Trailer Trash hits Toronto

This Friday, Hart House Theatre will host the Canadian premiere of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, directed by Will O’Hare. With a lengthy and impressive resume — including a 2008 appearance as the Fool Hart House’s production of King Lear — O’Hare has traveled all over the world, directing, acting, and instructing in the theatre arts. We sat down with him to talk about his latest endeavour and what it’s like to be the Hart House ambassador of trailer trash.

The Varsity: How did this production come to Hart House? How did you become involved as a director?

Will O’Hare: Yeah, right, okay, so: Great American Trailer Park Musical. Jeremy [Hutton], the artistic director, contacted me last spring about directing the opening show for the season. So we started reading through a whole bunch of comedies because we thought we would kick off the season with something really funny — just get people to have a good time. We were looking for something high energy. And the music director, Kieren [MacMillan] , and Jeremy, came up with doing The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Kieren had seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival [in 2008]. It had also played off-Broadway in New York and a few other places in the states, but it had never been done here. And my sense of it is that Hart House, over the past couple of seasons, has been doing these edgy, high energy, almost irreverent musicals like Jerry Springer: The Opera and High Fidelity. This seemed to fall into this area that Hart House has been exploring.
I was assistant director to Woody Harrelson on Bullet for Adolf when we started talking about this, then I read it and thought, “this is pretty funny!”; then I listened to the music and there was this great rock and roll score. It was all about creating a world that was vibrant, edgy, kitschy, and fun. And that’s how that came about as far as selecting it. I also think that because I’m an American — I’m actually from the South — [Jeremy] thought, “well, if someone is going to direct The Great American Trailer Park Musical, then it has to be an American.”

TV: This performance marks the first run of The Great American Trailer Park Musical in Canada; what’s the pressure like in directing the “national premiere” of something?

WO: Oh yeah, that’s an interesting one. Well, I think that there’s this thing where you’re expected to be an American or southern expert. You feel like you’re representing the country or, especially coming from the South, a region. Being from the South, I’m often turned to as the authority on trailer parks. But this play takes place in northern Florida and one of the things I’ve tried to impart on the cast is that I come from Tennessee, and the way that Tennesseans look at the world projected in this play is like the way Canadians see the South in general. It is a bit foreign, a bit like, “oh wow people really live like that.” I also think that Canadians really enjoy finding moments where they can laugh at their southern neighbors, and I think that this play does that in the best spirit. It’s actually a celebration of everything that’s “trailer trashy.” This musical is about finding that kitsch element and highlighting it, as opposed to the darker elements of [this world].

TV: Would you say that the play perpetuates or breaks American trailer trash stereotypes?

WO: It definitely does do that, but it also points out how these are real people who go through their own [real] problems. There is a number in the play called “The Great American TV Show,” which is this nightmare dream sequence that parodies all those talk shows like Sally Jessy Raphael and Jerry Springer. By seeing those characters on TV, people tend to go, “oh well, I’m not going to feel so bad about myself and how messed up my life is, because these people [are so much worse].” The play does function in that way of “oh let’s look at this world,” but it also has this heart to it; which is what I think is really the key. There is all this kitsch, and it’s so over-the-top, but at it’s heart is a family that is getting reunited and a couple that is rekindling the love in their marriage that over 20 years has faded away. I feel like we’re all set up to laugh but at the same time there’s that moment that makes us go “ah that’s us.”

TV: The synopsis describes “hysterical pregnancies,” “death row hi-jinks,” and “chain smoking Camels.” How do you approach those stereotypes to make them more real and relatable?

WO: I think that part of it is acknowledging that each of those stereotypes or the things you read in the description are put in there for laughs. We are setting it all up as funny. But when that joke that is so ridiculous and over-the-top is over, that’s when the central characters stop and actually look at each other. That’s the part that is real. Everything doesn’t have to be big and broad and funny, “boom!” Take this couple Jeannie and Norbert, they’ve lived in the same trailer [for twenty years], but she’s agoraphobic and can’t come out of her trailer. That’s the big problem with their relationship. She has never left this tiny space and even though they’ve been in that cramped space forever, they don’t really look at each other. In this play, they’re forced to examine their relationship.

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TV: Do you have a favorite character or one you enjoy working with the most?

