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David Mitchell: PM in waiting
|PHOTO: Owen Egan|
Each spring, Magna International Inc. invites Canadian post-secondary students of all ages to write speculative essays about what they would do if elected prime minister. This year's edition of the "As Prime Minister Awards" attracted over 850 submissions, later whittled down to 50 semi-finalists, then 11 finalists. The sole Quebec finalist is David Mitchell, a second-year McGill honours management student.
The 19-year-old Mitchell has already won $10,000 and a paid summer internship with Magna, Canada's largest auto part supplier, and he laconically admits to being "excited" at the prospect of doubling his booty if selected the "top finalist." (Already a diplomat, he's careful not to use the term "winner.")
With that excitement comes surprise. Having heard about the program via a friend's mother, Mitchell "plugged together" an essay after finishing his first-year final exams. "I handed it in on the last day," he admits. "Then they called me in late July to say that I was a semi-finalist." Along with 49 other students, Mitchell flew to Toronto a week later where he was expected to deliver an expanded version of his essay before a panel of judges (including CTV's Mike Duffy). He once again took things down to the wire, elaborating on his national vision "pretty much the day before. My presentation wasn't until the Friday, so I spent all of Thursday at the library."
During his post-presentation Q&A session, Mitchell was asked his age. A softball question to be sure (he answered it correctly), but he sensed dark undertones. "It didn't seem relevant," he recalls, "so I figured, 'Oh, they think I'm too young.'"
With the finalist announcements a week away, Mitchell returned to his summer job in the accounting department of a Montreal clothing manufacturer. The day before the results were posted on the Internet, Magna made congratulatory phone calls to each finalist; Mitchell received no such call -- because his cellphone was accidentally turned off.
He later checked Magna's web site out of curiosity -- "I didn't think I got it, so I was like, 'I wonder who won?'" -- and was shocked to see his name amongst the golden eleven.
Ontario born, but raised in England, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. (he finished high school in Virginia), Mitchell credits his vagabond childhood with shaping his political views. "Travelling has made me appreciate Canada more and more," he says. "Things are pretty good up here."
His essay offers a three-point plan to improve the standard of living in middle-class Canada, in keeping with his "pro-business, pro-human rights" political slant. He envisions a narrowing of the federal government's scope in order to better concentrate on providing core social services, and also advocates ambitious tax cuts "to increase the wealth of the middle class [and] encourage an export-based economy." His final (and, by self-admission, most difficult) plan of action would be radical legislative changes to promote increased volunteering activity across the nation.
Mitchell walks the walk when it comes to this last point. In addition to an extra-full academic course load (he's on the three-year graduation plan), he sits on the Students' Society of McGill University's financial ethics research committee. He also serves as the director of finance for the McGill chapter of Amnesty International (although he admits AI's ideology is "more left-leaning than my personal beliefs"), is active at St. Stephen's Anglican Church, and is currently organizing Bible studies for students living in residence.
And if all that makes Mitchell sound like some kind of choirboy, well...he is. Literally. But he admits that this year's jam-packed schedule may require curtailing his involvement with the New Earth Voices Choir.
He'll get a bit of a break on November 7, when he travels to Ottawa for the winning announcement and the release party for @Stake: As Prime Minister I would..., a collection of all 11 finalists' essays. The book will be on sale in stores nationwide.
While in the capital, the finalists will be fêted in VIP fashion (private tours, rooms at the Château Laurier -- everything just shy of diplomatic immunity). Mitchell may even get to meet the PM himself, but he's unsure as to what he'd do if he found himself face-to-face with Jean Chrétien.
"I haven't really thought about it," he says. "But I think I'd ask him when he's going to retire."
"This is advertising, and this is the best possible advertising. This is on the lips of three-quarters of the world's population. They (terrorists) will be emboldened, they will have new supporters coming to their ranks."
Digging up the dirt
Dugdale, who did a master's degree in religious studies at McGill, is one of three PhD candidates at Yale who recently put together a report that has caused quite a stir at the university.
Yale is in the midst of celebrating its 300th anniversary. Among the events put together by the university to mark the occasion were sessions that focused on Yale figures who helped lead the fight against slavery in the U.S.
"Right across the street from me is Calhoun College," Dugdale says during a phone interview from Yale. The college was named after one-time U.S. vice-president John C. Calhoun, an influential proponent of slavery for decades, says Dugdale. "If you were to pick the people who were most responsible for slavery, he would be on the short list. That signalled to us that there was more to its history than Yale was telling."
The university itself "put out a call for open and honest scholarly reflection" about its past, notes Dugdale. The doctoral candidates took the university at its word and hit the books.
The resulting report revealed that Yale's first endowed professorship was the product of a gift from "one of New York's most prominent slave traders," and that Yale's first scholarship was supported by profits from a slave-worked plantation. The report also points out that several Yale colleges are named after slave owners, some of whom were enthusiastic defenders of the practice.
The report sparked demands for reparations from community activists -- by renaming the colleges honouring slave owners, for one thing.
Writing in the Washington Post, Kurt Schmoke, a member of the Yale board of trustees, notes that few major U.S. institutions of similar age "are without connections to slavery" and that the Yale of today recruits a racially diverse faculty and staff, provides financial aid to qualified students of all colours and pursues scholarship on the history of slavery.
"If the reaction to this is to come down hard on protesters or people who are unconventional, then we will have lost something tangible."
Too much of a good thing
|PHOTO: Jean-François Majeau|
Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute recently worked on a sweet project measuring the effect of chocolate on the brain.
Dana Small, a former MNI graduate student, believes this is the first study to look at how the brain responds to changes in perceived pleasantness of a substance.
Small's former supervisor, neurology and neurosurgery professor Marilyn Jones-Gotman, says the team wanted to examine "sensory-specific satiety" and see if it was possible to "change [the participants'] hedonic appreciation of what they were experiencing."
So why chocolate? They needed an innately enjoyable stimulus -- a "primary reinforcer" -- and chocolate's rich and sweet properties fit the bill. Many food scientists view chocolate as the most craved food of all.
A pilot study determined the specific opiate. A Swiss brand won out, with most people jonesing for milk chocolate. "Usually people have strong preferences," Jones-Gotman says, so participants were given their choice. During this time, Small was quite popular around the office, says Jones-Gotman. "Everyone knew she had chocolate in her desk."
Too much chocolate may sound like a glorious punishment, but even self-described chocoholics have a limit.
Participants savoured between 16-74 pieces (roughly 40-170 grams). After each piece, required to slowly melt in the mouth, they rated the experience. "In other words," Small says, "eating chocolate went from being a highly rewarding to a highly punishing activity."
When eating chocolate was "very pleasant," there was increased blood flow in the orbital frontal cortex and midbrain -- the same area that responds to addictive drugs, such as cocaine. When eating chocolate became downright unpleasant, beyond satiety, other parts of the brain showed activity.
Small believes the study's findings could serve as a launching pad for other researchers hoping to zero in on what goes on in the brains of people suffering from addictions or eating disorders. MNI scientists Robert Zatorre, Alain Dagher and Alan Evans were also involved in the study.
Small is now an assistant professor at Northwestern University, and her next project will examine aspects of mastication. Her tool? Peanut butter.
"For Americans, this attack will be perceived as the equivalent of Pearl Harbour. The result will be that the United States will mobilize itself to wage war against terrorism, regardless of its source."