Conservative staffer accepts post with U of T

“Pleased to be a new Fellow at the University of Toronto School of Public Policy & Governance,” read Guy Giorno’s Twitter account on January 11, 2010. Previous tweets read, “Fact that the Conservative brand is stronger than it was and the Lib/Lib leader brand is weaker,” and “Still trying to justify your false, market-moving story on potash? Pathetic, Don. Just apologise and move on,” directed at CTV show-host Don Martin.

The fact that Giorno has a Twitter account alone distinguishes him from many of his colleagues at U of T; not to mention its content, which often includes back-and-forths with Canada’s most prominent political pundits.

So, who is this most recent addition to U of T’s MPP program’s Fellows?

Until December 2010, Giorno was chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper, a position he held for two and a half years. Prior to that, Giorno served as chief of staff to then-Premier of Ontario Mike Harris, another Conservative leader. Giorno’s formal education was all at the University of Toronto: he studied science as an undergraduate at St. Mike’s, opting to go straight into U of T Law before finishing his B.Sc. He graduated with a law degree in 1989, and began practicing in 1991.

Throughout his time in university, though, Giorno was also learning about the formation of policy “on the ground.”

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“I have been interested in public policy for a long time, and in politics,” he said. “I was an undergraduate student at St. Mike’s college, and then I went to the law school and as you will know from your geography of the university, the law school is just directly across the park from the legislature. During my second and third years of law school-I don’t think the faculty approved of this-I had a part-time job while I was a law student, working at the MPP’s legislature. So I would finish class and run across the park and do work in the legislature, and then run back across the park, so I was very much involved in politics and in government and the legislative process even when I was a U of T student, and maintained my involvement after I graduated, when I practiced law.”

Giorno says that the MPP program, which didn’t exist in his day, “is a great opportunity that people like me never had…what a fantastic degree to go into so many fields with a real, practical sense of how policy is developed, how Canadians are governed.”

The program marks a recent shift in master’s programs from research-based work ostensibly leading to further academia, to more course-based and experiential programs designed to prepare students for jobs. The MPP program, now in its fourth year, offers core courses in public policy as well as electives within the school and university specializing in either domestic or global policy. In addition to their courses, students are required to work in a sector of public policy, whether in government or a non-profit organization, as a component of their degree. A two-year program, the school’s material describes “invited visiting public sector leaders and external researchers bridg[ing] theory and practice, providing contact with senior professionals in government and the broader public, private and community sectors.”

Giorno looks forward to filling that role. “I’m very much looking forward to this — and I’m excited at the very concept that there is such a school, which is unique,” he said. Specifically, Giorno anticipates, “working with students, speaking to them, coaching them — anyone who has an interest in practical public policy — facilitating debates, and being able, in a real and practical sense, to actually talk about how public policy is made.”

He believes his experience provides “a fantastic window on that process [of public policy]…having been there, having been in the room, having heard cabinet ministers.”

Giorno, in his time as a political staffer, has been criticized as hyper-partisan, charged with contributing to the increasingly divisive nature of Canadian politics. Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail described him as “a shadowy figure. He is rarely seen but his influence is felt everywhere.”

Giorno insisted unequivocally that his partisanship will not affect his work in the school. “Oh no, not at all, not at all, not at all. The purpose of the school is to have healthy debates, discussions, and to teach about how things work and how public policy is developed and formulated and how Canadians and Ontarians are governed.”

He qualified, though, that “it is true that our system of government is a political system, and it is a partisan system, and it is made up of partisan actors in the governing system and people who work with them,” crediting the school for offering a mix of partisan and non-partisan (public service) perspectives, as well as both Conservative and Liberal-aligned fellows.

At the end of January, Giorno was appointed national campaign chair of the Conservative party. It is unclear when he will act in this capacity, though, as Prime Minister Harper has maintained he does not want an election in the near future.

Point/Counterpoint: The Great Valentine’s Day Debate

Valentine’s Day honours those we love

January is a very dreary month. There is very little to re-focus our vision from the grey wall of snow and post-winter-break woe that has submersed us all in these first weeks of the new year. And there is even less if you choose to scowl at the smiling cherubim and construction paper hearts that decorate store windows and eateries come the beginning of February. Valentine’s Day is a known source for the polarization of our emotions. On one side, there are the romantic feelings: the jazzy saxophone music and blurry soap opera vision of those who have someone to share this day with. On the other, there is the bitterness towards a holiday that seems to only exist for the insensitive mockery of your singledom. There seems to be no middle ground, but there ought to be one.