WO: [laughs] It actually rotates every rehearsal. The chorus are these three women, “the wives of the trailer park,” who act as guides. They set everything up and then become characters that interact with [the other main characters]. They change in and out of that, but they have their own personalities as well. One, Lin, she’s great, her husband is on death row in prison and she’s seen just about everything in life, so she doesn’t put up with any BS. She cuts down anything that’s too happy. You know, she’s kinda sardonic. She just cuts through everything. Then we have Betty, who’s the “momma.” She runs the place and takes care of everybody. Then there’s young Pickles who’s only seventeen-years-old, and always thinks that she’s pregnant. She’s eager about everything but isn’t quite as sophisticated or as knowledgeable of the world. I find that they are just a lot of fun.

TV: Is there one character you would want to play yourself?

WO: Well there are only two men in the play. One’s Norbert , the husband, who is a toll collector. He’s been in this marriage for 20 years, and his wife won’t leave the trailer, so he’s a bit at the end of his rope. Then he happens to meet this girl at a strip club, and it makes him feel more alive than he’s felt in a long time. And I can certainly identify with somebody who feels like they’ve fallen into a rut and needs a spark or something like that, but in terms of pure fun, I’d want to play the character of Duke. So the stripper, Pippy, is on the run from her ex-boyfriend [Duke] and here’s this guy who rolls into town looking for her. He has a particular addiction to sniffing markers and is a little bit psychotic, but because he’s the kind of character that is just always on the edge, on the fringe — the actor, Justin [Bott] who is playing him is just fantastic — there is this freedom to make really interesting choices. [Duke’s] not a character you run into everyday. He’s a little dangerous, and is just strange. You never know what he’s going to do. I think that would be a lot of fun to play for sure.

TV: What do you think it is about this material that makes it perfect for musical theatre?

WO: I think there is this great send up with musical theatre. We imagine that with musical theatre we’re in a world that is beautiful, almost perfect. It’s “boy meets girl” and “boy loses girl.” They’re singing songs and there are some beautiful dances. Then you have [The Great American Trailer Park Musical], and you’re in this place that is so stark, it could be the most depressing environment being in a trailer park, but [the musical] flips that on its head and says, “how can this be spectacular and beautiful and brilliant?” It’s that celebration of everything that is trailer-trashy. It’s the same feeling if you go to a theme park that was built almost 50 years ago. I know that Scott Penner, the stage designer, did a lot of research looking at trailer parks. What I found particularly fascinating is that you see these signs for them, and they all have this aspiration of the American dream. It’s kinda cool. You imagine that gloss, that sheen, and although the sign might be rusty now, these people are still chasing their dreams, they’re trying to improve themselves and trying to better their lives. I think that idea is very attached to what the American dream can be, which is something particular to [musicals].

TV: You’ve worked on Shakespeare productions quite a bit in the past. Is directing something like Shakespeare’s Macbeth different from directing something like this? How do you address the differences in focus and audience?

WO: It’s true! It is absolutely different, but there is a function that is also really similar. In Shakespeare and classical work the text is very heightened, but so is it in the musical world. Sometimes there is something that a character in Shakespeare can’t express unless they go into verse, usually when they’re incredibly emotional that they switch from prose into verse, and it’s the same thing with musicals. You’ll have a scene between two characters and one character needs to express something to the other character, or share with the audience what they’re going through, and at that moment, at the height of that emotional moment, [in Shakespeare] they go into verse, but in musicals they go into song. Usually, the structure of a musical song has a lot of similarities to the structure of a Shakespearean monologue. The first verse or the very beginning deals with a problem in the moment: “this is what I’m facing.” Then through the song finds a solution or makes some kind of decision like, “this is what I need to do,” or “this is how my story can move forward,” which is VERY similar to how a Shakespearean monologue works. I find [the similarities] remarkable in that regard. The sensibility and tone in a play like Macbeth is very, very different [from The Great American Trailer Park Musical], but there is still this need to share with the audience, and this play knocks down the fourth wall a lot. Like I said, you have these chorus figures that directly bring the audience along with the story. Shakespeare does that too, the fourth wall rarely ever exists [in Shakespeare]. Those for me, have been my hooks as a director as how to approach it.

TV: You’ve worked in both New York and London — how does Toronto compare? Are there particular things you like or dislike about the city? How is the theatre scene different between the three?

