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| VOLUME 32, NUMBER 13 | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, 2002 | ISSN 1199-5246 |

Astronomically Speaking: What's up there?
By Paul Delaney

Click here for Mel Blake's March Starchart

In the 1950s, a science fiction film called "It Came from Outer Space" was made. It was a rather good film by SF standards exploring humanity's reaction to a first contact situation, our encounter with extraterrestrials. This theme of course has been done numerous times since then, sometimes better but more often worse. My point however, is that the "It" was another civilization (aliens) according to the film, when in actuality the "It" is much more likely to be a rock moving at 10s of kilometers per second, roughly a kilometer or two across!

I have mentioned in a previous article that the disappearance of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago is likely to have been caused by a small asteroid (maybe a comet) impacting upon the Earth, generating spontaneous combustion in many parts of the world, sending forth shock and tidal waves and ejecting mega-tones of dust into the atmosphere which blocked the sunlight and depressed the surface temperature of our planet by several degrees celsius for thousands of years. What's more, this catastrophic event seems to happen on a regular basis according to geological records. It is estimated that a rock of one-kilometer size impacts upon the earth every million years or so! Smaller rocks rain down more frequently. For example, a rock perhaps 100 meters across exploded above the Tunguskar region of Russia in 1908 causing wide spread devastation to an almost totally uninhabited region of the world.

These statistics may seem both pessimistic and irrelevant all at the same time. When you think that a human life span is a mere hundred years at best and that civilization as we know it has been around for perhaps 10,000 years (depends on the definition of civilization somewhat), you could be forgiven for thinking a rock impact every million years is nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, there is nothing predictable about such impacts...the next one could be tomorrow!

Indeed, every year astronomers monitor relatively close passages of minor planets to the Earth. Most of these celestial wanderers are faint, hard to see with anything but the largest telescopes on the planet. However, in 1996, the very bright Comet Hyakatake passed within 15 million kilometers of the Earth (to be exact, on March 25), exceptionally close by astronomical standard. It is not as rare a nearby visitor as we once thought.

Interestingly enough, the search for such prospective "missiles" is of great interest to astronomers. Over the last several years, efforts have been underway to find near Earth objects with a view to locating them in sufficient time that we could, theoretically, alter an intended rock's course so as to avoid its impacting upon the earth. Such searches are being carried out in many parts of the world but with surprising reluctance from governments. In fact, only about 10-million dollars annually is being spent world wide for searches that may identify objects that could destroy civilization in a matter of moments. The energy a one-kilometer rock moving at 15 kilometers per second could deliver to the earth is significantly more than the combined firepower of all the world's nuclear arsenals combined. Have no doubt that if such an impact occurred, the results would be absolutely devastating to humanity.

Of course, there is the question of what to do about an impending impact. At this point in time, most of our efforts are designed to see a potential dangerous object. This is difficult enough. A rock only one kilometer in size is faint and very hard to detect until it is almost upon us.

Confirming orbits is also a challenge, especially when such rocks can be swayed by the gravitational pull of any of the planets in the inner solar system. However, if all parameters are met and we know there is an object on a collision course with the Earth then currently our options are very limited. By all accounts, our ability to lift a payload out of Earth orbit to intercept an incoming object is very limited. (It is always questionable what classified military capabilities exist...) Even if we were able to deliver a sizable payload (nuclear?), is that the best strategy? Unlike the films "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact", breaking up a big rock is probably beyond our technology at this time.

As "Deep Impact" portrayed (somewhat correctly), you would end up with an enormous rubble pile that would rain down on the planet causing a significant amount of destruction. Better perhaps to try and nudge the rock, changing its orbit enough to fly-by the earth rather than collide. This requires we know about the minor planet a long time in advance so only a subtle change in course would be needed to affect such a fly-by result. In short how best to deal with the threat of an incoming minor planet is unclear.

I hate this to sound so gloomy but it is interesting food for thought. The various spaceguard projects that are being conducted around the world by astronomers receive less funding than the best-paid professional sportsmen. Yet it is these searches that may reveal humanity's destiny...or lack thereof. You sometimes wonder about our priorities.

York University Observatory continues its public viewing program every Wednesday evening, commencing at 6pm and running for two hours. Join the staff to gaze at the planets of our Solar System, the Moon (if visible) and the other wonders of the night sky. Admission is free but donations are always welcome. Dress appropriately as the domes are neither heated nor cooled. For more information, phone 416-736-2100, ext. 77773.

Paul Delaney is senior lecturer in York University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, and master of Bethune College.


Terrorist attacks on US: How have they affected activists?
Gerda Wekerle, David Bell, Pablo Bose and Liette Gilbert
By Cathy Carlyle

From left: Gerda Wekerle, David Bell, Pablo Bose and Liette Gilbert

"Planning Transformations Speaker Series" panel: Gerda Wekerle, FES professor; David Bell, FES professor and director of the York Centre for Applied Sustainability; Pablo Bose, FES PhD candidate; and moderator Liette Gilbert, FES professor. The series is sponsored by York's Faculty of Environmental Studies with support from the Urban Studies Program.

Have activist groups been repressed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Is there a future for protest groups and the promotion of sustainable development post 9/11? As part of the "Planning Transformations Speakers Series", a York panel raised several such questions and gave their own perceptions.

Gerda Wekerle - Wekerle said that after the attacks, North American society felt a deepening need "to connect, to create powerful change. I think a lot of the grassroots activist movements are in a new cycle and are engaging in adaptive strategies to survive.

One sign of change she has seen is in the right-wing religious groups, where "spokespersons and politicians were quick to demonize social movements immediately after the terrorist attacks in the US," she said. "They blamed civil- and abortion-rights groups, feminists, gay and lesbian groups etc. for secularizing America and making it vulnerable to attacks."

