No more Ms. Nice editor

I usually fight fair. I figure, if you want some one to take you seriously, you must speak to them in a rational, calm, and well-spoken manner. Yelling, swearing, put-downs, and name-calling never convinced anyone to do anything. I’ve found it’s been a good negotiating strategy, and it has often yielded results. That was until U of T’s Governing Council passed the flat fees proposal on May 20. Apparently, no one in a position of power listened to the legitimate and thoughtful arguments from students.

So fuck ’em all. That’s it! If fighting fair doesn’t work, then they can suck my … well, you fill that one in. What a bunch of BMW-driving, north Toronto living, United Colors of Benetton wearing d-bags. Voting members have shown no consideration for students by passing this proposal, so there’s no obligation for me to continue printing respectful articles.

The parade of polite protests in the past few months has been long. A widespread Facebook campaign began a few months back, resulting in a barrage of dissenting emails to voting members of FASC, the Business Board, and Governing Council. Over 100 students and staff peacefully protested outside Con Hall on April 27, urging the Business Board to vote down the proposal. UTSU and ASSU are taking U of T to civil court, claiming administrators ignored recommendations from committees and used questionable procedures in an effort to get the proposal through. Despite police presence, students assembled outside the May 20 meeting, which was conveniently located at UTM. And then there was the legendary action taken by Alison Martell, when she calmly placed an eloquently written letter in the hands of U of T president David Naylor himself while receiving the Gordon Cressy Award for student leadership on the stage of Con Hall.

But the powers that be have not listened to these cries. The likes of Naylor, Meric Gertler, dean of Arts and Science, and Cheryl Misak, VP and Provost have remained arrogantly unreceptive to students. Instead of considering their arguments, these ivory tower assholes have gone ahead with a plan that punishes U of T’s foundation, the undergraduate experience.

Faculty members that voted in favour of flat fees are just as shameful. They’re the ones who are charged with the privilege of sharing knowledge with students, yet by voting for the proposal, they’ve demonstrated their willingness to appease the upper ranks, while hanging their own students out to dry.

And the four student governors who were absent from the May 20 meeting should be embarrassed to show their faces on campus, as they refused to even participate. Indecision is the greatest cowardice of all.

Those responsible for the proposal’s implementation are wrapped up in their own little worlds, far removed from the time when they were trying to find the precarious balance between getting an education, keeping food in the fridge, and having a bit of a social life along the way. Apparently, fat cheques make memories short. If I ever find myself in a corner office overlooking the sprawling downtown metropolis, I’ll never forget what it’s like to be in a position of vulnerability, where someone else determines your means of education.

What’s most disconcerting is that this university (a place where ideas are supposed to be explored, cultivated, and discussed) closed all doors to other solutions. Scott Mabury, chairperson of the Program Fee Implementation Committee, expedited the voting process against the recommendations of his own committee. Thus, there was no time to consider and weigh other solutions to the university’s financial woes. Sneaky move, Mr. Mabury! With the refusal to explore other options, U of T has made it very clear: their priority as an institution is no longer to nurture knowledge and experience, but rather to pad their corporate pocket books.

The study to be conducted over the next three years, designed to test the effects of flat fees, will likely yield the results many have predicted. Students who are not able to take five courses a year due to financial or lifestyle restrictions will be forced to drop down to under three courses a year, sacrificing their OSAP grants. And those determined to get what they pay for and take a full load will likely experience depreciation in their academic and extra-curricular life. Yes, there are those who can maintain a high GPA and sustain their social lives while juggling five credits, and to you I say good on ya. But there are thousands of students who simply don’t have that capacity, and will suffer as a result.

Reason was nowhere to be found in this process. Those who voted yes to flat fees are sentencing the undergraduate student body to a rushed four years of devalued education here at U of T, and have further degraded the university’s reputation. You should all be absolutely ashamed of yourselves.

Yours truly,

Alixandra Gould

Comment Editor

Bolt thunders to U of T

The world’s fastest man will run at U of T this week. Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt set a world record 9.69 seconds for the 100 metre sprint at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He’ll be chasing that time as he competes against fellow world class Olympians at the Festival of Excellence, hosted by the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, on June 11 at the Varsity Centre’s track.