The same way that the simple act of a stranger holding the door for you can brighten a dreary day, V-day is a moment amidst a series of cold, grey winter days wherein the secular population may gather and share in one common value.

This day in the middle of February doesn’t have to mean an expensive candlelit dinner with that special someone where you feed each other chocolate-dipped strawberries, but it should mean something. For John and Hank Green of Youtube’s Vlogbrothers fame, Valentine’s Day marks “Valen’s Penis Day,” a day created by the fandom of Babylon 5 to celebrate the visit of the demi-god Valen to earth and the subsequent spike in the population after his visit.

For teachers around the world it means a night of baking two dozen cupcakes with white and pink frosting for a group of seven-year-olds.

For the pagans of centuries yore, Valentine’s Day was marked by a massive feast to commemorate Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. This was joined by the matchmaking of youth in the community, where they would be joined up for the duration of the festivities and often build strong bonds from this partnership.

For others, yes, it does mean store-bought Hallmark cards and heart-shaped boxes of Ferrero Rochers.

But, just like nobody is obligated to get inebriated on St. Patrick’s Day, just like nobody is obligated to empty the shelves in a spell of consumer madness during the Christmas shopping rush, there is no strict code of conduct for the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Because, after all, it really is just a celebration of — at the risk of sounding mushy — love. Or camaraderie. Or mutual feelings of tenderness towards another individual. Or whatever word you choose that may be less likely to trigger your gag reflexes.

This day, as we commonly acknowledge it today, may be traditionally celebrated in our culture by consumer activities of shelling out money for disposable gifts and grasping to achieve the inflated expectations of others. To some it may seem to be a day in which other people’s happiness is flaunted in front of your down-turned and lonely face. There are so many holidays that capitalism has exploited for profit — this is not a new concept.

You don’t have to listen to Hallmark, nor do you have to be angry at them for taking the opportunity to profit from this holiday. It isn’t something meant to make you feel bad about being single, or bitter about all the others who are in relationships smiling and showering each other with shiny pink gifts. Valentine’s Day, rather, can allow you into a fascinating social experiment. We witness the evolution from second grade when we receive pop culture-themed cards from every member of the class, to the adolescent realization that sometimes you are a receiver of candy grams, and sometimes you are simply a witness to others receiving theirs, to adulthood, where your feelings towards Valentine’s Day have turned to boxes of chocolates and diamond tennis bracelets. This evolution in itself makes Valentine’s Day a holiday worth acknowledging.

I support Valentine’s Day, because I support the idea that everyone has someone to love — whether it be paternally, maternally, platonically, or romantically. V-day makes one day out of hundreds of other normal days into something warmer, something slightly more remarkable. It’s a value we all share, and it’s a value we all ought to celebrate.—Zoe Sedlak

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Valentine’s Day is a waste of time

A few years ago, Family Day was created here in Ontario. It’s called Louis Riel Day in Manitoba. How cool is that? At least it counts as a statutory holiday here (unless you’re in school this year, and find yourself short-changed during Reading Week). The larger implications of not having a month, or even more than two weeks per year of vacation, are glaringly evident in the banality of celebrating a thing like Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day — or V-day — falls under the umbrella of arbitrary fabric, corporate-driven mechanisms, and stupid design. If you’re Christian, then the last point might not apply to you, because you’re actually observing these dates out of faith. But wait. Didn’t we just witness the foolishness that was the political-correctness of Christmas? Hold up, I’ve already committed an infraction. I should have said Happy Holidays. Shouldn’t the same rules apply to V-day?

This isn’t about V-day. Phew, thank god.

This is about what it means to celebrate a holiday. Here in Canada, apparently, we need excuses to celebrate things. St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to become a teenager again — as if you needed to remind yourself of how ignorant you were then. Mother’s Day is an excuse to try to mitigate the imbalance of gratitude (not in our favour) that has come from their putting up with your delinquency. I could go on, but you get it.

In Canada, every single holiday we celebrate pays homage to history as it is typically taught. What’s more is that we only have a few handfuls of days of the entire year that we can take rest, legally, unless you’re in school (and the work-rest trade-off doesn’t work in our favour, that’s for sure). Why? Well, that would be on account of our collective workaholism, and drive for more. So we’re taught to keep the machine going.