Wekerle felt the media was partly responsible for the general public's altered attitude, saying it "reframed dissent as terrorism". For instance, in a New York Times article late last year, anti-globalization activists were termed "highly-organized and well-funded foot soldiers". Front-page newspaper photos of activists with bloodied faces are probably a thing of the past, she said, "because the notion of engendering sympathy for protesters, particularly anti-globalization protesters, is not part of today's media agenda."

At the same time, groups in Canada and the United States pushing for an increase in spending on surveillance and other security measures have shot up. "And some social movements have piggybacked on this `security' agenda. For instance, the food security coalition in the US has had an increase in funding...to protect food and water supplies in case of disruption and contamination by terrorists. Local energy networks may receive more support for such things as wind energy power as an alternative to oil power and our reliance on it."

Some organizations, for example those fighting to preserve the ecosystem and pushing for "smart" growth, are not viewed as a threat to national security and may have fallen under the radar screen, she said. "These may be areas in which activism will continue to flourish."

Pablo Bose - Bose felt that the "repression of dissent" had begun prior to the terrorist attacks in the US, citing actions taken against protesters at the Quebec Summit and the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. "A very real erosion of civil liberties has taken place, especially in the amount of anti-terrorist legislation, but it is not new," he said. "This erosion is a fact of life for marginal communities."

Speaking of his own research in the area of Narmada, India, he said the government there has had plans for decades to build a series of dams that would result in large-scale flooding, the displacement of 250,000 people and serious effects on one million others. The benefits touted are that parched land would be irrigated, there would be drinking water for many and new hydro electric power provided.

"But protesters have been asking, `Will flooding these areas better the lot of these people? Or will it pose greater health risks, loss of forest areas for wildlife, soil erosion and so on?' The opposition to this project has been persistent, and there has been the formation of a broad-based coalition of farmers, landless peasants and labourers," said Bose.

However, he said, police violence against peaceful protesters escalated after the terrorist attacks. "And, because tension was increasing between India and Pakistan, the Indian government began to clamp down severely on internal dissent, saying `We're at war now'."

Bose then asked, "In the context of today, how does one question a project about national development in an era of hyper-territoriality and jingoistic fervor?

David Bell - Bell talked about his involvement in peace research, then posed the question: "Can we achieve a peaceful world where terrorism no longer exists, or is that a pipe dream?"

He said, "There is a classical Roman aphorism which says, `If you want peace, prepare for war'. If you take this view, then what is required for peace is to build up your country's military presence. And those of us who differed from this view in the 1970s, when we were involved in peace research, were regarded as security risks."

Bell went on to discuss another perspective which says, "If you want peace, prepare for peace" - the motto of the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, Juniata College. "The question is, how do we prepare for peace in the context of international terrorism...when Bush has signalled his unwavering resolution for retribution, and when some Americans are keen `to bomb the bastards back to the Stone Age'?"

Clearly, said Bell, if you're going to achieve a peaceful world, it will have to be one that is sustainable. Yet, he added, Bush's opinion of sustainability has "already shown up in [his refusal to sign] the Kyoto Accord, and in his insistence that, if a coalition is formed to fight terrorism, it must be governed by terms set down by the United States."

People must ask themselves how to promote a culture of peace, he said. "One of the lessons to be learned from the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 is that history is important in the sense that injustice has a long memory.... If nothing is learned then people revert to their old responses and there is a deepening spiral of revenge."


YES I Can! joins CSA to find the next generation space robots
By Michael Todd

York University will contribute its expertise to the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA's) Next Generation Space Robot Design Challenge, a learning-based contest open to all intermediate and senior secondary school students enrolled in Canadian schools.

Experts associated with York University's YES I Can! Science Project (supported by York's Faculty of Pure and Applied Science) along with MD Robotics (Ontario) and the CSA will act as judges for student submissions.

"We don't know the actual number of projects that will be coming in," says Yes I Can! spokesperson Susan Stiff. "The projects will be theoretical blueprints and plans rather than built models. The challenge is to get kids to think about alternatives to design a next-generation remote robotic arm like the Canadarm. Canadarm2 is pretty much perfect, but these kids, the ones in high school and public school right now are going to be the ones who will be working on future space robotics projects. The future is with them."

The challenge is for students to take their knowledge of science and technology concepts and translate them into a feasible space application - the new generation of space robot used to move payloads on the International Space Station.

The engineers and scientists at CSA, MD Robotics and York will share their knowledge and expertise about robotic, science and technology application by responding to question from student participants in the challenge via CSA's Web site.

A finalist team will be chosen and students and their mentor will be invited to the CSA for a full day of robotic simulation training - the same training astronauts from all over the world take as they prepare to use the Canadarm2 in space.

Team members also will have the opportunity to discuss details of their submissions with engineers during a student/professional exchange and, finally, students will be given the opportunity to visit one of the private sector contractors that contributed to the development of the Canadarm2.

York's Yes I Can! Science Project is a resource database designed specifically for K-12 teachers in Canada. It contains more than 5,000 curriculum-specific lesson plans, activities, background information and assessment rubrics ( www.yesican.yorku.ca ) and has some 100,000 downloads every month, notes Stiff.

The CSA coordinates all aspects of the Canadian space program and is committed through the theme of space to heighten students' levels of science literacy and develop a life-long interest in the study of science and technology.

MD Robotics is one of the world's leading space robotics companies specializing in robotic and engineering solutions for space and terrestrial applications. It is a business partner of the CSA.


