Vigilante justice

Only at U of T could something start with Funstuff Colors and end with fines and transcript notices.

On March 5, Leo Josephy and Lindsay Fischer mixed paint, dipped hands, and made literally hundreds of handprints around campus to promote EnviroFest. Shortly after, campus police received multiple complaints and spoke with the two.

As of print time, a constable is working out repercussions with the college deans, who Josephy (of Victoria College) and Fischer (of Trinity) say aren’t upset about their actions. Most of the prints dissolved a few days later from heavy rainfall. The two voluntarily went out to clean remnants off vertical surfaces.

With publicly-funded buildings used privately for classes and public roads owned by the city, it’s a headache to determine which jurisdictions could prosecute cross-campus vandalism. Adding to the confusion is our campus’ public statues made out of donations or public funding and designated historic sites with their own vandalism codes. I’m not even going to get into the hassles of maintaining buildings sponsored by corporations.

Someone in building management issued a fine for cleaning up the handprints. Not knowing where to issue it, UTSU received a bill, working with Josephy and Fisher to figure out a solution.

Campus police told the accused that their acts constituted mischief and that they would’ve been handcuffed if they weren’t students. The two say the constables they dealt with were honest, patient, and let them voice their thoughts. What concerns the two is the possibility of being put on conduct probation. Under section B, article three of the Code of Student Conduct, they could get anything from a warning to fines and a note on their transcript. They say they a received a positive response, including prospective students on tours who seemed interested in a much more lively, grassroots image of U of T. But the issue isn’t the cops. When receiving a complaint, they investigate. The issue is what comes next.

Josephy and Fischer seem to be the truest vigilante activists on our apathetic campus, short of the whining, quasi-violent “Fight Fees 14.” Do they deserve fines? Transcript notices? The administrative hell of appealing said notices?

Campus police didn’t get back to The Varsity when asked for data on vandalism frequency, but I suspect it’s not often reported. I also suspect none of the Governing Council candidates who chalked on private and public property had complaints or talks with police. The website of Reeves & Poole, maker of Funstuff Colors, says the non-toxic paint, made of pigment and chalk, is water-soluble. Just as bad as chalk; much better than unsustainable ink and paper pulp if you ask me.

The two told me passersby dipped their hands in and made a few prints. We should’ve examined their fingerprints. I expect warrants for their arrest posted promptly.

The dream of an Egyptian resurgance

Having inherited the legacy of the Pharaohs, I marvel at Egypt’s grandeur. With its rich history, natural resources, and dynamic culture, few can resist Egypt’s allure. Although the visceral image of Egypt as a desert, littered with pyramids and inhabited by camels, no way represents Egypt today, the stereotype is likely a lot more palatable to Westerners than the truth. Egypt is actually about as Arab as it gets—and nevertheless, a beacon of culture, art, and science for Arab countries around it. From Umm Kulthum, one of the greatest voices of our time, to Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, considered by many to be the greatest contemporary Arab writer of the 20th century, Egyptians have been the pride and glory of the Arab world since their heyday under Saladin.

Alas, a stroll down modern Cairo evokes none that sense of pride. Still touted as the “Arab Superpower,” Egypt remains underdeveloped and in desperate need of economic, political, and most importantly, social reform. The omnipresence of religion, along with a tradition of intransigence, result in endless social and political incongruities. The Egyptian constitution is replete with Caliphate-reminiscent laws that derive from religious texts, undermining the rights of minorities and women alike.

The whole social problem started with poverty. Along with an ever-stratified and inefficient government bureaucracy, people have been obliged to exploit fault lines in the moral fabric of society, leading to corruption. The average middle-to-upper class Egyptian doles out enough bribes to government officials to land him a 10-year sentence in a Western country, yet such actions are overtly overlooked as social idiosyncrasies. I have also come across no less than three ranking officers who bragged that they could drop a murder charge, or have it reduced to a misdemeanour in a matter of hours—for a nominal fee of course. Needless to say, few can afford to pay for their services.

