Clean sweep

In an impressive match, the number-one ranked Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team defeated the Lakehead Thunderwolves 3-0 on Sunday, coming off an equally impressive 3-0 win on Saturday.

The first set started out as a struggle for both teams with a few misblocks and service errors, but the Blues stepped up with some powerful kills from Kristina Valjas and Heather Bansley to take the first set 25-15.

The Thunderwolves proved confident in the second match, tying up the game early on, but Bansley responded with three consecutive kills. Middle Karla Brayshaw fought back for the Thunderwolves, trying to keep her team within striking distance by constantly blocking the Blues’ attempts to score. Katrina Russell recorded two kills for the Blues, bringing the score to 24-16. Outside hitter Amy Sweetman ended the rally 25-18.
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The Blues continued to play strongly in the third match as they maintained a six-point lead throughout the final set, ultimately ending the match 25-16.

Valjas and Karlee Diesing led the Blues with a remarkable 12 kills and nine digs each, while Bansley added an impressive six points and four digs. Blues setter Kathleen Mahannah tallied six digs and 41 assists, and was named the Varsity Blues player of the game.

“Before each game, we challenge ourselves to play at our level and in this match we definitely played up to the challenge. Our mindset coming into this game was to treat the game seriously, as if it were the gold-medal match,” said Valjas.

Next home games

Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. at Athletic Centre Sports Gym vs. Queen’s Golden Gaels

Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. at Athletic Centre Sports Gym vs. RMC Paladins

Three more years!

David Naylor’s term as president of the University of Toronto has been extended for three more years by the Governing Council. The news of this extension was met with a negative reception from student leaders—particularly the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students—who cited areas such as academic freedom, equity and accessibility, flat fees, and the controversial guiding document Towards 2030 framework as areas where Naylor had failed students.

While Naylor’s tenure as president has not been perfect, it has been far from an abject failure. I approve of Naylor’s renewal as president, and U of T students should not worry about three more years of Naylor.

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When Naylor was selected as president in 2005, he made a commitment to improving the student experience. However, he has had to attend to both provincial and federal governments that have placed post-secondary education low on their list of priorities. This has resulted in what might appear to be compromises between institutional and student goals.

Despite that, the U of T experience has been enhanced, but not necessarily in the way student leaders expected. For them, the importance lies in lower tuition fees or allowing more student dissent. Instead, Naylor’s term and president has seen small and cautious steps, with programs like Vic One and the increased infrastructure at the satellite campuses. He has steered U of T toward remaining competitive, both nationally and internationally, a course mostly outlined in the Towards 2030 framework.

Detractors have argued that Towards 2030 will make the university less accessible to the growing undergraduate student population by reducing the number of undergraduate positions available. This is a limited view of a complex situation in which the university must remain committed to students but also increase its research base to attract them. Having the latest technology and research gives U of T a competitive advantage in hiring professors and training students, as professors and students are not going to be as attracted to a university using outdated equipment or working from outdated theoretical paradigms. Furthermore, the lowest percentage of undergraduates out of the three possible scenarios outlined in the Towards 2030 document would represent 70 percent, which is still high. Overall, St. George campus currently has about 14,000 grads and 40,000 undergrads (that’s roughly 1/4 grad, 3/4 undergrad), so the increase will be modest at best.

Criticisms of Naylor are the result of broken communication between the administration and student unions. As ASSU President Gavin Nowlan indicated, many meetings seem more like information sessions, and greater dialogue needs to be opened up between all parties concerned.

The flat fees issue is a case in point. Students were given inadequate opportunities to articulate their positions on the controversial measure at the final meeting at Simcoe Hall. A decision like this required more input from the student community, which can’t happen until student unions and the administration strike up a more respectful discourse with each other. Naylor does have the skills to engage with students at a high level, and increased communication will lead to a greater sense of student representation.

Naylor will no doubt remain a controversial figure for the next three years. However, his request for a more meaningful dialogue at the Governing Council, and overtures to the St. George Roundtable should be taken as positive signs.

