Building a better ballot

Maybe you’ve gotten a flyer in the mail or been invited to join a Facebook group. Your student union is pressing pretty hard for it. You can see ads, in 25 languages, explaining how on Oct. 10 Ontario will hold a referendum on switching from our current, “First- Past-the-Post” electoral system to a new “Mixed Member Proportional” one. Are you still confused?

The ads, websites, YouTube videos and the rest, are all part of a $6.8 million public information campaign launched by Elections Ontario to help Ontarians make an informed choice on the referendum slated for the October 10 general provincial election.

As of late June, a poll commissioned by Elections Ontario showed that only 28 per cent of voters even knew of the referendum, never mind its potential consequences.

According to University of Toronto Students Union VP external Dave Scrivener, this ignorance persists. “A lot of people have no idea it’s even happening, which is a pretty massive problem.”

Scrivener points to a recent, wellpublicized referendum on electoral reform that narrowly failed in British Columbia. The Ontario referendum, by comparison, is obscure.

UTSU, and more recently, the Canadian Federation of Students, have both decided to back the “yes” side of the referendum.

Scrivener expressed hope that MMP will put greater emphasis on the popular vote, with less depending on swing ridings and more on issues, including student ones.

Elections Ontario’s website on the referendum (www.yourbigdecision. ca), deals with basic questions like how an MMP ballot would look and work, but leaves the big question, how the new system could change Ontario’s politics, unanswered. Partisan websites are stepping in to fill the gap.

According to Dr. Lawrence LeDuc, professor of political science at U of T, “we’re only guessing what’s going to happen because no one knows with any certainty until the system is in place what it will be like.”

LeDuc is, however, a respected authority on electoral systems, and argues that the best way to guess what MMP might mean for Ontario is through comparative politics: “you can establish some parameters because there are models like this working in other places.”

New Zealand moved recently to MMP from a system like Ontario’s present one. Scotland uses MMP and, like Ontario, is part of a federation. Germany has used MMP longer of any country, and so is a useful indicator of what MMP could bring in the long run. All three countries are dominated by coalition politics, yet all three, LeDuc points out, have stable governments.

LeDuc quick to note that a lot of what could come out of MMP will be determined by circumstance and the political culture that emerges over time—factors that are difficult to predict. Some of that culture could come as responses to actions voters may not like: the formation of surprise coalitions, for example, or short periods of instability when there is a closely divided legislature. Critics of MMP have drawn comparisons between it and the somewhat similar systems used in Italy, which is overrun by small parties, and Israel, with its divisive and fractious politics, for example.

“The system that is being proposed by the citizen’s assembly is not at all like that,” said LeDuc. “So why people even bring it up, I don’t know, but I guess they think they can frighten people with those kinds of references.”

U of T Research Review

Researchers

From U of T’s Department of Geology, lead authour Gopalan Srinivasan et. al.

Method

The subjects of the study were tiny zircon crystals found in volcanically produced meteorites (eucrites). The team used an ion microprobe located at the Swedish National Museum to determine the amount of hafnium-128 that had decayed into tungsten-182 and used the known half-life of 9 million years to infer the age of crystallization of the zircon crystals present. These eucrites were collected in Antarctica and are believed to have originated from Vesta, a sizeable asteroid located in the asteroid belt present between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

Variables

It is thought that Vesta most likely formed in a method similar to Earth. A rapid heating process, caused by a high amount of radiation present, cooked Vesta and caused it to melt into a core made up of metal and silicates. The missing piece of information was the exact point at which this event occurred.

Findings The team concluded that Vesta was melted down less than 10 million years after the solar system’s formation 4.5 billion years ago. The steady and measurable decay of hafnium allowed the team to pinpoint this date of formation rather accurately–especially considering the length of time involved.

Implications

Knowing when an object such as Vesta formed provides us with another event we can place on the time line of our solar system. As well, it provides further information on how and under what conditions planets and smaller space objects form.