Stem cell research: the next bandwagon

By Michael Todd

A Stem Cell Primer

DNA - abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid which makes up genes

Gene - a functional unit of heredity which is a segment of DNA located in a specific site on a chromosome. A gene directs the formation of an enzyme or other protein.

Somatic cell - any cell of the body other than egg or sperm (reproductive cell)

Somatic cell nuclear transfer - the transfer of the nucleus from a somatic cell into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed

Stem cells - cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to develop into specialized cells

Pluripotent cells - capable of giving rise to most tissues of an organism

Totipotent cells - having unlimited capability. Totipotent cells have the capacity to specialize into extra embryonic membranes and tissues, the embryo, and all postembryonic tissues and organs.

It's the latest in "regenerative" medicine and no doubt has many investors scrambling to get on the medical-miracle bandwagon. Stem cell research is the next-big-thing and holds the promise of repairing nerve cells for victims of Parkinson's Disease, or muscle cells for people suffering from MS and the list goes on, as Janet Rossant, researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, pointed out at the recent Bethune College-sponsored symposium on stem cells and the issues and controversies surrounding them.

A large panel of various experts addressed the social and ethical controversies surrounding this new research frontier to a capacity crowd of intent listeners most of whom appeared to be students.

But what exactly are stem cells? Stem cells have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to give rise to specialized cells. They are best described in the context of normal human development. Human development begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg and creates a single cell that has the potential to form an entire organism.

This fertilized egg is totipotent, meaning that its potential is total. In the first hours after fertilization, this cell divides into identical totipotent cells. This means that either one of these cells, if placed into a woman's uterus, has the potential to develop into a fetus. In fact, identical twins develop when two totipotent cells separate and develop into two individual, genetically identical human beings. Approximately four days after fertilization and after several cycles of cell division, these totipotent cells begin to specialize, forming a hollow sphere of cells, called a blastocyst. The blastocyst has an outer layer of cells and inside the hollow sphere there is a cluster of cells called the inner cell mass.

The inner cells mass cells are pluripotent - they can give rise to many types of cells but not all types of cells necessary for fetal development. Pluripotent stem cells undergo further specialization into stem cells that are committed to give rise to cells that have a particular function. Examples of these include bloods stem cells which give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets; and skin stem cells that give rise to various types of skin cells. These more specialized cells are called multipotent.

The most far-reaching potential application of human pluripotent stem cells is the generation of cells and tissue that could be used for "cell therapies". Many diseases and disorders result from disruption of cellular function or destruction of tissues. Today repairs are generally made using donated organs, but they are in short supply. Stem cells offer "renewable resource" for all sorts of illnesses from Alzheimer's to spinal cord injury to stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes etc.

Mount Sinai's Janet Rossant raised the question of how we can control the promise of stem cell research for regenerative medicine. "It appears there is some concern over where we get these cells...fetal gonads are one source. It could be possible to clone stem cells so you could match your own genetic makeup otherwise there are issues of tissue rejection from outside donors," said Rossant. "Could adults use their own? People are excited about that. Some adult stem cells are restricted but others seem to be pluripotent. If we work with adult stem cells vs. embryonic ones...that is obviously less of an ethical issue."

Liora Salter, Osgoode Hall Law School professor, spoke on the area of public policy. "Not all large scale research such as this comes to the attention of government which sets policy," said Salter. "My perspective is that there should be public debate about issues such as stem cell research, but often public debate goes askew or in a direction we don't want it to go."

Salter said it's a question of values. "The debate is really about that. We are pro-science but also afraid of what it may portend. Science is complex and when we talk about it in the public sphere we should not take the complexities out...that's where science communicators and journalists have failed us. It's all about science's wonders but not about the subtleties and complexities. An ethical or value debate - like science itself - is also coloured with many questions and uncertainties."

John Dick, researcher in blood systems with the Hospital for Sick Children, said anyone interested in stem cell research should be cautious about how to interpret the information on stem cell research and how it is reported in the paper. "Thousands of people have already received stem cell `therapy' in the form of bone marrow transplants. The length of this research is long. It's not as you might infer from the media stories that you'll go into your doctor tomorrow and ask for stem cell treatment."


Senate Synopsis

At its 485th meeting held on Jan. 24, 2002, the Senate of York University:

  • approved, as recommended by the Senate Executive Committee the following recommendations concerning a report prepared by the Special Sub-Committee on the State of the University:

  • that senate adopt recommendation 1 of the report of the Special Sub-Committee on the State of the University and in doing so ask that senate establish an Action Committee responsible for the further fulfilment of the special sub-committee's mandate;

  • that the Action Committee be mandated to transmit recommendations 2 through 16 of the report of the Special Sub-Committee on the State of the University to the appropriate bodies, request and receive responses from those bodies that will include comment on the transmitted recommendations as well as alternate recommendations arising from consideration of the sub-committee report and present a report on the disposition of the recommendations no later than January 2003.

    The complete text of the minutes will be posted on the University Secretariat's Web site at www.yorku.ca/secretariat/senate/ after they are approved by senate. For further information on any of these items, please contact the University Secretariat.

    Next Senate Meeting

    4pm on Thursday, March 21, 2002, in the Senate Chamber

  • Students flock to York's employment fair

    In February York's Department of Career Services hosted a summer employment fair for students in Vari Hall. Some went there with resumés in hand, seizing the opportunity to job hunt on the spot at booths set up by the more than 50 employers. Others browse


    Pat Armstrong is Still Going Strong
    By Carol Bishop
    Pat Armstrong

    Pat Armstrong

    York sociologist Pat Armstrong is helping to shape the debate over health care reform in Canada. In study after study, she has sounded the alarm over creeping privatization, the erosion of universal health care and nursing shortages. Armstrong speaks with authority on health care policy, especially as it affects women as workers and as patients. She chairs a national working group on health care reform and is a partner at York's National Network on Environments and Women's Health, for which she has produced studies on the health care reform in Ontario and on the impact of restructuring in long-term care.