Overall, he’s far from the worst president this university has ever had, and if he keeps up the good work, he may eventually be considered one of the best.

Farewell to a friend

The front entrance of Lee’s Palace, which was once adorned with various posters illustrating the venue’s history, is now home to Big Fat Burrito. Though initially appalled that a piece of Toronto history would be altered in such a manner, after a night at the Dance Cave, my moral quandaries were quickly dispelled by my pragmatic stomach. After all, if America’s manifest destiny is to come north and steal our water, then Mexico’s is filling our pacifist bellies with tortillas and guacamole.

I stood in line with a friend of mine, discussing the merits of the remodelling.

“At least Lee’s Palace isn’t closing down like the Big Bop,” he noted. “The mallification of Queen Street continues.”

“You know I used to work there,” chimed in the guy manning the counter at Big Fat Burrito.

“I wonder what they’re building there,” my friend remarked. “I’ll bet another condo.”

“Nah, they can’t build anything on the land. The building is directly over a river.”
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As much as I wanted to believe the Big Fat Burrito guy, I wasn’t sure about the accuracy of his story. It was the first thing I wanted to know when I met up with Domenic Tassielli, the owner of the Big Bop, to speak about the fact that his venue will host its last show ever at the end of this week.

“No, there is no truth to that at all,” Tassielli says, “although it is true that you can’t knock the walls down. This building has been around for over 100 years—it’s a historical landmark at this point.”

The original Big Bop, which began as a dance club in the 1980s, closed down in 1994 and was subsequently left vacant for two years. At the time, Queen and Bathurst wasn’t exactly a hot area for real estate. The price was right, however, for Tassielli to purchase it in 1996. His vision was to create an all-ages venue that would be distinctly open in character.

“I was more of a live band kind of guy,” he explains. “I didn’t want to keep it as a dance club. I found that there was a market for this kind of thing, and I knew I wanted to have an environment where everyone could come in and get a chance to play.”

Some have argued that such open venues create the opportunity for promoters to profit off the music scene. Tassielli, though, takes genuine pride in the role that Big Bop has played as a breeding ground for the Southern Ontario music scene since he took over the place.

“Many bands got their start here,” he recalls, easily able to list them off: “Billy Talent. Alexisonfire. Down With Webster—they were even telling me they first got the idea to play at our venue after riding by on the Queen streetcar. They came in one day and said, ‘Hey, can we play here?’ And I said ‘Sure!’”

What does Tassielli think Toronto will lose when the Big Bop closes? “I don’t think a band like [Down With Webster] could start right away at The Horseshoe, what with their unique sound. Venues like that usually make you jump through hoops to get a show.”

Newer bands looking for a place to get started are already feeling the pinch. Ask Marc Sautter, drummer for Home For The Headlines. “It seems like promoting and getting shows in Toronto keeps getting harder and harder. You could always count on getting shows at The Big Bop.” His band is fresh out of high school, and his friends wouldn’t be able to attend the band’s shows in the largely 19+ Toronto scene.

Local music fans of all ages, though, have expressed concern. Jennifer Kuhn, who estimates that she attends 50 live shows a year, is worried about where her favourite bands will play. “Not every band in the scene can justify playing The Mod Club,” she says.

Tassielli is planning to start another venue, but the problem so far has been finding an affordable space. “We were looking at places downtown,” he says, “and you can just forget it with the increasing rent costs.”

Still, his business model has been profitable, and he wants to continue hosting all-ages concerts. Tassielli recently found a workable (though far west) location at Dundas and Kipling, which he plans on calling The Rock Pile. The all-ages crowd can still get there easily enough by subway, but one thing is clear: the venue won’t be a part of what is supposed to be a vibrant downtown arts scene.

“I think half the fun of going to a show when you’re 14, 15 years old is the fact you get to go downtown,” explains Cindy Parreira, The Big Bop’s head booker.

Tassielli doesn’t seem as concerned with the placement of the venue: “I like to believe that if you build it, they will come.”

