Fed budget’s in: For most students, no change

Months before its tenth birthday, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation has received its death notice. Unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last Tuesday, the federal government’s Budget 2008 will scrap the CMSF, which gave need-based bursaries and merit-based scholarships. Its $350-million annual allowance, combined with the annual $138 million currently doled out in grants, will go towards the new Canada Student Grant Program.

While the creation of the national grant program has drawn cautious praise from student groups, critics panned the lack of major student financial aid reforms hinted at last year by Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

Though the grant system will reach more students—an estimated 100,000 more, for a total of 245,000 recipients—it has no new funding sources, so individual beneficiaries will see less cash. However, the funding for grants is set to increase each year, hitting $430 million by 2012-13.

“Although there wasn’t new money allotted, we were quite happy to see the student grant program,” said Amanda Aziz, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. The CFS had campaigned for a merged grant program and the demise of the CMSF.

“We don’t want to see money spread more thinly, but the new framework they’ve announced is a good start,” Aziz said.

The new system, to kick off in fall 2009, will be income- rather than need-based, where recipients classified “middle-income” or “low-income” will get monthly grants of $250 or $100 respectively. In a departure from the CMSF, its successor will give money to students up-front and guarantee funding through every year of the student’s program.

After a year-long review, the Canada Student Loan Program will receive $123 million over four years, of which $74 million is to help students with loan repayment, though the report gave no details on how the assistance will be carried out. The money will also go towards an improved web site and more aid for married and part-time students.

Some student loan advocates were unimpressed. “The budget is a good thing for everyone except student loan borrowers,” said Julian Benedict, founder of the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness. “The grant program is going to be a help to reducing the debts of new borrowers in the system, but right now, the government has done nothing to address the sky-high interest rates on student loans.”

Small increases in research and development funding come with conditions. An increase of $80 million, or five per cent, allotted to three federal research granting councils has been earmarked for specific industries: automotive, manufacturing, and forestry and fishing.

Another $21 million will woo the world’s top scientists, creating up to 20 Canada Global Excellence Research Chairs, also in predetermined areas: health, the environment, natural resources and energy, and IT.

Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, criticized the stipulations. “We appreciate the new research funding, but we’re extremely concerned that the federal government is increasingly targeting research funding rather than allowing the priorities to be established by the research community,” he said.

The government also has its eye on brilliant students: $25 million will go towards Canada Graduate Scholarships for the top 500 doctoral students at Canadian universities. The new scholarships, designed to lure international geniuses and hold on to domestic ones, have been compared to the U.S. Fulbright awards. Canadian recipients can also apply for an additional $6,000 stipend for studying abroad.

Making good use of that sunny Arizona weather

Renewable energy is becoming more desirable than ever. Solar power plants are now used worldwide as a means to generate clean, “green” electricity. In an effort to increase these resources, the Arizona Public Service Company has partnered with Abengoa Solar to build one of the largest solar power plants in the world.

“APS is committed to making Arizona the solar capital of the world, bringing affordable renewable energy to all our customers,” said APS president Don Brandt. “The Arizona Corporation Commission has challenged Arizona utilities to be leaders in renewable energy, and we are responding aggressively.”

Aptly named after the Spanish word for “sunny place,” the Solana Generating Station will be a 280- megawatt concentrating solar power plant when completed. However, concentrating solar power works differently from the more widely known method of photovoltaic cells to trap the sun’s energy. Photovoltaic cells, better known as solar panels, use the sun’s light to create electricity. Concentrating solar power, by contrast, employs the sun’s heat. In CSP, parabolic trough reflectors are attached to computer-controlled motors to track the sun’s path throughout the day. The reflectors are made of mirrors that focus the sunlight onto receiving tubes located along the trough’s focal line. These contain a heat transfer fluid that reaches approximately 400 degrees Celsius when heated by the sun’s rays. The heated fluid converts water into steam, which then creates electricity by turning the power plant’s turbines.