WO: [Laughs] How many words do I have to answer that one? I love Toronto, as a city and as a theatrical city. I think what I really love about the theatre scene in Toronto is that it’s very accessible. We have an incredibly talented group of people working on this play, from designers who work at Stratford, to performers who work in New York, Japan, and all over the place doing incredible work. Here you have people who are just beginning and are in the early part of their career, maybe right out of school, who are working side by side with veterans and professionals, putting stuff like this together. I find that a place like Hart House is not something that would necessarily be able to exist in New York. I feel like wherever I go in this city and work there is this feeling.
I spent a lot of time this summer checking out the Fringe [Festival]. The entire theatrical community seems to come together for the Fringe. Whereas in New York, the theatre scene is incredible, but there is kind of a Fringe festival going on off-Broadway 365 days a year. So when they have their [official] Fringe, I don’t know if the city even notices because there is so much going on [all the time]. Here, I like the fact that people are aware of what shows are going on and what people are doing. It makes me feel a real sense of a close knit community, which is fantastic. In New York and London, the energy is great, but you feel like a lot of things can also get buried.

TV: The subject matter you deal with in this show is definitely unconventional. Do you have anything you’d like to say to people who are maybe hesitant or skeptical about The Great American Trailer Park Musical?

WO: The goal is to have a good time and have a great night out. The show is irreverent, the humour is irreverent, so it’s the kind of thing that is not done all the time. It’s not polite. It’s all about a willingness to come and just have fun. There are these great cultural references from the eighties from Lifetime television, to Meredith Baxter-Birney and Sally Jessy Raphael, as well as other talk shows or ads that I remember from TV when I was a kid. I think the older generation will get a kick out of those. The composers really riff off of the past 30 years of pop culture entertainment.

TV: So you want people to be brave?

WH: Yes! Come come! I encourage you to dress up in your best trailer trash outfit, have a good time, join us at the bar. It should just be a lot of fun.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical opens at Hart House Theatre Friday, September 23 and runs through Saturday, October 8.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to film you

Few film festivals bring out a star-studded cast for their interactive programming. Luckily, TIFF decided to keep things high profile when they showcased hitRECord last Monday.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosted the event, which was devoted to original shorts and on-the-spot collaboration. The hitRecord website, which Levitt formed roughly five years ago, is a collaborative production company focused on the areas of video, writing, photography, and music. Artists from all over the world can share ideas and inspirations with this online community and work on projects as a collective.
Gordon-Levitt presented recent collaborations at TIFF’s Bell Lightbox and used the live setting to refine existing pieces. As host, the actor was incredibly engaging and enthusiastic, inviting audience members on stage to share personal stories, recite anecdotes, and even provide sound-effects for videos. Fresh from the premiere of his latest film, 50/50, he was even able to convince co-star Anna Kendrick to join him on stage and narrate a short story about first love.
Most surprising was Levitt’s insistence that audience members turn on all phones and recording devices, a direct rejection of every copyright infringement ad plastered across festival screens. Each smart phone and digital camera was aglow, granting everyone an opportunity to tape his or her own unique perspective of the night. An inspiring get-together, especially for Toronto’s young artistic community, the show deviated from TIFF’s usual style of programming that fixates on artists who have already secured success. HitRECord’s backing of digital remix culture at a time when Tumblr and Twitter are social network kings is commendable and very much appreciated. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has posted his own personal footage of the show on the hitRECord website – and after viewing it, you may well be inspired to start carrying around your own recording device on a daily basis.

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Tippin’ our hat to TIFF

Union Square

Dir. Nancy Savoca

Mia Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard star as two estranged sisters in this indie drama. The product of three women compelled to just shoot something, this hidden festival gem was predominantly shot in producer Neda Armian’s apartment in Union Square. Lucy (Sorvino) is a questionably-attired woman from the Bronx who is on the verge of a mental breakdown. She decides to visit her sister, Jenny (Blanchard), who can barely feign enthusiasm when Lucy appears at her doorstep. It has been three years since their last get-together, and the two women realize that they know little about one another.
Although spatially restricted, the budget had no bearing on the quality of the narrative. The apartment changes with the tone of the script, which jumps from elation to suspicion in an instant. Nancy Savoca skillfully shatters female stereotypes with these unexpectedly expressive female leads. Just over an hour, this film triumphs in its portrayal of the bond between two wounded sisters.

