An international election

The decisions that Canadian voters make in the forthcoming election will affect me personally, both as an international student in Toronto over the next few years, and as an Indian. The same could be said of any international student in Canada, or indeed of any citizen of any country that has economic or political, or really any kind of, relations with Canada.

Canada is of course not alone in restricting voting in federal or any other type of elections to its own citizenry. It is, after all, a concept enshrined within the structure of democracy. Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, uses the American Revolution-era slogan “no taxation without representation” as a tenet of sovereignty, but its reverse applies in this case: no electoral rights if you do not pay taxes. Since I do not (yet) pay taxes in Canada, it seems only logical that I cannot vote in its elections.
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Elections tend to be framed in relatively narrow domestic terms. Though the campaign for the May election is still in its infancy, the key issues that have been framed front and center relate to matters within Canada. The Liberals’ constant emphasis on Stephen Harper’s flouting of the principles of democracy, for example, is aimed squarely at the electorate’s trust in their Prime Minister. Similarly, Conservative attack ads have attempted to portray Michael Ignatieff as unpatriotic or as un-Canadian. Fair enough, you might say; this is a domestic election after all.

Well no, not really. So called “domestic” elections have repercussions far beyond the borders of the nation in which they take place.

In areas such as economics and foreign aid, areas vital to the ability of people all over the world to subsist, the policies of individual governments have a significant impact. Consider, for example, the decision last year by the Conservative government to freeze international aid at five billion dollars a year rather than as a set percentage of Canada’s GDP. This effectively means that the “real” value of Canada’s international aid will drop year-to-year, because though the dollar value of aid will remain constant, the price of goods and services for the countries receiving the aid will increase with inflation. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the economic impact to the beneficiaries of Canadian international aid is undeniable.

Furthermore, consider foreign military intervention. Canadian planes are currently involved in the Western coalition that is enforcing a “no-fly zone” over Libyan airspace. The ethics of intervention in Libya aside, the decision of the Harper government to commit military resources to oppose the Qaddafi regime has repercussions mainly for non-Canadians, particularly, not only Libyans. What of the civilians killed by misdirected coalition bombs, or the damage to property? These losses can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, but the fact remains that they have occurred, and crucially at the hands of governments that the Libyan people did not elect.

These examples are, of course, oversimplifications of the complex interconnected world in which we live. But the idea that elections have broader repercussions than the domestic has some precedent, most notably in the “Give Your Vote” initiative run during the British general election last year. The “Give Your Vote” campaign involved British votaries committing to vote by proxy for people in Afghanistan, Ghana, and Bangladesh, who the initiatives’ website says “are directly affected by UK policies.”

The actual electoral impact of the campaign was minute — though “thousands” participated, the number of votes cast by the proxy voters was too small to affect the outcome in any one constituency, let alone the election outcome as a whole. Symbolically though — since election results matter to people far beyond a country’s borders – ‘Give Your Vote’ was an important step.

My “leftie” opposition and distaste for the Harper Conservatives notwithstanding, I am not calling for you to vote for one party or another this May. What I am asking, though, is that when you vote, you consider someone beyond your own personal or national interests. When Canadians elect a government, they elect a Canadian government for the world.

U of T’s most artistic bathrooms

Start your journey on east side of campus with a visit to the Burwash Dining Hall handicapped men’s room. There, on the inside of the snowy-white stall door, you can find a charming marker-painting of a bird on a ledge. A surprisingly delicate and beautiful work of bathroom-art scribbling, you may still feel slightly self-conscious when the bird won’t stop looking at you.

Victoria College, it turns out, is a veritable cornucopia of charming stall etchings. Make your way to the girls’ stalls in Old Vic, where you can find a caricature of an obese man with skinny legs (rendered in the evocative medium of white-out), provocatively drawn near an old “Drop Fees” sticker.

