We vote for a better electoral process

“Governing Council shame on you. Who the hell elected you?” This chant, often heard at U of T protests, shows some nerve on student unions’ part, given that every year something mars their election process.

As reported in Monday’s issue of The Varsity (see Feb. 23, “UTSU directors talk election business”), some members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union Elections and Referenda Committee can’t be bothered to show up to meetings. Furthermore, UTSU executives who sit on the ERC see no point in creating a separate group to watch over this process.

Yet voter turnout in last year’s UTSU election was a paltry 13 per cent. How are other parties at the negotiating table supposed to take student demands seriously?

The solutions to these problems are surprisingly simple. Putting aside the politics of the campaign, what U of T students really need is an electoral system they can rely on. A positive first step would be for the union to show some faith in students. It also needs to face the facts about its estimation in the eyes of the people it’s supposed to represent. (Read: most students could care less about UTSU.)

Full disclosure: The Varsity attempted to plan an all-candidates debate. Talks broke down after many concessions when the Chief Returning Officer absolutely refused to allow a student to moderate the debate—even if the student would partner with the CRO’s selected moderator, who didn’t go to school here.

I note this because it exemplifies the misconception held by UTSU execs regarding how much this election means to students, and the same lack of regard for students’ abilities to remain neutral when holding potential union execs to account. The CRO, Lydia Treadwell, worried that “union members”—in other words, average students—could not be trusted to remain impartial. But how many students consider themselves members of UTSU, much less take sides?

Students deserve, and can do better. Here’s a few suggestions for how to revamp the process:

Firstly, the elections committee should have its own website, separate from UTSU’s. The elections committee should receive fees from the union, but it must have control over its own finances. Its activities should include being the sole advertiser of UTSU election notices, devloping advertising such as posters to encourage students to vote, and costs from its independently-held debate. All of these activities should be independent from the union.

Secondly, the elections committee should not contain anyone directly involved with the union, and by “directly involved” I don’t mean its so-called “members.” UTSU’s got it backwards: the current system has the most interested parties choosing the person whose job it is to be impartial. That committee has chosen a CRO whose main draw is the fact that she isn’t a member of the union, even though the vast majority of the union’s members are indifferent to elections to the point of not voting.

As usual at U of T, at the meeting where the CRO was ratified there was no transparency about who the other candidates for the position were. No information has been disclosed about Treadwell, other than that she is not a U of T student, not affiliated with any club or college, and has never held an elected university position. Treadwell’s name didn’t float into the ERC out of nowhere. At the very least, I want to know who nominated her.

Thirdly, the CRO should be selected in early September, because a CRO may be needed at any time of the year—not just for end-of-year elections. The selection of the CRO may still rest with UTSU execs and directors, but the process should be extensive and transparent, including a nomination period where the merits of candidates are publicly vetted by the UTSU, and questioned by student media.

The CRO should select their own elections committee. According to Scrivener, the reason this year’s ERC was so rushed picking a CRO was because of difficulties coordinating schedules. This problem is understandable—members of the present ERC have other responsibilities with the union. If members of the elections committee did not have their attention so divided, things would run a lot more smoothly.

As a separate entity, the committee would have some teeth in scheduling election dates. The first week of nominations would not have to occur during Reading Week, when no one is on campus. Most importantly, such a committee would behave neutrally—something that the current ERC, based on its membership, can make no claims to. With a more transparent selection process, no one on the committee could risk being partial, because that would be immediate cause for dismissal.

If the U of T administration were to propose a fairer election system, the unions involved would decry it as Simcoe Hall’s attempt to wrest further control from students—even though it’s in the students’ best interest. In December of last year, VP and Provost Cheryl Misak was forced to disband the Advisory Committee on Democratic Processes in Student Government after several student unions refused to participate.

After all, a politician by any other name still clings to what power they’ve managed to attain, and UTSU executives could have something to lose from a fairer system that encouraged participation and alternative voices.

If UTSU wants to prove that they’re not just a bunch of NDP candidates-in-waiting, they’ll put some power back in the hands of the people they represent.

But then, who the hell elected them?

The public may whine, but the Big Three need more money

The public reaction to the Big Three auto bailout has shattered myths we’ve been fed about sticking together in hard times. Today, it seems to be every man for himself, everyone else be damned. It also seems that the fundamental conservatism (small-c) of the U.S. and Canadian governments is a blessing, a protection against the tyranny of democracy.

