Sky watchers look for buyout

Vehement opponents of U of T’s plan to sell off the historic David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill have decided to fight to the last. With the Feb. 15 deadline for bids on the 190-acre property fast approaching, the town council has appealed to the provincial government to step in. The university has made it clear that it intends to sell the site without consideration for the buyer’s plans.

The DDO, opened in 1935, was once one of the best facilities in the world for astronomical research. Its 1.8-metre reflector telescope remains the largest in Canada, but technological advances, changes in the field of study, and the advantages of high-altitude and orbital telescopes have long overshadowed the facility. Nonetheless, it retains a devoted following among scientists and amateurs, and a community of naturalists drawn to the observatory’s well conserved, vibrant grounds.

The DDO grounds were donated to U of T in 1932 by the widow of the Toronto businessman David Dunlap, on the condition that they always be used for astronomical research. The university reached an undisclosed agreement with the Dunlap family to sell the land.

Talk by Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and education minister Kathleen Wynne has spurred hopes for an eleventh-hour provincial buyout to preserve the observatory.

“I tell you, I grew up in Richmond Hill and the Dunlap observatory was very much a part of my background, so it’s certainly something I would be willing to talk about,” Wynne told the Toronto Star.

Richmond Hill’s mayor David Barrow said he hoped the premier’s office would raise an objection to the sale and ask the university to reconsider.

Thornhill MP Peter Shurman and Richmond Hill MP Reza Moridi were among a handful of local politicians who attended a rally at Queen’s Park on Jan. 17 to show support for preserving the DDO and its grounds.

The protesters marched to Simcoe Hall to meet with U of T’s Governing Council. Asked by protestors whether the university would consider extending the deadline for bids, U of T’s vice-president business affairs Catherine Riggall was adamant that the Feb. 15 date would stand.

Some researchers have questioned the prevailing logic that the DDO is obsolete. Peter Martin, chair of astronomy at U of T, told the Toronto Star that the observatory is “still a vital spot where stellar spectroscopists gather important new observations at wavelengths unaffected by the brilliant light of a Richmond Hill night.”

Drama overload

Theatre is a small and self-regulating community where only the best can survive and make money doing it. Most of the student-written shows produced at U of T’s drama festival won’t ever be put up again, which makes it a unique opportunity to catch some one-of-a-kind performances.

The U of T Drama Festival, now in its 16th year, took place at Hart House Theatre this past weekend. The shows in the festival came from all three campuses and were produced entirely by U of T students. This year the festival was adjudicated by David Daylor, a theatre educator from Hamilton who has directed plays across Ontario.

With eight shows from six different companies competing for awards and audience applause, the festival was not about accolades but showcasing some of the best (and worst) theatre U of T can make.—MATT MCGEACHY

In Transit

  • Victoria College Drama Society
  • Written by Sarah Devonshire
  • Directed by Joy Lee
  • Rating: VV

In Transit is not a bad idea for a show, but it needed to be flushed out and matured. The stories take place entirely in some form of transit: a plane, a bus station, the TTC, a car, and on a park bench waiting for a taxi. Each vignette follows different characters attaining maturity. Steve (En Lai Mah) and Nina (Allison Kerr) start as roommates at University and end up in a committed relationship; Matt (Evan Wallis) and Diane (Linn Oyen Farley) meet in a bus station and end up a couple. Then Diane reveals to Matt that she is pregnant while they are riding the TTC. Awkward. Something about the timing onstage did not work, and most of the direction seemed arbitrary. Farley was by far the most talented actor of the bunch, the others lacked, maturity on stage. With better direction and some revisions, as well as actors who can “age,” the show could easily be better. As it stands, the show was flawed and needs work.—MM

Ends of the Earth

  • Hart House Drama Society
  • Written and Directed by Katie Binnersley
  • Rating: VVVv