    As Canadian Health Services Research Foundation/Canadian Institutes for Health Research Chair in Health Services, Women's Health Policy and Politics, she is expected to educate and mentor students in her area of expertise. She will develop a graduate program to train students in health policy and politics, emphasizing women's issues, with input from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and the Women's Health Bureau at Health Canada on applied health services and policy research issues.

    Speaking at the Brownbag Research Seminar 2001-2002 Series in January 2002, Armstrong's talk titled "Who Cares? A Hundred Years and Going Strong" examined the issue of unpaid caregiving in Canada. Deinstitutionalization, early hospital discharge, day surgery and cutbacks in public health service have all led to an increasing reliance on family and friends in general and women in particular as caregivers. She based her talk on two of her recent studies on caregiving.

    The following excerpt is from One Hundred Years of Caregiving prepared in 2001 for the Law Commission of Canada.:

    "Unpaid caregiving today is both the same, and fundamentally different from, such caregiving at the beginning of the 20th century. The context for care has changed enormously, and along with it, the nature of care.

    Canada entered the 20th century as a producer of raw materials and goods. It ended the century as a producer of services. Rapid urbanization accompanied this transformation, a transformation made possible in part by the development of a welfare state. Especially in the years immediately following the Second World War, the welfare state helped reduce inequality in income, in access to services and in employment as well as in human rights protections. So did unionization and the entry of many more married women into the labour force to do this new service work. At the same time, less discriminatory immigration regulations fundamentally altered the racial and ethnic composition of the country. Smaller, more mobile families, with fewer children and more often involving a divorce, reflected changes in the economy, in access to birth control and divorce, and rising female labour force participation. Common-law relationships and openly gay or lesbian relationships became much more common.

    Formal health care services expanded rapidly and became widely accessible through public intervention. Along with improved nutrition, housing, income, sanitary and employment conditions, these developments meant both that more people survived with a disability and that more people lived into old age. Some new diseases, such as Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS, emerged just as many infectious diseases disappeared. New technologies, combined with health care reforms focused on deinstitutionalization and cost-cutting, not only increased enormously the number of people cared for in households but also transformed the nature of the care provided. Although most women and men are in the labour force (and for the same reasons) and most children are in school, the care demands on households have both grown significantly and taken on new dimensions as highly complex care is transferred to the home. There is much more diversity in the demands for unpaid care and in the household resources available to meet these demands.

    At the same time, cutbacks in the welfare state are now reducing or eliminating other supports such as public housing, transportation and employment protections. This, in turn, increases the inequality in access to services and supports. In spite of these massive changes, some things have remained much the same. Unpaid care is still primarily women's work, especially in terms of the most personal and time-consuming aspects. And families and friends are still willing to provide all the support they can, even to the detriment of their own health and personal relationships. Laws still require children to support their parents and spouses to support each other, although it is not clear if this extends to health care services and the laws are seldom invoked.

    Then, like now, the great diversity in family forms and resources meant very different capacities for care. Volunteers and private-non-profit organizations continue to work in partnership with governments to provide supports. But they, too, are increasingly overwhelmed by the work, just as they were at the beginning of the last century. And once again, much like a hundred years ago, governments are raising concerns about an aging population straining public resources and blaming families for failing to take responsibility for their care.

    Throughout the century, families and friends, volunteers and strangers have participated in unpaid caregiving, often finding this a rewarding experience. But the rewards are few if the relationship is one of coercion or without supports and relief. Indeed, caregiver burden may mean poor health for the caregiver, poor care for the care recipient and highly strained personal relationships."

    One Hundred Years of Caregiving can be obtained from The Law Commission of Canada, 1100-473 Albert St., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8.

    Armstrong's companion publication Thinking It Through discusses specific guidelines for thinking about women caregivers.

  • They should be simultaneously concerned with the similarities and differences of women caregivers.

  • Analyses of women's work should locate women within both their general and their specific environments.

  • It is necessary to examine the ways globalization, states, markets, communities and households penetrate and structure each other, each influencing how the others operate.

  • Critical questions need to be asked about who pays for care and at what cost to which women.

  • It is important to explore questions about the time and locations of care. Where, when and for how long is care provided?

  • The nature of power should be explored, along with the means of enhancing the control women have in providing and receiving care. Power is primarily about access to resources.

  • Care needs to be understood as the objective, not the problem. It needs to be understood as a relationship, rather than simply as a task.
  • Thinking It Through can be obtained from The Maritime Centre of Excellence on Women's Health, 5940 South Street, Room 40, PO Box 3070, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3G9


    A Garland of English Song" wreathes York
    Michael Herren and Sterling Beckwith

    Michael Herren (left), York distinguished research professor of classics and humanities, and Sterling Beckwith, York professor emeritus of music and humanities, were two of the performers at the recent "A Garland of English Song". With professor of music Dorothy DeVal as piano accompanist, they sang several selections of music by composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), who based the chosen pieces on poems by Thomas Hardy and plays by William Shakespeare. Interspersed with the musical renditions were background talks about the poet and a dialogue from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, given by professors of English Maurice Elliott and Christopher Innes. PhD student Elaine Rusk spoke about Finzi. The event was part of Winters College Faculty Performance Series.


    "The Brandy of the Damned": two great musical evenings at Glendon
    By Marika Kemeny
    The Vocal Ensemble

    The Vocal Ensemble

    For Shakespeare, music was "...the food of love". On the other hand, G.B. Shaw's sardonic eye observed that "...hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned". On Feb. 5 and 6, the Glendon Musical Ensemble presented its fourth annual classical music recital, "The Brandy of the Damned", bringing alive Shaw's theme for the enjoyment of an enthusiastic audience on both evenings in the Glendon Theatre.

