Stories to change the world’s view of Africa

This summer I read two interesting, but notably different, books on the AIDS crisis in Africa. Stephen Lewis’s Race Against Time is a compilation of the Massey Lectures he delivered in 2005. Published this year, Stephanie Nolan’s 28 Stories About AIDS tells the individual stories of twenty-eight Africans affected by the epidemic.

Lewis, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Africa for HIV/AIDS, has arguably done more to stop the spread of this disease than any other person or organization. His work merits both admiration and praise. But when Lewis chooses to name a chapter about Ghana in his book “Pandemic: My Country Is on Its Knees”, the former politician reveals an attitude towards the people of Africa that is overly simplistic. By suggesting that Ghana is “my country,” Lewis, at best, declares kinship with the people of an entire country. At worst, he claims ownership over Ghana, a disturbing allegation that reveals a colonial mindset. In fact, most North Americans thoughtlessly fail to respect the diversity, strength and self-reliance of the millions of people that inhabit Africa.

It is precisely this flawed, one could even go so far as to say racist, attitude that the Globe and Mail’s Africa correspondent Stephanie Nolan rejects in 28 Stories. In contrast to the onesided depiction of Africa that Lewis and others adopt, Nolan writes in her introduction that “There is always a danger in talking about ‘Africa’ – as if it were one place, one country, one homogeneous story. Africa is fifty-three countries, many of which are themselves made up of hundreds of peoples and cultures.” From the outset, Nolan does not claim full knowledge or possession of Africa. Instead, she reveals a refreshing respect for the plethora of experiences that make up its life.

Nolan herself does not tell Africans’ stories about AIDS. Rather, she lets the men, women and children who have been intimately touched by the disease tell their own stories.

One significant and positive consequence of Nolan’s innovative approach to writing about AIDS is that the Africans she depicts are not passive victims. All twenty-eight stories the journalist chronicles feature people who are, in one way or another, fighting against the disease. And all of them are very real and complex people.

Nolan writes that many Africans are “irritated by the one-dimensional portrayals of sexually predatory men and silent, long-suffering women that continue to characterize discussion of the pandemic by experts in the West.” Indeed, it is no wonder that Africans are frustrated by this portrayal when people as intelligent and esteemed as Stephen Lewis say that Ghana is “my country.”

Not one of the men that Nolan writes about are aggressive or sexually charged. They are human beings struggling to fill the role of husband or father when their search for work takes them to places far away from their families. None of the women lie down and passively accept their position. These women leave abusive or philandering husbands and lead organizations that are at the forefront of AIDS education and prevention.

In the end, Nolan’s book illustrates that hope for Africa’s future lies within the brave and diverse African population, some of whose stories she has been fortunate enough to tell. On another level, Nolan gives people like me hope that Westerners can adopt more educated and less discriminatory understanding of the reality of life in Africa.

Busking for change

The U of T Engineering Society took on a charitable cause in the midst of orientation with the fourth annual Frosh Week Buskerfest. The midafternoon showcase of talents was an effort to raise awareness and funds for the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation of Canada, a charitable organization dedicated to providing support and entertainment for sick children and their families.

The engineers divided themselves into 16 groups and spread out across the perimeter of campus, where they proceeded to draw as much attention as possible in the name of their cause. Among the eclectic mix of displays were human pyramids, bucket percussion bands, people taped to traffic poles, jugglers, a trio of trumpeters and a chain gang of pants droppers.

“We’ll do anything for pennies,” said second-year frosh leader Ke Lu. “It’s always a good cause and people are always enthusiastic.”

Starlight Starbright is incredibly pleased and grateful with the collaboration. “Because we’re a lower key organization we don’t get a lot of exposure, so this is great,” said Tammy Dean, the charity’s community events coordinator. She went on to extol the engineers’ “incredible enthusiasm and creativity.”

Aside from the fun and games, Buskerfest brought much public attention to the SSCFC.

Over the past four years, the Engineering Society has not only helped the SSCFC make a name for themselves in the U of T community, but has also raised over $15,000 to help SSCFC finance playrooms, family events and outings, educational programming and technology based programs.