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A Dangerous Method

Dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is subtle and patiently executed, though hopefully only a temporary departure from his usual gritty settings and overwrought characters. The film revolves around the hostile relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), or two psychoanalysts working on the eve of the First World War. Both actors deliver well-paced, composed performances. Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a patient of Jung’s, forces him to reconsider the sexual bent of Freud’s work and introduces the main chaotic force of the film. Mentally burdened with memories of abuse, Knightley brilliantly demonstrates the physical pain of disturbance, becoming a contortionist with her body and face. However, she slips in and out of Sabina’s thick Russian accent, resulting in a comically self-aware performance.
Ultimately, A Dangerous Method lacks any real danger. There is much discussion by theorists hoping to discredit psychoanalysis, but we never see any heated debates or confrontations. The crucial moment when Jung and Freud sever their connection is demonstrated through streams of letters sent back and forth, draining the moment of any substantial drama. The script is intelligently written, and the sexual indulgence is a definite draw, but the real significance that this time period held for psychoanalysis is left unaddressed.

Take Shelter

Dir. Jeff Nichols

A desolate, rural Ohio town is the setting for a reserved man’s battle with mental illness ­­— at least that’s how Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) and his doctors understand Laforche’s series of nightmares. A construction worker with a wife and disabled daughter, Curtis is the main source of income for his small family. The household’s emotional and economic stability comes under pressure when Curtis’ visions begin to affect his conscious behaviour.
When birds begin falling from the sky in large numbers, and rain as thick as motor oil gushes down from above, it becomes clear that Curtis is dreaming. The visions leech off his energy and mental health, leaving him exhausted and physically injured.
Director Jeff Nichols plays on the terror of not being able to trust your own state of mind. Shannon’s versatile performance grabs hold of our sympathy while refusing to free us from the fear of Curtis’ increasingly volatile behaviour. Whatever you take from this film’s ambiguous conclusion, Take Shelter will prompt a reconsideration of the boundaries defining mental health.

Doppelgänger Paul

Dir. Kris Elgstrand, Dylan Akio Smith

Doppelgänger Paul (Or A Film About How Much I Hate Myself), revolves around Karl, a self-loathing part-time writer. After a near-death experience caused by a simple bee allergy, Karl becomes fixated on the last person he sees before blacking out — a scrawny copy editor named Paul. After recovering from the blackout, Karl can’t seem to get Paul off of his mind and soon begins following him, leaving letters in which he claims to be Paul’s double. When Paul agrees to meet this supposed doppelganger in person, he is instantly aware of the fact that Karl looks nothing like him. However, Karl is relentless, as he clings to their mutual love of travel agents and cheap-smelling dollar stores as evidence of a deeper connection.
This straight-faced comedy rightly points to every individual’s innate desire for recognition, even if it is completely fabricated. While Paul initially resents the idea that Karl is his binary, he unintentionally begins borrowing details from Karl’s life to recreate his own bloated self-image. This dark Canadian indie film proffers a witty look at the understandably strange methods some use to find meaning in life, and the degree to which arbitrary run-ins can significantly alter one’s sense of self-worth.

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The Oranges

Dir. Julian Farino

David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Carol Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) are two middle-class couples from Jersey who do everything together, from jogging to Sunday dinners. Their ties are shaken, however, when Terry and Carol’s daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester), returns home after a few years of jetting around the world. Nina instantly sparks drama when she hooks up with David one night as he shares details about his unhappy marriage. Alia Shawkat, who plays David and Paige’s daughter, Vanessa, sinks her head into architectural designs and recreational drug use to drown out the image of her dad in bed with her childhood best friend. Adam Brody plays the Ostroff’s son, Chris, delivering a repeat performance of his role as Seth Cohen from The O.C., as he unenthusiastically deals with two clashing suburban families. It is ultimately hard to buy the “connection” between Nina and David. Hugh Laurie comes off as an incredibly awkward sex object, and Nina seems driven more by boredom than true passion. You can predict the outcome long before the news of this unusual relationship becomes neighbourhood gossip. You just have to wait a good hour-and-a-half before the one-dimensional cast finally gives in to the stretched-out formula we all know and dread.

The Patron Saints

Dir. Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky

Canadian documentary, The Patron Saints, offers a dark and voyeuristic glimpse into a nameless nursing home for the disabled and the elderly. Shot over four years, directors Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky employ an atmospheric lens that floats through the pastel walls of the institution, dropping in on various residents along the way. By structuring the narrative around the candid stories of Jim, a frank and upbeat man who is the youngest resident of the institution, The Patron Saints effectively avoids the common problem of condescension. Instead, the film’s lyrical approach to documentation distinguishes it as a haunting reflection on human frailty. The film taps into our fears of seclusion, making us dread the day that we no longer self-reliant. Jim’s anecdotes introduce us to a vast array of cases — some sweet, some a bit disturbing. For instance, there is Roro, a disabled woman who was molested by her brother, her only regular visitor. However, even that one visit seems preferable when juxtaposed with scenes of distraught mothers crying over their children’s lack of concern for them. A trying emotional experience for all, The Patron Saints lets viewers wrestle with the significance of the fading minds and static bodies presented throughout the film.