    The program was an eclectic mix of popular pieces (dance tunes, incidental music, love songs, prayers set to music and lullabies) from the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Italy, Germany, France and England. A few a capella numbers by the vocalists were followed by some solo and choral pieces with instrumental accompaniment. After a short intermission, the instrumentalists returned to perform a number of solos, duets and orchestral pieces. The performers built on the first night's experience to deliver an even more professional and outstanding performance on the second night.

    The Glendon Musical Ensemble (GME) was founded four years ago by former student George Cummings in order to provide the Glendon community with access to the rich corpus of pre-20th century European music (i.e. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic). When Geoff McGuire, its current music director took over this year, he faced unexpected challenges. Last year's ensemble had lost almost all its members to graduation and had to be entirely rebuilt. Since the majority of the newly recruited singers had no previous experience, they required considerable attention. The instrumentalists, on the other hand, were highly competent, but limited in number. An added complication was McGuire's own lack of leadership experience.

    "Owing to all these factors, our program for this year was necessarily less ambitious than in previous years," McGuire explained. "The key to success, in my opinion, was to take a number of simple pieces and perform them well. I chose to focus on Renaissance and Baroque music, not only for reasons of personal preference, but also with the knowledge that such pieces, while harmonically rich and rhythmically interesting, tend to be less demanding of singers and require fewer instrumental resources. It took several months to put everything together, but if audience reaction is any measure of success, I would say we pulled it off quite nicely!"

    What is it like to participate in the ensemble? One of the vocalists, 4th-year student Ellen Lamb describes the hours of practice and preparation as essential. "When we walked onto the stage and saw all the faces looking at us, our hearts were pounding. The moments before we began to sing were filled with anticipation and dread! All our hours of practicing with only ourselves as audience would now be tested. How would we sound in performance? Then we began to sing and the anxiety melted away. As we hit the final chord of our first piece, there was silence. Of course, we had asked the audience to hold its applause till the end, but this meant no feedback on how we had done! But when the crowd began to clap with great enthusiasm after the next piece, it fed our courage and excitement. It was a great experience for all concerned. I can't wait till the next concert."

    Guy Larocque plays the treble viol

    Guy Larocque plays the treble viol

    Glendon alumnus Guy Larocque, currently Glendon director of External Relations, is both a vocalist and instrumentalist in the ensemble. When asked what motivated him to join, Larocque reported that he was very much impressed by the quality of last year's performances. He was approached by the previous music director to bring his experience with baroque instruments to enhance the scope of the ensemble. They also needed tenors and basses for the vocalist group. "There is nothing like the joy of playing or singing in harmony with other performers," according to Larocque. "Interpreting polyphonic music presents a great challenge to singers and players alike."

    When asked what classical music meant to him, Larocque underlined the significance of music within the humanities, as defined by the Renaissance ideal. It is an integral part of a liberal arts experience, which is Glendon's raison d'être. "For me, music is essential for happiness, it is an important part of my daily life. Music is the richest food of the spirit," he added, echoing Shakespeare.

    Larocque played some unusual baroque instruments during the two evenings: the treble and bass viols. Though they are related, viols form a separate family of instruments from the violins. Viols are more resonant, nuanced and subtle. They are also polyphonic (like the lute and the guitar) as opposed to the monophonic violins. The two solos performed by Larocque, Les bergeries of François Couperin on the treble and Bach's Goldberg Variation Aria on the bass viol demonstrated the wonderful, intimate tones of the instruments and displayed his impressive virtuosity.

    Another vocalist, Maria Mikhailitchenko explains why she joined. A new Canadian who came to Glendon to complete her studies, she found the ensemble a wonderful way to meet new people with similar interests. Majoring in Spanish/English translation, Maria considers classical music a perfect complement to her practical training. "You might call my participation in the ensemble a hobby which allows me to relax and my soul to rest. I like diversity and enjoy music from every part of the world. But my favourites are among the classical European composers, J.S. Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Traditional? Maybe! But I just love it. I met wonderful people, learned lovely music and enjoyed every moment of it. And using this occasion, I would like to thank our conductor, Geoff McGuire and my fellow participants for this great experience."

    The Baroque Quartet

    The Baroque Quartet

    Members of the audience, such as Assistant to the Principal Aviva Abramovitz were greatly impressed with the Glendon talent that was displayed during the concerts. Associate Principal Louise Lewin was equally enthusiastic. "It was a wonderful evening. There is evidently so much talent at Glendon; it is great that they have the chance to perform and to share their gifts with us. There were parents in the audience who expressed their pleasure at their children's opportunity to perform and to enhance their musical experience. And performers such as Guy Larocque, representing alumni and administration, provide a wonderful example to students through their participation."

    What is the future of the ensemble? Music director Geoff McGuire is optimistic, given that the new members have years of Glendon life ahead of them, as well as the positive experience of this year's activities. McGuire indicated that there would be further recruitment drives in the near future to bolster the ensemble's ranks with additional aspiring musicians. The GME's next musical event for this academic year will be a "Breakfast with the Principal" taking place in March. Another project recently undertaken by the ensemble's music director is to encourage the members to start composing their own music in the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles. "My own feeling is that these musical genres are essentially dead if not continuously recreated, and that musical composition should never be reserved exclusively for the `professionals'. Only time will tell if such a project can be realized."