A downside to solar panels: they can only produce electricity when directly hit by the sun’s rays. Through resourceful technology, Solana will be able to generate electricity even when the sun is not shining. Molten salt will be stored in large ‘thermoslike’ containers standing beside a series of steam generators. Periodically, the heat transfer fluid will heat the molten salt instead of creating steam that turns the turbines. Electricity could be generated for hours after the sun has set, by heating fluid using the molten salt in place of the trough reflectors.

Solana will be located in Gila Bend, Arizona, approximately 112 kilometres southwest of Phoenix. Arizona is perfectly suited for solar power concentration, as the Grand Canyon state receives plenty of heat from the sun all-year round. The generating station will have 2,700 parabolic trough reflectors, spanning approximately five square kilometres. Solana anticipates being fully operational in 2011. However, this is contingent on a number of factors, such as whether Congress renews the clean energy tax credit, scheduled to expire at the end of this year. When operating at full capacity, Solana will be able to generate electricity for 70,000 APS customers without any greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a major milestone for Arizona in our efforts to increase the amount of renewable energy available in the United States,” said Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. “Arizona is leading the way in protecting our world for future generations through combatting climate change, fighting for air quality and much more. This plant will offer Arizonans a clean and efficient source of energy.”

‘Apartheid’ ban causes ruckus, little action

While student groups at Ryerson and York and U of T’s OPIRG were all prepared to send busloads of students to a rally on Friday against McMaster’s ban on the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” few actually showed up.

Joey Coleman, a McMaster student and writer for Maclean’s magazine, said that the buses that drove students in from nearby universities were mostly empty. And many thought that was as it should be.

“I think this was a McMaster matter, I don’t think it was necessary to involve students from outside,” said David Levine, the president of Israel on Campus at McMaster.

McMaster Student Union’s president Ryan Moran spoke briefly at the rally, stating the union was in favour of calm, respectful debate but not actions that would incite anger.

The controversy began when the university’s copy centre refused to photocopy a poster with the words “Israeli Apartheid Week” on it. The poster was was changed and resubmitted, still with the offending phrase, and the copy center passed it on to the university’s Human Rights and Equity Services Office.

The HRO banned the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” citing concerns that it would make students feel uncomfortable. Both the MSU and McMaster University decided to support that decision.

The ban did not prevent Israeli Apartheid events from taking place, nor did it mean that club funding would be taken away from the McMaster chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.

While the York Federation of Students may have sent buses to support free speech, on the Thursday before they had decided to shut down a student debate on abortion.

In a press release published by Students for Bioethical Awareness, student group president Margaret Fung stated, “I was told in a meeting by members of the York Federation of Students that debating abortion is comparable to debating whether a man should be allowed to beat his wife. They said that there is freedom of speech to a limit, and that abortion is not an issue to debate.”

According to the SBA’s press release, this meeting included YFS executive director Jeremy Salter, VP operations and secretary of the executive committee Fuad Abdi, and president of the York Debating Society Amir Mohareb. The document also notes Salter making statements echoing those recently published regarding the Canadian Federation of Student’s views on pro-life groups as comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan. YFS is currently a member of CFS, Local 68.

With files from Allison Martell and Joey Coleman

Meditation as medication

Focus on my breathing patterns— simple, right? Breathing is something I do unconsciously everyday, a key process to my very existence, so how difficult could this be? I’m sitting cross-legged, comfortably leaning my back against a sturdy wall. I place my timer in front of me. Today’s goal: one 10-minute session. I close my eyes and imagine each breath as I inhale, traveling through my nasal cavity, filling my lungs, feeling my chest expand and contract when I exhale. I’m surrounded by complete stillness, peace; this is nice—except for the deafening “tick-tock” of my clock breaking the silence only 45 seconds into my first meditation session (and yes, I peeked). Focus, I remind myself. Breathe. I let it pass, and attempt to concentrate. Two minutes later my thoughts have already travelled back into my past, glimpsed my future, and struggled against my present condition: the strong urge to nap. I didn’t know breathing could be so exhausting. Disappointed with my inability to concentrate, I re-evaluate my goal and adjust it accordingly: 5 minutes, max.

