Cold Front

U of T’s favourite hangout spot in the spanking new $105-million Terrence Donnelly Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research is feeling the weather in its fourth winter. Falling ice cracked several panes of glass of the sixth floor atrium (right) in the CCBR. The building’s ground floor garden and staircases have been temporarily closed as a result. In other woes, the building’s iconic—but lately withering—bamboo forest (right) had to be cut down, leaving nothing but stumps. According to business manager Renee Brost, the bamboo won’t be replanted before the spring.

NFL Playoff Review: Grudge Match of the Year

Let it be said clearly: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens don’t like each other. Although their rivalry is fairly new—starting in 1996 and featuring only 27 games between them—it has proven to be ferocious. With questionable hits, controversial calls, and nail biting finishes (and that was only this season), games between these two teams rarely disappoint.

To call it a surprising post-season would be a serious understatement. Huge upsets by the Eagles and Ravens had a similar theme: in today’s NFL, defence wins championships. Although Baltimore gave up almost 400 yards to the formidable Titan offence, they were able to recover two fumbles and an interception to keep them in the game. Sunday night’s match against the Steelers will be decided by interceptions and tackles rather than game-breaking runs and deep throws.

Considering this match features the Steelers’ number one-ranked defence against the number two Ravens, stopping the run will be an integral part of each team’s strategy. Overplaying the run is a potential problem for Baltimore, as tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Hines Ward have been adept at finding open ground in the secondary all season-long. It is probable that coach Mike Tomlin will try to push back the Baltimore secondary using draw plays on first down.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put any doubts to rest with his brilliant, error-free performance against the Chargers, finishing 17 for 26 with one touchdown and no interceptions. There is no question that he is back in full form after a concussion sustained in Week 17 against the Browns.

Expectations were low for the Ravens offence at the start of the year. With the team pinning their hopes on rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the results have been nothing short of extraordinary, capped by a huge win against the heavily-favoured Titans last week. Flacco has been steady all season, not letting pressure from the pass rush interrupt his throwing rhythm.

In order to succeed, the Baltimore linebackers will have to contain Willie Parker. The Chargers were unable to corral him, leading to a 146-yard game, helped in no small part by a resurgent Pittsburgh offensive line that opened up running lanes all over the field. But Ray Lewis’ earth-shattering, helmet-popping hit on fullback Ahmard Hall in the game against the Titans should silence those who question if he still has what it takes to lead the Raven’s defence to a conference title.

Led by pro-bowl safety and force of nature Ed Reed, Baltimore’s secondary will have to keep a careful eye on Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward: the former will stretch the pass coverage, allowing the latter to gain key yards with well timed slants and hooks.

James Harrison has been a notable storyline in Pittsburgh this season. As the only undrafted player to win the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has successfully filled the gap left by the departure of Joey Porter. Considering the effectiveness of both Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, Baltimore may have to pass the ball more than usual, relying on Flacco’s steady, powerful arm to move the chains.

Troy Polamalu could be a non-factor in this game. Although he has graced the highlight reel a few times this season with spectacular fingertip interceptions, he is playing with an injured calf that will greatly reduce his closing speed and ability to cover the Ravens’ receivers. Derrick Mason may be able to exploit this weakness and beat the Pittsburgh corners in one-on-one situations. He has been Flacco’s go-to receiver all year, so expect him to get several balls thrown in his direction.

Things to watch for: Turnovers. If the Pittsburgh offensive line can give Roethlisberger time in the pocket, this should minimize the chances of him throwing untimely interceptions when he scrambles. Baltimore’s only chance of earning a trip to the Superbowl is if their offence maintains possession of the ball and puts together consistent drives. There should be more than a few points off turnovers, which could likely decide the outcome.

Final word: The Steelers have momentum in their favour, having won both match-ups during the regular season. However, there is one caveat—both wins were decided by less than five points. Expect a similarly close game that will probably be decided in the fourth quarter. The key stat will be turnovers: the team that coughs up the ball fewer times should win the game.

Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers

A healthy approach to reform

When Tom Daschle sat down for a lengthy Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services made a strong case for restructuring and rejuvenating the U.S. healthcare system. Often called the “health czar” of the President-elect’s cabinet, Daschle has been assigned to do what some consider impossible: provide universal healthcare to all Americans.