To cope with everyday struggles (and there are many), Egyptians have developed a habit of blaming the government for any and all of the country’s shortcomings. Specifically, they make the case that during Hosni Mubarak’s 28-year, iron-fist reign as president, rampant corruption, unemployment, illiteracy, and a bedraggled education system have severely impaired the country’s economic progress.

They fail to note that, were it not for Mubarak’s deals with the United States, Egypt would have drowned in foreign debt back in the early ‘90s. Moreover, he managed to preserve a precarious peace agreement with Israel for almost three decades. It was also Mubarak who quashed a very real threat from radical fundamentalists that plagued Egypt in the ‘80s and much of the ‘90s.

There is no doubt that Mubarak’s efforts to contain terrorism have come at the expense of civil liberties, as his government worked to silence dissidence. Nevertheless, he has given radicals and fundamentalists a reason to think twice before enacting subversive activities that disturb the country’s delicate balance of secularism and piety.

Some religious fanatics actually have the audacity to call Mubarak out on his undemocratic leadership, particularly the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. If anything, the MB itself, which supposedly espouses the virtues of tolerance and democratic values, hopes to reinstate theocracy in Egypt by redrafting the constitution along sharia (Islamic law) lines. Alarmingly, they’ve gained a lot of ground.

With hypocrites threatening to take over the country, no wonder Mubarak decided to come down on them. Contrary to their propaganda, which you hear in mosques all around the country, Mubarak bears no more responsibility for the country’s moral failings than Egyptians themselves. As an example, consider a 2008 study conducted in Egyptian homes, which found that two-thirds of Egyptian men harass women, despite the fact that 80 per cent of them wear a veil. This is not a product of Mubarak’s secular policies, but rather of the MB’s own chauvinistic protocols.

Yet with all this, Egypt remains alive and well. The resolve of its people, as witnessed by centuries of history, has allowed it to persist, and who knows? Maybe one day Egypt can reconcile its internal strife, and rise to its former glory. Why not? One can dream.

More than meets the eye

The Sandford Fleming building is an elegant piece of architecture, a quiet ornament on King’s College Road. Next to its orange-lit big brother, Convocation Hall, it reflects a quiet grace.

As I push through Sanford Fleming’s heavy doors, I’m headed for the heart of the Computer Science Department, and expect to find muted hallways and rooms filled with machines I don’t understand. I’m armed with a pocket protector, and I’ve tucked in my button-down shirt. I expect I’ll fit right in.

But three steps into Sandford Fleming are enough to point out my mistake. The place is a flurry of students and buzzing conversations. It’s anything but dull.

U of T’s Department of Computer Science (DCS) was founded in 1964 and has become one of the top-ranked departments of its kind worldwide. From its humble beginnings as the first computer science department in Canada, it has paved the way for critical developments in the field, now home to 65 faculty, 300 graduate, and 800 undergraduate students. An impressive roster of research and faculty members includes some of the world’s top researchers, as well as Canada’s only Turing Award winner, Stephen Cook.

Contrary to popular belief, the field of computer science isn’t just about computers. It studies how computers interact with medicine, sciences, arts, and people. According to the Acting Chair of DCS, Sven Dickinson, “There’s a misconception among many people that computer science is all about sitting in front of a box and writing programs, in solitude, typically. But in fact, it’s much more than that. Computers have permeated every aspect of our lives, society, and professions.”

The computer science program encourages students to study the technological aspects of the field, but also helps them integrate their knowledge with other disciplines to explore new applications. The department has a strong interdisciplinary focus, not only bridging gaps between subfields of computer science, but also spanning to entirely different disciplines.

The research scope of DCS is very broad, covering everything from graphics and numerical analysis to networking, human-computer interaction (HCI), and artificial intelligence. These research areas have important applications to finance, weather prediction, and medical imaging, which allows DCS faculty to collaborate with researchers in many other domains.

Computer science intersects with disciplines like medicine, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and economics to tackle complex, real-world problems. According to Dickinson, getting to a solution requires a collective effort from many disciplines, including computer science. “Machines are making their way out into the world in almost every facet of life, and solving all these complex problems with these machines involves studying computer science and some other discipline. To do it right, I think you have to appreciate what those disciplines have to offer to the problem. And we’re encouraging our students to be able to pursue these interests in these areas.”