Frustrated with my own progress, and curious about meditation’s true benefits, I seek the expertise of Dr. Tony Toneatto, a senior scientist in the Clinical Research Department at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Dr. Toneatto suggests that “to feel the complete benefits of meditation you should practice 20- minute sessions daily.” He reveals that mindfulness of meditation is an issue close to his heart. As an associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and public health sciences at U of T, Toneatto is director of a new minor program: Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health.

“This program is an integrative approach to the psychology of Buddhism. Its focus is not the religious aspect of Buddhism, rather it explores the theories and applications of Buddhism to physical and mental health,” said Toneatto.

Defining the mindfulness of meditation can be elusive. “It is a state of mind that requires you to remain psychologically present. It is important to remain non-judgemental, accepting,” Toneatto said, “whatever happens in your mind, you’re not holding onto it, you’re not rejecting it, you let it come and go. There are many forms of meditation—eating, walking, yoga. When meditating, sit comfortably, concentrate on the rhythm of your breath, and permit mental events to naturally arise and subside without interference—do not avoid them, but do not hold onto them,” he instructed.

Dr. Toneatto distinguishes between mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. “Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, while mindfulness meditation includes direct, experiential insight into the nature of mental activity and events.” He explains that there are two main stages of meditation: tranquility and insight meditation. “Tranquility meditation involves calming the mind, usually by maintaining awareness of breathing and resisting the urge to focus on internal chatter, while insight meditation involves understanding the nature of our thoughts. Both are equally challenging to achieve, but if you can, you will not only develop peace of mind, but learn to understand it”.

It is evident that the current fascination with meditation is just as much scientific as it is religious. Toneatto, also a registered clinical psychologist in Ontario, said, “Meditation is comparable to medication. Research suggests that it has significantly benefited individuals who suffer from chronic pain, anxiety disorders, stress, addiction, and depression. It has both physiological and psychological benefits.”

An eight-week study led by Toneatto evaluated the effects of daily 20- minute sessions of mindfulness meditation among 17 undergraduates. After a pre- and post-assessment of depression, somatic stress, and anxiety, findings concluded that these participants reported lower rates of anxiety, depression, and somatic stress, especially among those with greater than 11 hours of meditation, over an eight-week experimental period. “Those that suffer from depression and anxiety are convinced that their negative beliefs about themselves are self-fulfilling prophecies. With meditation as a form of cognitive- behavioural treatment the goal is to realize that just because you have these beliefs doesn’t mean they are true—the same can be applied to problem gamblers,” Toneatto explained.

Interested in the role of meditation as a part of a cognitive behavioural treatment for problem gamblers, Toneatto will evaluate how effective such practice is at controlling distorted thinking patterns. “Problem gamblers have illusions of control and irrational superstitious beliefs— like talismanic superstitions where they think an object will increase the probability that they will win,” said Toneatto. “We will research whether mindfulness meditation, if practiced by problem gamblers, will reduce their rate of relapse by teaching them to have more control over their thoughts, like how to proactively respond to gambling-related urges rather than satisfy them,” he added.

Buddhism is the fourth-largest religious tradition in the world with approximately 365 million followers (about 6 per cent of the world’s population). Historically stemming from India, Buddhism spread throughout Asia—Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Korea, to name a few— and quickly emerged as a popular and promising religion in the West. In a nutshell, Buddhism possesses the solution to eliminate suffering and discover true happiness in the form of enlightenment.

