The truth about intolerable TAs

In my two-and-a-half years as an undergraduate student, I’ve been under the tutelage of my fair share of TAs. Some of them have been phenomenal, some rather mediocre, but at the end of each tutorial, I’ve usually exited the cramped classroom with more knowledge than when I entered. More recently however, I’ve been forced to suffer through a semester of the most unqualified, uninformed and intolerable TA the University of Toronto has to offer. If you think that I’m exaggerating, I assure you I’m not. Naturally, this experience has made me question how on earth this person was ever employed. After doing a bit of research into the matter, I have reached a number of conclusions. Not surprisingly, the problem seems to lie at the administrative level.

The terms and conditions for the hiring of TAs is governed by a collective agreement between U of T and CUPE Local 3902, Unit 1. According to Mary Anne Ross, U of T’s director of labour relations, the criteria are somewhat unspecific. Teaching experience, good academic standing and relevant academic study are usually sought after, but due to this ambiguity, it’s the responsibility of each individual department to determine how high or low their own standards are. Given the unlikelihood that my TA adequately holds any of these prerequisites, I can only assume that the standards at my department are incredibly low. With such a lack of standardized policy, applicants are often glanced over like a menu at a cheap restaurant, selected only because they appear to be appetizing. But undergrads are the ones left with a bad taste in our mouth. Somebody needs to take it upon themselves to ensure that the person being hired is qualified to teach and isn’t completely imbecilic.

Maybe the department had to hire her because nobody else applied, but that’s unlikely. Job postings are not only stapled to the TA-hiring bulletin board in the hall of the department, but are often advertised on the Internet and through word of mouth. Since grad students are typically poor or debt-ridden, it’s likely that a reasonable amount of people would see these ads, and jump at the open spot. Secondly, TAs at U of T can make anywhere from $28 to $35 an hour. (I know, my jaw dropped too.) This is certainly a better wage than they would make waiting tables at any of the neighborhood watering holes. Plus, being a TA looks great on those CVs, so I’ve been told. According to Ross, there is no evidence to suggest that U of T is enduring a university-wide TA shortage. Underqualified hires can’t be the result of a shallow applicant pool.

The responsibility falls on the individual departments to hire adequate educators. Whether it’s the bureaucrats, the course administrators or the individual professors themselves, someone must ensure that there are real, unambiguous standards. A TA can make or break a course, inspire a student to pursue a certain discipline, or at the most basic level, teach us a few things

Earth’s storage space filling up

A recent paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research has shown a sudden decline in the uptake of carbon dioxide in the North Atlantic. Researchers Dr. Ute Schuster and Dr. Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia analyzed almost a decade’s worth of data from merchant ships that frequently traverse the Atlantic. Using the data generated from automatic instruments on board, they discovered a dramatic decline in the uptake of carbon dioxide between the mid ‘90s and the early 2000s.

Historically, oceans have been the largest absorber— or sink—of carbon dioxide. Oceans and terrestrial ecosystems combined take in almost one half of total CO2 emissions, leaving the other half in the atmosphere.

Our oceans absorb almost one third of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in two ways. The first is through the activity of phytoplankton flourishing in surface waters where sunlight is easily accessible. These gases are absorbed during photosynthesis and, once the phytoplankton die, carbon sinks into deeper parts of the ocean. Secondly, sea water can react with CO2 in the air, affected by differences in solubility within varying temperatures of water. The circulation of currents around the globe is an important aspect of this process. In the North Atlantic, where high salinity causes oceanic waters to sink, CO2 is more soluble and thus sinks along with the cold, create dense waters into deeper parts of the ocean.

The reasons for the North Atlantic’s decline in uptake are still unclear. It could be due to natural oscillations or global warming, but dire consequences may be seen if the oceans are indeed becoming “saturated”, as Schuster and Watson have suggested.