Enter the consumerist aspect of the argument. V-day is — sorry to break the bubble — yet another holiday bird come to dig its talons into our wallets. Every year, we can always count on these bump-the-economy days to keep it going. Break it down you say? New Year’s, V-day, St. Drunkard’s, and then the summer when it becomes the most trivial Drunk Again Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a trivial homage to the British Monarchy, Day of Workers, Gratitude Day, and Presents Day. That’s what they sound like in my head, at least. These are days on which merchants, and the financial system at large, can count on an injection of your disposable income into the economy. In the end it’s all what the market will bear. But then, you are the market, aren’t you? You don’t really believe in invisible hands, do you? During the next recession we’ll have Brother-In-Law Day, Puppy Day, and my favourite — Snow Day. Imagine trying to be sold snow. See? Madness.

Is our society constructed in such a way that the only effective way, apparently, to show that we really care about one another is to celebrate an arbitrarily-allocated day? Just one day to give thanks or to celebrate love? Surely, that isn’t enough. Let me use the example of Mother’s Day. Am I to believe that there is only one day in the year that even comes close to showing the mothers of the world that they actually matter? I thought that this kind of narrow-minded rationale escaped with the dissolution of the term “household sciences.”

Nothing says “I love you” more than an obligatory gift. On the flip side, who doesn’t love receiving gifts? I love them too. But, have you always listened to society?

If you want to celebrate your love, do it on any day other than February 14. Any day will do. Do it because your eternal love cannot possibly fit into a container of 24 hours. Do it because you weren’t told to. Do it because you actually think about why you’re celebrating things. Then, at least you’d truly celebrate romance by going against the grain for your love.

One day in February isn’t special. Valentine’s Day is a waste of time.—Marco Adamovic

How to burlesque

University has brought me to a pretty low point in my life where I, for lack of a better verb, cringe at the very thought or notion of anything that may pertain to physical fitness and exercise. Could it be my gluttonous eating habits and infatuation with French fries or perhaps my sheer propensity for steering towards a cyclic routine of slothfulness? I have decided that it is an amalgamation of the two — and a deadly one.

February is quite an eventful month, considering it’s the shortest; we celebrate Black history, eagerly anticipate a rodent from buttfuck nowhere’s deceptive prediction while continuing to get pounded by mother nature’s wrath, observe my birth, and indulge in the most perverse and lustful consumer holiday ever created. Those who are single may be embittered and envious of the exceptionally delusional who seek pride through their greedy accumulation of attention on this bastardized day known as that of St. Valentine.

Now that the seven deadly sins have been identified and applied, it is difficult to believe that something good could come from this month (besides my birthday, that is). And you know what? Something did, something I never thought I would do in my entire life. I was incredibly hesitant to take on this arduous and esteem robbing task: participating in a burlesque class at Flirty Girl Fitness.

Was I prepared to sacrifice myself on the altar of dignity to have material for an article in The Varsity? The answer is yes. But was I prepared for the physical activity required to complete the assignment? Hell to the no. To help paint a clear picture, the extent of my activeness is cruising down grocery store aisles while selecting fatty foods and breathlessly attempting to make it up the daunting stairs of Alumni Hall. What you all really want to know is whether or not I came through and manned the fuck up. Well, I did.

It was a frigid Wednesday and my meal of choice prior to the class consisted of half a cheese pizza and two cups of pop. You see where this is going? I was running a little late when I finally faced the cold and made my way towards Flirty Girl Fitness. It’s a good thing their sign is fittingly bright pink and nearly impossible to miss.

The staff was extremely welcoming in spite of our tardiness and got us set up quickly. The female-only establishment exuded an air of freshness, confidence, and hospitality with their big smiles and enthusiasm. We entered the entirely mirrored studio, which was adorned with pearly pink workout balls and rosy floor mats, and were greeted by our burlesque instructor, Teresa Lombardi.

Before jumping right into the workout regimen, I surveyed and took note of the complicated movements Teresa demonstrated as the rest of the class mimicked her. The ladies were learning incredibly quickly and I started to think I might just turn this into an observational piece. I mean, my grace doesn’t exactly scream seductress — I suppose my physical gestures shout something more along the lines of crass and uncoordinated.
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“Don’t be scared to touch your body,” remarked Teresa while explaining to the ladies that they should be conscious of their arm movements. “You know how you like to be touched, right?” No, not after getting dumped by your boyfriend.

