Cops on the prowl for peeping Tom

Residents of the area around St. George St. and Bloor West have been warned by Toronto police to keep vigilant after reports came in of a man peeping into women’s homes during the evening and early morning hours. Police sent out a safety alert last week, asking for the public’s assistance identifying the man, described as 5’6” to 5’10” with a thin build, wearing a dark bomber jacket and toque.

It is not clear whether any of the peeping Tom incidents took place on U of T’s downtown campus, but Justin Fisher, assistant to the dean of Woodsworth College—whose new residence tower sits at the intersection highlighted by police— said he could not recall any similar incidents in the six months since he took on his position.

“The measures that we have in place, we’re very confident in those, and in the policies we have in place too,” said Fisher. He cited such security measures as a 24-hour front desk, guest sign-in policy, and nightly rounds made by staff.

“I just think being in downtown Toronto and how we have an such open campus where anyone from public or students are able to access our buildings, that’s why it’s important that we take security seriously and that we’re always on top of it.” In September, two female students at York university were sexually assaulted by men who snuck into their dorm. GTA universities condemned the assault and responded by reaffirming their commitment to student security. Later that month, two editors of Ryerson’s newspaper the Eyeopener tested the security at two of the university’s dorms and found they could sneak in easily. No such incidents have been reported at U of T.

Guild guilty of gutting Globes?

If you’re like me, your entire life revolves around the annual Academy Awards. (Then again, if you’re like me, you’re probably also very, very alone, but that’s beside the point.) Oscar obsession usually starts around September with the Toronto International Film Festival, when I spend endless hours ignoring loved ones in favour of reading reviews of whatever four-hour Ang Lee movie is premiering that day. The next five months until the Academy reveals its award winners are like hot, sweaty foreplay for any true Oscar junkie—the sweet caress of the “For Your Consideration” ads, the sensuous lubrication of the box office reports, the gentle thrusting of the early award shows (Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards), all leading up to a vaguely unsatisfying and all-toopremature Oscar telecast. It’s a yearly ritual that gives my life meaning.

But this year, the Oscars are in jeopardy. As you’ve probably heard, the Writer’s Guild of America is striking because of a dispute with the Producer’s Guild over residual payments for sales of movies and TV shows over online venues like Itunes. The writers believe they should receive 2.5 per cent of online revenue in residuals. By contrast, the producers believe the writers should receive zero per cent.

As a result of the strike, no Writer’s Guild members are allowed to write new movie and TV scripts until the issue is resolved. Furthermore, anyone who appears on a show that is being produced in violation of strike guidelines is perceived as not supporting the writers’ cause, and can rightly be considered a traitor. As a result, virtually no important people will cross a picket line. This is why Leno’s guest the other night was some guy from the L.A. zoo and Conan’s guest was Bob Saget.

Awards ceremonies are similarly affected, as evidenced by the recent cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards. Oh yes, that beloved presenters’ banter is, in fact, written by a professional, and unless the award show received special permission from the Writer’s Guild, no big stars will cross the picket line. Even if they did, what would they say? Since we all know the main appeal of the Golden Globes is the outside chance of seeing a celebrity drunk, there was nothing left to do but cancel it.

For any hard-core award show fan, this is bad news. As Dick Clark says, the Globes are “the party of the year,” and if Dick Clark says it, it must be true. Who can forget all those wacky and wonderful memories from past Globes ceremonies? Like that time when…uh…well, actually, the only really wacky moment I can think of is when Pia Zadora won, and that was before I was born, but the point remains: we’ll surely be missing out on some wonderful memories. Another unfortunate result of the cancellation is that Steven Spielberg, this year’s lifetime achievement winner, will have to wait until 2009 to collect his trophy. Poor guy. I hope he catches a break someday.

With the Globes cancelled, all eyes are now on Oscar. If I may illustrate this situation using a metaphor in the form of the 1996 movie Executive Decision, the Globes are like Steven Seagal to the Oscars’ Kurt Russell: if Seagal dies early on, then Russell can no longer be considered safe. Okay, terrible example, but you get the idea.

If the writers and the producers don’t come to an agreement soon, the Oscars will probably be cancelled. And with no Oscar-cast to watch, my life will lose all meaning, and I might be forced to go outside, read a book, or even interact with other people, and nobody wants that. So if anyone from the Producer’s Guild is reading this, I beg of you: if you don’t care about fairness, honesty, accountability, and creativity…could you at least care about me?