The meet includes a wide range of track and field events featuring a star-studded cast of Olympic medalists. The festival will be televised live on TSN, and temporary seating has been set up on the other side of the track, bringing the total capacity of the Varsity Centre to around 7,000. Ticket prices range from a discounted $75 for U of T faculty, staff, and students, up to $250 for choice seating, making it the most expensive Toronto track and field event ever.

Other star athletes to compete include Olympic medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Perdita Felicien, Tyler Christopher, decathlon champion Bryon Clay, 100-metre silver medalist Shawn Chambers, and Toronto’s own Massimo Bertocchi.

Shots at Ignatieff backfire

For several weeks now, fiery attack ads aimed squarely at leader of the official opposition Michael Ignatieff have peppered the evening programming of Canada’s major broadcasters. Prime Minister Steven Harper and the Conservatives have launched a series of 30-second ads that question Ignatieff’s commitment to Canada and portray his return to home soil as an easy power grab.

The new Liberal leader has spent well over 30 years working abroad in England and the United States, and his foray into the Canadian political scene has been well-received by members of the battered Liberal party, but condemned by Conservative critics.

Recent polling conducted by the Toronto Star and Angus Reid shows the Liberals’ popularity among voters steadily rising, but only ahead of the Conservatives by two per cent. Still, that represents a significant upswing for the Liberals from several months ago, when they trailed in the polls and lacked any formidable leadership. The public may be slow to warm up to the new Liberal star, but Harper has more troubles of his own. Opinion polls now suggesting that the ad blitz has hurt Harper’s favourability. Voters are sending him a message: sleazy character assaults say more about Harper than his opponent.

The allegations put forth in the videos suggest that Michael Ignatieff is entirely unsuited for the position of Prime Minister because he has lived outside the country for over 30 years. On the surface, it seems like a fair argument, but the underlying message is much more venomous. To debase an individual for seeking opportunity and further advancing one’s academic or professional career abroad is a slap in the face to thousands of Canadians who have studied and worked internationally. To suggest that Ignatieff is detached from Canadian affairs is dishonest. And above all, to insinuate that Ignatieff is somehow less patriotic or less connected to his national origin is insulting and truly below-the-belt.

Unfortunately, these types of insidious political schemes don’t come as a surprise to many seasoned voters and political observers, who have come to expect engaging and meaningful public discourse being perverted or sidestepped altogether by partisan attacks. The easiest way to distract the public from a sound discussion about policy is to smear one’s opponent with manufactured lies, launching a campaign of misinformation and mistrust.

Nowhere has this strategy been better exploited than in the United States. South of the border, attack ads are the cornerstone of any political campaign, and have often contributed to the outcome of elections and policy initiatives. They were successful in defeating health care reform in 1994, and in derailing the presidential campaigns of Democratic contenders Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004. Just last year, then-candidate Barack Obama was subject to multi-million-dollar Republican attack ads that labeled him as an elitist, terrorist-loving Antichrist, playing into the racial bigotries and suspicions that have underscored the American psyche for centuries. Despite these juvenile (and often baseless) critiques repeated over and over again in the media, the election of Barack Obama demonstrated that negative advertising has quickly lost its desired effect, especially among young, tech-savvy voters, Obama’s most enthusiastic constituency.

Ignatieff’s early support for the Iraq invasion and certain elements of harsh interrogation for detained suspects are troubling, but could certainly be clarified in a good-natured, spirited dialogue. Attack ads are not on the verge of disappearance, but political capital would be better invested in open forums and online interactions that have gained momentum in the United States, and that would engage Canada’s own young population.

Stephen Harper should take notice of the changing tide in the United States. The Prime Minister shouldn’t be setting standards for Canadian patriotism, but rather appealing to Canadians’ appetite for more goodwill and transparency from the government. Ignatieff brings a wealth of outside experience and international acclaim, and should not be discounted because of that.

Missing York student’s body found

A three-week search for 19-year-old York University student Shane Fair ended when his body was recovered in Lake Ontario last weekend.

Fair’s body was identified off of Ontario Place on Saturday, not far from where he was last seen on May 16. He had disappeared following a formal year-end dinner and dance at the Atlantis Pavilion, organized by his York residence Calumet.

