The Freewheelin’ Mohsen Namjoo

You can often hear the Persian language spoken in the district of North York Centre, but last Friday evening Iranian culture was concentrated around the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The event was a concert by Mohsen Namjoo, the Iranian music phenomenon who is widely known as Iran’s Bob Dylan. Since he burst onto the Iranian music scene roughly two years ago, his legend hasn’t stopped growing. His first songs generated millions of hits on YouTube, and Namjoo has since played shows all over Europe and North America. With his skyrocketing popularity, he was widely recognized in Iran as a revolutionary musician before he released even a single album.

For many, he’s more than a favourite musician—he’s a symbol of a new movement in traditional Iranian music. He revolutionized the ancient musical form by mixing it with modern folk, blues, and rock influences.

About his innovative sound, Namjoo says, “Its [distinctive quality] is that a new paradigm has been presented in a closed and limited arena like Iranian traditional music, [which] has always been a ‘museum art’ in relation to other forms.”

His popularity in Iran has spread all over the world, making Namjoo such a big name within the Iranian community of Toronto that his March 6 concert sold out a month in advance. He was even followed around the city during his week-long stay by an entourage of fans. Any attempts to hide his place of residence proved ineffective.

But despite his newfound celebrity, the best part of the Namjoo experience is the concert itself. Armed with only a guitar, Namjoo presented a number of his newest works, including one in which he shouts out the name of Muslim prophet Mohammad with a curious sheep imitation: “Maa.” His explanation? “All three main prophets (Jesus, Moses, and Mohammad) were shepherds.” His audacious mash-ups included mixing Johann Sebastian Bach with old Iranian pop singers, and Iranian “new wave” poets with Turkish pastoral hymns.

Namjoo spoke on Sunday afternoon to a packed audience at Hart House’s East Common Room, an event organized by the Iranian Student Association at the University of Toronto. He spoke passionately about his Iranian music projects, and revealed his interest in an unbelievable number of ancient poets.

He’s been celebrated at Toronto’s Arta Gallery in the Distillery District and numerous venues in North York, providing hundreds of concertgoers with the Namjoo experience. The reception has been so warm in Toronto that he admitted he’s thinking of returning to stay for good.

Why does he claim he likes Toronto more than the dozens of other cities he’s visited on tour? “To be honest I couldn’t give you a very rational answer,” says Namjoo. “This is more about senses. We judge everything, and this has been [my judgment] about Toronto. I feel a biological attraction to this city and its people.”

If Namjoo does indeed choose to relocate, those who welcomed him this past week could arguably claim a role in the shaping of Iranian music history.

Crowded field at GC election town hall

Governing Council candidates appeared at a public town hall at Hart House on Tuesday, a day into the election. In attendance were full-time undergraduate hopefuls Andrew Agnew-Iler, Maximilian Cadmus, Anthony Darcovich, Zayne Dattu, Albert Delitala, Vik Handa, and Margaret Min Hee Kim; full-time undergrad incumbent Grant Gonzales; part-time undergrad candidate Joeita Gupta; graduate student (humanities and social sciences) Paul York; administrative staff candidate Diane Crocker.

A major topic was President Naylor’s Towards 2030 plan, consisting of a shorter framework document voted in last October and a more detailed synthesis, whose recommendations have not been voted on. Controversial sections of Towards 2030 include “self-regulation” of fees and a plan to gradually decrease the overall undergrad population in favour of more grad students. The plan also encourages more corporate-funded research.

All governor hopefuls said they would work to protect students from the economic downturn by avoiding fee increases. Candidates disagreed, however, on how to maintain the complex balance between tuition, government, and corporate funding. Cadmus said he wanted to find a balance between all three sources to ensure access for “at-risk” students. Gupta disagreed: “I think education is a right and that we need to push for newer models at the university that don’t rely on corporate funding […or] increasing tuition fees.”

“I will advocate not to increase tuition, but realistically, I can’t promise that,” said Darcovich. “What I would do on Governing Council is really lobby for alternative methods.”

“If tuition were to be raised to $15,000 that would be ridiculous, I would oppose that and I speak as an OSAP-receiving student,” said Gonzales, the incumbent who had voted for the Towards 2030 framework.

