Bucks for smarts

Ontario’s budget comes out this spring, and student groups hope to cash in.

The province’s Standing Committee of Finance and Economic Affairs welcomes budget suggestions from groups and individuals until the end of the month. Both the upcoming provincial and federal budgets will face tough scrutiny under the current financial recession.

Yesterday, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance called for the McGuinty’s government to shift its focus and funds towards a knowledge-based economy.

In its report, OUSA called for up-front access grants, regulated tuition, and a rehaul of the OSAP system. It also suggested a one-time additional funding package to help universities deal with increased enrolment from recently laid off employees returning to post-secondary education.

The report continually mentions that Ontario’s government contributes less to universities than any other province. But Ontario isn’t the only government being pressured.

Last Tuesday, the Canadian Federation of Students took part in pre-budget consultation in Montreal by presenting an open letter to Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty. That same day, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations posted its own open letter with similar suggestions on its website.

Demanding a way of halting tuition increases, CFS proposed a tuition regulation system similar to the Canada Health Act with provincial and federal involvement. It also called for an increase in graduate research funding, to be issued indiscriminately as programs such as the humanities currently receive less than sciences.

The letter, which applauded the Harper government for replacing the Millennium Scholarship Foundation with a grant program and increased funding for the Canada Social Transfer, also suggested funding summer jobs to stimulate economy and a redesign of RESPs.

CASA suggested that the grants be targeted to low-income families hit by the recent financial crisis.

In a December 30 Toronto Star commentary co-written by Roger Martin, Dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at U of T, tuition freezes were strongly discouraged.

“This simply reduces the resources available to develop our future skills,” said Martin. He also proposed new efficiency systems.

“We need to find ways of getting more students in our crowded post-secondary schools. Can administrators extend classroom hours or use weekends? The province ought to consider special loans and grants for qualified high-school students to register at specific schools.”

Understanding the genomics of brain diseases

Imagine personalized medicine, where treatment is created specially for your own genetic makeup. Think of the possible eradication of certain diseases like cancer or AIDS, or of foods designed to protect us from disease. While the study of genetics is highly controversial, it could provide the solution to many issues facing modern society.

McGill neurologist Guy Rouleau specializes in identifying and cataloguing the genes associated with brain diseases. In a recent lecture at the University of Toronto, he described his current project, nicknamed Synapse to Disease, or S2D for short. This study deals primarily with schizophrenic and autistic patients in an attempt to identify the genetic components contributing to these diseases.

S2D is based on the hypothesis that brain diseases are caused by “de novo” mutations—gene expressions that have never previously occurred in the family. Rouleau postulates that these mutations prevent the synapse from functioning properly, resulting in neurodevelopmental diseases. The study collected DNA samples from patients with no family history of mental disease, low age of onset, and the availability of parental DNA. The expectation predicted that afflicted individuals would prove to have a gene that was not transmitted from their parents, but instead the result of a mutation.

Once the appropriate models were selected, the S2D team reduced the expression of the gene in order to obtain a physical expression of the sample in the form of a protein. They experimented using normal human genes to rescue the patient’s gene. If the protein continued to function improperly, they would try to rescue it with a mutated gene. If the second rescue was a success it was a sign that a mutation had taken place in the gene, thus contributing to the disease. Using these methods, Rouleau successfully identified and catalogued a number of genes associated with neurodevelopmental diseases.

Although the S2D program has yet to be completed, it is estimated that the results could be significant to the genomics field. After only two years, scientists have already identified 10 to 20 genes associated with schizophrenia and autism. Rouleau predicts that by the time the project has finished, his team will have identified 3.4 million genes, including 11 stop genes and between 34 and 126 de novo genes.

Rouleau hopes that diagnostics could be vastly improved due to the development of new technologies. The accuracy of diagnoses is essential, providing peace of mind to patients suffering from a known and definable disease—a reassuring thought when dealing with afflictions of the brain. Accurate diagnoses also ensure that the proper treatment is given and early intervention may be possible. It is also possible that treatment of particular diseases may be able to aid affiliated diseases that share essential brain mechanisms.

Genetics counselling would be affected, as many family members are interested in the risk of transmitting diseases to their offspring. Currently, these inquiries receive limited response due to technological constraints and insufficient professional assistance.

Rouleau’s research affects more individuals than just those suffering from autism or schizophrenia. The field of brain diseases includes epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and even migraines.

