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Resuscitating evidence-based policy

A case for the scientist-turned-politician

Resuscitating evidence-based policy

The scientific community stands among those who have been disrupted by the recent political turbulence in the US and around the world. US President Donald Trump has not shied away from rejecting empirical evidence, as demonstrated by his willingness to fuel unsubstantiated apprehension toward vaccines and downplay the reality of climate change.

Recent statements from the transitional head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Myron Ebell, are unlikely to assuage concerns over the integrity of the federal body and its data repository.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ebell insisted that any retraction of EPA data, research, and reports was unlikely, but argued that “a great deal of what the EPA puts out in the way of so-called ‘climate education’ — some of the research that they’ve not necessarily done but promoted — does not meet the minimal standards legally required by the federal information quality act. It therefore needs to be changed or withdrawn.”

Given the administration’s promulgation of ‘alternative facts’ and Ebell’s nondescript definition of what constitutes ‘climate education’, prospects for the protection of information at the EPA seem bleak.

It is not clear that the withdrawals to which Ebell referred would exclude the wealth of climate research on the EPA’s website. According to Ebell, “President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA or ‘leave a little bit’. It is a goal he has and sometimes it takes a long time to achieve goals. You can’t abolish the EPA by waving a magic wand.”

The administration’s stance on the EPA is one of several examples illustrating the depreciating value of science at the executive branch of governments. As a result, a March for Science is in the works and has been scheduled for April 22.

The Washington-based protest has already spawned planning of sister marches that will extend beyond US borders.

Some have jumped headfirst into the realm of American politics. The not-for-profit organization 314 Action is aimed at facilitating the political success of those very individuals. Founded by Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist-by-training who ran for office in the 2014 and 2016 Democratic primaries, the organization’s overarching goals include defending scientific integrity, increasing STEM education, and bolstering the role of scientific evidence in policymaking.

Speaking to The Atlantic, Naughton argued that scientists are often under the impression that their work is “above politics,” leading them to overlook the politicization of science. She cautions, however, that “politics is not above getting involved science… We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”

The organization tasks itself with outreach and engagement activities, while also providing the means and know-how for running a campaign. “Partly, we’re making the case for why they should run — and Donald Trump is really helping us with that… Then, we’re showing them how to run, and introducing them to our donor network,” Naughton said.

Naughton’s efforts through 314 Action — as well as her congressional bids — seem to have established a science-conscious constituency and a loyal base of donors. The organization will hold an online training session for political aspirants with a STEM background on March 14; over 1000 people are currently signed up.

One may argue that the organization’s commitment to exclusively back Democratic candidates invites criticism. After all, organizations that stem in part from the unwanted politicization of science may appear hypocritical if they align themselves exclusively with one party.

At the same time, it seems to be the case that the Democratic Party is more favourable toward science and data-driven policymaking, while Republican members of congress are more likely to express skepticism toward climate change. This may explain 314 Action’s choice.

Science is a highly collaborative practice that often transcends national borders. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) reported a considerable increase in the proportion of multinational publications in recent years. In 2003, journal articles resulting from international collaborations amounted to 13.2 per cent of published papers. In 2013, the figure rose to 19.2 per cent.

Given Canada’s ranking as America’s fifth most frequent collaborator, Canadian scientists will undoubtedly feel the ramifications of Trump’s policies and spending cuts. Furthermore, Trump’s immigration policies are likely to impact attendance at international conferences, whether they occur in Canada or the US.

Science is no beneficiary of isolationism. The adoption of isolationist policies puts countries at risk of falling behind in the progressive knowledge bandwagon. To overlook the economic and diplomatic setbacks of such a scenario would be naïve or short-sighted, at best.

The recent surge in protests highlights the following reality: Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office – and the consequent anxieties felt by many — provides fertile ground on which the politically engaged can sow their movements.

Note: a previous version of this article indicated that Ebell insisted that EPA data retraction was “likely.” Instead, Ebell insisted that it was unlikely.

Ig Nobels recognize hilarity in science

Seventeen Canadians have earned this ironic accolade

Ig Nobels recognize hilarity in science

With more than seven million scientists exploring the world around us, it seems inevitable that some would stray from important scientific theories to the silly, the superfluous, and on rare occasions, the stupid.