Daschle is all too familiar with the kind of ideological backlash that can ensue from the mere suggestion of universal coverage. The Clinton proposal of 1994, which raised eyebrows among libertarians and conservatives, suffered a humiliating blow from heavy Republican opposition, Democratic infighting, and the health insurance industry. The right-wing opposition campaign, with its clever television ads, helped to foment public distrust of government-led programs. The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was the final nail in the coffin. Now, with a Democratic majority and a public pleading for reform, Daschle has the formidable task of delivering Obama’s campaign promises, despite the country’s staggering $10 trillion deficit.

The key to successfully carrying out legislation is garnering early support for the initiative. This will require a grassroots-level strategy, similar to the kind of broad, cooperative social networks Obama established during his presidential run. The corporate backroom-style planning that Clinton’s Task Force engaged in suggested exclusion and secrecy, unlike Obama’s visionary campaign. Already, the president-elect’s team has used YouTube webcasts featuring Daschle and online blog posts to spur public discourse.

Taking the plan to the masses will require a sophisticated spokesperson. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent and potential Surgeon General, has the right combination of medical expertise, charm, and name recognition to revitalize the post and act as chief promoter for the administration’s plans. One main component of Obama’s campaign healthcare platform was an emphasis on disease prevention prior to treatment. Dr. Gupta has been quite outspoken on issues relating to food safety, obesity, and health education.

Support will also need to come from within Washington. Daschle must seek steady input from Democratic lawmakers if he hopes to craft legislation effectively and pass it through swiftly. Last Thursday he outlined a thorough plan to fix the system, pledging to broaden healthcare access to rural areas, increase Medicare and Medicaid payments, and ease the cost of prescription drugs and insurance premiums, thus reining in wild profiteering from an insurance industry drunk with power. The toughest obstacle will come from Congressional Republicans, who have already begun to voice concern over the long-term costs. Republicans—guided by an anti-government philosophy, except where finance is concerned—have warned of ballooning budgets and a deepening recession if healthcare spending goes too far.

But the last thing Obama’s administration needs to do right now is curb spending. It is imperative that his proposed economic stimulus package go hand in hand with healthcare reform. With a lack of basic coverage comes increased illness, poorer general health, and shortened life spans—all of which threaten economic stability and workforce productivity. If the administration takes advantage of its solid majority and rejects discredited conservative dogma, Americans’ desire for comprehensive healthcare may finally be fulfilled.

Blues got served

The second half of the OUA volleyball season officially got underway last weekend.

However, digesting the results from the women’s Varsity Blues volleyball team makes one wonder whether the players were still shaking off leftover turkey from the holidays. It appeared that the team needed to be “bump”-started.

The team went into the winter break on a hot streak, winning four of their past five matches. But over the weekend, the Blues only managed to take one set total from its games versus Brock and Ottawa.

Friday night, the Blues took on the Brock Badgers, a team Toronto has owned over the years. But this time, the Badgers bit back playing extremely good all-around volleyball, handing the Blues their first loss in the new year, 3-1 (25-10, 19-25, 25-17, 25-16).

While pleased her team won the second set after blown out in the opening, Blues head coach Kristine Drakich was disappointed Toronto didn’t make Brock fight more for the win.

“It wasn’t a good day for us all around. I don’t think there was anything that went really well for us,” said Coach Drakich. “But we have to be able to pull out a game or two. This should have went to five, I don’t know if we would have won as Brock was playing great, but […] we should have started stronger [and] made a better match out of it.”

Drakich points to the executional errors in her team’s servers and outside hitters as the biggest culprits. The Blues finished with 26 attack errors and six serving errors, compared to just 13 and four for the Badgers.

“It made it difficult for us to run an offence […] and everyone on the floor seemed to be worried about what was behind them, the last play, and not just what’s right there in front of them,” she said.

Drakich wants her players to keep playing their game regardless of what it says on the scoreboard, instead of letting errors dictate their play.

“We played very timid, we seemed to play defensively […] Part of what we do well is attack strongly. We want to keep doing that whether it’s serving or blocking.”

The Blues were missing the OUA’s 12th leading scorer in Dianne Burrows due to injury, but Drakich wasn’t about to bail her players out with excuses.

“I have never seen some players play as poorly as they did here, so I’d like to think that it’s really just that we weren’t prepared to play,” she said. “And we should be able to play with any lineup out there.”

Drakich’s words clearly had not sunk in on Sunday as the team played in Ottawa against the Gee Gees, and were quickly disposed of in three straight sets (25-21, 25-17, 25-21).

