entitled Ancient Egypt and Nubia: Golden Kingdoms of the Nile, recently took place at the Royal Ontario Museum. The event brought scholars and enthusiasts to three days of talks by some of the world’s foremost Egyptology experts. Centered on the civilizations of Egypt and Nubia—kingdoms situated on the Nile that flourished centuries ago—the talks covered subjects ranging from historical perspectives and religious studies to the most prominent sexually transmitted diseases of the time.Ancient Egypt was what we currently recognize as the country on the northern end of the Nile. Nubia was a lesser-known kingdom located south of Egypt in modern day Sudan. Both these territories have an intertwined history—at different points, both were part of the same country, due to conquests or powerful trading partners. Ancient Egypt was once one of the great powers of the world, with a kingdom stretching from present-day Sudan to eastern Turkey between 1550 and 1069 B.C. The people of Egypt subsisted off land fertilized by the annual flooding of the Nile, which provided water to quench the arid desert soils alongside silt and other deposits. Nubia grew by trading heavily with Egypt. By 1650 B.C. it was almost equal in power to the ancient Egyptian state to its North.Egyptology, or the study of the histories and cultures of Egyptian kingdoms and their citizens, is a subject with a wide range of research areas. The talks were held in a small auditorium in the ROM, and though there were very few spectators, those who attended were well-informed fans of ancient Egyptian culture. Some lecturers focused on social and cultural aspects of the ancient civilizations, such as the meaning of temple sculptures in relation to their political affiliations. Others dealt with scientific subject matter, such as excavation methods, or the study of ancient Egyptians based on medical journals of the time and autopsies of mummies.Ancient Egyptians believed that humans brought their material possessions with them to the afterlife. They stored their personal items in elaborate tombs, and embalmed the dead. These mummies are now readily available in good condition for research. This well-preserved evidence is not easy to come by and is not found in many other cultures, making egyptology one of the areas in which medical research is quite effective.Dr. Benson Harer’s talk centered on STDs found in Ancient Egypt, conducted chiefl y through examination of literature left behind by physicians of the time and artifacts. His talk uncovered the meaning behind the described affl ictions in these ancient Egyptian doctors’ journals. Harer also explained the purpose behind statues found in Egyptian excavation sites. For example, many statues of women depict them wearing a cowry belt. This belt was worn around the hips and was probably used in an effort to ward off genital herpes. There are also many entries in medical journals of the time listing cures for herpes, indicating this was an infl uential disease.Harer holds a PhD and an M.D. He initially specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, eventually transferring to egyptology. When asked how he became interested in the subject, Harer explained that his fascination grew when he started visiting a museum in his university years. A 1974 trip to Egypt only served to intensify his already great interest. Currently, Harer’s research focuses on medical studies of ancient Egyptians. His most recent research endeavor involved medical reports and CT scans of King Tut’s embalmed body to determine what killed the famous Egyptian king. Harer hypothesizes that the ruler was kicked in the chest by a horse.
Did you know that we search for signals sent by extra terrestrials?
Earth occupies an ordinary region in outer space. Because life has flourished here, it could also emerge in other regions of the universe. Scientists have developed techniques to send and listen for signals that could possibly come from the other citizens of the cosmos.The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), in collaboration with the UC Berkeley Radio Astronomy Laboratories, scans and analyzes signals received from space, searching for unique radio signals potentially sent by ETs. The Allen Telescope Array, located in northern California, searches through 1,000,000 star regions for extraterrestrial intelligence signals.The history of SETI dates back to 1960. Frank Drake, the scientist responsible for Drake’s Equation, used a radio telescope to listen to radio waves within a very small bandwidth, and analyzed the signals received as potentially originating from extraterrestrial intelligence. Today, the bandwidth of search has greatly expanded, but the program subsists mainly on private funding.Drake’s Equation gives us an estimate of the number of extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations that have not committed self-destruction, and are capable of sending radio signals into the universe. This speculative equation predicts that the universe may be rich in such civilizations.SETI and UC Berkeley launched a volunteer program where participants use the SETI@home software to help search for extraterrestrial intelligence. As of July 2000, more than two million computers have been shared globally to help speed up the search.