For the last 26 years, Annals of Improbable Research, a scientific parody magazine, has awarded researchers with Ig Nobel Prizes, a pun referencing the acclaimed Nobel Prizes, to recognize the most ridiculous scientific work. The awards ceremony takes place at Harvard University — where scientists have won an impressive 49 Nobel Prizes — and recognizes “achievements that first make people laugh, then make [people] think.” The awards are often handed out by Nobel laureates.

Seventeen Canadians have won these somewhat humiliating prizes.

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize in Physiology and Entomology was awarded to Canada’s Justin Schmidt, who “painstakingly” indexed the relative pain caused by different insect bites and precisely quantified the amount of misery of a bite.

U of T’s own Kang Lee won a Neuroscience Prize in 2014 for studying the brain activity of people who see Jesus in the burn patterns of toast.

More recently, 2016’s Ig Nobel Peace Prize recognized professors from the University of Waterloo, Sheridan College and elsewhere, who published a study On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit — bad news for procrastinating students across the globe that might not be able to disguise and submit their pseudo-profound essays now.

These professors’ efforts might not be appreciated by the authors of 2012’s Literature Prize-winning paper on Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies. The Ig Nobel Prize described it as “a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.”

Possibly more interesting than studies on the intricacies of reports are the awardees of some biology-related prizes. Studies recognized by the Ig Nobels range from documentation of the first recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks to the exploration of how dung beetles can use the Milky Way as a reference to orient themselves when lost.

In 2015, other Ig Nobel-worthy studies included the discovery that mammals of all sizes empty their bladders in 21 seconds — give or take 13 seconds — and the observation that attaching a stick to the rear of a chicken results in the chicken walking like a dinosaur.

Perhaps the most surprising of the 2016 prize winners is a British writer who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in Biology for his time spent living in the wild as “a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird” — unfortunately, not simultaneously.

Prizes are not only awarded for research into parts of science that might seem funny, but also for studying classically humorous situations.

In 2014, the Ig Nobel Physics Prize went to Japanese researchers who explored the friction between shoes, banana skins, and floors — a noteworthy contribution to practical jokes of all varieties.

This is the quintessential Ig Nobel Prize winner: a study that appears incredibly comical at first glance, but a moment’s thought reveals truly important scientific consequences.

The interactions between banana skins and moisture under pressure, regardless of if this pressure is provided by the foot of someone about to fall flat on their face, are similar to those found in membranes where bones meet and in mechanically-engineered joint prosthetics.

Just as important was the 2012 Ig Nobel in Fluid Dynamics, awarded for research into the dynamics of liquid-sloshing in the context of a person walking and carrying a coffee cup, helping us protect our caffeine supply from the threat of spills.

The insights we gain from the research highlighted by the Ig Nobels can be invaluable, even if they result from science that some would deem laughable. This is the idea that lies at the heart of the Ig Nobel Prizes: we can both laugh and learn, if we let loose a little with science.

Cue differences, spotlight experiences

Exploring how diverse voices are gaining traction in the entertainment industry through the upcoming U of T Drama Festival and Academy Awards

Cue differences, spotlight experiences

If theatre has any supreme ability, former U of T student actor and theatre aficionado Jane Smythe knows it is the power to share and heal.

“I had a lot to get off of my chest a couple years ago, so I started doing playwriting because it was the only type of writing I felt I could engage with,” Smythe said. “I wanted to tell my story in an art form I thought… could possibly express the way I could want it to be. For me, the idea of theatre is the opportunity to do whatever type of art form you want to do — you can sing, dance, [move], or literally paint a picture on stage and it could be part of your play.”

In its twenty-fifth year of existence, the University of Toronto Drama Festival will serve its audiences from February 9–11 with nine unique plays: Family Portrait; Swipe Right; Just the Fax, Ma’am, Just the Fax; A Lullaby and Apology; Suzanne; Mama; A Perfect Bowl of Phở ; Monsters; and Touch.

As an accurate reflection of life in Toronto and the university’s eclectic student population, diversity exists within each play; it is channelled through their writers, casts, crews, and subject matter. ‘Diversity’ feels like the perfect word for 2017. It’s grown up from its previous existence as a buzzword used insincerely for the purpose of sounding progressive to a phrase that more meaningfully denotes inclusion.