The undergraduate program in computer science provides students with an understanding of fundamental computer science, as well as many opportunities to pursue research with faculty members or independently. As they progress through the program, students can explore different areas, and can enter specialist programs that combine computer science with economics, statistics, cognitive science, physics, or mathematics.

Although enrolment dropped in recent years following the “dot-com bust,” the numbers have started to creep back up again. “This drop in enrolment happened all across the continent,” says Dickinson. “A lot of students felt that maybe there weren’t a lot of jobs out there—which is an incorrect perception. In fact, there are more jobs out there right now than there ever were.”

Graduating with a degree in computer science opens up a variety of career options, with DCS graduates working in areas like IT, industry research, economic development, health sciences, game design, and health care. DCS also offers studies at the graduate level for those who wish to pursue a career in academic research.

“There isn’t a single discipline out there that isn’t being affected by computer science,” says Dickinson. “We’re interested in newer, faster, more reliable technology—smaller, more compact. We’re interested in designing new languages. We’re interested in making machines more efficient, distributing computation, and having machines work well with each other. These are extremely challenging, fascinating, fundamental problems in computer science. But we’re so much more than that as well, in terms of taking these machines out into the world and solving problems that involve people.

“It moves beyond just the pure technology into how to use computers to affect positive change in the world, and make the world a better place.”

Students, staff blast proposed changes to Transitional Year Programme

At a town hall meeting on Saturday, faculty and students criticized U of T admin’s proposed changes to the Transitional Year Programme. TYP is a bridging program for full-time direct-entry students who do not have formal academic qualifications. U of T is proposing that it develop closer ties with a bridging program for part-time students, housed at Woodsworth College, and that a single office at Woodsworth run both programs.

“U of T is not getting rid of the Transitional Year Program (TYP),” said university spokesperson Rob Steiner. “ One of the recommendations asked if it would make sense to bring the two programs closer together, while still keeping them distinct because they serve distinct populations.”

According to Steiner, the possible integration is still under discussion and no formal steps have been taken.
At the town hall, TYP staff, alumni, and current students said a synthesis isn’t feasible because TYP is too different from the Millie Rotman Shime Academic Bridging Program for part-timers.

“Putting it with the Academic Bridging is very much like getting rid of the Transitional Year Programme. In the former people attend school part-time, take one course for three months of the year. Whereas TYP is a year-long program where support is provided to students and built into the program,” said APUS president Murphy Brown.
“Though [the university] says that we are only discussing possibilities, the discussion is taking a very definite route without student consultation,” said Ahmed Ahmed, a TYP student.

The current director of TYP, Prof. Rhonda Love, has been meeting with Woodsworth principle Joseph R. Desloges to develop a proposal for Governing Council subcommittees.

Ahmed said the issue at stake is TYP’s status as an autonomous body. Currently, TYP reports directly to, and gets funding from, the provost, like a professional faculty. Under proposed changes, it would be run from Woodsworth College and fall under the Arts and Science umbrella, with its budget consigned to the faculty’s jurisdiction.

The TYP community also voiced concerns on cuts to the programme’s operating budget and lack of a plan to replace retiring faculty, which could compromise the program’s long-term health. The program received a four per cent budget cut this year.

“For the University to recommend casually that we lose these things after generations of students have successfully have gone through the program is quite frankly insulting. And to frame it in such a way that this will potentially benefit us when people fought for these things to be implemented in the first place is again insulting,” said Ahmed.

Gastronomy: Dieting

Ideals of masculinity and femininity pervade the mass media, a continual reminder of unattainable perfection. Dieting fads vary by season, and countless regimens guarantee to help one lose weight in an unrealistically rapid amount of time. Why do fad diets never work?