Casting a darker note on the afternoon’s good intentions, many students were told by police to move from their street corners because they were being too disruptive. The engineers didn’t seem fazed by these roadblocks, and with each street corner raising anywhere between $200 and $500, it’s safe call Frosh Week Buskerfest 2007 a worthy success.

National history, or national myth?

Last week the Canadian War Museum announced it will “adjust” its controversial exhibit on Allied bombing during WWII, a move prompted by intense lobbying from this country’s veterans and even a recommendation from the Canadian Senate.

This decision should be troubling for any who consider the search for historical truth more important than coddling illusory national identities. It is a move emblematic of a national consciousness pervasive in this country, one that is informed as much by selfcongratulation and selective history than anything grounded in reality.

The display at the War Museum explained that the morality of the Allied bombing campaign in eastern Germany at the end of the Second World War has been “bitterly contested” for sixty years. The bombing raids, which were destructive in unprecedented proportions, saw over a million tons of bombs dropped on Germany’s cities. Six hundred thousand innocent civilians lost their lives and 7 million more became refugees.

The Allied planes, Canadians among them, used incendiary bombs on German towns, which are designed not only to demolish targets but to start fires which destroy the surrounding area. These bombs were dropped not only on industrial and military targets, but across whole cities, creating massive infernos which consumed innocent life in horrific proportions.

In Dresden, the fires raged so hot that the city’s lake itself boiled. As hot air from the flames rose, colder air rushed in towards the fires at tremendous speed, sweeping Germans through the streets and into the inferno. Charred corpses were found in fountains, the remains of victims who had jumped into the water seeking refuge from the flames, only to be boiled alive.

The bombings achieved only limited strategic benefits, and were designed to punish Germany and spread terror and chaos across a country that was teetering on the brink of defeat. The targeting of civilians caused outcry among many Britons, and even Winston Churchill, who had authorized the attacks, soon began to have second thoughts.

In an internal memo in March of 1945, he wrote “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed […] The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”

Despite the British leader’s seeming admission of regret, calling into question the necessity of this unprecedented destruction has proved too much for many Canadians, who claimed the War Museum’s exhibit was “offensive” to those pilots who risked their lives in the war and portrayed the Canadian forces unfairly. The new “altered” wording of the exhibit will presumably take a more neutral position on the deaths.

Are we, as a country, truly prepared to declare that the violent deaths of so many innocent people are not morally troubling? Why are we so reluctant to acknowledge even the possibility that Canadians were party to crimes against humanity?

It is because such an admission would disrupt a key narrative of our national identity; that historically, and especially during the world wars, our country has only been a positive force in the world. But unfortunately the reality is much more complex, and such a reading of the Canadian national identity disregards important and documented historical truths.

As Canadians, we harbour many myths about ourselves. For example, most Canadians would tell you that we are dedicated peacekeepers, and that our soldiers are an integral part of United Nations Peacekeeping missions throughout the world. This is a myth. Although it was a Canadian who invented the concept of UN peacekeepers, Canada currently ranks 55th out of 108 countries contributing to peacekeeping missions throughout the world. Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Romania, and Uruguay all contribute more troops than we do.

Similarly, most Canadians would like to believe that our country is founded on the values of multiculturalism and diversity. Yet we forget that for the first century of our country’s existence, oppression and assimilation of the land’s native peoples was official government policy. We were reluctant to acknowledge this truth too, until this year the federal government finally began reparations for the residential school program which abused and killed so many Canadian Indians.

Although it may be painful, our national myths must be scrutinized. To do so is not an act of disrespect for our forefathers, but an act of respect for the truth and those we may have wronged.

The Canadian pilots who dropped bombs on Germany were part of something horrible. For that, they deserve our sympathy and respect. They bear a burden we can never know. But let us not pretend that no injustice took place. We owe it to the dead and the surviving, of all nationalities, to take ownership of what this country was a part of. It may mean giving up an important part of our national identity, but it should be consolation to remember that 600,000 others gave up their lives.