    (Photo credit: Duncan Appleton)


    New Horizons in Cancer Research at York
    By Derek Irwin

    John Heddle

    John Heddle

    There is some very exciting research in genetics of cancer going on at York University. Professor John Heddle of the Biology Department is looking into how certain genes may be going awry during repair or reproduction. He is using funding from NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) to look into this matter.

    "DNA damage is actually occurring all the time," Heddle explains. "It occurs as a result of ultraviolet light from sunlight, or naturally occurring isotopes from the earth. Of course, x-rays can also add to this, or maybe some chemicals found in food like cooked meat. We've discovered that certain genes are particularly prone to be mutated in cancer. We believe that indeed the reason cells become cancerous is because of these mutations."

    Normal cells have a very specific function. A skin cell is supposed to divide a limited number of times, and then slough itself off. When it does not obey the programming to "die", and instead continues reproducing, it forms a cancer.

    The difficulty is in determining which genes are responsible for becoming cancerous. This is where "knockout mice" come into play. These are no relation to "blind mice", but rather mice in which a normally-functioning single gene has been deleted or deactivated in some way. This in turn is very helpful in giving scientists insight into what that particular gene is for. There seem to be a number of genes that are frequently mutated in cancers, one of which is P53.

    "The P53 gene is mutated in about half of all cancers," says Heddle. "So since a mutation is something that occurs spontaneously - something like one in a hundred thousand, or one in a million cells for any given gene - turning up in 50 per cent of cases is not chance. This is causal in some way."

    One of the problems is that researchers really don't know why this gene is so important. It is involved in a number of processes. One theory is that P53 is involved in telling the cell that it should die. This is a normal function of cells, and a very important one. If a cell suffers a certain amount of mutation, it is beneficial to the whole organism that it should be terminated.

    "For a cell to say `I'm mutated and have become a hazard to the other cells and must die' is not an unreasonable thing," points out Heddle. "Your eyeball cells, your liver cells, your skin cells, have all given up their right to specifically pass their own genes onto the next generation. Only your germ cells can do so - it's genetic bargaining. A cancer is an abrogation of that bargain. Cancer cells are saying, `No, I'm going to divide, and reproduce, and I don't care what you say.'"


    It is therefore a strong possibility that when the P53 gene mutates - if it is indeed responsible for the determination of the cell's mortality - the cell is no longer given that command to die. To complicate matters is the fact that this mutation is recessive, and therefore of little consequence to the cell. It is only when the mutated gene is reproduced, and then recombined with the same mutation - making the copies of the DNA homozygous - that the condition is truly dangerous, at least on a cellular level. Heddle believes that there exists a genetic mechanism that accounts for this process, and that when the P53 mutants become homozygous, cancer is more likely.

    Knockout mice with the P53 gene missing are therefore a vital part of this research. Heddle is hoping that experiments with them by Lorien Newell, a graduate student, will show that P53 acts by increasing either the mutation rate or the probability that mutations will become homozygous. The findings from his study, if he is correct, will be a leap forward in determining not only the processes behind certain kinds of cancer, but also hopefully in finding forms of prevention.

    "The point is," says Heddle, "that as long as it's a black box, and we don't know what's really going on here, we don't know whether we can fix it, change it or prevent it. But even if we only find out this is part of the cancer process we can't influence, it might show us what we should be concentrating on."

    Derek Irwin is a master's student in English and writer in York University's SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge) program. The program was initiated by NSERC (The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) in 1999, based on a model developed at the University of Guelph.


    Showcase of student plays celebrates 10 years
    By Martha Tanock

    This is the 10th anniversary of playGround, the annual showcase of short, original sketches by York theatre students. Student artistic directors Natalia Goodwin and Scott Penner characterized this year's entertainments as ideas "disguised in dramatic performance". With some exceptions, they creatively struggled with typical young adult concerns - mcjobs, money, dreams, identity, purpose, the future and love, love, love. Talent glimmered in all and beamed from a few. Depending on written audience feedback, these works in progress, listed in order of presentation, may be developed even further.

    What Are You Laughing At?

    Two clowns gleefully descend on a tropical beach for a day in the sun. All is well until one (Courtney McNamara) discovers the other has no ears and can't hear her squeals of joy. She flails her arms, roars down a tube, cuts out paper ears for her, straps her into a blinking monster of an amplifier and, when all else fails, mouths words in a vain attempt to teach the deaf clown (Andrea van der Neut) to speak.


    Clown (top) Courtney McNamara tries strenuously to make deaf clown Andrea van der Neut hear in "What Are You Laughing At?" by van der Neut.

    Frustrated and annoyed with the hearing clown's indignities, the deaf clown rips off the hearing clown's ears. It takes no time at all to teach the hearing clown to sign. School children would love these sweet clowns and grasp their clear message perfectly. Developed by Andrea van der Neut, American Sign Language student whose grandfather was deaf


    Nightmare phantoms torment a sleeping woman yearning for love. A clue to the inspiration for this loose collection of prose and poetry rests in the recited phrase from Maureen Medved's The Tracey Fragments: "Only in darkness is my truth told, fragments of my mind exposed." Teetering between sentimental and comic, these fragments are less a collage and more a scrapbook of unsatisfactory relationships with mothers, boyfriends and girlfriends. Written by Alice Toyonaga and Melissa McNamara

    Is That For Here Or To Go?