Firstly, there are myths to be aware of before self-prescribing to a diet plan. Many falsely believe that to lose fat they must cut fat from their diets. Dietician Lyndel Costain says, “You should still have a third of your calories coming from fat. The body needs fat for energy, tissue repair, and to transport vitamins A, D, E, and K around the body.” Increasing healthy unsaturated fat intake while cutting out trans fats and trimming saturated fats is a good start.

Fasting or crash dieting can result in quick weight loss in the short term but according to nutritionist and researcher, Claire MacEvilly. “Losing weight over the long term burns off fat. Crash dieting or fasting not only removes fat but also lean muscle and tissue.” This will result in decreasing one’s basal metabolic rate and daily caloric intake requirement, increasing the likelihood of weight gain once off dieting. Skipping meals similarly decreases metabolic rate. Long-term weight loss plans won’t jolt your metabolism and are a safer alternative.

Struggling dieters may believe that a slow metabolism is the cause of their weight loss setbacks. Studies have indicated that resting metabolism actually increases with body mass. Instead, sedentary lifestyles and excessive caloric intake are largely responsible for weight issues in North American society.

It takes an extra 3,500 calories to gain a pound of body fat, and the reverse is true for weight loss. Eating fattening foods will not result in immediate weight gain, Costain explains. “If the scales say you’ve gained a few pounds after a meal out, it’s largely due to fluid, which will resolve itself.” So skip the guilt trip if you’ve indulged in a treat while dieting. In the long-term scope of things, one chocolate bar really won’t make a difference.

Low-fat and fat-free labels trick consumers into believing that they’ve chosen a healthier alternative. Costain warns consumers to be wary of these labels: “Extra sugars and thickeners are often added to boost flavour and texture, so calorie content may be only a bit less.” Nutritionist Alison Sullivan adds, “[These alternatives] may be low in fat, but are high in sugar which turns to fat. With low fat foods, look to see where else the calories might come from.”

Many diet regimens put people at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, so a physician or dietician should be consulted to create a suitable plan.

Canada bars Galloway for Hamas support

British MP George Galloway, due to speak at U of T’s Mississauga campus this month, has been refused entry into Canada following a ban imposed on Saturday by Canada’s immigration minister Jason Kenney. A spokesperson for the immigration ministry said the purpose of the move was to “to protect Canadians from people who fund, support, or engage in terrorism.” Galloway is a long-time activist for Palestinian rights and recently visited the Gaza Strip as part of an aid convoy.

“We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of their contents, and we make no apology for what I am about to say. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine,” said Galloway after he arrived in Gaza. In addition to fire trucks and ambulances, Galloway personally gave three cars and £25 000 to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. The Palestinian group Hamas is considered a terrorist organization in Canada and several other Western countries. The anti-war group Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, which opposes Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, had invited Mr Galloway to speak at a UTM conference called “Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar” on March 30. Galloway is also an outspoken critic of NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Stephen Zhou, an event organizer, told The Varsity he was surprised by the ban. “They say he’s a supporter of terrorist organizations; they don’t care that Hamas is the elected government of Palestine. If they’re saying he’s a security threat, I don’t buy that whatsoever. We will explore legal avenues to overturn the ban.”

On Sunday, members of several anti-war groups held a meeting at the Ryerson University Student Centre and called for an end to what they deemed a “long-standing pattern of attacks by the government on free speech.”

Responding to the government’s decision, NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said that the ban perpetuates a pattern in which views that contradict those of the Conservative government have been suppressed. “The minister of immigration is becoming the minister of censorship,” Chow said. “We don’t have to agree with everything Galloway talks about but, at bare minimum, he should be allowed to express his point of view so Canadians can make decisions themselves.”

“If he’s being barred on free-speech grounds, that’s an outrage,” said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, adding, “You can come to Canada and talk rubbish all day long as far as I’m concerned. If there’s a security threat, that’s another matter.”

Galloway said he will take legal action against the ban, saying of Kenney, “That’s the way the right-wing, last-ditch dead-enders of Bushism in Ottawa conduct their business.”

The vice-president of B’nai Brith, one of Canada’s most prominent Jewish organizations applauded the ban. “We applaud the government for its explicit recognition that individuals who glorify terrorism, and promote hatred be denied access into Canada,” Frank Dimant told the Globe and Mail.