Tassielli is clearly optimistic, hoping his new venue will help remind us of the good ol’ days—before gentrification reared its ugly head on Queen Street West.

The Big Bop hosts its final series of concerts this week, ending with The Last Kathedral Show Ever on Sat. Jan. 30 beginning at 2 p.m.

For more information, visit www.thebigbop.com.

Creative chronology

What is time? If it exists, can it be measured? And if it can be measured, does it occur in just one universe or several?

Over 600 curious people came out to OISE to hear the answers to these questions at the Great Time Debate, an event co-hosted by the Centre For Inquiry and the University of Toronto Secular Alliance. Cosmologist J. Richard Bond and philosopher James Robert Brown, both from U of T, joined Lee Smolin, a physicist from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario. Dan Falk, a science journalist and the author of In Search of Time, moderated the talk.

“I think it’s safe to say that as long as our species has existed, our ancestors have been fascinated by the natural cycles that we see, the cycles of time,” Falk said in his introductory remarks, citing mechanical devices and theoretical models that people built to measure time and to explain it.

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Einstein’s theory of relativity destroyed Newton’s idea of a “universal now,” the idea that time operates the same way in all universes, Falk said. Each part of the universe has its own concept of now and its own way to measure time. Falk also picked apart the metaphor of time as a river.

“A river flows with respect to the shore; what could time flow with respect to?” he asked. “ A river flows at a rate you can measure […] at what rate does time flow?”

These questions framed each panelist’s arguments for their position on the event’s topic.

According to Bond, our universe is one in a series of multiverses born of eternal inflation. Eternal inflation results from oscillations in the structure of each universe, including our own. Each universe has its own clock—in this case, time is completely relative and past, present, and future collapse.

Brown’s view of time rested on an argument for “the relativity of simultaneity.” All times are happening at once, he said, which means that past, present and future are all happening simultaneously and are all real.

Smolin disputed the idea of simultaneous nows by positing a “Darwinian cosmology,” where laws and universes evolve. The only real time is the present. He took issue with the idea that we happen to exist in a habitable universe.

“We are scientists and must do better than theology. These views do not yield testable results and are therefore not science,” he said.

An audience member asked each presenter to sum up their concept of time with the phrase “Time is.” Bond replied that time is the fourth-dimension and said, “We do not have control of the horizontal or the vertical,” a passing reference to the sci-fi show The Outer Limits. Brown shrugged, threw his hands up in the air, and said, “Time is obscure.” Smolin paused for a moment before announcing with a smile: “Time is real.”

News in brief

Tofu-pie terrorism?

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne says that throwing a pie in the face of the fisheries minister by a PETA seal hunt protestor should be seen as a terrorist act.

On Monday, an American woman pushed a tofu cream pie in Gail Shea’s face while the minister was delivering a speech at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington. Emily McCoy, 37, is charged with assault.

In a press release PETA said that this act was part of a strategy “to stop the government’s ill-advised sanction of the slaughter of seals.”

“A little tofu cream pie on her face is hardly comparable to the blood on Ms. Shea’s hands,” said PETA executive vice-president Tracey Reiman.

“When someone actually coaches or conducts criminal behaviour to impose a political agenda on each and every other citizen of Canada, that does seem to me to meet the test of a terrorist organization,” said Byrne in an interview with radio station VOCM in St. John’s, Nfld. The member from Newfoundland and Labrador plans to call on the federal government to investigate whether PETA is acting as a terrorist organization under Canadian law.

Shea says the event has further strengthened her resolve to defend the hunt.—Carolyn Arnett

Sources: Toronto Star, National Post

More fees, please!

To help out their cash-strapped school, two Queen’s University undergraduate students are proposing a new $70 fee with the choice of opting out. The university’s 2009-10 operating budget has a projected $8.3-million deficit.

Morgan Campbell and James Simpson say that Queen’s would reap more than $1 million in three years if half of its undergraduate students paid the fee.

