Too many frosh in the sea

As reported in the Jan. 21 issue of The Varsity, Ontario universities have seen the highest demand for first-year spots since the OAC year of high school was eliminated in 2003, causing the “double cohort” of uni applications. This year, the number of entry applications to Ontario schools rose by five per cent, to 83,000, up from 79,000 a year ago.

Competition for popular programs is fierce, and the provincial government is under pressure to create additional spaces.

Most of Canada’s other regions have seen university applications remain roughly the same over the past few years. The Maritimes have seen a decrease in university applicants. The space crunch in GTA universities is spilling across southern Ontario. Preliminary data released by the Council of Ontario Universities suggests that applications at the University of Guelph are up nearly 25 per cent.

Despite the $6.2 billion the provincial government has invested in the higher education sector, universities are finding it difficult to cope with such a high number of students submitting applications.

“The McGuinty government deserves credit for the Reaching Higher plan in the 2005 budget, which put significant increases into student aid,” said Paul Genest of the COU, who added that the growing demand for PSE was due in part to increased government support. “We’re fortunate that Premier McGuinty wants to be known as the ‘education premier,’” he added.

Genest called on the Ontario government and the province’s universities to respond with greater investment in PSE. U of T is of the position is that limited room for growth exists at the St. George campus, but Missisauga and Scarborough campuses could both expand.

He’s not kidding about neocon comeback

Divide the U.S. voting population by Services Canada) age and each five-year segment has a marked party preference, usually by an eight-point spread. Amongst those who turned 20 between 2001 and today, there is a 12-point gap. “It indicates a huge generational shift,” said former Bush speech writer David Frum.

He was speaking at the Hart House library on Wednesday, Jan. 23 in an event co-sponsored by the Debating Society and right-wing think-tank the Fraser Institute.

“It’s a little bit like being a financial writer during the great crash,” said Frum of his new book, Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again.

He should know. Once a writer for George W. Bush—he wrote the “axis of evil” speech, though originally called it the “axis of hatred”—Frum has appointed himself as the bearer of bad news for Republicans.

His message: the “Bush babies,” kids who came of age during W’s tenure, are about to take their revenge.

To the conservative writers, such as James Antle and Ramesh Ponnuru, who argue that the policies laid out in Comeback betray the principles of conservatism, Frum replies that it is their attitude that will continue to alienate young voters. “Can you talk about now, please? That’s what I worry about, that there isn’t a way to talk about what’s going on now.”

On Wednesday, to an audience that included hecklers, devotees, and detached watchers, Frum argued that for the Republicans to win again, the party will have to let go of its Reagan-era policies. “There are unintended consequences to every political change, and it’s those we need to confront,” he said.

In the 1980s, Reagan was able to build a strong consensus around the belief that though some might succeed more than others, the population would benefit from neoconservative policies. Today, though, the gap between those who succeed and those who don’t is growing. “The bottom third is still in the 70s, that’s why there’s demand for hope.”

Two other issues facing the party are the broad demographic changes currently experienced in the U.S. as well as the Bush administration’s mishandling of key issues, especially the war in Iraq. Foreign-born Americans, currently at 40 million, are on the rise, as are other groups that traditionally vote Democrat: single women and “the fastest growing religious group,” those who do not attend church. But of primary concern to Frum are people in their 20s: “The trend is most dramatic among young voters.”

“We were the party of science, empiricism, intellect,” he lamented. “This is not the way we’ve been winning arguments in the 2000s.” Today, 70 per cent of Americans say their country is on the wrong track. The figure is staggering considering that when 50 per cent give that response, it’s usually considered a red flag.

Noting how voters form party allegiances based on their reaction to the political events occurring when they are 20-year-olds, the current shift among young voters towards the Democrats will have implications for the U.S. politics for years to come.

The time for a ban is now

The safety of Toronto’s streets has once again been tested. Last week an innocent bystander was fatally shot outside a Yonge Street strip club. In a sad turn of events, John O’Keefe, 42, was struck by a bullet intended for one of the club’s bouncers. Mayor David Miller, along with Premier Dalton McGuinty and local authorities, has demanded a nationwide ban on handguns. Although the Harper government has taken a tougher stance on gun crimes and has passed legislation for stricter sentencing, they have not taken any steps towards an official ban on the use and possession of handguns. John O’Keefe is another statistic to tally up at the end of 2008.

“The Year of the Gun,” a term coined by police in 2005, was a period of increased gun crime that made every Torontonian more watchful. Reports of gun-related homicides saturated the news, and left us feeling stunned. We questioned if we could ever walk on the streets again without being caught in deadly crossfire.