The auto sector is, as we used to say in Grade 12 German class, upgefucked. Decades of mismanagement, adversarial unions, and artificially-inflated prices, combined with a decline in the real and perceived quality of the Big Three’s product lines, have driven these once formidable companies to near-bankruptcy, dependent on the public dole to survive. In addition to the provisional loans already secured from the U.S., Canadian, and Ontario governments, GM and Chrysler have asked for an additional $19 billion from the U.S. to help with major dealer buyouts, and are negotiating proportional requests from Ontario and Canada. The situation is bad, and will likely worsen before it gets any better. However, the Big Three cannot be allowed to fail. Bankruptcy seems to be an option more costly than public loans.

Although I am no admirer of cars, and certainly have no affection for the Big Three, the cost of human suffering would be far too great to accept. I tend toward the view that recessions are ultimately a natural part of the economic cycle and could potentially benefit consumers and producers. As a recent Toronto Star editorial similarly opined, the cost of bankruptcy in real and perceived terms would be too great, likely triggering the domino-like collapse of an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of workers directly and millions residually. Consider that these “timely” proceedings are rarely timely, and sometimes take years. Add governmmental obligations to secure pensions in Ontario and Canada and the huge burden placed on an already strained public support system in the U.S., and the cost to taxpayers might be much higher than anything the bailout promises.

Yet, due to a combination of selfishness and ignorance, most people would rather accept the collapse than pay their hard-earned dollars in taxes to union welfare mothers. Why must they be punished for the imprudence of others? Why must they support the generous pensions of autoworkers? These companies make awful cars anyway.

One assumes that many of these voices come from the same people that elected Ronald Reagan/”BM the PM” and still consider ketchup a vegetable. They likely named their daughters Margaret in honour of the Iron Lady herself.

Yet they make a few valid points, including that the pension system as it stands will have to be modified, and fast. The Big Three will have to close many dealerships, and would be wise to invest in green production of green products—small cars are the wave of the future. But they cannot do any of these things without governmental help, and they definitely cannot do them in bankruptcy. Our governments understand this, and fortunately are not saddled with the task of bending popular opinion on the matter. So the taxpayers will shoulder the burden, and they’ll bitch about it from now until Reagan rises for the Second Coming. As aristocrats and conservatives have long said, some things are simply too important to be decided by the people.

Normally, I’m a bit of a populist. I’m the only one who thinks it should be 100 per cent constitutional for Vermont (or, dare I say it, Quebec) to leave the Union (Confederation) if that’s what the people want. But the other day my horoscope offered sage advice: you must take the opportunity to learn about the positive qualities of something you disagree with (it was not nearly so grammatically correct as this, but you get the drift).

I’m taking that advice, and appreciating the conservative, slow-moving nature of government, which normally infuriates me. It is precisely because governments can be unresponsive to the will of the people that the Big Three might be saved, and may even emerge better than before. And in times like these, we all need a little help now and again. Union welfare mothers are no exception.

*Totally unrelated, but I couldn’t resist. Apparently, a passport is no longer good enough to change the official name on your record at the University of Toronto. Only at U of T would the document accepted by the Canadian government be deemed “just not good enough.” Maybe our passports were victims of the bell-curve.

Obama Watch

Successful passage of the stimulus bill—check. Passage of the housing bill—check. High approval ratings across the board—check. Bipartisan consensus—still working on that. Despite his early legislative accomplishments, President Obama is still in pursuit of Republican support. Although his conservative colleagues don’t appear to be rallying behind him anytime soon, average citizens are.

As a candidate, Barack Obama preached a great deal about the importance of Democrats and Republicans putting aside their ideologies and settling on a common goal. But how can the President convince those whose views are diametrically opposed to his own? There is no hope of consensus on matters relating to the economy, health care, or the environment when the (predominantly Southern) Republican Party insulates itself with an ultra-conservatism mandate, leaving a handful of relatively open-minded politicians to fend for themselves.

While assembling the largest stimulus package in the nation’s history, the President stuck to his campaign rhetoric and consulted numerous members of the Republican caucus. They proposed a lone measure that was tried, tested, but wholly untrue: tax cuts. Granted, President Obama did include this measure in his economic platform during his campaign, but his capitulation to the Right’s demands during the crafting of this bill produced a final sum that, according to some economists, may not be sufficient to lift the economy out of the dumpster.