The Star tours TO’s cheap textbook market

The Toronto Star has reported on 10 copy shops near U of T and Ryerson University who photocopy textbooks for students in violation of copyright laws. While the Star suggested that high tuition costs are the reason students might head to copy shops instead of bookstores to get their required reading, the article went a long way towards incriminating the employees of the offending copy shops.

Published Saturday, Jan. 10, the Star’s investigation found 10 copy shops near U of T and Ryerson who were willing to photocopy entire textbooks, or at least assist in binding the pages together.

Students quoted in the article called photocopying textbooks “stealing” from publishers, but argued that they had no other choice due to financial reasons. New textbooks, as any student knows, can be a major expense, sometimes exceeding the $1,300 estimated by the Star.

Publishers claim that they lose $75 million annually in revenue to piracy, amounting to a full quarter of their business. The Star did not report any independent figures.

NFL Playoff Review: Duel in the Desert

The Arizona Cardinals have been underdogs all season. Even their most die-hard fans were unsure how far the team could make it in the playoffs. Atlanta and Carolina’s strengths fit Arizona’s weaknesses, yet the Cardinals managed to defeat them both. Now they’re one win away from going to the Super Bowl, facing the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game.

Arizona will have home field advantage in Sunday’s game. The team already boasts one playoff win at the University of Phoenix stadium, beating Atlanta at home two weeks ago. Arizona fans are more excited than they’ve ever been, meaning the Eagles will have to contend with an extraordinarily loud crowd. On top of that, Philadelphia will be on the road, a prospect no team relishes, especially when it comes with a two hour time difference.

In their last meeting, Philadelphia beat Arizona 48-20. However, if this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that the regular season means very little anymore. Arizona is a different team now, playing a completely different, better type of football

The Cardinals’ regular season wins were mostly due to quarterback Kurt Warner and their explosive offense, namely wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Their defence was unreliable and inconsistent. But when they hit the post-season, they somehow found a way to make everything click. In last weekend’s game against Carolina they were able to stop the run—something they struggled with during the regular season—shutting down one of the league’s best running back tandems. They also racked up five interceptions.

In order for Arizona to move on to the Super Bowl, DT Darnell Dockett, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, FS Antrel Rolle, and the rest of the defense are going to have to continue to come up big. They’ll need to put pressure on Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. If he’s forced to throw when he doesn’t want to, they’ll be ready to pick him off. Andy Reid likes to call more pass plays than run plays, but the Eagles will likely try and get the ball to RB Brian Westbrook, as they’ve had post-season success with the ball in his hands. However, if Philadelphia can get the running game going, they won’t be forced to throw the ball downfield. That could be bad for Arizona, as the Eagles would be able to bypass the strongest part of the Cardinals’ defense.

Philadelphia boasts a tough, blitz-happy defense that will have their sights set on Warner. Thus far, the Cardinals’ offensive line has kept the pressure off of their quarterback. However, if they can’t stand up against FS Brian Dawkins and the Eagles’ defense, it will put Arizona in a potentially ruinous position. They’ll need to avoid third-and-long situations, as that’s when the Eagles are guaranteed to bring the blitz. They’ll also need to get the ball deep, forcing Philadelphia to abandon the blitz in order to drop players back into pass coverage. Arizona will then have the opportunity to run the ball, handing it off to veteran RB Edgerrin James.

Things to watch for: Keep your eyes on Fitzgerald. Look for him to run deep crossing routes, which Arizona used successfully against the Panthers multiple times last week. On defense, watch for Dockett, and his uncanny ability to get up field to defend the run and put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Look for McNabb to put a few drives together that involve short-yardage passing—they’re tailor-made for his arm strength and accuracy, as proven in last weekend against the Giants’ defense. Expect CB Asante Samuel to make some great plays, as he’s known for getting critical interceptions in big games.

Final word: This championship match-up will likely hinge on whether or not Arizona’s defense can stop the run. If they play as well as they did against Carolina, they’ll make the trip to Tampa Bay.

Pick: Arizona Cardinals

Cold Front

U of T’s favourite hangout spot in the spanking new $105-million Terrence Donnelly Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research is feeling the weather in its fourth winter. Falling ice cracked several panes of glass of the sixth floor atrium (right) in the CCBR. The building’s ground floor garden and staircases have been temporarily closed as a result. In other woes, the building’s iconic—but lately withering—bamboo forest (right) had to be cut down, leaving nothing but stumps. According to business manager Renee Brost, the bamboo won’t be replanted before the spring.