Representation in storytelling

Each theatre production varies in script, actors, and directors, but they all serve the ultimate purpose of helping us to better understand the human experience.

Smythe is a veteran of the Drama Festival, having directed the UC Follies production Swim To The Moon in 2015 and winning the IATSE Award for Technical Achievement. She also wrote and starred in their 2014 festival entry, The Sessions, as the character 21, a woman struggling with the traumatic experience of having been raped at the age of 13.

Her current theatre troupe, Glass Reflections Theatre Collective, maintains a mandate that promotes inclusion and diversity. Smythe serves as General Manager, and she co-founded the troupe with Artistic Producer Deborah Lim, Artistic Director Stephanie Zidel, and Assistant Artistic Producer Grace Poltrack.

Through writing and performing in The Sessions, Smythe was given the opportunity to engage with her peers and tell her own personal story, one of the paramount benefits of the art form. Lim directed the show.

“She told my story in a way that was incredibly vivid and was a therapeutic experience for me to share my vision… and kind of see the transformative nature of working with a group of people and having a collective understanding of things and kind of understanding that their feelings are valid,” Smythe said of Lim’s direction. “There was kind of this healing effect between everyone who worked on the show.”

This year at the Drama Festival, Swipe Right touches on a common topic — bad dates. The play explores how microaggressions surrounding identity shape online dating and people. For co-writer Savana James, a priority is allowing performers to explore their own identities in their characters, and to create stories minority audience members can relate to.

“I love that with Swipe Right, we wrote roles that belong to diverse performers, because it gives them opportunity that doesn’t often exist,” James said, “As a storyteller, I feel like I have a responsibility to create these stories that don’t exist, to start new conversations and opportunities in theatre. I want to tell stories that haven’t been told before. The types of stories I wish I had got to hear.”

The play Touch, written by Marium Raja, analyzes the different types of physical contact that are made between people and the importance behind what many deem to be a simple act. The play follows the main character, Florence, her difficulties making contact with others, and the different people and relationships she encounters throughout her journey.



“This play follows the stories of her and people she knows — not necessarily all friends, some are acquaintances, some are strangers, but all of them brush shoulders as we all do in our daily lives. Brief moments of contact, some shining, others we’d rather leave behind in the dark,” Raja said.

When Raja sat down to write Touch, she wanted to prioritize diversity in the process of casting the play, as Florence was written to be played by a person of colour.

“None of the characters were specifically written with specific races in mind, but I knew beforehand that I wanted to prioritize genderqueer actors and actors of colour,” Raja said, “This play is meant to reflect the universality of everyone’s experiences with physical contact, and I wanted the characters to be representative of the people I have come to know at this university.”

Controversy over the Oscars

Diversity may be the toast of Hollywood at the upcoming eighty-ninth Academy Awards, as black-led films Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences have helped diminish last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

The controversy, a shared outcry that Hollywood is racist, was fuelled in part by host Chris Rock’s introspective monologue as he demanded that “black actors receive the same opportunities as white actors.” Rock’s single mistake was not demanding a more intersectional mandate in which all people of colour should be made a priority.

Raja doesn’t believe that the racism in Hollywood has been solved in the short period of a year simply because films featuring black actors are being nominated for Best Picture.

“It would be simplistic to think that years of systematic racism have been erased just because the Oscars just managed to ‘tie’ with their 2007 record of seven non-white actor nominations,” Raja said.

Manchester by the Sea, Director Kenneth Lonergan’s family drama, fits the standard mould of a seminal Best Picture winner, led by a gleaming pair of past, present, and likely future Oscar nominees in Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. Like in Good Will Hunting 20 years ago, it illuminates a story about white male grief in contemporary Massachusetts.

While Smythe wasn’t interested in seeing a film starring “Ben Affleck’s younger brother,” she doesn’t feel like Manchester By the Sea should be shunned just because it is considered by many to be a traditional heteronormative “white film.”

“I don’t think white films are invalid, or films that are made by white people are invalid, there just needs to be support for different types of films,” Smythe explained. “When you look at all of these blockbusters, they’re primarily white and that means that other types of movies aren’t being supported as much… I think the issue is the fact that there’s not enough money being spread around to these different types of productions and different stories.”

