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Toronto Election 2014

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Weird Mayoral-Campaign Idea Evaluator: artificially intelligent traffic lights

As the 2014 mayoral campaign continues, the candidates are bound to advance plenty of policy ideas. Some of those ideas are bound to be really weird, whether because they’re impractical, crazily expensive, or just new and unfamiliar. In this occasional feature, we’ll pick a few of those types of proposals and weigh the odds of them ever actually happening.

What It Is: If it worked as advertised, this idea would be a magic bullet—a way for some lucky mayor to dramatically reduce gridlock virtually overnight (and, naturally, take all the credit for doing so).

There are other technologies that can supposedly make traffic lights smarter, but the one that keeps getting mentioned by Toronto mayoral candidates is called MARLIN-ATSC. The reason this particular system has become such a hot topic locally is that it’s being developed at the University of Toronto, by a team of researchers led by professer Baher Abdulhai and an engineering post-doc named Samah El-Tantawy.

The details are very technical, but the layperson’s explanation goes like this: MARLIN-ATSC uses sensors and computer processors to link traffic lights at different intersections, allowing them to “think” as one. Rather than operating on timers or reacting to pre-programmed instructions, MARLIN-enabled lights adjust the length of reds and greens in response to real-time data about traffic flows. The system can even make itself smarter, by fine-tuning itself automatically over time. In theory, the amount of human intervention needed to optimize Tornoto’s intersections would be minimal. The researchers claim their system can reduce intersection delays by 40 per cent.

Who’s Proposing It: Karen Stintz made the biggest splash with her proposal, but the system has also been name-dropped by David Soknacki, and John Tory met with researchers for a demonstration. Olivia Chow has promised to speed the implementation of “smart traffic lights,” but hasn’t mentioned MARLIN by name.

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People

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QUOTED: U of T student Wongene Daniel Kim, on why he went to the Human Rights Tribunal to avoid going to class with women

(Image: Nayu Kim)

(Image: Nayu Kim)

“I felt anxiety; I didn’t expect it would be all women and it was a small classroom and about 40 women were sort of sitting in a semicircle and the thought of spending two hours every week sitting there for the next four months was overwhelming.”

Last month, York University came under criticism for its attempts to accommodate a student who asked to be excused, on religious grounds, from doing group work with women. Twenty-year-old Wongene Daniel Kim went one better: according to the Star, the University of Toronto student took his school to the Human Rights Tribunal in an attempt to get himself exempted from attending a class in which he was the only male, simply because all the women were too scary for him. His complaint was dismissed. The class? Women and Gender Studies.

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Quoted: a U of T professor on why a controversial child eroticism researcher should be allowed into Canada

Dr. Kincaid is a really serious academic who has had a long career who has won two Guggenheims and they don’t just hand them out to pedophiles…His work is how society sexualized children. It’s not a “Yahoo, let’s celebrate pedophilia” event.

—Professor Barbara Cossman, director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, responding to a request by Charles McVety to keep controversial academic Dr. James Kincaid out of Canada. California-based Kincaid is due to be the keynote speaker at a U of T symposium this month called “Bodies at Play, Sexuality, Children and Classroom Life,” drawing on his research into childhood and sexuality.

That is, unless McVety gets his way. The child safety advocate and president of Canada Christian College has written a letter to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to request that Kincaid be stopped at the border. In it, he writes that “Dr. Kincaid is a well-known advocate for pedophilia,” in part because he believes that demonizing certain fantasies doesn’t solve the main problems of pedophilia. McVety goes on to write that Kincaid “has authored several books on the topic including Child Loving in which he states, ‘If the child is desirable, then to desire it can hardly be freakish. To maintain otherwise is to put into operation pretty hefty engines of denial and self-deception.’” [Toronto Sun]

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Culture

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Reaction Roundup: the 15 best responses to David Gilmour’s headline-grabbing gaffe about women writers

David Gilmour

At the 17th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Busan, South Korea. (Image: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images Entertainment)

The reaction to author and University of Toronto professor David Gilmour’s spectacular own goal has ranged from the amused to the enraged. Briefly: Gilmour did a interview with Random House blog Hazlitt in which he offered tone-deaf dismissals of just about all books not written by straight, middle-aged men. He then responded to the public outcry with a series of tone-deaf non-apologies in media interviews about the growing controversy. To some, the pile-on seemed unfair; to others, he got what was coming to him. Here, some of the choicest responses to l’Affaire Gilmour.