Several candidates spoke about sustainability and a need to make U of T more environmentally friendly. “Environmental sustainability has to be addressed as a part of this [Towards 2030] framework,” Kim said.

“Universities can be instruments of social change for the good, not evil,” said York, an environmental activist who has made this issue central to his campaign. He emphasized the many steps needed, including changing curricula, retrofitting buildings, and dropping investments in corporations like Imperial Oil.

Out of 50 governors, only eight are students—a point that came up throughout the debate. “If we change this, we could start to address all the other issues all the other candidates have raised,” said Agnew-Iler, who was particularly incensed. “And how I plan on doing this, is by mobilizing all the students, regardless of political orientation.”

Accessibility was also a big issue, with Kim, Darcovich, Handa, Delitala, and Zayne vowing to make themselves available to their constituents through email, Facebook, and in-person meetings.

Also present was Semra Eylul Sevi, a GC candidate last year and one of the Fight Fees 14 who staged a sit-in at Simcoe Hall in March. Sevi ran on a platform of eliminating tuition fees and changing investment policies, but this year she’s encouraging fellow students to boycott the election.

“It’s meaningless because student representatives have tokenistic seats, so they can’t make any meaningful change. I think that students should de-legitimize the whole system and not vote for Governing Council,” said Sevi. She now wants to stay out of student politics and continue working from the grassroots.

Researchers predict sea level rise to be highly variable

University of Toronto researchers predict that in the event of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), the coasts of North America and countries bordering the southern Indian Ocean will be hardest hit by rising sea levels.

Jerry Mitrovica and Natalya Gomez from U of T’s Department of Physics, along with Peter Clark from the University of Oregon’s Department of Geosciences, used computer models to predict what would happen following the complete disintegration of the WAIS.

The results of their study, published in the February 6 edition of Science, indicate that sea level rise is likely to vary significantly around the globe.

The coasts of North America and countries in the southern Indian Ocean would see the most drastic change, up to 25 per cent greater than predicted. This could mean an increase of six to seven meters in some locations, rather than the typical estimate of five meters, the figure used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the past, predictions of sea level rise were calculated by converting the amount of water released from melting ice and spreading it uniformly—or eustatically—around the world’s oceans. The problem with this method, Mitrovica says, is that it fails to take three critical points into account.

The first is the elastic nature of Earth’s surface. As the ice sheet melts, the ground beneath it, compacted under the weight of the ice, bounces back, expelling water away from where the glacier once was.

The second factor is the gravitational attraction exerted by the ice sheet on the surrounding water. If the WAIS collapses, ocean levels within 2,000 km of its borders will fall as water moves away, rising incrementally at greater distances.

The final factor is the ice sheet’s effect on Earth’s rotational axis, which will experience a 500 metre tilt if the WAIS disappears completely. This shift would cause water to migrate northwards out of the southern Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Canada’s coastal regions, including major centers like Halifax and Vancouver, would see a rise “in excess of six metres if all of the WAIS disappears,” says Mitovica. Some of the United States’ most populous cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. would see similar increases.

Mitrovica is keen to avoid apocalyptic predictions, pointing out that the ice sheet will likely collapse over a period of “several centuries or more.” However, he continues, “this work shows that the sea-level rise that would occur at many coastal sites would be much larger than currently estimated.”

There is evidence that the WAIS is already becoming unstable. This is in part due to its structure: the WAIS is a grounded, marine-based ice sheet, sitting on the earth’s surface below sea level. Its edges are surrounded by a protective barrier of floating ice shelves, which are particularly vulnerable to rising air and water temperatures. Losing them, Mitrovica says, means the ice sheet “will have a lot less impediment to collapse.”

He adds that the WAIS “is only part of the story.” Other sources of meltwater, including mountain glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and the eastern Antarctic, also need to be considered to fully understand the degree and effect of eventual sea level rise.

This study marks a significant improvement in the ability of researchers to make accurate predictions about the world’s oceans. “We are providing the ‘ingredients’ if you will,” Mitrovica says. “The final recipe—that is, the final combination of the different sources—remains to be seen.”

Natalya Gomez is currently embarking on a study of the unique “fingerprint” of Greenland’s ice sheet—another vulnerable ice reservoir—on sea level rise.

