Frosh charged with Mac arson

A first-year McMaster student has been charged by Hamilton police in connection with the Oct. 18 fire at Brandon Hall. The residence had to be evacuated in the early morning after smoke and fire alarms roused almost 600 sleepy students.

Emerson Pardoe, a 19-year-old resident of Brandon Hall, has been charged with arson endangering human life and arson endangering property. Four students were taken to the hospital to receive treatment for smoke inhalation.

“The fire was made much more shocking because it was deliberately set, and because a McMaster student has been charged in connection with the case,” Phil Wood, associate vice-president of Student Affairs and dean of students at the university told the McMaster Daily News.

Pardoe was taken into police custody on Monday. Looking distraught during the court proceedings, he was released into the custody of his parents for $50,000. He has been prohibited from any contact with McMaster staff or students and must remain with his parents in Scarborough.

Currently, McMaster is housing Brandon Hall students in various hotels while repairs are carried out. Students will be able to move back in January at the earliest.

The Giller Prize

The winner of the Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious award for fiction, will be announced on November 11 to little fanfare outside the literary community. Nevertheless, all the glitz and glamour of the prize’s star-studded gala (Margaret Atwood and Bob Rae are two of the judges) will go on, even if it hovers well below the mainstream radar.

The theme of this year’s shortlist is the idea that to be Canadian is to be from somewhere else. Multiculturalism is the pride of our country, and it’s heavily reflected in our fiction. What does this mean for storytelling? It allows heritage to propel the plot and shape the characters’ collective mentality. This is the experience of many Canadians and it’s important that we write about it.

The Shortlist

Joseph Boyden’s most recent effort, Through Black Spruce, is a double helix of a novel that follows Cree bush pilot Will Bird and his niece Annie. It switches narratives between both characters, merging the plot lines during its crescendo. Annie’s journey begins in tiny Moosonee, Ontario, as a search for her model sister leads her into the dangers of urban life. Will speaks to his nieces from within a coma, recalling his multiple run-ins with a local drug lord. While Boyden’s narrative is interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention, it occasionally veers into the territory of a mid ’90s CBC miniseries. Boyden is one of Canada’s brightest new talents, and though the book is melodramatic, the quality of his prose makes up for some predictable plot choices.

Speaking of melodrama, Anthony De Sa’s Barnacle Love is rife with it. A book of interconnected short stories follows the life of Manuel Rebelo, a Portuguese immigrant who has left his home in the Azores to become a fisherman in Newfoundland. Sexually abused by a priest and betrayed by his first love, Rebelo’s sad history eventually manifests itself as a severe drinking problem. De Sa’s novel is a Canadian version of the lost American Dream, demonstrating the consequences of one’s failure to live up to such high expectations.

Cockroach, Rawi Hage’s new novel, screams at its reader from beginning to end. Coming off the massive success of his first novel De Niro’s Game, the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Hage hasn’t toned down his aggressive style. The unnamed protagonist is a contemporary version of Dostoevsky’s classic antihero, The Underground Man, complete with alienation, rage, irrationality, and dark humour. Wandering through Montréal, fighting off his kleptomania and a war-affected history, the Iranian meets an interesting cast of characters who, for the most part, enrage him. All Kafka insect references aside, the best parts of the novel are when he envisions himself as a cockroach. The metaphor is perfect, with imagery done so well that it’s difficult not to sympathize with the character’s insanity. While Hage should win, I doubt he will.

Good to a Fault, the oxymoronic title of Marina Endicott’s new book, does not apply to the plot—it’s nearly flawless. Lives instantly change when a car accident throws Clara Purdy into the home of the Gage family. When their mother is diagnosed with lymphoma, Clara is forced into the role of matriarch. The novel is charming and funny, as Clara is forced to adjust, eventually welcoming the situation.

Mary Swan’s The Boys in the Trees is a melancholic but fulfilling read. It follows a small town in Ontario rocked by a rather shocking crime committed by the patriarch of a newly arrived Canadian family. Set in the late 19th century, the story is told from multiple perspectives, including members of the family, neighbours, and even a gun. Characters are developed slowly as each narrator works through the crime. At times, the complex structure makes it difficult to determine which perspective is revealed, but the prose is outstanding—vivid and emotionally charged. Without question, The Boys in the Trees deserves the Giller Prize.

Universities feeling stock market lows

Losses to U of T’s stock holdings from the recent market collapse could affect student scholarships and bursaries, and cut into department budgets if the downturn continues. The Globe & Mail reports that U of T lost nearly nine per cent in the third quarter on investment and endowment funds, but the administration is optimistic that better times are ahead.