Her openness and great sense of humour made the class all the more enjoyable, as well as comfortable, considering props were about to come out.

The kind of burlesque taught at FGF does not include tassels hanging from breasts, nor any kinky costumes of that sort. The class takes on the conventions of neo-burlesque, which has a wide range of styles, but ours in particular was quick-paced, sexy dancing with a chair. Let me tell you, if those chairs could talk, I wonder what would be the outcome of a conversation between them and a few from Robarts: “Dude, this chick just totally chair effed me right now.” “Oh, some guy just farted on me. I guess it was the Taco Bell he ate at lunch.” I digress.

The soundtrack of the night was exclusively limited to Christina Aguilera’s “Show Me How You Burlesque,” which I probably heard over 20 times that evening. Once I got in on the action and got on one of those chairs, I quickly pulled a Christina myself by making up my own moves, (as opposed to lyrics), to the song. I’m sure I would do her proud with my half-assed gyrating, right?

Teresa, who showed absolutely no signs of fatigue or lack of intensity throughout the class, never ceased to animate her movements with amusing dialogue. While I had big issues with my attempts at straddling and swaying my hips on my chair and the rest of the women had a good grasp of what they were doing, she shouted words of encouragement: “Oh, I love this chair. So sexy!” No, Teresa, that’s what your chair thought of you. I couldn’t love mine because it hated me.

“Don’t panic,” she said. I panicked. “Around, around, around, around,” she articulated. I grew dizzy, lazy, and consistently moved in the wrong direction. “Show me how,” she said with her hands on her breasts, “you burlesque!” Finally, something I could hone. Pathetic? Perhaps. Was I proud of myself? Unbelievably.
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When the clock struck nine, the class had ended. “We’ll see you on Friday,” said one woman on her way out, “because we’re coming in for lap dancing.” Please, tell me at what other fitness establishment you would hear such words being spoken.

I had the opportunity to ask some, out of the dozen or so, participants a few questions about their experiences at FGF. “It makes you feel sexy,” said a woman in her mid-twenties, “I’ve grown much more confident and comfortable in doing this in front of anyone.” She and her friend were taking advantage of the one-week free trial period FGF offers to new members, taking 2-3 classes a day to help them decide which was the best for them.

Another mentioned that it “[felt] like being in a club, but without the drinking and creepy guys,” in addition to allowing her to “get in touch with [her] girliness.” The studio embraces the fact that it has classes unlike any other, making it a much more social experience than the average fitness centre. Another was much more drawn to taking a class like this because she just didn’t see herself as a “gym person.”

After everyone else left, I had the fortune of a private lesson with my exceptionally patient instructor Teresa. She mentioned something about positive muscle memory while I complained about my maladroit movements. Uh, yeah. The only thing my body remembered was how to add another knot on the plethora already chilling in my back.

“It takes a legend… to make a star” is the tagline for the recently-released Aguilera film Burlesque. I decided to provide my own for the evening I spent at Flirty Girl Fitness: “It takes a leg lift… to create a soft-tissue injury.”

Teresa took the time to correct every error in my posture by manoeuvring my arms, legs, torso, and back into the precise positions which she had intended for the routine she choreographed herself. Although I should have attempted to memorize the sequence of dance steps and chair seducing, I couldn’t help but watch what was reflected in the mirror for the entire half hour we had together, alone. I felt like the biggest narcissist, but not really, because I was transfixed by her reflection, and not my own.

In the hour and a half I was there, I was on two completely opposite ends of the confidence spectrum. I came in feeling uncomfortable and clumsy, and left harbouring sentiments of poise and sexiness.

The science of kissing

Turning heads with a kiss

In this season of love and romance, you might find yourself wondering with whom you should spend Valentine’s Day. How will you celebrate the festive, yet ever so slightly commercialized holiday? And how and where do you execute the perfect kiss?

In the case of the latter, one burning question remains: Which way do you turn your head as you reach in for a kiss?

In 2003, psychologist Onur Güntürkün of Ruhr-Universität-Bochum observed 124 couples kissing in public areas such as airports, parks, and train stations in the United States, Turkey, and Germany. Twice as many couples tilted their heads to the right as opposed to the left.