Campbell, a trustee, said contributions would help pay for TA salaries, classroom maintenance, and teaching materials, making a difference in the quality of education at Queen’s.

The fee’s proponents won’t take the issue to referendum just yet: a survey suggested that students have little awareness of the proposed fee. To pass, the motion would need a vote of 50 per cent plus one, or around 5,000 students.—Jane Bao

Phishing scams target York, Concordia

York University and Concordia University email accounts have received messages asking for users’ log-in information. The sources of the fraudulent messages appeared to be authentic university accounts, such as helpdesk@yorku.ca. The accounts of those who replied with their personal information were used to send spam email.

In the past, phishing attempts that resulted in extensive emailing of spam led external e-mail services to temporarily hold back messages coming from York University accounts.

Students at York and Concordia have been advised not to reply to these messages, as genuine emails coming from the universities would never ask for passwords or other personal information.—Kimberly Shek

Sources: York and Concordia news releases

McMaster expands labour studies program

McMaster University unveiled plans to start a school of labour studies on Tuesday, expanding its program. Approved last year, the expansion was first recommended by an external review of McMaster’s undergraduate programs in 2008.

“Labour studies has become so much more central to the major changes that are going on,” said Don Wells, chair of the labour school, in an interview with the Hamilton Spectator.

Currently there are 1,400 students enrolled in first-year labour studies courses. McMaster has said it will continue to offer non-degree certificate courses affiliated with the Canadian Auto Workers union and Mohawk College.—Kari Vierimaa

Campus stage: University College Drama Program’s Directors Showcase

Oh Dad, Poor Dad has nothing to feel sad about

The actors were in character surprisingly early on the opening night of the UCDP’s Directors’ Showcase—the quirky bellboys (played by Shirley Yip and Linn Oyen Farley) of Joy Lee’s rendition of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad mingled with audience members as they took their seats in the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. Madame Rosepettle (Yevgeniya Falkovich) and her son, Jonathan (Justin Miler), also got into character onstage, offering a smooth introduction into Arthur L. Kopit’s crookedly fascinating play.

The offbeat storyline took twists and turns as Albert fell in love with a prostitute (Pippa Leslie), which instigated a convoluted series of name changes. The confusion was cleverly settled after an excellent monologue by Falkovich. Her more-than-mildly corrupted character clarified the incestuous relationship between herself and her son, also revealing that she had murdered her husband.

Miler convincingly filled his role as the sheltered, socially-challenged Jonathan with his Ace Ventura outfit and the gestures inspired by Mad TV’s Stewart character. Leslie also portrayed her doll-like character masterfully, showing off her versatility as she went from wide-eyed to legs-wide-open—at which point she was left for dead.

The setting and props were simple, yet fit well with the bizarre, exaggerated nature of the play. The roles of the bellboys and the personified plants seemed a bit redundant, and could have used a bit more polish. Sound designer Maddie Fordham, however, was spot on. The comically morbid play ended off with the exact thought that was running through my head during the entirety of the play, specifically in the words of Freddie Mercury: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”—Jessica Tomlinson

Insomnia kept us awake

The showcase’s theme of struggle between reality and fantasy continued with Insomnia, a play by Daniel Brooks and Guillermo Verdecchia that was directed by Joshua Perry. It began with a series of quick and ambiguous scenes set against the shaky marriage of John F. (Philip Furgiuele) and Gwen (Emily Kedar). The pair quickly revealed a strong chemistry in their plausible domestic dispute and engaged their characters very well using great tone, volume, and clarity.

John F’s insomnia was just the cherry on top of his other burdens—the stress associated with his newborn child, his financial problems, his writer’s block, and his adulterous interest in his sister-in-law.

Furgiuele’s considerable talents shone in his nervously paranoid portrayal rife with twitching, trembling, and a glossy-eyed gaze. John’s brother, William (Simon Gleave,) and his wife, Kate (Becky Fallis,) were also performed very well.