Brock (8-4) currently sits at a surprising third in the OUA’s West Division, within striking distance of Western (11-1) and McMaster (10-2) for first. Ottawa’s (10-3) victory over Toronto (6-6) helped them keep up their fight for the top spot in the East Division. That perch, usually occupied by the Varsity Blues over the past years, is now kept warm by the undefeated York Lions (11-0).

The Lions take on the Blues tonight at 6 p.m. in the Athletic Centre Sports Gym. A win by the Blues over their hated rivals would not only snap the Lions’ perfect record, but surely would restore any confidence lost from the past weekend.

I prorogued Parliament, and all I got was this lousy budget

When the Conservatives won an expanded government just three months ago, they probably felt entitled to as fiscally conservative a budget as they liked. Not so.

The scene in the House on the 27th will be positively surreal: a largely sedated Cabinet listening to a respected colleague—a former minister in Mike Harris’ provincial government—announce program after program with the bow of stimulus on top. In his wildest dreams, Paul Martin wouldn’t have spent this much uncollected taxpayer money. Stephen Harper may have to glare at certain Tories to get them to applaud their own budget.

The NDP reaction will be even more confounding. Jack Layton has spent his entire career trying to get a budget like this passed—he even expropriated Ralph Goodale’s finance department to try and write one himself. Yet he has all but publicly declared that the NDP will oppose the budget. Even with his reputation as the king of fake outrage and contrived anger, this will be a tough sell.

Since the Bloc’s economic policies (inasmuch as they exist) could never be implemented even theoretically except as part of a coalition, their response is predictable. The Bloc will want more for Quebec, as they have with every single budget since their inception. Whether the amount is $2 billion, or $5 billion, or $10 billion, one thing is certain: it will not be enough to appease the separatists, ou sovereigntists if you insist, because Parliament Hill’s resident whiners-in-chief need work to do.

And as for the Liberals, I’m sure that some of them bristle at the notion of supporting any Harper budget after what they perceive as a hatchet job on their former leader and his coalition. Yet no one forced Dion, a noted federalist, to create an (almost certainly abandoned) alliance, allowing separatists to “take control of the administration of the federal state” and “create a mechanism of permanent consultation empowering the Bloc Quebecois on every question of importance, notably concerning the adoption of the federal budget.” Fortunately given the current state of the Liberal party, any outrage over a budget that could easily be their own will be muted.

But as Andrew Coyne noted in Maclean’s, there is one thing Harper could do to make all this fake outrage very, very real. The new budget will contain billions of dollars for industries that desperately need it—industries that employ tens of thousands of small-l liberal voters in swing ridings in Southern Ontario. Industries that didn’t need the money during the election campaign, but need it now. This will be the mother of all election budgets: spending will be spread over a huge swath of Canadian society. As a partisan Conservative, I think Harper should include the party funding cuts that set the whole coalition gong show in motion a month ago. Imagine the Liberal Party trying to fight an election over its own finances, while the constituencies that elected Liberals starve for the federal dollars promised to them in the defeated budget.

You win one, you lose one

Both the men’s volleyball university teams from Waterloo and Laurier invaded U of T’s Sports Gym this past weekend, leaving the Blues in exactly the same position statistically where they were over a month ago before the winter break.

On Friday, the Blues rang in the New Year and second half of the OUA volleyball season by hosting and defeating the Waterloo Warriors 3-1 (21-25, 25-16, 25-21, 31-29). On Saturday, the Laurier Golden Hawks got revenge for their Waterloo cousins, defeating the Blues 3-1 (10-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-18).

Friday’s match also marked the return of Blues starting setter Deagan McDonald, who was been sidelined since breaking his foot on Halloween against Queen’s.

The match had it all: close nail biting sets sandwiching a blowout set to a dramatic finale in the fourth where set and match points were thrown around like tequila at a Mexican wedding.

In the end, the Blues prevailed. Head coach Ed Drakich couldn’t contain his excitement after the dramatic high scoring fourth.

“Pretty exciting eh? The level of play was quite good. I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Drakich.

Pleased about McDonald’s triumphant return and immediate impact to his lineup, Drakich couldn’t help but award him the prestigious Player of the Game honours.

“Deagan’s our quarterback and we only had him for one of our first 10 matches. So we played nine matches without our starting setter and he really makes a difference.”