Future Steps

Further study of meteorites from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter could corroborate and expand upon the team’s fi ndings. As a vast majority of asteroids in our solar system are found in this ancient scrap yard of space debris, understanding when and how it formed is an important step in fully describing our solar system’s history.

Source

Science 317 (5836): pages 345–347, July 20, 2007

Researchers

Professor Marla Sokolowski and postdoctoral fellow Ken Dawson-Scully of UTM.

Findings

The team discovered that a single genetic pathway could be manipulated to protect fruit fl ies and locusts from neural damage due to extreme heat stress.

Method A gene responsible for foraging behaviour in fruit fl ies also produces a protein known as PKG. The team increased temperature levels by 5 degrees Celsius per minute starting at close to room temperature (22 degrees).

Results The flies that had higher levels of PKG experienced neural problems at lower temperatures compared to flies with lower levels of PKG. Additional work by Gary Armstrong and Mel Robertson of Queen’s University showed that locusts injected with a PKG inhibitor while under rising heat exhibited quickly increased protection of their neural areas.

Implications A fever is the body’s natural and benefi – cial response to some form of infection. A higher temperature makes it diffi cult for invaders to carry out their work and allows the body’s immune system to take care of the threat. In small children, a long-lasting, severe fever (over 42 degrees Celsius) can sometimes result in brain damage. The PKG pathway exists in other organisms besides fl ies and locusts. It is conceivable that this pathway, or a similar one, may function in much the same way in humans. If this is the case, when a child is undergoing a severe fever and risks neurological damage, inhibitors to reduce the proteins created by the pathway may reduce damage like in the fl ies studied.

Source http://www.news.utoronto.ca/ bin6/070827-3364.asp

Outreach fires up support for community

On Friday, U of T’ers gave a little back to the community. Eight-hundred students of all years and programs volunteered at 42 different agencies around Toronto for U of T’s annual community service program Outreach. This was the event’s second year, and the students involved called it a complete success.

I began by visiting the students volunteering at the Mon Sheong Home for the Aged on D’arcy Street. I found students there repainting a fence on the outside deck of the home, and looking forward to working personally with the residents later in the day.

Ahmad Khan, a third year Biophysics major, was enthusiastic about volunteering on the beautiful summer day.

“I guess we spend so much time in the academic realm of things that we should do some social work just to complement our academic experience,” mused Khan, who participated last year as well.

“It’s good to help out the community, to give back something.”

I made my way up McCaul Street to see what was going on at the Salvation Army Hope Shelter. There, students were supposed to serve a barbeque lunch to some 110 men staying at the shelter, but lunchtime came and went without a sign of the outreachers, much to the distress of the shelter staff. “This was going to be the last barbeque, and we were going to hold it over the long weekend, but we decided to take advantage of U of T’s outreach and hold it today,” said shelter chaplain and volunteer coordinator Klaus Dimytruk.

Will this affect relations with U of T in the future?

“No, no. I understand that things happen. I’m not putting the blame on anyone, we’ll make the best of the situation,” he said. At least there were no hard feelings, but why didn’t the students show up?

Dawn Britton, coordinator of Out- reach at the Centre for Community Partnership, said problems like this are part of the challenges of running a volunteer program.

“Some students registered and didn’t follow through,” she said. “ I personally feel quite badly about what happened,” she added.

Aside from that mishap, Britton said she had heard a lot of positive feedback about the program from the students. Well, that makes two of us.

Pop until you drop

An intriguing news story popped up this past week involving that popular snack—and staple of movie- going audiences the world over: popcorn. It is a curious tale involving a man, a blog, and years of popcorn abuse.

In July, a pulmonary specialist at the National Jewish Medical and Research Centre in Denver, Colorado, sent a letter to federal agencies warning of the potential for microwave popcorn to cause lung disease in consumers. Dr. Cecile Rose described the case of a man who developed a potentially fatal disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans (informally called “popcorn lung”) after years of eating microwave popcorn several times a day. The disease is known to occur among popcorn factory workers who are exposed to extremely high doses of the causative agent diacetyl on a regular basis. This documented case of a consumer suffering from the same affliction set off a cascade of concern and immediate action by the companies involved.

