The Varsity presents

On Saturday, November 3, The Varsity is hosting it’s first Off The Record party at the Boat (158 Agusta Ave.). Cover is $5, or free with a T-Card, with all proceeds going to Journalists For Human Rights.

Performing at Off The Record will be five of the best musical artists Toronto has to offer: oneman guitar scientist Now Yr Taken, shimmering heartbreakers The Coast, nocturnal rockers Uncut, indie-garage cheerleaders Germans, plus dance-floor filler Shit La Merde will be DJing before, after and in between the bands. Here’s a bit more about the talent The Varsity has in store:

Halloween: cultivating a community of freaks

Whether or not you believe in ghosts or the undead, Halloween screams for your attention. A trip to any Shoppers Drug Mart will confirm this—the casual observer will note candy bars mingling with garish decorations in orange and black, while chintzy polyester costumes of witches and “naughty” medical personnel dangle beside the first red velveteen bows of Christmas. It’s a spectacle of consumerism, decadence and attention deficit disorder, all at the same time.

Still, Halloween deserves more credit than we give it, schlepping our two-fours and last-minute costume choices to the party destination of the hour. October 31, this ridiculous little blip on the calendar, is a muchneeded and perfectly-timed dose of therapeutic community. It is a bear hug in holiday dress.

Looking back on my own first Halloween in Toronto three years ago, I was a first-year student clumsily maneuvering my way through U of T’s vast social pathways. Seven weeks into my life in a new city where no one knew my name, I slipped into a space suit and became someone else. It no longer mattered that I was a stranger, because all around town, people were opting for anonymity. I went to a party and chatted with Shakespeare. I shared a mickey with a girl dressed up like Jennifer Beals, circa Flashdance. I danced with zombies. I was no longer alone.

Whether you’re in your first year at U of T or your fifth-year victory lap, chances are you’ve felt stranded here. Students frequently complain about a lack of community, and who could blame them when we’re surrounded by too many study spaces, not enough campus hangouts, and let’s face it, too many damned faces to keep track of. It’s easy to feel insignificant and overwhelmed at this time of the year, when essays and midterms threaten to take over our allotted time for human contact and—dare I say it?—fun. The days are getting short and cold, and instead of sharing this shock together, we’re holed up at Robarts.

As an outlet for the insanity we are all feeling, Halloween holds a potent and palpable power. Even the international and exchange students, many of whom initially approach our very North American holiday traditions with the same cynicism of the anti- Valentine’s brigade, are typically won over after their first costume party.

Alas, Halloween is now one day behind us, but we can still revel in the afterglow of its silly, glorious unwinding— or, at least, in the clearance shelves around town that await our sugar-seeking fingers.

A tale of two goalies

Every season Leaf fans ask themselves, “Will this be our year?” With al the turnover on the roster, behind the bench, and in management, that query has become the one constant in an inconsistent season. This year the same concern is being addressed, but unlike most years, the answer will be contingent on how the goaltending situation sorts itself out.

In seasons past, success has been built on the skill of a tremendous goalie. Toronto has been spoiled by Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph, and Ed Belfour, of whom at least one will eventually make it to Cooperstown. Their play has allowed the team to hide many of the most glaring weaknesses in its defence and overall positional play. This season, they do not have that luxury.

For the first time in years, Leafs defense has been unpredictable. Neither fans nor players can be certain of who will be between the pipes on any given day. The question has shifted from “Will this be our year?” to“Who will be in goal?”

Two possible answers come to mind: Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft, though if you ask those close to the team, they would probably argue for “none of the above” as a fair alternative.

Toskala, who finished 2006 with a 2.35 GAA, had a productive year with the San Jose Sharks, though many of those stats came as a backup to starter Evgeni Nabakov.

In Raycroft, the Leafs have a former Calder Trophy winner who just last season posted a 2.99 GAA to go with 37 wins. Of the two, Raycroft is the most proven in blue and white, but many still criticize his inability to steal a big game or get the big save in crucial situations.

In an interview with The Varsity, Leafs TV personality and broadcaster Jody Vance said, “I know Leafs’ fans say we should have kept Belfour, or that Curtis Joseph should come back. But it’s not always the answer to look to former players as the tonic or cure in a current time of struggle. Give them [Raycroft and Toskala] time, that’s my advice.”

Perhaps Toronto’s notoriously fickle fans are simply being overanalytical, making rash judgements too early in the year. Of course, it’s easy to look on and say that the goaltending sucks when players are being compared to Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour.

“These are great athletes who are being asked to perform on hockey’s most pressure-filled stage,” Vance said of Toskala and Raycroft.