Affleck is a divisive figure to anyone who seriously cares about film. He’s an individual who can be mesmerizing as a grief-stricken janitor and who can also encapsulate all the wit and charm that is required to host Saturday Night Live. The 41-year-old is likely to win Best Actor this year, over his fellow nominees Andrew Garfield, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen, and Denzel Washington, the lone person of colour in the category.

While Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is brilliant though, the Oscars seem too satisfied with allowing the same voices to repeat throughout history, telling the same narratives.

And glamourizing Affleck’s appeal is particularly worrisome because of the sexual harassment litigation he settled in 2010. A combination of his privilege and talent allowed him to be a subject of debate on whether deplorable behaviour should outweigh the gravity of a performance. This further pushes common logic towards the ultimate question: what is the point of the Oscars anyway?

Raja is interested in the Oscars advancing diversity; she argued for a more diverse group of judges and for the inclusion of quotas, which could be beneficial strategies to help bring about meaningful, fundamental change.



“Having a more diverse Academy panel is a start,” Raja said. “Having quotas, as aggravating as the term is to me, is a start. It is difficult for marginalized voices to effectively call out to be heard, because, well, they’re kind of marginalized. When those in power, those with affluence and the ability to open up opportunities for people who have the same qualifications and talents as their privileged peers, actually use their positions to create those opportunities, that is when more diverse work can be created.”

Smythe recalls the elation her Iranian friends shared with her when A Separation won Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, but she later wondered why it wasn’t also nominated for Best Picture. “It just seems that really mainstream films get nominated for Oscars, like, what’s the point of Best Foreign Language Films and why can’t those films be nominated for Best Picture? Because those films have the diversity you’re looking for,” Smythe said.

Comparing film and theatre

Raja, James, and Smythe find that the assumption of theatre being more diverse than film is a loaded one and not entirely accurate.

“There needs to be change,” Smythe said, “I think that theatre has a long way to go in terms of diversity. There’s incredible work being done by Indigenous people and people of colour, people who identify as a part of the LGBTQ, people with mobility issues, and the deaf community; it’s not mainstream, all the mainstream stuff is still white.”

Raja has the same mentality. “As a queer person of colour, it’s fairly important to me,” Raja said. “The more intersections you have, the farther you are from being a cis white straight male, the less you are represented in most forms of media.”

James noted that the call for more representation has been answered, but it is not enough.

“I don’t think the difference [between film and theatre] is as large as people may think,” James said. “I think while theatre has seen a growth in diverse storytelling, much like in filmmaking in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Sure, we have shows such as Hamilton, which swept the [Tony awards] last year, but we cannot pat ourselves on the back for one good year. We need to make sure going forward that the inclusion of marginalized people is considered every year.”

Smythe feels there is a lack of funding for films relating to people of colour. Raja adds that people of colour face abhorrent and direct racism when they do break down barriers and ‘succeed’ in major Hollywood productions.

“When you see the significant backlash that actors like John Boyega and Leslie Jones have gotten just for doing the work they do, when you look at the fact that the top contender for a biopic about the Persian poet Rumi is Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s glaringly obvious that we have a problem,” Raja adds.

The underlying truth about both art forms, regardless of their stylistic differences, is that in the mainstream neither have been very diverse. At least U of T’s Drama Festival presents a forum for theatre to shine through in its best light, as a kaleidoscope of the voices of real and diverse students.



“The great thing about the idea of pushing for further diversity is that there is literally nothing bad about it. People can afford to be a little more aware of their privilege, because everyone has privileges,” Raja said. “It is up to us to be aware of it and use it so that those who do not can be heard as well,” she added.

Swipe Right premieres at Hart House on February 9, the opening night of U of T’s Drama Festival. Touch premieres February 11, the closing night of the Drama Festival, also at Hart House. This year’s Academy Awards are on February 26.

Love trumps hate, and so does art

A student’s perspective on the role of art in the fight against discriminatory bans

Love trumps hate, and so does art

On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that included the following provisions regarding entry to the United States: an indefinite ban on all incoming Syrian refugees, a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions, and a 90-day travel ban applying to citizens from the seven Muslim-majority countries of Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

While the legality of the executive order is currently in limbo after the Justice Department filed an appeal on Saturday on a federal judge’s order to block the ban, it is still worth examining the effects of such a ban on artistic freedom and creative expression.

