Vic cuts off sticky fingers

Over the past month, students at Victoria College on the northeast part of campus have been subject to numerous break-ins and thefts. The thefts have occurred at Rowell Jackman Hall, a Vic residence with suites that consist of a common living room and kitchen area, and one or two-person bedrooms.

The thief, who is still loose, seemed to operate in the same way each time, gaining access to the common area of the suites by knocking on the door and claiming to be a friend of one of the suite members. He knew who lived in each suite because students’ names are taped onto each door at the beginning of the year and many students do not remove the tags. Once admitted by the unsuspecting suitemate, the thief waited around until left alone and broke into the individual rooms by using a credit card to pop open the lock.

After two students had their laptops stolen, the matter was brought before the dean’s office, who has announced upgrades to the safety of the building. Members of the physical plant services will be checking the suite doors to make sure that the extra safety latch is in working condition. In addition, stricker plates of each door, which attach to the door frame, will be replaced. In the meantime, students are advised to not leave anyone who is not personally known to them alone in their suite.

Mountain Goat gruff

Emoting on stage has always been risky business. Sad sacks with acoustic guitars have been strumming their misery for so long that watching a full-grown man who isn’t ashamed to cry doesn’t even cause us to bat an eye.

But no lonely-eyed troubadour could hold a candle to John Darnielle at Lee’s Palace Tuesday night. Frontman for low-fi indie-rock pioneers The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has always been prone to putting on an emotionally ravaged show. With only a guitar and bass to anchor his desperate voice, Darnielle eschews average sad-love-song material for tracks about meth addicts, Danish human fossils, and the multitude of reasons why game shows touch our lives.

The Mountain Goats walk the lines of classification; while their past two albums were generalized as a break up album and record on child abuse, the hidden depths of Darnielle’s characterization are far more complex. The set began with the manic strumming of a vengeful 15-year-old on “Up The Wolves,” soon transferred to a runaway anthem about a couple strung out on desire on a motorcycle headed west, and concluded with a song about a man who has, in Darnielle’s words, “fallen off the edge of the earth.”

As a performer, Darnielle uses every onstage moment as if testifying at his own judgment day. No current artist understands the power of the emotional meltdown quite like Darnielle, whose years as a psychiatric nurse gave him ample material. Eyes shut tight, he stuttered and jumped and yelped his way through the set, reinforcing the importance of the range of emotions one person can experience in a three-minute rock song. We also got a glimpse of Darnielle’s personal penchant for metal with some pretty rad solos (who says you can’t bring the heat on an acoustic?).

If Darnielle was the showstopper, bassist (and only other concrete member) Peter Hughes played the infallible straight man. The duo’s almost vaudevillian joint presence lightened up some of the weighty moments, refusing to hold back, even halting a song in the middle when Darnielle forgot the lyrics.

Perhaps that honesty is what makes The Mountain Goats such an irresistible live act. Unlike the majority of indie rock outfits, they wave no flag of superiority over their audiences. When requests were shouted out, Darnielle responded with reasons why he would or wouldn’t play each song, and he threw older fans a bone with several more rarities. For a band that defines their songs as so intense they could “split the atom if [their] power was harnessed,” the tension was palpable. Darnielle pulled no punches in his banter; when numerous requests for the infamous track “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” were denied, he courted the crowd in a discussion of why he preferred playing newer material. By including the audience in its struggle, the band made sure they didn’t go down alone.

After inviting everyone to sing along to “No Children,” an ode to a couple who have fallen so out of love that they are steeped in hate, Darnielle and Hughes walked off the stage sweaty and stumbling. Yet the demons had been sent back to hell, the air was clear, and the whole crowd tumbled onto Bloor St. bleary-eyed but victorious.

David Suzuki is the word on the street

At the end of a long sunny day filled with families, world-famous authors and millions of words, it was really an excited fisherman from British Columbia who stole the show.

