Obama talks the talk, but true peace building is more than words

President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize came as a shock to the world. Unlike most stories, this news was truly ripe for punditry. Disregarding their knowledge of the Peace Prize committee’s criteria or of Obama’s specific deeds and words, anyone could—and did—express an opinion. Many argued that Obama simply had not done enough to deserve this honour, without spelling out what they expected from him and when. The world is right to expect Obama to make good on his promises to revitalize America’s role as a global diplomatic leader after the moral depravity of the Bush years. However, these expectations have not yet become reality.

Obama has said the right things. No president, Democrat or Republican, has ever declared the intent to eliminate nuclear weapons. This pledge is significant not because it will be realized within Obama’s presidency, but because it symbolizes his commitment to set America on the path of a renaissance. No president has flown to Cairo, the heart of the Arab world, to assure Muslims that democracy and Islam are compatible, even complementary ideas. No president has so clearly and publicly stated what he thinks it takes to move Middle East peace talks forward. For this he should be lauded and encouraged to continue.

His deeds, however, have yet to advance the cause of international peace. While drastically reducing American involvement in Iraq, Obama has stepped up the war in Afghanistan with serious consequences for Pakistan. Debates continue to rage in Washington about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Obama has yet to restore America’s prominent role in the United Nations or to pledge support for the International Criminal Court, the moral legitimacy of which will remain only partial until America joins the ranks. Strong words on climate change are meaningless unless backed up by clear American commitments on emissions target negotiations at Copenhagen this December.

Obama is certainly a leader unlike any America has had in recent decades. But this does not mean that the world will or should expect only words. The expectations, foreign and domestic, that the president faces are tremendous, but no president has inspired so many fine minds into public service. If anyone can restore America’s role in the world, it is Obama. But this prize should be seen as a challenge, rather than an affirmation that he is inevitably on his way there.

It’s about time

As the Varsity Blues football team marched onto the York Stadium field on Oct. 3 to take on the Lions, they passed two mascots, a drum ensemble, a paid hype-woman, and a male dance troupe that dwarfed U of T’s entire cheerleading squad. A raucous crowd of 1,155, mostly dressed in Lions red, jeered as the Blues took their place for the opening kickoff. On the opposite end of the bleachers, a small but equally strident contingent of Blues fans—led, of course, by the engineers—blared their horns and, between plays, chanted, “If you can’t go to college, go to York.” The Lions took their place on the field after the coin-toss, signaling the start of the grudge match between the cross-town rivals. The stage was set. The game was on. The fans roared.

If you closed your eyes for a moment, you’d almost swear they were cheering for good teams.

They weren’t, of course. The 45-27 win is U of T’s only victory so far this year, as the Blues (1-5) suffered a crushing defeat against the McMaster Marauders the following Thursday. Coming into the game against York, the team was 0-4 on the season, a record that includes a couple of anemic offensive showings against Windsor and Wilfrid Laurier. And while the victory over the Lions—who went winless last season—offered some consolation, it did little to reassure, as the Blues repeated many of the same mistakes that saw them spend the better part of the last two seasons as bottom-feeders.

“There’s still a lot of things that we’re doing that we need to correct,” said Blues head coach Greg DeLaval. “We really need to clean up the mental errors. Other teams would chew us up.”

Quarterback Jansen Shrubb, a Queen’s University graduate and U of T MBA student, made his first start of the season in the York game. He threw for 321 yards on 20-for-31 passing, a particularly impressive feat considering he sat in favour of rookie Jordan Scheltgen for much of the fourth quarter.

Shrubb got the call again later in the week against McMaster, throwing an impressive 250 yards in a losing effort. So far in the season, Shrubb has completed 77 passes, good enough for fifth amongst the OUA’s most accurate passers. Third-year Andrew Gillis, the Blues’ starting pivot for the first half of the season, did not dress for either game.

In both matches, U of T’s rushing game was notable for its absence. Without an effective running back, the team has had to rely primarily on the passing game, which only blossomed with Shrubb’s play as of late. The team’s leading rusher for the first six games of the year, despite competing in just four of them, is quarterback Andrew Gillis.

The Blues host the Waterloo Warriors this Saturday, in their final home tilt of the season. It was a victory over Waterloo that saw the Varsity Blues snap their 49-game winless drought last season. Both teams will enter the match with identical 1-5 records, with Waterloo coming off a 43-21 trouncing at the hands of the first-place Queen’s Golden Gaels.