Only weeks away from graduation, Mr. Fair was anticipating a career with the Canadian military.

Fair was the second university student to drown in Lake Ontario this month, after missing teen Mason MacPhail was discovered near the Docks nightclub.

Ezra Nawi’s trial in error

Buried deep beneath the melancholic headlines of the Israel/Palestine conflict, far beyond the fog of the Gaza war, lies a story of love and activism in a region inhospitable to either. It’s a story which offers us insight into a very different world, and compels us to challenge our biases and prejudices. This is the story of Ezra Nawi, a gay Israeli plumber turned human rights activist, whose kind heart and generous spirit have made him an important fixture of the Israeli anti-occupation movement.

Like any symbol of resistance, Nawi has been a thorn in his government’s side, so they moved to take him out of commission.

Today, Nawi is awaiting trial for attempting to disrupt the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in Hebron. But he was luckier than Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer trying to do the same thing.

Nawi was born in 1952 to parents who moved to Israel from Iraq. As a gay “Arab sympathizer,” he grew up on the fringes of Israeli society. His story is documented in the biopic Citizen Nawi, which I recently saw at the Inside Out Film Festival. The documentary follows him as he fights for acceptance in his own community, and for Palestinian rights in the occupied territories.

Much of his activism took place in Tuwane, a small Palestinian village of stone caves and dilapidated homes situated on the hills overlooking Southern Hebron. For many years, Nawi devoted much of his time and efforts to serving its inhabitants, helping them build a school and a small clinic. In the process, he landed himself in a mountain of debt, and yet it never bothered him.

What do bother him are Israeli injustices. In the documentary, Nawi recalls one incident in which a Palestinian herder was ambushed by a group of Israeli settlers wearing masks, killing his father and stealing his two donkeys. With little regard for his own safety (or that of his cameraman), Nawi decides to venture into one of the settlements to investigate further. There, we see the settlers haranguing him with juvenile insults and homophobic slurs. But Nawi unflinchingly takes the barrage of insults in stride, and confronts the settlers on behalf of the Palestinians whose cattle were stolen and olive trees burnt down.

As professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel noted in The Guardian, Nawi’s case casts serious doubts as to Israel’s status as a democratic country. In the wake of Israel’s recent elections—which brought to power a right-wing extremist as well as its recent crackdown on Jewish activists and contentious objectors, one starts to wonder how much more Israel can get away with while still being called a democracy.

We are frequently reminded of the consequences of dissidence in Israel’s neighbouring countries. In Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and others, activists, journalists, and even bloggers who criticize their government’s policies are usually handed outrageous sentences. On the other hand, Israel as a democracy should be held to a higher standard. But what kind of democracy invests more time into cracking down on unarmed activists than trying to stop homicidal settlers from assaulting their neighbours?

The flipside to this otherwise depressing story is that it gives a faint glimmer of hope. As someone who has grown deeply resentful of Israel after its bloody foray into Gaza, Nawi’s story hit me as a stark example that Israeli society is much more diverse than I originally thought.

The film impelled me to rethink my notions of homosexuality, even though I went into the theatre certain it wouldn’t. Having grown up in a region hostile to gays, I’ve always had difficulty accepting homosexuality as normal, and I try to avoid the subject whenever it comes up. Yet somehow, while watching Citizen Nawi I couldn’t ignore the empathy I felt for Nawi’s plight. Here’s a gay man who dedicated his life to helping a desperate population–how can you not admire that?

His story also begs the question: how often do we hear about people like Nawi in today’s media? For god’s sake, the man should be a hero. And yet, sadly, he is marginalized at the expense of slanderous campaigns which vilify homosexuals as social deviants. Even worse is the fact that some religious figures spend their lives berating homosexuality, thereby offering nothing to their community in the way of humanitarianism. Instead, they merely give them ignorance and intolerance.

Nawi’s willingness to reach out to the Palestinians can serve as a springboard for intercultural dialogue, which is critical to jump-starting the peace process.

Mahmoud is an editor for Yalla Journal, a collaborative cross-cultural publication which anthologizes the personal narratives of young Arabs and Jews vis-a-vis the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Yalla is currently accepting submission for the next edition.