The letter was made known to the public via an Internet blog called The Pump Handle. Administered by David Michaels of the George Washington School of Public Health, the story appeared this past Tuesday and made waves right away. The next day, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) issued a statement recommending that “its members who manufacture butter flavors containing diacetyl for use in microwave popcorn consider reducing the diacetyl content of these flavors to the extent possible.” Soon after, ConAgra, makers of the well-known Orville Redenbacher brand of popcorn announced they were going to replace diacetyl with another flavouring agent within a year. Other companies, such as the Weaver Popcorn Company, promised to stop using diacetyl and replace it with other compounds. With all this noise over diacetyl, one might be asking: what exactly is it and where is it found?

As described in FEMA’s statement, “Diacetyl is naturally occurring in a wide variety of foods including butter, milk, cheese, fruits, wine and beer and provides a ‘buttery’ flavor to butter itself and other foods.” After cooking flavored microwave popcorn, that powerful buttery odour you smell is airborne diacetyl. Its official chemical name is 2,3-Butanedione and it is even found as a component of cigarette smoke.

It is highly likely that diacetyl actually poses little risk to consumers. The afflicted man in question, Wayne Watson, is definitely an unusual case. Clearly an avid fan of popcorn, he told doctors that he popped two to three bags of popcorn every day for about ten years. On top of this, he would inhale deeply from the freshly popped bag because he enjoyed the smell so much. When the air levels of diacetyl were tested inside the man’s home, the levels were found to be comparable to areas of a popcorn plant where similarly affected employees worked.

Although approved by the FDA as a flavouring agent, diacetyl has been known to cause health problems in people exposed to high doses. In March of 2004, a former popcorn plant employee won a $20 million lawsuit against International Flavors. The man claims he received permanent lung damage— so bad that he is awaiting a double lung transplant—after only a year of working at the Gilster-Mary Lee plant in Jasper, Missouri. An additional 29 former employees are also taking suit against the company.

The name “popcorn lung” is almost too light-hearted a name for such a serious disease. There is no known cure for bronchiolitis obliterans, besides a double lung transplant. Inflammation and scarring of lung tissue occur in affected patients, with lung capacity being reduced to 16 to 21%. Standard capacity for healthy people is around 80%. What is more, the disease is difficult to identify. Its symptoms, such as dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath, could be indicative of any number of respiratory illnesses. The fact that Dr. Rose was able to identify Mr. Watson’s affliction was itself a stroke of luck, as she is one of only dozens of physicians in the US who are familiar with the disease.

Mr Watson’s story spread through mainstream media much like an epidemic. After being first reported on a blog, it spread from one point and was soon found on most news websites, even making the front page of Yahoo. Although stories of lawsuits and worker safety have trickled down the newswire over the past several years, Mr. Watson’s tale effectively broke the story in the mainstream media.

The dark side to the story is that it seems as if civilian casualties are the only way to bring a serious health issue front and centre. Had it not been for Mr. Watson and his popcorn sniffing ways, it may have taken many more years of unpublicized litigation and numerous lawsuits before the companies involved began taking steps to stop using the substance and save their workers from a crippling illness. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that a study of the chemicals in popcorn was underway. The results have yet to be released to the public.

New school would “feed” U of T

Toronto may be facing a new crunch of incoming undergratuates, far beyond the present capacity of the city’s universities to accept.

U of T’s president, David Naylor, was recently quoted in The Toronto Star, claiming the GTA will have to deal with a boom of up to 40,000 incoming undergraduates within the next 15 years.

“That’s basically another university unless we find some smart way to handle the crutch,” said Naylor.

His tentative solution is simple and direct.

Make a new university.

