Gerontology is hot

Canada’s population is aging, and the academic world is taking note. The aging baby boom generation is producing record numbers of people 65 years of age or over, putting greater emphasis on gerontology, the study of aging.

While the recession casts many career paths into precarious positions, gerontology is an industry that doesn’t take a downturn. According to the 2006 census, longer life expectancy and low fertility mean Canadian seniors are living longer, making gerontology an increasingly sought after discipline.

Many universities are developing Master’s and PhD programs in response. As Andrew Wister, chair of the gerontology department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, put it, “it’s clear that this is a growth area.”

U of T: Utopia U?

The final issue of The Varsity Magazine (out Tuesday, March 17) concerns THE UNIVERSITY WE WANT. So we want to know—what is it you desire?

No really, what do you want? Because we’ve got a pretty good idea what you don’t want—we hear about that all the time. Admittedly, we might be a bit out of practice with this dream-without-compromise stuff. After all, at this school it’s considered acceptable for classrooms to go without proper windows, isn’t it?

Tell us in the comments section below how you’d change U of T for the better. What would a Utopia U look like? We’ll redesign buildings for you. We’ll re-align priorities. We’ll rewrite constitutions and budgets. Just tell us what you want.
Imagine you’re suddenly in charge of this place, and you’ve got the guts to go ahead with what you know it needs—the things you feel like screaming on the street when you’ve had a really bad U of T day, and the things you wish were always the case when you’ve had that rare good one.
Why did you choose to go here in the first place? What would it take to convince you to attend a Blues game? Where are you happiest on campus? What’s the most underfunded program?

This is for the people who believed all the talk about the importance of interdisciplinary research (holla to our friends in “— Studies”), only to discover the number of boundary-driven, protectionist assholes who will never let you into a class in their department.

This is for students who have seen a bird’s-eye-view of our school, and realized U of T has about as much an environmental purpose as a parking lot.
This is for anyone who has searched for good food on campus, given up, and gone home.
And this is for you if you’ve had a really good class discussion once, and came out of it wondering why school can’t be like that all the time. Or if you had to do an extra year to graduate because someone in your registrar’s office gave you the wrong piece of advice.

Please write us a note about how you’d change the system if you’ve ever tried to book a space on campus and were turned down because you’re not part of a campus group, or your campus group isn’t a college group, or you don’t have $300.

We know what you don’t want. Tell us what you do.

There are only two rules. Rule one: dream big. Rule two: no saying what can’t be done. It’s about our shared wants, not our shared what-we-can-gets. No cynicism allowed.

New site reviews internships

You want to get an internship, but you don’t want to spend the summer fetching coffee. A new website called Internshare could help you out. Designed by three U of T engineering students— Michael Novati, Anuj Gupta, and David Wu—the site lets students review their experiences. Here’s hoping you can search your way to a great internship.

The “real world” can wait

If you plan to graduate in the next two years, don’t. Go to grad school, or take a fifth year. That was the message of last Wednesday’s panel discussion on the economic crisis. This recession will get worse before it gets better, and we may not recover until 2011.

Roughly 150 students braved the snowy weather to attend the Economic Students’ Association’s panel discussion about the next two years of gloom and recession. Financial Economics expert Professor John Maheu explained how the crisis started, while Professor Peter Dungan, a specialist in macroeconomics forecasting, predicted what’s in store. Professor James Pesando tied it all together.

Maheu started with a familiar tale of unregulated mortgage markets and securities. In the United States, you would go to the bank to acquire a mortgage. The bank would check your credit rating, and approve or disapprove your mortgage accordingly. The bank would then sell the mortgage to a mortgage broker, relinquishing all responsibility for the mortgage in the process. The broker would package many mortgages into a money-making security, selling slices of it on the market.

What went wrong with this process? For one, the primary mortgage lenders didn’t experience any consequences if the mortgage borrower defaulted. Since they had no reason to make sure individuals were capable of paying their mortgages, they focused on lending, the creation of mortgages being their source of income. As the housing bubble began to burst and home owners began defaulting, the junk stocks were exposed, and the US stock market experienced a serious crash.