The theory does have some validity, as neither Raycroft nor Toskala have played in a city that places as much scrutiny on its hockey teams. In contrast, Belfour and Joseph came to Toronto by way of Dallas and Edmonton, hockey hotbeds where expectations were always high.

As the adage goes, time will tell. In time, Leafs fans will get the answer they’ve been waiting for—but if current results are any indication, it may not be the answer they want to hear.

UTSU undermining democracy

You’ve most likely seen their posters, flyers, and buttons, and their stickers on the free coffee—right across from the polling stations—in support of the “yes” vote. Undergraduate students are being asked to vote on the construction of a Student Commons on the St. George campus. However, have students had a chance to access information in support of a “no”?

We all agree that student space is an important part of our university experience. The administration is well aware of our needs, but prefers to reserve its own budget for expanding high-cost, revenue-generating programs like the expansion of the Rotman School of Business. Students have long resisted these projects. In 2002, an overwhelming 82 per cent of students voted against the proposed Varsity Stadium levy, which would have funded a building useful only to the school’s elite athletes.

This year’s referendum could easily dupe a new generation of students into paying for buildings through levy contributions rather than expecting the university to responsibly distribute tuition and government subsidies. Our university is a public institution: the government, not students scraping by on loans, should pick up the tab to ensure space needs are met.

The “vote yes” flyers flooding campus are misleading. They advertise a $5 levy, while in reality, students would pay $10 per year from summer 2008 until its completion. In its first year upon opening, the centre would cost each student $41.50, increasing by up to 10 per cent in each subsequent year. Once the first 25 years are over, the operating costs would remain subject to a continuing 10 per cent maximum annual increase permanently. Yet pro-levy flyers reveal none of these substantive costs. Raising incidental fees through levies like this is a very serious burden to put on students, especially considering that OSAP will not take this levy into account when assessing loan allotments.

All materials critical of the project have been torn down almost immediately. Dissenters have been followed, confronted, and felt harassed by the elected leaders of UTSU. On October 29, UTSU executives also called campus police on critics peacefully handing out flyers—a form of free speech—on St. George Street, claiming that they were violating UTSU bylaws. Only UTSU members fall under the organization’s bylaws.

The “yes” campaign run by UTSU has channeled student money into a high-cost campaign—which includes promotional t-shirts, free food and drinks near polling stations—and have done their best to intimidate any critics of the project. These unjust tactics have been witnessed by shocked students across campus.

Part-time students have been criticized for opposing the proposed student centre, even though the referendum is an issue that impacts our campus as a whole and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. The “yes” side, however, has brought students from York, Ryerson, and the Canadian Federation of Students onto campus to campaign on behalf of the levy.

This is not a democratic referendum. Pro-levy campaigners are clearly afraid of losing, given that they are resorting to such underhanded, juvenile, and unprofessional behavior.

Katie Wolk is involved in the APUS campaign against the Student Commons levy.

Ryan Gosling is lazy in Lars, so why all the Oscar talk?

From his combustible performance in The Believer to last year’s Half Nelson, the deceptive laziness in Ryan Gosling’s Brando-like eyes has been a force to admire. Behind those half shut lids, Gosling’s corneas are discreetly at work observing, calculating, and often times judging.

It’s those same eyes that kept me in a state of trepidation during Lars and the Real Girl, a whimsical comedy about how an entire town accommodates the titular character’s delusion that his “anatomically correct” doll is actually his real girlfriend. For the duration of this leap-of-faith plot, Gosling’s eyes were no longer working a character within the narrative of the film. They looked directly into my soul, snickering, calling me a sucker.

In Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling delivers one of his most memorably lazy performances and dares us to buy it, and we do. In fact, we go so far as to shower the fucker with praise—there was no shortage of Oscar talk in the washrooms directly after the screening.

It’s not that Gosling’s performance was lacking. In fact, the actor plays Lars as low-key as this obtuse role would allow him to. It’s just that in this drive-thru performance, Gosling does what so many Oscar winners of the past have done: he feigns a mental imbalance and lets everyone else bend over backwards to give him an award.

It’s fitting, considering that this is exactly what his character does: he gets it on with a life-size doll named Bianca and his entire town goes bonkers, giving her jobs, taking her to church, putting her to bed, and even allowing her to abuse the American Health Care System with repeat check-ups and ambulance calls (does she come with her own insurance plan?).

The burden of believability falls on the outstanding supporting characters, who share our reaction to Lars and Bianca. The standout is the constantly charming Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie), whose name sadly went without mention in the post-screening washroom Oscar chats. Playing Lars’ pregnant sister-in-law, it is Mortimer’s performance that layers bewilderment beneath warmth, and brings this rather flexible mannequin—and an otherwise wooden movie—to life.

