Party lines

Green Party – Stephen LaFrenie

First-time Green candidate Stephen LaFrenie is a performer and teacher of physical theatre. For the past two years he was the Green shadow cabinet’s critic for International Cooperation and the Canadian International Development Agency. LaFrenie is a community volunteer and has experience working with third-world development charities, especially in Haiti. In 2006, the Greens won 3.8% of the vote in Trinity-Spadina.

Education: Increase post-secondary funding through a program that would replace the Millennium Scholarship Fund. Forgive 50 per cent of a student’s loan when they complete a degree or certificate program. Use targeted grants to promote trade and technical education.

Energy: Phase out nuclear power completely. Use regulation to promote energy consumption efficiency in households.

Environment: Amend Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to add the right to clean air and water. Carbon tax of $50 per tonne and the creation of a rubric to measure environmental progress.

Food safety: The platform mostly addresses sustainable production and expanding local agriculture. Also includes developing area-specific food safety regulations that help local farmers meet national standards.

Health care: Keep single-tier health care system. Restoration of the 2005 agreement to create a universal child health care program. Invest to promote healthy lifestyle as prevention measure.

Housing: Loans and funding for sustainable, affordable housing developments. Subsidization of private developers to stall neighbourhood gentrification through creation of mixed-income housing.

Transit: Double federal funding for urban transit. Investment in sustainable transportation infrastructure such as pedestrian, cycle, and car-sharing. Immediate cancellation of federal funding for certain highway and bridge expansions that encourage urban sprawl and vehicle use.

Also of note: The Greens support the draft of UN Declaration on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples for those affected by mining and oil and gas exploration in Arctic areas. They would ask for a UN ruling on the disputed areas and the US gas and oil leases in these regions.

Liberal Party – Christine Innes

Christine Innes is a Toronto lawyer who has lived in Trinity-Spadina for over 25 years. The wife of former Liberal MP Tony Ianno, who lost to Olivia Chow by a narrow margin in the last election, she is running for the first time.

Education: $5000 in loans for all students, regardless of family income. Lower interest rates and extend the grace period for interest-free repayment from six months to two years. 300,000 new bursaries and access grants for post-secondary education.

Energy : The Carbon Plan would raise taxes on fossil fuels and make new investments in renewable energy and conservation.

Environment: The Green Shift, the keystone of the Liberals’ campaign platform, plans to tax polluters while giving tax breaks on personal income, investment, and innovation.

Food safety: $50 million to improve food safety system. Hire more inspectors and conduct review of Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Health care: The focus is on a $900-million plan for catastrophic drug coverage for Canadians with serious illnesses. $420 million to address the shortage of doctors and nurses.

Housing: Improve access to affordable housing with funding for 30,000 new units and the repair and renovation of 30,000 existing units.

Transit: $8 billion to help cities expand their public transit systems and make them more environmentally friendly

Also of note: Cut poverty by 30 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent in the first four years of a Liberal government.

New Democratic Party – Olivia Chow

The incumbent MP ran unsuccessfully in Trinity-Spadina in 1997 and 2004 before winning in 2006. Chow is married to NDP Leader Jack Layton, and both live in the riding. Chow was elected Toronto school board trustee in 1985. She served as Toronto city councilor between 1991 and 2005.

Education: $1,000 grant to undergrads who qualify for student loans. Reform the Canada Student Loans system so that students doing internships, co-ops or placement programs aren’t asked to repay loans at the same time. Increase graduate and postgraduate research funding.

Energy: Stop tax breaks to the tar sands, nuclear power, and oil and gas industries. Funding for energy-efficient homes and buildings.

Environment: Reduce carbon emissions through a “cap and trade” system. $3-billion “green-collar” jobs and remove bureaucratic hurdles for zero-emission vehicles.

Food Safety: Hire more inspectors and improve warning system. Require labeling of genetically modified foods and farmed fish.