Symptomatic of the Crash generation in the best possible way, this show is a series of troubling modern vignettes. Brian (Tommy Oliver) is waiting for a bus after visiting his friend when the sexy Sandra (Jennifer Fraser) comes out for a smoke. Brian burns himself with Sandra’s lighter, and she takes him upstairs to ice the burn. The action follows the two as they climb the stairs, and along the way we see moving portraits of the everyday lives of the building’s inhabitants. A single mother, touchingly played by Emma Burns, tried to cope with the difficulties of raising her daughter. Burns’ performance was very well conceived and emotional. On the next floor, we find a man (Daniel Bild-Enkin in a ridiculous beard) living alone and talking to himself. By the time we reach the fifth floor, we find that Sandra lives with a depressed roommate, Bronwyn (Janette Mason), who spends the entire evening fighting with her sadistic mother on the phone. For the most part, Ends of the Earth was a well thought out and polished show. If only the transitions between floors were tightened up, this play would have really excelled.—MM

The Greenroom

  • UTSC Drama Society
  • Written by Andy Wong
    Directed by Jon Mandrozos
    Rating: VVV

This was a well-rounded comedy about a group of drama kids hanging out in the last days before their theatre is torn down. The Greenroom has everything from a lesbian subplot to a mysterious ever-present Guy on the Couch (Jon Mandrozos) who does nothing but sleep. All the stereotypes of theatre nerds are explored: the domineering tech director (Kiki Serdaridis), the keen wannabe (Rebecca Biason), the horny actor (Vincent Andreas Salvador Lee), and the ever-present comedian (Andy Wong). Wong’s script and Mandrozos’s direction read like a funny sitcom; unfortunately, it lasted for an hour instead of only 30 minutes. While the jokes were still flowing, they were less funny when drawn out over the full course of the play. The script does such a great job of introducing the characters so quickly, one wonders why the simple plot had to go on for so long—it could easily be pared down and maintain the full integrity of the show. One had the feeling that the actors were having such a great time that they didn’t want to stop!—MM

On Tape

  • St. Michael’s College Drama Society
  • Written by Joceline Andersen
  • Directed by Raissa Elizabeth Espinoza
  • Rating: V

How did this get in to the festival? It was a huge disappointment. We follow Bonnie and Tom, played by three sets of actors, as they discover that their old roommate was a spy. Bonnie is a teacher (we gather) who is preparing dinner as her pompous partner, Tom, a grad student obsessed with his own genius, comes home. The first set of Bonnie and Tom, played by Aadila Dosani and Steve Figueiredo, fell flat because they didn’t have a sense of timing over the process of discovery that their roomie was a spy. The second pairing (Jillian Srigley and Ryan-James Hatanaka), though more true to life and sporting good chemistry, could not salvage the damage done by the slow start and the haphazard direction. While this play is supposed to drive home that we don’t really know the people around us, it not only seems contrived, but it falls flat on its face at that. I was actually embarrassed for the performers—it was like watching a really boring train wreck.—MM

Ad: 450 Pilot

  • UTM Drama Club
  • Written by Marissa Ship
  • Directed by Ryan Singh
  • Rating: VVVVv

Every so often, the stars align and a show like this comes along, with superb writing, exceptionally talented actors, and direction so nuanced that you don’t even realize the show was directed at all. This is what happens when sheer talent, nurtured by talented teachers in a creative environment, is allowed to shine. In short, it’s the best of university theatre. A two-hander, the play follows Andrew (Paolo Santalucia), who responds to a woman’s personal ad. The self-referential ad only wants to know one thing: why did he respond? In the vein of existential drama, this show could easily have been naïve and played out like a first-year philosophy class. But the writing knew its own limitations, and didn’t throw existential crap at the audience. Instead, it focused on the relationship that develops over the course of 30 minutes between the two characters. Santalucia and Shannon Shura had great chemistry on stage— Sanalucia’s portrayal of a neurotic urbanite was worthy of Woody Allen. As for Shura: some people simply have the talent to command attention, regardless of the context. If these two keep honing their craft, expect to hear their names attached to bigger projects. This show is easily the best of the fest!—MM

Purgatory

  • Victoria College Drama Society
  • Written by Victoria Fisher
  • Directed by Adam Albanese
  • Rating: VV