Nobel win is just the beginning for Obama’s peace efforts

Many people were dismayed when Barrack Obama was announced as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Questions regarding what Obama has contributed to world peace, or even domestic reform, began swirling soon after the news from Oslo. Health care reform is still stuck in Congress. The American economy remains the dullard of the industrialized world. Afghanistan and Iraq continue to be conflict zones, and Gitmo stays stubbornly open.

Yet Obama has brought about a significant amount of peace building in his short time as president. He has accepted the fact that the United States can no longer unilaterally project its power, and he has sought a total elimination of nuclear weapons. He has re-engaged the United States with Russia, and though significant differences still exist between the former Cold War rivals, Russia appears willing to work with the U.S. on major issues such as a nuclear Iran and North Korea.

Naysayers might argue these warm and fuzzy feelings are irrelevant, as they have brought about no actual change. But in the case of Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded for a change in tone, as it has been given in the past. Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik was in its infancy when he won the Nobel Prize, and Al Gore’s win was more about a movie than results on climate change. Kellogg and Briand won the award for their pact that simply renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy.

Yet war has continued, just as the climate continues to warm. This doesn’t mean that Gore, Kellogg, and Briand’s wins were not deserved. These prize-winners all introduced concepts to the international community that altered the status quo. Obama’s presidency has brought about a significant shift in how the U.S. engages with the rest of the world, and how the world views the United States. No longer do people (well, except for Republicans and FOX news) throw eggs at the presidential motorcade or curse the American president. If that change isn’t deserving of the Nobel Prize, I don’t know what is.

The cup stops here

The first Friday of October saw the return of a long-standing U of T sports event: the World Cup of Clubs Tournament. U of T students took to King’s College Circle in the cold and early morning hoping for a warm victory, and as the rain started coming down, male and female athletes, undergrad and grad alike, slid through the muddy field, their club jerseys plastered to their backs.

The soccer tournament, founded by the University of Toronto Italian-Canadian Association, has been running for over a decade, bringing together a number of U of T clubs to fight for the championship. This year’s teams were all culturally oriented: competing with UTICA were the Étudiants Francophones de l’Université de Toronto, the Chinese Undergrad Association of U of T, the university’s Korean-Canadian, Portuguese, Croatian, and Greek students’ associations, and the Iranian Students’ Union. The tournament is not restricted to cultural clubs, though it began as an imitation of the World Cup with four competitors: Italy, Portugal, China, and Croatia.

Vince Messina, assistant coach of the Portuguese team, explained that due to restrictions, the tournament’s organizers are forced to give priority to teams that have participated in previous years, making it difficult to expand the event to include other kinds of university clubs.

The mentioned restrictions include, notably, space and play time. “The play time is short, standard time being only forty-five minutes, and the field should get more protection,” said Chinese undergrad student Richard Yako-Ming, who was playing for the second year and was disappointed by the conditions. The season’s rainy weather made the open Front Campus field, in one student’s words, “a mudpie.” “The Office of Space Management doesn’t give us enough time on the pitch,” said Antonin Mongeau, coach of the EFUT team. “We want to expand the tournament to draw in more students, but the administration seems to resist that. OSM needs to step its game up.”

Increased university support, with a designated field dedicated to the event for an entire day, would allow a broader range of clubs to participate, and help develop a more colourful event.

Nonetheless, the only regulation demanded of this year’s participating teams was that 11 players be on the field at all times, and that at least one of those players be female. Francesca Imbrogno, an Italian student originally playing for UTICA, switched to the Croatian team during one of their matches in order to help them fulfill the female player regulation and stay in the game. “I think it’s a great rule that one girl has to be on each team,” Imbrogno said. “It brings balance to the teams and gives some real star female players a chance to shine.”

Attention to detail on the part of the organizers resulted in a successful event and good sportsmanship from the participants. Relations remained friendly although the players showed a great deal of dedication, many of them not having had the opportunity to play in a league since high school. “After years of playing pick-up, the World Cup of Clubs gives these guys a chance to get competitive,” added Imbrogno.

According to Massimo Rotondo, UTICA member and alumni advisor, the advantage of such an event is that “it’s not just about soccer. The idea is gaining membership, exposing clubs.”