A University of Amsterdam study, published by John van der Kamp and Rouwen Canal-Bruland last year, focuses on a more socially awkward possibility. What if one person prefers to lean to the right, while the other tilts their head to the left before their lips meet?

In particular, one issue with Güntürkün’s result was that an individual’s bias is not necessarily reflected in the direction of head-turning in a couple. Thus, the more recent study questioned whether right-turners were just as likely to adapt to a partner’s left-turning preferences, or vice versa.

Some 57 study participants were asked to kiss a life-sized doll’s head, with adjustable orientations to the left or right. The participant’s individual head-turning preference was found by orienting the head at zero degrees. This was followed up with another 35 kisses, in which the doll was rotated at different angles.

Participants tended to switch their direction when faced with an incompatible orientation. However, right-turners were found to be more persistent in maintaining their head-turning direction, even when the doll was made to kiss to the left. In other words, right-turners were more hesitant to adapt to the doll’s direction compared to left-turners. As a result, couples with opposite head-turning preferences will often turn to the right.

The authors reason that since right-turners are more prevalent in adulthood — this study showed 72 per cent of individuals were right-turning — left-turners may encounter incompatible orientations more frequently and thus face more pressures to switch sides.

Of course, results such as these have wider-reaching applications than human romance. Güntürkün has long questioned why humans are twice as likely to use the right foot, ear, or eye, than the left. He hypothesizes that this joint pattern of lateral bias starts when the fetus turns its head in the womb, and that newborn humans continue to exhibit this head-turning in the first three to six months of life. However, the Güntürkün study was the first to show that behavioural asymmetry continues long into adulthood.

It is worth noting that the kissing bias may have no correlation with the widespread propensity to use the right hand as opposed to the left. In fact, right-handedness is eight times more common. Instead, handedness is attributed to environmental factors such as social pressures on children to write with their right hand.

Güntürkün’s theory has been met with skepticism from fellow academics. Chris McManus of University College London points out that in order to prove Güntürkün’s hypothesis, it would be necessary to follow infants with known head-turning preferences across their lifespan, instead of simply observing couples with unknown backgrounds.

Daniel Geschwind of UCLA further states that there is no clear correspondence between head-turning and other asymmetries, which have their own respective influences by early patterning — for example, the fact that ear-sidedness is related to language.

Indeed, the University of Amsterdam study suggests that the kissing bias is independent of the aforementioned joint pattern of lateral preferences, contrary to Güntürkün’s claims. The study gathered handedness, footedness, and eye preferences, and showed that the direction of head-turning often contradicted hand and foot preferences, supporting the notion that perhaps the head, hand, foot, and eye have separate lateral specializations. The authors of the study recommend further research regarding the laterality of each of these functions.—Fiona Tran

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The evolution of kissing

Researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Lancashire have hypothesized that mouth-to-mouth kissing — specifically the kind that involves the exchange of saliva — is a behaviour that evolved in human beings in response to the threats posed by the Human Cytomegalovirus, or HCMV.

HCMV, an infection that is ubiquitous in human populations, is a form of the herpes virus that can have severe teratogenic effects — effects harmful to developing fetuses — if the mother is first infected while she is pregnant. HCMV is readily transferred from person to person through bodily fluids such as saliva, urine, and semen. Thus, as the scientists have proposed, women evolved in ways to become infected before conception.

The HCMV virus is a potent one, affecting approximately 8,000 children in the United States, even today. This is an especially staggering number when taking into account that pregnancies are normally terminated if the infection is detected. This disease can cause a fetal mortality rate of up to 30 per cent. Neonates that escape mortality are susceptible to disabilities like cerebral palsy, seizures, and motor disabilities.

Although mothers who are infected prior to conception still have a chance of transferring the disease to their babies in utero, this probability is decreased from 50 per cent if the mother is first infected while pregnant, to only 0.5–2.5 per cent if she is infected before conception. Thus primary infection before conception is highly advantageous.

Scientists Colin Hendrie and Gayle Brewer proposed an evolutionary explanation for avoiding infection from the HCMV virus, in a February 2010 article published in the journal Medical Hypotheses. The new theory states that, in order to avoid primary infection when pregnant, females have developed behavioural strategies to protect their child. Infection is inevitable during sexual intercourse, since the virus spreads through bodily fluids. Thus, making an attempt to become infected prior to conception is the only viable course of action.

