University of Calgary anti-abortion display leads to charges

Members of a pro-life student group at the University of Calgary have been charged with trespassing after they refused to take down graphic posters likening abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. The president of the group, Leah Hallman, called the charges a “blatant attack on freedom speech.” A lawyer for the university, however, said that freedom of speech does not apply to the trespassers.

The charges come nearly three months after the university threatened the group of thirty students with legal action if they did not make their posters less visible due to the graphic content.

The Gatsby Innovation Awards provide sports engineers with the resources to advance their designs and products

Prior to this year, sport enthusiasts fiddling with their kits or modifying their apparatuses used to only dream about what they could come up with if they could only improve X, Y, and Z on their equipment.

Then came the great Gatsbys.

David Sainsbury, philanthropist and shareholder of the United Kingdom’s third largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, founded the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 1967. The foundation funds several areas of scientific research, including sports engineering through its Gatsby Innovation Awards.

In partnership with Loughborough University’s Sport Technology Institute, the awards are designed to give lone inventors and small businesses in the U.K. the resources to help advance their products and prototypes through £400,000 in funds and access to the institute’s expertise and test facilities.

“Sport tends to attract that kind of curious mind. But many people simply don’t have the formal skills or business acumen to take what is a good idea and make that a commercial reality,” said professor Mike Caine, the institute’s director.

The four winning products and designs from the inaugural Gatsby Innovation Awards held in May 2008 included a new putter grip that helps golfers achieve better putting accuracy, a portable hydration monitor that displays the body’s hydration level in real time during exercise, and heated goalkeeper gloves which keep hands warm during chilly conditions.

PGA Coach Philip Gazeley started on his product four years ago, originally trying to design a new putter head.

Gazeley figured that finding a way to get the putter head to go back straighter, rather than on an arc, could possibly benefit the golfer. After speaking to engineers and design consultants, he found that by changing the grip instead and making it twice as wide, he achieved his desired result of reducing the rotation of the putter head during putts.

“I realized if you put your thumbs together, your shoulders automatically stayed on line and [your] hips and feet and everything all stayed together,” said Gazeley. “It would arrest the rotation of the putter face potentially making putting more accurate and easy.”

That’s all right in theory, but in order to prove it scientifically, Gazeley needed the help of the Gatsby grant, which awarded him access to Loughborough’s state-of-the-art testing facilities to prove his new grip worked beyond a scientific doubt.

Although Gazeley doesn’t have the final report, early results are in his favour. Caine and his colleagues successfully measured substantially different changes in foot pressure when using Gazeley’s thicker grip in comparison to standard sized grips, and were able measure accuracy through a range of different lengths of putts.

“We have taken an array of competitive golfers right up to the top standard and consistently across the group you’re able to measure an improvement,” said Caine.

PGA stars like Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Jimenez, and Shingo Katayama currently use the grip. Gazeley believes thousands of golfers worldwide are using it.

“It’s nice to take an idea through to the finish,” said Gazeley. “You know we’ve proved our point and so hopefully we release [the final Loughborough report] in the next couple of months for everyone to see.”

In contrast, Leon Marsh’s portable hydration monitor and Darren Heyes’ heated goalkeeping glove inventions didn’t arrive in Loughborough’s lab with a successful track record like Gazeley’s putter grip.

Marsh came up with his idea in his final year at Brunel University in Uxbridge, England, while completing his design degree. For one of his final projects he had to develop a new product, or try and improve an existing one.

He came up with his idea after a workout at Brunel’s gym when we saw someone bring a bottle of water into a sauna. He started thinking about how much water one should drink to get re-hydrated after a sweaty workout followed by a steam.

“I just thought that’s worth looking into to see if there’s anything available to do something like that,” said Marsh.

After extensive research, Marsh established that his idea was original. He then spent the next four years developing his portable hydration monitor. His design works by having a temperature sensor that goes into the ear to measure the subject’s core body temperature. Changes in the measured core body temperature are used to calculate hydration level by a processor within a wristwatch, displayed onto the watch for the subject to see.

Before he had heard of their Gatsby awards, Marsh presented his first prototype to Loughborough University, but found during its trials that it was not robust enough to yield the results needed so that he could present it to a manufacturer.

Marsh needed funding for another prototype, and a government grant had just been pulled.

Luckily, he had a positive initial contact with Loughborough.

“I was just catching up with them and asking if they knew of any grants around them, and it just so happened they did have the Gatsby grant in place at that time,” said Marsh. “So I applied and was successful, fortunately.”