As many students have learned, at a university with such large campuses, clubs are an important way to find solidarity and a sense of community. In one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the tournament is a way to combine school spirit with personal cultural pride. Each team had a gathering of supporters screaming words of encouragement through the rainy fog. “I came out to support my team because it’s an opportunity to see people I know and meet new people,” said Silvija Metelko, a member of the Croatian club. For many students the game carries more weight as a cultural event within U of T than as a sports championship.

The final game between Korea and Greece ended in a 4-2 victory for the Koreans, breaking a tug of war between Italy and Croatia and marking Korea’s first year as the champion club. Andrew Park, coach of the winning team, embodied Korea’s gracious approach to the game. “We’re very excited and we’ll definitely be back next year,” he said. The tournament’s character can be best judged by the reactions of the Greek coach, Dimitri Kyriakakis, who smiled under the tumbling rain after a tough defeat: “16 players came out at 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, we played two to three girls at all times, we brought out very passionate, young players, most of whom were first-years, we had an excellent turnout, and we’re very proud of everyone.”

Q&A: Michael Ignatieff

In the late 1960s, Michael Ignatieff was a student at the University of Toronto and an editor at The Varsity. Now, more than 40 years later, he is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada facing a potentially volatile parliament. In August he stated his intention to challenge the Conservative government on matters of confidence, possibly forcing an election this year—though the Bloc and New Democrat support for the government, and the Liberals sinking poll numbers, make this prospect unlikely. With this new break in the action, Ignatieff had time to answer a few questions via email for The Varsity about national identity, the current situation in parliament, and his experience as an undergraduate at U of T.

The Varsity: Thanks for speaking with us. First, on a personal note, do you have any memories from your time at our newspaper—or our university—that you could share with us?

Michael Ignatieff: I was at U of T in the late sixties. It was probably the most exciting time to be a university student in the last century. Vietnam was on. Mike Pearson had just kept Canada out. There was a culture of passion and protest that was everywhere you looked on campus. We started doing these teach-ins, which were sort of half-lecture, half-protest, with a good amount of conversation thrown in. And there we were, in our late teens and early twenties, arguing the biggest issues of the day and never trusting anybody over thirty. It was incredibly exciting. And I had the most incredible friends, who became co-conspirators in all this stuff—Bob Rae and Jeff Rose and others.

TV: A common theme in your newest book, True Patriot Love, is the notion that Canada is somehow an “unfinished project.” You assert that Stephen Harper has approached the country as a finished product and that this has been one of his failings as prime minister. In the last 30 years, Canada has faced fundamental challenges to the character of its federalism: two referenda on Quebec sovereignty, the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, and the recent constitutional crisis, among others. Could you comment on the underlying problems facing Canadian federalism and on the “unfinished” nature of Canada as a national project?

MI: For as long as we’ve existed, Canada has been a country of epic undertakings and national dreams. In my great-grandfather’s day, it was the transcontinental railroad. Since then, we’ve had the Trans-Canada Highway, universal health care, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Big ideas, big projects—and, above all, national projects—that pull the whole country together to say, yes, we can get this done together.

We’re a big country. Vast. And very different, from one end of the country to the other. And when you’ve got a federation as big and broad as Canada, you can start to pull apart if you focus on the differences. The story of Canada is the story of resisting that, of pulling together. Our national unity is the biggest national project of them all.

So these great national endeavours are some of the adhesive that holds this big country together, that keeps us moving forward together, that unites us—not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

We need to set ourselves new projects, new national undertakings. I’ve talked about high-speed rail and West-East power grids. We live in a great country, the best in the world, but as soon as we let ourselves believe that our work is finished, we’ll start falling behind.

TV: You’ve spent much of your career as a journalist and scholar exploring some of the most troubled regions in the world. Countries in the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East are still affected by conflicts between secular, religious, and ethnic forms of nationalism. True Patriot Love begins with a passage about the meaning of national feeling as an “act of imagination” defined collectively by a series of competing viewpoints. Is the conflict between different conceptions of a nation the symptom of a healthy country or of an unhealthy one?

MI: This is the magic of Canada. The immigrant who was born somewhere else but moved here, or someone who’s worked abroad and come home, or someone who’s been here all their life—we all imagine Canada in different ways. You can be Quebecois and a Canadian in the order that you choose. Or Acadian or Jamaican or Indian or Chinese. Our diversity is our greatest strength. We’ve built a country where our different viewpoints are more than the sum of their parts—they add up to a richer country. This isn’t just healthy, it’s what makes us Canadian.