Kill List

Dir. Ben Wheatley

Jay and Gal are suburban ex-soldiers who decide to revive their posts as hitmen in order to save their cash-strapped families. Shel, Jay’s wife, constantly pushes him to find work so that they can pay off escalating debts. Jay’s former partner, Gal, convinces him to re-enter the realm of assassins. The reason for the pair’s extended leave from a life of crime is only ever implied — references to a former botched job in Kiev continuously threaten the completion of their latest assignment. Everyday settings and Blair Witch-style camera work define the look of Kill List, bestowing the small London town with a tense atmosphere. Unanswered questions and mysterious symbols are thrown into the plot alongside Jay’s increasingly erratic behaviour; initially eliminating targets with a gun, he begins to prefer the unhurried satisfaction of hacking limbs and burning faces.
The reason Kill List has garnered so much critical attention is its unorthodox approach to the horror genre. Director Ben Wheatley transitions between story modes at a cleverly calculated pace. What initially starts off as a character study unexpectedly transforms into a gruesome thriller/horror amalgam. At the film’s conclusion, the bloodbath reaches such a level of excess that you’ll surely forget when the spats about buying groceries ended and the cult-like death matches took over.

Hystaria

Dir. Tanya Wexler

Hysteria is the best kind of big budget, high-gloss gala presentation, featuring a star cast and a beautifully captured period in history. Director Tanya Wexler’s first feature film in 10 years, the premise — the very true story of the invention of the electronic vibrator in the 1880s — provides a light-hearted and surprisingly comical take on the Victorian era medical scene. Wexler explains that “If there’s any critique of the film, it’s that Hysteria isn’t salacious enough. But I think it’s more subversive to make a film about the vibrator that you can bring your mom to.”
With little velvet curtain sliders dividing the doctors from their patients, the nether-regions explored are alluded to in the most amusing way. Historical figure Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is the protagonist of the film. Frustrated with the application of dated practices such as bloodletting and leeching among London’s medical establishments Granville moves from one hospital job to the next, in constant despair over the high rate of patient mortality. Granville soon stumbles upon the private practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) who has a booming business dealing with bourgeoisie housewives afflicted with “hysteria” — a catch-all diagnosis for everything from insomnia to depression, or anything else a man doesn’t understand about the female sex. Unable to properly attend to his growing clientele, Dalrymple takes on Granville as his assistant in the treatment of manual massage, a therapeutic procedure applied to a woman’s vaginal area. Though the women clearly enjoy the procedure, reacting with operatic singing and shouts of “Jolly ho!”, Dalrymple stresses that the treatment is not sexual in the least (orgasms still being an unfamiliar concept at the time).
Dalrymple’s daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who goes against her father’s wishes by running an East-End settlement for the poor, is a spirited woman who pokes fun at Granville for wasting his medical talents pleasuring bored housewives. When persistent hand cramps prevent Granville from getting the job done, he is discharged. Shortly thereafter, he joins forces with his wealthy mate Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), whose love of power tools is transferred to the invention of a hand-device capable of inducing paroxysms in women — in half the time a manual job ever could!

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Maggie Gyllenhaal, no stranger to sexuality in her acting repertoire, stated that Hysteria presented an opportunity for her to address the taboo behind female sexuality. “It’s about vibrators and women’s orgasms, and I don’t think people really do talk about it very much, and I think it does still make us flushed and uncomfortable.”
Wexler stated that she was well aware of the taboo-status surrounding depictions of women reaching climax; she got around the stern American rating system that would have limited the scope of her film by situating the unmentionable topic within a comedy. Dancy’s interest in the topic led to parallels between Hysteria and Cronenberg’s latest, A Dangerous Method: “In reference to the Cronenberg movie, it’s interesting that they’re dealing with hysteria but even with the time shift between the two movies, it’s completely different. In this case, it goes from a completely fabricated physical diagnosis, to an arguably fabricated psychological diagnosis.” What Dancy found most outrageous about the film was that men in the field of medicine were “without any irony, without any deception, diagnosing this nonexistent condition and doing what they were doing manually…failing to see there might be anything sexual about it.” With Gyllenhaal’s character serving as an advocate for women’s independence, the hilarity and strong social discourse of the film stems from everyone else’s obliviousness.