Calling his proposed school a “feeder university,” Naylor suggested its students might have the option of graduating from it with a bachelor’s degree, or transferring to one of the older, more established schools to prepare for graduate studies.

Naylor floated the idea to the presidents of Ryerson, York, and the fiveyear- old University of Ontario Institute of Technology, as a way to make room for the increasing number of future first-year students entering university in the GTA.

Other ideas thought up by the GTA’s education leaders include creating a fourth U of T campus, a second Ryerson campus on Jarvis Street, or force more students to to attend university outside Toronto.

The presidents also suggested that a university currently outside the GTA might create a satellite campus in Toronto.

The higher-learning boom is thought to be largely a result of a sharp rise in immigration to the GTA.

A recent University of Alberta study showed that immigrant youths tend to aim higher than native-born youths when it comes to education.

The study found that 79 per cent of visible-minority immigrant youths hope to earn at least one university degree in their future, compared with 57 per cent of Canadian-born, non-visible minority students.

It suggests that the parents of visible- minority immigrant students generally have higher levels of education than their Canadian-born counterparts, and express more optimism for their children’s education. About 88 per cent of visible-minority immigrant parents who participated in the study expressed hope that their children would obtain a university degree, compared to 59 per cent of Canadianborn, non-visible minority parents.

The study also reported that visible- minority immigrant students also tend to get higher grades and have higher levels of school engagement than Canadian-born students.

Other causes of the GTA undergraduate boom include 2003’s double cohort of grade and grade 13 graduates, and the job market’s increasing demand for applicants that have a university degree.

Great Expectations

Going into the season, men’s baseball coach Dan Lang believed his team was primed to take a step forward. After finishing third in the OUA with a 10-8 record in 2006, and with top-ranked Brock (14-4 last season) facing a major roster overhaul, things looked promising – at least on paper.

“I don’t think Brock will be as good as in years past,” said Lang. “Their roster has a lot of young players this season, while our team is largely the same group that made it to the playoffs last year, only with more experience.” Despite losing all three games to the Badgers in 2006 (all close, lowscoring affairs), Lang is confident that his savvy, veteran-laden squad can leap-frog a relatively green’ Badgers roster in the standings.

With the current talent on the Varsity Blues, it’s tough to argue with his logic. Still in the fold are OUA allstars Jake Gallo, Travis Skelton and Mike Dahiroc. Gallo, 2006’s pitcher of the year, leads a staff which was among the best in the Ontario division last year, while outfielder Travis Skelton and second baseman Dahiroc form a uniform order for the Blues.

When asked about any expectations for 2007, team captain Nick Cunjak merely echoed the sentiments of his coach. Cunjak, the most senior member of the team and a masters student at OISE, believes that it’s not a question of if his team will claim top spot, but when: “I told the guys the goal is not for a perfect season. That’s difficult to do and can’t be our expectation. All we can do is work hard because talent alone may make you a good team, but it takes a lot of work to become great. We rank right up there with the best in the OUA and there’s no reason we shouldn’t contend for a title.”

The Blues won’t have to wait long to test their mettle against their rivals as they travel to Community Park this Saturday for a double dip with the Badgers. Brock comes in limping with a 1-2 record to start the season, but after all the build up coming into the meeting, there’s no way Toronto will take this Badgers team lightly, especially if it is only playing possum.

Toronto learned that lesson this past weekend, when they seemed clearly underwhelmed by their opponents from Laurier. The Golden Hawks took advantage of a Blues team that, as team captain Nick Cunjuk said, was just “not as hungry against lesser competition.”

In game one, Laurier took an early lead going up by three runs in the fourth inning against a listless Blues squad. The Hawks out-hit the Blues 8-5, and Toronto simply failed to execute, registering three errors that led directly to runs by the opposing team. Despite this, U of T was still in the game until the very end, tying the game with two runs in the seventh, before Laurier eventually broke through with the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 win.

