What about Khadr?

In the summer of 2002, 15- year-old Canadian citizen Omar Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in an Afghanistan firefight. He has since been held at a military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay. The grounds for his imprisonment include the murder of one U.S. soldier, first class Sergeant Christopher Speer. Yet, with the recent disclosure of new case evidence, it appears that Khadr’s involvement is not as clean-cut as U.S. officials initially thought.

The documents leaked to reporters at Khadr’s pre-trial imply that he was not, as formerly stated, the sole person left alive when U.S. soldiers arrived at the compound. Prosecutors have stated that they intended to release a “redacted” version of the document, but defence attorneys insist the document was never intended to be released.

More evidence reveals that no member of the U.S. militia saw Khadr throw the grenade that killed Sergeant Speer. His guilt was determined by his position in the compound: he was believed, until recently, to have been the only one alive.

With the lack of evidence that would implicate Khadr in these crimes, his defence lawyers should have an easy time clearing his name. Nevertheless, Khadr’s main defence attorney, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, maintains that there is more evidence being withheld, and that officials have neglected to put them in touch with key eyewitnesses.

Human Rights Watch has voiced several concerns about the legal processes and rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, the military commissions put into place by President George W. Bush “fail to guarantee that evidence obtained via torture or ill-treatment shall not be used” and “provide lower due process standards for non-citizens than for U.S. citizens.”

Considering that Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, where does the Canadian government stand? According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we should hand over Khadr, and let the U.S. deal with him. Meanwhile, Amnesty International Canada continues to express their outrage that Khadr is the “first child combatant ever to be brought before a court for alleged ‘war crimes.’” Indeed, there are United Nations resolutions in place specifically to protect child soldiers. Khadr, at 15, could not be considered any different than the child soldiers in Africa. Amnesty International is also disappointed in the Canadian government for failing to act on Khadr’s behalf. Other governments have worked to protect the rights of their citizens in Guantanamo Bay, but Canada has remained silent.

It is simply unacceptable that Mr. Harper gives Khadr to the American military without any words of opposition. Whether or not Khadr is guilty is not the issue. He should be brought back to Canada to go to trial and if found guilty, he should be imprisoned in his own country. Robert Ingersoll, an American politician and Civil War veteran once said, “Give to every human being every right that you claim yourself.” We cannot expect to retain our own rights and freedoms if we have citizens who are denied those same entitlements.

U of T admins rip off protest posters

Custodial staff say they can’t remember ever getting such an order before, but the University of Toronto’s senior administrators are having them tear down hundreds of posters for being “possibly defamatory.”

The posters, put up by the student activist group AlwaysQuestion, accuse Peter Munk, chairman and founder of the Barrick Gold corporation, of “endless” atrocities, including funding militias, killing dissenters and labour leaders, instigating wars, and burying miners alive.

The posters also highlight Munk’s $6.2-million donation to U of T in 1999. The money helped establish Trinity College’s IR centre, which was then named after him. To date, Munk has donated $12.2 million to the Munk Centre, according to U of T’s official publication, the Bulletin.

According to AlwaysQuestion member Prambir Gill, the posters went up on Friday, Feb. 1 and had all been torn down by the following Monday.

When he saw custodians tearing down the posters, AlwaysQuestion co-founder and administrator Farshad Azadian went to Wayne Shaw, the manager of caretaking services. Shaw told him that the posters were “not authorized” and that administrators had ordered him to see they were taken down.

Apparently, administrators feared the posters could expose the school to a lawsuit by Munk or Barrick.

“Posters of that nature that may be defamatory, and the university might be on the hook,” said Ruta Pocius, U of T’s director of issues management and media relations. She said the university held legal consultations which found that the posters could be a liability, but has not—and does not intend to—investigate whether or not the posters constitute defamation under Canadian law.

Gill was clearly frustrated by the university’s handling of the matter. “They limit our right to free speech and censor our material, and they’ve given no clear reason for it,” he said.

“If you have any issues with the statements we made, they are all backed up by fact,” said Gill. AlwaysQuestion also runs campaigns addressing such campuscentric issues as the recently-announced (and angrily protested) 20 per cent hike in the New College residence fees.

The group has not been contacted in any way by the university, said Azadian. Since the first wave of tear-downs, the group has begun putting up a modified version of the poster, which now asks: “Why is U of T trying to censor this poster?” The new poster also bear an “Endorsed by ASSU” stamp—the Arts and Science Students Union assists AlwaysQuestion by providing photocopying service.