Why the world should support a sovereign Palestine

On September 13 the Palestinian Authority announced their intention to travel to the UN general assembly to call on the international community to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders. The Palestinians have given up on the Netanyahu government making meaningful steps towards peace. Israel has responded to the Palestinian resolution with indignation. Many in Israeli, American, and even Canadian politics are calling the moves by the Palestinians “a mistake” intended to “delegitimize” Israel. While this all remains to be seen, there is significant gridlock in peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. What is not being widely discussed is the very possible positive effects recognition of a Palestinian state could have for both Palestine and Israel?

Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank didn’t stop, nor did Palestinian violence towards Israel. Thus, negotiations have been sporadic yet ongoing.

After a 10-month settlement-freeze by the Israelis in September 2010, illegal Israeli-settlement construction in the West Bank resumed, and negotiations fell apart. Israeli PM Netanyahu has said that he is ready to renew negotiations at any time, but the Palestinian leadership remains adamant in their refusal to enter into negotiations as long as Israel continues to annex Palestinian land in the West Bank through settlement construction.

With negotiations stalled and Netanyahu unwilling to end settlement construction, the Palestinians are turning to the international community in an attempt at solidifying their claim to sovereignty. While many in Israel and the West remain apprehensive of the bid, an increasingly hostile regional environment, and growing internal unrest within Israel are showing that the possibility of recognition of a Palestinian state, and the entrenchment of the two-state reality, could in fact be beneficial for both parties.

In the summer of 2011, a growing social justice movement gained significant notoriety throughout Israel. In September upwards of 450,000 protesters took to the streets of Israel calling for increased social spending and lower rent. While Netanyahu has come out in support of reform, he maintains the importance of Israel’s ‘capitalist’ economy. Yet while people take to the streets to demand increased social spending, what is not being widely discussed is the fact that since 1967 over $50 billion has been spent on the occupation. In fact, while young Israelis who are unable to pay their rent sleep on the streets of Tel Aviv, the Israeli housing ministry is spending $540 million per year on settlement subsidies; the very settlements which today represent the primary obstacle to peace.

Netanyahu has, of course, steadily defended the settlements as necessary for Israel’s security. When President Obama recently called on both Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace negotiations based on the 1967 borders, Netanyahu called this unacceptable, as these borders represent an “indefensible” security situation. This was not the case in both 1948 and 1967, when Israel not only defended these borders but also expanded itself with combined offensives surrounding Arab countries. Today, Israel is a regional superpower and receives more US military aid then any other country in the world. Furthermore, when Netanyahu made a last ditch effort to persuade the Palestinians back into negotiations last month, he offered to base negotiations on the 1967 borders. While the Palestinians once again refused, it became clear that Netanyahu is willing to negotiate on the indefensible 1967 borders, but only if Israel was allowed to continue to build its settlements within them.

In 2011, the Middle East was a place of great upheaval; the regional norm changed significantly, and while many in the Arab world are calling for reform, Israel continues to face threats on all of its borders. With a string of recent attacks and further diplomatic isolation, as Israeli ambassadors are forced to leave both Ankara and Cairo, Israel is sitting at a crossroads. As the Palestinians, on the other hand, prepare to head to the UN, the World Bank has concluded that: “Palestinian public institutions compare favourably with other countries in the region.” Unfortunately, Hamas remains popular in Gaza. What does appear to be missing is a stamp of legitimacy, something the pro-peace Palestinian Authority in the West Bank could use to wrest power from Hamas if they attain UN recognition.

Both the Palestinians and Israelis are ready for the establishment of Palestine. Israel would be able to more easily address its growing social issues, and peace between the two parties could bring increased regional stability and normalization. If the Palestinian Authority attains UN recognition it can re-enter final status negotiations with the Israelis as a sovereign equal. Furthermore, Hamas will be significantly weakened, as Palestinians in Gaza may turn to the PA in hopes of a better future. When the Palestinian leadership travels to the UN in its bid for a Palestinian state, the world should support it — not only because it is pragmatic, but because it is just.

Olympian John Barrett to coach men’s volleyball

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Former CIS All-Canadian John Barrett has been appointed interim head coach of the Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team.

Barrett first joined the program in 2006 as assistant coach while serving on the national team selection committee and coaching at the National Beach Volleyball Practice Centre.

“I am grateful for this coaching opportunity,” said Barrett. “It is a privilege to be a part of a program with great history and to mentor these student athletes to strive for excellence. I look forward to improving in all sectors of the game, facing the challenges that lie ahead and building a team that will advance to the OUA playoffs.”