Three individuals arrive in purgatory (a white-chaired waiting room): Qword, a cynical computer programmer, Meeble, a blasé teen obsessed with the colour blue, and Avitorix, a high-strung lawyer. All must go before St John, head of immigration, to have their fate decided based on a point system measuring if they are good or evil, Meeble and Avitorix band together to save Qword from the “boredom of hell.” The deadpan immigration assistant and the jolly appeals judge elicited some laughs, however the repetitive hell jokes were painfully anticipated. Is Marshall attempting to highlight some of the problems with Canada’s immigration system, comparing the use of the point system for evaluating immigrants with the notion of purgatory? Unfortunately, this play covers familiar ground, much of the direction appeared forced, and awkward transitions were accompanied by a tinny piano rendition of “Girl from Ipanema.” Although the festival format imposed limitations on technical resources, the company did not utilize the minimal tech to their advantage. Despite the enthusiasm of the actors, the characters’ constant questioning of mortality failed to convince. —ANN A GALL AGHER -ROSS

Snap!

  • UTM Drama Club
  • Written by G.C. Walton
  • Directed by William R.A. Dupuis
  • VVVv

Brandon MacDonald commanded attention and broke hearts as Graham, a disturbed fellow haunted by something from his past. This was one of the most demanding shows because of the intensity of the writing and the performance. On one side of the stage is Graham’s bedroom, where he has recurring nightmares. On the other sits his therapist’s couch. For Graham, the audience is both a voyeur and his therapist. We discover Graham’s trauma was an experience from first-year university, when innocent horseplay escalated and resulted in Graham accidentally snapping his friend’s neck, leaving him a quadriplegic. As this is revealed the audience is strapped in to ride Graham’s emotional roller coaster. During the climactic revelation, MacDonald snapped his fingers to simulate the sound of a neck breaking. The entire audience flinched.—MM

Cast Asunder

  • Woodsworth College League of Dramatists
  • Written by Matt Riley
  • Directed by Matt Flowitt
  • Rating: V

This one-man show is the story of an atypical angel, an outsider cast asunder named Faustus Experi Animus. His direct address to the audience expounds on the terrible injustices of society and his plans to become supreme ruler. These are punctuated by occasional flashbacks to his first and only love, personified by an echoing recording of her voice. These brief recollections were the most compelling of the entire play. However, the play crossed over to uncertain territory when it subjected the audience to a strange series of incoherent projected images of torture, money, cars, poverty stricken children in some unnamed continent—which confused rather than clarified the script’s message. As an angel, Faustus openly accuses the audience of neglecting their humane responsibilities, and threatens destroy the human race. Kudos to Riley for having written and performed the piece. He certainly has presence and is in command of his script. But repeatedly chastising the audience for its lack of morality is not persuasive when the main character speaks of how he plans to obliterate us all.—AGR

Stock plan passes with little talk

U of T’s University Affairs Board voted last Tuesday to revise its stance on controversial investments. The revised policy controls how the university handles politically-driven stock divestment decisions.

At the meeting where the UAB approved the change, the Responsible Investment Committee alongside representatives from various unions presented an alternative policy, which was not considered.

The move comes as a part of a larger-scale revision of the university’s investment policies and procedure, as promised by the administration. “The current amendment […] deals specifically with the request for divestment,” said U of T president David Naylor. He recommended that the “broader issue” of screening investments for environmental and political concerns should be discussed in informal meetings.

The last official investment policy went into effect in 1978, before the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation was given control over the university’s investments in 2000. UTAM currently controls $5.4 billion in university assets, which include the university’s $2-billion endowment fund and $2.9- billion pension funds.

Previously, divestment decisions were made by an advisory committee composed of elected members of the GC from each of its five constituencies (student, faculty, staff, grad students and alumni). The divestment procedure had only been invoked three times. Most recently, the university decided not to divest itself of stocks in three companies indirectly linked to profiteering in Darfur. The policy was successfully invoked in 1988 to divest stocks in Apartheid South Africa, and in 2007 for tobacco company shares.

The new policy put decisions in the hands of an ad hoc committee chosen by the president and approved by Governing Council.

Michal Hay, UTSU’s VP university affairs, spoke to the board at the meeting to describe the new policy as a step in the wrong direction. She urged the council to consider the alternative proposal by RIC.