Community leaders and residents looked for strategies to curb the violence in high-risk neighbourhoods. Politicians attributed the rise in crime to poverty, high unemployment, and a lack of social services. Fast forward to 2008, and we seem to be on the road to repeating history.

The perception of gun use in Canada stands in stark contrast to that of our American counterparts, who appreciate their gun-toting liberties. Our current policies are relatively progressive and affirm a strong support of gun control, but a full-out ban would ensure that Canadians are well-protected, reducing future violent incidents. While many Canadians are registered gun owners and enjoy their firearms for sport, it is all too easy to have a weapon misused for a malicious purpose.

Authorities have discovered that gun smuggling has reached dangerous proportions. As our southern neighbours grapple with an influx of illegal immigration, we’re dealing with an influx of illegal firearms that are crossing the border and getting into the hands of criminals. Incarceration seems like the natural course to follow, but how much of a deterrent is it? Imprisonment for 10, 15 or even 20 years may seem like a justifiable punishment, but alone, this is simply inadequate. Once perpetrators leave the prison system, they could strike again. Police have taken steps to curb gun violence in the city, including the installation of video cameras to monitor activity in the streets and a boost in police presence in high-risk areas. But they can never be sure of what someone is hiding behind their back when they’re prepared to strike.

The solution requires strong commitment from the government. Toronto’s finest do their best to ease the threats, but we cannot rely on mere vigilance to protect us. How many more accidental fatalities will it take until a ban is put into place? There is absolutely no reason why Toronto’s citizens would need, or even want, to possess a handgun. We would be much safer if we relegated the weapons to trained and responsible professionals in law enforcement and the military. It’s obvious that the screening process that potential firearm owners undergo is ineffective. Securing our borders, placing harsher restrictions on gun ownership, and establishing a long overdue ban will restore some sense of peace in the city. Target shooters will just have to find themselves another hobby.

Manufacturing promise

The Vancouver Sun has reported that over 130,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada last year. Taking a stab at Conservative inaction on the issue, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion has pronounced that he will invest $1 billion to revive the struggling sector if he were to win a federal election. One year ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at a Toronto Conservative Party rally, calling the Liberals a party “of vested interests.” Perhaps a rhetorical exaggeration at the time, Dion’s latest row over national industrial policy increasingly legitimizes Harper’s statement. Dion’s plan is economically unnecessary, ethically unwarranted, and in many ways technically inefficient. Had the Conservatives proposed this plan with Canadian tax-payer dollars, would Dion have called it for what it really is—corporate welfare?

The idea that a failing manufacturing sector is a blow to our public welfare is misguided. Structurally, economies change over time. Canada and the U.S. used to be primarily agricultural producers. Now, having evolved into predominantly service-based economies, the agricultural sector comprises two and one per cent of the countries’ overall earnings, respectively. Despite these changes, neither country has suffered any long-term damage. In fact, most economists would agree that living standards have slowly risen despite these transformations. When observing the ailing manufacturing sector, the same perspective should be taken. Dion is missing the forest for the trees: the importance of the economy’s composition pales in comparison to its overall state. Both inflation and unemployment are relatively low, and while growth is slow, it’s due to the economic woes of Canada’s largest importer down south. Moreover, the economy is structurally dynamic: the Canadian workforce is one of the most educated, adaptive, and skilled in the world.

Manufacturers will appeal to our sense of social justice and our predominantly liberal fantasy that government should solve all of our problems. If we accept that capitalism and free markets ought to play a less dominant role in our society, why should we feel obligated to use public money to bail out some of the most well-endowed players in the game? Corporate manufacturers have long enjoyed cushy profits and large market shares. They are large enterprises with a wealth of resources and talent. Recent failures are due to their lack of strategy to remain competitive against developing countries with cheaper labour and more efficient production processes. They suffer no disadvantage, and thus do not deserve our charity.

Of course, many wonder how lost jobs will affect ordinary Canadians who are not responsible for the managerial failures of their employers. Theoretically, they will eventually be re-absorbed into the economy in more high-demand sectors. Yet there is a solution that doesn’t involve pouring money into a failing sector of employment: aiding individuals most affected by retraining them in other employable skills.

In the larger scheme of things, Dion made another suggestion with potential: investment in green technology. And yet, if manufacturers have failed to meet expectations— make a profit, that is— why does Dion expect them to be better at using government R&D money? Such funding should be aimed in a general direction so that future entrepreneurs can re-appropriate these funds to create their own niche markets, in manufacturing or other sectors.