Still, the play’s real strength was its atmospheric design—the set was worked perfectly into the performance, with spotlights, silhouettes, and deep, heavy drum beats all enhancing the dark and twisted nature of the play. The crew did stumble across a few glitches: there was an almost-hazardous candle incident and an immovable sliding screen, while some transitions were weak with some off-stage voices too loud. Still, these first-night setbacks were minor and didn’t detract too much from the production.

William’s sly and persuasive style, combined with Kate’s seductive behavior, causes unfortunate and sinful events throughout the play, corrupting John and Gwen’s vulnerable minds. Still, is the whole storyline just a dream? Although Insomnia was very confusing and required the utmost attention to follow, it was nothing less than entertaining.—JT

A soulful success

John Mighton’s Body and Soul, which was directed by Janina Kowalski, took a fascinating look at love, marriage, sex, and death. Taking place within laboratories, funeral homes, talk show sets, and a mundane suburban home, the play questions the notion of desire. One of the biggest questions addressed was how new forms of technology can be designed to simulate the things we want most.

The theatre was consistently filled with laughter, and the set design only enlivened things further. The cast performed terrifically and could easily be watched over and over again—despite being students, they’re true professionals, and all likely to succeed as dramatic artists. Definitely a performance worth watching.—Christine Jeyarajah

Economic inquiry: Could China’s rapid economic growth ultimately lead to its demise?

Two years ago at a tutoring session for ECO200 we were learning the basics of macroeconomics just as the world economy was falling apart. At the end of the class the tutor remarked, “What you are seeing now, as the U.S. falls, is the rise of China.”

Early this month, China overtook Germany to become the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods, and is predicted to soon overtake Japan for the world’s second largest economy. Only three years ago China was in fifth place, and a recession that stopped the rest of the world seems to have done nothing to slow its growth. While some economists and critics fear the negative impacts of this growth, others worry China may drive itself into its own recession.

To try and even begin to explain what is going on and why, we need to understand currency and foreign exchange. We can’t talk exports, especially not Chinese exports, without understanding exchange rates.

A country’s economy can have either a flexible or pegged currency. Flexible currencies, like the Canadian and American dollars, fluctuate with money markets. They respond to supply and demand. When people buy up lots of Canadian dollars, because they want to hold their money in that currency, the Canadian dollar rises. Likewise when they sell off those dollars, the dollar falls.

Economies with flexible currencies use monetary policy to stimulate or cool down markets. A pegged currency, on the other hand, does not change, and forgoes the advantage of monetary policy. This is therefore possible only in a country where the government has total control over foreign exchange, so that it can peg its currency to that of another country. So if the Chinese Yuan is set to $0.15 US, then the Chinese government will buy and sell however much American currency is needed to keep their currency low in comparison.

Why does China do this? Having a low exchange rate is very good for exporting. If your money is worth less, then other countries have a far greater incentive to buy things from you because their dollar goes further. There’s also an incentive to run factories in your country. Ultimately, other countries will spend far more money on you.

In December, China’s exports jumped to a whopping $130.7 billion US—a 17.7 per cent increase—for a total of $1.2 trillion, compared to Germany’s $1.17 trillion. This is not news in itself. It has long been predicted that Germany would lose its title as largest exporter in the face of China’s steadily growing exporting prowess. What is news is that China is growing in spite of the recession, and that the Chinese economy has proven resilient while others, such as the United States and Dubai, stand stagnant or worse.

China is in the midst of a boom while most of the world is in a bust. Aside from engaging in a serious stimulus program, the government used the state-run media to foster optimism. According to The New York Times, China’s media has essentially reported that “the Great Recession has laid bare cracks in plodding Western-style capitalism,” and that China’s recovery is a reflection of superior leadership.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, word on the street is that this growth is in no way sustainable. Unsustainable growth leads to economic bubbles.

