Evolution of a revolutionary

Regarding Charles Darwin, paleontologist Stephen J. Gould once wrote, “Darwin was indeed a gentle revolutionary.”

Fittingly, William Thorsell, director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, relayed this point when introducing the museum’s newest exhibit, Darwin: The Evolution Revolution. The project takes an in-depth look at one of science’s most significant personalities, surveying his work and his private life in equal measure. “This is an interesting approach to Darwin—it’s very autobiographical,” said Thorsell.

The curator of the exhibit, U of T’s own professor Chris Darling, emphasized the importance of the project beyond the next six months.

“It is here and at other natural history museums around the world that Darwin’s careful, meticulous approach to studying the natural world continues,” said Darling. He highlights the interactive aspects of the project, saying, “This is far from an exhibition-in-a-box.”

The attention to the design components of the displays is readily apparent. Crisp, colourful graphics and well-selected fonts complement the data being presented without distracting from its content. In a presentation regarding a topic as complicated and convoluted as evolution, it would be easy for an overabundance of text to overwhelm the reader. Fortunately, it is succinct without leaving out important details. An innovative use of coloured capitalized lettering to highlight passages aids comprehension without dumbing down the material.

The layout of the exhibit over the awkward interior space of the crystal can be forgiven: merciless angles and random support beams are a challenging environment for any object to be displayed. The various display clusters are arranged chronologically— fitting, considering the exhibit’s autobiographical approach—but it seems that better use could have been made of the space. Large gaps of floor are interspersed among some slightly cramped areas.

Among the various flat informational displays, many three-dimensional static areas are placed. Some live animals, such as iguanas and tortoises, are included to highlight the various organisms that Darwin studied as he traveled the world. A collection of stuffed finches provides visual counterpoint to the story of Darwin’s findings as the HMS Beagle toured the Galapagos Islands. A replica of Darwin’s study is a standpoint piece, displaying various artifacts, such as the microscope he used.

The most interesting aspects of Darwin’s life are the lesser-known details, such as his personal relationship with the Wedgwood family (of the famous china products), and a club formed while at Cambridge dedicated to eating animals “unknown to human palate.” Ever the pragmatist, Darwin also made a pro and con list regarding marriage at the age of 29, eventually deciding to get married.

The exhibit is certainly complete: from Malthus to Wallace, the evolution of Darwin’s theories is easily followed, as professional connections between Darwin and other scientists throughout his life are noted. An audiovisual display shows the continuation of the theory, presenting notable scientists, such as Francis Collins of the human genome project, discussing scientific theories of evolution, intelligent design, and creationism. Needless to say, evolution still remains a controversial topic for certain groups.

“We don’t have a sponsor for this exhibition. There is resistance to getting too close to Darwin,” said Thorsell.

It seems that potential sponsors are afraid to lose support from the conservative religious demographic, as Darwin’s work borders on the blasphemous. One of the exhibition’s strengths is its dealings with intelligent design and creationist claims concerning evolution. Subtly, it states that religious claims have no bearing on the scientific truth behind the theory of evolution. The exhibit doesn’t gloss over the social implications of Darwin’s ideas, including the now-discredited theories of eugenics.

Consider how Darling describes Darwin: “He was a reluctant student, world explorer, and an ambitious, but reluctant scientist.” In presenting this perspective, the exhibit succeeds wonderfully. Between the visual, audiovisual, and tactile components (many of the displays have fossils and models that can be touched), the senses are well occupied. The only misstep is the rather unnecessary oceanic background (complete with sound effects) in the section on the HMS Beagle.

Evolution is not necessarily the most captivating topic for children, but there is enough eye candy to keep the young ones occupied. Take the mockup of the HMS Beagle at the end of the gallery for children to play on, and several other activities, including a dress-up section, as examples.

This six-month display is only the beginning, as the ROM plans to expand its natural history and evolution- themed galleries. “As we complete these galleries, they will be in the narrative of time,” said Thorsell. And rightfully so, as 2009 finds itself two centuries removed from Charles Darwin’s birth. The ROM has provided a suitable tribute to a scientific revolutionary—viva la evolution.