“There is little opportunity for members of the U of T community to participate in this mechanism,” said Hay.

“[RIC’s proposal], the way I read it, is about how we make investments. The is sue before the UAB today is about how we deal with social and political issues with respect to investments that we already have,” said Catherine Riggall, U of T’s VP business affairs

“We were looking at putting it on the agenda,” said UAB and RIC member Alexandru Rascanu. “The proposed investment policy was coming as an alternative to what senior members of the university’s administration had put forward.”

Rascanu said he was “cautiously optimistic” about offline meetings with administrators. “I hope that we can look past the petty discrepancies and look at the bigger picture to create an effective mechanism to address responsible investment issues,” he said.

Blues bury Queen’s on Groundhog Day

Wiarton Willie did not see his shadow on Saturday, thereby predicting an early spring. The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team also shook off their winter blahs, bouncing back from their only backto- back losses of the season with a couple of wins against Queen’s and UOIT.

After dropping games to Western and York, the previous week, it was a welcome return to the win column for Toronto “I thought we played better today. Our last two games haven’t been that great, but today was much better,” said head coach Karen Hughes after the game. The win was especially important with playoffs just around the corner. The Blues are second in the OUA, and need to finish in the top two to secure a first-round bye. “We need to do well in these next three games to get ready, so I think today was important for us to get back on a positive side. Queen’s is a good team, they beat [first place] Laurier last weekend two-to-nothing, so that’s a big win for us, to get some positive energy going,” said coach Hughes.

The team will need to continue their stellar play just to keep third-place Guelph at bay. “We have to bring the same hard work, energy, moving the puck to each other, and getting lots of shots.” the Blues coach assessed. “ The Blues outshot Queen’s 39-12 en route to a 4-0 victory over the Golden Gael’s on Saturday. The teams appeared evenly matched in the opening frame, although Toronto would soon take control of the game. Neither team was able to score in the first period, despite some good chances at both ends. Despitte being outshot 14-4 early on, Golden Gaels goaltender Melissa John, recently named the OUA’s female athlete of the week, was able to shut the door.

For Toronto, goalie Stephanie Lockert faced fewer shots but made big saves when called upon, including a glove save on forward Michelle Hunt during a Queen’s powerplay. The Blues dominated the Golden Gaels in the second period, peppering John with 15 shots and allowing only three on their goaltender. After some pushing and shoving resulted in a two-minute roughing penalty to Queen’s forward Elizabeth Kench, defenceman Lindsey Ryan finally opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 19:27 of the second. Ryan’s point shot found its way to the net through traffic, and Janine Davies assisted for her league-leading 31st point of the year.

Despite solid goaltending from John, the Blues’ dominanted play in the third period. Laura Foster needed only 10 seconds to net her 11th tally of the season, an unassisted goal on a wrist shot following the opening faceoff.

Sustained offensive zone pressure, including an impressive display of puckhandling skill by Annie Del Guidice, led to Foster’s second goal of the game at 10:15. The fourth-year forward scored, and Emily Patry picked up the assist. If Queen’s had any hope for a comeback, it was dashed when Lindsay Hill scored off the rush on a nice passing play by Amanda Fawns and Sarah Poirier, with less than three minutes left in the game. The Blues’ threegoal outburst came despite spending much of the final frame short-handed. They took four penalties, while Queen’s took none, and were down two players at one point, but aggressive penalty killing and a strong showing by Lockert preserved the shutout. Foster was named Varsity Blue of the game for her two-goal performance.

Editorial: Taking an honest look at Israel

Today marks the first day of U of T’s most controversial annual event. Every year, Israeli Apartheid Week brings accusation, from all sides, of racism and hate-mongering. It can be a tense and divisive time on campus, and emotions run high.

But just because the subject matter is sensitive does not mean that students should shy away from engagement. Indeed, criticism of Israel will always be a deeply personal matter for many of those who support the Jewish state. Because Zionists believe that Israel is synonymous with the Jewish faith, any criticism of the nation is seen as a criticism of its people. Inevitably, the charge of anti-Semitism is raised, and advocates for Palestinians are quickly labelled “Israel-haters” or worse. Many are reluctant to speak against the nation lest they be labelled racist.