As for Heyes, after a long career in professional soccer as a goalkeeper playing for clubs such as Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest, he attended Nottingham Trent University where he gained qualifications in sports science and marketing. He now runs a successful soccer coaching business for goalkeepers called Katz Keepers.

One night with another former goalkeeper, Ian Andrews, Heyes brainstormed, trying to come up with solutions to problems faced while playing. Initially, they researched foams being for keeper’s gloves but figured they couldn’t take it any further. Heyes recalled the cold English nights that froze his hands and feet, making it difficult to catch a soccer ball.

“We wanted to look at the physiology behind it … So we tried to incorporate something that kept your hands warm [by aiding blood flow] while improving your performance as well,” said Heyes.

Before winning his Gatsby, Heyes went to a colleague who had just finished a product design degree at Aston University in Birmingham to look at different glove designs, logos, and shapes, seeing how he could incorporate a heating system. The final design was so good that it ended up winning a product design award at the university.

Over the next five years, Heyes and his partners used every penny from their goalkeeping camps to fund their glove prototype. They initially tested at John Moores University in Liverpool, and received positive results.

“It [showed] some sort of significant difference on your hand,” said Heyes.

But Heyes looked at running another three or four goalkeeping camps to fund further testing. The money and progress on the glove came in slowly, making it very difficult on them.

Then, while Heyes was head of youth development and goalkeeping coach at Notts County Football Club (the oldest Football league in the world) in England, one of the parents who worked at Loughborough told Heyes about the Gatsby awards.

“We spent our last £1,500-£2,000 that we had to make a prototype just to get to our pitch for the Gatsby. Sort of all-or-nothing for us, really,” said Heyes. “It’s very difficult when you spend money on an idea you’re not sure is going to work. Especially if you have money.”

It took Heyes six long years to get from the original idea to where he is now, awaiting his results from Loughborough.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day was it? But the Gatsby’s moved it along considerably […] in the last six months,” said Heyes.

Heyes and Marsh envision a strong transferability of their products to other areas. Marsh sees possible applications in the medical field for his hydration monitor as the most accurate current way to assess hydration involves invasive tests in a controlled laboratory. Heyes believes his heated gloves will have use in other sports such as football, skiing, cycling, and sailing.

As for what it’s like turning their ideas into reality, Gazeley sums it up best with an old English saying: “From little acorns oak trees will grow. Very, very difficult if you haven’t got that sort of major funding to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Five arrested over Engineering prank

A long-standing University of British Columbia tradition turned sour when it resulted in five engineering students being arrested, and a Volkswagon Beetle falling to the bottom of the Burard Inlet.

Since 1981, students commemorate the beginning of engineering week at the UBC by hanging a Volkswagen from a bridge. This year, however, something went wrong.

First, police caught the would-be pranksters in the act at around 4 a.m. on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. Police reported the VW plunged into the river when the pranksters’ ropes gave way. Howver UBC’s associate dean of engineering Brian Dunwoody claims that the VW fell into the water after a city crew attempted to remove the prank.

Police will be recommending $5,000 mischief charges for the five students, a punishment comparable to offences like fraud and domestic abuse. In 2001, UBC students avoided charges for hanging a VW off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Regardless of the legal outcome, the arrests raise questions about the future of the prank tradition.

A stale electorate

Canada needs democratic renewal. Recent events in Ottawa highlight what has existed since Confederation. That Parliament’s virtual stalemate passed for progressive, democratic change demonstrates the need for serious reform.

Canada today is a vast, multicultural, multilingual society. Like many developed countries, it is increasingly urban but maintains a strong rural, agricultural base. Its culture is the result of a unique and highly successful fusion of First Nations and British and French colonialist traditions, making it one of the most diverse societies in the world.

And yet Canadian politics are as fractured as ever, perhaps for these reasons. The 40th Parliament is a collection of regional parties, elected by the lowest voter turnout in national history (59 per cent); its governing party, the Harper Conservatives, received only 37 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservative Party’s share of the popular vote was just over one per cent higher than the previous election, but it managed to gain 19 seats and weaken the Liberal opposition considerably. The popular vote shows that the Harper government’s expanded mandate had little to do with the upswing in support. Rather, it was the result of a relatively minor shift among certain regions of the electorate disappointed by one of the weakest Liberal campaigns in recent history, compounded by an atrocious voter turnout.

