Who’s afraid of Ahmadinejad?

As worries of a showdown between the U.S. and Iran increase, so does the Cold War déjà vu. The techniques that the neoconservatives pioneered during the Reagan years have been retooled, and are once again being used to ensure that U.S. ascendancy continues unchallenged.

When the Soviet Union rose to challenge the United States’ global hegemony during the Cold War, the neoconservatives created a culture of fear, fabricating nightmares that manifested themselves in what came to be known as the Reagan doctrine.

What most people don’t know is that the entire threat was contrived by the CIA and perpetuated by the media: the “Evil Empire” never sought global preeminence, and had no plans to attack until the U.S. media drummed up war hysteria on behalf of the neocons.

Today, the threat posed by Iran is similarly imaginary: an Islamic country supposedly hell-bent on wiping out Israel by use of nuclear weapons and pursuing an Isalmization agenda throughout the Western World.

Fear not. America’s noble politicians will protect us from the new menace…but can we really count on the U.S., itself one of the greatest threats to global stability, to police the world? As Noam Chomsky said in 1990, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

From the invasions of Vietnam, Cuba, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq, to the bombing of Cambodia and pharmaceutical plants in Sudan, to sponsoring dictatorships in Arab and Latin American countries, to supporting militaristic coups against democratically elected governments that didn’t agree with them (such as Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic), the U.S. has started more conflagrations in the latter half of the 20th century than any other country.

By contrast, Iran hasn’t started a single war in 300 years.

There’s no doubt that the current Iranian regime has undertaken a series of actions that appear calculated to sabotage any détente with the U.S., but that’s only half of it. A history lesson is in order:

During the long rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Iran was a staunch ally of the U.S. The Shah was brought to power by a British-led coup in 1941, lost power briefly to the popular nationalist leader Muhammed Mosaddeq in 1953, and regained leadership in another coup sponsored by the CIA. The Shah was notorious for his brutal secret police force, Savak, which was formed with the CIA’s help.

The Shah, loved by the U.S. but increasingly hated by the Iranian people, was no less a tyrant than the recently deposed “Butcher of Baghdad,” Saddam Hussein. But he could be counted on to side with the U.S., and was therefore a “friend” regardless.

But tyrants can only stay in power for so long before their victims turn against them and their sponsors. This is precisely what happened in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution erupted and the Shah was replaced with Ayatollah Khomeini, who proclaimed the U.S. “the Great Satan.” It’s not hard to see why Iran has been steadfastly defiant to U.S. bullying, especially when it comes to their nuclear program. (It should also be noted that, shortly after the Iran-Iraq war ended, a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing 290 people, and still hasn’t apologized.)

The neoconservatives conjectured that Iran’s defiant attitude regarding its nuclear program, coupled with its leader’s “death threats” to Israel, pose a threat to world peace. Bush also erroneously stated that Iran wanted “nuclear weapons to destroy people.” Yet the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities states the following: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program …We [also] assess with moderate confidence [that] Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.” There’s no evidence to suggest that Ahmadinejad’s alleged threats against Israel are any more than heated rhetoric, and certainly prominent Likud members have made some heated suggetsions themselves.

The U.S. media has repeatedly misquoted and spun his words. CBS’s 60 Minutes omitted a sentence on peace in the Middle East from the final cut of an interview, and deliberately misquoted him as saying that his country was entitled to “nuclear weapons,” when in fact he was referring to nuclear energy. But that’s the modus operandi of major media outlets: deliberate prevarication, which fosters ignorance. On several occasions, Ahmadinejad has said explicitly that he has “no plans to attack Israel.” But the U.S. media never reports on this, because Iran is the enemy. It’s not in their interest to arouse calls for a U.S.-Iran détente. And let’s not forget that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and bars international inspections, and the only country in the Middle East in defiance of 69 United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Nobody commissioned the U.S. to preserve world peace. An EU poll showed that the majority of Europeans believed the U.S. and Israel to be the biggest threats to world peace, beating out Iran. But this is the new world order, where you can say and do whatever you want if you’re a global hegemon, where the U.S. can nuke any non-nuclear country at will. Let’s just hope that, in due time, America will see the irony in trying to limit nuclear proliferation by threatening to nuke other countries—a strategy that will inevitably result in the reverse and put the future of our planet at risk.

Ten Love Songs

Goldfrapp – Lovely Head

“Why can’t this be killing you? Frankenstein would want your mind your lovely head.”