On the other side of the world, the Antarctic’s Southern Oceans have also seen a decline in CO2 uptake. Accounting for almost 15 per cent of the CO2 uptake by oceans and land combined, the effects of this decrease could produce some extreme results.

The Southern Oceans refer to a collective term within parts of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. Currently, they encompass approximately one-third less CO2 than expected. According to a paper published in Science, Dr. Corinne Le Quéré and her team found that the rate of atmospheric CO2 uptake has decreased by analyzing twenty-five years of data taken from stations all over the globe.

A possible explanation for this phenomenon may be increased temperatures that have led to the formation of intense winds over the surface of the waters. Normally, cool waters containing large amounts of dissolved CO2 would remain below the surface. However, these strong winds may churn up the water, causing the CO2-rich deep water to rise above. Since this water is already saturated with CO2, the end result is a decrease in uptake. If this is indeed the mechanism responsible for the decline, then this positive feedback cycle will cause the oceans to take in less and less CO2 over time.

The biological uptake by the oceans is also affected. When CO2 is dissolved in water, it forms bicarbonate, which causes it to become acidic. More acidic carbon-rich waters are mixed and left at the surface of the ocean, with the phytoplankton that reside near the surface unable to survive shifts in acidity.

This has profound implications for the rest of the earth. The saturation of ocean waters may be a sign that policies surrounding greenhouse gas emissions need to take into account anthropogenic aspects as well as the dynamic processes of the earth. If the problem is left unchecked, we may soon find ourselves in hot water—literally.

Violent signals

With two shows exploring war currently shown in Toronto, you’d be forgiven for thinking that curators are coming to terms with a recent development— a turn, perhaps, in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.

As written in the curatorial statement to War Zone, currently on at A Space, “The aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 has led to increased surveillance, suspicion and fear of specific groups—war can no longer be regarded as something that occurs ‘over there’ and not ‘here.’”

True as this may be, that war on the homefront comes as a revelation is exactly the kind of sentiment that makes Kendell Geers, whose work “TW (Rock)” is part of the Justina M. Barnicke/ Blackwood Gallery co-exhibit Signals in the Dark: Art in the Shadow of War, anxious.

“I was born in an ‘age of terror,’” says Geers, “and have never known anything else. I grew up amongst car bombs and lynch mobs and I find it so pathetic the way we are now being force-fed the American experience as if ‘terror’ began on the 11 September in New York City.”

Signals in the Dark brings together artists from parts of the world that might be considered peaceful, and those associated with war. But as the exhibit strives to illustrate, these categories quickly break down: under the pretense of peace, the world is engaged in perpetual war. Not surprisingly, of particular concern is art’s complicity in the process.

A central trope, in both respects, is that of the hijacker. Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez’s history of the practice (once better known as the “skyjack”), “Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y,” effectively questions the possibility of peace when the hijack is a constant possibility. “Dial” shows how long this weight has rested on our shoulders (the film, which predates the September 11 attacks by four years, goes back several decades), so long it permeates our consumer culture: it seems slightly surreal when one TV journalist advises the viewer on which airplane seat is farthest from a potential hijacker. In another sense, the increasingly formulaic visual presentation of each hijacking demonstrates how terror has stolen the media of television and video, as we continue to learn each time we view 9/11 footage, yet again.

As the narrator says in Czech cinematographer Harun Farocki’s “Images of the World and the Inscription of War,” the German word aufklärung alternately means “enlightenment”— light being what allows an image to be recorded on film—or “flight reconnaissance.” Images are inscribed with terror regardless of whether we initially see it. Farocki traces the history of one particular image: the earliest photo of the Auschwitz concentration camp was taken in a reconnaissance flight. The Allies weren’t looking for a concentration camp, though, and so the photo was never interpreted as such until the 1970s, when the CIA knew what they were looking for. The interpretation has been hijacked: once we’re told what we’re looking at, we will never see it as anything else.