Sounds of summer

If you’re even a semi-regular reader of these pages, by now surely we don’t have to tell you about Guelph’s annual Hillside Festival, but to drive the point home (and for the newbies), it’s worth yet another reminder. Though it’s no longer the well-kept secret it used to be, now routinely selling out all its tickets in short order, trying to explain the utopian experience of Hillside to the uninitiated remains a bit complicated. The three-day event held on the last weekend of July on bucolic Guelph Lake Island is the antithesis of most summer rock festivals, boasting an eclectic lineup of music and arts that’s volunteer-run, resolutely anti-corporate, and environmentally conscious. Hillside looks well-poised to head into its 25th anniversary next year, but until then, this year’s edition continued its long tradition of song, smiles, and sun. To quote Memphis’ Torquil Campbell: “Here’s a song for warm summer days with good hippie food and organic beer. If only the world were like this…”


Ndidi Onukwulu 3 pm – Mainstage

One of the best parts of Hillside is the rush of discovering a particularly compelling new artist, and blues singer Ndidi Onukwulu had all eyes and ears on her as she gave a master class in sheer stage presence during her mainstage set. Her sultry voice framed by veteran guitarist Madagascar Slim’s swampy licks, Onukwulu injected a bit of rock’n’roll sass into her soulful sound with sly asides (“This is for anyone who ever had a crush on someone, never met them, and proceeded to stalk them for one and a half months”) and a delightfully upbeat rapport with the crowd. By the time she hopped off the stage and into the crowd to dance barefoot on the grass during her final number, she had all within earshot remembering her name.

Memphis 5 pm – Island Stage

“We’re Memphis for some reason, and I love the fucking Hillside Festival.” Oh, Torquil Campbell. While he’s a bona fide rockstar as frontman of Stars, the delightfully profane singer’s dreamy indie pop sideproject Memphis hasn’t really caught on as readily with the indie masses, judging by the decent but not packed crowd that greeted their Hillside debut. No matter—Campbell is always a consummate showman, and as such, his ready banter was equally entertaining as the surprisingly muscular treatment of Memphis’ wistful tunes, which were bolstered by Campbell’s increasingly strong, arch vocals, partner Chris Dumont’s atmospheric guitar lines, and violin and keys sweetening the mix. Campbell’s showmanship (he’s done time as an actor, and it shows) has a way of driving home his thoughtful lyrics (“The skyline is made up of stories/Tell me yours while you’re holding my hand”), but Memphis isn’t above having some fun through all the hearts and flowers: Campbell’s cheeky falsetto anchored the dance-y ’80s vibe of the band’s always-charming cover of Pet Shop Boys’ “Love Comes Quickly” that closed the set. “This is our last show for awhile—we’re going to go make some money and do it all again,” Campbell smirked in farewell. Let’s hope they do.

Do Make Say Think 8 pm – Mainstage

Sprawling Toronto instrumental collective Do Make Say Think need a pretty big stage not only to fit their dozen or so members, but also just to hold their epic, expansive sound, and as such, the Hillside mainstage was the perfect spot for them to usher in the blissful cool of evening with their instrumental soundscapes coloured with washes of brass and Hillside mainstay (there’s rarely a festival where you won’t see her as part of one combo or another) Julie Penner’s sweet violin. Champions of “the build,” where every tune starts off simply before every section of the group chimes in to create a massive, layered swirl of sound, DMST came off as akin to an instrumental Broken Social Scene (the two share members, including Penner and Charles Spearin), replete with full horn section (brass makes everything sound better kids). By the time their set built to a huge crescendo, all the players wailing away on their respective instruments, it was a pretty good reminder that sometimes the bandclass nerds, well, they grow up to be rock stars.