Allison Goldfrapp might be oh-so lulling with her ethereal electro-noir audioscapes but don’t be fooled. This “love song” could just as easily come from the lips of a scalpel-wielding maniac.

Peaches – Operate

“He is perfect for me to practice surgery. One look coagulates it’s time to operate.”

Add this to the aforementioned “scalpel-wielding maniac” category of love song that seems to be growing alarmingly large.

Neutral Milk Hotel – Oh Comely

“Place your body here. Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine.”

The inclusion of everyone’s favourite bizarro-psych-rock indie band in this list shouldn’t surprise anyone, as their odd obsession with body parts in their love songs has been well documented. I chose this track for its candid, instructional approach to flesh-stealing.

Björk – My Spine

“I adore backs of necks, beautifully shaven…”

Looks like some Icelandic vampires have found a way to survive the 24-hour daylight that comes with the summer months. You can’t help but be a little impressed. (The Icelandic word for garlic is “hvítlaukur.” This information may one day save your life, or at least your plasma.)

Tokyo Jihen – Genjitsu wo Warau

“I would like to be composed of you… I would like to be merged into you.”

Shiina Ringo, the “Japanese Björk,” often ventures into songs with English lyrics. Here, she shows her full grasp of the Western lyrical idiom by singing a jazz ballad using the Frankenstein-fetish imagery seemingly beloved by our American songwriters.

The Rolling Stones – Give Me Your Hand – (And I’ll Hold It Tight)

“I don’t pretend that I don’t need you so come on, come on and give me your hand. I need you bad, it makes you glad, so give me your hand, I’ll hold it tight.”

I like to think this song is being sung to a monkey, and its mummified paw is currently the only thing keeping Mick and Keith alive.

Erykah Badu – Green Eyes

“My eyes are green ‘cause I eat a lot of vegetables it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.”

For your new (Irish, formerly-sighted) friend, I’d like to think that she isn’t actually talking about stealing someone’s eyes—her heartfelt delivery says no, but her double-negative says yes. Who gave Erykah the ice-cream scoop?

Herbert – The Audience

“You are my fingers, I am your hand, I am your three-man one-man band. You are my breath, I am your tongue…”

Herbert knows that if you give a little, you get a little. Even if it turns you and your loved one into stitched-together monsters. How romantic!

Kate Bush – Eat The Music

“Let’s split him open like a pomegranate insides out, all is revealed. Not only women bleed.”

This song would be more appropriately titled if you replaced “the music” with “your entrails.” Though I’m not sure intestines have the same antioxidant properties as pomegranates, I suppose it’s best not to take nutritional advice afrom someone who dresses up as a lion and has more than one song in which she imitates bird and donkey sounds.

PJ Harvey – Legs

“Did it hurt when you bled? …You were going to be my life, damn it! …No other way, cut off your legs… how will you ever walk again?”

zehen Polly says something, she means it. This song is actually about cutting off her lover’s legs so he won’t leave her. Who needs metaphor when you’ve got a chainsaw?

Gawking at the puritans

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” proclaimed Pastor Josh Duggar of TLC’s 17 Kids and Counting, as he kissed his 20-year-old bride at the culmination of their televised wedding. That kiss was their first ever, and it signified the fact that the couple, who had been courting for two years, could finally enter into a physical relationship. In fact, until that moment, the two had never been alone together; family members had chaperoned all of their visits. Yes, it’s hard to make out while your mother is watching.

To many, these values seem archaic, drawn straight from the depths of the Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching land of Mike Huckabee along the Bible belt. In reality, the concept of moral and physical purity before marriage is alive and kicking. Chastity has been getting significant media attention these days: shows like Big Love and the recent arrests of two Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) leaders have sparked a rising interest in the sect; TV documentaries like Purity Balls and the Duggar family phenomenon are piquing curiosities as well. People are riveted by stories of young men and women who follow the conservative paths of not dating, finding marriage partners through prayer and parental council, and abstaining from sex until these prayers are met. These virtuous young folk—most of them in their teens and early 20s—believe earnestly in the value of abstinence, and make it clear to onlookers that chastity is a choice they’ve made for themselves, not something forced upon them. Considering the passion these youth have for their lifestyles, the notion of saving your first kiss for your wedding day seems logical—even romantic.