Trinity College bathroom art is more conceptual. After you’ve worked your way through Vic, head over to the ladies’ room next to the dining hall at St. Hilda’s for a spirited, poetic back-and-forth exchange about reality. The use of artfully-placed prose against a spare stall backdrop, this work challenges us to rethink the parameters of what we would normally consider “visual art.”

Looking for a (wash)room with a view? The venerable Hart House second floor ladies’ room offers a picturesque survey of the building’s outdoor quad. Scope out frisbee locations, admire the hedge-cutting guy, or simply contemplate the infinite beauty of the good old sunshine, all whilst relieving oneself.

When you go to the bathroom, are you ever in the mood for a feeling of Kafkaesque disorentation? The restrooms in the Munk Centre Basement offer vivid, black-and-white chequered floors that will make you feel like you’re playing an existential chess game. Set against the white-tile walls, the bathroom appears at once both tastefully minimalist and garishly challenging.

Finally, at the corner of Hoskin and St. George, why not visit “your Catholic home on campus” (Newman Centre, for those heathens not in-the-know) and consider the infinite grace of the good Lord’s artistic and architecural skills? The gorgeous, old-fashioned wood-panneled bathroom comes decked with a classy faux-marble sink, gorgeous mirror with roccoco frame, and, best of all, a glass window of a ship on a beautiful aqua-blue ocean. As with the best Catholic Rennaisance art, the Newman Centre’s bathroom confirms the long-lost eleventh commandment, “More shalt be more!”

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Burwash men’s

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Munk Centre

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Old Vic men’s

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Old Vic basement

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Pratt Library

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Pratt Library

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Newman Centre

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Newman Centre

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Hart House

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The Varsity office. The door doesn’t lock, so we hold it shut with empty water jugs.

Champions!


Women’s Field Hockey

CIS Champions
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Kyesia O’Neale, Angela Jennings, Justine Branco, Heather Haughn, Kaelan Watson , Emily Roy, Kelley Lusk, Siobhan Gordon, Hannah Tighe, Lauren Mansfield, Katherine McNeill, Alex Thicke, Frankie Vondrejs, Gabriella Permell, Yvonne Langen, Alexandra Evanyshyn, Natalie Provenzano, Britt Siu, Jessica Aun, Samantha Lyzun, and Kathryn Williams. Photo by Jamie MacDonald/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Swimming

OUA Champions
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Taylor Bond, Zack Chetrat, Frank Despond, David Dorian, Luke Hall, Steven Hibberd, Jeremie Holdom, Emil Horvath, Steven Kalaba, Andrew Kennedy, Peter Kruzyk, James Le, Troy MacDonald, Joel Rombough, Curtis Samuel, Mike Smerek, George Soules, Zach Summerhayes, Andy Townsend, Pavel Tselichtchev, Marty Tzolov, and Eric Vanderbeek. Photo courtesy Guelph Athletics

Women’s Fencing

OUA Champions

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Julia Barette, Kiah Bransch, Emma Burns, Kelly Doyle, Kristina Han, Fidelia Ho, Miranda Jarvis, Katherine Magyarody, Jodi Marr, Natalie Melton, Nicole See-Too, Jessica Taylor, and Mengqi Wang. Photo by Hannah Liu/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Water Polo

OUA Champions
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Trevor Robinson, Ian Weir, Daniel Pyette, Brook Ruffo, Marko Brasic, Julian Filice, Luke Spooner, Tanner Regan, Milos Radojcic, Alan Chung, Paulo Ruiz, Michael Chapman, Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, and Tyler Robinson. Photo by Tyler Ball/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Soccer

OUA Champions
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Russell Moore, John Smits, Brian Mittag, Neil D’Silva, Darragh McGee, Yuriy Czoli, Yannis Gianniotis, Ryan Sciacchitano, Nordo Gooden, Mario Kovacevic, Alexander Raphael, Michael Brathwaite, Nicolas Girard, Scott Nesbitt, Geoffrey Borgmann, Dylan Bams, Federico Vaccaro, Ezequiel Lubocki, Ryan Tawil, Jesse Assing, Jean Giroux, and Lawrence Buchan. Photo by Michael P. Hall/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Having a good time?