TV: You also comment in your book that Canadian political culture has a somewhat anti-rhetorical tradition when compared to, say, that of the United States–a country whose tradition of rhetoric has perhaps reached its apex in the age of Barack Obama. First of all, what do you think accounts for this difference? Is it a strength or a weakness?

MI: Pierre Trudeau made “reason before passion” his motto, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t passionate. Far from it. He channeled his passion through his actions, through the arguments he made in defense of his policies. I think Barack Obama is similar in that respect.

In Canada, we talk about peace, order, and good government. It’s a philosophy that puts our collective wellbeing, the health of our whole society, first. Americans talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is a more individualistic take. I think that’s where the difference between our rhetorical traditions begins. Americans look for presidents who can rally and inspire the nation to greatness. Canadians look for prime ministers who take their inspiration from our whole society, and who will move us forward together.

TV: One of our country’s most respected political journalists, Chantal Hébert, concluded the introduction of her recent book, French Kiss, by saying: “On the left and on the right, in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, the old coalitions that saw Canada through the twentieth century have broken down. The next majority government in Canada will belong to whomever is the most adept at reassembling the pieces of the federation before it is broken up for good into irreconcilable blocks.” Canada is in the midst of a unique period in its political history: three successive minority governments and the recent crisis in which, in your own words, “the prime minister pitted region against region, province against province.” Are we destined for an age of more minority governments, or do you believe majorities are attainable in the present circumstances?

MI: I’ve said that we’re a big, broad country, and that our diversity is our strength. But there’s a deep consensus among many Canadians that we want government to lead in growing the economy, we want Canada to have a respected voice in the world, and we want to be united as one great people sharing one great country. That’s the vision we’re going to offer Canadians in the next election, and it’s very different from what we’ve got from Stephen Harper.

TV: The Liberal Leadership convention held in Vancouver in early May was different from other conventions that have been held by your party in the past. What was the overall mood, and what were some of the most important things to emerge from the gathering?

MI: The convention was part of a long process of renewing and uniting the Liberal Party. In Vancouver we came together as party and we came out of that weekend with a resolve to do politics differently. Vancouver was about refocusing our energies on being the party of our national unity and our national purpose. We also moved to a one-member, one-vote leadership process so that every Liberal will have a say in who leads our party.

TV: Pierre Eliot Trudeau is often criticized for alienating the western provinces through his national energy program. In one of your first major speeches as leader you said that the Liberals had made mistakes with Alberta in the past. What kind of relationship should the Liberal Party try to cultivate with that province?

MI: Alberta and Western Canada should never feel like they’re left out of the debates that shape our country’s future. I’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta, and I work closely with a good number of Albertans. They’re some of the most fiercely proud Canadians you’ll ever meet. The whole country has benefited from Alberta’s entrepreneurial, risk-taking, cutting-edge spirit. We need as much of that Alberta spirit as we can get, if our economy is to grow and create the jobs of tomorrow.

TV: Both the Liberals and the NDP had a pretty strong showing in Atlantic Canada during the last election. Nova Scotia has just elected the first New Democratic government east of Ontario, and Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams remains one of Stephen Harper’s most vociferous critics. Though your party supported the Conservative budget, you allowed your MPs from Newfoundland to vote against it. Could you comment on this decision and on the broader picture that exists in that part of the country?

MI: Stephen Harper used a federal budget to settle a personal score with Premier Williams. That’s no way for a prime minister to behave, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were justifiably angry. So were we. We needed to send a message to Stephen Harper, and to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we did.

We listen to Atlantic Canadians. We hear what they expect from their federal government. And Liberals are ready to deliver for Atlantic Canada.

TV: Lastly, parliament resumed on September 14 and Senator David Smith indicated at the time that the question of EI Reform is “not a defining issue that merits bringing the government down.” How will the Liberal Party position itself on EI Reform, and is there still the possibility of an immediate election even if this issue is no longer central?

MI: We believe in regional fairness for EI. We want more Canadians who pay into the EI system to be eligible for benefits if they lose their job through no fault of their own. The bill that the Conservatives finally brought forward on EI falls well short of these goals.