Canadians want to hold onto the idea of an industrious manufacturing base that has served as the “backbone” of our country. Dion, whether out of ideology or opportunity, is encouraging this misguided conception. But our manufacturers are the privileged trustfund kids of the economy, the ones who fail to perpetuate the past successes of their parents. In life, some people fail. In the market, some former winners lose. The proper response is to accept the results and move on.

Turning a blind eye

Last week, news leaked that a training manual on torture currently being drafted by Canada’s Foreign Affairs department lists the U.S. and Israel as potential sites for torture. An uproar unsued, and Foreign Affairs quickly began to backpedal amid protests from David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, who claimed that it was “absurd for [the U.S.] to be on a list like that.”

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier soon announced his decision to review the manual with the intent of removing Israel and the United Sates from the list of potential torturers. This move does nothing more than bolster political interests, at the expense for the respect of universal human rights. For Canada to appease an ally by tolerating illegal and immoral policies is a prime example of politics working against the good of the people.

The U.S. has long been suspected of engaging in torture at its Guantanamo Bay prison. Despite Wilkins’ outrage, a 2005 Forbes article reported that the U.S. submitted an acknowledgement to the UN of its torture activity, not only in Guantanamo, but in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Amnesty International’s country profile also lists America as a possible site for torture, and specifically mentions the secretive Guantanamo Bay prison. It is no surprise that the Canadian branch of the human rights organization was enraged by Bernier’s announcement.

Victims of torture are deprived of various sensory experiences for weeks. Beating the captives weakens them physically while denying them the basics of food, sight and sound. It is at this point that the captives begin to lose their sense of identity, and revert back to an infantile state. Are we, as a country, prepared to ignore behavior like this? How does such willful ignorance of injustice accord with Canada’s core values? It is easy to look down upon those who abuse human beings, but far more difficult to realize that those who turn a blind eye are just as much at fault.

As a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Canada has an international obligation to uphold article five, which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In naming the U.S. a suspected torturer, Canada took a fundamental step towards preserving an essential human right. By revising facts to prevent the embarrassment of an ally, Canada promotes the use of torture, failing to protect the interest of its citizens abroad and human beings worldwide.

Carrier Waves

National Public Radio host Ira Glass once quipped that among North Americans, public radio was “less popular than jousting, a sport that has been dead for 600 years.” Hyperbole aside, it’s clear that radio is not the zenith of entertainment it once was.

“Radio doesn’t have a large place in the popular imagination anymore,” laments Chris Berube, who hosts the show Electric Boogaloo on the University of Toronto’s radio station CIUT 89.5 FM. “A lot of people think it is a stagnant form—that Top 40 and blowhard talk radio is all there is.” Berube himself became involved at CIUT after a similar reaction. “I worked in an office where they played Edge 102. I would hear it everyday and think, there is so much more that I could do with this,” he says.

As it stands, CIUT has been around a lot longer. Hitting airwaves back in 1966, the campus station has endured name changes, license squabbles, and shifts in the very way people listen to media. Over the air, CIUT beams signals as far south as Buffalo, and as far north as Barrie. But with the advent of live streaming and deals with Star Choice Satellite and Rogers Digital Cable, CIUT can now be heard virtually anywhere in the world.

Berube and fellow CIUT host Michael Clifton don’t have much in common. Berube is a third-year political science student at U of T who hosts a show dedicated to under-the-radar indie rock. Clifton is a fifty-year-old radio technician for CBC whose two CIUT shows, Funky Fridays and Passport, encapsulate nearly every genre, from funk to gospel, jazz, blues, and country. Clifton spins CDs and at times, vinyl, while Berube makes playlists on iTunes. Yet they both share a devotion to public radio that makes them willing to rise at the crack of dawn and play a show from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in the middle of the week. If that’s not dedication, then what is?

Well for starters, both Clifton, a musician who previously owned Happy House Music on Markham Street, and Berube weren’t totally aware of the early morning slot when they started at CIUT. Both began through volunteering and standard training, then moved on to filling guest spots on other hosts’ shows before securing a program of their own. Clifton started with Passport, which airs on Tuesday afternoons, and Berube’s show aired on Mondays from 1-3 p.m. (currently it is on Wednesday mornings).

Yet Clifton loved being on the radio so much that the 5:30 a.m. slot came as a blessing. “When the slot opened I said, hey, what the hell, I’ll do it,” he laughs. “I realized this was an opportunity. Five-thirty in the morning gives you a captive audience: people are driving in their cars, lying in bed, frying the bacon for breakfast,” he says. “It is harder to get their attention at one in the afternoon, when everyone is at work.”