The Conservatives dominated the Western provinces and rural parts of Ontario and the Maritimes; the Liberals and New Democrats maintained their traditional holds in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and other urban areas (the NDP also made gains in the north). Though there were minor anomalies in regional trends, like the surprise NDP victory in Outremont, nothing much changed between this and previous elections. A virtual two-party system exists in Canada: Liberal and Conservative governments exchange power roughly every decade, while minority and majority governments are elected largely due to regional strongholds.

We can’t ignore the implications of this political stalemate. The Conservative budget, unveiled last week, was a hodgepodge document, so counterintuitive to Tory ideology that it risked alienating its own support base (one commentator nicknamed the Prime Minister “Harpo-Marx”). In all likelihood, the Harper government will last only a short time, offset by a Liberal Party reinvigorated by a popular new leader. The next election will likely produce a Liberal government, but what then?

The new government will likely be elected regionally: Quebec, for instance, has seen an upsurge of Liberal support due to the Prime Minister’s criticism of the Bloc in the wake of the Liberal-NDP Coalition agreement. Once again, this multifaceted society will be governed by a Parliament comprising a mishmash of regional interests, a diverse patchwork of MPs squabbling over equalization payments and status details. None of the parties will govern with a national mandate. Splintered provincial issues will continue to dominate Canadian politics.

If there is hope, it lies in electoral reform. Strategic voting and voter apathy are widespread under the current system. Many citizens cast their votes based on the “lesser-of-two-evils” principle, especially those who support third parties: simply put, it’s pointless to vote NDP in Calgary-Southwest, just as it’s pointless to vote for the Conservatives in Hamilton Centre. The only way to justify principled voting is the funding each party receives for its share of the popular vote—and to most of the electorate, this is a negligible sum. A better electoral system would balance Canada’s regional differences, ensuring a more proportional distribution of seats in Parliament. The Mixed-Member Proportional system voted on in the last Ontario Provincial election would give each member of the electorate two votes: one for their preferred local candidate, and one for their preferred governing party. Though referendums on such reforms have been struck down in Ontario, British Columbia, and other provinces, there has yet to be a serious public discussion of their implementation at the Federal level.

Hopefully Canada’s next governing party, whether Conservative, Liberal, or New Democrat, will attempt to address problems of regionalism in this country and the grave threat they pose to Canadian unity and the integrity of national democracy.

Obama Watch

The Obama administration has shepherded in a new era of transparency and mutual responsibility, but an onslaught of financial scandal has threatened to derail the core message of his presidency. It should come as no surprise that many of his cabinet appointees bring with them not only vast knowledge and expertise, but a suitcase full of tax demons. After all, they are the quintessential Washington insiders: well-connected to the corruption-ridden establishment.

The dismemberment of President Obama’s cabinet began in early January, when then Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson withdrew his name because of a federal investigation into his business dealings. Soon afterwards, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had his laundry aired in the national media when it was revealed that he had failed to pay $34,000 in taxes over the course of three years, and hired an immigrant housekeeper with illegitimate paperwork. Then came the disgrace of another high-profile Washington figure: appointed Health Secretary Tom Daschle. His troubles with the IRS and dangerously close relationships to lobbyists and the health insurance industry made it painfully clear that he could no longer continue his duties honestly and honourably. On Tuesday, he withdrew his name as well—and on that same day, Chief Performance Officer Nancy Killefer withdrew her candidacy because of tax evasion.

Now, tax cheaters are not unique to any party; freeloaders exist harmoniously in both Republican and Democratic coteries, all the while maintaining cushy government jobs. What is perhaps most infuriating about all this scandal is the notion of a revolving-door syndrome, where politicians and civil servants flow in and out of the White House regardless of past financial transgressions or conflicts of interest with the private sector. Average taxpayers, on the other hand, are under constant scrutiny. Any indiscretion on the commoner’s part could lead to stiff penalties, or in extreme cases, jail time.

This obvious double standard has been commonplace for quite awhile. But in his first week in office, the president set forth stricter laws to tackle ethical misconduct and promised to open up the White House to the rest of the country, expanding it beyond a select few. On the bright side (if such a thing exists), we are all bearing witness to the humiliating fallouts of administration officials and eagerly awaiting their replacements. While it may be amusing to watch these tainted political figures struggle to explain themselves in the public eye, the standards are set even higher for the next cabinet selections. The president’s team needs to be a strong, cohesive unit in order to effectively implement economic and domestic policies. It would be ideal to bring more progressive voices into the White House, those with fewer attachments to Washington circles—or at the very least, those who actually pay their taxes.