Health care: Train up to 28,000 additional health care workers. Streamline credential recognition for foreign professionals. Create a national home care system and a national prescription drug plan.

Housing: Give one per cent of federal spending to affordable housing by 2018. Build new affordable housing projects, upgrade old ones, extend homelessness programs and transitional housing.

Transit: An extra cent per litre from the federal gas tax and fining big polluters comes to $4 billion ($840 million for Toronto) over four years. Increase railways and bike paths.

Also of note: National minimum wage of $10 an hour. Reduce overcharging and hidden fees by major corporations, including a ban on ATM fees and incoming charges on text messages. Allow provinces to ban handguns.

Conservative Party – Christine McGirr

Christine McGirr is a consultant and a former school trustee candidate. She sits on the board of directors for two riding associations. McGirr has worked on campaigns for a number of conservative candidates.

In an unusual move, the Conservatives waited until the campaign’s last week to release an official platform. The Tories landed a distant third in the last election.

Education: Tax breaks for programs geared towards saving for post-secondary education. $2,000 bonus to apprentices from certain trades who complete their training.

Energy: $2 billion to promote smarter energy use, greater use of clean energy sources, and cleaner use of traditional energy sources.

Environment: Reduce Canada’s greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and cut air pollution in half by 2015. Industrial polluters will be forced by law to meet certain standards for emissions, with a Canada-wide limit on four major toxins that contribute to smog and acid rain.

Health care: Tax break for children enrolled in arts and sports programs, with deductions up to $500 per year. Stephen Harper has stated he would ban candy-flavored tobacco products.

Housing: $2 billion plan to combat homelessness. With current anti-homelessness programs expiring in March, a new five-year plan has been promised.

Transit: Harper announced a $1 billion transit grant for Toronto in March, and promised another $586 million later.

Also of note: Proposes stiffer sentences for offenders as young as 14 years for first and second degree murder and other serious crimes: it would now be as much as life in prison. Also proposes removal of ban against publicizing their names.

Concussion research has potential to save athletes’ careers

Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury, causing a momentary interference with the brain’s ability to function, regardless of their severity. Contrary to popular belief, concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness, but may affect memory, judgment, or coordination. The most frequent concussion symptoms are amnesia—loss of memory of the impact that caused the trauma—and confusion. Although the brain is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which functions to protect it from light trauma, this fluid is not always capable of absorbing more severe impact forces associated with a concussion.

To better understand the impact of concussions on athletes, U of T researchers Dr. Lynda Mainwaring and Dr. Doug Richards of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, in collaboration with their colleagues from Toronto Rehab, Dr. Comper and Dr. Green, are in the midst of the Varsity Athlete Concussion Research Project. Started in 2000, one of the study’s key research objectives is to empirically validate the existing University of Toronto return-to-play guidelines. According to Michael Hutchison, a graduate student working on the project with Dr. Mainwaring, “there exists over 25 return-to-play guidelines in the world for allowing athletes to get back to the field after injury but none have been validated [experimentally].” Experimental affirmation of return-to-play guidelines consist of balancing the athlete’s desire to return to the field with the possible risk for musculoskeletal injury or another concussion. Essentially, it’s a matter of finding the time that, as Hutchinson puts it, is “just right.”

To achieve this objective the researchers combine science and sports. Their study consists of neuropsychological baseline testing, post-injury neuropsychological follow-ups, and prudent medical management. Athletes who undergo baseline testing are those deemed to be at a high risk for concussion through their involvement in contact sports such as basketball, football, rugby, or hockey. So far, 500 Varsity athletes have undergone a baseline test, 5 to 10 per cent of which have sustained a concussion. Baseline testing not only incorporates computerized neurocognitive measures but also neuropsychological tests, which includes a standardized paper and pencil test known to be sensitive to mild traumatic brain injury.