What to do with this? It’s easy to blame governments or to take aim at the broad target of “art itself.” Through the kind of war-era speakers from which we could expect to hear emergency announcements, plays another message reminding students of the vigilance required. Amongst the documents read in “A Short History of Conscription in Canada,” an audio-collage by Annie MacDonell and the only non-video work in the show, is a 1943 letter from then U of T president H.J. Cody promising Lieutenant- Colonel K.M. Holloway that the university will “collaborate to the full limit of its powers” in providing an army course at the university. Shadow of War is shown partly in the shadow of Soldier’s Tower.

Criminal intent

When was the last time you found yourself truly looking forward to some Canadian content?

“People never seem to say, ‘Let’s go watch some Canadian theatre!’” admits Criminals in Love director Andrea Wasserman. “It’s often seen as being too arty and not at all entertaining.” It’s time to push aside those preconceptions as the Hart House Theatre takes on Toronto scribe George F. Walker’s critically acclaimed dark comedy this week.

Originally performed at Toronto’s Factory Theatre in 1984, Criminals in Love portrays the lives of Junior and Gail, two lovebirds in Toronto’s East End. When they try to escape the perilous culture of the inner city, they become caught in a series of unfortunate yet uproarious misdemeanors. Between Junior’s family, fiercely entwined in a local crime ring, and Gail’s prostitution- inclined friend Sandy, a delinquent lifestyle seems inescapable. Despite this, the characters fight destiny with fast-paced wit and clever dialogue.

The overarching themes of inner city poverty and the death of opportunity seen in Criminals in Love are sadly enduring. As an illustration, Wasserman’s production has moved the action of the play to the 21st century. Using the music of local profanityprone rockers BoyBallz, the audience can quickly identify the contemporary Toronto mise en scène.

More impressively, the script has been freshly edited by Walker for this performance. Having already won the Governor General’s Award, the playwright might have been reluctant to alter his masterpiece.

But as Toronto productions of Criminals in Love have traditionally been confined to the Factory Theatre, now is the first time that the show has been performed in a major Toronto venue. This is surely a triumph for Walker, whose work still flies under the radar in the world of drama.

The strength of this show relies on its skilful portrayal of the main characters, and Wasserman cites the tightknit cast as the force that brings this performance together. After all, it takes substantial talent to add a comic bent to such a sobering theme. Still, the director is confident that audiences will leave the show fulfilled and entertained. “It’s sure to be rocking fun,” she asserts. “Don’t miss it!”

The concepts of “grimly amusing” and “made-in-Canada” seem to be paradoxical at best. But don’t let yourself be imprisoned by past assumptions about Canadian drama — Criminals in Love is bound to satisfy and enlighten.

Criminals in Love runs at Hart House Theatre through January 26. For more information and tickets, visit

York student raped in dorm

York University was the site of another rape last Friday, when a female student was assaulted at the Founders College Residence. The woman, who lives at Founders, reported the rape Tuesday afternoon. Students at York were quickly informed via email, and posters are now up warning students of the attack.

In September, two female students were sexually assaulted in their dorm rooms at York’s Vanier College. The rapists easily snuck into the building and had time to break into several rooms before the assaults. A third woman was attacked in that incident, but fought off her assailants. Lax security was blamed for the break-ins.

Reportedly, the most recent attack took place Friday night in a stairwell of the Founders residence. Police have not released any details or announced any arrests. The rash of attacks has student leaders calling for action.

“This is the third sexual assault in five months, so it’s clear to me at least […] we need to look for some external help,” said Gilary Massa, VP equity of the York Federation of Students.

Both Massa and Kelly Holloway, the president of York’s Graduate Student Association, argue that the university should bring in the security organization METRAC to conduct a campus security audit. Both student associations have said the university should fund the audit, and have been in discussions with administrators since this fall, but have received no clear commitment..