Barrett played at the University of Calgary and on the national men’s volleyball team. Highlights of his career include participating in the 1984 Olympic Games and winning nationals while playing at the University of Manitoba in his final year.

The Blues open their season against the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario on October 22, 2011.

Police for the people

After this last election the Harper government stated proudly that it would push an omnibus crime bill through Parliament without delay. The provisions that have led to the most scrutiny are the establishment of mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offenses, and the reinstatement of post–9/11 anti-terror provisions that allow police to detain individuals for up to three days without charges if they are suspected of terrorist activities. The ramping up of the war on drugs and terrorism has already happened in the United States, and to get a sense of what may be in Canada’s future, we need only look south of the border.

Similar programs have led to the racial profiling of two primary groups in the United States: African Americans and Arab (or Arab-looking) Americans. The most recent case was the removal, interrogation, detention, and strip search of blogger Shoshana Hebshi from Frontier Flight 623 after suspicions were raised about two Indian men she was sitting next to.
It is a well understood fact that relationships between police and black youth are abysmally poor in inner city neighbourhoods where young black men are racially profiled and, as a result, frequently stopped and searched without reasonable suspicion. This deterioration of relations between police and community has made it nearly impossible for police to solve crimes in the inner city, because many residents refuse to assist those they view as their oppressors. Police become aggressive when community members are uncooperative and locals become uncooperative because police become aggressive in a spiral that dooms the community to lawlessness.

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To prevent such a breakdown of relations, citizens need to be given a greater role in community policing. The police work for the people — they are sworn to serve and protect, not to harass and intimidate. To ensure this remains the case, citizens need to feel they are an integral part of the law and order process. The way to achieve this is by ensuring that the citizens — not the politicians — have control over the police.

The first step towards this end would be electing police chiefs. A similar system is used in many Western US states, in which local sheriffs are elected. The sheriffs (essentially Canada’s police chiefs) decide how to best to distribute scarce police resources. There are only so many officers on the force and so much time that can be spent cracking down on certain offenses. This reality means that some areas of the law will be prioritized over to the detriment of others. However, the person who currently determines these priorities is an unelected bureaucrat. If local citizens could vote for who the police chiefs, community concerns would determine priority. Say a candidate ran on a platform that puts priority on addressing vandalism and violent crime, while lowering the priority on pursuing marijuana offenses. If the community felt this was a sensible position, they would elect that individual. Unlike a politician, however, the chief would not need to attempt (and possibly fail at) passing a bill that would change the law. Instead, he or she would simply redirect resources and inform officers of the new priorities, ensuring strategies were moulded to fit the specific needs of communities and protecting locals against what they felt were overbearing laws.

The second step, which would be of particular importance in inner city neighbourhoods, would be the annual appraisal of local patrol officers. This could be done in town hall meetings, or by sending out forms for the locals to fill out. Whether police were overbearing or aloof, if the citizens felt certain segments of the community were being unfairly targeted, and other such concerns would be addressed. If major problems arose about the treatment of residents by police (or specific officers), they could be targeted and dealt with swiftly. This would ensure a positive rapport between beat cops and the community and would allow residents to feel more involved with the law and order system, which would make them more likely to assist officers when necessary to help solve crimes.

If we ensure that police are getting their priorities from the citizens whom they are sworn to protect and that bad cops are being regularly removed, it will not only guarantee a smoother functioning of the legal system overall, but will also protect the citizens of Canada from abuses of the law regardless of who is in power on Parliament Hill.

The great outdoors

It’s September, and let’s face it, you’re not thinking about school yet. So why not take advantage of the best outdoor campus spots while the weather’s still bearable?

Behind Robarts
A prime spot for people-watching, particularly on windy days when keeping your ‘look’ is all but impossible. Robarts’ food court is easily accessible, which is handy for when your light reading leaves you with an appetite (Robarts books: not suitable). The grounds staff at U of T will thank you for not running through the flowers as you play frisbee or toss a ball around. The abundant parking space here is a bonus, whether your chosen mode of transportation has two wheels or four.

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Willcocks Street
The blocked off section of Willcocks Street is the ultimate outdoor café. You’re not restricted to one restaurant, and there are no waiters to rush you off. There’s plenty of seating, between the tables (equipped with umbrellas), benches, and geological formations. Just off of St. George, this lively go-between is a fun place to chill after or between class. It’s one of the more socially vibrant locations around, though the astroturf is more suited to sports than sitting. The basketball nets are also a draw, but remember to B.Y.O.B(asketball).