The first batch of 250 revised posters have already disappeared, with a second round stapled to bulletin boards across campus at press time, including at Sid Smith, Robarts and, pointedly, the Munk Centre. According to Pocius, the university will continue tearing down the posters.

Azadian noted that AlwaysQuestion put up several different posters, including some alleging Canadian imperialism and others condemning Israel, but only the Barrick posters were targeted.

Sweaty metal and rose petals

Marriage to robots may be legalised by 2050. Artifi- cial intelligence researcher David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, thinks this is unavoidable. He predicts people will be able to form romantic relationships with robots and consummate that affection. The book promises that the human-robot relationships of the future will improve upon most sex between humans today.

Currently, robots are mostly made for factory work, but, says Canadian science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, “We are at the tipping point where in just two years they’re going to start being in our homes doing domestic work and in our offices.” Producing robots in the form of toys (such as Sony’s Aibo and Robo-Sapien), artificial workplace mail couriers, and household cleaners are commonplace. As this trend continues, robotic design becomes anthropomorphic, including mental capabilities like personality. Sex dolls are currently in demand, with artificial heartbeats to mimic orgasms, pelvic thrusting motors, and voice response. Robots are now being made with skin sensitive to temperature, pain, and pressure. There’s a shift in the way we see and treat robots today, eventually reaching the point where we can fall in love with them.

But will it be easy? That some humans who interact with a “computer therapist” report a strange attraction to the software program called ELIZA indicates the possibilities. Scientific research has found a number of factors for why we fall in love, such as reciprocal liking, physical attraction, and similarities in personality and interests. Levy believes these are all programmable. It may seem unlikely now, but computing power doubles roughly every 18 months. “Smart robots are only so sophisticated today,” says Sawyer, “but before the end of this coming decade we’re going to have to deal with autonomous, self aware, conscious entities that aren’t human beings.”

Moving forward, the idea of performing sexual acts with robots will definitely be criticized at first. But these roadblocks will merely hamper the inevitability of mainstream robophilia, not destroy its eventual acceptance. An excerpt from the New York Times Book Review says Levy makes his case by noting the past condemnation of acts like oral sex, masturbation, and homosexuality that today are “widely regarded as thoroughly normal, leading to fulfilling sex lives.”

Before you join the robot sex crusade, let’s evaluate the possible impacts it may have on our society. Advanced robotic sex toys would devastate the sex trade industry. STDs, embarrassment, risk of damaging one’s reputation, and various other inconveniences associated with prostitution would all be eliminated. If it feels like the real thing,with none of the so-called “side effects,” why would anyone choose prostitution?

A robot spouse may be the only answer for those without the resources to invest in a proper relationship. Going through the proper courtship of wooing the opposite sex can be challenging. Sex aside, as robots become more advanced, they will eventually have human-like personalities. When that happens, how will our society adapt to accommodate robotic marriage? Will there be tax-breaks, infidelities, polygamy, divorces, and alimonies?

These questions may be laughable, but Sawyer insists “it’s going to happen, it’s inevitable—already it’s in Japan.”

Psych’s winning streak

In faded jeans, a t-shirt and hoodie, Marc Fournier doesn’t look much like a professor. But three days a week the 34-year-old holds the attention of UTSC’s largest lecture theatre, and in a few weeks he’ll be addressing a much larger audience in TVO’s Best Lecturer Competition. This is Fournier’s second time in the top 10, and he’s not alone— fellow UTSC psych prof Gerald Cupchik has also made the finals.

Over the past few months, judges for the competition have cut nominated professors down to semi-finalists and finalists. The last 10 competitors will present their lectures on TVO beginning in March, and viewers can vote for their favourite. The winning lecturer receives a $10,000 scholarship for their institution.

UTSC’s psych department has consistently ranked well—both this year and last, three profs made the semi-finals, and theirs is the only department in the province to place two lecturers in the top 10. So what’s so special about UTSC psychology?

The answer may have its roots in the double cohort. As Ontario phased out grade 13 and the demand for postsecondary education skyrocketed, U of T planned to expand on its suburban campuses, and the department hit a turning point.

“Enrolment in the intro course was 600-700 students,” said John Bassili, department chair. “The year of the double cohort we had about 1250 students, and we now have nearly 1600.”

New buildings weren’t ready on time, so classes were taught in “the pavilion”—essentially a large tent.