Long and winding road

“Everybody in the band is an avid dreamer,” says Alex Pulec, guitarist and songwriter of Sadie May Crash, whose kaleidoscopic sound is a mixture of theatrical pop and 60s rock ‘n’ roll. “We’re obsessed with things that are surreal…we get excited by things that are out of touch with reality—it’s what we do.”

The members of Sadie May Crash played in different bands at their Toronto high school, but when each group fell apart, the four core members were left searching for musical counterparts. Pulec and his elegant lead singer, Paige Boy, were free to collaborate, meeting up with bassist Mike McDonnell and drummer Jason Cipparone soon after.

“Paige was one of the only people who listened to all of the music I listened to,” comments Pulec about their early days. “We bonded over writing songs—it’s hard to find people like that. The two of us started writing tons of songs, and Mike and Jason entered the picture later on. They’re totally creative, and we all put our own spin [on the band’s sound].”

“The name comes from a lot of things,” he continues. “We kind of had an obsession with this fictional entity named ‘Sadie,’ and Paige just put the words together. We’d write songs, and we’d want to play them—but we were so nervous. When people would ask who wrote the songs, we’d say, ‘Sadie—yeah, you don’t know her….’ We like the element of unpredictability to it, we don’t want to do anything that people have heard before.”

The band has come a long way since the days when they attributed all their work to an imaginary svengali. Sadie May Crash have established themselves as a force in the local underground scene—releasing a four-song demo, winning a Toronto Independent Music Award last summer, and headlining the Mod Club on New Year’s Eve. This Sunday, the band celebrates another milestone, playing the Wavelength Music Series at Sneaky Dee’s, an event that’s considered by many to be the height of the independent music scene in Toronto.

“We have lots of new songs—we’re constantly writing.” says Pulec. “But we’ve always been focused on our live show…there’s sort of a feeling that you get addicted to when you’re standing on stage. You work, you put your blood, sweat, tears, and energy into something—and that’s the one moment when it’s exploding out.”

The creative upstarts recently realized another dream—building their own rehearsal space. They took over an abandoned house set for demolition and, along with local experimental band London Parachutes, ripped out the carpets and covered the walls with surrealist paintings. Bursting with colour and life, the space has become an artistic haven to work and play music.

“We’re kind of like a bunch of sponges. Wherever we live, play, or hang out—we just kind of suck everything up, and then it oozes out of each of us in our own way. We’re inspired by everything that’s circling around us.”

The new studio might be the perfect place to let the surreal spin of their minds filter into the planning of their debut album—which Pulec says is the band’s next step. But the demolition date looms, and bulldozers may soon crash into Sadie May Crash—but then again, they say that conflict is the god of all creation.

Sadie May Crash play the Wavelength Music Series at Sneaky Dee’s (431 College Street) this Sunday. Doors are at 9:30 p.m.

UTM daycare centre overpriced, late Mississauga campus parents protest high costs of service

UTM is yet to begin construction on a daycare facility that was due to open this month, leaving student parents with a temporary, unlicensed service.

According to Saaliha Malik, VP equity of the UTM Student Union, the opening has been rescheduled several times since September 2007. It was most recently scheduled for February 2009, but in a Jan. 12 email to students, the administration said that they had been overly optimistic with their timeline.

“We’ve built a residence building, a library, and a gym in the last three years, but we can’t build a daycare centre,” said Malik.

Construction of the centre was delayed because the university was unable to obtain a city permit until Jan. 23 of this year. Construction plans have now been approved, but students are still waiting for the university to announce a new timeline.

UTM dean of Student Affairs Mark Overton said, “We can’t commit to an opening date yet but are working with the project’s architects, engineers, and contractors, along with the operator, to finalize one. It will be shared widely as soon as it is available.”

For now, parents have to rely on either off-campus services or the temporary child-minding centre at UTM. Malik claims this facility is not a substitute. “This is not a licensed facility, it was only a temporary service that should have only lasted four months.” She added that the centre has limited space and can only take in five children at a time.

She said student parents are concerned that their numbers are too small for the university to care about them. There are currently 30 students waitlisted for services at the new facility.

Parent students are also taking issue with proposed increases in the price of services. “Many parents can’t afford the new proposed rates. They are probably going to look for something off campus in the Peel region which is cheaper,” said Malik.