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Knox College
Knox College is a sanctuary from the modern world, and you can feel the history in the silent courtyard. Though the windows of the encircling walls look upon the quad, you feel as if you are totally alone. The outdoor hallway that runs through the centre provides shelter from the elements when you’re playing a game of chess or backgammon on the table-boards. On either side of this hallway, there are contrasting lawns; one manicured and the other more natural. Though it’s relatively obscure, it’s surprising that more people do not spend their free time here.

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Philosopher’s Walk
Spacious enough that everyone can ponder, reminisce, meditate, or vegetate without interference. Much like Rome, all pathways seem to lead here, and its amphitheatre is well-suited to spectacle. It lends itself to all forms of relaxation, whether you want to read, nap, study, or people-watch. Its contemplative and calm ambience puts you in a quasi-meditative state, providing you with some much-needed tranquility. The name says it all.

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Battle of the quads

Massey
★★★☆☆
Beside hustly-bustly Hoskin Street, Massey’s quad is the secret garden of the St. George campus. Serene and solitary, it’s a place to stop and philosophize — make sure to ask (or sneak past) the porter.

Trinity
★★★★☆
Stepping into Trinity’s quad takes you back to a time of sophistication and prosperity. If the insularity of it all doesn’t send you running for Philosopher’s Walk, you’ll feel quite at home.

St. Mike’s
★★☆☆☆
Think back to your childhood adventures. It may not be the showiest of spaces, but the residences backing on to the St. Mike’s quad give it that same yard-like feel.

Vic
★★★★☆
Literally and figuratively, the quad is the hub of Vic. Along with (arguably) the best waterfall on campus, Vic’s quad is populated by students from across campus, reading, socializing, and playing guitar. Also, frisbee.

University
★★★☆☆
Conveniently located at the centre of our teeming campus, UC’s quad is a veritable campus Shangri-La. Private and sublime, it’s the ideal place to talk quietly with friends.

News in brief

Chicago uni puts tuition on Groupon

On September 6, National Louis University in Chicago posted the first Groupon deal for tuition.
The graduate course, Intro to the Profession and Craft of Teaching, regularly costs $2,232. However, through Groupon, the class only cost $950.
The purpose of the deal was to attract new students. To sign up, an individual was required to have an undergraduate degree and could not be enrolled in an NLU graduate program. The course was not transferable, and students would have to pay full tuition for other courses.

With files from Time Magazine.
–Jonathan Wu


Investigation into U of A dean’s plagiarized speech to be kept under wraps

The results of an investigation by the University of Alberta into its Dean of Medicine’s plagiarized speech to graduating students last spring will not be made public. University spokeswoman Deb Hammacher told The Globe and Mail on Monday that in keeping with a faculty agreement, the investigation would be kept confidential. She added that the same confidentiality agreements are in place for students who plagiarize.
Many, including the university’s students’ union, are unhappy with the decision and feel that the university should release the results. “It’s important that the university is transparent about the process,” student vice-president Emerson Csorba told the Globe.

— Charlotte Smith


Prof ventures to other side of the desk

Nicholas Everett, associate professor at U of T’s history department, has decided to become a student of pharmacology. Having always been interested in medieval history, Everett came across a seventh-century medical manuscript in the Vatican, and the badly-written Latin caught his attention. Soon, however, it was the contents of the manuscript — reference works for 300 natural drugs from Ancient Greece — that became his focus. The discovery of this document and research into its contents led Everett to re-enter the life of a student; the document also inspired Everett to adopt the Renaissance ideal that the humanities and sciences are both fundamental institutions, the studies of which should not be separated.

With files from U of T News.
— Rida Fatema Ali


York arms cops with batons after high-profile sex assaults

York University is increasing security on campus to make students feel safer. Security personnel are being armed with batons, and an extra $1.1 million is being invested in campus safety.
While York has seen gains in both domestic and international applicants, the move comes after a 0.6 per cent drop in enrolment confirmations in a year when Ontario confirmations grew by 2 per cent overall. Several highly publicized assaults are cited, including two rape cases and the murder of foreign student Qian Liu.
York spokesperson Wallace Pidgeon told The Globe and Mail that the university has increased the security budget from $8.9 million to $10 million since last year. Pidgeon did not disclose how the money would be spent, although the university has recently hired 12 new security personnel. He stressed that the boost was not related to the assaults.

With files from Maclean’s.
— Irina Vukosavic