U of T’s $5.5 billion in assets are managed by an independent subsidiary, the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. These assets include $2.8 billion in pension and $2 billion in endowment funds. According to VP business affairs Cathy Riggall, UTAM’s conservative policies helped avoid further losses seen by many other Canadian universities. The University of Victoria’s endowment also saw a nine per cent drop, with Waterloo already enacting a six-month hiring freeze.

A statement issued by Riggall and interim vice president and provost Cheryl Misak in response to the economic downturn says, “We have defined a risk tolerance and a target return that are appropriate over the long term. Our strategy also assumes that there will be some years of losses.”

Riggall said that student aid is not yet on the chopping block. “We’re not interested in cutting back on student aid unless we absolutely have no choice.” Riggall also emphasized that U of T has come through previous market downswings with endowments intact. In 2003, U of T lost more than $55 million on its investments.

She said that the economic conditions would not deter donors. “Over the past 80 years, there’s never been a year when donations have actually declined. They have slowed down,” she said, citing a lull in donations throughout North American in 1987 as an example. That was the year of the ‘Black Monday’ on which stock markets around the world crashed.

Thomas Felix, president of student group Investing in Integrity—which has been calling for reforms to the university’s investment policies—is cautiously optimistic about the current situation. “I think that by and large […] the market has shown that it’s slowly recovering.” Felix emphasized the importance of protecting student aid from the ravages of the market, but also thinks that UTAM’s actions are mostly in the clear. “If anything, what we’re facing is going to be across the board,” he said. “I don’t think we can pin this on U of T itself.”

UTAM has come under fire from I in I for its investments with controversial corporations such as oil giant Exxon Mobile and military contractor Lockheed Martin, amounting to $9.5 and $1.2 million respectively.

Scientists capture unprecedented image

Three University of Toronto astronomers may have made history this past summer by simply taking a picture. Dr. David Lafrenière, Professor Ray Jayawardhana, and Professor Marten van Kerkwijk claim to have taken the first direct image of an extra-solar planet orbiting a sun-like star.

After searching approximately 80 stars in the Upper Scorpius association using the Gemini North telescope, the team noticed the star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 seemed to have a planet orbiting it. Unlike anything in our solar system, the planet is eight times the mass of Jupiter, has an estimated temperature of 1500°C, and orbits 330 times further from its star than Earth does from the sun. Due to its distance from the star, a complete orbit takes around 6,000 years.

A direct image of an orbit is extremely rare, as stars are so bright they outshine anything in their vicinity. It can take years to completely verify that an image is showing a planet-star companion. Using other methods, astronomers have tracked down more than 300 planets that suggest they might be orbiting a star. One method involves looking for light alterations made by a planet passing in front of a star. Another looks for Doppler shift, a back and forth movement in the star.

The U of T astronomers’ surprising planetary find was made possible by the Gemini telescope’s high resolution adaptive optics capabilities. The sophisticated technology allowed the researchers to distinguish between the many things that orbit a star: namely other stars, brown dwarfs, and planets. Being able to differentiate between these objects became critical when the team first detected two stars with what seemed like objects orbiting them.

Jayawardhana explains that the first star’s object turned out to be a background star that appeared to be a close companion, but was actually much further away. To make a distinction between planets and stars, the team took infra-red and near infra-red images through filters to determine the object’s “colour.” The redder the object, the cooler it is. “We targeted young stars so that any planetary mass object they hosted would not have had time to cool, and thus would still be relatively bright,” says van Kerkwijk. Special filters allow astronomers to determine the composition of the planet’s atmosphere, which is usually water vapor and carbon dioxide. This eventually showed the star’s companion to be a planet, not another star.

While it may seem odd that a heat emitting ball of fire could possibly be a planet, Jayawardhana explains that temperatures of this magnitude are very low in stellar standards. It might be a hot planet, but is by no means even close to a cool star. The fact that it is hot and bright but remains at such a distance from its star means the planet is producing its own heat. In several hundred million years, the planet is expected to cool down and shrink to a size equal to Jupiter.

Spray or pay

If you were walking on College Street last week, you might have seen a business owner spray-painting his storefront a solid colour while his employees looked on. It’s a frequent scene on a street where businesses and private homes are regularly the targets of graffiti. This man was following the law—the City of Toronto says owners are required to remove graffiti from their property, and do it fast.

The Graffiti Abatement Program and Graffiti Bylaw are only two of the city’s most recent measures, introduced with the goal of cleaning and beautifying Toronto’s urban landscape. The municipal government and Toronto Police have declared a zero-tolerance stance towards any public markings, drawings, or writings that aren’t art murals, especially hateful or gang-related messages. If graffiti appears on private property, owners must remove it within 72 hours, or the city will hire someone and send them the bill. While property owners are assured that city staff will “work closely” with them, often they are simply served notice, and left to paint over the graffiti at their own cost.