Institutionalized discrimination based on nationality means that artists must take on greater responsibility in their work and focus on aligning themselves with a more vocal and vulnerable style of activism. This becomes especially important in the face of a media that has been tainted by ‘alternative facts.’

Sentiments of grief and confusion must, above all, be transformed into action. This point was articulated well by revolutionary artist Dread Scott, who remarked: “The more important question is not what Trump will do, but will we do.”

Jen Catron of the performance artist duo Jen and Paul shared a similar sentiment, saying, “We mourn, and then we take action.”

Creating art alone will not suffice — we must aim for mobilization and solidarity in our efforts to resist and counteract the cowardice produced by such discriminatory bans.

Trump’s immigration order represents a threat to artistic diversity and cultural exchange. The limitation on the free flow of art and ideas is detrimental to institutions that rely on collaboration.

Notably, the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both recently released statements expressing concern for their upcoming exhibitions.

Philip Himberg of the Sundance Institute Theater Program professed similar sentiments of loss regarding Sundance’s annual workshop exchange, which has relied on contribution from 60 Arabic-speaking teachers and professionals for four years.

Further impeded are the multitude of Academy Award nominees that hail from the seven affected countries. This list includes Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Salesman; Hala Kamil, a Syrian actress who appears in the nominee for Best Short Subject Documentary Watani: My Homeland; and Khaled Khateeb, Syrian cinematographer of documentary The White Helmets, which follows first responders in the Syrian civil war.

Farhadi has already announced his intent to boycott the Academy Awards ceremony, even if the difficulties surrounding his travel to the US can be resolved.

The consequences of Trump’s executive ban for the arts are stark. Any kind of discrimination that limits the flow of individuals, and consequently their ideas, is unfavourable to society as a whole.

Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist that boldly embraces his complementary role as an activist, is famously known for saying, “My favourite word? It’s ‘act.’”

We must go further and assert that creative actions need to be inclusive of as wide an audience as possible. By avoiding exclusivity, artists can help deepen the discussion on discrimination and instill hope on a larger scale. Love trumps hate, and so does art.

No animals were harmed in the making of this article

Despite reassuring captions, animal actors still face dangers on set

No animals were harmed in the making of this article

In both film and television, animals portray some of the most beloved characters. From Lassie the Rough Collie to Babe the pig, animals have embodied some of the most iconic characters in popular culture.

It is crucial to ensure that these animals are always treated with care and respect.

On January 18, 2017, a video from the set of the recently released film A Dog’s Purpose was leaked by TMZ; it showed a German Shepherd resisting to enter a pool of turbulent water. After finally being coerced into the waves, the dog struggles to stay afloat and submerges below the waves at the end of the video. At this point, the crew presumably rushes over to remove the dog from the water.

The video instantly went viral, with several allegations of animal abuse levelled against the filmmakers. Ultimately, a third-party investigation concluded that there was no harm done to the animal actor. Star Dennis Quaid, producer Gavin Polone, and the author of the film’s source material W. Bruce Cameron had all denied having witnessed any form of animal mistreatment and claimed that the video had been taken out of context. Additionally, there was speculation that it was rather suspicious that the video, which was filmed in 2015, was leaked immediately prior to the film’s release.

Nonetheless, the video managed to renew conversations about the treatment that animals face on film sets. In recent years, several incidences of animal cruelty in the entertainment industry have been publicized.

A video released in 2015 showed animal trainer Michael Hackenberger whipping a Bengal tiger and proclaiming his enjoyment for intimidating the animals.

Hackenberger had served as an animal trainer on the set of Life of Pi, the film that was the subject of an email by the American Humane Association (AHA) — a group that supervises the safety of animals during production — which revealed that a tiger on set had almost drowned in a water tank. Despite these incidents, the film was still labelled with the AHA’s ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ disclaimer.

During filming for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it was reported that 27 animals, including sheep and goats, had perished due to causes including exhaustion, dehydration, or drowning in gullies, even while under the supervision of New Zealand trainers during a filming hiatus.

The disclaimer that the film received was worded carefully: “[The AHA] monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.”

This isn’t to say that all films that use animal actors inevitably place them in dangerous situations. Many films using animals boast a clean record. But despite the AHA’s presence on film sets, incidents of animal cruelty can still occur, especially if precautions are insufficient.