Despite a few setbacks, the President’s drive to win over the opposition was apparent last night when he made a televised formal address to Congress outlining his domestic policies. Injecting some much-needed confidence into the American psyche, he drew enormous applause from Democrats. But when the stimulus bill was mentioned, only three Republicans stood up to cheer—the three that voted in favour of the bill. The remainder of the caucus was noticeably stoic and unresponsive. Instant public surveys concluded that the President’s approval ratings had increased, and that the public’s reception to the speech was positive. On the other hand, the Republican rebuttal, presented by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, called for no interventionist policies, but rather—you guessed it—more tax cuts. This oft-recycled counterargument is weak, and according to the American citizenry, fully repudiated.

The President has made his case to the public. He’s taken his stimulus tour on the road to some of the most affected cities in the country, and like a good salesman dressed in a spiffy suit, pitched his plan to those who would listen. They liked what they heard, and thanked him with impressive performance ratings. The philosophical divide in Washington is too great for any elected official to abolish overnight, but with the numbers on his side, President Obama can use popular support as a launching pad for more progressive policies, with or without the Republican thumbs up.

Sparing My Feelings

“This was a lot of fun,” I said to my boyfriend after our first time together. We had only been dating for a couple months, but after careful planning, we decided that we were ready. “We should do this again,” he boldly replied.

It’s been three years since that conversation, and we never did it again. In fact, I haven’t done it with anyone. Other than partaking in a simulated version alone in my room, I’ve haven’t done it at all—until now.

Yes, after three long years, I finally went bowling again.

As I walked into the alley, reacquainting myself with my former passion through the familiar smell of worn-out shoes and overpriced French fries, I wondered if, like me, others had taken an extended break from the game.

In his famous essay, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capitol, Robert Putnam posits that participation in bowling is “the most whimsical yet discomfiting bit of evidence of social disengagement in contemporary America.” According to Putnam, “more Americans are bowling today than ever, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade.”

Bowling represents a vanishing form of social capitol. With the loss of organized leagues comes the loss of a basic human need: social interaction. By bowling alone, we forego our right to bond as a team over pizza, beer, and those overpriced French fries. Alone in the alley, we lose our social allies.

Yet I propose that it’s this very social aspect of the game that encourages us to bowl alone—if we even choose to bowl at all.

While bowling is an individual sport, bowling in a league is a unique experience where individual efforts affect the outcome of the entire team. The level of interaction and connection to our team is directly influenced by our performance. If you fail to get a strike, not only will your team’s scores plummet, you may strike out with your social group. The risk of social exclusion faced in bowling leagues may prompt us to bowl alone—or in my case, avoid any contact with the sport for three years.

It’s no coincidence that I began a relationship with a trip to the bowling alley. In many ways, bowling is like the dating game.

In a recent episode of VH1’s reality dating program Rock of Love Bus, aged and “lust-struck” rocker Bret Michaels, lacking an emotional connection with the remaining contestants, invites three new women to join his tour. In order to ensure that the new girls are right for him, he takes them on a group date to a bowling alley. While Michaels often has his mind in the gutter, bowling is a bold choice for the quasi-star, standing in stark contrast to his typical strip club and dingy bar haunts. But on closer inspection, the date seems fitting as the other women have spent the first four episodes parading around their bowling ball-esque appendages for all to see.

“I know if I’m attracted or not attracted to someone right away,” he reveals as they enter the alley. Now, it’s up to the women to bowl a strike and spare us the pain of watching them flounder at love.

In a gratuitous yet prescient shot, one of the girls is shown bowling “granny style.” If Michaels’ reaction is any indication, it won’t be the last time she has a ball between her legs.

“I had a lot more fun on this date than on most of the other ones,” says Michaels, concluding that he made the right decision in bringing the new girls on his tour.

Next, Michaels and his three new ladies ditch the bowling alley and head to the limo to make out.

If only bowling (and dating) were this easy in real life.