VARSITY CONTRIBUTOR

A new study by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management breaks down consumers’ thought processes when estimating a good time for events or products.

Professor Claire Tsai believes “consumption time plays a central role in consumer decisions, and it is understudied by consumer researchers. Most people think disecting an event will always increase time estimates. We show this is not true for negative events and this finding has important policy implications.”

The authors conducted three experiments with 500 participants to show that consumers’ predicted consumption time is systematically influenced by whether they predict the consumption experience to be positive or negative. If the consumer sees the event as positive, then the estimation of time spent will be greater than if the consumer views the event as negative. This is so because “people hold a lay belief that they spend more time on more pleasurable events and less time on less pleasurable events.”

Therefore, if a consumer foresees spending more time on an event or product, such as online social networking, workout equipment, unlimited parking passes, then the consumer is more likely to purchase the product. The consumer is interested in getting the best value for their money.

In one experiment, participants were asked to predict how much time they would spend on weekend social activities. This overarching category consisted of sub-activities such as blind dates, birthday parties, and phone conversations. Once the event was described as either pleasant or unpleasant, half of the participants made a time estimate for the overarching event, and the other half made time estimates for the individual components. The findings were that when the event was described as pleasant, unpacking increased enjoyment. When the opposite was true, unpacking increased displeasure and reduced time estimates of the event.

Bill C-393 and the Failure of Canadian Democracy

Good News! The House of Commons passed Bill C-393, a proposed law to create greater access to life-saving medicines to treat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and other public health problems in developing countries.

Bad news. The Harper Government killed it.

The battle to improve Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) has been a seven year long fight. Recently, 70,000 Canadians kept up the fight by mobilising in demonstrations, signing petitions, and contacting their democratic representatives in Ottawa.

And we won. On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the majority of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons voted in favour of Bill C-393. The Bill was passed by a large margin, with 172 MPs voting in favour and 111 voting against.

Humanitarian activists such as Stephen Lewis and James Orbinski, and civil society organizations like the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network rejoiced at Canada’s monumental humanitarian decision.

Then, Bill C-393 was sent to the Senate of Canada. Once passed in the House of Commons, all Parliamentary bills must be passed by the Senate in order to become law.

So, with mere days remaining on the clock before the likely end of Parliament and a federal election, what happened to Bill C-393 in the Senate?

Bill C-393 died in the Senate, stuck in limbo because it has been prevented from coming to a vote. The Senate had five opportunities on five separate days to pass Bill c-393. Yet everyday, Conservative Senators moved to adjourn the debate to the next sitting day, until the House of Commons voted that it had lost confidence in the Harper government, and Parliament was dissolved on Friday, March 25.

An Undemocratic Scandal

Let’s be clear. The Conservative government leadership and Big Pharma were Bill C-393’s only enemies, and had a deliberate strategy to kill Bill C-393 all along, using its majority of their appointed Senators in the Senate.

This is the only plausible explanation for why the Harper government allowed its backbenchers to vote their conscience on the bill, while whipping its cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries into voting against the bill in the House of Commons on March 9.

Allowed a free vote, an impressive total of 26 Conservative MPs voted in favour of Bill C-393 — a significant show of support from within that caucus, given the Prime Minister’s opposition and the partial whipping of the party. But when you control the unelected Senate, as Harper now does thanks to having appointed many new Conservative senators, what the majority supports in the democratically-elected House of Commons can end up being meaningless.

Then there was the memo. Industry Minister Tony Clement sent a memo out to all Conservative Senators urging them to vote against the Bill C-393. As critics have pointed out, the memo repeated numerous inaccurate claims.