If an athlete experiences a concussion, they are re-tested immediately and then at regular intervals until recovery is complete or baseline functioning is achieved. After each concussion, every athlete goes to the sports medicine clinic run by Dr. Richards. To assess neurocognitive and emotional functioning, the research team measures indicators like reaction time, information-processing, attention, working memory, visual-spatial processing, and the athletes’ emotional response to injury.

The Varsity Athlete Concussion Research project is a truly multifaceted undertaking. Dr. Mainwaring hopes that this research will reveal better ways to ensure a smooth rehabilitative process for concussed athletes. The study has also allowed numerous students to delve into this field of research and pursue pertinent graduate work. The rehabilitative success of our Varsity athletes can be attributed to a true partnership between the athletes, coaches, and other staff members. The tremendous potential this study could have on research and clinical care can be summed up by Dr. Mainwaring’s remark that, “There will always be another game, but you only have one brain.”

Palestinian students under siege

Riham Al-Nahhal is one of the lucky few who have left the Gaza Strip to pursue their education. But for now, university will have to wait.

Her original plan was to arrive in Toronto in time to attend Ryerson and pursue her graduate degree in biomedical science. Instead she was held for 26 hours at the Israel-controlled Rafah crossing, on the border between Gaza and Egypt. Riham said she arrived in Toronto on Sept. 4, too late to join class. She will not be starting school until next semester. “We are still deciding between Ryerson and U of T, but right now she is relaxing,” said Wal.

Riham completed her undergrad at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, and claims she has been trying to make it to university in Canada for a year.

Israel has imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip since the Hamas government took control in June 2007. The borders have mostly been kept closed, and when they do open, only a few hundred people are allowed to leave at a time.

Around 670 aspiring international students in Gaza have been prevented from leaving to attend schools in foreign countries.

Riham’s husband, Wal Al-Nahhal, sponsored her entry into Canada with a family sponsorship visa. Without such a document, most Palestinians wishing to leave the country have to rely on patience and luck.

“They seem only to open the border once every three weeks,” said Wal. “It’s like collective punishment for the Palestinian people.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had harsh words for the Israeli government when she visited the Middle East in May of this year. “If you cannot engage young people and give them a complete horizon to their expectations and to their dreams, then I don’t know that there would be any future for Palestine,” she said. Shortly after that, then-Foreign Minister and Prime Minister-elect Tzipi Livni made a few exceptions and allowed four of seven Fulbright scholars to leave the territory.

The current Israeli policy is to allow only “extreme humanitarian cases” to leave Gaza, according to Major Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the Israeli Military. International students, he said, “are not people who need humanitarian aid.”

Changing lives with WiFi

Dr. Eric Brewer believes WiFi can save the developing world.

Speaking before a crowd of budding computer engineers at U of T’s Bahen Centre last Tuesday, Brewer delivered a lecture entitled “Tech for Developing Regions: Computer Science Matters,” the first of U of T’s Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series.

An accomplished computer scientist himself, Brewer co-founded the Inktomi Corporation in 1996. Since 2005 Brewer has also been on partial leave as director of research at Intel. His current work focuses on connecting rural and urban regions of developing nations through a wireless networking scheme he invented called WiLDNet.

WiFi as we know it provides internet service within a radius of several meters, as found in coffee shops and school libraries. On the other hand, WiLDNet, which is short for Wireless Long Distance Network, will be used to connect rural communities across entire nations. These communities include three to four billion people worldwide who live on less than two dollars a day. His goal is to use technology to accelerate growth and prosperity among these populations.

Brewer’s driving force is his “wireless hypothesis” which claims that wireless systems are the first truly viable infrastructure for rural areas because they connect large areas at a very low cost. “Wireless is so affordable that you can put it in rural areas right now, and we’re going to do that,” he explained. He believes that introducing such systems can lead to increased rural income, bringing about other types of infrastructure such as health care, education, and government.