Who’s laughing now?

The Writers Guild of America strike is entering its 10th week today, and while it might warm some hearts to know that a new American Gladiators is back in the making, most television viewers are beginning to tire of the onslaught of game shows and reality programming hijacking TV airtime. Adding insult to couch potato injury, last week it was announced that this year’s Golden Globes will be cancelled. This means no red carpet and no fashion magazine “best and worst of” lists in the weeks to follow. This strike is beginning to hinder all sorts of guilty pleasures.

Still, it’s hard not to side with the writers. Now that they’re gone, we’re realizing just how badly television needs them. Well-written shows like The Office and Big Love—two of the many programs whose production has been halted by the strike—are what keeps the ‘boob’ out of boob tube. More pressingly, this is a U.S. presidential election year. How on earth are we supposed to follow the campaign without Jon Stewart’s whipsmart coverage on The Daily Show to fill us in on all the dirty politics? New episodes have returned, but with Stewart doing all his own writing, they are of lesser quality.

On the other hand, Canadian-produced television shows remain unaffected by the WGA strike. Perhaps an ongoing strike would allow for a push of Canadian programming into a broader North American spotlight. Can’t you just picture families across America rushing home to see the latest episode of Corner Gas? Then again, maybe not.

There is a major downside to the strike for Canadian entertainers. Our Hollywood North economy is beginning to suffer tremendous losses from the cessation of American television productions. In British Columbia alone, more than a dozen series that had been filming in the province prior to the strike have closed operations. The two that remain are expected to follow suit within the month.

The strike is a nuisance, but fair is fair. This isn’t the first time American writers have gone on strike. Back in 1988, the WGA ended its five-month strike with an ill-forged deal that wound up costing them enormous home video and DVD residuals in the following years. Now, the writers’ concerns surround new media, specifically a share of internet-based media profits, which don’t add up to much today, but are projected to be worth billions in the future. Though it may seem mind-boggling, production companies that rely so heavily on the talent of their writers for enormous profits have long been reluctant to grant these writers a fair piece of the pie.

Hopefully the studio execs are paying close attention to the low-grade pap that’s being churned out on their networks, and realize that pretty soon we’re going to get tired of watching reruns of House, turn off the TV and, I don’t know, pick up a book or something.

Just compensation for writers is the obvious, ethical choice for the entertainment industry, even if it means viewers have to endure more of the same dismal programming until an agreement can be made. The writers have already been shortchanged. This strike is about making sure it doesn’t keep happening.

Inventing the aqualung

Scuba diving generates millions of dollars in revenue each year. The word “scuba” is an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus,” created by the U.S. Navy as a way to describe the equipment used by military divers. It is fitting that the modern name for the popular underwater breathing equipment finds its origins with the military. For centuries before scuba gear was used for recreation or research, the ability to remain underwater for long periods of time was most desired for military purposes. Renaissance strategists fantasized about the ability to work on the underside of submerged vessels for long periods of time or, more importantly, being able to ambush enemies completely undetected.

Some early inventors, like 16th century Italian mathematician Niccolo Tartaglia, envisioned a waterproof bell or hourglass inside which a person could stay underwater for as long as the air encased remained breathable. Others envisioned air tubes that connected the diver to the surface. Even Leonardo da Vinci had a working model: in the 15th century, he sketched a diving suit that afforded the wearer the ability to descend or ascend by deflating or inflating a “wine skin to be used to contain the breath.” While many of these inventions never made it past the drawing board, they are quite impressive considering the lack of dependable scientific knowledge at the time.

A commercially viable diving suit was not produced until the 19th century. French engineers Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze teamed up to produce the “Aerophore,” a suit that incorporated a reservoir of compressed air for emergencies. The reservoir gave the diver freedom to move around, for a small amount of time, unfettered underwater. The success of Rouqauyrol and Denayrouze’s compressed air reservoir inspired others to try and improve on the design. In 1878, Henry Fleuss designed the first self-contained oxygen apparatus. In his invention, oxygen was contained in a small copper cylinder that could be rebreathed, as the system used a chemical to absorb exhaled carbon dioxide. Furthermore, Fleuss’ apparatus did not produce air bubbles, making it ideal for military frogmen, as they would not be given away at the surface while using it.