Our experience in trying to make progress on this issue with the Conservatives tells us two important things—two things that go well beyond EI, and that Canadians should consider when they’re asked to choose their next government. The first is that the Conservatives have no real interest in making parliament work for Canadians. They’re only interested in holding on to their own jobs. The second is that helping laid-off workers isn’t just a matter of compassion for Liberals, it’s an integral part of our economic recovery. It puts stimulus in the hands of people who will spend it immediately to provide for their families while they find their next job, and it helps to ensure we don’t leave people behind as our economy recovers. But EI is just another political bargaining chip for Stephen Harper.

Canada can do better. That’s why we oppose this government.

Twenty20 cricket: Sport or spectacle?

Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils, and Chennai Superkings might be names worthy of exotic amusement park rides, but they’re also franchises in the world’s most popular cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League.

The IPL has revolutionized the sport since the league began in 2008. It has exploded in popularity around the world, despite purist critics who argue that it is more spectacle than sport. The IPL has had two very successful debut seasons, capturing the attention of the world’s cricket fans and nations. The league saw Bollywood A-listers and South Asian industrialists rush for ownership of the eight new franchises.

Although a game of English origin, cricket-crazy India was the first country to capitalize on the sport in a massive way. Developing countries usually have their athletes “poached” to play in European and North American leagues. The IPL can take some pride in hosting the tournament where the best cricket players in the world make a trip to the sub-continent to play in what is becoming the first elite cricket league at the club level.

The IPL adopted Twenty20 cricket on the assumption that fans of other sports could get excited about cricket if it duplicated the pace and formula of other major sports. To a new follower of the game, cricket can be painfully slow. The joke about cricket is that it is known as the “gentlemen’s game” but is actually the “unemployed man’s game,” in reference to its lengthy match times.

When the 2007 Twenty20 Cricket World Cup reduced the length of games, the move received a positive reaction from current and new fans alike. Twenty20 is essentially the shortest form of the game and refers to the number of overs (one over equals six balls or deliveries by the bowler) each team has to play. Combined with a new three-hour limit on games, the sport has become more marketable and profitable. Since basketball is watched for jaw dropping slam-dunks and hockey for bone-jarring body checks and light-speed puck play, Twenty20 cricket called for a faster run rate and pace as well as hard hitting. Teams need to hit 6ers—boundary-clearing shots that are the equivalent of home runs—to score the maximum amount of runs within a team’s 20 overs at bat. For this reason, some cricket purists refer to the Twenty20 as spectacle because the time constraints and limited innings take away from the strategy and skill of the longer games. Twenty20’s supporters defiantly maintain that the format is more explosive and requires more athleticism and energy.

Until now, the largest prestige and salary a cricketer could receive was through playing for his country. Professional cricket is very different from the sporting culture of North America and Europe, where NBA superstars and English Premier League footballers are constantly seen in the colours of their club and only don national jerseys for the international gig like the World Cup or the Olympics.

Cricket was different in this regard until the cash-rich IPL entered the picture. With England international Andrew Flintoff and Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni signing in the $1.5-million range, the divide between club and country widened. Cricket doesn’t pay as well as other sports, especially internationally. Almost all of the top cricketers in the world wanted to play in the IPL and were willing to sacrifice their spots on the national squad. The lucrative IPL has therefore in effect forced national cricketing boards to relax their policies to deal with players wanting to play in the IPL. Twenty20 cricket now engages in the signing, drafting, selling, and trading of players just like other franchised sports, though it’s something new to cricket. The IPL has shown its influence in other regards as well: the International Cricket Council now accounts for IPL scheduling and has attempted to reduce the number of international tours to accommodate for Twenty20 leagues.

It is fascinating to observe how the Indian Premier League and Twenty20 cricket have not only reshaped the game, but also changed certain social aspects in the sub-continent. Cheerleading is a huge part of North American sports franchises. The pure sports entertainment value is obvious: it gets the home crowd going and the rowdy fans whistling. Conservative Indian society probably never imagined a day when cheerleaders would invade India, where young women showing skin is generally frowned upon and provocative dancing is considered taboo. The IPL introduced cheerleading to sports in India in 2008 to criticism and social disapproval. The IPL even flew in Washington Redskins cheerleaders to represent the Bangalore Royal Challengers franchise. Other teams soon followed suit, and foreign cheerleaders became the norm in the first season of the Indian Premier League. Although some dancers were told to tone it down at times, the idea of cheerleaders slyly climbed away from social disapproval. Indian television networks even aired reality shows about selecting cheerleaders during the off-seasons. Cheerleading is now generally accepted as part of the Twenty20 cricket game.