“Our enrolment increased so dramatically over the span of a few years that we couldn’t afford to not solve the problems,” said Fournier. The first solution, dreamed up by Bassili, was web optioning. In large courses, students signed up for either a normal section, or a web section. Lectures were taped and put online for all students to view. Online lectures are now so popular that there is room for web students to attend lectures in person, if they feel so inclined. Web optioning has been adopted by other departments, and is now widely practiced at UTSC.

Web optioning is a clever way around expensive bricks and mortar. But it’s also a different model of the university community.

“Let’s not delude ourselves. Classrooms of 500 or, in the case of Convocation Hall, 1,500 are not really communities where there is any kind of meaningful interaction,” said Bassili. “We’re not beginning with a splendid situation.” Online teaching, he argues, can facilitate other sorts of community.

“One student said that when the lecture was given the whole family gathered around the monitor, listening together, and that would give them topics of conversation during dinner. Now is that community or what?”

Fournier uses web optioning, and it’s reflected in his teaching style.

“I prioritize preparing for those three hours that I’m in the room,” he said. “I know other faculty emphasize availability after class—I do relatively less of that. I have only one office hour a week and that’s all, I tend to dissuade students from emailing me.”

That doesn’t mean that the lecture is cold and detached—Fournier makes a point of using self-deprecating personal examples in his lectures.

“The more I seem to suffer as part of the story, the more audience engagement there is,” he said. “What legitimizes me in the classroom is not how I’m different from the students but how I’m similar to them. The more fallible and quirky I seem, the more I have some kind of street cred.”

While Fournier is fallible, Cupchik is confrontational. (“I never have scummy students because I kill scummy students. I hate selfishness.”) In his small classes, students get to know him and each other. Next to Fournier’s high tech lectures, it’s positively old-fashioned. Maybe that’s because Cupchik has been teaching since before Fournier was born.

“They write 50-100 page papers,” he said. “I scare the living crap out of them, and let me tell you, they write the most beautiful papers you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Cupchik’s teaching is about one-onone relationships, and as far as he’s concerned, his department’s teaching success is also about relationships between senior and junior faculty. At other institutions, he says, junior faculty are scared that if they spend too much time teaching, they won’t publish enough to get tenure.

“How much effort are you going to put into your teaching if you’re terrified?” said Cupchik. “We don’t have that atmosphere.”

What is love (baby don’t hurt me)

At one moment in your life, love may overcome every aspect. You will not notice it at first, but with time you’ll understand. When you’re nervous on the phone, excited to talk with the one you love. When every kiss feels brand new. When every touch feels like the greatest adrenaline rush. When three hours pass in a minute. When this happens over and over again, you will know you are in love. Are you?

What is it about love that has fascinated ingenious minds for centuries? How can something so culturally widespread have remained a mystery throughout generations? There is no one definition that encapsulates the concept of love, and there never will be.

The biological mechanism behind the mystery was thought to be understood, but this has changed in the last century. So what’s going in our brains?

Love uses several neural reward pathways. The most prominent is referred to as the mesolimbic pathway, extending from our midbrain to the limbic system using the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a neuromodulator that can diffuse large areas of the nervous system, affecting a multitude of neurons. Rewarding activities, like love, boost a stimulating cascade of biochemical reactions leading to the physical perception of pleasure, but perception of this pleasure can also come from artificial stimulants like drugs, which use the same pathway. In fact, studies have shown male rats choosing to self administer intracranial stimulation rather than indulge in sex with a sexually receptive female. Yet there is a major difference between the different types of stimuli. Natural stimulants are held in check by aversive centres, meaning that the desire decreases for a time following the pleasurable activity. This is why what some refer to as “time lag” periods can interrupt sex. Meanwhile, drugs promote a vicious positive feedback referred to as motivational toxicity, an effect some would undoubtedly prefer at the expense of health. From this perspective, “addiction to love” takes on an entirely new meaning.

But there are different kinds of love: your feelings towards your mother differ from the love towards your partner. Misunderstood on a biological level, both seem to instill a sense of belonging and safety, and reduce anxiety. This not only helps us lead healthier lives, but gives us a reason to be. If you are depressed, odds are that a lack of love—a lack of purposefulness, of being needed—may play a major role.

The act of sex by no means implies a loving relationship, nor does a loving relationship imply the abundance of sex. Yet as most will attest, the ideal sexual partner is undoubtedly one for whom you do indeed have strong feelings of attachment. A point of note: women evaluate men differently across menstrual cycles. So how does that age-old adage go? “If at first you don’t succeed…”

Some believe that stress may actually be beneficial to the forming of social bonds, perhaps because it effectively puts individuals into a state where they can better emotionally relate. Romantic Hollywood movies seem to cash in on this theme. The guy usually won’t get the girl until the passing of a series of never-ending dilemmas faced by both.