NFL Playoff Review: Grudge Match of the Year

Let it be said clearly: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens don’t like each other. Although their rivalry is fairly new—starting in 1996 and featuring only 27 games between them—it has proven to be ferocious. With questionable hits, controversial calls, and nail biting finishes (and that was only this season), games between these two teams rarely disappoint.

To call it a surprising post-season would be a serious understatement. Huge upsets by the Eagles and Ravens had a similar theme: in today’s NFL, defence wins championships. Although Baltimore gave up almost 400 yards to the formidable Titan offence, they were able to recover two fumbles and an interception to keep them in the game. Sunday night’s match against the Steelers will be decided by interceptions and tackles rather than game-breaking runs and deep throws.

Considering this match features the Steelers’ number one-ranked defence against the number two Ravens, stopping the run will be an integral part of each team’s strategy. Overplaying the run is a potential problem for Baltimore, as tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Hines Ward have been adept at finding open ground in the secondary all season-long. It is probable that coach Mike Tomlin will try to push back the Baltimore secondary using draw plays on first down.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put any doubts to rest with his brilliant, error-free performance against the Chargers, finishing 17 for 26 with one touchdown and no interceptions. There is no question that he is back in full form after a concussion sustained in Week 17 against the Browns.

Expectations were low for the Ravens offence at the start of the year. With the team pinning their hopes on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the results have been nothing short of extraordinary, capped by a huge win against the heavily-favoured Titans last week. Flacco has been steady all season, not letting pressure from the pass rush interrupt his throwing rhythm.

In order to succeed, the Baltimore linebackers will have to contain Willie Parker. The Chargers were unable to corral him, leading to a 146-yard game, helped in no small part by a resurgent Pittsburgh offensive line that opened up running lanes all over the field. But Ray Lewis’ earth-shattering, helmet-popping hit on fullback Ahmard Hall in the game against the Titans should silence those who question if he still has what it takes to lead the Raven’s defence to a conference title.

Led by pro-bowl safety and force of nature Ed Reed, Baltimore’s secondary will have to keep a careful eye on Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward: the former will stretch the pass coverage, allowing the latter to gain key yards with well timed slants and hooks.

James Harrison has been a notable storyline in Pittsburgh this season. As the only undrafted player to win the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has successfully filled the gap left by the departure of Joey Porter. Considering the effectiveness of both Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, Baltimore may have to pass the ball more than usual, relying on Flacco’s steady, powerful arm to move the chains.

Troy Polamalu could be a non-factor in this game. Although he has graced the highlight reel a few times this season with spectacular fingertip interceptions, he is playing with an injured calf that will greatly reduce his closing speed and ability to cover the Ravens’ receivers. Derrick Mason may be able to exploit this weakness and beat the Pittsburgh corners in one-on-one situations. He has been Flacco’s go-to receiver all year, so expect him to get several balls thrown in his direction.

Things to watch for: Turnovers. If the Pittsburgh offensive line can give Roethlisberger time in the pocket, this should minimize the chances of him throwing untimely interceptions when he scrambles. Baltimore’s only chance of earning a trip to the Superbowl is if their offence maintains possession of the ball and puts together consistent drives. There should be more than a few points off turnovers, which could likely decide the outcome.

Final word: The Steelers have momentum in their favour, having won both match-ups during the regular season. However, there is one caveat—both wins were decided by less than five points. Expect a similarly close game that will probably be decided in the fourth quarter. The key stat will be turnovers: the team that coughs up the ball fewer times should win the game.

Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers

A healthy approach to reform

When Tom Daschle sat down for a lengthy Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services made a strong case for restructuring and rejuvenating the U.S. healthcare system. Often called the “health czar” of the President-elect’s cabinet, Daschle has been assigned to do what some consider impossible: provide universal healthcare to all Americans.

Daschle is all too familiar with the kind of ideological backlash that can ensue from the mere suggestion of universal coverage. The Clinton proposal of 1994, which raised eyebrows among libertarians and conservatives, suffered a humiliating blow from heavy Republican opposition, Democratic infighting, and the health insurance industry. The right-wing opposition campaign, with its clever television ads, helped to foment public distrust of government-led programs. The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was the final nail in the coffin. Now, with a Democratic majority and a public pleading for reform, Daschle has the formidable task of delivering Obama’s campaign promises, despite the country’s staggering $10 trillion deficit.