The times they aren’t a-climate changing

When it comes to climate change, we hear mostly about the bad news. But right now there’s potential for good news on campus. The President’s Climate Initiative is a climate change commitment that has galvanized students across the continent.

The PCI mandates schools to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and develop practical plans to achieve these targets. The end goal of this institutional commitment is not just to lower emissions, but also to accelerate research and educational efforts into re-stabilizing the earth’s climate.

At U of T we already have many great efforts aimed at reducing our GHG emissions. One good example is the Rewire project, through which thousands of students have already taken the initiative to reduce their own carbon footprint. If students are ready to take the lead on climate change, it makes sense for the leaders of our school to do so as well.

All six of British Columbia’s university presidents have signed the PCI, 585 presidents in the United States have signed it, and most recently Trinity College has signed. As it stands right now, U of T’s administration has refused to sign the PCI.

Comparing the PCI with the Kyoto Protocol is instructive of the challenge to institutional collective action. The Canadian government has informed the public as to why the Kyoto Protocol cannot be achieved: the targets are unfeasible, the costs are too great, the economy is too weak—the list goes on. In response to growing public concern for the environment, the government released its own “made in Canada” approach to the Kyoto Protocol. This localized approach removes binding emissions reduction targets from the policy, rendering the climate change effort mere rhetoric.

Here on campus, the situation is not dissimilar. Several representatives from Simcoe Hall have expressed their genuine concern for the environment, but believe the PCI is not the suitable approach for our university. The opposition expressed to the PCI resembles the Canadian government’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. In response to the growing environmental interests of students, the University of Toronto has pursued a “made in Ontario” approach to the PCI. Although we have not seen this homegrown version, it is said to remove reference to emission reduction targets—the heart of a meaningful climate change plan.

I’ve tried to make sense of why our university resists this opportunity. Our failure to sign on may well be explained by the misguided mantra of our academy. It takes more than great minds to secure a great future: what we also need, according to Professor Stephen Scharper, are great hearts for a compassionate future. We can problematize the PCI until the cows come home (or, perhaps more appropriately, until the sea ice melts). Alternatively, we can see the PCI for what it truly is: an invitation for institutional leadership. As the cerebral center of Canada, the technical solutions are available on our very own campus; all we need is the vision to lead.

Joanna Dafoe is Sustainabilty Commissioner of UTSU.

When frat house becomes front of house

The room smelled inexplicably like gasoline and sweat socks, and I really had to pee.

These were my distractions while watching the first of three lesser-known Sam Shepard plays shown at the KA Mansion—the Kappa Alpha house at St. George and Bloor, to the uninitiated. As the actors alternated between overacted bursts of unconvincing mania (which included breaking crockery and lots of screaming) and painfully earnest refrains, I scanned the staging room—a makeshift lounge of church pews and vinyl-upholstered furniture—desperate to locate an alternate exit. My desire to evacuate my bladder far surpassed my wish to endure the rest of the one-act.

Fortunately, the play was short and the intermission that followed—not to mention the next two shows—made the evening worth my while.

The Candles are for Burning Co-op is a community theatre troupe without even a website to their name, the sort of grassroots performance collective I’d always just assumed didn’t exist in bustling, high-culture Hogtown. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, even if it had to happen in a smelly, dilapidated frat house.

Community theatre often lacks the polish of mainstream, “real” stage productions—and the budgets, actors with training, adequate promotion, and legitimate venues—but in my experience, it’s usually worth watching. It’s for the same reason that alternative craft shows are worth visiting, why anonymous indie music acts are worth hearing, why ramshackle art shows are worth witnessing – it’s worth it for the heart. It reminds the creatively inclined in us all that, even though we may be choosing alternate paths, the outlets are there if we look for them.

Inspiration aside, some of the performances were actually good. Like, “wow, I can’t believe this guy is performing this in the front room of a frat house” good. The one-man delivery of Killer’s Head, which traces the last mundane thoughts of a man as he awaits his death on the electric chair, was so convincing I nearly forgot that my bare thighs were adhered to a pleather sofa—I was half-expecting to find the plush velvety cush of deluxe playhouse seating beneath me.