On Sunday, acclaimed environmentalist David Suzuki made an appearance at the city’s annual Word on the Street festival to promote his newly published autobiography.

The well-attended talk at the Scotiabank Bestsellers Stage saw Suzuki give a short visual presentation on some of the highlights of his life, showing the audience private pictures of his family, experiences of his childhood, the early days of his academic career and his later life working on the popular CBC show The Nature of Things.

But throughout the talk, Suzuki always returned to the urgent issue of the environment and its impact on the future. This personal message emphasized as crucial to everyone came full circle with a final film clip of Suzuki’s daughter Severn speaking at the Rio Earth Summit at the age of 12. Her speech highlighted how the adults of the world were ignoring the effects of their actions on their own children and how everyone’s future would be threatened as a result.

More than just a publicity plug for his new book, Suzuki used this appearance to show the kinds of experiences and people that shaped his desire to affect change, while also paying tribute to those who have inspired him along the way. He urged much of his audience to continue fighting for environmental causes, emphasizing that it is an issue that affects all Canadians on an everyday basis.

But for one more example of how Suzuki has already inspired a generation of activists, you need to look no further than his daughter Severn as a great example. One politician in particular approached her after the speech at the Rio Earth Summit and highly complimented the younger Suzuki for her message. It was none other than American senator Al Gore.

Hidden cancer, sequenced genome

Treating cancer is the biggest challenge faced by modern medicine—one in three people will acquire some form of cancer in their lifetime—and many recent developments offer hope for an eventual cancer-free world. Francis S. Collins is leading this quiet revolution by looking at the instruction manual found in every single one of the human body’s 100 trillion cells: the human genome.

Hosted by the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, Collins spoke this past Tuesday in the main auditorium of the shiny, sleek MaRS centre in Toronto. He delivered an hour-long talk regarding recent advances in genomics relating to cancer research ranging from finding mutations to genetic screening for at-risk individuals. His message was direct and hopeful: current research on the human genome is offering vital clues to the origins of many forms of cancer.

Collins came from simple beginnings on a small farm in Virginia and ended up heading one of the most important scientific collaborations in history. He led the Human Genome Project starting in 1993, charged with the huge task of sequencing the human genome.

“Frankly not very popular as an idea when it first came along—a lot of people thought it wouldn’t be possible,” said Collins.

Incredibly, the project was completed in 2003, two years ahead of time and under budget. Looking at the U.S. $3 billion price tag, it is all too easy to wonder if the endeavour was worth the cost. However, the information provided is proving to be an invaluable resource for researchers around the world.

DNA is an elegant and simple system of data storage used by every living organism on Earth. It consists of four base molecules named T, C, G and A that match up with each other and form long strands. The order of these letters dictates the production of specific proteins when the cell’s machinery reads the base pairs and assembles the corresponding chain of amino acids. What is truly incredible is the compactness of this data storage system.

“Our genomes are made up of about 3.15 billion of these letters. If we were to read them out seven days a week, 24 hours a day, we’d be here for 31 yearsand you have that information in every cell in your body,” said Collins.

Cancer has a lot to do with DNA. In order for a cell to divide, its DNA must be copied accurately. Mechanisms exist to avoid errors—“like the spellchecker in your DNA copy system”—since mistakes in the replication process can be disastrous if they are not fixed. Even changing just one letter in a sequence can have serious consequences, as the protein described by the new instructions may not be functional.

“Cancer happens when it [DNA replication] doesn’t go well and you make a mistake copying or repairing DNA in a vulnerable part of the genome,” said Collins. “Fundamentally, cancer is a disease of the genome.”

Family history affects the types of cancers an individual is most at risk of acquiring. Mutations in the genome, passed down through generations, may increase one’s risk of cancer if they occur in certain areas of the genome. Researchers identified highly hereditary forms of cancer, such as retinoblastoma and certain forms of colon cancer and breast cancer, by looking at certain parts of the genome where they suspected inherited mutations would lie. The problem with the approach, Collins explained, is that it is like searching under a lamppost on a dark street for a dropped set of keys. If the keys happen to be near the lamppost, they can be found—but what if they are somewhere else on the street?