The key to successfully carrying out legislation is garnering early support for the initiative. This will require a grassroots-level strategy, similar to the kind of broad, cooperative social networks Obama established during his presidential run. The corporate backroom-style planning that Clinton’s Task Force engaged in suggested exclusion and secrecy, unlike Obama’s visionary campaign. Already, the president-elect’s team has used YouTube webcasts featuring Daschle and online blog posts to spur public discourse.

Taking the plan to the masses will require a sophisticated spokesperson. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent and potential Surgeon General, has the right combination of medical expertise, charm, and name recognition to revitalize the post and act as chief promoter for the administration’s plans. One main component of Obama’s campaign healthcare platform was an emphasis on disease prevention prior to treatment. Dr. Gupta has been quite outspoken on issues relating to food safety, obesity, and health education.

Support will also need to come from within Washington. Daschle must seek steady input from Democratic lawmakers if he hopes to craft legislation effectively and pass it through swiftly. Last Thursday he outlined a thorough plan to fix the system, pledging to broaden healthcare access to rural areas, increase Medicare and Medicaid payments, and ease the cost of prescription drugs and insurance premiums, thus reining in wild profiteering from an insurance industry drunk with power. The toughest obstacle will come from Congressional Republicans, who have already begun to voice concern over the long-term costs. Republicans—guided by an anti-government philosophy, except where finance is concerned—have warned of ballooning budgets and a deepening recession if healthcare spending goes too far.

But the last thing Obama’s administration needs to do right now is curb spending. It is imperative that his proposed economic stimulus package go hand in hand with healthcare reform. With a lack of basic coverage comes increased illness, poorer general health, and shortened life spans—all of which threaten economic stability and workforce productivity. If the administration takes advantage of its solid majority and rejects discredited conservative dogma, Americans’ desire for comprehensive healthcare may finally be fulfilled.

Blues got served

The second half of the OUA volleyball season officially got underway last weekend.

However, digesting the results from the women’s Varsity Blues volleyball team makes one wonder whether the players were still shaking off leftover turkey from the holidays. It appeared that the team needed to be “bump”-started.

The team went into the winter break on a hot streak, winning four of their past five matches. But over the weekend, the Blues only managed to take one set total from its games versus Brock and Ottawa.

Friday night, the Blues took on the Brock Badgers, a team Toronto has owned over the years. But this time, the Badgers bit back playing extremely good all-around volleyball, handing the Blues their first loss in the new year, 3-1 (25-10, 19-25, 25-17, 25-16).

While pleased her team won the second set after blown out in the opening, Blues head coach Kristine Drakich was disappointed Toronto didn’t make Brock fight more for the win.

“It wasn’t a good day for us all around. I don’t think there was anything that went really well for us,” said Coach Drakich. “But we have to be able to pull out a game or two. This should have went to five, I don’t know if we would have won as Brock was playing great, but […] we should have started stronger [and] made a better match out of it.”

Drakich points to the executional errors in her team’s servers and outside hitters as the biggest culprits. The Blues finished with 26 attack errors and six serving errors, compared to just 13 and four for the Badgers.

“It made it difficult for us to run an offence […] and everyone on the floor seemed to be worried about what was behind them, the last play, and not just what’s right there in front of them,” she said.

Drakich wants her players to keep playing their game regardless of what it says on the scoreboard, instead of letting errors dictate their play.

“We played very timid, we seemed to play defensively […] Part of what we do well is attack strongly. We want to keep doing that whether it’s serving or blocking.”

The Blues were missing the OUA’s 12th leading scorer in Dianne Burrows due to injury, but Drakich wasn’t about to bail her players out with excuses.

“I have never seen some players play as poorly as they did here, so I’d like to think that it’s really just that we weren’t prepared to play,” she said. “And we should be able to play with any lineup out there.”

Drakich’s words clearly had not sunk in on Sunday as the team played in Ottawa against the Gee Gees, and were quickly disposed of in three straight sets (25-21, 25-17, 25-21).

Brock (8-4) currently sits at a surprising third in the OUA’s West Division, within striking distance of Western (11-1) and McMaster (10-2) for first. Ottawa’s (10-3) victory over Toronto (6-6) helped them keep up their fight for the top spot in the East Division. That perch, usually occupied by the Varsity Blues over the past years, is now kept warm by the undefeated York Lions (11-0).

The Lions take on the Blues tonight at 6 p.m. in the Athletic Centre Sports Gym. A win by the Blues over their hated rivals would not only snap the Lions’ perfect record, but surely would restore any confidence lost from the past weekend.