“Colleges are usually open […] people walk through those areas all the time to go to class, to study, to meet a friend,” said Massa. She argued that dorm security was not the primary issue. “I don’t think bringing security guards or more police onto campus is necessarily the solution,” she said. “These things don’t bring safety, only heighten the state of fear on the campus.”

At press time, Founders master Mauro Buccheri could not be reached for comment, but members of his office said he had been in security meetings all day.

Daryl Bruce, secretary to Buccheri, said that Founders had recently hired 24 additional security personnel, but had not yet trained them. Founders also employs students as monitors, but the 24 new hires are regular staff.

Founders has provided counselling services for students affected by the attacks.

“I don’t think York is different from any other campus, nor do I think it’s different from society in general,” said Massa. “The administration needs to take the responsibility.”

Rock the vote?

With the world’s eyes and ears fixated on the tightening U.S. presidential primaries, almost every aspect of every campaign is going under the microscope of the 24-hour news cycle. As it has already been demonstrated, a single tear or simple turn of phrase can become an international headline within seconds.

However, one facet that often escapes commentary on the campaign trail is music. Every campaign uses popular music to bookend political events and speeches—mainly to serve as entry and exit themes—and like all aesthetic choices made by political organizations, these selections are carefully made with a specific purpose in mind.

But things weren’t always this way. In the 19th century, the campaign song emerged as a way to further brand a candidate and his running mate. Political speeches were long and often tedious—not the kind of rhetoric that would stick easily in your head day after day—so simple songs were concocted to make it more memorable. Functioning like a commercial jingle, these early political tunes were devised specifically for a campaign, and often incorporated the candidate’s name into the title.

The song “Tip and Ty” was written in 1840 for William Henry Harrison’s campaign and referenced his famous campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” The song had a sweeping effect and helped Harrison defeat his rival Martin Van Buren. This spurred the trend of the custom campaign song. “Little Mac, Big Mac, You’re the Very Man,” was composed for ex-General George McClellan’s 1864 bid for the White House (he lost to his old boss Abraham Lincoln), while the 1888 contest saw incumbent Grover Cleveland commission the ditty, “Hurrah! Hurrah! for Cleve and Steve” for his unsuccessful bid for re-election.

Campaign songs fell from popularity after the First World War, but underwent a comeback during the 1932 campaign when Franklin Delano Roosevelt employed the tune “Happy Days Are Here Again”— composed in 1929—to bring an upbeat spirit to otherwise depressing times. This idea of re-purposing an existing theme and lyrics for a political end became the new norm. In 1960 John F. Kennedy featured Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” to defeat Richard Nixon, while George McGovern used Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in his own troubled campaign against then-president Nixon.

More recent campaign songs of note include Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in 1984, (Springsteen asked Reagan to stop using the song), and Bill Clinton’s nowfamous use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” in his 1992 bout with president George H. W. Bush.

So where do the 2008 candidates stand on campaign music? On the Republican side, we find Rudy Giuliani repping three tracks: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks, and “Fly Like an Eagle” by Seal. An interesting selection, sure, but wouldn’t he’d be better off going it alone with “Eye of the Tiger?” Featured in Rocky III, it’s easy to make a mental connection from Sylvester Stallone to anti-terrorism in his signature issue, 9/11.

When he’s not on his straight talk express, John McCain has been blasting “I Will Hold My Ground” by Tennessee country sensation Darryl Worley. While unfamiliar, this song is decidedly less confrontational than McCain’s recent impromptu re-write of Beach Boys classic “Barbara Ann,” where he sang “bomb Iran.”

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, fresh off his big primary win in Michigan on Tuesday, has recently busted out that old Junkie XL remix of Elvis’s “A Little Less Conversation” at rallies, making people wonder if this actually is 2008, and not 2002.

Do Democrats have better taste? John Edwards has entertained supporters by blaring a mix CD featuring songs by Elvis and Kanye West (which says John Edwards does care about black people), and the Foo Fighter’s plausibly-political hard-rock anthem “Times Like These.”