Other organizations, such as the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), have also stepped in to provide further support on film sets, and ensure the safety of animal use in international media. The DSPCA provides guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals, consultation services, and onsite representatives to oversee animal training and film shoots, in addition to the services provided by the AHA.

CGI technology is also becoming a popular option for filmmakers. Its ability to produce realistic images makes it an option for replacing an animal actor when a scene involves a dangerous or risky stunt.

CGI has even been used to replace animal actors altogether when necessary, not only to cut expenses, but also to avoid the dangers that come with overseeing and training animals that may be difficult to tame. CGI may also enable animal characters to perform actions they are not naturally capable of.

Fortunately, the harm done to animals tends to decrease when awareness is raised surrounding this issue. In fact, since the AHA has become involved with film production, the number of reports of animal abuse caused by film production has dropped significantly. While the problem of animal mistreatment in the entertainment industry has not been eradicated as of yet, public discussion of this problem can only continue to find solutions.

Six hidden gems to up your fashion game

From Queen West to Kensington, here are 6ix clothing stores that deserve a closer look

Six hidden gems to up your fashion game

Allow the 501 streetcar to guide you to Toronto’s fashion mecca: Queen Street West. Shopping at any of the stores on this street will ensure that you’re on your way to becoming the coolest kid on the block — or at least in Con Hall.


416 Queen Street West

This store is for your inner fashionista, offering a similar style to Aritzia, but more affordable and unique. Durumi’s exclusive and high quality pieces guarantee that you’ll never be seen wearing the same thing as anyone else.

Must have: the Moschino phone case, of course, or any of their statement sweaters paired with some dainty but edgy jewelry.


438 Queen Street West

This urban unisex spot makes their clothing in the basement of the store, so customers can feel good about contributing to the local economy. All of Untitled&Co’s apparel is branded, which may give the store a Calvin Klein-esque vibe. But walking in is sure to make you feel as if you’ve entered the dopest Yeezy pop-up shop ever. From its neutral colours to oversized graphic shirts and hoodies, sexy sheer crop tops, and hats emblazoned with slogans like “waste ting,” there’s no denying that you’ll look like a ‘grade A’ Bella Hadid or A$AP Rocky after shopping here.

Two classic looks: a matching suede Calvin Klein-style bra and below-the-knee pencil skirt, or an oversized long-sleeved graphic tee.


552 Queen Street West

Sneakerheads, look no further, because I have placed the Holy Grail of streetwear sneakers before you. After entering this futuristic-looking store, you’ll feel as though you’ve scored front row tickets to OVO Fest, complete with blaring hip-hop music about to burst your eardrums. The shoes might be expensive, but you want to look good, right? This is a major upgrade from Foot Locker. Exclucity carries the classics with a unique twist, and the rarest shoes you can find.

Must haves: Adidas blush pink Tubular Doom PKs, Nike Air Max Uptempo 2s.

TSOQ aka The Store on Queen

662 Queen Street West

This chic, colourful, bright ladies’ boutique immediately brings to mind Honey or Mendocino. Its friendly and complimentary customer service is top notch. Prices range from affordable to ridiculously expensive, leaving you with a lot of choices, depending on what type of bills you’re paying that day.

Classic look: whatever suits your style; every piece here is an incredibly rare find.


418 Queen Street West

This vintage boutique definitely makes its hip-hop streetwear style known. While mostly for the male Urban Outfitters-types, many women also shop here. F AS IN FRANK is your go-to place for the sickest selection of graphic tees, plus incredible customer service from some very friendly people. They also carry walls of baseball caps, jerseys, windbreakers, and all things ’90s streetwear.

Must have: a graphic tee paired with a varsity jacket.

Sub Rosa Vintage

16 Kensington Avenue

This affordable haven for vintage lovers everywhere is a major upgrade from the popular Black Market. It might not be situated on Queen Street, but I couldn’t keep this mom-jean-addict’s den all to myself. Look for the store with an orange ribbon tied to the door and do your best not to be creeped out — you’ll be fine.

Classic look: the choice is all yours, you hipster, you.