Since the US is Canada’s largest importer, the fall of the US economy means the fall of the Canadian one as well. Canada’s economy normally experiences 2.9 per cent growth, but it’s now looking at negative growth of 0.4 per cent. Professor Dungan forecasted sharp rises in unemployment, as Pesando, following his lead, advised anyone graduating in the next two years to stay in school.

Facing a serious recession, economists have used what for the past 10 years has been considered the most powerful tool in their arsenal: monetary policy. But as interests rates lowered, the expected increase in spending did not come. Thus, as Professor Pesando explained, economists have arrived at an unusual consensus: they agree that fiscal policy is needed to pull the economy out of the recession.

Though the panel discussion was aimed at economics students in first and second year, it ought to have been advertised to the general public. The discussion provided a detailed explanation of how we got here and where we are going in terms of the economy, but didn’t go into depth. There were no serious numbers, no detailed explanations. In short, for anyone who had been closely following the economy over the past year, it was nothing they hadn’t heard before.

What can we take from the panel? Don’t try to enter the job market when unemployment is rising. Go to grad school. In short, same old, same old.

Debate, protests flare as SCSU heads for elections

UTSC students better take a breather Tuesday.

Today is the forum for the upcoming Scarborough Campus Students’ Union election. Wednesday night will feature a debate on the campus radio station. On Thursday, the student union holds elections, sandwiched between a sit-in at the union’s restaurant slated for closure and a Friday protest.

During last year’s election, current president Zuhair Syed was disqualified for emailing the Elections Committee using his official SCSU account, and for sending two campaigning text messages after the campaigning period had ended.

The Board of Directors subsequently rejected Syed’s disqualification and hired him as interim president. Last October, an election for the official presidency was held and Syed was re-elected. Out of more than 10,000 students, 325 voted.

Since then, the union has been plagued with allegations of mismanagement, corruption and a culture of entitlement.

This year, Syed is running for re-election against SCSU vice chair Daniel Greanya.

The campus has been active in discussion, debate and action surrounding its union’s pay raises, budget, lack of financial audits and hostility to media. These concerns, combined with SCSU’s decision to close Bluff’s, the campus restaurant, were reported in an article in the Victoria College newspaper the Strand, igniting debate and attracting national media attention.

“I’m really tired of the SCSU’s mismanagement of student funds and resources. They don’t really seem to care,” said Xiaoli Li, a fifth-year drama and English student. “This Bluff’s thing is the final nail in the coffin.”

A Facebook group called “Scarborough Campus Students Union Needs Accountability,” started by a user under the pseudonym “Buttons D Kat,” has over 60 members.

Kat, who claims to be a third-year philosophy student, told The Varsity in an e-mail that he started the group “to get the otherwise uninterested students involved in the dealings of their own union” and “to uncover some of the under-reported, and in certain cases illegal, doings of the union.”

Kat cited the questionable firing of a third-party auditor and concerns over information security. UTSC students who wish to purchase a Metropass must use a debit card. The SCSU’s card reader, which has since been replaced, was allegedly used in a debit card fraud.

“We’re seeing the quality of campus life go down considerably while the SCSU executive is consistently voting to raise their own salaries,” said Li, referring to a recent hike in SCSU executive pay that totalled $63,000. Jon Mandrozos, a fifth-year student and the administrator for the Facebook event “Bluff’s Sit In,” told The Varsity that he was denied access to executive salary records from SCSU.

All of these issues will be discussed Wednesday night on the campus’ radio show titled “The SCSU Review and 2009 Elections.”

The next day, a sit-in will take place at Bluff’s restaurant on its last day of business. The decision to close down the restaurant came after employees filed a complaint to the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Some workers claim retaliation, although Syed maintained that all firing and lay-offs were legally conducted.

Mandrozos said he was frustrated with a lack of support from SCSU for arts groups and became even more frustrated after hearing a friend had been laid off from Bluff’s.

“SCSU’s been a mess pretty much this year. I think people should be informed of what’s going on and that councils like this should be held accountable. Students have allowed them to be unaccountable for their actions,” said Mandrozos.

At the sit-in, the protestors plan to have open discussion about the student union. They have invited all SCSU executives.

“People are screaming in the dark,” said Mandrozos. “I think what they really need is a forum where they can actually sit down with someone who would represent the SCSU and address issues people are having.”