How feasible are these grand intentions? According to Brewer, there have already been a number of successful WiFi experiments where connectivity has increased rural income and quality of life. The introduction of wireless connectivity to the Aravind Eye Hospitals in Tamil Nadu, India has provided thousands of rural villagers with eye care they would have otherwise never received due to the severe shortage of doctors in the area. Connected by an antenna and a small Linux router, these one-room clinics are equipped with a single PC and a high-quality webcam which allows patients to video-conference with doctors in distant hospitals. For these doctors, who are used to working without instruments, the patient interview is the most important tool in diagnosis. Of the 80,000 patients who have used this service, over 14,000 have gone from being essentially blind to having effective vision, and 85 per cent have since been able to generate their own income.

Another company, I.T. Mountain, uses WiFi connectivity to send medical audio files to Bangalore, where trained workers transcribe the files and send the text documents back to the doctors. Outsourcing transcription from cities to isolated areas generates an average of eight dollars an hour—a huge amount by rural standards—for each employee.

Of course, the wireless revolution has its setbacks. The biggest challenge Brewer has faced so far is the low power grid quality in these areas. The unpredictable spikes and swells of voltage are responsible for 90 per cent of WiLDNet’s hardware faults, such as damage to power adapters and batteries. This poses a health risk to residents, who often try to refill the battery acid themselves. As solutions to these problems, Brewer’s team developed a low-voltage disconnect circuit which completely shuts off the power at the first sign of fluctuation. This includes a solar controller that effectively charges batteries independent of varying power levels.

For Brewer, who offers his software for free, the next step is to find a company that shares his goals to operate the WiFi networks. “It’s not about getting web pages to a rural village, it’s about using the technology to directly address the real problems, whether that’s health care, education, good governments, remittances, microfinance. All those need technical innovation.” Though it may take some time to convince companies of his project’s worth, Brewer shows no signs of worry: “I think they will come, if we’re patient about it.”

Free tuition for Lakehead nerds

Starting next year, Lakehead University will offer free tuition to undergrads who enter with a 95 per cent average and who maintain an 85 per cent average in upper years. Robert Perrier, manager for undergraduate recruitment at Lakehead, said the scholarships are a move to attract top students from all over Canada to northwestern Ontario’s only university.

Lakehead’s current student body was not exactly jubilant. Calling the initiative “spearhead recruitment” for “garnishing attention in making people interested,” Richard Longton, president of the Lakehead University Students’ Union, said the university is shortchanging current students who will not benefit from this decision in any way.

University of Toronto Students’ Union VP external Dave Scrivener sees things differently. Scrivener said he’d like to see similar policies at other universities. “It’s great to see a university accept that access to post-secondary education needs to be centred on a system of merit, and not money,” he says.

Gastronomy

Triple chocolate cheesecake, banana cream pie, and creme brulee. Are you salivating yet? Most of us are well acquainted with food cravings, but what many don’t know is cravings are usually an indication of some nutrient deficiency in the body. So when you’re yearning for a sugary treat, what your body really needs may be a handful of broccoli. Cravings are usually psychological in nature, but numerous studies by naturopathic doctors and food scientists have revealed that there is also a physiological aspect.

When desiring sweets, the body actually requires a multitude of nutrients such as chromium, phosphorus, or tryptophan. Most sweets do not contain these nutrients. However, eating one of the large varieties of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and even meats would successfully satiate this need. If you desire oily or fatty foods, the body is likely in need of calcium which can be obtained from cheese, legumes, and sesame. When in the mood for alcohol or other recreational drugs, this could be a sign of low protein, avenin, or potassium, which can be found in nuts, granola or black olives, respectively.

