Campus polling stations aim to make amends

By any account, the 2006 federal election was a fiasco for St. George residence students. Polling stations were planned, then cancelled, then reinstated at the last minute. Elections Canada never clarified what on-campus students, who may not have a bank statement, utility bill or lease to prove their address, could use to vote. Students were turned away from advance polls because they did not have documents that no one had told them they would need.

Not this time around, according to Dave Scrivener, VP External at UTSU.

“After the last federal election, Elections Ontario had no desire to go down the same path as Elections Canada, and they were relatively easy to work with,” he said. Instead, Elections Ontario has been cooperating with UTSU and its parent, the Canadian Federation of Students.

“UTSU worked as a conduit between the administrations of the various colleges and Elections Ontario. We worked to expand the list of acceptable voting identification to make it easier to for students to register,” said Scrivener. “We were able to expand the list to include letters from the dean as proof of residence and the T-Card as acceptable photo ID”

Some colleges have already distributed letters that students can use to get on the voting list on or ahead of election day. If you live in residence and have not received a letter, drop by your residence or dean of student’s office get one.

UTSU also recommended polling locations on campus and helped to secure an additional poll on the east side of campus.

“Overall we tried to make the voting process as simple as possible, especially for residence students who find themselves in residential limbo,” said Scrivener. Fingers crossed.

Fair Fort York

Site-specific theatre is a unique opportunity, particularly when it features as distinctive a locale as Toronto’s historical garrison, Old Fort York. Crate Productions, whose two previous site-specific plays include Stephen Belber’s Tape—a snappy psychodrama that maximized the claustrophobic, semi-rundown Gladstone Hotel to great effect—and Adam Rapp’s disturbing Blackbird, staged in an abandoned Yonge St. apartment.

Their latest offering, The Fort at York plays with the same premise of location integration, but while it seems fascinating in concept, the production itself flounders on occasion due to a lack of objective and economy. Written by Dora awardwinning playwright Tara Beagan, Fort is a grandly ambitious project that fails to fully resonate because of its sprawling subject matter. Clocking in at nearly three hours, the production is far too long and meandering in its pace.

At the outset, the audience was divided into four groups and escorted around the fort by uniformed conductors. Obviously, a show of this magnitude requires extreme planning and timeliness (which the company carried off commendably), but there was a definite sensation of “school field trip,” which may or may not have been the intention. As we moved from site to site, guide and co-director Chris Reynolds offered historical details surrounding the 1813 attack by American soldiers on Fort York, even illuminating us on the nature of the smell (friendly neighbourhood abattoir) that occurred partway through one of the earlier scenes beside a campfire. It was certainly fun travelling like this, but it caused the pacing to so pointedly drop that it diminished the actual drama of the story—where The Fort at York needed the most clarification.

Comprised of a series of diversely located vignettes, scenes, and monologues, the story revolves around a risky plan to remove an officer’s wife from the garrison prior to the morning battle. Seen from the eyes of several different men (and one woman), we’re able to exist as ghosts within this past world—ghosts that Beagan incorporates in a slightly convoluted way. In several instances, a troubled soldier speaks directly to the audience as a means of connecting the past to the future. Few of the scenes really crackled with urgency, and I couldn’t help but wonder why so many of the characters seemed to be suffering from delusional breakdowns. Nevertheless, Beagan’s text was lyrical and the characters appealing, but it needed editing to really give the characters and storyline more vitality. Highlights included some fine performances from Cole J. Alvis as an earnest young private, Scott Clarkson as a passionate soldier whose love for an officer’s wife inspires him to bravery, and Jeff Legacy as the sole Native resident William Sawyer, whose resolve and daring help carry out the rescue plan. Co-directors Chris Reynolds and Tara Beagan must also be mentioned for their inventive staging and composition within the challenging conditions—the scenes never failed to look fabulous.

The best thing about The Fort at York was the solidarity of the company, and the obvious work, attention, and innovation that went into producing it. The sheer spectacle was also appreciable, with most of the scenes lit either by firelight, flickering lanterns, or the distant ambience of the Toronto skyline. What it lacked in tightness, it made up for in tenderness, and allowed much room for reflection—even if the temptation was to indulge in contemplation during the slower moments of the show itself.

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.