Here again is where a collaborative scientific approach comes into play. Researchers already suspected that changes in one base pair (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms) could be a source of runaway cancerous growths. Many scientists from around the world are currently working on a project, known as The International HapMap project, to identify all these single base pair differences of which there are an estimated ten million.

“SNPs are all the rage in the genetics community right now—we have a growing interest in tracking down the ones involved in disease risk,” said Collins.

The results from this work have been surprising. Rather than appearing randomly throughout the genome, these SNPs seem to occur in groups on certain parts of the genome. Even more curious is that certain SNPs close together have been found guilty of causing different types of cancer.

“It’s like winning the lottery twice by playing the same number. Somehow, everything is landing on top of everything else,” said Collins.

Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology have helped genomic research greatly. The price of sequencing a piece of DNA has dropped drastically in the past 10 years, costing only an eighth of a penny per base pair. Having an affordable way to look at certain stretches of DNA allows for researchers to have a wider search beam: knowing which SNPs may pose a cancer risk allows for effective screening of individuals before it is too late.

“Cancer is a circumstance where within the DNA you have time bombs that could go off. All of us probably have dozens of these that put us at risk of one thing or another,” said Collins.

Unlocking the secrets held within the tightly coiled DNA strands of the human genome has already led to amazing innovations, such as Gleevec. A super-effective cancer fighting drug, it was administered to 32 patients with advanced chronic myeloid leukemia. Incredibly, 31 of the 32 patients made a full recovery and have been in remission for at least seven years.

From Nixon famously declaring war on cancer in 1971 to Terry Fox’s heroic battle against it, cancer is a topic that carries serious weight in the minds and hearts of many. There is reason for hope, however, and this theme was present throughout the entire lecture. Collins ended his talk with a quote by James Russell Lowell, one that describes neatly where the future of cancer research is headed:

“Not failure, but low aim, is a crime.”

He added, “We’ve finally figured out how to light up the street.”

Canadian army forced out of U Victoria

Student union bans recruiters, accused of shoring up left-wing support.

An already bitter left-right divide simmered as the University of Victoria Student Society announced its decision to ban Armed Forces recruiters from their career day, to be held in January, claiming the Armed Forces commits war crimes that make it unacceptable as an employer of the university’s students.

The left-leaning student union, registered under the Canadian Federation of Students, has recently been at odds with conservative, liberal and even several independent groups since the controversial ousting of a popular UVSS chairperson candidate in last year’s election. Right-leaning campus groups have expressed dissent, claiming that the student union has no business banning recruiters from the fair and that students themselves should decide where they would or would not like to work.

A Facebook group was promptly formed to campaign against the UVSS decision. Several angry students spoke up, condemning the lack of respect for the army, and lauding the opportunities it gave them.

“If nothing else, I would hope this whole debacle would inspire a new wave of political awareness in the student body,” posted Daniel Gray from the U of V. “This can be used as a slingshot to raise voter turnout at the next election and increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of the next UVSS board.” He then invited members of the group to stand as UVSS candidates in the next election.

A coalition of dissenting groups plan on moving to reconsider the decision at the next BoD meeting on Oct. 18.

Men’s hockey preview: Team confident and optimistic heading into a new season

After capturing their seventh consecutive Mid-East title, Men’s hockey looks to improve on last year’s success. The Blues finished with an 18-9-1 record and had a strong playoff run, shutting out and sweeping the ninth-ranked McGill Redmen 1-0 and 2-0, before losing two tough 5-4 games in overtime to Université de Trois-Rivières. Last year’s season was an improvement of 10 wins from the 2005-06 season, when the Blues finished 8-13-2-1, going 8-2-1-1 in the last twelve games.