The scientists propose that open-mouth kissing during courtship is just such an attempt, allowing women to expose themselves to the male’s particular strain of HCMV before sexual intercourse has begun. In such behaviours, saliva from the male carrying small amounts of the virus will flow into the typically shorter female, effectively inoculating the potential mother against further infection from that particular viral strain during pregnancy.

Explaining the origin of mouth-to-mouth kissing is an effort that other scientists have undertaken in the past. Other theories accounting for its evolution include attempts to look to behaviours exhibited by other members of the animal kingdom.

In many other animals, mouth-to-mouth contact can be used in fighting, or as a way of begging parents for food. One theory states that mouth-to-mouth kissing evolved from mouth-to-mouth contact between parents and children in their infancy, as a way to orally exchange food. This sort of premasticated food exchange is seen in isolated human populations in Papua New Guinea and the San of South-West Africa.

Hendrie and Brewer explain this behaviour by observing that these populations did not come into contact with HCMV until after the arrival of Europeans, effectively explaining the onset of sexual mouth-to-mouth kissing as an adaptation to the introduction of the virus.

Other hypotheses suggest that mouth-to-mouth kissing evolved to support pair-bonding between partners in order to care better for their offspring. This theory states that hormones released through the act of affectionate kissing, including such neuropeptides as oxytocin, results in a stronger bond. However, the release of these hormones arises from acts other than that of kissing as well, exonerating kissing as the only cause of stronger pair bonding.

Even today, we have not been able to develop any vaccines for HCMV. The evolution of behavioural strategies seems to be the best way to stop the infection of neonates. So go ahead and kiss your partner this Valentine’s Day. You may be doing more than just showing your love.—Pallavi Hariharan

Living arts: Speed dating

“If you were an ice cream, which flavour would you be and why?”

I’m sitting at a small table in the Alleycatz Jazz Bar. Across from me is Andre, as the nametag on the front of his shirt indicates, and he is my sixth date of the night. Because this is a speed-dating event, we only have four minutes to get acquainted before he has to move on to the woman sitting at the table next to mine.

But instead of trying to gauge our compatibility in such a short amount of time, I’m focused on coming up with a witty response as to why I would want to be a human tub of Ben and Jerry’s. I can’t think of anything, so I decide to go with a generic response.

“I guess I would be something chocolatey,” I tell Andre. “Then everyone would love me and I would feel like the most popular girl in high school.”

I was hoping that this response would elicit a smile. It does not. Andre very seriously writes “chocolate” next to my name on the match card that each person received before the dating began.

“You like chocolate ice cream?” he asks. “I like pistachio.” “Yeah, lots of people love pistachio,” I reply, wondering how long this conversation is going to last. “But I don’t really like nuts.”

He looks disappointed. I decide it’s probably a good idea to change the subject.

“So, Andre, what do you do?” I ask.

“I work in the finance department of an ice cream company,” he answers. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long four minutes.

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The reason that I found myself discussing the intricacies of the ice cream business at a speed-dating event is due largely to a conversation that I had with a friend of mine several weeks earlier. We met for coffee and, in due course, she asked if I was seeing anyone. “Not right now,” I replied. “I’m trying to focus on my studies without any distractions. I want to get into grad school.”

She made a face. “That’s pretty depressing, Brigit,” she said. “You’re twenty-one. Live a little, or you’re going to wind up as a cat lady.”

A few days later, in the interest of both living a little and preventing myself from becoming a feline-obsessed spinster, I agreed to write an article on speed dating for the Valentine’s Day issue of The Varsity. I figured that I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t fixated on finding a boyfriend, but if by some chance I met my soulmate at this event, I certainly wouldn’t complain. At the very least, it might be nice to find someone to make plans with on Valentine’s Day. I may or may not have spent last February 14 sitting at home in my pyjamas, sulking over a recent breakup, and eating macaroni out of a pot.

Soon after I walked into Alleycatz on the night of the event, however, I began to question whether my decision to speed-date was a wise one. It’s quite strange to be in a room where everyone is there for the express purpose of scoping out a potential partner. I felt like I was watching the painful sexual dynamics of high school being re-enacted by adults. Women stood together in groups, laughing too loudly and trying to look at ease, while the more gutsy men approached them and attempted to strike up a conversation. As I made my way over to the registration table, a group of guys standing nearby very conspicuously ran their eyes from my head to my feet.