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Columns

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Jesse Brown: How to get a university education without paying tuition—or changing out of your PJs

The proliferation of online courses means anyone can get a world-class education for free. It’s all about upending the fusty old lecture hall model, and it’s about time

Jesse Brown: Technology

I’m studying sociology at Prince­ton in my spare time. I’m also taking game theory at Stanford, computer programming at the University of Toronto and equine nutrition at the University of Edinburgh. I attend class in my underwear, watch cartoons during lectures and cheat on tests with help from some of my hundreds of thousands of classmates. The classes I’m enrolled in are called MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses, available for free to knowledge-hungry students of life like myself through the educational website Coursera.

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Features

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The Audit: bank bonuses, the Blue Jays’ payroll and the month’s other notable numbers

The Audit: February 2013
$0
Total increase for the 2013 Toronto Police Service budget, notably less than the $21.4 million Chief Blair requested.

$6
Monthly fee to read the Toronto Sun’s “premium articles,” a designation that includes the Sunshine Girl but not breaking news.

$77
Cost for a six-pack of Westvleteren XII, a rare beer previously sold only at the Belgian abbey where it’s brewed. At the Yonge Street and Queens Quay LCBO, all 120 cases sold out in four minutes.

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Features

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50 Most Influential 2012: nine formidable Toronto power couples

The Power Couples

Individually, they’re among Toronto’s biggest bigwigs. Together, they’re unstoppable. Here, a look at the Toronto power couples defining the city today.

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People

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Q&A: Amjad Tarsin, U of T’s new Islamic chaplain, on Gaddafi, TIFF and moving to Toronto

Amjad Tarsin, a 28-year-old law school dropout with a fondness for fantasy lit, is the new Islamic chaplain at U of T

Q&A: Amjad Tarsin

U of T’s Muslim Chaplaincy hired you in September after a lengthy search process. What will your role be?
I’m essentially a counsellor who has a religious background. The concept of the chaplain was originally a Christian idea, but nowadays you have all kinds of chaplains—Jewish,
Buddhist, Muslim.

You’re 28. Was youth something the search committee was looking for?
I’m not sure. I have a master’s degree in Islamic studies, and I worked for a year as chaplain at Fairfield University in Connec­ticut, but it also wasn’t that long ago that I was at university myself, so I can relate to the students. My focus in undergrad was English, Arabic and Islamic studies, and then I did two years of law school at the University of Michigan.

Why did you leave law school?
I enrolled for the wrong reasons. In undergrad, I’d get into arguments about all kinds of things, and at some point I thought I should be a lawyer. But Islamic studies were where my
heart was.

How would you describe your upbringing?
My parents are very religious. They emigrated to the U.S. from Libya in the early 1970s to escape political persecution under Gaddafi. They were very involved in speaking out against
his dictatorship.

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Features

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Eight portraits of the affluent, educated professionals flocking to Toronto from around the world

Becoming Torontonian

As the global economy fizzles, our city is being inundated with a new cohort of foreign professionals. They’re coming for the stable economy, the chart-topping livability and the promise of a steady job. Meet the new refugees.