These values are vulnerable to criticism—after all, we’re a sexually liberated public—and accordingly, many write them off as crazy. This explains the secular public’s overwhelming interest: the more outdated and quaint these values seem, the more they fascinate us. The shows aren’t marketed towards religious teens, but to the opposite. They attract sexually liberated viewers who are, in a way, shocked by antiquated worldviews and curious about communities they’ll likely never be exposed to. The irony is that the channels that air these programs also present unabashedly bawdy content: lurid celebrity gossip, and dispatches from the single, rich, and lusty. As a result, the public is caught between two extremes. One could argue that juxtaposing the pure with the lascivious is merely presenting two different sides of the story. But what about the moderate view? What happened to the idea of following your heart? And what about love?

Whether it’s waiting for your marriage bed or waking up in a different one every morning, both sides will attempt to prove that their lifestyles are better. They market their values by making them trendy, presenting them as things that “everyone’s doing.” What people forget is that sex is a personal choice. Sex has become a duty, an initation ritual. What’s wrong with waiting until you’re ready, or really “making love?” Sex can be sacred or lewd, but it’s up to the person having the sex to decide. So laugh as Jim Bob tells Josh of the birds and the bees, scoff at Britney’s newest beau, but know that there’s a whole world in between.

Global Catwalk

University fashion aficionados: pull out your Moleskines and pencil in February 21 and 22, because you’re invited to the fashion and cultural event of the season. Hosted by Fashion Television’s style impresario Jeanne Beker, FashionEAST highlights the top design talent from the land of milk and honey.

“Israel has such a rich culture. You’ll find fashion plays an integral part as Israeli creativity manifests itself in many ways,” says Beker, who has traveled to the country numerous times on assignment for FT. “I was just so thrilled to see the level of talent. The Israeli aesthetic is really cutting edge—from the young to established designers, there is long history of fabulous fashion and now there is a whole new wave.”

Beker skips between fashion capitals like we skip between cafés and class, but she’s still excited to host an event that highlights Israeli talent on terra firma. While some may be surprised to learn that Israel has a booming fashion scene, Beker says it makes perfect sense. “Any cosmopolitan urban centre with energy—from Bogotá to Lisbon—you’re bound to find young people, visionary artists, and wonderful craftsmanship. I’m really looking forward to seeing their work. It has a unique sense of colour and spirit.”

FashionEAST kicks off on the eve of the 21st with an exclusive cocktail gala and runway fashion show at Toronto’s tony Design Exchange. On the 22nd, the space will be transformed into an Israeli fashion showroom with apparel and accessories for sale.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Leaders of Tomorrow fund. These organizations support Israeli performers participating in Canadian music festivals, film screenings, and dance performances. It will also provide scholarship opportunities for Israeli cultural students who wish to take their talents abroad. Funding raised for the Leaders of Tomorrow will provide extracurricular cultural programming to over 300 at-risk Israeli youth between six and 18-years-old.

“The idea came from [leading trips] in Israel so often,” says FashionEAST executive director Shira Webber. “I was impressed by the amazing talent and chic designs. I felt these designers should have more exposure.” Webber is a savvy Israeli culture advocate who is passionate about the cause. In her role as alumni and outreach coordinator for Canada Israel Experience, she visits twice a year with Birthright groups.

“Participants on my trips always want me to give them more time to shop, even though the trip isn’t really about that,” she says. “I always buy pieces when I’m in Israel. People inevitably stop me and inquire where I got it.” Isn’t it great to have an exotic answer?

Israeli fashion reflects its unique global positioning and the Diaspora. Designers are influenced by the middle-eastern diaphanous aesthetic—which leans to flowy, draped silhouettes. Close proximity to Europe brings refinement and access to the most luxurious fabrics. Israel’s ties to North America create a preference for casual elegance. Israeli couture combines these global elements.

Designer Anata Taiber, who will be showing her Anata collection at FashionEAST, falls into this category. This Israeli-born globetrotter says her work is about reflecting the Israeli liveliness. “My work is all about being bold. It begins with the colours and the inspiration I get from Israel. I think Israeli designers are less conservative than in Canada.” Taiber has mastered looks that transition easily from day to night. As she says, “It’s very hot in Israel, so people don’t want fussy clothes.”

Webber is thrilled to feature designers like Taiber who portray Israel in a positive light. “With sensationalism and the news, things like this get lost in the mix.”

Part-time English major and FashionEAST volunteer Sara Farb agrees. “It’s very obvious what people pay attention to here with regards to Israel,” she says. “That’s why this event is so great—everyone can enjoy Israeli fashion.”