The closing act was Cowboys #2, a somber game of cowboys and Indians that featured two solid performances and a stolen “Road Closed” sign, all of which made for an endearing finale.

The three plays were written between 1965 and 1975, and it shows. Artistically lingering in the aftermath of modern drama movements while simultaneously echoing the generational angst of Vietnam-era America, existential futility is a central theme of each of the pieces. In 4-H Club, the first play shown, the central character talks yearningly about “going away,” as though abandoning the squalor of his present surroundings won’t lead him, transplanted, to repeat his fate somewhere else. Cowboys #2 shows a pair of buddies unwilling—or unable—to occupy a realm of reality, living a make-believe Western scenario until one of them dies.

Killer’s Head is chronologically the latest of the pieces, which might explain why it is the most nuanced and subtle of the three. Shepard was a young playwright in his early twenties when he wrote the other two pieces. With Killer’s Head, composed a full decade later, the interim development of his style comes through quite clearly. 4-H Club and Cowboys #2 are over-the-top critiques of commodification, capitalism, and the unbearable folly of youth that sometimes fail to ground themselves in relevant terms; Killer’s Head is stark and brooding, but it packs an enduring punch.

Overall, for a low-budget community theatre production, the staging and performance were commendable: as in the best grassroots theatre, ingenuity and passion took centre stage.

Cowboys #2 (not pictured) RATING: VVVVV

After the war, an uphill battle

As 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils are herded into internment camps, the reported sites of physical and sexual violence that remain hidden from international scrutiny, Tamil-Canadian students in Toronto are considering how best to engage with a conflict on the other side of the world.

Some students fear for family back in Sri Lanka, as stories of grave human rights abuses come to light. Even for those whose direct relations are all in Canada, it’s hard to turn away from the lurid reports emerging from a place their families once called home.

Shoban Jaya is a grade 11 student at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute who has been protesting almost daily for months. The 16-year-old became active after seeing a video in which a Tamil girl is taken away from her mother by Sri Lankan military officers and raped off-camera. Though his grades have plummeted from the time he spends protesting, Jaya continues to participate, saying he fears an immense death toll if the international community does not act soon.

“I can carry [my education] on tomorrow,” he says, “but I can’t look at the struggle right now the same way. Because if [we do not act] today, there will be no tomorrow,” he said.

Ramesh, a 24-year-old student protestor from McMaster University, agrees. “You can’t ignore it, you can’t stay home and be silent. We’ve been silent for too long.” He compared the Sri Lankan situation to cases of genocide where many believe the international community acted too late, such as the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “We don’t want the world to act too late; we know the world always acts too late,” he said.

Both activists were in attendance at the May 10 Gardiner Expressway protest where UTSU executive director Angela Regnier was arrested. The act was criticized by the Toronto police as being “unsafe” and “unlawful,” but Jaya and Ramesh contend that the risk was justified to bring attention to human rights violations that the media had largely ignored until then. “After blocking the Gardiner, a lot of my colleagues [at work who had] never talked about these issues before […] said ‘tell me what’s going on back home.’ Same with the media,” said Ramesh.

The Tamil Students Association at U of T has taken a decidedly apolitical stance, focusing instead on educating the university community about human rights in Sri Lanka. “We didn’t want to make a political statement, so we’re just about solving the humanitarian crisis, getting NGOs into the country, [and] getting the media back into the country so we can know the truth,” explained TSA vice-president Ramya Janandharan.

Janandharan is critical of the media representations that she says frame the conflict as resolved, saying that the ethnic prejudice and humanitarian issues that caused the conflict are still present. “[The Tigers are] that catch that makes it interesting news, but they fail to realize that it’s a long-term issue… the Tigers are just a symptom of the conflict and not the cause of it,” she said.

Aranie Rasalingam, the TSA’s awareness coordinator, recalled her parents’ experience in the 1983 series of riots in Sri Lanka known as “Black July.” Approximately 3,000 Tamils were killed, including Rasalingam’s uncle. Her parents’ home was set aflame as they slept, and though they escaped and immigrated to Canada in 1987, Rasalingam fears similar atrocities.

“It’s not something that just happened in ’83, it’s happening again now,” she said. “So it really makes you wonder, what is everyone doing? It’s not like people don’t know.”