What was the result? Conservative Senator Stephen Greene, delivering the only speech against the bill in the Senate, read out much of the memo word for word – before then moving to adjourn further debate, keeping the bill in limbo.

Given the support from all other quarters in both the House of Commons and the Senate, the only barrier to passing Bill C-393 was the Conservative government, which stalled the bill day after day until time ran out.

The current Senators aren’t new at the bill-killing business. The death of Bill C-393 is brought to you by the same Senate that did away with the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010, which also had majority MP support in the House of Commons

“The Senate is supposed to be a chamber of ‘sober second thought’,” says Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “But what we saw with Bill C-393 was the use of the Senate to veto a bill opposed by the government even though it enjoyed widespread support in the House of Commons, even from all parties.”

A Call to Action

The federal election on Monday, May 2, 2011 is a window of opportunity to advance Canada’s commitment to greater access to essential medicines worldwide.

What can you do to ensure that the next Parliament supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime?

  1. Participate in your riding’s all-candidates meeting(s). Make the death of Bill C-393 an election issue. Ask your current Member of Parliament and the candidates running against him or her about their commitment to reform the broken Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime. For more information: www.aidslaw.ca/camr

  2. Contact your Member of Parliament. Find out how your MP voted on Bill C-393 in the House of Commons. For example, the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus is located in the riding of Member of Parliament Bob Dechert, who voted against Bill C-393. Live in Mississauga-Erindale? Call (905) 277-1500 or email info@bobdechert.ca and voice your concern on Dechert’s opposition.

  3. Vote. Remember: the federal government dictates the country’s foreign policy. Vote for a candidate who supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime and other initiatives to respond to global health and development needs.

May 2 is fast approaching. Given this kind of record on a global humanitarian initiative, do you really want to leave Stephen Harper, Tony Clement and their government in charge of Canada’s role in the world?

Food en vogue

It’s a human need, you tell yourself. Why feel guilty? Just looking at those photos on glossy magazine paper makes you salivate. You want to be there. The sin! But like any attractive photo, we must ask ourselves — is it real?

Food photography is based on the principle of making food look as real as possible. It is also an art form that is contingent on the motives, budget, supplies, and the time frame involved for each shoot.

So what does it take to get appealing photos of food? The bulk of this job goes to the food stylist, who is responsible for bringing in the right tools, and seamlessly setting up the food for the food photographer.

The hardest task for the food stylist is to make the perfect “hero,” the food item that will be the star of the shoot as well as the best representative of the chosen product. Getting a hero right can take many attempts and a lot of time. You know when an actor in a typical food commercial takes a huge bite of the advertised product? Well, if that one shot does not work out, the food stylist needs to go back to square one and prepare a new hero.

A good example of a time-consuming take would be a “pizza pull,” a shot of a slice being taken out of the pie. According to some food stylists, a good pizza pull takes about half a day to get right. Mozzarella sticks have to be placed horizontally, to enhance the cheese pull effect, toppings have to be fresh, and the actual “pull” requires top-notch timing. If a pull doesn’t work out, the stylist may even attempt to reheat the pizza, although it is very difficult to prevent overcooking.

How about ingredients? Food photographers usually can’t photograph the natural ingredients of products, because the food they use becomes wilted, stale, or discoloured. As a result, many food stylists use a variety of chemicals, brushes, or blow torch techniques to style the hero. (A word to the wise: don’t eat the hero. Ever.)

For example, milk is usually replaced with heavy cream. Ice cream is usually done with mashed potatoes, while “fruity” ice cream usually has pieces of fruit strategically placed in it. Ice cubes are fake, expensive, and made from acrylic. Tea is usually a mixture of coffee and water, and water is added to beverages to make it easier for light to shine through and add sparkle.

On an even more bizarre note, liquid household cleaners with pine or orange oil base are lightly brushed onto the edges of cheese in cheeseburgers to make them look freshly melted. Turkeys and chickens are basted with a browning spray. According to Delores Cluster, it takes two to three turkeys to film a shot of a turkey being brought to a table, and up to 20 turkeys to film a tight shot of a turkey being sliced for the camera.