Hillary Clinton took a populist approach to campaign music, asking her supporters to vote online for her official song. While the initial selection—which included U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer,” Dixie Chicks’ “Ready to Run,” and Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now”—suggests that she has bad taste in music, the eventual winner, “You and I” by Celine Dion, proves that her supporters’ taste is even worse.

Her chief rival, senator Barack Obama, has chosen to go with Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which should really net the stoner vote. Obama has also been the recipient of a swell of support from figures in the music community. Recent endorsements for his candidacy have come from Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, Jeff Tweedy, Chicago hiphop duo The Cool Kids, and Conor “Bright Eyes” Oberst.

He’s also had one famous nonendorsement, courtesy of Republican rocker Ted Nugent. Back in August Nugent had some choice words for both Obama and Clinton while performing onstage. Holding two machine guns, Nugent yelled: “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary,” he added, “You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” Nugent then screamed “freedom!” to wild applause.

It’s easy to see that politics and music share an uneasy relationship. While modern candidates would like voters to think that their selections of popular music demonstrate a connection to youth culture (and throughout that, a sense of virility), these hits are more appropriately seen as tools used by campaigns to reinforce a political message by playing off re-purposed lyrics and vague themes. Any true connection to youth culture has to flow the other way, through the makers of cool music endorsing a candidate on their own.

Passes for the masses?

The mayor and TTC officials faced off with UTSU at Monday night’s town hall to discuss the U-Pass proposal. As currently offered by the TTC, U-Pass would have postsecondary students at participating institutions pay $60 per month for a metropass in a compulsory payment of $480 per year, with no opt-outs. The offer would only include full-time undergraduates, and would have to be approved by a student referendum.

Mayor David Miller’s commitment was unswerving.

“The U-Pass is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Miller. “What we’re trying to do at the TTC is to provide a way for university and college students to get better, cheaper access to transit.” Miller had promised to create a U-Pass during the 2006 municipal election.

Many students at the meeting were thrilled at the proposal, but a greater number were disturbed at the thought of having to buy nearly $500 worth of unneeded transit passes.

At the St. George campus alone, U-Pass would sell 30,000 discount metropasses. Currently, UTSU only sells between 4,000 and 12,000 metropasses per month.

TTC councillor Joe Mihevc and chair Adam Giambrone pointed out that people with unlimited passes use transit more often. They assured students that even if they didn’t use the pass to commute to school, it would be their “passport to the city.”

“Once it’s up and running, you’ll love it,” said Mihevc of the program.

The city officials cited a 2005 study carried out by the TTC’s marketing department, according to which 92 per cent of U of T students said they would use a U-Pass during the school year. Not everyone was convinced.

“I’d use it once!” called a heckler in the crowd.

Data for the 2005 study came from a questionnaire given to 5,353 students across the GTA. City officials referred to the offer as though negotiations were concluded and nothing remained to do but vote. Mihevc urged students to push for a referendum as soon as possible.

The city hall suits won some converts. One student took the microphone during a Q&A period just to thank the councillors for their offer.

One angry man lambasted both the offer and the TTC for proposing it. “I’m kind of disturbed that you’re pitching this project to our student union as a band-aid to your public relations,” said the undergraduate St. George student. “I would greatly prefer the TTC would figure out how to organize its resources.”

Matt Kopzinski, a third-year civil engineering student, took a dim view of the TTC’s claim that they would lose money on the U-Pass program. The new ridership, he contended, would likely bring increased federal subsidies for transit. “You’re trying to bump up your numbers by getting us all to mandatorily do this,” he accused the councillors.

UTSU is so far unsatisfied with the TTC offer, and is working with all other GTA schools who are considering a U-Pass. If one school accepts the current offer, the bargaining position of the others will be weakened.

UTSU likely will not consider voting on the program until at least fall of the next academic year.