In this indie equivalent to a guilty pleasure, where folks like Mortimer do all the work, Gosling’s eyes crack wise as he steals all the credit.

Rating: VVV

It’s Not Rocket Science – Episode 4

The great dark matter debate

In the September 10 issue of The Varsity, we ran a piece about the history of the search for dark matter and evidence supporting its existence (“The dark side of the universe”). A recent study led by Douglas Clowe provides indirect evidence for dark matter, from observations of a collision between two large galaxy clusters. The observed bending of light around the massive collision allowed astronomers to infer that a large amount of invisible dark matter was present. Two Canadian astronomers— John Moffat of the University of Waterloo and his graduate student, Joel Brownstein—have publicly disagreed with the work, and propose that a Modified Gravity hypothesis can explain the findings of the study. They believe that changing the current understanding of how gravity works can account for the perceived extra mass. The two stress that direct evidence of dark matter has yet to be found, while Clowe maintains that dark matter exists and that the results of his research are valid. No conclusion to the debate is yet in sight. As one side looks for new sub-atomic particles that could make up dark matter, the other looks to change a long-standing view of how the universe functions, trying to rework the ideas of Newton and Einstein. For simplicity’s sake, I am inclined to believe dark magic is to blame.

Hollywood was right, for once:

As it turns out, Jurassic Park had the behaviour of Velociraptor right. A fossilized stretch of footprints unearthed in China’s Shandong province demonstrates that the dinosaurs travelled together in packs, as the six paths do not overlap and were made at the same time. The fossils also prove another aspect of dinosaur behaviour shown in the movie: the dinosaurs held their long claw off the ground when travelling, possibly to avoid wearing them down. Judging by the footprints, researchers say the dinosaurs would have been around 200 pounds and 1.2 metres high at the hip. Although Steven Spielberg got the dinosaurs right, I still don’t understand why Jeff Goldblum’s character had to survive.

Info graphics are worth a thousand words:

The link below shows the proportion of people across the different countries of the world in a cool info graphic. The distorted world map illustrates the huge amount of people in Asia compared to other continents. Australia nearly falls off the bottom of the map and Canada looks like a thin blanket on top of the United States.

Organism of the week:

The American Bison, scientific name Bison bison. Commonly, although incorrectly, referred to as the buffalo, millions of these brown beasts once inhabited the great plains of the United States. They are the largest terrestrial mammals in North America, reaching three metres in length and two metres in height. They can weigh as much as 900 kilograms, equivalent to the weight of a mid-size car. Curiously, male bison often display strangely amorous behaviour by courting and sometimes mounting other males. Although seemingly slow and laconic animals, bison can easily outrun humans and have been recorded travelling up to 56 kilometres an hour. Surprisingly, there were four times more bison attacks than bear attacks at Yellowstone National Park between 1978 and 1992. Bison were hunted to the point of near-extinction by the mid 1880s. The government sponsored this over-exploitation because, among other reasons, reduced bison numbers reduced costly train delays or damage from herds milling about train tracks. The American government also wanted to starve the Native Americans inhabiting the plains to get them to leave. Buffalo hunting was a lucrative trade for the hides, coats, and meat, and some hunters, such as Buffalo Bill Cody, became famous for killing over one hundred bison during a single hunt. The bison’s impact on the course of early American history is demonstrated in its inclusion on the American nickel from 1913 to 1938. Bison numbers have rebounded quite well, with current estimates at apporixmately 350,000. Comically enough, a subspecies of the animal bears the scientific name Bison bison bison.

Lovelock’s visions of the apocalypse:

The loveable and slightly crazy Professor James Lovelock has a message for the world’s inhabitants: we’re screwed. In a recent speech, he explained that humans have to brace for the inevitable changes that global warming will bring. He agrees that nations should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but describes the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report as misleading. He says that it gives the idea that climate change is reversible, which he strongly disagrees with. His dire view is that 6 to 8 billion people will experience serious problems in the future, including issues with water and food supplies. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Lovelock came up with the Gaia hypothesis, which suggests that the whole Earth functions as a single organism. Although widely criticized—it smells heavily of acid and the ’60s—the hypothesis highlights the importance of interactions between organisms and their environments. Either way, it is enjoyable watching a scientist unafraid to speak his mind.

Better than the Letterman countdown:

Discover magazine has some nifty pieces, especially their “20 things” countdown. The latest edition, on astronauts in space, features some helpful advice: don’t hold your breath if you are ever exposed to the vacuum of space, as it could cause your lungs to rupture. It’s information we can all use, really.