Darwin: the Evolution Revolution runs from March 8 to August 4 at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Rating: VVVV

Healing the soul of a city

Legendary Torontonian blues musician Jeff Healey died Sunday of lung cancer at the age of 41.

His death comes after a lifelong battle with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes that robbed him of his sight when he was just a year old.

As a young child, Healey picked up a guitar, developing his unique style of playing by laying the guitar flat across his lap. Considered a prodigy despite his blindness, legend says he was discovered in a Toronto club by iconic blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.

After establishing an exhaustive gigging regimen in Toronto in the 1980s, Healey shot to fame with the 1988 album See The Light, selling more than two million copies worldwide and spawning the classic track “Angel Eyes.”

The album received Grammy and Juno nominations, turning The Jeff Healey Band into a true mainstream success.

After the release of their third album, Feel This, Healey and his bandmates Joe Rockman and Tom Stephen were invited to be the subjects of a MuchMusic Intimate & Interactive special.

In recent years, Healey’s records explored his passion for American jazz standards, a genre he studied his whole life, amassing a collection of over 30,000 obscure jazz recordings from the 20s and 30s.

In addition to his impressive musical accomplishments, Healey deserves praise for nurturing a new generation of blues talent here in Toronto at the venues to which he lent his name. The original Healey’s, a basement venue on the southwest corner of Queen and Bathurst that opened in 2001, ushered in a new era for live blues in the city. This location closed in January 2007 to make way for a new, swankier facility on Blue Jays Way.

Through the weekly Thursday night shows played at his own bars, Healey became a legendary Torontonian blues institution even as the cancer that plagued him spread to his lungs.

A statement from Toronto mayor David Miller on Healey’s passing echoes this sentiment: “Our city was enriched by his presence, as he showcased not only his own unique genius, but the virtuosity of others at exciting local venues he established to further the musical cause. His passing leaves a huge void in our city.”

Healey’s death comes just a month before the North American release of his first blues album in eight years, Mess of Blues. Remarkably, he had plans to tour in support of the album, in spite of his illness.

He is survived by his wife, Christie, and their two children.

Very Necessary

Veteran writer/director Daniel Brooks wasn’t particularly worried about his introductory speech. “You’re all thinking about yourselves, anyway. It doesn’t really matter what I say.” A smattering of slightly shocked laughter passed through the crowd—but this display of confident individuality is exactly what the patrons of Monday night’s “One Day: Three Plays” fundraiser have come to expect and appreciate about Brooks, the outspoken artistic director who has turned Necessary Angel into one of the most successful and highly-regarded Canadian theatre companies.

Held at the revamped Capitol Event Theatre and hosted by a charismatic Rick Miller, the gala aimed to raise money for the company and throw a damn good party at the same time. The program included a silent and live auction, a gourmet dinner, and three short plays created by some of the hottest theatre talent in town.

Globe and Mail food columnist Lucy Waverman set the menu, consisting of swanky treats like forest mushroom soup with truffle cream, braised beef short ribs, and scalded black bean rubbed sable fish in a soy ginger drizzle. Soy ginger drizzle! Of course, there was plenty of wine flowing between courses—and this was before the first play had hit the stage.

Here’s the drill: three top Canadian playwrights were provided, on Monday morning, with an opening line written by none other than British theatre icon Tom Stoppard. Each playwright was paired with an equally prominent director and a swell group of actors to create a 20-minute play in only four hours. The line that Sir Tom drummed up? “Don’t anybody move—there was an asp in that basket of figs and the little bastard is somewhere in this room!”

The first company to take on the line was playwright Morwyn Brebner’s team with Monkey Fights Snake—a hilarious hypothetical scenario featuring Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel the night before Conrad is set to hit the big house. Not quite as topical, but equally amusing, was Daniel MacIvor’s American Zombie, a meta-theatrical piece about actors in a classic British farce angling for spots in a zombie movie.