“This would be the biggest referendum we’ve taken to students, so we’d want to make sure we get all the details out and that everyone knows what they’re voting for,” Scrivener said.

Gabe De Roche, who represents Trinity College on UTSU’s board of directors, warned that city politicians must make their proposal more attractive to non-commuter students.

“You’re going to have a very difficult time to get the ‘yes’ votes, because as anyone familiar with student politics knows, it’s very hard to get commuters to vote.”

Asked repeatedly about opt-outs, Miller, Mihevc and Giambrone maintained that allowing opt-outs would drive the price up to the same levels as the $96 VIP metropasses currently sold through UTSU.

Asked how planners estimated the number who would opt out, Scrivener replied, “Really there is no estimate, but we have geographic statistics that give some indication.”

Residence students make up 14 per cent of St. George campus’s undergraduate population.

“It essentially amounts to a 10 per cent increase to our tuition, and a 10 per cent increase is not acceptable,” said De Roche. “It’s got to be cheaper, and if it can’t be cheaper, then we have to maintain the current program with opt-outs.”

Congressional intervention for baseball

On May 17, 2005, members of major league baseball’s owners and players union were summoned by Congress to testify in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the alleged steroid use dominating the sport. Among the catalysts for the investigation was the BALCO steroid scandal which linked many prominent athletes to performance- enhancing drugs, and former baseball player Jose Canseco’s tell-all book Juiced, which purported to expose many users whom Canseco had played with over his career.

The 2005 congressional hearing was the primal scene for what would eventually be the end of the steroid era. And since that day, the dark cloud that hung over America’s national pastime, turning die-hard fans into disillusioned cynics, has slowly began to settle. At Tuesday’s hearing to discuss the Mitchell report, a 28- month probe into the use of anabolic steroids in major league baseball, committee chairman Henry Waxman castigated player representative Donald Fehr and commissioner Bud Selig for their role in the scandal.

“I want to make it clear that the steroids scandal is not just about ball players. In my view not enough attention has been paid to the Mitchell Report’s indictment of the people running baseball,” said Waxman. “The players seem to have been surrounded by enablers, and offi cials willing to look the other way. The owners and commissioners offi ce are every bit at fault as the players.”

During the hour-long televised hearing, the house committee expressed their concern for the infl uence that the pervasive use of steroids and human growth hormone in professional sports will have on the next generation. “Young athletes are very impressed by what their sports heroes say and do,” said Waxman to a crowded room, which included George Mitchell, also asked to testify. “There’s a real authority carry-over in these situations. They assume that because a person is an expert in one area, that they’re qualifi ed in another.”

In his opening statement to the committee, Mitchell concurred with Waxman’s criticism, stating, “Many young Americans are placing themselves in serious risk.” While not making light of the situation, Mitchell urged those in attendance to keep the bigger picture in perspective. “It’s important to deal with well known athletes who are illegal users, but it’s at least as important, maybe more so, to be concerned about the reality that hundreds and thousands of our children are using these substances.”

Tuesday’s hearing will not likely be the last of its kind. Waxman and other district representatives on Capitol hill have already anticipated new challenges posed by the rise in human growth hormone use. “Many players have shifted to human growth hormone not currently detectable in any currently available urine test,” said Mitchell.

The committee will meet again on Feb 14, at which time Roger Clemens and trainer Brian McNamee are expected to testify about their link to performance-enhancing drugs as detailed in the Mitchell Report.

Because of the May 2005 congressional hearings, Major League Baseball was forced to take a refl ective look at itself. The recent hearing was meant to serve the same purpose. On Tuesday, the federal government wanted to remind Selig, Fehr, and the rest of the union that inaction on their part would no longer be tolerated. “The minority of players who used these substances were wrong,” said Waxman. “They violated federal law, and baseball policy. They distorted the fairness of competition by trying to gain an unfair advantage over the majority of players who followed the law.”