As technology advanced, cylinders that could hold very high pressures were finally produced. This innovation, along with an observation made by French navy Commandant Yves Le Prieur, combined to create the first incarnation of modern scuba diving equipment.

In 1912, Le Prieur watched as Maurice Fernez remained underwater through the aid of a surface pump. Inspired by Fernez’s display, Le Prieur wanted to find a way to do the same thing underwater. Fourteen years later, the two men teamed up and produced the lightweight breathing apparatus that Jacques Cousteau would later refine and popularize. By attaching a mouthpiece to the kind of metal cylinder used to inflate pneumatic tires, Le Prieur was able to create a selfcontained breathing apparatus that was light and easy to use. However, the air flowed continuously out of the cylinders, giving the diver a mere 12 minutes underwater.

In 1943, Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagan co-invented the first open-circuit scuba diving equipment, which they called the “aqualung.” It solved the problem of continuous airflow with the “demand valve,” which releases air only upon inhalation. Their invention was soon in widespread use. Cousteau is credited with popularizing modern diving and pioneering underwater filming, neither of which would have been possible without his invention. Though modern scuba diving equipment is fairly similar to the aqualung, it has undergone some changes. One of the most notable is Ted Eldred’s invention of a single-hose open-circuit scuba set, as opposed to the twin-hose design of Cousteau and Gagan. Scientists, vacationers, and militaries now use scuba equipment, assisting divers in a much broader range of functions than those originally conceived by Renaissance thinkers.

No thanks, your kidneys are too gay for me

Last week, Health Canada announced controversial new regulations surrounding protocol for organ donation. The new rules, which have been harshly criticized, list sexually active gay men as unsuitable donors because of the risk of HIV infection. This has, of course, angered many activists who have fought for years to erase the idea that HIV is an exclusively homosexual disease.

Surely, homophobia and discrimination are nothing to laugh at, but this is definitely not a fight that the Stonewall rioters could have imagined having to take up. “We’re here, we’re queer, harvest our organs!”

I’m not sure organ donation is a right per se. The right to actually keep all your organs inside your own body is probably more important. But still, in a society free of discrimination, everyone should have the right to be treated equally, in life and in death, regardless of sexual orientation.

However, these regulations didn’t appear out of the blue. The experts at Health Canada object to sexually active gay donors on health, not moral grounds. It’s not as if they’re worried that non-gay patients will have their innards infected by the sinful tissue of blasphemous sodomites. They’re worried about disease control. The reality is that sexually active gay men account for 51 per cent of all Canadians living with HIV in this country, and 45 per cent of new infections.

Besides male homosexual sex, the new regulations also take into account other high-risk sexual practices, like taking money for sex or having sexual contact in jail. But some health officials are saying that Health Canada may be overlooking other risky practices among heterosexuals.

Gary Levy, director of the multi-organ transplant program for the University Health Network in Toronto, had this to say: “The fact is, if someone has 62 partners, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual, there still is a risk [for HIV transmission].”

So apparently, sluts aren’t suitable organ donors either. But how could we weed them out? “I’m very sorry for your loss Mrs. Jones, but before we donate your daughter’s heart to this dying man, could you tell us, was she, you know…loose? How about unprotected anal sex, did she have a lot of it?”

In any case, Health Canada is in a tight position. The results of an inadequate screening process would be disastrous, and the risk is very real. In Chicago alone, four people contracted HIV from donated organs last year. With the memory of the fatal tainted blood scandal still a painful memory in this country, Health Canada has a duty to make sure they don’t accept organs from high-risk populations. But is it discrimination to link HIV with a certain marginalized population? It’s taken decades to dismantle the idea of HIV/AIDS as a disease exclusive to homosexuals, and to hear the opposite from Canada’s most important health institution seems to be a huge step backwards.

The good news is that these regulations are not blanket interdictions against homosexuals. Gay women are considered safe donors, as are any homosexual men who are not sexually active. Gay men who are mostly monogamous, and whose partners have no communicable diseases, will also be allowed to donate.

Although these regulations are troubling, they probably say more about the worryingly high rates of HIV among Canada’s gay men than they do about homophobic attitudes among our health professionals. The reality is that HIV infections continue to grow at a startling pace among gay men, and it’s this problem that our health system and gay activists alike should be desperately trying to tackle. We should be trying to keep gay Canadian men alive for longer, rather than arguing over what to do with their organs once they’re dead.