Although my first game of bowling in three years is a platonic affair, I can’t help but feel an anxiety similar to the pains of initiating a romantic relationship. Among colleagues and relatively new friends, I have an irrational desire to impress on the lanes. While we’re not in a league and my scores won’t personally affect them, I fear that poor results will influence my social standing. I don’t want to be eternally known as the girl who can’t bowl. Before even stepping up to the lane, I have bestowed a new nickname on myself: “Gutter Girl.”

As I grab the perfect ball and casually stroll up to the lane, I am reminded of the first time I ever asked a boy out on a date. I determinedly stare down the lane as if I am eyeing my dream man. I have so much to prove, but so much to lose. My knees begin to tremble, my arms begin to shake, and my hands start sweating profusely. Just as I’m about to make my big move, I lose my grip as the ball slips through my wet, nervous fingers, and heads straight for the gutter.

The ball’s trip down futility lane is like a car wreck—I can’t watch, but I can’t look away. In front of my friends, my failure feels like physical pain. I coyly wonder if dropping the ball on my foot would hurt as badly as the social ostracism of a public gutter ball. I conclude that Wii bowling is probably my safest option.

Back at home, free from the scrutinizing public eye, I turn on my Nintendo Wii, pick up the controller, and proceed to “bowl” strike after strike. I don’t tremble, or sweat. The controller stays firmly planted in my hand, and I remain composed. Perhaps my simulated success will encourage me to try my luck once again in the lanes—but I doubt it. The advent of modern technology has provided us with another luxury: the ability to truly bowl alone.

All by myself, I bowl a 150. Next, I pick up the phone to tell someone about it.

Fuel for change

The recent trend of environmentally themed non-fiction, or “green books,” can be traced to a growing fear of global warming, the rising price of food, and a declining economy. The frightening picture painted by environmentalists for the better part of a decade is finally starting to affect the public.

In 2003 and 2004, House of Anansi Press released two collections, Fueling the Future and Feeding the Future, which addressed these very fears. The project was spearheaded by the president of Investeco Capital Corp. and environmental do-gooder Andrew Heintzman, who recently revisited the books with his co-editor, CBC journalist Evan Solomon. Together, they selected the best essays from each book, resulting in the newly-released Food and Fuel. “I thought there was a really good message that was as relevant today as it was when we first published them,” explains Heintzman.

These essays remain relevant, because the world hasn’t witnessed enough change in the last five years. Yet Heintzman remains optimistic, saying, “I think we’re on the verge of a lot of change. Part of this is driven by the U.S.—the last administration wasn’t very imaginative in regards to the environment, but I think the new administration is likely to be so, and that will drive change.”

As it outlines the necessary adjustments, Food and Fuel provides an intelligent analysis of the agriculture and energy sectors—two subjects that are intrinsically intertwined. These are the precarious mechanisms that drive the planet and unsurprisingly, they have similar problems.

A unifying theme in the collection is the criticism of our archaic economic model, in which only money and goods produced are accounted for. We neglect environmental costs, thereby destroying the ecosystems that sustain our industries.

That’s the idea behind Natural Capital, put forth by Paul Hawkins, Hunter Lovins, and Amory Lovins in their seminal work, Natural Capitalism (1999). “The externalities have to be factored into the cost of our choices,” says Heintzman. “Particularly on energy, the cost of our carbon emissions, our greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollutants that have a real cost to society. Until those are factored into the price we pay, we aren’t going to solve these problems.”

However, Heintzman points out that not every writer in Food and Fuel agrees on every issue. There is a lack of unanimity on potential solutions in the environmental community, which both he and Solomon have embraced.

The differing opinions are one of the book’s strong suits. These various approaches not only present a broad sense of what’s wrong with the environment, but avoid the slanted discourse other books in this genre are famous for.

History is also a focus of the book. In the first essay, “Saving Agriculture from Itself,” Stuart Laidlaw describes the disastrous consequences of the Green Revolution of the ’50s and ’60s. The modern food industry, with its addiction to nitrogen for fertilization and oil for fuel, has degraded topsoil and created appalling inefficiency. Laidlaw’s solution is to buy locally grown, organic products. At the U of T Conference Centre last Saturday, the Canadian Organic Growers held the “Nourishing the Future” conference, where they shared similar concerns.