Mitrovica hopes this study will relate that “scientists as well as policy makers should focus on projections that avoid simplistic assumptions.” Instead, they should understand that “sea-level change will vary significantly from place to place, [and if they] want to prepare for our warmer future, they need to take this into account.”

More information about what rising sea levels might look like is available at the website for the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets:

CRO decisions challenged, overruled

For just 23 hours, Slate Change’s presidential candidate Jason Marin surpassed the maximum number of demerit points allowed to continue running in the UTSU election.

The demerits were handed out by CRO Lydia Treadwell, who has issued 15 rulings as of press time. The Elections and Referenda Committee, who has authority to overrule Treadwell’s decisions, issued three rulings Wednesday afternoon, two of them modifying previous demerit points.

As of 5:30 p.m Tuesday, March 10, Marin had 37 demerit points (35 are needed for disqualification). The ERC removed five points from each Change candidate, leaving Marin with 32 points.

Treadwell’s third ruling originally called for 15 demerit points each to the slate for unapproved materials on its website. The elections committee lowered the penalty on the grounds of ambiguous wording that induced confusion.

Two other rulings are being contested.

Treadwell’s fifth ruling stated that Marin and EFUT (French club) president Antonin Mongeau intimidated and harassed Alice Wu, who was campaigning for the Access slate.

Allegations included questioning her employment status, personal relationship history, and sexual history, as well as accusing Wu of breaking rules by campaigning while she is a paid UTSU employee. (Treadwell later investigated and found that Wu was on unpaid leave since the campaign period started.)

Treadwell ruled that though not all comments or actions were from Marin, he is to be held accountable.

At the ERC meeting Wednesday, Marin admitted to approaching Wu with Mongeau to ask about her employment status, but said that he was not campaigning, and that Mongeau is not campaigning for his slate.

The committee concluded that Marin was a non-arm’s-length, third-party campaigner, citing his intent to enforce the elections procedure code, presence in a campaign area, interruption of Wu and knowledge that Mongeau would be supporting the Change slate.

“That’s a lie,” Mongeau told The Varsity. He said he asked Wu whether she was dating Access candidate Adnan Najmi, and did not bring up her sexual history. Marin acknowledged he did not stop Mongeau from questioning Wu on her personal motives for campaigning.

“I’ve never campaigned for anybody on the Change slate,” said Mongeau, adding that the CRO did not contact him before identifying him as a non-arm’s-length party. He said he often criticizes those he feels have been incumbents in any organization for too long.

Treadwell had ruled that Mongeau was “publicly and falsely accusing Sandy Hudson of violating the Election Procedure Code by allegedly abusing Union resources.” Mongeau said Treadwell has not responded to his request that she provide her sources.

Treadwell’s thirteenth ruling stated that outgoing VP Campus Life Athmika Punja used an internal phone list to text message 20 individuals, inviting them to a volunteer training session for the Change slate. She said that as president of Woodsworth College executive, Punja used her position in a campus organization to give Change services they couldn’t otherwise access.

“Ms. Punja has come out openly as a campaigner for the Change Slate,” reads the ruling. “The Change candidates are very well aware of her commitment to help them.”

Each Change slate candidate received demerit points.

“I’ve found that she’s made very little attempt to locate hard evidence beyond the word of campaigners for Demand Access,” said Punja in an email to The Varsity. “I will not apologize for being an executive who has made a concerted effort to connect with other elected representatives on MY campus.”

Punja said she would have allowed the space for the Access slate if asked and noted that there were students studying in Kruger Hall during the meeting.

“I’m obviously in the awkward position of being the only executive who is not running,” said Punja. “I have torn [a ligament] from a dislocated knee, so I haven’t been contributing to the campaign as alleged by the CRO, beyond inviting my friends to their Facebook group and letting students know how to get involved in the campaign.”

The Elections and Referenda Committee met Wednesday evening and passed additional rulings. They were not published as of press time.

CRO Lydia Treadwell could not be reached for comment, despite repeated phone calls and emails.