Dessert was being served by the time Claudia Dey’s Tom Stoppard Told Me To, a surreal love story between quirky characters named Finch and Mustang, took the stage. Patrons were happily shuffling out by midnight, some bearing auction items like a weekend at Stratford or a David Blackwood print. Daniel Brooks might not be too concerned about saying the right thing, but he sure knows how to bring public support to his company—and there’s nothing more necessary than that

Heads up: It’s Hudson

After an unusually brisk election period, Sandy Hudson is expected to stroll into power at the University of Toronto Students’ Union along with the rest of her Unite U of T slate. Out of the fi ve Unite slate members running for seats on UTSU’s executive board, only Hudson had an opponent. The other four candidates, Dave Scrivener (VP external), Khota Aleer (VP equity), Binish Ahmed (VP university affairs), and Adnan Najmi (VP internal and services), only needed to win a Yes/No vote.

Hudson’s opponent, varsity athlete and UTSU newcomer Ruben Vina- Garcia, ran on a platform of engaging students in political life and reinstating online voting in campus elections. He also ran on accusations of political nepotism at UTSU—and, after four years of familiar faces on the executive board, Vina-Garcia isn’t the fi rst to make that charge.

“I read that on [Vina-Garcia’s] Facebook group and I immediately submitted a complaint […] to the CRO,” Hudson said (the CRO is the Chief Returning Offi cer, hired by UTSU and tasked with ensuring a fair election).

Hudson protested Vina-Garcia’s charge that UTSU’s leadership was undemocratically entrenched.

“I think his word was ‘dynasty,’ or ‘unbroken line.’ I think it’s kind of ridiculous.”

Hudson, currently UTSU’s VP equity, assembled Unite U of T with current UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener. Scrivener approached Ahmed after working with her in the International Relations Society. Hudson knew Aleer from her work in the African Students Association. Najmi currently sits on UTSU’s board of directors and has two years experience with UTSU’s workings.

When UTSU’s top seats are almost all given away with no contest, is student apathy the culprit?

“To be honest, I don’t know,” said Hudson. “The Elections and Referenda committee did their best to publicize the elections. They even extended the nomination period. I guess it’s just the way it is.”

As for goals for the year ahead, Hudson said she hopes to make health and dental plan refunds and discount Metropasses available online.

But not voting?

On that issue, Hudson recalled incidents in

2003, when voting was done through ROSI, and drew complaints from students who were without web access. She noted that the Chestnut residence lost Internet access for a whole day, and many students didn’t vote.

“You never know what can go on with technology, and if you have it there and you’re tracking it and everything’s secure, I think that paper balloting is more reliable.”

UTSU’s apparent president also mentioned the TTC UPass proposal—a $480 pass that gives unlimited TTC rides from the beginning of September to the end of April. The catch? The proposed pass would be mandatory for all students, essentially bringing a large fee hike.

“We would really like that opt-out option, but we’ll just have to continue to negotiate with them,” Hudson said.

UTSC is already bringing the proposal to a student referendum—the only school in the GTA to do so. If they accept the TTC’s deal, it could severely weaken the ability of other campuses to negotiate more favorable terms.

“It’s a little difficult when Scarborough’s already going to referendum,” admitted Hudson. “That affects all the rest of the schools that are negotiating with the TTC.”

“It’s a touchy situation.”

A remarkably calm election, then, could mark the beginning of a turbulent year. Is Unite U of T’s virtually-uncontested slate a symptom of student apathy, or partly to blame for the problem? Hudson shrugged:

“Don’t know…” she said. “Don’t know.”

Under the covers

“This novel is a work of intuition.” So Isabel Allende writes of her latest work, Inès of My Soul, based on the real-life story of Inès Suárez, a 16th-century woman who aided with the conquest of Chile. With careful research of this undeveloped aspect of Chilean history and a gift for storytelling, Allende has managed to recreate the extraordinary life of a courageous heroine.

Suárez’s Latin American journey begins when she travels from her native Spain to the freshly discovered continent in search of her fortune-seeking husband. After a grueling nautical voyage and several trying and terrifying incidents, Suárez discovers that she is a widow. From this moment on, her life transforms from that of a quiet Spanish seamstress to one of a bold and courageous conquistadora. A fiery romance with Pedro de Valdivia leads her to become the only Spanish woman on a colonizing expedition to the Chile. With a mix of determination and strength, Suárez not only shatters the traditional view of 16th-century women but also becomes an indispensable member of the journey, saving lives on several occasions. Though tried by hardships and sexism, Suárez lives to see the goal of founding Chile come true.