The many forms of Buddhism include Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Tibetan, and Zen. However, they all share the same core principles of the “Four Noble Truths:” (1) suffering exists, (2) suffering exists because of our attachment to our desires, (3) suffering will cease to exist when we detach ourselves from our desires, and (4) freedom from suffering is possible if we practice the “Eightfold Path.“ So, what is the Eightfold Path? It is composed of eight behaviours (right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation) that are characteristic of three qualities (wisdom, morality, and meditation). Meditation allows you to improve the behaviours of the Eightfold Path, thus bringing you closer to enlightenment. Toneatto emphasizes the view that “meditation allows you to reach your highest human potential. It teaches you about your own thoughts and develops your best human qualities whether you meditate for religious or therapeutic purposes.”

Meditation also enhances awareness. “In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded with opportunities for pleasure that we mistake for true happiness. Pleasure is a form of misdirected attempts at quests for enlightenment. Through meditation we awaken from the illusions of conditioning and see our essential self, not our conditioned self,” Toneatto said.

Is it true that meditation can be the next antidote to stress, and other psychological and physiological illnesses? It definitely sounds like it. Going forward, I’ve fine-tuned my tactics and thrown away the timer—today’s goal: no limits, no restrictions, no boundaries— to transcend reality by accepting it (easier said than done).

Buy into Bubble now or pay later, admin warns students

On March 4 to 6, U of T will hold a plebiscite asking students if they want to continue paying to maintain the Varsity Centre. The facility was constructed in 2006 using university money and outside donations, but last year a temporary fee of $9 per term was added to each full-time student’s athletic fees. If students vote Yes this week, the $9, plus an additional $2.29 to account for in ation, will be made a permanent part of the athletics fees, bringing student athletic fees to $125.81 per term.

Bruce Kidd, dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, explained that the new stadium and bubble have proved very popular among students. According to Kidd, use of the Varsity field has increased 15-fold since the construction of the new facility. In addition to maintaining the facility, the $9 will help ensure that the facility will be scheduled for student use 75 per cent of the time. The rest of the Varsity Centre, including renovations to Varsity Arena and a new Centre for High-Performance Sport, will be built using university money and outside donations.

The proposed fee change has, however, met considerable disapproval among student activists opposed to rising non-tuition fees. The Council on Student Services rejected the plan last year, but temporarily adopted it pending this student vote. Athletics fees have risen sharply in the past several years, and many students insist that the existing fees should be enough to fund the Varsity Centre.

If students vote No, the $9 fee may still be implemented on a temporary, three-year basis. Other proposed options for funding the facility include charging students with user fees and renting the facility to outside groups.

Kidd points out that similar facilities at other Ontario universi ties were built using student levies, not outside funding. At U of T, student leaders had input at every stage of planning, and were aware that a fee increase would be needed to maintain the facility. Although the university built the stadium without student money,

Kidd says that it is “only fair that students pay their fair share of the operating costs of the new facilities.” He also added that if students vote not to pay the fee, the decision will likely discourage the university from raising outside money for future projects.

Voting takes place Tuesday through Thursday at polling stations throughout campus. See www.utsu. ca for times and locations.

Cadence Weapon is locked and loaded

“I am THE afterparty baby,” declares Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon). He’s been neck-deep in promo for his new record Afterparty Babies (Upper Class) for the last week, and has probably had to explain the album title three times per hour.

“My Dad used to call me an afterparty baby. He would tell other people, ‘Oh Rollie, he’s an afterparty baby,’ and I would ask ‘Oh, so I’m an accident?’ But it turns out I’m not an accident. I was planned, I was just conceived after a party.”

At 22, this fresh-faced electro rapper came straight outta Edmonton, busting onto the indie scene in 2005 with a mix tape demo, Cadence Weapon is The Black Hand. Later that year he dropped his debut, the Polaris Prize-nominated Breaking Kayfabe to widespread critical acclaim.

As he describes it, Pemberton learned a lot from his first recording experience, namely what not to do this time around.