Shortstop Damien Eccelton led the way for the Golden Hawks and finished the game 2-4 with two RBIs, while pitcher Brad Binns went the final six innings without giving up an earned run. On the other side of the mound, pitcher Tyler Wilson had a rough outing for the Blues, allowing three runs to score in his four innings, while the vaunted Toronto offence was largely silent with the exception of first baseman Jake Lekas, who chimed in with two RBIs. The Blues would end the Saturday series 0-2 against Laurier, desperate to redeem themselves in Sunday’s tilt with Waterloo.

Anticipating the importance of momentum heading into their matchup with Brock this weekend, Toronto showed that they were more than just a paper tiger, and really took it to the Warriors. The Blues scored early and often on Sunday, and looked more like a team with great expectations in defeating their opponents 7-3. Their record now stands at a respectable 2-2 to begin the season, but it’s hardly the start that coach and players envisioned from such a talented group.

Frosh grand finale!

Walied Khogali is frantically directing traffic. Not a usual part of the job description for the UTMSU president, but marching 1,200 rowdy frosh across Huron street calls for some improvisation.

Motorcycle cops on duty stood by their parked bikes cracking jokes as Khogali ran after an ambulance, its driver unknowingly stopped in a lane about to be invaded by frosh for UTSU’s annual orientation parade.

How was the event shaping up, in a word?

“Amazing!” said Khogali, but Danish Khanani had another word for it.

“This is madness!” shouted the UTM frosh leader at the top of his lungs, doing a passable imitation of that first guy to get killed in The 300.

“Madness?” boomed his legion of frosh in unison. “This is Erindale! ”

Though UTM brought the largest contingent, three campuses worth of frosh, representing the St. George colleges, and Scarborough and Erindale campuses, filled King’s College Circle and back campus field at Friday’s orientation festivities.

With them were the all the usual suspects: student union reps, the Trojan condoms mascot in full gladiatorial regalia, and corporate shills from RBC inauspiciously sporting prison fatigues while signing students up for bank accounts.

In the hours leading up to the parade, students bumped shoulders for UTSU Clubs Day, where representatives from some of U of T’s 400-plus campus clubs rubbed elbows with new students, and anyone else looking for free swag.

Club leaders eager to meet, greet, and sign up new members cheerfully passed out t-shirts, highlighters, Frisbees, and Bibles to all takers.

“You should have a look, there’s a bunch of free stuff,” advised one fourth-year student, jostling away from the premises with an armful of agendas, pens, and a Ziploc bag labeled “evidence” containing a fresh pair of gym socks (courtesy of the RBC jailbirds).

The summer heat and sweltering humidity didn’t seem to bother most, but don’t tell that to the guy in the astronaut suit.

“It’s really hot, but it gets a lot of attention” said Derek Lee, copresident of U of T’s Astronomy and Space Exploration club, smiling gamely from inside his spacesuit.

Was the mission a success? The club collected 500 emails in one day, compared to 400 for all of frosh week last year.

Many a student was drawn by U of T’s Hip Hop Headz, whose outpost by Soldiers’ Tower invited passerby to sample what Albert Le, a secondyear Economics and Philosophy student involved with the Headz, calls “the four elements of hip hop: MCing, breakdancing, DJing and graffiti.”

Also present was the unofficial fifth element of any good club recruitment: free pizza. At first, the Headz only gave slices to students bold enough to “bust a move for pizza,” but eventually they relented.

“Lots of people are pretty shy, I guess,” mused Albert.

“What are you writing?” demanded a fiery frosh entering commerce at UTM, as I jotted something down. I told her I was writing about them for The Varsity and she opened up.

“You should tell them that UTSC and St. George suck!” she offered, adding “I want to see my fucking name in the paper!” though she only identified herself as Niwaz. [Editor’s note: of course, you can’t hide from The Varsity. We got her full name, address, and baby pictures, just to prove we could. They’re in the office, in a filing cabinet labelled ‘Just in Case’.]