“Toronto isn’t as clean as it used to be and the graffiti is just not pleasant,” said Jean-Pierre Centeno, owner of Gamelle restaurant on College, who has dealt with several cases of vandalism. Business owners in the College Street area are well aware of graffiti in the city. Their properties are regularly marked, most often with graffiti artists’ individual tags that reappear as soon as the day after they’ve been removed.

“It just adds insult to injury,” said Cal O’Shaughnessy, a supervisor at Canada Computers who goes through a can of silver spray paint per month. “It is unfair to be punishing a business for being the victim of graffiti.”

Though clearly unpopular, the bylaws aren’t unreasonable, argues City of Toronto official Fernando Aceto. A cleaner urban appearance creates a sense of care for the community and attracts tourists, improves living standards, and raises property values, he said.

“A cleaner city helps the area and helps the business,” said Aceto, who maintains that the disadvantages of graffiti outweigh owners’ inconveniences.

O’Shaughnessy counters that covering up graffiti isn’t enough, stating that the city should address the roots of the problem. Other businesses people in the area, like the owners of computer shop Perfect Solutions, said Toronto could provide the community with greater incentives to stop the graffiti, either by funding its removal, hiring the perpetrators for art work in the city, or banning the sale of spray paint to minors.

Did you know that the periodic table of the elements is universal?

First proposed by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, the periodic table of the elements has been deemed not only valid on Earth, but throughout the universe.

Using techniques involving the analysis of an object’s light, scientists are able to reveal its chemical composition. This allows them to determine the chemical composition of the most distant objects in the universe, as well as the strangest objects on Earth. By using these techniques, specifically light spectroscopy, scientists determined the chemical composition of the sun and that the atmosphere of Venus has a rich abundance of greenhouse gases.

This phenomenon raises some important questions. Why is the entire universe composed of the same elements, and how did these elements come to be?

An element is composed of positively charged protons, neutral neutrons, and negatively charged electrons. The combination of these particles gives rise to elements. The periodic table starts with lighter elements such as hydrogen, with one proton and one electron, and concludes with the heavier elements. While lighter elements usually combine to make heavier elements, these reactions require massive amounts of energy in the form of heat, as well as large compression forces. Luckily, the universe is rich in regions with these specifications, specifically the cores of stars.

Stars produce their energy from the nuclear fusion of elements. On the surface of stars, smaller chemical elements, such as hydrogen and helium combine to make other elements. However, it is only in the core of stars that great heat and compression forces are available to make even heavier elements, like carbon.

When a star dies, it explodes. All the elements inside of that star are now released into the universe in the form of debris. This debris condenses over time to make new stars and planets. The debris that gave rise to our planet was rich in these elements. If it hadn’t been, life as we know it wouldn’t have emerged on Earth. In other words, we are all made out of star debris that is millions of years old.

U of Ottawa investigates email attack

The University of Ottawa wants to know who’s behind a widely circulated email that alleges one of its professors is a prostitute. The university’s concern, say administrators, is not whether or not the rumours are true, but the invasion of privacy. The email was sent anonymously through a Yahoo account over the university’s network.

Attached to the email were graphic photos of a woman, whom the anonymous sender claimed is a sex worker with the Montreal escort agency French Kiss Society, as well as a newly hired faculty member at U of O. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the university has confirmed that it recently hired a woman of the same name mentioned in the email. Beyond that, the school is not discussing the matter.

“That email was by an anonymous source,” U of O’s communication director Andrée Dumulon told the Citizen. “At this time, we have no evidence that the sender of the emails is a member of the university community,” Dumulon added. “We will not comment further.”

The prof named in the emails is a part-time instructor at the university’s criminology department. The Citizen reported the senior administrators had received copies of the email.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers agreed with U of O’s stance. “What a faculty member does in their personal life is irrelevant,” CAUT communications officer Kerry Pither told The Varsity. University hiring should only consider a faculty member’s teaching ability, Pither said, adding that even if the allegations are true, prostitution is not illegal in Canada.

FDA recognizes healthy trans fats

It turns out that not all trans fats are bad for you. This past summer, the Food and Drug Administration decided to allow manufacturers to use a specific type of trans fats in their recipes. While the idea of unhealthy trans fats has been ingrained in the minds of consumers, most are unaware of the potential health benefits associated with conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs)have. CLAs are a natural type of trans fat which has several isomers. Some of these isomers can help fight cancer, weight gain, diabetes, and arthritis, and were previously only available to consumers as dietary supplements. CLAs were first noticed in 1979 when scientists were looking for mutagens in hamburgers. A mystery substance in hamburger meat was found that actually inhibited mutagenesis. Despite the potential health benefits, CLAs are still high in calories. As Michael Pariza of the University of Wisconsin-Madison advises, they should mainly be used as a substitute for unhealthy fats.

Source: Science News