“The first album, Breaking Kayfabe, I recorded in seven hours, but the actual production of it took a few years. It’s such a convoluted process, I was losing stuff, I was missing parts, I couldn’t get it mixed properly, everything was fucked up. This time I got everything streamlined, everything was mixed properly, I had all the separate parts of the beats mixed individually, everything was popping. It’s far and away more focused than the last.”

Pemberton is much more than just the voice of his songs. In a genre where routine practice pairs a talented rapper with an experienced producer, Pemberton functions autonomously in both capacities, both conceiving of and programming the music, while writing and performing his lyrics.

“I’m a control freak like that, I have a very specific vision. That’s why I don’t have other people rapping on it. Like, I’m not going to have Ludacris rap on it because Ludacris is not going to be able to do a song about Rousseau properly.”

In terms of subject matter, Pemberton brings an intelligent, unpredictable mix of stories and cultural references to his lyrics.

“It’s a record about being youthful, making mistakes, and having fun,” he says, “A lot of the songs are about the mistakes people I know have made, it’s a coming of age record.”

His lyrics focus on criticisms of everything from club-culture, to politics, to how text-message etiquette is emptying our lives of real meaning.

In “Your Hair’s Not Clothes” he rhymes, “Now sit, it used to be, I wanna be your dog, now it’s who let the dogs out, you wanna crawl out.” This comparison of Iggy Pop to Baha Men is a good example of how Pemberton’s lyrical content both reflects and recognizes the fact that his hip hop music is actually situated as a subgenre of indie culture, which has a separate history and set of cultural touchstones from straight-up rap. This is probably the only record where you can hear rhymes about Ryerson, The Dandy Warhols, Ian Curtis, and the Edmonton Oilers all in the span of a few minutes. While at times it sounds like he could be reading posts off of “Stuff White People Like,” his unabashedly nerdy side is a large part of his honest, laid-back appeal.

In between Afterparty Babies and a recent jaunt through Europe, Pemberton has somehow found the time to remix fodder for locals Camouflage Nights, Sally Shapiro, and Ireland’s Super Extra Bonus Party. “It’s another cathartic thing,” he says. “It’s making music in a completely different way than I’m used to.” But even talk of remixes finds him repping west coast indie rock, “I’m a big Destroyer fan, I listen to his music constantly, and I would love to make a dance tune out of one of his songs.”

While he seems to focus on the Canadian music scene (dude’s an encyclopedia of Canadian electro), Pemberton (a dual U.S./Canadian citizen) pays close attention to the American Presidential primaries.

“I’m a Democrat,” he admits. “It seems like the only logical thing to do at this point. In a perfect world I’d like to rep for the Greens, but I don’t think that there ever will be enough people to make them viable.”

So who does he like in the current democratic contest?

“I actually like the leadership qualities of Barack Obama. I think he’s a really smart dude, and he seems less politicky than a lot of people. He’s a more regular dude. I feel like Hillary Clinton is a lizard woman, it creeps me out like crazy. She’s like a reptoid from the centre of the earth, and in 2010, she’ll reveal her true self.”

Like all indie artists awaiting the imminent release of a new recording, Pemberton is readying himself for the onslaught of online criticism, mainly from his former employer, the feared and revered Pitchfork.

“Yeah, I got fired,” says Pemberton of his former life as a Pitchfork music scribe. “I was bad with deadlines, I started sending in reviews that weren’t finished. Back then Pitchfork was not the hot shit that it is now. I didn’t realize that it would become the all-mighty goliath of music criticism— whoops.”

But their parting ways didn’t leave a chip on Pitchfork’s shoulder. Back in 2005 they awarded Breaking Kayfabe a stellar rating of 8.0. I ask him if he dares to speculate what they’ll give Afterparty Babies. “Well, they gave my last record an 8.0, and I think this record is a lot better, so for the sake of consistency I’d say they’d have to give it an 8.7.”

Afterparty Babies hits store shelves tomorrow, and Cadence Weapon will be back in Toronto, April 24.

Stop the presses?