Cricket apparel was also drastically altered for the IPL seasons. Traditional cricket jerseys are often white with minimal colour and no advertising. Compare this with the flashy black and gold jerseys of the Kolkata Knightriders franchise, emblazoned with a golden Nokia logo, a clear attempt on the IPL franchises’ part to duplicate the wildly successful merchandising tactics of savvy European football clubs. The ploy to make cricket exciting is visible in the colourful and corporate-charged display that is IPL on TV. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas all claimed pieces of the cricket pie and the endorsement deals in the first two seasons would make even Lebron or Kobe do a double take.

The future of Twenty20 cricket looks very promising, and only proves that the sport of cricket is not immune to the effects of globalization. Attendance has skyrocketed, and the sport is getting the younger audience it craved internationally. The eight franchises modelled themselves after North American and European clubs and teams, in the hope of expanding into a global game, like soccer. Although cricket is already larger than life in India, the sport’s new and trendy image may help it grow in other countries. It provides younger fans with a more exciting forum to idolize their favorite stars, and younger players to dream about the glory and fame associated with making it big in the sport.

South Africa, which hosted the second season of the Indian Premier League, has since established a popular Twenty20 league. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also followed suit. Canada’s own Scotiabank National T20 Championships was also a surprising success this year. The Airtel Twenty20 Champions League tournament in India this October has picked up from where the previous two seasons of the IPL left off, glamorizing the game even further. The Champions League, a concept like UEFA’s soccer tournament, was planned to take place in India in the fall of 2008, but was cancelled after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. It debuted on Oct. 8 this year, and can be seen on ATN Cricket Plus or ATN CBN until Oct. 23.

The dead letters

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is not only an encounter with antiquity, but also an insight into the preservation and restoration of ancient documents.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a series of approximately 900 assembled documents. The manuscripts were written between 150 BCE and 70 CE, and found in 11 caves in the ancient settlement of Qumran on the Dead Sea. A fortunate mix of humidity, temperature, and darkness kept the scrolls intact for thousands of years.

“In caves, temperature and humidity are always stable,” said Dan Rahimi, VP of Gallery Development at the ROM. Rahimi assisted with the exhibit’s curation and contributed to the excavation of the scrolls.

Rahimi added that dry, dark caves preserved scrolls well, even those that were left on the ground, trampled on and damaged by both animals and insects.

The scrolls were removed between 1947 and 1956, and transferred to a department called the Scrollery in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum.

Conservators and biblical scholars sorted and catalogued thousands of pieces of scrolls. Although some had been kept in jars and remained mostly undamaged, most were found in thumbnail-sized bits. One cave alone contained more than 10,000 fragments.

The team compared each piece by texture, colour, and handwriting, assembling the pieces like a massive jigsaw puzzle.

“You have to realize that no computers or analytical tools were used at the time,” said Rahimi.

When a match was found, the pieces would be scotch-taped together and sandwiched between two glass panels.

This process proved to be devastating to the scrolls. Although some were written on papyrus, most were parchment, an organic material highly sensitive to changes in temperature and light. The natural light from the Scrollery’s large windows, combined with the pressure of the glass plates and chemicals from the transparent tape, proved to be detrimental.

One of the most surprising things at the ROM exhibit is photographs of the scientists of the time piecing together ancient scrolls while blithely holding lit cigarettes between their fingers.

As technology improved, so began an effort to restore the scrolls.

First, the scrolls were recorded and photographed. Scientists then removed the adhesive residue from the tape using organic solvents. The pieces were cleaned of any oils and stains, and the back of the scrolls were reinforced if needed.

Conservationists then arranged the scrolls on acid-free cardboard and attached the pieces with hinges of Japanese tissue paper. These sheets were then put in protective boxes in a climate-controlled store room and checked periodically.

When being prepared for exhibition, each scroll was cross-stitched through a frame in order to hold it together.

Only about one-third of the scrolls found are biblical; some are translations but most are commentary on scripture questioning the meaning of life and the end of the world.