The book’s second half is dedicated to the energy sector, concentrating on the progression into renewable sources. In her essay “Is Nuclear Energy the Answer?” Allison Macfarlane judges the viability of nuclear energy in the long term. Fears of meltdowns aside, she sheds light on the difficulty of managing its waste and the possible proliferation of nuclear arms if its usage were to expand. Though torn, Heintzman admits, “It’s a necessary evil. I’m attracted to the low greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear energy [… ]though I wouldn’t want to over-rely on it.” Nuclear energy, like natural gas, is a stepping-stone to renewable energy sources, and Jeremy Rifkin describes a solution in his strangely utopian article, “The Dawn of the Hydrogen Economy.”

Former U of T professor Thomas Homer-Dixon contributes an interesting article on the need for ingenuity—the quality that allows societies to solve problems. As he understands it, all obstacles on the path to renewable energy are social. Humans have been reduced to “walking appetites” and are unable to think any other way. “I invest in these kinds of companies,” Heintzman explains, as he lists off examples of Canadian ingenuity over the past few years. Organizations such as Organic Meadows and Enerworks have provided new solutions, alternatives to current agriculture and energy practices.

What can Canadians do to reduce the burden on the environment? Heintzman says the answer is education, beginning with reading books and learning about legislation. “We plug into our sockets and ask no further questions […] we go to the supermarket, buy the product, and ask no further questions,” he explains.

He’s quick to respond when asked how Canada will ever meet the Kyoto Protocol, saying, “It’ll have to be some combination of a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade program, and if we really wanted to hit Kyoto, we’d probably do both. But will Canadians accept that price? I guess what it really comes down to is—do Canadians want to hit Kyoto or not?”

Of course, that’s the real question.

City of dreams

Ever wonder what Toronto will look like in the future? Spacing Magazine tries to answer that question with their thinkToronto urban design ideas competition, which encourages the development of ideas and plans to improve the city’s public realm. The magazine, which focuses on the joys, obstacles, and politics of the urban landscape, selected twelve finalists and eight honourable mentions to be displayed at 401 Richmond’s Urban Space Gallery in the month of February.

Contestants aged thirty-five and under were given carte blanche to create their vision, as long as the design incorporated Toronto’s public squares, streets, traffic circles, plazas, ravines, the waterfront, sidewalks, or greenways. They were assessed on imagination, functionality, attractiveness, sustainability, and accessibility. With over 100 entries received, the competition was fierce.

U of T was represented by Fionn Byrne and Kyle Xuekun Yang, two second-year students in the architecture program. Their design Dreaming of a Better Lakeshore proposes a complete remodeling of the area around the Gardiner Expressway, making it a sea of pedestrian traffic rather than a barrier. Parking lots would be transformed into parks, creating more pedestrian crossways, and shops and restaurants would be built below the concrete artery. Yang says their inspiration came from Japanese-style city planning where major transportation routes are incorporated into the cityscape rather than scarring it. He adds that if the Gardiner were torn down in a few decades, an area filled with culture and beauty would be left below it.

Not surprisingly, several designs focused on green space. David Karle, Dennis Sintiz, and Sarah Thomas’s Green Lung proposes an elevated platform lined with trees, bike paths, and biofuel plants running above the railway tracks from Dufferin Street to the Don River. Yifeu Yuam and Sonia Yuai’s Transplanting the Sun would see subway entrances fitted with solar panels that would transplant the sun’s rays underground, providing commuters with natural light and feeding an underground garden. Brett Hoornaert, Michael Ormston-Holloway, and Elnaz Rashidsanati’s Streetscape Bloor calls for all street parking to be eliminated on Bloor between Avenue and Bathurst, replaced by widened sidewalks, public benches, and trees.

One of the most creative entries was A.J. Vaid’s A Path Home. The University of Waterloo student envisioned the transformation of the Don River into a Sikh spiritual space. Currently a destitute riverside, the area from Gerrard Street southward would be transformed into a cremation ground complete with a temple, meditation pathway, and space to release ashes into the water.

The competition’s winner was Mike Wilson and his entry 5 Minutes. One of five entries addressing transit, his integrated pedestrian and transit information strategy would see public touch screens go up at every subway exit, with digital maps and walking directions to local businesses and amenities. Directing people to routes would motivate individuals to drive less, walk more, and grow in touch with their city. While it might not be the most creative or aesthetically pleasing design, it’s certainly the most feasible.