Berube also notes the success of morning radio, saying that the lackluster quality of most early programming is partially what motivates him to offer an alternative. And while the 4:30 wake-up calls in the dead of winter are not totally appealing, the sacrifice is worth it. “I’m just happy to be doing a show,” he says. “I’ll gladly accept a time slot that is ludicrous to others.”

While both Clifton and Berube were avid fans of the medium before becoming involved, neither estimated how much they would enjoy working at CIUT. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten into radio if people didn’t think I was already involved,” says Clifton, who was frequently mistaken for a host before he had ever been on air. Clifton even received recognition from CBC host Andy Barrie, who once told him that he had a perfect voice for radio. “For me, that was like being anointed,” he says.

With the morning slot, however, the question of how many listeners are willing to tune in inevitably arises. “Five-thirty a.m. is an ungodly hour to be doing anything, frankly,” says Berube, a reluctant self-promoter. “A lot of my friends don’t even know that I have a radio show,” he admits.

Likewise, Clifton argues that the numbers are not important. “There might be five listeners or there might be five million,” he says. “I try to ignore that factor and just express myself in a conversational way—people seem to like that.”

While their shows remain labours of love, both hosts are all about sharing the music that they adore with their audiences. Clifton puts special emphasis on the themes of his shows, creating Passport to capture the subgenres that comprise rock ‘n’ roll and playing high-energy music on Funky Fridays to invigorate listeners for their day. Likewise, Berube spends over 20 hours a week looking for new music and compiling his setlists, which are often themed around events or holidays (like backto- school and Halloween).

Even after their time at CIUT, both hosts have retained their differences. Berube frequently plays post-electronic artists like Battles and Stereolab, while Clifton considers drum machines “evil” and remains close to artists who play all their own instruments. Both heartily agree that working at the station has broadened their musical perspective. Clifton and Berube squeeze their programs into their own tight schedules (Clifton works at CBC, while Berube is a full-time student who also edits The Strand’s humour section and serves on the board of Victoria College). Yet the sacrifice is well worth it. “[Hosting a show] is something that really consumed me,” says Berube, while Clifton adds, “Every time I’m on the air, I learn something. It’s a thrill.” And with their tunes propagating through the air and cyberspace, there’s a chance public radio could reach the popularity level of say, polo. Now wouldn’t that make Ira Glass proud?

For program schedules and show times, visit

Stepping up to success

I was not looking forward to seeing How She Move. It is the latest entry in the hip-hop/step dance subgenre that has proven to be consistently successful at the box office, but less so with the critics. Now, I know next to nothing about hip-hop and step dancing. I grew up on Lloyd Manor Rd. in Etobicoke and was once referred to as “the whitest white boy in the world,” so there you are.

I woke up at an ungodly hour on a dreary January morning to catch the press screening. All I could think about was how nice it would be to skip the movie and catch a few more hours’ sleep. Oh, sure, The Varsity would probably fire me, but man, some more sleep would be heavenly…

But no. Instead I got up and saw How She Move. And you know what? I’m glad I did, and not just because I would have been fired if I missed it. It’s a surprisingly good movie, and an above-par entry in its subgenre.

A Canadian production, the film is set at Jane and Finch, where an ambitious Caribbean-Canadian girl named Raya (Rutina Wesley) has been forced to return after her college money was used on her sister’s funeral. She needs money to break out of the ghetto environment and go back to college, and an unlikely salvation arises: she joins a step dance team working its way towards a championship. If they win the prize money, she’ll be able to afford college.

This plot is formula, but who cares? It has likable characters and a positive message, and it moves at a fast pace. The cast, most making their big-screen debuts, is uniformly excellent. And damn, I really liked those dance scenes. They were kinetic, energetic, and impressively choreographed, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a snob.

Two days later, I met the film’s director, Ian Iqbal Rashid, a Canadian filmmaker who garnered critical attention in 2004 with his first feature, A Touch of Pink. If you’ve seen that film, you’ll recall that it was about a gay Muslim who works up the courage to tell his mother about his sexuality… thanks to advice from the spirit of Cary Grant (played by Kyle MacLachlan, no less).

“The Canadian producers who coproduced A Touch of Pink also made How She Move, and initially they brought me on as a kind of story consultant, which I do from time to time,” said Rashid. “And then when they were looking for a director they were sort of interested in my take on it, and I kind of got invested in the project, and we went from there.”

“There was a lot in the script that I identified with and that felt familiar to me. The setting is very familiar for me, as I grew up in a neighbourhood like that in Toronto, and the story of Raya—second-generation immigrant kid who’s trying to get out and has her own ambitions to deal with, her own dreams to follow—that all sort of felt very familiar.”