Scrambling up the chicken or egg debate
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Professor Mohan Matthen of U of T’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology believes it is the egg. In his recent lectureChickens, Eggs, and Speciation, Matthen proposed a new way of thinking about species membership that attempts to resolve longstanding issues. “Species ought to explain similarity or [DNA variations] or whatever distribution there happens to be within a number of organisms in the same species,” he said. His explanatory species concept identifies factors that are responsible for the structure of populations. It is not intended to isolate one species from another, but to explain why things happen.Organisms belong to the same population if their genes are relatively easy to combine. So, although the first “chicken” may be dramatically different from its predecessors (“pre-chickens”), it is reproductively integrated with “prechickens,” meaning it is in evolutionary competition with them. Genetically and ecologically, it is part of the same group and is therefore a member of the “pre-chicken” population.“Reproductive and ecological integration is a property of populations,” said Matthen. “It is there that organisms exchange genes, and it is there that they have ecological challenges, and natural selection can take place. Individuals can go from one population to another and can integrate into the population that they go to. Species are simply collections of these populations. On this proposal, an organism belongs to a species because it belongs to a population that belongs to the species.”A new population is formed when, over the span of evolutionary time, “chicken-types” develop an advantage over “pre-chickens” and it becomes profitable for “chicken-types” to mate with other “chicken-types.” Eventually, the two types of organisms may drift so far genetically from each other that they can no longer mate between groups. “That population, because it is cut off from the other ‘pre-chicken’ populations, is the ‘chicken’ population,” explained Matthen.On this hypothesis, there can be a moment of speciation (M), where “chicken-type pre-chickens” become “chickens.” In this scenario, there are many “first chickens.” However, there are also many eggs around when the two groups become reproductively isolated from each other. If an egg is a chicken egg because there is a chicken in it, then these would be pre-chicken eggs before ‘M’ and chicken eggs after ‘M’, and there would be no real winner in the chicken and egg debate. However, if an egg is a chicken egg because a chicken hatched from that egg, then these eggs would be chicken eggs before ‘M’, because they will hatch chickens after ‘M’. Therefore, the eggs do come first, but the process by which this conclusion is reached is different.Another surprising conclusion that can be drawn from this controversial species concept is that it is possible for an organism to change species membership over the course of its lifetime.
Blues sting Concordia
The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team learned a valuable lesson after defeating the Concordia Stingers 4-2 last Saturday: winning is a lot easier when you’re not playing short handed. The Blues dominated the first and third periods, but penalty trouble in the second brought Concordia back into the game. In total, the Blues took eleven penalties, seven of which came in the second period, including a ten minute misconduct to Blues forward Kyle Ventura.“We talked about composure before the game,” said head coach Darren Lowe. “In the first, we were composed, we lost it in the second, but we calmed down for the third, and to the guys’ credit, they got the win.”Calling the game a hard-hitting affair would have been an understatement. From the beginning, physical play dominated, with huge hits delivered by both teams. U of T didn’t get on board until the final four minutes of the first period, with two power play goals after forward Joel Lenius took a high stick from Concordia’s Nicolaus Knudsen. This awarded the Blues a four-minute power play.Blues forward Byron Elliot, with two goals and an assist that night, got things started at the 19:29 mark of the first with a one-time pass from Claudio Cowdrey. Only eleven seconds later, the Blues netted their second goal as Kyle Ventura sneaked one by the Concordia goaltender. With a 2-0 lead going into the intermission, the Blues were in control.“Usually we have a slow start at the beginning of the game. The toughest is getting things started in the first. We came out strong tonight with a couple goals and it helped,” said Ventura.In the second, things began to unravel for the Blues. U of T had to deal with three two-man advantages by Concordia. During the Blues’ penalty trouble, the Stingers got on the board. Concordia tied the game in the last two minutes of the period with a wrist shot that beat goaltender Russ Brownell’s top shelf.The physicality and emotion throughout the period boiled over in the last six seconds, as all ten players fought behind the net, leading to five penalties including Ventura’s misconduct.“Kyle played well and got a spark going for us in the first,” said Coach Lowe. “It was too bad we couldn’t utilize him more because of that misconduct.”“At the intermission, [our] coach told us to keep our composure,” explained Ventura. “He told us not to play with negative emotion.”The Blues came out more composed in the third, picking up where they left off in the first. Elliott notched his second goal of the night as he shoveled a loose puck into the Concordia net, and Joel Lenius added the insurance on a tip from a point shot taken from defenceman Brendan Sherrard. Brownell got the win, stopping 29 of 31 Stinger shots, instrumental in keeping the game tied throughout the Blues penaltyfilled second.“Russ played well tonight and has been playing well for us this year,” said Coach Lowe.“We played much better in the first and third when we were out of the penalty box,” added Brownell. “I didn’t have to make a lot of second saves as the guys were good at clearing the puck from out front.”Defensively, the Blues shut down the Concordia offense most of the night, making it difficult to get into the Blues’ zone, and setting up almost impossible. Throughout the penalty trouble, the Blues killed off ten of the eleven power plays, frustrating Stingers who couldn’t handle Toronto’s aggression.The Blues are tied with Queen’s for first in the OUA Mid East division with twelve points. For a young team expecting growing pains throughout the season, the opening half has turned out surprisingly well. However, the team could improve on one facet of the game. “We need to work on our discipline,” said Brownell.