Though their projects may seem like utopian visions right now, the finalists illustrate the direction of city planning moving fast into the 21st century. Let’s hope Toronto can keep up.

What does it mean to be black?

Bedour Alagraa, second year International relations, was one of many students that voiced their opinions about black identity at the Black Student Association’s “Black is, Black Ain’t” discussion on Tuesday. The event was part of a series of events marking Black History Month.

What makes a person black? Is blackness just a skin colour, or is it an attitude, an ethnicity, a cultural history? These questions were discussed at “Politics of Black Identity: Black Is, Black Ain’t,” an open discussion held by the Black Students Association at Hart House as part of a series of BSA events marking Black History Month. The discussion asked whether the term “black”—commonly used as one ethnic or racial category, despite the diversity of cultures and experiences of the African Diaspora—is really useful as a descriptive term.

Stan Doyle Wood, an Equity Studies TA, and UTSU president Sandy Hudson addressed the discusssion. Wood shared his experiences growing up biracial in England and Trinidad. In England, “anything to do with non-whiteness was something to be ashamed of,” said Wood. There he tried to “pass” as white. Conversely, while in Trinidad, Wood felt pressured to “prove” his blackness by emphasizing his African features. Hudson spoke about her role as Canadian Federation of Students’ Students Of Colour representative. She said she had seen administrative resistance to CFS’s efforts to be more inclusive to marginalized students: “Folks need to recognize privilege and make sure that people are not being marginalized.”

To start discussion, organizers showed excerpts of the documentary Black Is… Black Ain’t. The film, directed by author and social commentator Marlin Riggs, explored constructions of black identity through interviews with Afican American scholars, artists, and religious leaders. BSA political director Vashti Boateng came across the film years ago and couldn’t forget it. “It was something that really stuck with me […] the themes in the film are things I find myself talking about with other black folks all the time.” She saw the film as a tool to dissect and disempower racism and other forms of oppression.

In response to the film and with some prompting from Boateng, many students said they had experienced being seen as “not black enough” by black and non-black peers. Students cited restrictive stereotypes of blackness from media images of the “gangster.” For them, the expectation that religion is important in black communities, and thus “black” and “atheist” must be mutually exclusive.

Homosexuality was a major topic of discussion throughout the night, particularly the statistic that 70 per cent of black Californians who voted on that state’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, supported the anti-gay measure.

Also at the centre of debate were Eurocentric beauty ideals and their impact on black people, particularly for women. There was a general consensus that predominantly white North American culture and media perpetuate a European ideal of beauty, but also that many Africans and African North Americans internalize these ideals instead of challenging them. “That’s all conditioned, [the preference for] light skin over dark skin,” said fourth-year engineering student Sean Ashman. “Break down that barrier!”

Join the BSA for V.I.B.E.’s production of Yellowman and open mic night tonight (Thursday Feb. 26) at the Poor Alex Theatre, 722A Dundas Street W. (upper floor), the door opens at 7 p.m. Also look our for Black Prom: Midnight Masquerade at UC’s Junior Common Room, March 14. Details on facebook.

Under the Knife

Surgery is something most people try to avoid at all costs. Yet we cannot resist watching someone else go under the knife. TV shows like Nip/Tuck have banked on this perverse fascination for years, happily satisfying our penchant for blood and guts. So when a friend and I were invited to see a live colorectal surgery, we couldn’t resist. It’s not every day you get to watch a man’s excretory system get entirely re-routed.

Upon entering the hospital, a nurse points us towards a narrow corridor, where we fish disposable scrubs out of a cardboard box. We walk into a sterile white hall called the “aseptic core,” swathed in teal J-cloth from head to Keds—or in my friend’s case, three-inch heels, which the nurse frowns upon.

Dr. Cohen, the surgeon leading the procedure, greets us warmly and quickly briefs us on the proceedings. Our patient, an elderly man suffering from rectal cancer, needs his sigmoid colon and rectum removed.

A heavy set of doors reveal the operating room painted cool lavender, buzzing with activity. Generic pop hits hum from the radio. We are greeted by a pair of legs spread wide and supported by stirrups, a blue sheet dangling between them.

In the centre of the room, three figures clad in surgical green lean over the patient. Between the hairnets and face masks, we make out their eyes by the white lights overhead, and they smile in acknowledgement. I am secretly thrilled to catch my first glimpse of blood on their gloves.