The event is an opportunity for the Torontonian Jewish community to connect with Israeli culture, but Webber stresses that anyone can take part. “FashionEAST is for anyone who loves fashion and is curious about Israeli style. Jews already know how amazing Israel is!”

FashionEAST runs February 21 to 22 at The Design Exchange (234 Bay Street). Ticket prices range from $50 for an adult weekend ticket, $36 for a young associate weekend ticket (40 years and under), $15 for a Sunday sale-only ticket, or $50 at the door for all events. To purchase tickets online, visit fashioneast.ca.

A political hurricane

According to documentary filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the decisive turning point in public opinion for George W. Bush. It was after his cataclysmically lackluster response to the devastation in New Orleans, according to The Wall Street Journal, that his approval ratings slipped irreversibly into the 30s. Compared to other Katrina documentaries (notably Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke), Bush plays an ostensibly peripheral role in Deal and Lessin’s Trouble the Water (opening this Friday in Toronto), but the atmosphere of political outrage lingers over every frame.

Trouble the Water, one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Documentary, follows Kimberly and Scott Roberts, two residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, as they attempt to piece together their lives after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The opening scenes, filmed by Kimberly on a mini-DV cam, document the events up to and including the hurricane with startling immediacy, including a devastating scene in which the couple climbs into their attic, panicking as the water levels rise higher and higher. This is some of the most gripping documentary footage in years.

“Our original vision was to do a story about the Louisiana national guardsmen who had been in Iraq when Katrina hit,” says Tia Lessin in an interview with The Varsity. “These are people who had signed up to protect their own communities in case of storms or what have you, and they were ten thousand miles away.”

“Most of them were in tours of duty in Iraq, and had just come back and were sorta shell-shocked,” says Carl Deal. “All of a sudden being at home in this post-apocalyptic nightmare, [they have] to pull guns on American citizens and recover dead bodies. We just felt like those soldiers aren’t the problem. The problem is the people who make the decisions of where they go and what they do.”

After losing their access to the Red Cross shelter in Alexandria, Louisiana (for “asking one too many questions,” says Deal), Deal and Lessin had a chance encounter with Kimberly and Scott Roberts. Impressed by their footage, Deal and Lessin followed them back to New Orleans, where relief was slow and insubstantial. By the end, the film suggests that New Orleans today is in worse condition than ever.

The National Guard, Deal and Lessin’s original subjects, aren’t given a flattering portrait in Trouble the Water. One of the most excruciating scenes sees Kimberly, Scott, and other homeless people escorted away from an abandoned naval base at gunpoint, despite the fact that their base could have theoretically sheltered hundreds.

For Lessin, the blame lies not with the guardsmen. “It was the Bush administration [and] the commander in chief that failed to change the standing order. I mean, the standing order at a naval base is to keep civilians out, but at this time of crisis that standing order should have been changed and the person to do that was the commander in chief, who at that time was George W. Bush.”

With any documentary about the aftermath of Katrina, the elephant in the room is the president, whose well-documented response (or lack thereof) to Katrina’s devastation could be charitably described as tepid. I ask Deal and Lessin why they think Bush demonstrated such a lack of caring. Lessin is surprisingly direct in her response.

“First of all, I think the federal government, after a quarter century of conservative rule in America, had been systematically dismantled by the right wing. The safety net in our country has been systematically dismantled. So I would say the institutions had failed Kimberly and Scott long before Katrina, long before the levees broke. And I guess it’s not even a surprise considering that the Bush administration was so out of touch with the suffering of people around the globe, and had caused so much suffering. It’s not surprising…although it’s still an outrage.”

“These were poor people in America who he had been turning his back on, and he and his father and the Reagan administration helped create this level of inequality. So it’s not even that they didn’t care, it’s that they systematically, as a family empire, created this kind of institutional neglect. He had turned his back on poor people a long time ago, and this was the logical extension of that.”

For Lessin, who worked with Deal as an archivist on numerous left-wing documentaries (including several by Michael Moore), outrage over Bush and the Republican Party has been a central motivating factor in her career. “It’s not just about New Orleans—it’s about America. I think a lot of America looks like the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Many communities in cities throughout the country have failed public school systems, people without healthcare, failed infrastructure…just a mess.”

She pauses. “It almost gives him too much credit to say he didn’t care.”