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Features

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What Toronto Needs Now: Richard Florida offers a manifesto for a new model of leadership

The city’s great period of growth won’t continue if we don’t enlist the best and brightest minds from Bay Street, the universities and the public sector

Richard Florida: What Toronto Needs Now

Richard Florida believes Toronto should take a cue from innovative city-building strategies in Silicon Valley and Chicago

In 2007, when my wife and I moved here from Washington, D.C., Toronto was ascendant. I’d been offered a job at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank investigating the competitiveness of cities. Toronto, it seemed to us, was an open, tolerant place offering a superb quality of life for its wide range of citizens. It was a destination of choice because of its thriving, stable economy, world-class banks, medical centres and cultural institutions, safety and livability, and diverse neighborhoods. It appeared a model of social cohesion, where people from across the globe were attracted to the prospect of a better future. Toronto’s best days were ahead.

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The Goods

Street Style

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Street Style: 20 looks at campus style at the University of Toronto

In movies, college students are usually dressed as die-hard spring breakers (tube tops, miniskirts, backwards caps) or exaggerated New England prepsters (argyle sweaters, pleated skirts, leather satchels). Happily, when we stopped by the U of T campus on a sunny September morning we found a much more eclectic array of looks. A perfectly proportioned swing coat with patterned tights, a hipster-meets-rockabilly ensemble and an RCMP coat from the 1960s all showed that a fully developed sense of personal style comes with thought and effort, not age.

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The Dish

Random Stuff

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Go ahead and eat that banana: a local academic (and Margaret Wente) argues local food’s benefits are bunk

Fresh, local and environmentally foolish? (Image: Alfred Ng from the Torontolife.com Flickr pool)

In our exploration of foodie resentment last year, locavorism ranked high on the list of gripes. Now, the 100-mile diet backlash is making headlines again. Margaret Wente, who’s already taken her swipe at organics, took local-love to task in her latest Globe and Mail column. Sure, Wente enjoys her garden tomatoes as much as the next person and doesn’t mind shelling out “a dollar a carrot” at the farmers market—but she doubts it does any good for the environment or society at large.

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People

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SPOTTED: Jake Gyllenhaal in…Scarborough?

Jake Gyllenhaal at UTSC (Image: Instagram)

That’s right! Jake Gyllenhaal is at University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus today, shooting An Enemy. Jakey G was spotted wearing his costume for the film, which includes a squared-off wool tie, and an untucked shirt. Kind of like a hotter version of Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson.

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Real Estate

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GALLERY: See which Toronto buildings took home Pug Awards this year

This year’s Pug Awards, a kind of people’s choice awards for Toronto architecture, were handed out last night. After a month of online voting, the Centre for Green Cities at Evergreen Brick Works and 83 Redpath ended up with the prizes for the best new commercial and residential building, respectively. You may have missed your chance to pick the winners—and losers, since Pug identifies the bottom-ranked buildings in each category as well—but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a look at all the prize-winning designs and let us know if you agree. 

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Features

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Editor’s Letter (June 2012): Sarah Fulford on the reasons to love Toronto

Sarah FulfordLast winter, on a week-long escape to Florida, I noticed something surprising: TD and Royal Bank signs along the highway near Sarasota, interspersed among the various Targets, Barnes and Nobles, and IHOPs. What was going on? It turns out Canadian banks have been aggressively expanding into the U.S. since the recession, snapping up struggling consumer banks. TD now has more branches in the States than it does in Canada. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, a little piece of Toronto was occupying the landscape—unexpected outposts of Bay and King planted along the strip malls of America. Perhaps because I’m so used to seeing American mega-stores colonizing the Toronto streetscape, I found the role reversal refreshing. A sign, I thought, of Canada’s new place in the world.

Then I returned home and was bombarded by talk of the new age of austerity. Ontarians are being told that the next decade will be characterized by tough decisions about education, old-age benefits, health care. We’ll have to decide what we value most, where we want to spend and what we can cut, and we’ll have to cook up some new revenue sources, like casinos. And yet I’m having a hard time squaring all this austerity talk with what I see in Toronto. All around me are signs that the boom times are back.

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