“Ugh,” I thought. “This place is such a meat market.”

Feeling uncomfortable, I sat down in a corner of the bar, waiting for the dating to start. It did not begin promisingly.

“So, what makes you a good candidate to be my girlfriend?” asked Jonathan, my first date of the evening. I raised my eyebrows. “Is this a job interview?”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not good at this. I don’t know what questions to ask you. I just graduated from engineering school, which is why I’m at speed dating in the first place.” I laughed and he seemed encouraged. With both of us now at ease, we passed the next few minutes debating the merits of various shows on the Food Network.

In fact, most of the guys I met were very pleasant, and as time went on and everyone became more relaxed, I found that I was actually having fun.

I had some genuinely interesting conversations that night, albeit short ones. I spoke to a former CBC broadcaster about the state of modern journalism, discussed Mordecai Richler with a physicist, and met an electrical engineer from Colombia who teaches salsa dancing on the weekends.

Of course, when the conversation slackened, four minutes felt like a very long time.

“I like racist jokes,” said Michael, my twenty-fifth and last date of the evening.

“Pardon me?” I reply, thinking that I misheard him.

“I like racist jokes,” he said again. “Any race is off limits.”

“You mean no race is off limits?”

“Oh, yeah. No race.”

I couldn’t think of a response that would salvage the next few minutes of the date. The rapport was dead.

Despite the fact that my last date was quashed by a bit of mild racism, for the most part, I had a good time speed-dating. I met some nice guys, and because you only spend a few minutes with each person, awkward and dull conversations are relatively bearable. That said, it’s difficult to make a real connection with anyone when you go through twenty-five dates in under three hours. By the end of the night, I realized that I was not really willing to go out with someone I ultimately know nothing about. For a more romantically adventurous person than myself, however, speed-dating is probably a fun way to get back into the dating game. At the very least, it might prompt you to reflect on one of life’s more profound questions: if faced with the choice, what ice cream flavour would you be?

400 years old and still kicking

On Monday, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library opened an exhibition to celebrate the Bible. “Great and Manifold: A Celebration of the Bible in English” is running until June 3 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Version. The free exhibit includes more than 90 items ranging from the Codex Torontonensis circa 1070, to the Robert Crumb graphic novel, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, published in 2009.

“[The King James Version] achieved iconic status by being the one thing that united a fractured English Protestantism from the mid-sixteenth to the twentieth centuries” says organizer Pearce Carefoote. This exhibit comes “400 years after the summoning of the convocation at Hampton Court by King James at which the decision to translate was first made.” The project has been in the works since 2004.

Included in the collection is a first edition of the King James Version, which is also known as the Authorized Version, even though King James never insisted that this be the only version of the Bible allowed in England. Also of interest is The Wicked Bible from 1631, which was ordered to be destroyed after only 1000 copies were made. It was realized that the omission of the word “not” from Exodus 22:14 meant that the Bible said, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This is one of the rarest Bibles in the world. The Wicked Bible, along with the first edition King James Version, belongs to the library’s permanent collection.

Carefoot is very proud of the Coronation Bible they have displayed that originally belonged to Governor General Vincent Massey. Printed under the direction of Charles Batey, Printer to the University of Oxford, this Coronation Bible is number 17 of the 25 that were made. “[The Coronation Bible has] one of the most amazing design bindings in the exhibition — very startling for a Bible.”

The collection also includes a first copy of the King James Version to be printed and bound in Canada, and only dates back to 1944.

Carefoot suggests that the King James Version is more than a religious book; it is a work of literature designed to be read aloud possessing a “melody, rhythm, and cadence that subsequent translations have not been as successful in achieving.”

Study finds Spanish discrimination in schools

A newly released OISE study has found that Spanish-speaking high school students encounter an overwhelming amount of discrimination in Toronto from peers and educators.

The report, entitled “Proyecto Latino Year 1,” was completed in collaboration between OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling and the Toronto District School Board and is the first of its kind in Canada. The study follows an April 2008 report from the TDSB that suggested Spanish-speaking students ranked consistently among the lowest for achievement and standardized literacy tests. In addition, 40 per cent of these students did not graduate from high school.