The ban on Mr Galloway follows a similar move by the Harper government in January when it refused entry to University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers for his participation in the radical anti-war movement “The Weather Underground” during the 1960s.

March Madness

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to determine the national champion is a well-designed event. If you win, you stay in, and if you lose, you go home. There are no relegation rounds, or consolation prizes. So in theory, small schools that nobody has ever heard of can knock off a top squad. This year, the first round of games, the essence of “March Madness,” saw underdog squads East Tennessee State, Morehead State, American, and Binghamton present huge challenges to basketball giants Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, and Duke, before bowing out.

Aside from three number-five seeds knocking off twelves, the opening round produced one true shocker, as thirteen-seed Cleveland State toppled powerhouse Wake Forest. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons were ranked as a four, but earlier in the season were the number-one college basketball team in all of America. Wake Forest were one and done, a shocking development.

This year, March Madness took on a whole new meaning. Many had chosen Wake Forest to either run the table and win the entire tournament or make a deep run, and were quite upset by this turn of events. They lamented that there were no other teams worth cheering for in the tournament, especially after pre-tournament sleepers like Michigan, Boston College, and Temple all met the same fate as Wake Forest.

However, the tournament is not a complete write-off. Each remaining team has the potential to be your favourite. Here are the reasons to make each team heading to the Sweet Sixteen seem not seem so sour.

West Regional

Connecticut Huskies

Connecticut will compete for the championship this year because of Hasheem Thabeet. The mountain-like, 7’3” Thabeet is considered to be the second best player in the 2009 NBA Draft, and will be the first player to come from Tanzania. Thabeet only took up basketball at age 15, and, scarily, has the chance to improve. With a strong supporting cast, especially senior guard A.J. Price, who survived a brain hemorrhage in his first year, the Huskies will be a treat to watch. There is a possibility for a double championship, as the women’s team finished the regular season, 33-0.

Famous Alumni: Meg Ryan, Moby, and Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter

Purdue Boilermakers

Aside from finding nearby players, Purdue is looking to expand their profile across the country. In the Big Ten, Michigan State was given most of the attention, but it was Purdue that won the conference championship, their first ever. Although the Boilermakers have no trouble making it to the second round of the tourney, this year they upset the Washington Huskies to finally make it back to the Sweet Sixteen, where the local boys hope to upset the powerful Connecticut Huskies.

Famous Alumni: Neil Armstrong, Jim Gaffigan, and popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher

Memphis Tigers

Perhaps the best way to describe the Tigers would be the sports equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” routine. What school did the most recent number-one pick in the NBA Draft, Derrick Rose attend? Memphis. What team went undefeated in conference play the last three years? Memphis Tigers. What school was a couple of missed free throws from winning the conference championship in 2008? You get the picture. Yet Memphis, which completed another fine season, despite losing Rose and other top players to the NBA, were given a number-two seed in the tournament. In this year’s tournament, coach John Calipari and his sharpshooting Memphis Tigers hope to gain some much-needed respect.

Famous Alumni: Fred Thompson, Dan Uggla, and Julia Sugerbaker from Designing Women

East Regional

Villanova Wildcats

This year, Villanova adeptly handled a brutal conference schedule, were undefeated at home, and won 25 games. The third-seeded Wildcats have a history of pulling off upsets, as they famously won the 1985 tournament as an eighth-seed, defeating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. Last year, Villanova was considered a bubble team, yet pulled off two victories as a twelve-seed and advanced into the Sweet Sixteen. This year’s edition, which brought back team leader Scottie Reynolds from last year, may continue the upset tradition.

Famous Alumni: Maria Bello, Jill Biden, Jim Croce, and Toby Keith

Duke Blue Devils

When it comes to Duke, there seems to be either two choices: you love them or you hate them. It seems like every year Duke makes the tournament, and much of the credit goes to Duke’s stoic leader, Mike Krzyzewski, affectionately known as Coach K. He has been with Duke since 1980. In the off-season, he coached the U.S. Olympic basketball team, leading them to victory. If Coach K can handle the pros effectively, what chance do other schools have? The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament was won by Duke, and North Carolina received the number one seed, as Duke settled for two. Motivation enough?