McGill university has forced its student newspaper, the McGill Daily, to defend its existence, asking students whether they want to continue supporting the paper financially. The Daily and its French-language counterpart the Délit receive a student levy that accounts for roughly 56 per cent of their funding. Though the levy has existed for years, the university’s board of governors is enforcing a three-year-old decision that all such student fees need to be “reaffirmed” by the student body. If students vote not to continue paying the $5, the school will scrap it.

“The Daily is independent of Mc- Gill as a corporate body and independent of McGill’s administration, faculty, and staff, but it is not independent of the students,” said Morton Mendelson, the school’s deputy provost of student life and learning.

The Daily operates independently of McGill, under the terms of a fiveyear memorandum of understanding, which is set to expire June 1. Other independent, levy-supported groups at McGill include the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and campus radio station CKUT. Only these institutions are being required to reaffirm their levies.

“McGill will renew [our agreement] with a campus-wide student activity only if students indicate that they want the group to continue and that they are willing to continue paying for the service,” said Mendelson.

“If students really have a problem with the newspaper, there are [mechanisms] in place that allow them to bring this to referendum. It’s a little presumptuous and petty of McGill to force this to happen,” Drew Nelles, the Daily’s coordinating editor, told the Montreal Gazette.

The Daily’s demise is by no means immanent, as the paper has widespread support throughout the Mc- Gill community.

First-year biology student Aaron Esterson said he can’t imagine life without the Daily. “I’ve read just about every issue since September,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere though.”

Mendelson agreed, telling the Montreal Gazette he “couldn’t imagine students would not affirm their interest in maintaining the Daily.”

Baby it’s a Wilde world

For Hart House Theatre, 2007-2008 was characterized by humour, mythology, and the occasional murder. Stephen and Mr. Wilde provides a fitting conclusion by combining all these elements into one sprawling tale.

Based on Oscar Wilde’s night in Toronto on his 1882 North American lecture tour, the plot is driven by the two title characters: Wilde (Jonathan Schuster), and his African- American valet, Stephen Davenport (Drew Ngomba). Their relationship is profoundly tested when Torontonian journalist Edward Hawthorne (Thomas Gough) uncovers evidence of Stephen’s potentially shady past.

At first, the interaction betweeen Schuster and Ngomba makes it seem as if they are occupying completely different stages. Schuster’s Wilde starts out flamboyant and overacted, calling to mind a cross between Boy George and Carrot Top. By contrast, the rest of the characters seemingly fade into the background.

However, this grows riveting when Ngomba subtly and expertly begins to reveal the workings of his character’s mind. The chemistry between Schuster and Ngomba quickly comes to drive the show, with the actors playing off one another brilliantly. As Stephen and Mr. Wilde debate passionately on topics ranging from revolutionary politics to alcohol, the rest of the plot feels unnecessary.

Without question, Act I is the play’s strong suit, delivering an enjoyable mix of witty banter and controversial opinion. Wilde’s sexuality becomes an obvious target for wisecracking, as race relations are explored with an almost “too soon” quality. For example, in a bordello scene, matronly prostitute Louise (Roxann Lee) informs former slave Stephen, “I would never abuse a black man…unless he wanted me to!”

The second half of Stephen and Mr. Wilde falters though, growing too morose with its contemplation of truth and violence. Although ample opportunities are provided for conflict and dramatic tension, the suspense never hits a boiling point. The silence of the show’s most charged encounters seems to fill space, rather than engage the audience. And the ending, which could have descended into turmoil, finishes the story on an overly sappy note.

A dialogue in which Wilde chastises the evil spirit of fact-obsessed Hawthorne has the scribe declaring, “Truth comes from the human spirit, which is why you’re not familiar with it!” Indeed, the truth of Stephen and Mr. Wilde delves exclusively from the human interactions and the well-developed characters— not from an overdone, cumbersome plot development. And how often can a sitting room conversation prove to be more exciting than an alleged assassination?