Trouble the Water opens Friday, February 13th.

Happy birthday, Darwin

This year marks the 200th birthday of one of modern history’s most influential thinkers, Charles Robert Darwin. It is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most influential work, The Origin of Species.

Charles Darwin was born in England in 1809 to a wealthy family who expected him to enter the clergy. Instead, Darwin managed to gain passage aboard the HMS Beagle and the rest, as they say, is history. His trip aboard the Beagle brought him to South America, the South Pacific, and most famously, the Galápagos Islands. This voyage not only gave him the inspiration to write the popular travel book The Voyage of the Beagle but also provided the fodder for a revolutionary theory.

Darwin postulated that evolution, speciation, and the explanation for the wide variety of living organisms could be driven by a force known as natural selection. His theory explains how the coupling of environmental and sexual pressures can select for variation both within and between species.

Notably absent from Darwin’s theory is the mention of a divine creator. Darwin was acutely aware of how inflammatory his theory of natural selection was, especially in a Victorian setting, and therefore kept it under wraps, only discussing it with a few supportive naturalists.

It was only when he received an essay from Alfred Russel Wallace describing a similar theory that Darwin was pushed to submit a co-written paper on their theories. Because he waited an astonishing 20 years to publish his findings, Darwin was able to amass a large amount of data to support his claim.

Dr. Aneil Agrawal, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Canada research chair in the genetics of evolutionary interactions, emphasizes that it wasn’t “just that [Darwin] had the idea, he collected a lot of data.” Through his work, Darwin formulated questions about evolution that researchers today are still trying to solve.

Darwin dedicated his life to understanding the forces that shape species and their behaviours. “It’s remarkable how much Darwin got right, and how much he was able to explain,” says Agrawal. Although Darwin had no knowledge of genes and the manner by which traits are genetically inherited, he did have an understanding of how new variants might present themselves as adaptive characteristics. Agrawal highlights that in an evolutionary biology seminar, it is not uncommon to hear speakers acknowledge that Darwin also considered the problem they are about to present. Darwin often had the correct answer. “It’s only now [that people have] the data, that it turns out that Darwin was right,” says Agrawal.

Darwin had a knack for seeing what we today take for granted. “[Evolution is] clear only once someone has pointed it out to you,” says Agrawal. “In some ways, evolution by natural selection is fairly simple. We can explain [the theory of natural selection] pretty well to first year undergrads. We don’t, for example, teach [Einstein’s] theory of relativity to first year undergrads. It’s easier to grasp the idea of what [evolution] is and how it works.”

The theory of natural selection is accessible, at least at some level, to anyone who has observed the natural world. This may explain the fascination popular culture has with “survival of the fittest,” a phrase that makes most evolutionary biologists cringe. “People are broadly familiar with the idea of evolution and natural selection. Even if they might not understand what it is, they’ve at least heard of it,” says Agrawal.

Today it’s easy to look back at Darwin’s theories and think, “that was obvious, I could have thought of that.” But as Agrawal points out, many bright thinkers before and after Darwin have considered the origins of Earth’s diverse species, yet none have contributed an idea as grand as his to the field of evolutionary biology. Every scientific discipline has its great hypotheses, and Darwin’s theory of natural selection is as big as they get. “There aren’t many of those ideas,” says Agrawal. “Ones that are powerful, yet not that complicated.”

The theory of natural selection set the groundwork for an entire field—evolutionary biology—which has had biologists thinking about selection and the pressures on living things ever since.

Sitting in his bright office that overlooks a tree-filled courtyard of the Earth Sciences building, Agrawal describes how, not unlike the father of his field, he took an interest in animals from a very early age. “I was one of the rare people who always knew from a young age that I wanted to be a biologist.” Being a biologist only got better once he recognized that math could be a part of it. “When I was a little kid I would have never imagined that I would be interested in applying math to biology. But when I was older, [math was] what really attracted me to evolutionary biology.”

Dr. Agrawal has already received a number of awards for his work, including the 2007 Robert H. Haynes Young Scientist Award and the 2004 Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize, both for promise as an evolutionary biologist. He now leads an evolutionary biology lab at U of T. Dr. Agrawal and his team are interested in a number of evolutionary biology problems, including the evolution of sexual reproduction, a concept Darwin also tried to understand.