Despite the appearance of blowing the Warriors out in the second set, 25-16, the Blues were actually down 12-7 early on and looked like they might fold and take the easy way out. But instead they did the exact opposite, going on an amazing 18-4 run to end the set and tilt the momentum in the Blues’ favour.

“We were up in the first and then we found the tank. But it was a combination of Waterloo really going for it and we were tentative and they just sort of steamrolled us at the end of the first set,” said Drakich. “In the second set we were getting blown out, but the guys started to settle down.”

Drakich admitted what impressed him the most about the match was the calm and maturity his players displayed during the wild fourth set.

“The guys, they stayed consistent, they stayed level-headed and they fought and I’m really proud,” said Drakich. “That was a really nice win […] Waterloo is a very strong team and our guys showed a lot of heart today, a lot of fight.”

Another player who put a smile on Drakich’s face were left side hitter, Jessi Lelliott, who stepped in to play libero.

“He was making some digs that were just unbelievable. He was a difference maker for us,” said Drakich.

Steve Kung showed why he leads the OUA in points per game with 21 kills on the match. Drakich also showered praise on freshman Kyle Konietzny.

“I give him a lot of credit, he’s a freshman and he got put in a very difficult situation and he came out and passed some really tough balls and fought really hard,” he said.

On Saturday it was a freshman from Laurier who put the hurt on Toronto.

After looking like they were still on a high from the Waterloo win, the Blues quickly mopped up the Golden Hawks 25-10 in the first set.

Then the Samuel Schachter show began.

The rookie from Richmond Hill reeled off an amazing eight aces on the match, including three straight in the second set that left even refs laughing in disbelief. Even Schachter’s serves that didn’t drop for aces were plenty difficult to pass, resulting in several free balls for Laurier.

Schachter also added 11 kills and eight digs. Another young star for Laurier, Greg Houston helped supplement Schachter’s attack with a team-leading 13 kills and the only other ace.

For the Blues, Steve Kung was his usual serial killer self, finishing with match highs in kills (18) and digs (10).

The Blues (5-7) will now face off against their striking rivals from York (2-10). Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday night.

Polygamist pleadings fail to make a case

Unfortunately for Winston Blackmore and James Oler, the two leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), polygamy is illegal in Canada. Following their arrests on polygamy charges, the two heads of the Bountiful, B.C. community are appealing to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A fiery legal showdown is bound to take place—one that could eventually reach the Supreme Court of Canada and become a landmark case for the freedom of religion.

But this is not only about religion. It’s about a lot of things: freedom of lifestyle and parental rights on one hand; criminal activities including sexual abuse, child exploitation, and the trafficking of teenage brides across the Canada-U.S. border on the other. The FLDS inspires a knee-jerk reaction in many of us, but legal judgments are different than personal ones. Instead, the Criminal Code’s provisions against polygamy might be at odds with religious freedom, with civil rights activists championing the cause. Michael Vonn, a spokesperson for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the anti-plural marriage law enacted in 1890, a “Victorian anachronism.”

But could a person legally practice a religion that required its followers to commit criminal activities such as sexual abuse and bride trafficking? Since Mr. Blackmore is a Charter of Rights enthusiast, we ought to consider this. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Charter under its second clause, “Fundamental Freedoms.” But its first clause, “Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms,” adds a qualifier: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” In the end, everything will boil down to the meaning of “reasonable limits.” It won’t be difficult to prove that the FLDS has long overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable in our free and democratic society.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms maintains a healthy democracy, where individuals are free and responsible. But according to many allegations, the FLDS’ practices seem tyrannical. In Bountiful, girls as young as 14 are forced into marriage. In many cases their education is terminated after grade 10, and university is not an option—women are meant to become wives, and to produce daughters who might be shipped off to the United States against their will. Clearly, a woman in the Bountiful community is not free.

Still, Blackmore argues for his parental rights. He asserts that every parent in his community is concerned for their children’s welfare, and that, according to their beliefs, celestial marriages are better than college educations. Let us consider the crime of truancy: parents are required to send their children to school or give qualified private education in order to nurture free and responsible individuals, regardless of family beliefs. A society where Mr. Blackmore’s rituals of upbringing were systemized could be defended by the Charter—the raison d’être to create and maintain free and democratic society.