“We have a number of players who have experienced both winning and losing. We were close to a championship last year and we are confident that we could be a good team. Last year was a big confidence boost,” said Blues coach Darren Lowe.

“Obviously you strive to be champions, but we want to at least match last year’s success,” said Blues rookie Stephen Duffy. “I would just like to have a positive impact and help the team as best I can.”

Last year’s team consisted of mostly second and third-year players. Coach Lowe says that about 50 per cent of those players have returned this year.

But there are two notable omissions from the lineup: Captain Simon Barg, who was second on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists, and OUA MVP goalie Ryan Grinnell, who led the Mid-East with a goals against average of 2.20 and a .920 save percentage.

“Both Ryan and Simon will be missed,” said Lowe, “but our point leader, Anthony Pallotta, is back, as well as our leading scorer, Joe Rand.”

Pallotta led the team in points last year with a score of 36, while Joe Rand netted 18 goals. To fill the void left by Barg, both team members need to have similarly successful seasons. On defence, the Blues will need the leadership of top defenceman Brenden Sherrard to galvanize the team from the back and ease the load off the net.

“We have two first-year goalies with good junior backgrounds. While they may not have the same experience as Ryan [Grinnell], they are more prepared than when Ryan started”, said Lowe.

Last season, stricter rules were imposed for stick infractions, making specialty teams’ success crucial for victory. The Blues only converted on 12.3 per cent of their power plays last season, but they are looking to improve other aspects of their game.

“Our power play is second right now,” said Blues defenceman Darrell Simich. “We have been working mostly on the penalty kill.”

“We want to focus on our defence and get that set so we can build from there,” explained Duffy.

Though the Blues may be in a weaker division with Ryerson, Queen’s, and Royal Military College, who had a total of 17 wins between them last year, U of T needs to create a strong defence, as all three teams continue to get better. “Last year Ryerson and Queen’s both had a full-time coach for the first time in quite a while. RMC has hired Adam Shell, McGill’s old coach, who has worked with a successful system. All three teams will be much improved by these coaching changes in all aspects of the game,” , advised Lowe.

The Blues head into the last portion of their exhibition season with a tournament in Michigan against tough Division 1 American teams. This will be the ultimate test for the Blues, a chance to see what they have accomplished in camp and during the preseason. “You can’t really prepare for Division 1 teams,” said Simich. “You just want to play your game and play the system, and try and gauge where we are at as a team and what to improve on.” The Blues begin their season with two road games on Oct. 12, against Guelph, and Oct. 13, against Brock, before returning home for two games, against York on Oct. 17 and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology on Oct. 19.

Halal food hard to swallow at UTSC

The Muslim Students Association at UTSC has ignited a fierce debate on the particulars of halal food on campus, refusing to support a long-awaited halal option at a Bluff’s, a UTSC campus restaurant.

The result of numerous faculty, staff and student requests, the new menu was introduced to the campus on May 29, making all chicken and beef options certified halal. Despite this, many MSA members say that any establishment that also serves alcohol and plays dance music is an unsuitable environment for their dietary needs.

This disagreement between the MSA and the university is not the first. Halal food has long been a hot topic at UTSC. With its large population of Muslim students and the politically active MSA counting hundreds of members, the issue of proper accommodations for halal food has repeatedly come up as a major point in student elections and public task forces.

Some students said the restaurant, in failing to accommodate those who prefer not to eat at an alcoholic establishment, made more of a negative gesture than a positive one with the menu option.

“This initiative was brought forth solely by Bluff’s without ever consulting the MSA or Muslim students. If this was a deliberate accommodation, it’s kind of offensive in giving us the food in a manner unsuitable to us,” said Ahmad Jaballah, a former MSA executive and current Scarborough Campus Students Union VP students and equity.

Jaballah also argued that patronizing such an establishment is wrong because Muslim students would provide revenue for Bluff’s to purchase alcohol—an action forbidden by hadith, a Prophetic saying.