But criticism of Israel must not be silenced by spurious charges of anti- Semitism. We should not take for granted that Israel—especially as it exists today—is a natural manifestation of Jewish destiny, as many Zionists assert. Certainly, disparaging Israel’s policies is not the same as disparaging Jews as a whole, and calling Israel an apartheid state, while the fact is debatable, does not amount to anti-Semitism. In the academic environment of our university, students must be able to critically examine the Jewish state without having to defend themselves from charges motivated by hate.

By the same token, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, the organizers of this week’s events, must stick to the issue at hand. The issue is this: 4.4 million Palestinian refugees are suffering, and this suffering must end. The problems facing Palestinians must be examined honestly, and this includes discussing the ways that Palestinian leaders have failed their people. Hopefully, Israeli Apartheid Week will be a time to work towards ending their misery, rather than fomenting anger and frustration through useless polemics.

For this reason, the inclusion of Ward Churchill as one of the event’s keynote speakers must be seen as a troubling sign. Churchill, a former professor who is long on indignant outrage but short on academic credibility, continues his very public fight against his 2007 dismissal from the University of Colorado, Boulder for academic misconduct. He will no doubt draw attention away from the real issues, as Israel’s defenders likely find it all too easy to discredit this week’s events on the basis of his inclusion.

If Israeli Apartheid Week is to make a positive difference, it will be in opportunities for problem-solving, not just expressing anger at injustice. It is incontrovertible that the current situation, in which millions live in abject poverty, is untenable. Simply blaming Israel without working towards real solutions will not change this reality, any more than calling Israel’s critics haters will make the problems go away.

My name is Earl!

You don’t have to be a hockey expert to know that one great game doesn’t make a career, but for a young prospect trying to get his feet wet at the NHL level, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Few but the most intrepid Leafs fans would have been familiar with the name Robbie Earl prior to his impressive debut in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs called up their 2004 sixth-round draft pick (186th overall) from Toronto’s AHL affiliate earlier in the day to replace suspended forward Nik Antropov.

Joining Earl in the Leafs lineup were Marlies teammates Kris Newbury and Ben Ondurus, who saw their first action of the season on a Toronto team decimated by injuries to five regulars. “I’ve never had a team (lose so many players at once) off the top end of the lineup,” said head coach Paul Maurice of the Leafs injury situation.

With Earl, the team’s fourth-rated prospect, now up with the big club the Leafs are icing four rookies (the others: Anton Stralman, Jiri Tlutsy, and Justin Pogge), trying to keep playoff hopes alive. Without a permanent general manager or a coherent plan for the future, Toronto finds itself at an organizational crossroads: six points separate Toronto from eighth place in the East, but the team is also only six points from last place overall in the NHL.

While the team is trying to forge its identity, like any other rookie, Earl is simply trying to make a name for himself. “There were some nerves there—the Leafs, Toronto, your first game—but I think I found a way to keep the nerves down,” said Earl after the game.

Admittedly, the 22-year-old Chicago native has been pressed into regular duty out of necessity (he had 11 goals and 22 assists in 44 games with the Marlies), but the team will eventually need help from all its young players, even if injuries have forced their hand. “We want [Earl] to soak up the atmosphere,” said Maurice of his young charge. “Regardless of what happens with the rest of his career, whether it lasts 20 years or [a day or a week], this experience only happens once.” It was only one game, but the rookie has adjusted quite well in the battle of Ontario. His skill level was evident in every shift, even if it remains unpolished. On Saturday night he used his speed and shiftiness to irritate Ottawa defenders on the fore-check. His effortless excursions through the neutral zone created some exciting scoring opportunities, contributing to an opening goal by Dominic Moore, garnering him an assist on a nifty behind- the-back pass to Carlo Coliacovo for Toronto’s third goal.

Saturday’s debut had to be a confidence builder for a player that some would argue is hardly lacking it. After being drafted out of Wisconsin in 2004, the MVP of the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament said “The Leafs got a steal” which caused some critics to label him arrogant.