Apostle of Hustle 9 pm – Island Stage

“You guys getting some relief now that the sun has gone? Time to let out all your tension. Maybe you were being very polite to the person next to you all day. Now…” shrugged Apostle of Hustle frontman Andrew Whiteman teasingly to kick off his set, which indeed saw a rammed island tent start grooving to his Latin-flavoured indie-rock tunes. Stripped down to only three players (including always-inventive drummer Dean Stone and redoubtable bassist/guitarist Julian Brown, plus special guest Torquil Campbell bouncing around with a tambourine), the road-hardened Apostle crew took Whiteman’s complex songs into new and interesting territory, including an amazing, Brazilian-esque percussion throwdown in the middle of old favourite “Kings and Queens.” Through endless touring, the band has clearly adapted the songs to their live strengths (“Cheap Like Sebastien” has morphed from fairly bouncy on record to something a little earthier onstage), with a new emphasis on Whiteman’s vocals instead of simply relying on their instrumental chops. Whiteman himself has stepped up in the frontman role—a bizarre tale about Mounties, dope, and the severed heads of George Bush and Stephen Harper that was panned at a recent show in Perth got big cheers from the Hillside crowd (it is Guelph, after all).

Emily Haines 9 pm – Mainstage

Over on the mainstage, Metric frontwoman Emily Haines was doing her sombre solo thing with only a grand piano, collaborator Todor Kobakov cueing beats on a sampler, and Guy Maddin’s eerie film projections in the background. Minus her usual string section, the tiny Haines seemed a bit swallowed up by the massive stage, and the presentation of her material even more austere than usual, but the pitch-black sky and towering pines served as a fitting setting for her stark, poetic imagery and downcast melodies. Without Kobakov’s embellishments, Haines’ dark chords could come off as almost funereal, so his percussive beats were a necessary pulse on gloomy songs like “Almost Waving.” Unable to rely on her shouty Metric persona for this quieter, more personal material, Haines has become a much stronger, emotive singer since her first solo shows, which lets some of her more indelible, quirky lines (“like girls in stilettos trying to run”) resonate with the audience. And by the time she got the crowd to sing along to a poem by her late father, Paul Haines, in perfect, blissful harmony, the line she asked them to sing made sense: “And listeners like you…”

The Dears 10 pm – Mainstage

In contrast, The Dears closed out the night on the mainstage as if they owned it, drawing the emotion out of their newer Gang of Losers material to (melo)dramatic effect under a blanket of stars. Their big sound and frontman Murray Lightburn’s oversized personality has always hinted at it, but The Dears have officially morphed into a stadium act, selling their emotional rock epics with a heretofore unseen style and energy. Pushing through an uneven sound mix that steadily improved over the course of the set, the band mixed in old standbys, particularly the always-popular “22: The Death of All The Romance” duet between husband-and-wife team Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak (the song’s “Our love/Don’t mess with our love” mantra took on a sweet new meaning in light of watching the couple run around with their toddler earlier in the day). And how can you not love a band that starts a song with the line: “Every single one of us is getting massacred on the frozen path,” not to mention features keytar as a prime instrument? By the time they got to “You and I Are A Gang Of Losers,” which features the quietly perfect chorus “You and I/We’ve got the same heart,” you got the sense that for all their bombast, sometimes The Dears’ loveliest moments are also their gentlest.

SUNDAY, July 29

Sex, Lies, and Digital Cameras workshop 11 am – Lake Stage

The workshop slots at Hillside either bring together totally disparate artists or likeminded performers under a loose musical theme in the hopes that sonic alchemy will result. Sometimes it works brilliantly, other times it all falls apart, but it’s always interesting. A blissful Sunday morning workshop saw members of several diverse yet simpatico rising indie acts, including Ohbijou, Immaculate Machine, Forest City Lovers, and Basia Bulat’s band putting their own twist on cover tunes with sublime results. The stage packed with 15 musicians—not to mention four violins, several basses, cello, ukulele, even a harp—it was a nice reflection of Hillside’s mix of folk/roots and indie-pop, and also highlighted the current renaissance in Canadian indie-pop. Even when things threatened to fall apart (some players reading off lyric sheets, others trying to figure out where to come in), somehow it all worked, from Ohbijou’s chirpy take on Norwegian electro-pop starlet Annie’s pop nugget “Heartbeat” to Bulat’s full-throated turn on the classic “Stand By Me.” “Supergroup!” an audience member called out. No kidding.