Camera tricks are also used to trick portion sizes and to brighten the colour of the food. For example, food stylists tend to shoot close-ups of the food, and arrange the food from the perspective of the consumer.

The Food Network has inspired millions to look before they eat. But like all things too pretty to be true, there’s always a story. Thankfully, this story can end where you want it to — your tummy.

Hearing Voices

It all began when Marius Romme, a Dutch psychiatrist at the University of Maastricht, saw a patient suffering from acute depression. The patient, Patsy Hage, reported hearing voices. However, she found that reading psychologist Julian Jaynes’ book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind helped her cope with her experiences.

In Origin, Jaynes proposed that around 3,000 years ago, the human mind existed in a non-conscious, bicameral state. This meant that information in the right hemisphere of the brain was transmitted to the left through auditory hallucinations.

Romme advised Hage to discuss the theory with other people dealing with similar hallucinations, and arranged for her to appear on a Dutch television show. About one third of the 450 volunteers who called in to participate claimed they were able to live with their voices without causing distress in their lives. From there, Romme decided to invite 20 members of this group to speak at a conference for voice hearers, and share their knowledge about coping with their experiences.

Such was the beginning of the Hearing Voices Movement, an alternative approach to managing the hearing of voices, or auditory hallucinations, as they are known in psychiatric terminology. The ethos of the movement is to approach these voices as a normal, though unusual variation of personal experience — an acceptable quirk that can be positive or negative depending on the individual, not an experience that needs to be suppressed at all costs. Rather, it suggests in itself, hearing voices is not a sign of mental illness, even though it can often be distressing.

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“It is very important to stress that in our view, voices are an aspect of human differentness, rather than a mental health problem,” says Romme. “As with homosexuality, which was also regarded by psychiatry in recent times as an illness, the main issue we have to confront is the denial of the human rights to people who hear voices. And our main task is to change the way society perceives the experience.”

The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) — known to many as the bible of psychiatry — does, in a sense, affirm these ideas. Auditory hallucinations are not in themselves a disorder, but one of several symptoms that need to co-exist with others in order to prompt a diagnosis of a specific disorder.

When disorders like schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder (all of which can prompt psychotic episodes) are diagnosed, the treatment is often a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. These drugs can help improve the patient’s mood, diminish anxiety, and suppress psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

Very often, however, patients don’t respond positively to this treatment. About 25 to 30 per cent of those taking anti-psychotics still hear voices. Furthermore, this class of medications can often have undesirable side effects, like involuntary spasms (known as tardive dyskinesia), insulin insensitivity, sexual dysfunction, and significant weight gain. Some patients report that they become numb, and are unable to function beyond basic activity.

While patients under psychiatric care are often discouraged from talking about the content of their hallucinations, the Hearing Voices Movement argues that voices hold important connections to the hearer’s experiences and emotions. Furthermore, hearers’ claims about the origins or identities of the voices are never questioned.

Brigitte Soucy, a representative of Le Pavois, a voice-hearing network in Québec, emphasises that “the services we offer to voice-hearers are in complementation, not opposition, to psychiatry.” Soucy notes that they are particularly useful to those people whose voices resist any traditional treatment.

“It a service useful for the individual that feels lonely and isolated due to these experiences, that feels powerless facing their voice-hearing, that feels misunderstood by his or her peers, that finds these experiences detrimental to their qualify of life,” states Soucy.

In fact, some research supports the effectiveness of the approach. A study published in 2004 in the British Journal of Psychiatry proposes that the stigma related to voice-hearing, whether experienced in everyday life or psychiatric treatment, makes the voices themselves more anguishing for patients. Another study published in 1994 contends that the effect of voices on patients is related to beliefs about their origin and intent.