Operating in a place between pleasure

DJ and author Jace Clayton on how digitalization has changed the musical landscape

Operating in a place between pleasure

In 2017, our existence is arguably defined by our membership in a networked civilization. From omnipresent smartphones and social media platforms to the malicious Stuxnet virus, the endless ways in which we currently use technology serve as proof that humans are now a cyborg species. We use technology to enhance our natural capabilities and to achieve things that we could not on our own.

The digitalization brought on by the World Wide Web has irreversibly restructured our universe. In culture alone, digitalization has forever altered the way we perceive, produce, and share content of any kind — and there’s also way too much of it.

According to Jace Clayton, who is alternatively known as DJ /rupture, technology’s current reign is a sign of the changing times: a new playing field that defines what it means to be human in the twenty-first century. His new book, Uproot: Travels In 21st Century Music And Digital Culture, discusses the implications of the digital age across music, art, and culture in our globally networked state.

Uproot is part cultural analysis and part autobiography; its critiques are anchored by Clayton’s experiences around the world as a DJ.

In addition to writing and lecturing on global culture around the world, Clayton has performed music under the moniker DJ /rupture for nearly two decades. He came into his own as an artist during a pivotal moment at the turn of the century: the globalization of the Internet and the creation of the MPEG-3 format for audio compression. “If globalization didn’t exist, MP3s would have needed to invent it,” he writes.

“The speed with which digital audio zips from one place to another has shrunk the world,” writes Clayton. “[My] tour travels in the early 2000s were kick-started by a paradigm shift in how music itself moves around.”

Clayton’s seminal 2001 mixtape as DJ /rupture, Gold Teeth Thief — a 68-minute global odyssey that juxtaposes the likes of Missy Elliot, Venetian Snares, Barrington Levy, Wu-Tang Clan, Kid606, Paul Simon, and countless others across three turntables — was originally uploaded by Clayton as a downloadable MP3 to his website, pioneering the format’s use.

Upon its release, the mixtape quickly became a worldwide critical hit, garnering awards from countless music publications and securing him a steady string of concert bookings across the globe.

“The logic that put together that mixtape — the logic that allowed all of those sounds to gather there… it hadn’t really entered the world yet, in a sense,” says Clayton, “I had to really, physically hunt down [each sound].” Indeed, in a world linked by file-sharing and streaming networks, anyone can create anything using content sourced from the Internet. It’s all a click away.

In one of Uproot’s case studies, Clayton explores the popularity of Auto-Tune software, from its corrective use in Western recording studios to the role it currently plays as an aesthetic element in various musical styles across North Africa.

The process that began with Auto-Tune’s usage in Cher’s 1998 hit single “Believe” and subsequent popularization by Lil Wayne, has been followed by its use in recordings of the Berber folk music of Morocco. These artists use Auto-Tune in a manner that Clayton refers to as a “cyborg embrace” in Uproot.

Clayton calls this “a recognition of the fact that we’re no longer as individual as we’d like to think we are.” No longer do we believe that we can simply manipulate our own tools.

Rather, he says, “the tools are talking to us… they’re transforming the way we see and look and experience the world.” The relationship between humans and technology is increasingly becoming a two-way street, a byproduct of our digitally-networked existence.

This sort of technological dependency, as well as encroaching fear of it, has been prophesied about for as long as humans have used devices to assist them. It’s been written about by figures from Marshall McLuhan to Isaac Asimov and William Gibson, who reminded us that our actions are determined by these computers’ behaviours just as much as we try to determine their output.

What is the future of music in our networked world, where each piece of data is rendered equal by digital processing? According to Clayton, though the array of music that we may access is vast, we often access it with much of its metadata stripped away. He describes this as “a kind of fundamental confusion between signal and noise… the sheer amount of communication [means] that the misunderstandings multiply as much as the connections do.”

Indeed, digitalization means that ignorance and confusion can travel as fast as the creativity and ideas that bring us together.

However, the rapid and often fragmented way in which digital information and technology spreads worldwide — what Clayton calls “Babeltronics” — does breathe a sense of optimism into what might otherwise be read as a bleak digital future. “We have all these different points of data and modulation and transforming that are pressing on us,” says Clayton. “The world is so interconnected… that all sorts of strange cultures result as a way of this.”

Music provides a starting point for discussion of technology’s equalizing powers. “Music operates in this interesting place between… pleasure, and what works, and what doesn’t… that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a rich topic to discuss,” Clayton says.