“Developing strategies for addressing these challenges is a major challenge, since there is very little research about the experiences of Latino students in the context of either Toronto schools in particular or Canadian schools more generally,” said lead researcher and OISE Professor Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández.

“While much more research is needed, this report offers some initial insights about the schooling experiences and engagement processes of Spanish-speaking students in Toronto schools.”

The study included 60 students from six high schools across Toronto in varying socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of academic achievement. Students participated in focus groups, individual interviews, and a survey.

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Key factors that emerged from the student participants as barriers for Spanish-speaking students included: systematic issues in Toronto schools, the media, and work-school balance. While other groups of visible minorities encountered discrimination, the study suggests that the key difference pertaining to systematic issues was the lack of availability of proper levels of course work, primarily because of linguistic challenges.

“In this situation it’s not about what’s available but about the kind of decisions made or being made by or on [Latino students] behalf,” said Gaztambide-Fernandez.

“Structure of schooling ends up steering certain students into certain tracks…poor students and students of colour will be geared towards the trades and technical class and applied courses as opposed to university courses.”

The study also points to structural problems in the media as reinforcing racism and stereotypes, usually depicting gang-related violence as being a “Mexican” issue. Compared to the United States, there are also relatively fewer Latin American subjects found in the media.

While the students interviewed recognized the importance of education in attaining good jobs, the study found that these students often worked unconventional jobs to accommodate for their poor economic status, many working from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and still attending school.

The study suggested several options for improving support for these students, including better support for new immigrants, peer-to-peer support programs, part-time job opportunities, courses in Latin American history and culture, and opportunities for students to recognize teachers with whom they have positive and encouraging relationships.

U of T planning to outsource e-mails to Microsoft

In the middle of talks with Microsoft, U of T is planning to adopt Live@edu as its new email service, replacing UTORmail.

The move to Microsoft comes after four community consultations attempted to identify students’ email needs. Chief Information Officer Robert Cook and his team found that UTORmail is “near-end-of-life” and no longer meeting demands.

They concluded that developing a new system built especially for the university will be too costly, recommending that the university consider a more cost-effective partnership with Microsoft.

“Outsourcing is definitely a good step by the university, but given an option, I’d rather switch to Gmail than to Live@edu because of its cleaner interface,” said Andrew Butson, a history major. Director of Planning, Governance and Assessment Marden Paul disagrees.

“We had to choose between Google’s innovation and Microsoft’s stability, and we felt that with Live@edu, we can expect more consistency,” explained Paul. “It’s a trade-off that U of T will benefit from.”

Live@edu will offer 10GB of memory space compared to UTORmail’s 100MB capacity. The new service will have a “more sophisticated” calendaring system and include new additions like SkyDrive file storage, Microsoft Office web applications, instant messaging, audio and video chat, and mobile browsing.

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“Once U of T and Microsoft agree on the contract, the university will surely see an explosion in communication,” gushed Cook.

But while most agree that U of T is making a smart move, some still have reservations about the incoming change.

“As much as I support the university’s decision, I want to make sure that none of these new offerings will come at a price,” said English and Women’s Studies Major Janelle Velina.

But Paul assures that though the university will incur some costs for implementing the new system, the service will be free for all students.

Charissa Hussain, a Psycholinguistics major is mainly concerned with Blackboard’s connectivity. “I usually receive announcements from Blackboard through UTORmail and having this feature will probably be the deciding factor of whether or not the students support the new system.”

To ease Hussain’s concern, the contract outlines that the new email system will not only support Blackboard but ROSI as well. There will be no advertising or data-mining and the content will be owned by the university and the students themselves. All emails will also be subject to the laws of Canada while passwords will be under the supervision of U of T.

Research done by Cook and his team found that 28 per cent of institutions in the US have outsourced email providers, rising from a mere five per cent two years ago.

Out of all the major Canadian universities, University of Alberta was the first to enter a contract with Google while others are still in the process of considering the switch.

“The best possible scenario is that we will have a pilot set up around May, start rolling it out for incoming students by September and migrate current students to the system beginning fall,” said Cook.

New accounts will be under the domain “” while old users have the option of switching to the new provider and forwarding content to their emails.

Correction: A previous version of this article attributed quotations from Marden Paul to Martin Loeffler. The Varsity regrets this error.