Famous Alumni: Andy from The Bachelor, Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney, and the new judge on American Idol Kara DioGuardi

South Regional

North Carolina Tar Heels

The yin to Duke’s yang, the North Carolina Tar Heels are Duke hater-favourites, as well as the choice to win it all for the last two years by first fan Barack Obama. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough has set the all-time record for most points scored in North Carolina and Atlantic Coast Conference history. Yet due to his size and explosiveness, he projects to be drafted 28th-overall in the upcoming NBA draft. Even Ty Lawson, his point guard teammate battling through a toe injury, projects higher. So if watching a point guard with a broken toe, and an undersized, non-explosive yet fundamental player lead a team to an NCAA championship sounds like fun, North Carolina is your team.

Famous Alumni: Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Rick Fox, Andy Griffith, and current American Idol contestant Anoop Desai

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Featuring only 4,500 undergraduates, Gonzaga is a tiny school in Spokane, Washington. The ‘Zags first made the NCAA tournament in 1995. Their second appearance was in 1999, and they’ve made it to every tournament since then. In the early years, Gonzaga was often a “Cinderella,” low ranked and pulling off upsets. Recently, they have taken on the role of favourite, upset by lower-ranked teams. Gonzaga needed a last-second finish against upstart Western Kentucky to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga is an underdog. Guard Jeremy Pargo, forward Josh Heytvelt, coach Mark Few, and the rest of the ‘Zags may be leaving their future opponents in tears.

Famous Alumni: Bing Crosby and Jason Bay

Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma’s power forward Blake Griffin is an absolute monster, and will probably be the number one pick in the draft. Known as the terminator, Griffin plays the game hard. This season alone, he has suffered through injuries to both knees, a concussion stemming from a collision, and in the first round, survived being flipped onto his back. Griffin played a typical game against Michigan in the second round with 33 points and 17 rebounds. If this is typical of Griffin, opponents are going to double team Griffin sooner, leaving Oklahoma’s guards open for three pointers. If coach Jeff Capel can keep Blake Griffin from suffering any more major injuries, Oklahoma will be soaring into the final.

Famous Alumni: Ed Harris, Vince Gill, and Ottawa Rough Rider quarterback turned politician J.C. Watts

This is part one of a two-part series continued in Thursday’s Varsity.

Watered-down justice

Eighteen students were shot last Tuesday in front of Convocation Hall.

Lucy Barker, a fourth-year human biology and history student, held a water gun to a line of students, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder facing south.

“Oxfam says a child dies every 17 seconds from unclean water, so we shot one student with tap water every 17 seconds,” said Leanne Rasmussen, a third-year international relations student who took a spray for the team.

Oxfam UT held a flashmob, a brief, spontaneous event executed in public to grab public interest and attention.

The event, which began at 4 p.m. and lasted about 10 minutes, was advertised through the group as well as U of T’s Environmental Resource Network and EnviroFest week organizers.

“It was fun shooting people, but I’m glad we got the message out to them,” said Barker. “We wanted show students just how many people are affected by dirty water conditions.”

As each student was gently sprayed, they collapsed to the ground while others held posters with facts about dirty water. Onlookers from across King’s College Circle stopped to look as they walked to class.

“It’s not just drinking water,” said Anda Petro, a second-year philosophy and psychology student. “Clean water is needed for proper sanitation and growing food.”

According to Oxfam, unclean water kills more than three million people every year and 4,000 children die each day.

“Last Sunday was World Water Day [March 22] and we wanted to do something,” said organizer Laura Phelps, a fourth-year political science student. “There’s so many issues: access, privatization, bottled water, it goes on. We needed something students could relate to.”

The event was organized after Oxfam suggested campuses start using flashmob tactics to raise awareness. Phelps said she believes this is the first flashmob at U of T.

“I just hope it got people talking; that’s the real test at hand.”