Paying for our eco-sins: the story behind carbon offsets

“Marge, I agree with you—in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory,” said Homer Simpson in response to his wife’s concerns over owning an elephant. Replacing the word “communism” with “carbon offsets” might be appropriate considering a recent turn of events.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating green marketing and advertising claims in a series of hearings. One of the topics under review is carbon offsets, a $54-million (USD) business in the United States alone last year.

As part of a growing “green trend,” many companies are featuring environmental incentives for consumers who choose their brand. One doesn’t have to search hard to find examples of this practice. Air Canada started a carbon offset program last May, in conjunction with a non-profit group called Zerofootprint. After typing in your destination and point of origin, the Zerofootprint website calculates the money you owe in order to cover the carbon dioxide emissions you are responsible for creating by flying. Other large corporations, such as Dell, Volkswagen, and General Electric offer optional environmental programs that range from investing in tree planting to reward points that earn the customer carbon offsets.

The FTC’s guidelines for environmental advertising haven’t been updated since 1998. Coupled with worries over where the money put into these programs actually goes, it is easy to see why some people are concerned.

On top of all this, the effectiveness of some carbon fighting strategies has been called into question. The number- one reason planting trees has been advocated as a tool for fighting climate change is the fact that they act as carbon sinks. Through photosynthesis, trees are able to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and use it to create leaves, branches, and other structures. Conceivably, extra trees will absorb the excess carbon dioxide that human activity puts into the atmosphere, provided they live long enough. A typical tree in the tropics is estimated to be able to absorb 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. However, trees in slower growing temperate forests absorb much less.

Compared to other carbon reduction strategies, planting trees is extremely cost effective. The International Panel on Climate Change notes that the price for this strategy can be as low as $0.10 to $20 USD per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered. In contrast to the usually steep costs of developing alternative energy sources, planting carbon sinks is an attractive and easily implemented solution. Whether or not it is an effective one remains to be seen.

Ken Caldeira, a researcher with the Carnegie Institution, denounces this “feel-good” practice of purchasing offsets, recommending that more effective strategies be pursued, such as stopping ecosystem destruction and changing the way we use energy.

English environmentalist George Monbiot famously compared the carbon offset system to that of buying indulgences in the Middle Ages. For a certain fee, Catholics could buy forgiveness for sins, easing their guilty consciences through monetary donations to the church. Rather than changing consumption habits, everyday consumers can use carbon offsets in much the same way.

Admittedly, it is difficult to gauge how effective climate change strategies are, and here is where the problem lies. Aware of the potential for abusing the system, many organizations that deal with carbon offsets are beginning to use independent groups to monitor their efforts. A formal certification system is needed and hopefully the FTC can get the ball rolling on this initiative.

Carbon offsets are a positive step towards fighting climate change, and the speed with which consumers and corporations have adopted the practice is encouraging. But accountability is needed to make sure carbon offsets are not money thrown out the window. The theory behind carbon offsets is a good one. Let’s hope the experiment proves they are effective.

We’re richer than they think

Toronto’s rich are getting richer and its poor are getting poorer— such are the findings of a study on the city’s economic divide done by U of T’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies. Since 1971, rich neighbourhoods have seen average incomes rise, while 36 per cent of Toronto’s poorer neighbourhoods have seen them fall by 34 per cent.

The culprits? “Changes in the economy, in the nature of employment (more part-time and temporary jobs), and in government taxes and income transfers,” says the report. This criticism sounds like the typical indictment of capitalist economics for leaving employment up to the market and cutting social programs, while lowering taxes for the rich.

Before we go and lead the proletariat into revolution, remember that there is little evidence that this polarization is caused by structural inequality or a lack of upward mobility among the general populace. It is far more likely a reflection of Toronto’s role as a top destination for new immigrants.

The first problem with the report’s argument is that the study focuses on the average income trends of Toronto neighbourhoods, not of individuals. When it comes to poverty, we should care about the plight of people, not of arbitrary geographic areas. That said, the fact that average income in a certain area went down doesn’t say anything about personal welfare. Upon closer inspection, there’s actually nothing in the study to back the claim that poor individuals have gotten poorer.