According to Le Pavois, members report that they feel empowered, and in control of what they originally considered to be unavoidable symptoms. They learn how to negotiate and challenge their voices, helping to dispel negative feelings and distress.

What the Hearing Voices Movement represents is that resources for psychiatric patients and interested parties is undoubtedly growing. Considering the wealth of experiences found among them, variety can only be a good thing.

Why going to school is bad for you

Everyone knows that feeling. After leaving a building, happy to be outside in the fresh air, your joy is suddenly thwarted by the smelly exhaust of a TTC bus driving by. You grimace and hold your breath for a few seconds before continuing on your way, trying not to think about what you just inhaled.

This goes on all over the city. With millions of cars and buses constantly spewing out toxic fumes, how do our lungs survive? How does this affect our health? And should we avoid outdoor activities like jogging and (gasp!) shopping, that expose us to diesel engine exhaust?

There are no easy answers. Scientists are only beginning to learn how our lungs deal with air pollution. It’s not surprising that preliminary studies have found that pollution negatively affects our overall health, causing higher rates of cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems. But more research is needed, and Toronto is a hot spot for studies of air pollution.

One Toronto expert is Dr. Chung-Wai Chow, an assistant professor of respirology at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, and a leading researcher in the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research, or SOCAAR. Recently, Chow gave a public lecture to describe her current research which measures environmental pollutants, where they’re most abundant, and how they affect lung function. Ultimately, her research will identify the most polluted areas of the city, and identify medical treatments to counteract the negative effects of pollution.

Chow began her lecture by reviewing the well-established effects of air pollution on health. For example, people who live in more polluted areas of Los Angeles are more likely to have a faster progression of heart disease than those that live in less polluted areas. Lower levels of air pollution are associated with increased life expectancy in many cities throughout the world. What’s more, the number of immune cells present in the lungs is higher in people living closer to roads, indicating that their immune systems are trying to fight off the harmful pollution.
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Taken together, these and other observations indicate that air pollution is likely to affect our health in ways that are harmful enough to be detected. But should we all run screaming for the countryside? Not necessarily. Rural areas are not without their own potent sources of air pollution. Small engines on tractors and chainsaws, as well as the beloved Zamboni, all offer a powerful punch of air pollution.

Although it isn’t entirely clear how these pollutants affect our lungs, or whether our lungs are able to recover, it is known that pollution increases the amount of inflammation in them. This inflammation is harmful because it causes damage to the lung tissue, ultimately reducing lung function. Such inflammation is even worse for people with pre-existing lung problems such as asthma or cystic fibrosis.

Chow is currently researching the inflammation issue further, using mouse models in her work in order to determine exactly how lungs are most affected by pollutants, and to identify drug targets to reduce inflammation in the lungs. Her laboratory is making great progress, having already identified syk, a protein whose presence is associated with higher levels of lung inflammation. The goal now is to identify chemical inhibitors of syk to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution-induced lung inflammation. Eventually these mouse studies will pave the way for the development of human treatments. But what can we do to protect ourselves in the meantime?

Although air pollution is a health concern, it is important to keep several things in mind. Pollutant levels change over time, even within the same day. Typically, these levels correlate with the amount of diesel fuel being used in the area.

Chow discussed recent research by the SOCAAR group that measured pollutant levels at varying distances from major roads. They found that pollution levels were higher downwind of major roads when compared to the same distance upwind. Similarly, air pollution near highway 404 was highest near the road, and tapered off about 200 meters away.

People on TTC buses and subway platforms have higher pollution exposures than those who are on subway cars or are walking. Areas that have a constantly high level of traffic are unlikely to see much fluctuation, whereas areas that have fluctuations in traffic levels would also have fluctuations in pollutant levels.

Despite these findings, Chow stressed that the health costs of air pollution are unlikely to outweigh the obvious health benefits of being active outside. So don’t be scared to cycle around Toronto, go jogging outside on a nice day, or bask in the sun on a patio!