“The scrolls give us a look into the worldview of the time. Many wrote about a looming apocalyptic war and believed that a messiah would come,” said Rahimi. “It shows us what people were thinking around the time Jesus of Nazareth came around.”

Rahimi added that the scrolls are valuable because prior to their discovery, the oldest known manuscripts dated from 1,000 CE.

At the ROM, about ten framed scrolls are placed in individual table-height window units with just enough light to be seen. As Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Beth Tzedec Congregation of Toronto says in one of the exhibit’s videos, you “put your eyes, and your nose, close to antiquity.”

The room is kept dark to protect the scrolls while a recording plays traditional Jewish prayers sung acapella. Translations are provided, although the scrolls are enchanting on their own.

One woman at the exhibit stared at a scroll segment and remarked “I can’t believe that someone penned that so long ago.” Those nearby agreed.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit runs until January 3, 2010. Admission for U of T students is $6. All full-time post-secondary students who present their student card and photo identification are admitted to the museum without charge every Tuesday, and need pay only the separate exhibition fee.

Welcome back, Justine

Justine Henin, formerly ranked number-one in the world in women’s tennis, announced on Sept. 22 that she would return to competitive tennis next year. “I am really happy and deeply moved to be able to announce tonight that I’m coming back to competitive tennis,” said Henin on live Belgian television.

In May 2008, when the Belgian player still topped the Women’s Tennis Association world rankings chart, Henin, only 25 at the time, shocked the tennis world by announcing her immediate retirement from professional tennis. “It’s the end of a wonderful adventure, but it’s something I have been thinking about for a long time,” said Henin at a news conference

Henin then went back to her birthplace, and started her own tennis academy with her long-time coach, Carlos Rodriguez. In various interviews, the Belgian has repeatedly stated that she was enjoying her life after retirement, and had no intention of returning. When everyone was convinced that Henin would indeed leave professional tennis for good, she returned to the spotlight. But this is hardly surprising, as there is still a place the holder of seven Grand Slam titles has yet to conquer: the All-England Club. “The desire to win Wimbledon is one of the main reasons she’s come back,” announced Rodriguez on Belgian television.

Henin’s signature Federer-like single-handed backhand is undoubtedly phenomenal, but it was her determination and aggressiveness that established her as one of the most prominent figures in women’s professional tennis in recent years. Many perceive these qualities as distinguishing Henin from her compatriot, Kim Clijsters, who had never beaten Henin in all three Grand Slam finals that matched the pair. The rivalry ended abruptly when Clijsters made a surprising retirement announcement of her own in May 2007.

Henin admitted that she was inspired by Clijsters’ successful return a few months ago, with the latter winning the U.S. Open title in 2009. “It is a source of inspiration and motivation,” Henin said of the rivalry which began when both were teenagers. “I have come to realise that I would not have been this strong if she had not been there at the time.” But she added that it was not the main reason for her comeback.

Since Henin’s retirement, a few players have been crowned but not one of them has truly dominated women’s tennis. The Williams sisters’ performances were sometimes shaky and inconsistent, and Maria Sharapova suffers from a niggling shoulder injury. Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, and Dinara Safina are simply no comparison to the Belgian player.

It is very unlikely that Henin would become a second Martina Hingis, who made a not-so-successful return in 2006, and finally retired in 2008 after testing positive for cocaine usage. Power plays a large part in Henin’s playing style. When on court, Hingis, the “Swiss Miss” well-known for her graceful skills, found herself bombarded with powerful shots by teenage players. On the other hand, it is widely believed that Henin still possesses what it takes to win the game, but she will have to work hard to again become a force to be reckoned with.

Whether Henin will become the second Clijsters or the second Hingis remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Henin, who no longer has a world ranking, has already been promised a wildcard to compete in next year’s Australian Open. The date is none too soon for tennis fans who want to see Henin back in action.

What seems obvious is that women’s tennis nowadays is lacking the spice that attracts worldwide attention. Henin’s return might be the answer to that. Now that Clijsters is back, Henin’s launch of her “second tennis career” would definitely continue the eye-catching rivalry between the Belgian pair. Clijsters welcomed her compatriot’s return, stating that it would be good news not only for Belgium, but for tennis in general.

Justine Henin’s return will boost the worldwide popularity of women’s tennis, news that everyone loves to hear—well, perhaps everyone but her competitors.