It won’t be difficult to prove that the FLDS has long overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable in our free and democratic society

Ruby Coast

Sitting down with members of Newmarket’s Ruby Coast is a different experience from most rock interviews. For one, they’re among the few interview subjects I’ve had that are universally younger than I am—they all graduated from high school in recent memory, and one of them has yet to turn twenty.

Another difference is how completely devoid of pretense the whole experience is. Guitarist and singer Justice McLellan (yes, that’s his real name), the band’s de facto spokesperson, is extremely courteous, self effacing, and maybe even a bit shy. It seems like nothing gets him upset. Well, maybe one thing, but even then he becomes only slightly annoyed.

“Please don’t ask me any Tokyo Police Club stuff,” he requests at the outset. “I just get asked that a lot.”

I can understand why. Journalists consistently lump the band in with many of their Toronto contemporaries, including TPC and Born Ruffians, though to be fair, elements of their sound resemble these acts more than a little. Ruby Coast’s three-chord riffs are dressed up with the same bouncy synths, gang vocals, handclaps, and plaintiff yelps that are paramount to the songs of their forebears. Critics, in particular, seem unwilling to give up on the shorthand of easy comparisons.

But McLellan is hesitant to lump anyone together.

“I don’t think of it as any kind of movement—I’m friends with all these people, but we don’t talk about what kind of music we’re making. We just don’t think about that.”

Looking more carefully at their sound, Ruby Coast clearly share a deep affinity for power pop and dance rock in a way their contemporaries don’t. More than anything else, they’re one of those bands in love with the idea of being in a band in the first place.

“There’s nothing else that gives me that sort of energy,” explains McLellan. “We have a lot of fun on stage, when we’re all up there together. Any anxiety from the day, it disappears when we’re up there.”

It’s hard not to ask the group about their youth in the interview, since their music sounds so deeply connected to it. They make the songs that veteran acts would be criticized for. But Ruby Coast can’t be faulted for sounding like a bunch of friends having a ball making music—because that’s exactly what they are.

“Maybe I’m not copying [bassist] Mark [Robert Whiting]’s notes in English class,” admits McLellan, when asked what’s changed with the pressures of touring. “I’ve learned to develop as a person [around these guys]. And when we get back from touring, we still hang out. We go back to our jam space and get wings.”

But of course, there are normal pressures that come with being in any touring band.

“If anybody had to hang out with the same people day in, day out, and had to sleep in beds with them, and on floors with them, I don’t care who they are, you’re going to get tired of them. But we love each other, so it works out. It’s marriage!”

Between travelling, the band still hangs out in Newmarket, where they live to keep costs down.

“We hang out at this barn and make music there. My father’s a musician as well, and bought this barn—it used to have height on the ground and everything. But now he’s converted it to a studio.”

And how do their barn recordings sound, exactly?

“The barn’s mostly for writing songs and stuff. We’re working in a professional studio…now,” he notes, dryly.

But the guys don’t indulge in all of the frivolities of youth. One thing that sets Ruby Coast apart from many young bands is the sense of discipline they’ve built up. On tour, the band prefers rest to booze almost every time.

“Sleep is something your body craves and needs. If we call it a night and go for breakfast the next morning, it feels great. Don’t include that—that’s not very rock star of me.”

They even have a designated tour dad.

“Mark, the bass player, is sort of a father figure. He kind of takes care of us and lets us know if we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. But he’s not too much like a dad. He joins in on the fun, and it’s not weird, like it would be if you were hanging out with your buddies and your dad was trying to be one of the guys. It’s just that we have a set of eyes on us all the time.”

The band is in the GTA for now, recording a full-length album at Chemical Sound Studios (the site which formed the creation of TPC and Born Ruffians’ latest efforts, along with Canadian pop-rock classics like Sloan’s Navy Blues), which they hope to have mastered soon. But this spring, they’ll be back on the road, again with TPC, touring the United States and playing at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest Festival.

Reaching the end of our talk, TPC comes up again, and I ask the obvious question, largely to placate my torturing music journalist’s temptation to make obvious comparisons: who would win in a fight, Ruby Coast or Tokyo Police Club?

“Definitely us. We have much more hair on our chests. They’re kind of scrawny,” says McLellan, in his sole moment of bravado.

The Varsity’s Off the Record rock show starring Foxfire, Ruby Coast, and Boys Who Say No Thursday, January 22 / Hart House Great Hall / All ages, $5 / Doors 8pm