Not so haute Couture
In David Mamet’s Redbelt, mixed martial arts are romanticized as embodying the virtues lost in the contemporary world of commercialized sports. Despite its highly skeptical interpretation of today’s sports business, the film hosts a plethora of cameos from well-known personages within the Fertitta Brothers’ growing Ultimate Fighting Championship company. Real life UFC fighter Randy “The Natural”Couture, who lost his fight this weekend against Brock Lesnar by TKO, made an appearance in the film. Couture came out of retirement in March of 2007 to challenge heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, who had a reputation as being unbeatable. Couture dominated the match despite Sylvia’s 40 pound advantage and 6’8” height (Couture is only 6’1”). He then defeated Gabriel Gonzaga, another top Brazilian MMA fighter, though he had broken his arm in the third round. Since the August 2007 brawl with Gonzaga, a UFC legal dispute has prevented Couture from fighting. But after resolving his problems with UFC president Dana White and signing a new threefight contract, the card for UFC 91 was immediately set.Couture’s return from his 15-month hiatus pitted the 45-year old, who weighs in at 220 pounds, against the 265 pound Brock Lesnar, who is fourteen years his junior. But in a sport where athletes have been known to lose 40 pounds overnight, Lesnar allegedly entered the octagon on Saturday at around 275.Although new to the MMA, Lesnar came into the fight with a fierce reputation. The athlete recently made the transition to Mixed Martial Arts after an unsuccessful attempt at professional football where he was cut from the Minnesota Vikings. After only three fights—one of which he was submitted by veteran Frank Mir—Lesnar was given a title-shot. This has spurned a mixed reaction from MMA fans.Some felt that MMA had evolved into a scientific and complex sport, as portrayed in Mamet’s film. New fighters like Lesnar would need to acclimatize to a contest where the best of jiu-jitsu, muy thai, wrestling, and boxing are incorporated into technique. Others marveled at Lesnar’s physical presence. Sure Couture had experience, but how would he defend against an opponent with an 88 per cent takedown rate, and record of out-striking opponents 62-12? What would he do if he found himself underneath the 270-pound wrestler?Lesnar went for the takedown early on. Couture avoided the first, but succumbed to the second, overcoming the weight disadvantage by slowly wrestling his back way up. Yet the longer Lesnar grappled with Couture, the more his weight factored against his stamina. Lesnar recognized the consequences and pulled back to box in the second. Although sustaining a cut above his eye, he caught Couture on the temple, and forced the referee to end the fight, calling it a TKO.“I think boxing is as dead as Woodrow Wilson,” proclaims Couture’s character in Redbelt. Being outboxed by Lesnar may seem like a cruel irony to Couture fans. Achieving a title shot after three fights, Lesnar came intothe UFC from the WWE and became the champion. While the fighter has virtually no jiu-jitsu training, he upstaged the reigning champion who had taken out two of the top contenders in his last two fights. Lesnar’s success may strike those who view MMA as purely as Mamet’s film as contrary to the sport’s ethic and spirit. Yet as Redbelt’s hopelessly corrupt fight promoter played by Ricky Ray says: “The money’s in the rematch.”