The extraordinary life of this novel’s heroine is ultimately worth telling, all the more because it is true. Written as a memoir, Allende politely assumes the character of Inès Suárez, relaying the events as she believes they were once experienced. The depth and passion present in the novel reveal Allende’s incredible literary and emotional abilities. The narrative is littered with adventure, love, anger and fear that are familiar yet shocking. The vivacity of certain passages, especially those involving violence, demonstrate the author’s knowledge. Allende attributes her familiarity with torture, a reality often present in the novel, to her time spent in Chile during the coup that brought down her uncle, Salvador Allende, from power.

In many ways, this novel is a success. It brings clarification and honor to a little-known historical figure, enriching otherwise plain names, events and dates. Isabel Allende brings these to life, inviting readers to discover the potential of the author herself.

Rating: VVVV

Fined and fuming

Issuing the “No Levy” campaign 20 demerit points and a $150 fine was not enough. The Election Referenda Committee decided to add another five demerit points as a “slap on the wrist.”

The campaign, which urges students to refuse to pay $18 per year to operate the Varsity Centre, was penalized for allegedly trying to intimidate Sandy Hudson’s “Unite U of T” slate into supporting it. After appealing the punishment, the campaign was harshly rebuked for “presenting frivolous and irrelevant accusations” to the appeals committee.

“No” campaigners sent an email to all members of the Unite slate early Monday morning, asking the slate to endorse their position on the Varsity Center levy and citing the slate members’ avowed commitment to accessible, publicly-funded education. “No” campaigners asserted that this stance made it impossible for Unite U of T to be neutral.

“They have not taken a position,” said Ryan Hayes, who is leading the “No” campaign. “And to add insult to injury, when someone asks them to, they turn around and file a complaint that could have gotten us disqualified.”

Hudson insisted, however, that there were no such intentions. “We have nothing against them. We just wanted to ensure that the elections and referenda did not interfere with each other in a negative way.”

Election and Referenda Committee co-chair Faraz Siddiqui pointed to the last paragraph of the email No Levy campaigners sent to the Unite slate: “If we do not hear back from you by tonight […] we may need to reconsider our campaign strategy, but more importantly, how we as progressive students will be able to work together in the year ahead,” read the letter.

“It was ominous messaging,” said Hudson. “So [Unite] went to the CRO so they would be aware of the potential issue.”

Hayes confirmed that letter informed Unite slate members that, if they did not endorse the No Levy position, No Levy would reword its campaign materials in a less “considerate” manner: The materials would say simply to “vote no” instead of “no levy.” As four out of five Unite can-

didates were Yes/No propositions (they ran unopposed), this could induce students to check “No” on the ballots—disqualifying those candidates.

In their appeal, the “No” campaign cited similar tactics in a Canadian Federation of Students campaign, one in which some Unite members participated. That argument, ruled a “frivolous and irrelevant” accusation, landed the “No” campaign a further five demerit points.

“The email […] asked us to take a position by that night, and we weren’t able to sit down as a slate and talk to each other about it,” said Hudson.

“When we talked about it the next day, we decided that […] we would like to have the plebiscite run its course.” Hudson reported the email to the CRO before that meeting.

The emails in question are currently online, viewable on the No campaign’s Facebook group “How Stupid Do They Think We Are? Vote NO Levy March 4th-6th.”

Familiar territory for Leafs Nation

The roller-coaster that is Leafs fandom is climbing the rails once again. Whether it plummets down the other side is yet to be seen. With a score of six points back of eighth and 14 games left, the Leafs manage to hold onto the chance of a playoff berth just long enough for their fans to rationalize the odds of making it. The team is at a fork in the road, and which direction they take will not only decide their fate this season, but for seasons to come. The road presents three possible paths. The first is for the team to put together an amazing run, squeezing into the last playoff spot in early April. The buds may actually fare better than most would predict.