    This is a flashback of two distraught employees (Jeremiah McNama and Kris Pedlar) fired from one fast-food restaurant shooting the competition's manager and holding his bewildered customers hostage. The mirror-image structure of this piece, its plot and its characters creates symmetry but not understanding. Where the script means to wring sympathy for exploited mcworkers who lose their jobs, the actors deliver farce. Written and directed by Jeremiah McNama and Kris Pedlar

    Screwing For Virginity

    Consider this an audition for This Hour Has 22 Minutes. A male and female news anchor insult Americans. A segue to an item on President George Bush begins "and speaking of idiots." A report of evangelist Gerry Falwell's condition after an accident: "unfortunately his condition remains a bigot." A press conference creates yet another opportunity to mock Bush. Then we're all staring at a TV over the stage watching an anti-McDonald's commercial that ends with a package of fries fleeing across a snowy field. The message? "Resistance is futile." It's as cryptic as the title. Written by Josh Kerr

    Romeo and Julio

    In subverting the characterization of Shakespeare's famous classic, this sketch also demonstrates how impoverished modern language is. The nurse (Tania Berindei) who mourns "two star-crossed lovers" speaks the bard's poetry, so artful compared to the single-word grunts coming from the locker room where our modern-day Romeo (Kevin MacLeod) is preparing for a basketball game. The contrast continues to jar when Romeo spies gay Julio (Marc Chalmers) across a crowded dance floor and mumbles "I feel really connected to you now." Well, not for long. The inarticulateness of these 21st-century lovebirds is the reason we don't understand the attraction and why it went wrong. Choreographed dance numbers highlight the difference between then and now, between waltze and hip hop. Written by Kristen O'Reilly, initiated by Joshua Huston

    Baby Steps

    A young man (Matthew McNama) tries to persuade his reluctantly pregnant girlfriend (Michelle Gram) to have the baby. He pulls out all the stops - marriage, a house in the suburbs, taking care of the child himself - without success. As a last resort, he battles for prenatal custody. Matthew McNama and Michelle Gram bring this simple, understated drama to compelling life and turn a difficult moral issue into a deeply personal struggle. Nothing is superfluous in this production. The set is simply two chairs, every word counts and tiny gestures speak volumes. Written and directed by Deanna De Lello

    Call Waiting

    Two young thugs (Serge Plourde and Brendan Narancsik) kidnap a rich girl (Sadie St. Denis), tie her to a chair and wait for orders - and their fee. So anxious are they, they speak in word-bullets and finish each other's thoughts. "What's..." "What?" "That." "A gun." Nothing happens until one falls for a ploy by the hostage, who professes love and promises money if he lets her go. Fear and desperation result in tragedy and the puzzling punch line: "She was right. It's not about money or love but about waiting." Written by Joey Mercier

    Choose Ice

    Girls in red togas stand on chairs, chew ice, jog in circles, tell jokes, speak in riddles, fall down, put on puppet shows behind dead bodies. The program gives a clue as to why this concoction is impossible to decode. It was adapted from works by Umberto Boccioni, Bruno Corra, Giacomo Bala and William Shakespeare. The subtitle is Futurism for Females. A brainteaser for sure! Written by Ann McDougall


    Roszell hugs Sharman

    Shannon Roszell hugs Jason Sharman, best friends in "Tripped".

    In search of herself, a lesbian (Shannon Roszell) packs to go to London while her best friend, a gay guy (Jason Sharman) disappointed in love, perches on her bed and watches. They talk about love, dating, cheating, happiness. In between hugs and declarations of "I'm going to miss you," they spout little gems of wisdom they've learned about life.

    In one, he awkwardly turns to us and declares he's an actor, a student, a son, a friend. "I don't have to be gay to be me." The title comes from this pearl, gleaned in London: "It's as if I've tripped over my own sanity." Written and directed by Dave Deveau

    Wading Through Her

    It takes some time to unravel the story here as we wade through paeans of love, choruses of love, clichés of love. Poetic words, clever metaphors seem to be the meat of this drama, at first. ("I used to think of marriage as a plate glass window begging for a brick.") Until we meet the dead Louise's eloquent, graceful grieving lovers. The slow, mysterious unfolding of the rose that was Louise astonishes. Adapted by Tania Davidson and Angela Hanes from Jeanette Winterson's novel Written on the Body


    A shrill, hysterical young man (Peter Kuling) in army fatigues blasts into a hotel room, followed by his girlfriend (Alice Toyonaga). She's angry. He's killed a cop, given protesters a bad name. He is possessed by a frenzy that blocks his ability to hear or express himself clearly, though we and his calmer, more reasonable girlfriend get it when he holds a gun to his head. This potentially intense drama speeds to its predictable conclusion. Written and directed by Danielle Ouellette

    A Moment's Remorse

    Sara (Jessamyn Needham), promiscuous and cynical about love ("It's just bodies on top of bodies, putting things in holes."), leaves her live-in of three years. She leaves a note on the kitchen table: "Dear Danny, Gone out. - Sara XO." After three months, she returns and confesses to us over coffee that he is her touchstone. He, she decides, can help her find herself. There's hope for him. It isn't clear that he takes her back. Written and directed by Natalia Goodwin

    Goodwin and  Penner

    PlayGround artistic directors Natalia Goodwin and Scott Penner

    In Queue

    On a Friday night, bored Simon (Dale Yim), an articulate 20-something gay guy muses about waiting for life to happen. Thomas (Duncan McCallum), a less mature gay guy sits by the phone waiting for a special someone to ask him for a date. His pal Amy (Courtney McNamara) comes over to wait for him to get ready to go out with her and her friends. While the two men obsess over the meaning of their lives and finding a suitable partner, Amy hogs the phone, teases Thomas, pleads with him to come out, gets up, sits down, straddles the back, perches on the arm of the couch. The two men move in and out of the spotlight, on and off the couch in a homey living room set that cleverly doubles as different apartments in this finely tuned, funny and engaging piece. Written and directed by Scott Penner


    How Germany reached the middle ground on embryo research
    By Martha Tancock
    Andrea Fischer

    Andrea Fischer

    On Jan. 30 the German Bundestag passed a revised Embryo Act. It prohibited the harvest of new human embryos in Germany for research but allowed researchers to import already existing embryo cells.