On the day of the sit-in, SCSU’s will hold annual election is to be held. Many are hoping the election will be conducted without allegations of rule breaking.

In the midst of these allegations is a petition the sit-in group plans to circulate. According to SCSU bylaws, the student body can boot all elected SCSU executives from their jobs. If 10 per cent of the student body signs a petition to remove an exec, it goes to referendum to the entire student body 20 days later.

If Syed is removed, he will not be president for the rest of the school year, but he could still win the election for next year’s executives.

Dirty laundry meets a whole lot of air

Last week, instead of showing up to his gubernatorial impeachment trial, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich worked the talk show circuit. Blagojevich faces serious corruption charges, most notably his attempt to auction off Barack Obama’s recently vacated Illinois senate seat to the highest bidder. Yet, the politician dubbed by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart as “Scumdog Millionaire” insists that he’s done nothing wrong—and continues to say so on major broadcast television, time and again.

Most rational humans in Rod Blagojevich’s boat would be less inclined to show their guilty faces in such a highly scrutinized public sphere, but then again, most of us would never let ourselves get there in the first place. This is because most of us are not politicians, and wired more sensibly.

There seems to be a distinct quality that most of us ordinary folks possess, that self-editing aversion to shame that keeps us mere mortals from sunning ourselves in our vices for the world to see. Politicians are an interesting case study, as they seem to disproportionately lack this fundamental behaviour-regulating tick. Political trainwrecks show us what happens when ambition combines with carelessness and entitlement on a massive scale, and they can be tantalizing to behold.

Take, for example, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. Most of us recall the high-profile media blitz surrounding Spitzer’s revealed penchant for four-figure call girls, which led to his resignation in March 2008. Though Spitzer was eventually cleared of charges alleging his use of public funds as a paid-sex piggybank, one obvious question is left unanswered: who spends $80,000 on escorts and expects to get away with it in the first place?

Then there’s former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose list of criminal charges rivals Eliot Spitzer’s escort bills to near epic proportions. In January 2008, some 14,000 text messages between the mayor and his female chief of staff were uncovered which would sully the mayor’s reputation beyond repair. These texts not only explicitly detailed their extramarital affair, but also discussed their use of public funds for romantic rendezvous. In addition, the records showed that the two had conspired to fire the former deputy police chief of Detroit, despite their testimony to the contrary during the course of a public whistleblower trial in 2007. Kilpatrick was also revealed to have used public funds to cover the lease of a personal SUV, along with draining a civic fund to pay for a resort vacation for his family, and funnelling state grant money directly to his wife. The list, unbelievably, goes on.

The most astounding correlation between the blaring indiscretions of these, and most other, political blunderers is not necessarily the moral dispensation required but the sheer brazenness of their actions. Though it may be naïve to hold politicians to a higher moral standard than the rest of us, they should at least do us the courtesy of pretending to have some sense of right versus wrong. As of late, Blagojevich is whoring himself out on Larry King Live, Spitzer’s writing regular columns for, and Kilpatrick is laughing off his jail sentence with a public flourish of defiance. Maybe what they ought to do instead is bury their heads in the sand and pretend to feel sorry. Then, they might seem human.

‘The Tamil Tigers don’t speak for me’

Last Tuesday, Gayathri Naganathan was helping set up a 24-hour public fast to draw attention to a war in Sri Lanka that has left as many as 300,000 civilians caught in the crossfire. As she went about her business, a student passing by commented that it was “interesting” that the Tamil Students’ Association was demonstrating against human rights abuses. Naganathan asked why, and the student replied that he had read that morning in the National Post that the Tamil Tigers were “slaughtering civilians” in Northern Sri Lanka.

“And then before we could even get into a discussion he walked away,” said Naganathan. “Automatically, because we’re the Tamil Students’ Association, we are terrorists?”

At about the same time that Naganathan was getting ready for the TSA’s fast, the former president of the Canadian Tamil Students’ Association was in a Brooklyn courtroom, pleading guilty to organizing a $900,000 weapons deal to provide guns and surface-to-air missile launchers to the Tamil Tigers. The group, known officially as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canada. The 29-year-old Sathajhan Sarachandran was arrested in an undercover investigation conducted jointly by the FBI and RCMP.