The overwhelming majority of organisms on Earth reproduce through sex, which demonstrates that it has advantages over asexual reproduction. However, sexual reproduction incurs a number of costs to the individual, including sexually transmitted diseases, the large expense of searching for a mate, and increased risk of predation while mating. What, then, is the advantage of sexual reproduction? This is a question to which Dr. Agrawal devotes a lot of his time. “If I knew the answer to [why sex occurs], I think that I could go home,” he jokes.

Current theories ascribe the evolution of sexual reproduction to its ability to manage the effect of parasites, DNA damage, and the appearance of deleterious mutations. “We’re getting a lot better at eliminating ideas… and a lot better at identifying what are the key issues and the best ways to approach this [question].” Dr. Agrawal notes that there are a multitude of theories to explain sexual reproduction, and that the correct one is likely nestled among them. “The idea is probably out there, but a bit more complicated than however it has been originally proposed.”

Much of the research in Dr. Agrawal’s lab is carried out on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, which they believe explains a lot about the effect of deleterious mutations on evolution. This was an aspect Darwin didn’t really think about. Dr. Agrawal hypothesizes that Darwin probably would have thought deleterious traits would arise but would be eliminated by natural selection, making them unimportant.

Although deleterious mutations are eliminated from the population by natural selection, they are also constantly being introduced. “They can actually, under fairly reasonable conditions, have dramatic effects on populations,” says Agrawal.

Using fruit flies as a model, the Agrawal lab looks at how genes interact and what effect the environment can have on genetic interactions. Flies make wonderful models for this, as their genes are easily manipulated. As well, there is a wealth of information available on easily observable genetic defects that affect traits such as wing shape, eye colour, and the bristles on a fly’s back. This permits the direct observation of environmental effects on visible traits.

Even within a species, different positions, or loci, of the genome are subject to varying selective pressure. Regions that encode spermatogenesis—the development of sperm in the male testes—and proteins important for the immune system appear to evolve faster than the rest of genome. This makes sense in light of the extreme evolutionary pressure on traits involved in sexual selection. For genes involved in the immune system this can be explained by the pressure to avoid the cost of parasites.

Dr. Agrawal admits that many questions in evolutionary biology still loom large over the scientific horizon. Chief among them are the questions “Why sex?” and “To what extent do the four evolutionary forces—genetic drift, migration, mutation, and natural selection—shape the genome?” He also wonders about the factors that lead to speciation.

Where will these answers come from? Dr. Agrawal believes they will take a concerted effort from field workers, experimentalists, and theoreticians to solve. “I could be hit with my greatest idea ever and figure out what could be the right idea for the evolution of sex. But, you’d still need to do some pretty nice experiments and ultimately field work to provide the data to show it’s true.” He adds that the “revolution in genomic[s] … and the bioinformatics tools for interpreting those data are making big inroads into [these] questions and are sure to continue to do so.”

Darwin would be proud of the progress.

New rez boots Engineering student groups

Student groups are facing removal from yet another space on campus after the Academic Board declared the university’s property on 245 College Street as “surplus.” Following Governing Council’s rubber stamp on March 4, U of T plans to lease the building to a private developer to build a residence.

“The idea here is that by leasing this piece of land to developers we will be able to provide hundreds of beds to students who need it,” said U of T spokesperson Robert Steiner.

Currently the space is being used by engineering student groups including the U of T Aeronautics Team, Human Power Vehicle, Concrete Canoe, and Skule Night. Collectively, the clubs spend upwards of 200 hours a week designing projects for non-academic activities.

The property was previously owned by the U of T Press before the university purchased it in 2007 to influence the development of sites adjacent to the St. George campus. Private developing company Knightstone Capital acquired the adjacent lot and offered to buy the building, which the university agreed to lease out instead.

According to Steiner, the plan is to construct a 1250-bed residence on the consolidation of both plots. The agreement will provide the university with $350,000 per year, for student life programs and services

“It’s a 99-year lease to them, they run the property, they get the rent from the students living there. And they will be paying us some of the money they get from their revenues, so it’s sort of a win-win all over the place,” Steiner added.

Student clubs now using the space find it more difficult to get hold of permanent space due to the nature of their projects.

“[The Design Teams] are moved around quite a bit, because […] most clubs just require an office space, but they require a large amount of space to build cars and canoes,” said Jimmy Lu, VP of Student Life at Engineering Society, who found out the space from the Faculty of Engineering. He was told at the time that the space would be temporary.