    The compromise appeased both sides in a media-fuelled debate about genetic research that riveted 80 per cent of the nation and made strange bedfellows of feminist pro-abortionists and right wing conservatives, said Andrea Fischer, German Green Party politician who helped draft the legislation and played a leading role in the debate.

    Fischer recounted this thorny, often emotional debate at a Feb. 5 Faculty of Environmental Studies PhD seminar co-sponsored by York's Canadian Centre for German and European Studies, York International and the University of Toronto. Her tale is one country's response to an issue as divisive and enduring as abortion.

    In Germany, scientists eager to participate in the Human Genome Project forced the revisions to the restrictive 1999 Embryo Act. The act allowed embryo manipulation only for reproductive purposes.

    Fischer, who was health minister from 1998 to 2001, had introduced major health care reforms and initiated a national health dialogue. In May 2000, she organized a national conference to address the growing controversy over genetic research and genetic applications, specifically embryo stem cell research and pre-implantation diagnosis (PID).

    Usually such debates draw a small, expert audience. But a Frankfurt paper "played a significant role in giving the conference wide-spread attention," she said. Its extensive, award-winning coverage of a difficult topic inspired newspapers all over Germany to enter the debate. "It had a major impact on why Germans were paying attention."

    But politicians dragged their feet about revising the Embryo Act. "Politicians are always reluctant to deal with personal things," said Fischer, who was first elected to the Bundestag in 1994. Then impatient scientists declared in favour of embryonic research and sparked heated public reaction. Politicians had to do something. The chancellor appointed an ethics council, whose credibility was questioned, then parliament named Fischer and two others to a three-party committee to propose legislation on embryonic stem cell research.

    The committee presented parliament with three options. Vote yes for embryonic research, vote no or vote for a compromise. After two votes, the compromise won, by a small majority over the no votes. Yes, scientists could do embryonic research, but not on new embryonic stem cells only on imported, already available stem cells. It was a pragmatic solution, said Fischer, that reflected the majority public opinion. "Two thirds of the population want a solution that enables research but takes care that embryos are protected."

    The vote created surprising coalitions. Liberals were totally in favour. Pro-life conservatives, Catholics and Protestants said no. Oddly, so did Green Party pro-abortion feminists, because they viewed embryonic research as the colonization of women's bodies, said Fischer.

    Germany's Embryo Act is stricter than those of other European countries, said Fischer. On issues such as this, Germans recall Nazi experimentation on humans. Though the Nazi past never surfaced in this particular debate, it was a subtext, she suggested. Using embryo stem cells for genetic research or allowing genetic testing of embryos before implantation hints of eugenics. Organizations for disabled people opposed embryonic research because "these can most clearly see the subtext of German history and they are aware of the danger of using people's bodies for third-person purposes that might be endangering the future of other people."

    Fischer herself would have preferred stricter limits on embryonic research. After the compromise vote she worried that they had "opened the flood gates."

    Like the debate over abortion, the debate over embryo stem cell research is fraught with emotion and unshakeable positions. People react to the idea of genetic research emotionally and intuitively, said Fischer. It cannot be distilled to a purely rational argument. There will always be moral dilemmas, she said. "Parliament must give all those people who fear some trust and respect."

    "I'm quite sure that this debate will never be closed. There will be a debate for the next 10 years." In this case, "we got a compromise, but not a real consensus."

    The issue of genetic research and applications is not like pension reform, she said. "Everybody has to live with this and maybe we have to live with inconsistencies and mixed feelings and live with the fact that you will change ground for future decisions."

    "As a politician, we will have to look at what would be wise, not right."


    York Perspectives
    With spring just around the corner, the York community can look forward to lunch on The Common once again.

    The Common


    Shelf Esteem
    By Michael Todd

    Political science Professor David-Leyton Brown's new book, Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs 1995 (University of Toronto Press, 2002), covers Quebec's referendum on sovereignty which dominated politics and public affairs in Canada in 1995. While it seemed like everything else was eclipsed in importance, many other matters of consequence occurred. The economy was generally in a state of recovery, but there was not as much new employment as hoped. Governments at the federal and provincial level continued to grapple with budget deficits. Controversial new gun control legislation was introduced. Trade and peacekeeping dominated the foreign and defence policy agendas, with public confidence in peacekeeping and the Canadian military eroded by the ongoing Somalia affair.

    Featuring essays on Parliament and politics, Ottawa and the provinces, external affairs and defence, the Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs provides a comprehensive account of the year's events. The Canadian Annual Review has long been praised for its excellence. Known for its accuracy, readability and insight, it offers a synoptic appraisal of the year's crises, controversies and developments from both federal and provincial perspectives.

    * * *

    Portuguese Women in Toronto (University of Toronto Press, 2002) by social science Professor Wenona Giles takes a new look at migration in this innovative study of Portuguese women by examining the gender, class and race relation of the immigrant Portuguese population from the micro level of personal experience to the macro level of the long-lasting societal repercussions of immigrant status and welfare on their children. Comparing across two generations of Portuguese Canadian women, the book delves into issues such as cultural heterogeneity among Portuguese immigrants, the ambiguity of work and gender politics, the concept of "home" versus nationalism, and raises concerns about the way in which global, political and economic inequities have affected Portuguese women's citizenship.

    The book draws on more than 60 interviews with Portuguese immigrant and community workers in Toronto. Giles' case study of Portuguese women sheds new light not only on Portuguese immigrants to Canada, but also on Canadian nationalism, immigration and multicultural policies and their connection with national and global economic situations that affect all immigrants to Canada.




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