How She Move was filmed in Hamilton in an astonishing 25 days. “The most I had on any dance number was four or five hours, whereas a Hollywood movie would be days if not a week for each number.” Rashid compensated with an extensive rehearsal period. “We had 25 days’ prep as well. It wasn’t a luxurious amount, but we just used every second of it. We put the kids through dance camp—they were dancing eight hours a day. Some of them had never acted before, so I was working with them doing improv and acting rehearsals as well. So that’s where we nailed the movie.”

Indeed, How She Move was one low-budget production. When I asked Rashid about the film’s gritty cinematography, he said, “That evolved just out of necessity. With 25 days to shoot, we had to come up with a visual strategy to help make the schedule and the budget, as well as tell the story. So we decided to go with a 16mm, handheld camera, which just is lighter, more mobile, we can get more coverage. We shot it like a documentary, really. That was our plan, really, just our way of getting our days, but it also gave it a sort of edge. And we just went from there. The colour palette we tried to keep quite neutral—the browns and greys—and the look emerged from that […] necessity is the mother of invention.”

Despite being a genre film, How She Move was a surprise official entry at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “I was a bit surprised when we got in, because it is a kind of mainstream project, and I wasn’t sure that its indie credentials were enough to get us into Sundance. But they loved the movie and gave it a great slot, and […] we sold it within seconds.” The buyer was Paramount Vantage, which plans to release the film tomorrow on over 1,500 screens across North America.

For years people have moaned, “the musical is dead,” although the genre has seen a recent resurgence with the successes of Hairspray, Once, and High School Musical. For the most part, musicals from the last 40 years that have failed at the box office have been rigidly traditional, while the ones that are finding success today are the ones that are most eager to embrace contemporary music genres. Dare I say it, but perhaps a film like How She Move is the next logical step in the evolution of the musical

Mercury rising

After almost 33 years, NASA has returned to the planet Mercury through the aid of the MESSENGER spacecraft. MESSENGER, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging, made its first flyby on Jan. 14, 2008 at 2:04 p.m. EST, passing within 200 kilometres of the surface.

The last spacecraft to visit Mercury was the Mariner 10, which made three flybys from 1974 to 1975. However, it was only able to photograph 45 per cent of the surface, as the same hemisphere was lit during each of its passes. Even so, the photographs and information uncovered by Mariner 10 were enough to pique the interest of scientists.

MESSENGER has already sent back many highresolution images of the first planet from the sun, including photos of the hemisphere not seen in the mid-1970s. The spacecraft is equipped with wide and narrow angle colour and monochrome cameras. Better known as the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) instrument, the images of the hemisphere show it to be heavily cratered, much like Earth’s moon, revealing ridges, cliffs and evidence of volcanic activity. Planetary geologists study the high-resolution close-ups to understand how Mercury’s surface has evolved over the last four billion years. The MESSENGER mission aims to answer questions about the structure of Mercury’s core, the nature of its magnetic field, and the reason behind its unusual density.

A major point of interest for NASA scientists is Mercury’s Caloris basin, one of the largest in the solar system. Mariner 10 saw less than half of it, but the MESSENGER has already photographed what its predecessor could not. “Caloris is huge, about a quarter of the diameter of Mercury, with rings of mountains within it that are up to three kilometres high,” said Dr. Louise M. Prockter, instrumental scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System, and a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “By looking through different colour filters, we can start to understand what the composition of the Caloris basin may be and learn something about the subsurface of Mercury.”

Even with massive amounts of data to sift through, the spirits of NASA scientists involved with the project are high.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 38 years—since my parents woke me up at age 18 months to watch the first Apollo moon landing on our black-and-white TV,” wrote MESSENGER instrumental scientist Noam Izenberg. “Today I joined a small crowd of scientists and engineers in the MESSENGER Science Operation Center, and watched the first picture of Mercury in 33 years—showing almost a third of the planet that had never been seen in any detail before—pop up, BLAM, on a screen in all of its alien glory.”

NASA scientists aren’t the only ones impressed by the new photos of Mercury. “Even though the pictures reveal, to our eyes, another uninteresting, barren planet in our solar system, they also confirm the high value of our little unique and beautiful planet in the cosmic shore,” said Siavash Ganjbakhsh, a fourth-year evolutionary biology student and member of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. “We ought to protect and appreciate this beauty.”

MESSENGER will make two more Mercury flybys— one later this year and one in 2009 —before settling into orbit around the planet in 2011.