U of T scientists prove Hardy’s paradox

Quantum mechanics, a field which scientists believe explains all natural phenomena, was considered by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman to be impossible to understand in its entirety. University of Toronto physicists Aephraim Steinberg and Jeff Lundeen have made new developments in the field by resolving a paradox of quantum mechanics. The physicists used a principle called “weak measurement” to prove Hardy’s paradox, which refers to the ability of something to be in two different states at the same time. Schrödinger’s cat is a common example: if a cat is underneath a box, to an onlooker the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened and someone looks inside.

Hardy’s paradox is based on an experiment in which an electron and a positron (the antiparticle of an electron) are sent along intersecting paths. Although the particles are supposed to annihilate each other when they meet, they don’t. Both particles simultaneously hit their respective sensors when they reach the end of their paths.

After two years of research, Steinberg and Lundeen have proven Hardy’s paradox. Using weak measurement, along with several theoretical tools they developed, they demonstrated that the positron and electron were, in fact, in the annihilation region at the same time. “We realized that a two-photon ‘switch’ we had developed for applications in quantum computing would be precisely the key needed to perform Hardy’s paradox, which had been a seemingly impossible proposal for over ten years,” writes Steinberg.

Quantum particles have a tendency to behave in strange ways. For example, an electron can spin in two directions, or be in two different places at the same time. The particles in the experiment were able to disturb each other without obliteration because they can simultaneously exist in two locations. It was unclear as to how this could occur, as particle detectors were unable to measure the particles’ paths: once in place, the detectors would disturb the particles, leading to inaccurate results. Hardy’s paradox becomes obsolete once measurements are used in the experiment, so it seemed that determining the exact locations of the particles in the overlapping region was impossible.

This is where the concept of “weak measurement” comes into play. The detector used in weak measurement has a pointer that, upon taking a measurement, moves less than the level of uncertainty, leaving the experiment undisturbed. As different physical states of the particles—known as superpositions—are left unobstructed, it is possible to make measurements without interfering with the final results. However, the readings are very inaccurate, so it is necessary to repeat them a number of times, then calculate the average to get a more precise value.

Prior to Steinberg and Lundeen’s discovery, physicists had tried using weak measurement to solve Hardy’s Paradox, but received unusual results. During a number of trials, the electron detector recorded that an average of one electron passed through the annihilation region during a given period of time. The positron detector gave the same result, meaning annihilation should have occurred, as both particles were, at some point, in the same region. Yet measurements taken by an electron-positron pair detector observed zero pairs in the annihilation region. It was known that the pair was in the annihilation region at some point, as both the electron and positron reached their final destinations. However, the detector was unable to identify that a pair had passed through the region. Therefore, the paradox remained intact: the particles arrived at their final destination but were undetectable when they disturbed each other in the annihilation region.

York U president accused of fraud

York University announced the appointment of a “renowned scholar of Chinese history” as dean of what is to be the largest faculty in Canada in its internal publication, Yfile, last month. However, Martin Singer, dean to-be of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, is not a renowned scholar.

David Noble, a professor of history at York University, circulated a press release accusing York president and hiring committee chair Mamdouh Shoukri of fraud after he found that Singer’s credentials were grossly exaggerated in the Yfile report.

“Prof. Singer may be a distinguished administrator, as the York Y-files describe him, but ‘renowned scholar of Chinese history’ he is not,” wrote Arif Dirlik, chair professor of Chinese Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong, in a letter to Noble. “Indeed, his contribution to scholarship in the field is negligible to the point of being non-existent.”

“That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, we consulted a number of historians of China. The guy has no reputation whatsoever,” said Noble. “[Singer’s appointment] should be withdrawn immediately.”

Singer has been a professor at Concordia University in Montreal since 1972. York’s press release claims, among other things, that he “has led academic planning processes which resulted in the recruitment of more than 350 tenure-track professors” and been involved with “the construction of several major academic buildings.”

Prof. Dirlik has claimed that Singer has not even published a “real” book, which he feels “would be the basis for minimal recognition in the field.” While Singer has had several publications, they mostly date back to at least 30 years ago.

“It makes York a laughing stock,” said Noble. He has founded a campaign of disaffected York faculty known as York Faculty Concerned About the Future of York University.

Shoukri, who headed the search committee for a new dean, has called Singer “a strong scholar.”