“Do I come across as cocky? Earl asked during one interview. “I’m just really confident and, at this level, that’s what you need.” It’s that self-assurance that will set him apart from the typical rookie. He’s unlikely to back down from a challenge and strives to be the best player on the ice in every shift. Saturday’s performance against Ottawa was only one game, but Earl certainly had people in attendance asking, “Who was that guy?”

The fall of the noble Nalgene water bottle

My world is made of plastic. Yours is, too. From the resins that bind the particleboard of our IKEA bookshelves to the synthetic insulation of our Honest Ed’s quilts, plastic particles are everywhere. We also happen to like buying things. We like buying things so much that whenever anything frightens us we rely on our wallets to direct us to the nearest and quickest solution. These days, water bottles are the hot new item to fear and replace. The solution: buy stainless steel.

The formerly noble creation known as the Nalgene bottle is being branded as a potential danger to your health because of a chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a key monomer in the plastics used for the bottles, as well as all sorts of receptacles: the linings of food cans, sippy cups, and baby bottles, to name a few.

Scientists are currently debating the safety of the chemical: animal lab tests have shown BPA to activate estrogen receptors in the body, which may lead to cancers, infertility, and, apparently, general doom down the road. Scientists have known about the hormone-disrupting properties of BPA for years, though its trace impact on human physiology is still a matter of debate. The makers of Nalgene have long insisted that the quantity of the chemical in their polycarbonate plastic is insufficient to cause harm.

The signature hard plastic bottles have not officially been recalled by the Rochester-based company, but many major Canadian distributors have opted to pull the popular con tainers from their shelves. Mountain Equipment Co-op was among the fi rst to stop selling the bottles in November, and Lululemon quickly followed suit.

A former emblem of eco-cool, the plastic Nalgene has been a staple of backpack holsters on university campuses across North America for over a decade. Until recently, drinking from your Nalgene bottle projected an image of environmental awareness, social consciousness, and overall pragmatism. Nowadays, those who are “in the know” are swapping their old Nalgenes for a variety of sleeker, pricier, metal-based alternatives that are being marketed as “safe” and “healthy” substitutes for the old plastic standard.

It’s more than a little ironic to see the once-wholesome Nalgene bottle become the latest addition to an ongoing consumer witch-hunt that includes such no-no’s as gluten, candy bars without cacao-content brag tallies, non-organic produce, and anything that doesn’t call itself “green.” Then again, if whole wheat (gluten!) can make its way onto “bad choice” lists, why shouldn’t everyone’s favourite earth-friendly water bottle qualify?

It may be difficult to cast aspersions on products that aim to provide discerning shoppers with environmentally ethical options, and it is probably unfair to criticize the individuals who choose to purchase responsibly. But, how long can we count on our latest “smart” buy to be smart enough?

When the virtually indestructible polycarbonate Nalgene bottle was initially released in the mid-’90s, it was hailed as the top choice for proponents of an active, healthy lifestyle. In spite of Nalgene’s fall from grace, it’s unlikely that we’ll learn our lesson. Consumers will continue to buy more things, convinced that we are buying the pinnacle of utility and safety each time. Our plastic world may expand to include stainless steel for now, but only until someone comes up with the next best thing to replace it.

How did you deal with the snow this weekend?

Clockwise, from top left

KRISTIAN, U of T employee

I work at U of T’s AV Department and our van kept getting stuck in the snow. Each time we needed to start moving, we had no choice but to pull a Cool Runnings, pushing the van until it picked up speed and then hopping on.

KATIE – 2nd year Music and Physics

I built a snow man on the landing outside my 3rd-floor window, but he was soon crushed by a massive pile of snow from the roof.

MATT, 3rd year Psychology

I still went out and partied. I picked up a straight guy who said ‘I’m not gay, but can I sleep over?’ In the process of trying to get him to come out of the closet I hit my head on a door!

AMY, 2nd year Mathematics

I had a snowballs fight outside G’s Fine Foods on Bloor with some of my friends. I lost my glasses and we all searched for 15 minutes through piles of snow.