The D’Urbervilles 5 pm – Lake Stage

Faced with a rabid hometown crowd that were on their feet even before Guelph/Oshawa upstarts The D’Urbervilles even took the stage, visibly ill frontman John O’Regan led his quartet through a blistering set of spiky post-punk aided and abetted by snaky synths and a guest turn by Immaculate Machine’s Brooke Gallupe. Getting the audience clapping along from the first song is a feat in itself, but the D’Urbervilles’ managed to maintain that heightened level of urgency throughout their frenetic set, which seemed over just as soon as it had begun. Fresh from triumphantly retiring his Habitat electro- pop sideproject at Hillside two nights before, one quickly understood why that band was no longer a priority for O’Regan— with their noisy (there always has to be at least one ear-bleeding set at Hillside) sound propelled along by an almost disco beat, it’s complex but also catchy as hell. In short, you’ll be hearing more from this band in very short order. Let’s just hope their potential is recognized here at home before some crafty label across the pond snaps them up (a la Born Ruffians, Basia Bulat).

Basia Bulat 7 pm – Lake Stage

The charming Basia Bulat also took home Next Big Thing honours, ably fronting a mini-orchestra (that included no less than four string players) and leaving the crowd wanting more of her warm voice and fablelike songs. Not even blinking an eye at what was one of the biggest sidestage crowds all weekend, Bulat and her seven-piece band (all wonderful singers who complemented Bulat’s undulating, rich voice with their harmonies) didn’t stray too far from the versions on her new Oh My Darling debut, but still managed to imbue the material with a richness best achieved in a live setting. While many others could get easily swallowed up in such a large ensemble, Bulat, ever-smiling, managed to preside over the proceedings with a casual, friendly stage manner (plus, it takes a lot to play harp and still have presence—take that, Joanna Newsom). Bulat’s strongest number, the jazzy, percussive “Snakes and Ladders,” was a smart way to bow out, though it was obvious the enthralled crowd could have gladly stuck around for several more tunes.

Los Campesinos! 8 pm – Island Stage

By the time newest Arts & Crafts signees Los Campesinos! made their North American debut towards the end of the festival, exhaustion had begun to set in, but the Welsh septet not only charmed the pants off all in earshot with their adorably hyperactive indie-pop, but managed to fuel an all-out dance party in the process. Upping the cute factor even before they stepped on stage by engaging in a group hug, the noticeably nervous youngsters clambered onstage amidst a small arsenal of keyboards and gear before unleashing their sugar-rush blend of indie sounds (one of their songs starts off: “Trying to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop,” and really, they nail it) on an initially half-full Island Stage tent. But by the time the Camps launched into their anthem “You! Me! Dancing!” the space had filled nicely with flailing limbs, pumping fists, and wall-to-wall grins. Violin (this really was Year of the Violin at Hillside) and feedback-laden guitars helped temper the twee-ness of it all, and while the set sounded a bit too much the same from start to finish, they’re a brand-new act yet with only an EP to their name. “We’re so happy to be here, you have no idea,” genuinely awed frontman Gareth Campesinos declared. “This is an awesome festival.” Well said.

The Dark Side Of The Universe

It starts with Einstein

Albert Einstein is known by most for the equation E = mc2. Although the equation is not entirely his own —he borrowed ideas of mass-energy equivalence from Friedrich Hasenöhrl and Henri Poincaré—he was the first to work out the idea of mass-energy equivalence in light of the theory of relativity. E = mc2 means that any amount of mass has an amount of energy that is its equal, and vice versa. After Einstein, mass and energy are different forms of the same thing.

Predicted by Einstein’s general relativity theory, the observation of light bending under the force of gravity is the best proof yet of the existence of that mysterious stuff known as dark matter.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius— and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”
—Albert Einstein

Fear of the dark

Dark matter is described as having an unknown composition and observable only through indirect means. The reason that scientists cannot directly see dark matter is that it does not reflect or give off enough electromagnetic radiation (electricity, visible light, radio waves, etc.) to be detected with current technology. It would be easy to dismiss dark matter as a needle-in-a-haystack exercise if it weren’t for one startling detail—it is estimated that only four per cent of the total energy and mass of the universe is the visible type. The remaining 96 per cent is a combination of unseen dark matter and dark energy.