“Student club activity is generally quite prevalent but it’s not as prevalent as it should be, as [it is at] some other universities. If they were to leave this space for student clubs to use it would go a long way in actually promoting student clubs and encouraging them to do better,” said Nishant Bhatt, manager of the Aeronautics Team.

Bhatt believes that clubs have a direct, and far greater, benefit to students than student services.

“We represent U of T in international competitions. If we have space and funding, there is a lot more we can do to work on our competitive edge,” he said.

Ryan Campbell, EngSoc member and a student representative on GC, maintains the impending deal to be a wise choice, as much of U of T’s debt arises from building student residences.

Currently, there is an unmet demand for student housing on St. George with all on-campus residences fully occupied. Upper-year and international students are often forced to look for housing off campus. Steiner said rent would be set according to market rates in the new facility.

Campbell had approached the EngSoc in a meeting and detailed the finer points of the deal. According to him, the majority were supportive of the idea.

Furthermore, he said 245 College street is unsuitable for teams such as Concrete Canoe to carry out their activities.

Student groups outside the engineering faculty are also critical of the deal.

“In principle, we oppose public-private partnerships for services that the university should be providing independently. Projects like this always risk setting a precedent for future developments, particularly if the trend of under-funding universities continues,” said UTSU VP university affairs, Adam Awad.

The point after

Adam Cole: When Denver traveled to San Diego in the last game of the season, they got crushed by the small statured Darren Sproles. They became the first team in NFL history to lead their division from the first game until the final game of the season—and then not make the playoffs.

Behnam Nowrouzi-Kia: Without a doubt it was the Super Bowl. Usually the game is a giant letdown, but this year it lived up to the hype.

Dan Rios: The greatest moment of the season came early on. This year’s Shot Heard Round the World had huge implications for the AFC East conference when Tom Brady’s knee exploded in Week One after a vicious hit by Bernard Pollard. This allowed the Bills and Jets to have a legitimate shot at the division title for once, while reducing the Patriots’ chances of making the post-season with untested backup Matt Cassel (although, surprisingly, the Pats didn’t suck). With the regular season ending in a three-way dog fight between the Jets (led by a revitalized Brett Favre), Pats, and Dolphins, all eyes were on the AFC East. The Bills, predictably enough, choked after a blistering 5-1 start. Who knew Tom Brady’s knees were so important?

Gaurav S. Thapa: What was better than Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return with zero seconds left in the half? Simply amazing.

Andrea Yeomans: Mike Singletary’s first post-game press conference as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers was one of the best press conferences ever. He said what every head coach in the NFL should be saying: that he isn’t interested in working with players that do not work well with others. “It is more about them than it is about the team,” said Singletary. “Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win.” Somebody should pass this message along to Terrell Owens.

Best story of the season

DR: The Cardinals’ unlikely ascent is the greatest story of the year. Years of impotence and frustration were washed away with a Super Bowl XLIII appearance. Kurt Warner’s incredible season and the unveiling of future superstars Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald provides hope for a repeat performance next year.

The second greatest story was the performance of two rookie quarterbacks. Joe Flacco had a great year with a Ravens team that was not expected to compete. Flacco’s fearless play—throwing blocks with little regard for his own safety—and his strong arm have him poised to become a franchise quarterback. Matt Ryan of the Falcons capped a great season with a playoff berth, and a close loss to the eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons under coach Mike Smith show no lasting effects from the Michael Vick scandal. They are once again a contender.

GST: The Miami Dolphins making it to the playoffs after a 1-15 season a year ago. The Detroit Lions can certainly learn from this example.

Worst story of the season

Brian O’Neill: Brett Favre. He has a spot already reserved in the Football Hall of Fame, but the constant Favre barrage was deafening, especially when considering that the Jets didn’t make the playoffs. For all the hype, Favre has only one Super Bowl ring. Hopefully Favre will retire for good this time.

DR: The Detroit Lions defined futility with the wrong kind of perfect season. The Lions became the first team to go 0-16, punctuating years of failure and paper bags. It is a long road ahead to redemption, now the Detroit Lions must start walking it.

The Bills match-up in Toronto against the Dolphins may have been the worst game of the season. This game was a real snoozer: after having been hyped ad nauseum, fans had to sit through J.P. Losman’s dreadful play and an uninspired Dolphins offense. The low point was when the Bills tried their own variation of the “wildcat” formation with little success. Exorbitant ticket prices, a guy showing off his O.J. Simpson jersey on the Jumbotron, and zero touchdowns left a bad taste in fans’ mouths. And where did all those Dolphins fans come from?