Toronto’s first round opponent would likely be the overachieving Montreal Canadiens (who have a question mark between the pipes with rookie goalie Carey Price), or the inconsistent Ottawa Senators, a team with an obvious lack of depth on the bench. The Leafs have played well against each team this year, splitting the season series with both rivals. The New Jersey Devils, another possible matchup, would pose more of a challenge for no other reason than All-Star goaltender Martin Brodeur. However, given the fact that many of the Leafs, most notably Darcy Tucker, often rise to the playoff occasion, anything’s possible.

But in the long run, would making the playoffs,or even the second or third round, really accomplish anything? Considering the unlikelihood of winning the Stanley Cup. A playoff birth would only relieve the mounting pressure on Peddie and Tannenbaum to change their authoritarian ways. Without increased demands from the fans and the media, there would be no need to fix what isn’t broken. A playoff appearance would only end in long-term stagnation.

The second option, most likely to occur, assures that the team will play well enough down the stretch to instill faint hope in Leafs nation, but miss the post-season by two or three points in the end. This is the worst-case scenario. The club wouldn’t finish low enough to have a chance of acquiring a high draft pick, yet they would finish high enough to lift the pressure to make drastic changes from the organization. And worst of all, we lowly die-hards would be forced to support (or at least pretend to support) another Canadian team for the third straight year.

The third and final path would fix both problems. Tank the season. Throw the next 14 games to ensure that we would finish low enough get in the lottery for the number-one draft pick. For many, this is blasphemy, but hear me out. Pretend Toskala pulled his groin and throw in Raycroft, get Kaberle deported back to the Czech Republic, and feed Sundin Swedish meatballs so undercooked that he can’t be five feet from a bathroom. Crash and burn so hard that Peddie and Tannenbaum can’t pick up their morning paper without enduring an onslaught of disgruntled and resentful fans demanding they release their tyrannical hold on the franchise. Together, they have already led this organization so far into managerial disgrace that a few dubious tactics would seem par for the course.

Sometimes in order to build a stronger future, you have to let the present collapse. No team has ever admitted to tanking on purpose to salvage its future, but maybe in this case, the road less travelled could be the most advantageous. Just wake me up when it’s over.

Docs slam bad ads

“The purpose of health care is to make money.”

It isn’t at every student-organized event that the speaker has to ask his lawyer, sitting in the audience, whether he’s allowed to talk on a given topic. But on Tuesday, when Dr. John Abramson spoke on “The World of Drug Advertising,” hosted by the Health Studies Student Union at Hart House Theatre, he was fresh from testifying as an expert witness in an Ontario Superior Court case on the rights of pharmaceutical companies to engage in direct-to-consumer advertising.

Based on trends in the United States, DTCA is believed to be worth half a billion dollars annually if allowed in Canada, the world’s eighthlargest drug market. The Canadian Institute for Health Information staetd that of all health care costs, prescription drugs represent the fastest growing expenditures. “They want to bring the suit because they know there’s money in it,” said Abramson, a Harvard Medical School instructor and author of Overdo$ed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine.

Abramson was introduced by Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a U of T professor of paediatrics and medicine who is herself locked in ongoing legal wrangling with the pharmaceutical company Apotex, after breaking confidentiality about drug trials which she helped conduct for them in the 1990s.

Strangely, Abramson’s case was launched not by the drug companies themselves, nor by the ad firms that work for them, but by a media organization claiming its right to freedom of expression extends to the right to carry ads ruled illegal in Canada. In December 2005, CanWest Mediaworks—owners of the Global Television Network, several digital channels, newspapers including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and Calgary Herald, as well as the commuter dailies Dose and Metro—filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada.

At issue is the Food and Drugs Act, which allows ads either to name a prescription drug or the condition it treats—but not both. The law is poorly enforced, and illegal ads often reach Canadian airwaves from the United States, one of the two countries in the world that allows DTCA (New Zealand is the other). The regulation do not apply to over-the-counter drugs and the Act does not restrict editorial content concerning pharmaceuticals.

In November, the court ruled that a coalition of advocacy groups could testify on the side of Health Canada. Abramson testified Tuesday before the court on the effects of drug advertising on women.

“We’re not talking about corporate free speech,” said Abramson. “Corporations can say whatever they want. We’re talking about the freedom to use capital—your capital—to mislead you.”