This notion of an indirectly identifiable force that makes up a vast majority of the universe borders on the philosophical. If we can’t prove directly that it exists, is it even there? There are many reasons to believe it does exist. Ironically enough, they have to do with how this invisible dark matter and energy affect visible matter.

Calculations on the Fritz

Fritz Zwicky, a Swiss astrophysicist working out of Caltech in 1933, offered up the fi rst evidence of the existence of dark matter. He estimated the mass of the Coma cluster of galaxies using the observed motion of the galaxies on the edge of this cluster. After comparing the value he obtained to another value gauged by counting the number of galaxies in the cluster and its relative brightness, a surprising result surfaced— the mass of the cluster estimated using the first method was 400 times greater than the value given by the second method. Zwicky reasoned that there had to be some form of invisible matter that was providing enough mass (and therefore gravity) to hold the giant galaxy cluster together.

Further study of galaxies yielded the galactic rotation curve, which predicts the velocity of rotation of stars around a galaxy’s centre based on their distance from that centre. Using only visible matter, the observed values do not match up against predicted values. This again suggests that there may be dark matter that produces greater-than forecast gravitational forces and is the source of the discrepancy.

Number one with a Bullet

Dark matter has been one of the biggest unsolved problems in astrophysics— and perhaps in all of science— from the moment it was first described. Last year, some of the best evidence to date of its existence was published in the Astrophysical Journal, in which Marusa Bradac of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology revealed her findings in her research paper, “A direct empirical proof of the existence of dark matter”. Bradac studied a collision between two galactic clusters that occurred 150 million years ago, known as the Bullet Cluster. Because the different types of matter in the clusters exhibited distinct behaviour during the collision, it offers a convenient instance to study those different types separately.

The dark matter component of this astronomical collision was detected using a process known as gravitational lensing. When light from a far away and highly luminous object (for example, a quasar) bends around an object with a large mass (such as a galaxy), it creates a gravitational lens: what looks to an observer is on the other side of the galaxy as a ring surrounding the quasar or as multiple distorted copies of the object, depending on the positioning. Such gravitational lensing happened to objects behind the collision of the Bullet cluster, but no visible mass source could be seen to account for the bending light. The researchers in the study concluded that dark matter was the guilty party.

There’s a hole in my universe dear liza

As if things weren’t complicated enough, scientists recently found what they describe as a “hole in the universe.” The area is almost one billion light years across and contains nothing—no galaxies, stars or, as far as they can tell, dark matter. When scanning the skies for cosmic microwave background radiation (leftover noise from the Big Bang that gave birth to the universe) using the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite, the University of Minnesota team led by Lawrence Rudnick found a “cold spot”. Upon closer investigation using the Very Large Array radio telescope, the team found there was literally nothing there. Scientists were completely surprised at the find, as no void that large was ever expected to exist. No one has any possible explanation for the phenomenon at this point in time.

WIMPs versus MACHOs

One of the most frustrating aspects of dark matter is that we are currently unable to detect it directly using current technology. If scientists were able to determine the subatomic composition of dark matter in laboratories, its behaviour in far off environments might be better understood. Conclusions regarding sub-atomic dark matter particles using data gleaned from galaxies millions of light years away may be leaps of faith.

A commonly held view of dark matter is that it is made up of atypical elementary particles (particles unlike electrons, protons or neutrons). Some examples include weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and sterile neutrinos that do not interact with other particles using any fundamental interactions. Since gravitational, electromagnetic, strong or weak interactive forces cannot be measured from these hypothetical atypical particles, finding them becomes a seriously daunting task.