Nothing should be taken to excess, as chronic stress seems to compromise health, leading to a breakdown of social relationships, which may in turn result in depression. The best option is prevention. Taking your friend for a night out on the town might be one of the better options after a tough breakup. Putting their life into perspective and reminding them how many other things they’ve got going for them may go a long way in regaining full form.

So why love at all, you may ask? Why expose yourself to being hurt? The answer lies within the existence of love itself. Simply put, the benefits exceed the cost. Love promotes social attachment, gathering, copulation, and reproduction. Love is even more important than self-esteem and self-actualization, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Love helps us reduce anxiety and stress, indirectly boosting our immune systems and sexual performance. Both have a direct benefit for the continuation of our species—the single most important priority in the animal world.

A stranger to sex

David Jay is a virgin and he doesn’t care who knows. The 25-year-old has been vocal about his disinterest in sex since his freshman year at Wesleyan University. He has become the poster child for asexuality, the lack of sexual attraction to either gender.

Asexuality is mostly ignored because it is characterized by a lack of—rather than an expression of—sexuality, according to David, who grew tired of invisibility.

“There was no language with which to understand myself, and it was really scary,” he said on the phone from San Francisco.

In 2001, David started the Asexual Visibility and Education Network at asexuality.org, a website that now has over 13,500 registered users.

Members of AVEN need not be “strictly asexual,” said John, a 24-year-old volunteer moderator and recent Brock University graduate. Some simply feel more comfortable with asexuals, seeking refuge from an aggressively sexual world. John, who prefers cuddling and Crazy 8s to getting frisky, has gone to “third base, not all the way.”

“Asexual is an absolutist term, and like all absolutist terms, it’s flawed,” said John, who calls himself a Grey-A because he has experienced sexual attraction— for three people.

“I think that’s somewhat below average,” he deadpanned.

“I don’t really speak that language. I don’t send out signals, I don’t pick up signals.”

He gave an example of a date at Brock.

“In hindsight I could tell she was trying to get physical. She was trying to get physical and I was like, cuddle cuddle. I was completely oblivious.”

But lack of attraction to others doesn’t translate to an indifference to physical pleasure. “I enjoy physical contact,” said John. “It’s just easier by myself.”

“Almost all asexuals masturbate. They’d rather masturbate than get it on with another person. It’s easier, it’s cleaner, it’s simpler, and it’s just all around nicer.”

Nor does asexuality correspond with celibacy. Most AVEN members, according to a poll, prize romance. Only 15 per cent self-identified as aromantic.

“Romance and sexuality are entirely different things,” said John. “I have a good friend who is bisexual homo-romantic (he gets turned on by guys and girls but only wants that romantic relationship with guys).”

But how do asexuals manage to find love in a nympho world?

David said that asexualove. net, the most prominent dating site for asexuals, shut down due to lack of demand. “Numerically speaking, it’s hard for people to find dates, and that will change as the community grows,” he said. AVEN plans to launch a dating website within the next several months. Still, he said, members meet through the website, which boasts two marriages.

John met Carolyn, his girlfriend of a year and a half, through AVEN. Carolyn’s brother is asexual, but she isn’t. “My girlfriend is constantly trying to drag me to the bedroom, and I’m like, ‘Come on, you got to kill the ogre, roll the dice!’ I want to play cards and go for a nice walk in the park, and she’s like, ‘Bedroom! Bedroom! Bedroom!’”

“Things that I should be enjoying just feel like a chore,” he said, but added, “Every couple has to expect to work through some sort of sexual incompatibility. It’s part of a normal relationship process.”

Has David ever had a girlfriend? “I don’t like that label,” he replied, laughing. “Rather than think about a girlfriend or a boyfriend where I’m emotionally fulfilled, I think about a community where I’m emotionally fulfilled.”

“The person I’m closest to dating right now, I just bought flowers for her, we say ‘I love you’ to each other, we sleep in the same bed sometimes—she is a lesbian, and I’m helping her look for a girlfriend as a part of my relationship with her. There’s elements of friendship and romance that mingle together.”

“You don’t need sex to be happy.”

The medical and academic communities have no concensus on asexuality because little research has been done, according to Dr. Anthony Bogaert, a psychology professor at Brock University.