China has been flooding its markets with cash, and critics openly fear a housing bubble as property values steadily climb. Others fear that China has made bad lending and spending decisions that will pull the economy down in years to come. But more importantly, as China strengthens its economy, there is heavy pressure on the value of the Yuan to rise and the U.S. dollar to fall. This is only natural, given that one would want to hold onto the currency of a country which was economically strong, but it also undoes the policy that is extremely favourable to an exporting economy. Often accused of artificially devaluing its currency, China’s trade partners (especially the U.S.) are angry over the practise of keeping the Yuan low. China used to be able to excuse this practise by claiming it was a developing nation trying to compete with the west, but that simply is no longer the case.

Even the Chinese government fears the effects of unbridled growth. Two weeks ago, China ordered banks to raise both interest and reserve rates, fearing U.S.-style housing bubbles. Additionally, China ordered banks to lend less and pulled back on the stimulus in spite of U.S. requests not to. Economists feel China did the right thing. In an economy where the foreign value of currency is pegged, there is no option to deal with inflation, because of the basic nature of money markets. Inflation could be hugely problematic, as China has made no indication that it will change its currency policies any time soon.

The Chinese government has reassured the public that stimulus spending will continue. I suspect the Chinese economy is growing so rapidly, it will simply steamroll over the possible threats it faces. As an American, this stage in Chinese growth is both fascinating and a little scary. I sure hope my tutor wasn’t right when he told me this was the start of the fall for the American economy.

Canadian content: Saturday’s anti-prorogation rallies were just the beginning

The nation-wide rallies last Saturday against the Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament were the most intense grassroots movement in Canada since the nail-biting final week of the 1995 Quebec Referendum. Though no protest numerically rivalled the Unity Rally that invaded Place du Canada on October 27, 1995, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has proven that social networking tools rival, and even exceed, party apparatuses in their ability to marshal grassroots action. While the rallies greatly exceeded expectations, there remains a lot of work to be done if the momentum has any chance of holding.

Predictably, the government has stuck to its conventional rhetoric, which grows more strained with each passing day. When asked about the rallies on Saturday morning, Stephen Harper said with his characteristic glibness, “The government has a lot of work to do to get ourselves prepared for the upcoming agenda of Parliament […] I would obviously simply urge our opposition to spend their time making constructive proposals.” Fortunately, the opposition has been doing just that. Both the Liberals and the New Democrats have proposed measures to curb the power of the Prime Minister and make prorogation a matter that requires debate and consensus.
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Harper’s statement is part of a broader dismissive attitude he and his party have adopted when answering questions about democratic accountability and governance. In an interview with Peter Mansbridge several days into the new year, he claimed that the Afghan detainee issue was “not on the radar for most Canadians,” and was flippant towards popular concern about prorogation. Several days later, Minister of Industry Tony Clement told reporters that only a small group of “elites” and “the chattering classes” were involved in the organization of rallies to protest the government’s move. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told a group of reporters from the CBC that he “often gets more done when the House is not in session.”

These kinds of offhand statements have a twofold effect. First, they characterize opposition to the government (either formal or grassroots) as meddlesome, partisan, and insignificant. Anti-prorogation protestors become members of a privileged, “elite” group that spends its time “chattering” about such trivialities as how the country’s the central democratic institution is being shut down for partisan reasons.

Second, these statements affirm the mantra that the government is working fast, hard, and effectively, without the tyranny of a majority opposition breathing down its necks. The crisis in Haiti fits this message. The government’s response was, indeed, fast, hard, and effective, and for a very good reason. Disaster response requires a high degree of central control to be efficient. It requires a coordinated effort on part of cabinet ministers, and extensive collaboration between different government departments that all report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. National politics, on the other hand, requires extensive debate, maximum discussion, and above all, a series of democratic votes by the people’s representatives at different stages of the legislative process. The Conservatives hope to blur the distinction between these two processes with their casual dismissals. Expect these to be the standard talking points right through until March.

Though Canadians who disapprove of the prorogation really got the ball rolling on Saturday, the rallies must only be the first stage in a movement for renewal and reform. Some six weeks lie ahead before Parliament is set to resume, and the government will use every means at its disposal to push serious discussions about democracy and accountability out of the national debate. The elites and the chattering classes will have their hands full.