But Food and Beverages Manager Zalia Conde disagrees, noting that the Bluff’s restaurant serves alcohol under the university’s liquor license, rather than a license of its own. In fact, it is through the university that U of T dining establishments purchases alcohol.

When asked about the controversy, a few students argued that simply paying tuition supports the purchase of alcohol by contributing to the salary of the VP business affairs, who oversees the University Alcohol Policy.

While many Muslim students say they will continue to eat only tuna sandwiches from Subway, halal hot dogs, or vegetarian meals and halal-topped pizza from UTSC’s H-wing cafeteria, and while the MSA has officially stated its lack of support, the new venture at the campus restaurant has seen positive results from the new menu.

“A lot of students choose to eat halal at Bluff’s, and there are definitely enough sales to know it’s viable,” says SCSU president Rob Wulkan. “People seem to like these options.”

Reports from Conde agree with this analysis. While refusing to reveal exact sales numbers, Conde does remark upon the “significant number of orders” she observed during the summer testing period that called for a complete switch in the menu. Conde also noted the multiple inquiries by faculty and staff for including halal food in catering orders, in an effort to be inclusive to all students.

Muzna Siddiqui is one student who disagrees with MSA’s stance and now sees Bluff’s as another inclusive option for her.

“Personally, as a Muslim student, I’m happy the SCSU and UTSC are accommodating us,” she said. “For me, I don’t see how alcohol can contaminate the food like pork does. Unless someone is cooking with it, I don’t see the problem of being in an environment that serves alcohol, because it’s not something directly touching my food.”

Women’s hockey preview: With a talented roster the Blues will be tough to beat in 2007

This Friday, Oct. 5, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team will take to the ice and kick off the 2007-08 season. Following last year’s bronze medal fi nish in the OUA Championships, the team is gearing up for what they anticipate will be another successful season.

The Blues hope to continue the success they achieved at the end of last year’s campaign. As the 2006- 07 regular season came to a close in February, the team found themselves leapfrogging over the Queen’s Golden Gaels into the second spot in the OUA. Fittingly, it was the Gaels they met in the semi-fi nals, and though the Blues outshot their opponents, Queen’s prevailed 2-1 when the fi nal buzzer rang. Despite their obvious disappointment, the women put forth a valiant effort in the bronze medal game against the Guelph Gryphons and walked away with the hardware, thanks to Emily Patry’s overtime winner.

Karen Hughes, returning bench boss, said that this year’s roster will have a good mix of returning players and fresh faces. Defence appears to be the team’s strength, with a plethora of returning blue-liners that include fifth-year Sarah Poirier, thirdyear Lyndsey Ryan and second-year Ali Foster. Jill Clark, team captain and OUA All-Star, will be the anchor on the back end and the clear leader of the group. New additions Kelly Setter and Bianca Mirabelli will fi t in nicely with the already solid group, said Coach Hughes.

The team’s forward contingent is getting an infusion of youth and energy with Karolina Urban, Lindsay Hill, Amanda Fawns, Brenley Jorgensen, Alanna Komisar and Nayima Neerdaels. The newcomers will not only provide scoring, said Hughes, but will also act as two-way players, a vital component of any winning team. The rookies will compliment the returning forwards Emily Patry, Laura Foster and Annie Del Guidice. And the team is very excited to have Stephanie Lockert back in net.

All in all, although it is a bit early to tell, Hughes is sure that this year’s group seems to be a better skating squad than last year’s, and with the addition of the aforementioned forwards, they will have a better touch around the net. Hughes’ principle concern is specialty teams, which she hopes will improve with practice.

Last season’s achievements can easily add pressure for the team, but Captain Clark said this is not the case.

“As a group we like to think in the present,” she said. “We certainly can learn from last year and build upon it. However, we do not like to compare ourselves to what we were. Rather, we like to focus on what we need to do now to become the best possible athletes we can become.”