Bogaert found that around one per cent of the population reported themselves as asexual, similar to the rate of same-sex attraction found in the same survey. The paper, published in 2004 in the Journal of Sex Research, surveyed 18,000 Britons.

But, Bogaert noted, asexuality could be under-reported. “There’s a stigma associated with being asexual,” he said. “Certainly the media presents everyone as hypersexual—you have to be superbeautiful and supersexual all the time.”

Bogaert called asexuality a “unique sexual orientation,” a view shared by Dr. Lori Brotto, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and director of the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory.

Brotto was working in a sexual dysfunction clinic when she noticed a common occurrence: women and men who had no interest in sex. “It led us to wonder if this was more than just low desire, if this was a completely separate phenomenon. Was this really asexuality?” She surveyed 200 respondents through AVEN, interviewing 15 of them in-depth.

“There’s a distinction between loss of sexual desire and asexuality as an orientation, on the basis of our research.” she said. Her research, conducted from 2006 to 2007, has been submitted for publication.

Critics of asexuality, doctors and therapists among them, say it is a suppression of natural human desires.

Dr. Alex Alterescu, a North Yorkbased sex therapist, said he had mixed feelings on the subject. “If people decide not to be sexual, that’s their problem,” he said. “But from my point of view as a physician, as a therapist with a long experience, I feel that these people have some personal problem that led to that because remember, sexuality is a part of normal life.”

“Why do these people decide to be asexual, to go against something that is very natural for everybody, and most people enjoy?”

The assumption that sex is an indispensable part of life pressures many asexuals into providing sex or faking desire for their partners, said John.

“This is the form that relationships follow: In the beginning there’s sex, and it trails off quickly. Or only under duress. It’s horrible, it destroys relationships and it breaks hearts on both sides.”

With more research and awareness, he said, asexuals can be open in relationships and avoid stringing their partners along for months before “dropping the hammer.”

“We want people to understand and accept it as a concept.”

“Then when they’re confronted with the practice, they’ll be able to deal with it and put it into a category, a nice little box they have set aside.”

Ever been in love?

Clockwise from top-left

Katherine, 2nd year English

There are so many different types of love…I’ve felt passionately before but I have never been sure. I thought I was in love, but I don’t know anymore. I did fall in love with all three male lead characters in War and Peace as I was reading. It was amazing!

Sasha, 1st-year Semiotics:

You can point to it when it’s happening but it’s impossible to identify…unless you are Marvin Gaye.

Alireza, 4th-year Economics

I don’t know. I’ve never been in love. I hope it exists, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’m an optimist but look around you. I’m still not sure.

Julia, 4th-year Semiotics

I don’t know but screw Valentine’s day! Love is not something you can arrange and place on a calendar. ‘It’s love day?’ Fuck that.

‘It’s like we flew in museums’

With the South Asian and Middle East galleries opening Saturday, the Royal Ontario Museum inches closer to fully populating its new, massive—some would say monstrous—Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

The galleries share a third-floor pocket in the Daniel Libeskind-designed crystal. The structure opened to mixed reviews last December as part of Renaissance ROM, the museum’s ambitious $270-million renovation project that is slated to finish in 2010.

“It’s like we flew in museums, but we just brought them up from the basement,” said William Thorsell, director and CEO of the ROM, at Tuesday’s media preview.

The new space is a chance for the ROM to display never-beforeseen collections, said Thorsell.

Christopher Ondaatje, twice a donor to the gallery that bears his name, expressed grander hopes.

“I have an enormous collection, one day I will give it to one of the museums. Hopefully here. But where will you put it?” he gestured, “You need a place to put it, we don’t have room right now to put all of the stuff.”

Ondaatje donated $1 million to the first Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery, matched by the South Asia Request and Acquisition Fund and the ROM, which opened in 2000 and was torn down after two years. Ondaatje ponied up another million for the new gallery.

The writer and philanthropist enthused about the South Asian community’s donations. “All the various communities, with all the religious and racial differences and sometimes violent clashes all over the world, forgot their bigotry and differences and contributed to this single thing—a gallery.”

“I don’t believe that can be done in any other country in the world. That’s what Canada is all about.”

Unlike Ondaatje, Wirth said he was not approached specifically for his namesake gallery. “The Middle Eastern gallery was an orphan,” he said. “It hadn’t had help yet.”

Wirth said he gave to the ROM because he loved learning. “I take courses at U of T, but I don’t take them to write exams. And I have to take them several times because I can only make some classes.”