Coming at a time when Tamil community groups are mobilizing to protest violence and social injustice in their home country, public speculation stirred by the confessions has forced the groups to continually reiterate that they do not support the LTTE.

Thousands have protested over the past few weeks, in front of the Sri Lankan consulate and provincial legislature, making human chains and filling University Ave. with their signs and slogans.

Despite Sri Lankan conflict’s ethnic lines, dividing the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority from the Tamil Hindu minority, the Toronto protests have pointedly avoided politics. Tamil-Canadians and their supporters refuse to take sides, saying that right now the only important thing is to stop the violence.

“Somehow because of the current trial, people just assume that anyone who’s taking a stand on a humanitarian issue that’s happening is automatically a terrorist,” said Naganathan.

A Globe and Mail article published last week characterized Toronto’s Tamil community as deeply connected with the LTTE and called Scarborough the “capital of Eelam.” The article anonymously quoted a letter the paper received denouncing various 24-hour public fasts in Toronto as “an attempt by Tiger supporters to ‘safeguard their Mafia LTTE leadership’ and raise funds for an ongoing fight.”

“I’m a Tamil Canadian and I can tell you that I’m not directly influenced by the Tamil Tigers,” said Naganathan. “It’s really disappointing to see especially the media jump on board with this fanaticism of terrorism,” she added. “Because that’s not the truth.”

Naganathan has said that coverage of Sarachandran’s trial takes away from the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. “The genocide that’s happening in Sri Lanka is comparable to Rwanda, and the international community is turning a blind eye,” she said.

Milly Thanagarajah, a 28-year-old who took time off work to protest, expressed outrage over being associated with the Tigers. “Canadians think we all belong to the Tigers,” she said. “That’s like saying all Caucasians are in the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t even have a speeding ticket.”

A green plan to be envied

Unusual as it may sound, the US has decided to go green—greener than Canada. Obama is a man of his word: he is delivering on his promises, enacting bold change. These changes will affect Canada as much as the States. To demonstrate, let’s compare our governments’ “green” credentials.

Obama’s energy plan, which includes a Presidential Climate Change Action Plan, aims to increase dependence on renewable energy. The Harper government’s much anticipated budget merely toys with the idea of green energy. Obama’s praiseworthy energy plan aims to reduce US oil consumption, produce more efficient cars, and substitute ethanol for petrol. Part of Obama’s economy stimulus, the plan will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to build clean energy, creating five million jobs in the process.

Harper’s plan for the energy sector is vague. The Harper government’s budget includes $2.4 billion for clean energy projects over the next five years. This sum creates an illusion of greenness, but cannot hide the inadequacy of the overall strategy. Obama’s plan will not only increase investment in renewable energy, it will reduce oil consumption. Unsurprisingly, the Harper government’s budget does not aim to reduce oil consumption—it tries to make fuel “clean.” Canada’s renewable energy industry, particularly the wind, solar, biomass, and hydro sectors, is not pleased with the federal budget. Conspicuously absent was any provision for expanding the ecoEnergy for Renewable Power program, which supports new power projects. Some will argue that to spare even $2.4 billion for the renewable energy sector in such economic times is more than sufficient—but is the US’s economy any better?

The gap between the Obama administration’s ambitious investment in renewable energy and the Harper government’s inadequate version of energy planning will have significant ramifications for the Canadian economy. The US has prepared itself for a transition to a sustainable economy, one that several European countries have already adopted. Canada mustn’t fall behind, but with only $2.4 billion to spare on renewable energy and no sign of policy change to reduce oil consumption, the federal government will be unable to adapt.

Canada is the largest importer of energy to the US, but Alberta’s oil sands will become less significant as US oil consumption decreases. Oil exports to the US will taper off, resulting in a major blow to our economy. In order for Canada to prosper, the Harper government has to invest substantially in renewable energy, which—believe it or not—is economically promising.

The danger of climate change has provided North America with an opportunity to boost its economy while protecting the environment. Energy prices contributed significantly to the economic slowdown, and it will be the development of renewable energy that creates better economic times. Obama has been quick to exploit these opportunities, and his pragmatic move is a wake-up call for the Harper government to do the right thing before it’s too late.