For example, picture a neighbourhood that initially contains a mix of high and low income residents. Now, let’s say that the richer residents move away and an influx of residents with lower incomes arrive. Statistically, average income drops. But this doesn’t mean that individuals in the neighbourhood are getting any poorer. In fact, who’s to say they didn’t get richer? It’s entirely possible that those who stayed in the neighbourhood saw their incomes rise, while newcomers improved their situation relative to their place of origin.

Since Toronto is the primary destination for new immigrants, there is good reason to think that this is what’s happening. It’s no coincidence that the neighbourhoods classified as poor also have the highest concentration of immigrants. Of the population in these areas, 62 per cent is foreign-born and 42 per cent arrived in Canada only after 1981. In 1971, native-born Canadians were the predominant group.

Recent immigrants face high language barriers, and are often disconnected from the social networks necessary to find high-paying employment. This makes their labour market incomes lower than the average Canadian. Newcomers are also typically concentrated in the same neighbourhoods, due to the presence of shared languages and familiar cultural products like food and entertainment. It would be nothing short of a miracle if average incomes in these localities stayed constant over the period studied in the report.

The good news is that, according to a 2003 Statistics Canada study, “initial [immigrant] settlement is in disadvantaged immigrant enclaves from which longer-term, more successful migrants subsequently exit as they purchase homes in more affluent neighbourhoods.” But as these established immigrants move away and are replaced by more recent arrivals, neighbourhood average incomes, of course, drop—reinforcing the illusion of the poor getting poorer.

Beneath this bleak tale of neighbourhood inequality is a serious success story. Over the past few decades, hundreds of thousands of people from less fortunate places around the world came to Toronto in search of a better future. Migration significantly improved their opportunity and standard of living. As they settled in, their incomes rose and many moved out of ethnic ghettoes, only to be replaced by a new group of people looking to do the same thing.

There is an inevitable trade-off here. We can’t accommodate a massive influx of new immigrants and expect our demographics to remain constant. Torontonians have shown that they believe in the right of people to come here in search of a better life, but this makes our city’s neighbourhoods less economically similar, as waves of newcomers slowly adjust to life in Canada. In the end, we need to stop focusing so much on income equality and ask a fundamental question: are the living standards of individuals rising over their lifespan? If the answer is yes, we should be proud.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. considering switch to uFC

2007 was a renaissance year for the sport of boxing. It brought back old fans, created new ones, and gave us a sports star that gets people talking. When Pretty Boy Floyd jumped into our televisions he created 2.4 million PPV buys for his first fight of ‘07, and over 500,000 buys in the states alone for his December bout. Sure there were better knockdowns, but unlike past years, Floyd Mayweather Jr. never failed to deliver the goods.

Rumours of Maywhether plunged inside a cage to fight in a Mixed Martial Arts match abound. The undefeated six-time world champion in five different weight classes, he also earns over 30 million per match. His self appointed nickname is “money” and UFC will never be able to cough up that sort of dough now.

Even if officials find 50 million for a Mayweather fight, we still won’t see him in a UFC cage as a fighter. While skeptics might see professional boxers as intellectual lightweights (thanks to multiple concussions), Mayweather is to the contrary. He understands that he is in a business where a small slip up equates to being hurt seriously. No matter how supremely gifted an athlete is, it’s a struggle to switch from your chosen sport and try competing at the highest level. That clip of Michael Jordan striking out flashes in our minds. And unlike baseball, you can’t afford to swing and miss several times in a UFC fight. Getting an armbar placed on you and having your limb broken would probably hinder a Jordan-esque comeback in boxing as well.

What would Floyd prove by doing this? What would he gain? As boxing royalty, he is the sports’ biggest draw, plus his style doesn’t suit MMA. If you plan on boxing your way to victory, then you need to be a knockout artist. Floyd is a boxer in its purest sense, he dances around ring throws to blow extremely accurate punches. Entering a sport where clinches won’t get broken up, use of elbows won’t disqualify, and falling on your back will not result in a timeout means Mayweather won’t be converting to Mixed Martial Arts anytime soon. The only way you will see him inside a cage is if Mayweather decides there is money to make and starts promoting young, talented, destined for MMA fighters.

I don’t know where people get these crazy ideas. Maybe its their desire to see that brash, arrogant, cocky, money flaunting Mayweather get beaten up. But that’s not going to happen inside the ring anytime soon.