A theory to help explain the missing- matter problem lies in the figurative opposite of the tiny WIMP: a massive compact halo object (MACHO). These objects are comprised of typical matter (known as baryonic matter), but emit no detectable radiation and coast through space as free agents, not tied to any solar system. Neutron stars, black holes and brown dwarfs can potentially fall under this category. The foremost problem with this theory is that there simply isn’t enough typical matter in the universe to make up the gravitational effects felt by dark matter without seriously changing the relative abundances of the elements. There may still be some MACHOs that remain undetected and exert gravitational forces, but they cannot account for all the mass attributed to dark matter

For sale: increasing galactic real estate

Another piece of the puzzle lies with what is now known about the structure of the universe and, once again, Einstein. He believed that the universe was neither expanding nor contracting, but was in stable equilibrium. In order to reconcile this idea with his general relativity equations, he introduced the cosmological constant known as lambda. Famously, he later said that introducing this constant was “the biggest blunder of my life.”

It was Edwin Hubble, after whom the incredibly useful Hubble space telescope is named, that first found evidence that the universe is expanding. When he compared the distances of galaxies from Earth, he found that the galaxies farther away were moving at a quicker pace. Not only is the universe expanding, it is doing so at an accelerating pace.

History has been kind to Einstein in the end, as some astrophysicists believe that his constant, lambda, is in fact approximately equal to the value of dark energy. This dark energy is believed to be driving the expansion of the universe, since through Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, a given amount of energy would have a certain amount of gravity associated with it. Dark energy is a formidable force as it is estimated to make up 74 per cent of the mass of the known universe.

There are always alternatives

Progress is being made on the subjects of dark matter and dark energy, but clearly there is still much to learn. Alternatives to the theory of dark matter and its exertion of gravitational force propose that dark matter may not exist; instead, it may be that we simply do not adequately understand the workings of gravity. Reconciling these modified models with Einstein’s widely-accepted relativity framework has proven complicated.

It will most likely be a very long time until the missing mass of the universe is fully described. Perhaps another genius of Einstein’s calibre is the necessary catalyst. Or perhaps an accidental discovery in the realm of particle physics will be the key. What is certain is that dark matter and dark energy are two of the greatest puzzles ever faced by the scientific community. By unravelling its complicated web, incredible discoveries—maybe an infinite energy source or the ability to harness gravity for near lightspeed space travel—would no doubt be the next step. The future will be dark and that may not be a bad thing.

Quirky courses

With Chester Brown’s historical graphic novel Louis Riel selling more than 20,000 copies, Alison Bechdel’s groundbreaking work Fun Home becoming Time’s Book of the Year and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis adapted into an awardwinning animated film, it seems the time is ripe for the academic community to embrace graphic novels as a mainstream subject of serious study.

This year U of T’s English department at St. George Campus debuts a course surveying the graphic novel medium, touching such varied topics as travel, religion, war, faith and mental disease. Sure to be up for discussion: comics as a appropriate platform for social criticism; the popularity of autobiography as the subject of graphic novels; and the controversy between the two terms comic books and graphic novels among fans and authors alike.

Among the required texts for this course are Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Craig Thompson’s Blankets the former a definitive guide to deciphering the format of graphic novels and the latter an acclaimed example of the medium’s capacity to express deep themes.

The Graphic Novel is taught by Professors Andrew Lesk and Jeff Parker in both the fall and winter semesters at University College and Sid Smith.

Still feeling the blues

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the men’s football team lost another game, this time falling in their home opener 42-17 against Waterloo. The Blues have been receiving headlines of late for all the wrong reasons with major publications like the Star, the Sun, and the Globe and Mail shooting zingers at the team’s expense. With Monday’s loss the team’s losing streak now stands at 42 games. Over a five year period, that’s 2,150 days, for those keeping score.

While the team may tire of being a punch line for more than a few campus one-liners, both coaches and players remain diplomatic towards their critics.

“We’re no joke,” said head coach Steve Howlett, “but at the same time we’re not aiming to prove anything to anybody. We have to focus on what we have to do and just stick with that.”

When asked about the infamous ‘streak’ of 42 losses, the coach suddenly became serious.

“The ‘streak’ has nothing to do with this team, and everything to do with external perceptions and expectations from people who aren’t close to the situation. I choose to live in the present and go from there.”