In our linked state, the possibilities of what can be done seem to be limitless. While we might be trapped by digital technology, we can still find ourselves in a web of potentials.

Show your work

The Varsity News Editor, Tom Yun, on the making of a story

Show your work

I’ve read many lamentations to the media in recent weeks from people who think serious journalism is withering away in today’s post-truth world, where emotion — not empirical reality — shapes public opinion, and ‘alternative facts’ are on offer to those who don’t like the ones the mainstream media report.

But I’m upbeat about journalism’s future. Here’s why: as the media deals with its crisis of confidence, it is also confronting, head on, questions of what it takes to keep faith with its readers, while staying committed to comprehensive, accurate, and fair reporting.

Media powerhouse Reuters, to give just one example of how outlets are responding, has pledged greater transparency in its reporting. It promises to tell more of the stories behind its news stories — how they get investigated, written, and finally, corroborated.

It is in this spirit that I sat down last week with The Varsity’s News Editor Tom Yun to bring to readers our own version of Reuters’ pledge.

Yun walks me through The Varsity’s reporting process and weekly production cycle. I ask him how he finds out about events unfolding on campus. “Every now and then we get tips,” he says. “The job would be much more difficult if it wasn’t for the eyes and ears of our contributors and our readers.”

Mostly, though, “it is knowing where to look.” Every week, Yun sorts through the meeting agendas for U of T’s governing bodies — Governing Council, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and the like. Sometimes, he’ll get a heads up about unfolding events from the university’s Media Relations team. Other times, he’ll go down to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to sift through statements of claim filed against the University, looking for leads. 

Yun tells me about breaking the news of leaked videos documenting prejudiced behaviour among St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) representatives, in a story he co-wrote with The Varsity staff Helena Najm. “It was actually an anonymous Twitter account that had been set up just to post the videos… and they mentioned The Varsity,” he says. The Twitter post gave his team a brief start in investigating the videos, but the story quickly blew up on Facebook, attracting a flurry of reactions from the community.

The controversy erupted late on a Friday evening. To ensure fair and balanced reporting, journalists give parties impacted by a controversy the opportunity to comment. The Varsity is printed early Monday morning, Yun tells me, “so when something hits us at the end of the week, we are sort of hamstrung with time constraints.”

Despite having less than two days over the weekend to get statements, The Varsity secured responses from the parties directly affected by the video leak. The story went to press with comment from the students who made the videos, the student whose house they were filmed in, SMCSU’s then-president, and the administration at St. Michael’s College. UTSU and the Muslim Students’ Association also issued public statements, which were included in the reported story.

I ask Yun about the use of the word “Islamophobic” in his column. Some readers felt the word was too strong of a label for the actions of SMCSU’s representatives. Yun points out that the article used the term only with reference to UTSU’s statement, which condemned SMCSU for “appointing an executive that engaged in Islamophobic and racist practices,” and the Muslim Students’ Association statement, which called for the dismantling of campus Islamophobia, “whether intended or unintended.” Still, Yun thinks that how a story gets reported should boil down to how the affected community responds. “If you have a lot of groups on campus who have been hurt by these videos,” he says, “then that is serious, and we should address it how it is.”

The SMCSU story — like all other reporting at The Varsity — passed through a team of fact checkers before going to print. Fact checkers examine reporters’ full interview transcripts to make sure no one is misquoted and substantiate other sources used in the story. At a time when the media is contending with President Donald Trump’s brazen fabrications, fact checking has taken on heightened salience — as the last safeguard against inaccuracies in reporting, which can undermine readers’ trust.

Yun’s commitment to The Varsity’s journalism — and to campus reporting more generally — is palpable. His job, he tells me, is to ask himself, “Why are people reading our paper instead of The Globe and Mail?” He thinks The Varsity’s unique strength is holding the university’s authorities and governing bodies accountable. U of T’s governing structures attract limited attention in Canadian reporting, but Yun points out that students pay considerable money to their university and student governments, “and it is important to hold these powers to a certain set of standards.”

It is this accountability role for campus reporting that makes Yun optimistic that, no matter how many Buzzfeed-style global media outlets emerge, The Varsity will continue to have purpose and place within the U of T community.