The body is a complex system, in which appetite, hunger and food cravings are under the control of hormones. Studies conducted at the University of California by Mary Dallman and her lab suggest that people tend to crave comfort food in response to chronic stress. They found that adrenal hormones such as glucocorticoids were elevated in rats under stress, which led to “pleasure-seeking behaviors” such as eating foods high in fat and sugar. Abdominal obesity is often the result, and excess fat deposits act to inhibit the stress system. According to Norman Pecoraro, a post-doc in Dallman’s lab, “it could explain […] why solace is often sought in such foods by people with stress, anxiety or depression. It also could help to explain bulimic and night-binging eating disorders.”

Indulging in the occasional treat is no crime, but if you constantly crave food high in fat, sugar, or salt, this can result in severe health problems such as hypertension or cardiovascular heart disease. Pecoraro suggests, “In the short term, if you’re chronically stressed it might be worth eating and sleeping a little more to calm down, perhaps at the expense of gaining a few pounds. But seeking a long-term solution in comfort foods—rather than fixing the source of the stress or your relationship to the source of the stress—is going to be bad for you.” Get to the root of your food cravings by opting for the healthier alternative.

The full list on healthy food craving solutions can be found at http://www.naturopathyworks.com/pages/cravings.php

Hello Finland!

This summer, eight students will travel to Finland in U of T’s oldest student exchange. The Hart House Finnish Exchange has been operating since 1951, and has sent 95 U of T students abroad while hosting 108 Finns in Canada.

The program runs on a four-year cycle: Canadians and Finns take turns going abroad every two years. Canadian Students head to four host schools in Helsinki.

The 10-week trip kicks off with two weeks of orientation and travel, with the remainder as a sort of working holiday. The program has also helped students find employers ranging from publishing houses to organic farms.

U of T English major Marja Applefort, who took part three summers ago, said the small size of the program allows for a much more intimate atmosphere. “I think it’s something that’s really different, it’s not like going to teach English in Japan,” she said. For more information and applications, or to apply, go to harthouse.utoronto.ca

U of T student wins Ontario Genomics Institute fellowship

Xinchen Wang, a 3rd year Biochemistry student, was one of the lucky few that got down and dirty with scientific research this summer. He was the only U of T student to receive a 2008 Summer Research Fellowship with the Ontario Genomics Intitute (OGI), along with six other students around the province.

This highly regarded Fellowship, which has been offered for the past six years, is intended to promote research in the fields of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Students are given the opportunity to participate in meaningful research under the supervision of an expert in a genomics-related field.

Wang’s research involved the use of microarrays to predict acute lung injury (ALI) in transplant patients using tissue samples from donor lungs.

“It’s about 75-80 per cent accurate. Right now, we’re using both rat and mouse models, but to actually predict ALI, we used human library data sets. We looked at genes that were commonly expressed in all sorts of studies, the most statistically robust. Hopefully it’ll apply to actual people so that we can test the tissues before transplantation to see which lungs should be transplanted and which should be thrown out,” Wang explains.

In addition to being able to conduct clinically relevant work, the OGI Summer Fellowship also provides the chance to discuss projects with other fellows in the program every two weeks. “It feels more personal, because this year we only had seven people. You get to talk to them, and you actually learn a lot more because you get exposed to what everyone else is doing in their different fields. It was a lot better than the one I took last year, the Summer Student Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, because even though you met every week, there were three hundred people in the program.”

The OGI Fellowship consists of a mandatory orientation session, journal club meetings, and an opportunity to present your research at the end of the summer.

Besides research experience, Wang also believes the Fellowship gave him invaluable insight into the scientific private sector: “OGI is a not-for-profit organization in the private sector, so they aren’t as academic as St. Mike’s, or [Toronto General Hospital]. It’s kind of nice to see how the world is like outside of academic research, because that’s rare to see in your undergraduate experience.”

One of the goals of this summer fellowship is to cultivate undergraduate interest in genomics or bioinformatics. Although Wang still finds himself switching subject POSts every two months, he displays a strong passion for clinical research. “If I’m going to do research, I’d like it to be something applicable to people,” Wang says candidly, “but I’m probably going to change my mind again from now and when I graduate.”