Not even being adorable will save you:

The machinations of the global economy can often produce some bizarre situations. According to The Ecologist, 250,000 lambs in Britain are going to be made into bio-fuel or incinerated. The animals cannot be sold for meat, as meat industry critics say that the abrupt input of a large amount of lamb meat would make already low prices drop drastically. In addition, animal feed has almost doubled in price, making it uneconomical to keep the animals. Little Bo Peep was reportedly devastated at the news.

Mr. Burns, on neuro-surgery:

“Dammit Smithers—this isn’t rocket science, it’s brain surgery!”

Germans keep on rocking in the free world

There’s more to Germans than a love of schnitzel and lederhosen. Or is there? While it’s tough to get a straight answer out of this cheeky Toronto outfit, one thing is certain: while none of them are German, their brand of indiegarage rock is certainly worthy of international buzz. Recently named one of Spin’s artists of the day, Germans are signed to Portland, Oregon’s Arena Rock Records, which also boasts Elf Power, Liars, and The Gloria Record on its roster.

Reluctant to describe their own sound, the band doesn’t elaborate much on their influences. Like most hip young acts, they are quick to cite Pavement and their sound harkens back to the indie heyday of early 90s bands like Archers of Loaf. Whether their proclaimed love of Can-con shitsters Our Lady Peace is honest patriotism or a tongue-in-cheek in-joke is hard to tell, but the band peppers their tracks with moog synthesizers and video game bleeps to distinguish them from the mainstream fray.

And hey—like Tom Waits once said—they are big in Japan. The band’s full length, the quizzically-titled Cape Fear, has just debuted across the Pacific. Would De Niro be proud? You be the judge, when Germans blow up at the Boat as part of The Varsity’s Off the Record party. Toss them a “guten tag” and get down.

Denzel Washington delivers as NYC drug lord in American Gangster

Consider the bitter irony of it all. Frank Lucas, the once notorious drug kingpin who blasts the “Thug Life” fetishism of the gangster rap era as “bullshit,” is now to be immortalized in American Gangster, a studio pic that’s being heavily marketed to exactly that generation of “bling” heads.

In an appeal to draw every doo-ragged Scarface idolizer to theatres, the film dangles such household rappers as T.I., Common, and RZA amongst its cast, and has apparently “inspired” the Jigga Man himself to record a complimentary soundtrack.

Though he may not like it, Lucas’ legacy is being marketed to the very generation that makes him irk: the kids who worship the shameless flaunting of money and violence in America’s new corporate sponsored “gangsterism.” Call it bittersweet justice, since, after all, gangster-crazed America is something he—along with fellow Harlem Renaissance O.G., Nicky Barnes—helped design.

However, what Ridley Scott’s deftly orchestrated American Gangster makes explicit is that while this new America is a product of the likes of Frank Lucas, the entrepreneurial business man himself came from the dark womb of corporate America.

Tracking the large-scale dope supplier’s rise to power during the turbulent late-sixties/early-seventies, American Gangster depicts the cold and calculated Lucas (played by an impeccably smooth Denzel Washington) as a man who made a name for himself on 116th St., but could have just as easily done the same on Wall St. Lucas has acumen for branding, pricing, and cutting down the competition so that they too end up buying from him.

If Lucas gives back to the community—like his mentor Bumpy Johnson regularly did—it’s only to keep his public relations image on the up-and-up while he bled the city dry with his 10 per-cent pure heroin (a product that no doubt cost a number of lives to deliver). Just like America, Lucas had a particular investment in Vietnam: the steady supply of caskets for dead soldiers would be the transport for his heroin supply from East Asia.

Ridley Scott and his team (with due credit to writer Steven Zaillian) develop a symbiotic relationship between Lucas and his country while paying close attention to New York’s climate in the seventies. The heroin epidemic was just one of several plagues in America, and Frank Lucas and his compatriots were not the only ones supplying it. This was, after all, the period of the French Connection scandal, where corrupt SIU officers used their unlimited resources not to shutdown the drug trade but to compete in it—an ordeal the filmmakers aptly play out against Lucas’ enterprise.

Amidst all of this is Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe’s outrageously honest version of Frank Serpico) the pariah of the police force. Roberts has the far from glamorous task of bringing Lucas down—a job made all the more difficult since half of the justice department is on the crime boss’ payroll. As Roberts observes, “If we stop bringing dope into this country, about a hundred thousand people are going to be out of a job.”

If this film doesn’t strain your moral fibers—it paints a somewhat alluring picture of the murderous Frank Lucas—don’t feel bad. America did the same thing. The very Judge that put Lucas away described him as “easy to like,” and most followers of gangster rap (as well as the corporations that neatly package their sonic addictions) have ingrained the crime figure into the consciousness of popular culture

American Gangster opened in theatres November 2

Rating VVVV