At present the Blues prepare for a Saturday showdown with the third ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees. Ottawa led the OUA with 7-1 record last season and defeated Toronto soundly in their only meeting, 59-23. The Gee-Gees will be a tough team to beat coming off a 31-23 win over the Guelph Gryphons in their season opener, but Coach Howlett remains optimistic

“They’re the team to beat in the conference,” said Howlett, “but we played very well against them last year. We were neck and neck with them for three quarters then let it get away from us in the fourth. I’ll be happy to get the same type of effort from our guys this time around, without the fourth quarter meltdown. If we can sustain our drives and the defense is good then we should be competitive.”

If the streak is going to end this weekend the team will need a more complete effort than the one they showed on Monday. Against the Warriors, the Blues had the edge in net offence (461-457), yards passing (398-349) and first downs (27- 17). But they also led in fumbles (4-0) and penalties (20-15). That careless play really cost them in the second quarter when Waterloo took a 24-0 lead due, in part, to two majors on UofT fumbles.

In the second half Andrew Gillis, coming in for injured quarterback Dave Hamilton, gave the team a bit of a spark. Gillis was the Blues player of the game registering 243 passing yards at a 15-29 completion rate. He also finished with 49 yards rushing and set up nicely both Mark Stintson’s touchdowns. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.

The Blues are fielding 19 new players including Gillis who is in his first year on the team. Not having been around for any of the five losing seasons, he remains positive and optimistic which can only help the process. Stintson said cheerfully, “I know the program will turn around because there’s nowhere to go but up. The wins will come and then people will have to find something else to make fun of other than Toronto.”

In defence of the sleeping elephant

Somehow, over the course of the last six decades, America has evolved into the world’s rhetorical whipping boy. Negative opinions about the United States abound, even domestically. Whether discussing the government, economic system, or the everyday lives of its citizens, the country has become a symbol to many of all that is wrong with humanity.

Although some of this criticism is probably warranted, America’s detractors often exhibit an arrogance that unfairly belittles many of the country’s great contributions to the world, especially in the realm of culture. And I’m not talking about the New York theatre scene here, or Mark Twain either. I’m talking about mass-market, middle-class popular culture, the kind so often derided for its lack of sophistication.

In Canada, we have an entire bureaucracy dedicated to defending us from the “threat” of American cultural exports. The Europeans too, obsessed with their own histories, carefully protect their aristocratic culture from the “low” culture of the New World masses. Many Americans have themselves bought into this myth of cultural inferiority.

I recently came back from a road trip to the northeast United States. After staying in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, while taking in numerous baseball games and a wonderful trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I came to a much different conclusion.

Baseball and rock n’ roll are rich cultural enterprises, with deep histories and a global outreach. Otherwise known as the National Pastime, professional baseball has been around since the 19th century and continues to be an important aspect of American life. While sitting in a sold out, 85-year-old Yankee Stadium, I could only imagine the millions of people before me who had sat down with a hotdog and beer and witnessed the defining moments of one of the greatest sports franchises the world has ever seen.

In Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I explored the complex web of music that is rock n’ roll. From the early influences of gospel, blues, and jazz to the emergence of funk, punk, alternative, and hip hop, American popular music has reflected the country’s diversity and defined generations, while constantly reinventing itself along the way.

Although baseball and rock music are in many ways uniquely American, they have both become important aspects of global culture that have shaped, and been shaped, by the rest of the world.

Baseball, for example, was heavily influenced by British cricket. Today, much of the world has fallen in love with the game. In Latin America, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, two very anti-American leaders, are avid baseball fans. In Asia, professional baseball leagues are producing many talented players that are increasingly making inroads in the United States.

As for rock and roll, some of its roots can be traced to music brought over by African slaves, and since its emergence in the mid 20th century, it has been in a constant cultural interplay with European, especially British, music. American blues influenced the Beatles, who in turn shaped American rock in the 1960s. Since then, its been a musical ping-pong match with bands like Led Zeppelin and Metallica, the Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys playing off one another, pushing themselves to greater musical heights.

Contrary to being a disease spread by imperialists, American culture has intrinsic value, best shown by the way people around the world embrace and add to it. In fact, labelling it simply as “American” ignores the role it has had in defining the identities of millions, if not billions of individuals.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw on some Green Day and watch the Jays game.