The parade, once it got underway, drew onlookers all along its route along Bloor and down Yonge street.

Going negative

Frosh parade, while nominally an event that brings all U of T’s campuses and colleges together, is mainly a chance for each group to show off how much better they are then the rest.

In wildness and sheer numbers, UTM’s militia of rowdy frosh ruled the day from their position at the head of the parade. Just because their dominance was secure, though, didn’t mean they were above taunting everyone else.

“What do we think of St. George? Fuck St. George!”

“What do we think of Scarborough? Fuck Scarborough!”,and countless obscenities heaped upon engineering students were among their arsenal, chanted with rehearsed precision—and helpful gestures—by the Erindale mob.

My own college, UC, disappointed with their attempts (“You can’t spell ‘seduction’ without UC?”) but when a trio of Ryerson malcontents somehow infiltrated the parade and started chanting “sucks to be! U of T!” the normally tame UC crowd rallied and the rogues were quickly dispatched.

Though they had only a third of UTM’s numbers, scrappy underdog Woodsworth, whose past frosh activities included a siege on New College, held their own, with a catcall to cook up everyone.

“Your priest touches you!” they chided St. Mike’s.

“You can’t spell ‘douche’ without UC!” they called, turning UC’s own godawful chant against them.

Perhaps sensing they were outnumbered, the pharmacy students stayed safely neutral with their “mix it up” chants. And in the music section, as UC and UTSC got into a shouting match in front of Hart House, the marching band played on.

Royal Flush

The scene after the game was excruciating. As I arrived on the scene and saw a group of players brandishing ice packs, covered in tensor bandages, it looked more like a battlefi eld than a rugby pitch. I soon realized that rugby is not a game for the faint of heart.For one day at least, the Blues were more like the black and blues. In a game against Royal Military College the result almost seemed apropos. Coming off a 2-6 season the Blues were hoping to start 2007 off strong, but with a tough game coming up this weekend against Queens, Toronto will have to lick their wounds in a hurry following a 33-14 loss to RMC this past weekend.

Luckily for them, Queens will offer a different experience than what the Blues endured this weekend against the Paladins. As Blues head coach Edward Sun says:

“The Golden Gaels have a quality side in terms of just pure talent. They can pretty much do whatever they want on the field with their skilled players, and they play a wide game. They always try to avoid the crash and bang style because it would waste the s they have on their roster.”

Avoiding the crash and bang style will be a key for the Blues who play a pretty wide game themselves. “We always try to play a wider game,” says Sun, “because we have quality backs who’ve got pace to burn. The bottom line is passing the ball more than fi ve meters out, so we always go wide and try to go with the fl ow of the game in terms of the direction of the ball.”

Against RMC, however, that plan was derailed by a number of penalties in the fi rst half , with“general lapses in concentration” as assistant coach Garth Gottfried put it. It wasn’t until the second half that the team fi nally started to fi gure things out, scoring two tries in a span of ten minutes. Outside centre Zack Besner scored one, bringing a great deal of intensity to the entire game. The rest of the scoring came from Onome “Iggy” Igharoro and a two-point conversion from wing Alex Koppel.

In past seasons, Toronto has had diffi culty keeping their opponents off the board with some notable games being a 107-13 loss to Brock as well as a 46-0 whitewash against a Queen’s team that comes in later this week. Nonetheless, team Captain Peter Braun sees hope for the future.

“We started our lines out a bit better in this game. Last year we were just an absolute disaster with that. We’ve also got a backline this year that can pretty much run through or around any team we face. We’re really looking to ship it out wide and let those guys do their magic.”

Magic or not, the Blues could use a change of luck, losing by an average of 30 points per contest in 2006. Given that, you have to consider Saturday’s score a marked improvement. With what coach Sun describes as a very youthful squad, minor gains can be considered baby steps. And with a full rugby season averaging eight games long, every opportunity is crucial, whether for immediate gains or player development.