“The words ‘renowned’ were never used by the president nor by Dr. Singer,” said Alex Bilyk, director of Media Relations at York. “Those words were used as a line in our internal publication, Yfile, and their use by staff writers was an error in the circumstances.”

Singer later said that he has not called himself a renowned scholar, and that the claim was written by staff writers. Shoukri and Yfile have both said that the misstatement did not come from the president.

“As for the poor choice of words, I’m responsible for what’s written in YFile,” said Berton Woodward, York’s publication director. “Concordia consistently described him as a leader in his field.”

“Dr. Singer’s qualifications and experience were carefully examined in the interview and search process, and he emerged as the most suitable candidate on the basis of his entire professional record—including his administrative experience, teaching, and scholarship,” said Shoukri in a public message in response to the backlash.

Noble said he received “letters of intimidation” from York’s governing council, one of which asked him to identify the names of anyone else involved in denouncing Shoukri and Singer.

“It indicates to me that the criticism was right on target,” said Noble about York’s actions.

York has since modified its YFile story, removing the word “renowned” after The Varsity asked why it was still there after all the outcry.

“You’re right—we should take the word out now that everyone has expressed their opinion about it, and we have done so,” Woodward said.

Noble remains determined to find a way to stop Singer’s appointment, citing that for a dean who deals with academic achievement, “it would certainly help if you knew what that means.”

Chemicals that changed the world: Morphine

Morphine is one chemical that almost always serves as an effective painkiller. By acting on the central nervous system, it numbs the area of the brain that detects pain. Due to its highly addictive quality, it is not used unless absolutely necessary.

Morphine is one of many narcotic analgesics—chemicals that relieve pain. Apart from its vital role in medicine, it is known for being a principal component of opium, which is used to produce heroin, explaining morphine’s addictive characteristic. In fact, the only difference between morphine and heroin is that the latter has two additional acetyl groups, allowing it to penetrate the brain faster than morphine.

German scientist Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine in 1804. He named it after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus, because of its ability to psychologically detach a human being from pain and reality. By the 1850s, morphine could be injected into humans. Its power as a painkiller was recognized during the American Civil War where it was used extensively. Slowly, its addictive nature was recognized, as several soldiers came back from war with what was known as “soldier’s disease.”

Luckily, morphine only becomes addictive after extensive use, so it can be prescribed to patients who are in desperate need of relief. Use is discontinued as soon as possible in order to avoid dependence on the drug, which can lead to vomiting, insomnia, irritability, and several other undesirable symptoms.

Despite its severe effects, it is still regarded as one of the most useful chemicals in medicine, as it is extremely reliable.

Ontario grad fund misdirected

Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities has announced a $51.6 million investment to create 3,300 new spaces for graduate students over the next three years. Seventy-five per cent of the fund will be allocated to research-based universities.

“In Ontario, a highly skilled workforce is key and the allocation funds is meant to help more students in high-demand sectors,” said Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for the Ministry.

The government seeks to ensure that the use of the investment and resultant research align with their economic agenda.

In all, a total of 1,925 new Master’s and 1,373 new PhD spots will be created. U of T will receive the highest number of spaces and allotments: 588.

This investment attempts to extend Dalton McGuinty’s $6.2-billion Reaching Higher plan for postsecondary education, which prioritizes technological advancement. Much of the fund is being directed into marketable sectors like engineering and environmental studies.

In the midst of a recession, while most Ontario colleges and universities welcome the provincial investments, criticism has come from some student leaders.

“I’m sceptical about where the money is going,” said Sara Suliman, VP external of the Graduate Student Union, “It’s not necessarily going to cover funding for students in school.”

“If the intention is to cover scholarships which have been discontinued because of the recession, then it is a good thing. However from what I understand the money will be going to very short programmes.”

According to Suliman, in a meeting with the dean of arts and sciences it was explicitly said that more positions in terminal masters degree programs were being sought.

Typically, these are one-year professional programs in commerce or engineering which are in high demand but not funded and de-regulated by the university. There are not many scholarships for these positions and they are not necessarily research-based.

“It’s a quick way of recovering money using the economy as a justification” she said. “The intention is not increasing academic positions for students.”
Smaller institutions seeking to build their graduate programs, like OCAD, have expressed disappointment that the investment privileges established research schools.