The temporary childminding centre costs parents $5 per hour with a maximum limit of $40 per day. The hourly rate will no longer be available at the new centre. Full-time students would pay approximately $49 to $75 a day. Part-time students would receive lower rates than full-time students, but they too would see their overall charges increased.

According to Overton, the matter is out of UTM’s hands. Rates are fixed by the daycare operator, U of T’s Early Learning Center.

Malik argues that the administration could have hired a less expensive operator from the Peel region.

Parents can appeal to Peel authorities for child care subsidies, and those who do not qualify may apply for funds from the university. UTMSU is creating a $5,000 bursary to help parents in need and is also looking into other ways to offer support.

Losing it with The Virgins

The Virgins spent 10 months of 2008 on the road, and as they embark on their first North American headlining tour, it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down any time soon.

Born and bred in Lower Manhattan, the band’s sound is a relentlessly catchy blend of new wave and disco with roots planted between CBGB’s and Studio 54.

“It’s the music that was around when we were kids,” says guitarist Wade Oates over the phone from a stop in Minnesota. “We liked the whole white-rock disco thing that people were doing in the late 70s. Bands like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones would just try and fail at doing disco, which we thought was cool. But we also took a lot of influence from what Nile Rodgers was doing in the 80s with the band Chic.”

The Virgins were conceived on a photo shoot in Mexico when uber-hip New York photographer Ryan McGinley introduced Oates to frontman Donald Cumming. The pair got to talking about their various musical projects, and the band was born.

But Oates insists that modeling was never his dream. “That’s the one and only time I’ve ever done that, and if anything it’s just cemented the fact that I hate getting my photo taken.”

Oates, Cumming, and bassist Nick Zarin-Ackerman played together for a year without a drummer before Atlantic Records caught wind of their performances at downtown Manhattan parties and quickly signed them. They immediately held exhaustive auditions to find a drummer, finally settling upon Erik Ratensperger.

From there they marched into the studio, enlisting celebrated hit-maker Sam Hollander (Gym Class Heroes, Boys Like Girls) to transform the bedroom demos of their first EP into the glossy, radio-friendly pop of their self-titled full-length.

“Everyone had been telling us to do the gritty, downtown rock thing, and we thought, that’s been done so many times, especially over the last ten years. Let’s go with the radio guy. Let’s not go with the guy who records everything lo-fi. Whoever is the biggest guy [out there], let’s go with that guy.”

“He brought a lot to the table. There was a lot of butting heads—it’s harder to work with a guy who has his own vision. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but in a totally positive way.”

Once the band had found their signature sound, their creativity began to take off.

“We kind of flourished in the studio,” says Oates. “‘Teen Lovers’ was written on the spot. The song was done in 22 hours. Donald and Nick had this idea of doing a Latin thing—it started as a Gloria Estefan song, but it totally didn’t end up that way.”

Instead, with its breezy yacht-rock vibe and a sweeping chorus hook, “Teen Lovers” turned out to be one of the album’s most irresistible tracks.

With their debut album complete, the boys got a massive boost in exposure from an unlikely source—the CW’s glamourously vapid teen drama Gossip Girl. In a twist of fate, the band and the soap opera turned out to be a perfect combination.

Tunes like “Rich Girls” and “She’s Expensive” document casual romances with vain heiresses, and the album’s subject matter fits Gossip Girl so well, it’s almost as if The Virgins had been specifically commissioned for Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf.

“It was really random,” says Oates. “When someone first told us about it, we thought it was the Gilmore Girls, so we were kind of weirded out. Once someone explained it to us, we thought, ‘Oh, that’s awesome and stupid and the right kind of weird. It’s a show about young kids that are rich and take drugs—sign me up!’”

“I remember the Twilight-looking kid (the brooding Chuck Bass) was listening to ‘Rich Girls’ while he was really bummed out. That was the most random thing I’ve ever seen. But they had him listening to it on his iPod, [portraying that] this character likes this band, which I thought was pretty cool.”

But life has funny way of mirroring art, and Oates confides that he too has experience with a debutante from the Upper East Side.

“I dated a girl that lived on 105th and 5th when I used to live on 13th and 5th. I used to ride my bike all the way up to her house. I was so tired that I used to fall asleep every day and she broke up with me.”

Does Oates imagine the band will call Lower Manhattan home forever?

“We’re gonna move to Nice and wear straw hats. That’s the plan, but not until we’re well into our 60s.”

The Virgins play the El Mocambo (464 Spadina) tonight with Lissy Trullie and Anya Marina. Tickets are $12.50 at Ticketmaster and Rotate This.