We spend the next hour by the patient’s head, craning our necks over his covered face to peer into his abdomen. An opening in the blue cloth pinned to the body frames a rectangle of loose yellow skin. A bloodless cut the length of a pen runs towards the navel. As the skin rises and falls, the incision parts, revealing the red tissue beneath. Dr. Cohen reaches in and pulls out a wet pink tube, dangling with bulbs of orange fat.

“See it moving?” he asks us. “That’s peristalsis.” My long-suppressed physiology lectures bubble back into consciousness. Peristalsis is the autonomic movement of intestinal smooth muscle to push food along. This man is digesting while his intestines are being held up half a foot over his body.

Translucent webs of connective tissue between loops of intestine are pulled taut with forceps and examined in the body cavity. The senior resident strokes the tissue with a thin metal wand that crackles and sears through it, effortlessly sealing the ruptured blood vessels with intense heat. Wisps of smoke rise from the body as I slip my mask off to sneak a sniff. It smells like burnt hair.

Behind us, beeps issue from the anesthetist’s gallery of screens. She is a relaxed woman who does not flinch when the patient’s heart becomes arrhythmic and his systolic blood pressure drops fourty units.

“The patient’s blood pressure rose because he was in pain,” she explains later. “So I gave him some morphine to bring it back down.”

They take turns feeling for the tumor—the rectal cancer we’ve spent the last hour unraveling bowels to find.

“We’re gonna get this mother out!”

A section of contracting intestine is laid on a device that looks suspiciously like a kitchen mandolin. With a swift slice, it is cut neatly in two, sealed on both sides with a row of staples. The blood-stained gloves are withdrawn, as the yellowed flaps of skin fall back into place and a white towel is laid over the incision.

The entire party moves towards the patient’s elevated feet as everyone arches over Dr. Cohen’s shoulders to get a closer look. He sits facing the patient, as a beam of light from a vaguely orthodontic headpiece illuminates everything between the patient’s legs.

I was worried that I would be struck with the juvenile urge to laugh inappropriately at moments like this. However, the thighs and buttocks, swabbed with yellow iodine, look more like scientific specimens than a man’s backside. A metal device exposes the anus as Dr. Cohen takes up the electrocautery once again.

The room is hushed as he dexterously cuts through the layers of flesh around the opening. Blood pooling at the base of the incision drips into the pan on his knees. My back aches when the cautery is finally laid down an hour later.

He reaches in with a pair of blunt forceps. With a gentle tug, the rectum slides out and slumps into a metal pan, bloated and slick with blood. One end is still stapled shut. I crouch over, incredulous, staring into the cavity. Distilled water, poured in from a perineal incision, rushes out, caught in a container labeled “biological waste.” Over the next half hour, the opening is meticulously cleaned and sealed with tiny stitches.

There is now a quarter-sized hole on the left side of the patient’s abdomen. Reaching into the abdominal cavity, the senior resident threads the remaining intestine through, leaving the end protruding like a large red navel. He places a doughnut-shaped sticker over the stoma, the colon’s opening.

“This part can get a bit messy,” he says mischievously as he snips off the staples, opening up the intestine. Finally, a plastic pouch is fastened to the sticker: the new endpoint for the patient’s excretory system.

Only then does it occur to me that the patient will have to live with a colostomy pouch for the rest of his life. He will experience the emotional triumph of beating cancer, but will have to endure the consequences. Days after the surgery, I am still berating myself for getting swept away by the blood and gore, reducing the patient to a jumble of bloody organs and iodine-stained limbs. It is frighteningly easy to do, especially when you never see their face.

The pressure on the surgeon—who personally meets with the patients and often, their families—is immense. The next time I see Dr. Cohen, I ask him how he deals with the anxiety that comes with so much responsibility.

“You learn from your training and your mentors that you’re in charge in the operating room. You saw all the people milling around: nurses, anesthetists, visitors, residents. There are ten to twelve people out there.”

For him, the patient is always at the heart of the experience. “If you lose control or get excited, everyone around you gets excited and you can never proceed. You’re the captain of the ship and you have to stay calm, even if you may be a little nervous. Mainly because when you get in a flap, you can’t do a good job with the patient.”