Biggest Surprise

BN-K: Arizona’s Super Bowl run was the most surprising. They barely made the playoffs, yet managed to beat three very good NFC teams, falling just short of winning the Super Bowl.

BO: The fact that Norv Turner escaped the 2008 season with his job intact was shocking, as his Chargers managed to beat the Colts in the playoffs, after finishing with an uninspiring record of 8-8. The year before Turner took over as head coach, the Chargers finished 14-2. Under Turner, they have steadily gotten worse. There is no doubt Turner is counting his blessings that the Chargers play in the terribly weak AFC West.

DR: The biggest surprise of the season has to be Miami’s dramatic turnaround. After going 1-15 last year, the Dolphins winning the tough AFC East division was a surprising development in a topsy-turvy season. A combination of Chad Pennington’s precise passing and the defence-confusing “wildcat” formation led the ‘Fins into the playoffs for the first time in seven years. It all came down to the last game of the season, in which Pennington beat his former team and managed to knock the Patriots out of a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.

GST: Larry Fitzgerald.

AY: The Broncos firing Mike Shanahan. He is a great coach and didn’t deserve to be let go. It’s disappointing that a coach that guides his team to 138-86 record over fourteen years falls one win shy of making the playoffs and gets fired.

Did Peyton Manning deserve the MVP Award?

DR: Manning’s nine straight victories was a masterful performance. After a slow start—due in large part to Peyton’s lingering knee problem—Manning essentially willed his team to the playoffs with his exceptional play. However, the Colts are always perennial favourites, so making the playoffs is nothing special. The award should go to either Kurt Warner for his leadership, or Chad Pennington for his clutch play, as neither team was expected to make the playoffs.

GST: At the end of the day, it’s all about making the playoffs. I would give the award to Steelers linebacker James Harrison, but it seems that the MVP has to go to an offensive player. Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback during the regular season.

AY: No, Peyton Manning shouldn’t have been the MVP. Though the Colts mounted a huge comeback after a shaky start, Manning was not the sole reason. Indianapolis is a great team because they have a lot of excellent players—Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, Bob Sanders—all as valuable as Manning. A more worthy MVP would have been Kurt Warner. He’s the reason the Cardinals made it to Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona would have floundered had Matt Leinart been at the helm, regardless of the play of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

Next year, the Pro Bowl will be moved from Honolulu to the Super Bowl host city, and played one week before the Big GAME. Is this a good decision?

BN-K: I am a fan of making the Pro Bowl more relevant. However, this decision will force the Super Bowl teams to withdraw their players from playing in the Pro Bowl.

BO: This change is pointless. Nobody cares about the Pro Bowl, and moving it a week before the Super Bowl will not change that. Media Week is much more enjoyable, and fans care more about the hype leading up to the Super Bowl than some pick-up game, with no incentive. If the NFL really wants to make a change, they should drop the Pro Bowl altogether.

DR: Moving the Pro Bowl to before the Super Bowl is a good decision. Although the Super Bowl teams will probably rest their players, this change should increase the number of people watching the game, and build excitement for the championship. However, it’s a shame that the result of this all-star contest is meaningless. If there were some kind of incentive for a conference to win the game, it might make for more compelling football.

GST: I’ve never seen the Pro Bowl, and likely never will. In a contact sport like football, it’s pointless to have a game without aggressive tackling. This decision will probably garner higher TV ratings, because nobody watches the NFL after the Super Bowl is over.

AY: Moving the Pro Bowl from Honolulu is a good decision. There are a lot of fans that would love to see the Pro Bowl but cannot afford to make the trip to Hawaii. Holding the game before the Super Bowl is a bad decision. This puts the Pro Bowl in the shadow of the biggest game of the season, defeating the purpose. Being selected for the Pro Bowl is important for many players. It doesn’t seem fair to make these players share the spotlight with the Super Bowl. When the Pro Bowl is held after the Super Bowl, all the players are back on level playing field: the season has ended, records are back to zero, and everyone can relax, playing a relatively carefree game of football.

Hopes for next season

GST: A season similar to this one would be awesome. There were lots of upsets and hopefully, this time around, the underdog can win the Super Bowl in overtime.

AY: My biggest hope for next season is that Andy Reid returns as Eagles head coach and finally gets that elusive “third challenge.”