A towering defeat

Toronto is no longer on top of the world: the CN tower was recently stripped of the “world’s tallest building” title, one that the landmark has held for over 30 years.

Last week, the Burj Dubai—a hotel, residential, and business skyscraper under construction in the United Arab Emirates—surpassed the Toronto skyscraper’s 553 metres, officially becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure.

Developed by Dubai-based Emaar Properties with financial backing from the oil-rich country’s government, the $4.2 billion, 165- storey Burj Dubai is estimated to stand 800 metres tall upon its completion in summer 2009.

“The Burj Dubai tower has now reached 555.3 metres, and also scaled 150 livable levels, the largest number of storeys for any building in the world,” announced Mohamed Ali Alabbar, the project’s developer and chairman of Emaar Properties, last week.

The Burj Dubai project was launched in 2004 as part of a new $23.4 billion, 200-hectare downtown waterfront district that will house approximately 30,000 apartments and the world’s largest shopping mall.

It won’t hold the top spot for long, as a second, nearby skyscraper, the Al-Burj, aims to reach 1,200 metres—more than double the CN tower’s stature.

Big man on campus

On Friday, September 15, the halls of Sandford Fleming welcomed back their most prestigious alumnus. In some ways things came full circle for a man who, as he admitted to a room full of overly enthusiastic undergrads, had traveled a long and winding road. Paul Godfrey, a former chairman elect of Metropolitan Toronto, explained to a captivated audience the twists and turns that led a brash engineering student from North York to the big leagues of the Toronto Blue Jays.

“A lot of things that I became involved with, I didn’t plan on. When I became chairman of the city at 34 years of age, it scared the hell out of me because I didn’t know anything about running a city,” he admitted. Godfrey recalled a similar fish-out-ofwater feeling in his early years at U of T. Working towards a degree in chemical engineering, he struggled to keep his grades up and almost didn’t make it through his second year.

On a cool Friday afternoon, reflecting on exactly how far he’d come since then, Godfrey imparted this piece of wisdom:

“The most important skills you can develop are people skills. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or whether you’re an engineer, politician or the president of a baseball team. You’ll go further in life if you have the ability to relate.”

A devoted family man and accomplished entrepreneur, the U of T graduate’s people skills were on full display during the hour-long speech as he charmed the audience with his eloquence and sardonic wit, at one point remarking self-effacingly: “From the time I was twenty-five to the time I was twenty-seven, I couldn’t have been elected dog catcher in this city.”

The venture certainly would have added to an already diverse and eclectic resume, as Godfrey also acted as publisher of the Toronto Sun prior to his Blue Jays days.

He’s certainly grown up a lot since then. Godfrey, now 68, recounted the day he got a call from his former boss at the Sun: “At the time I got the call, a lot of my colleagues were already retiring. We made enough money selling our stake in the newspaper that we never had to work again, but when a guy like Ted Rogers makes you an offer you have to listen.”

What Ted Rogers offered was a vision.

“I want you to run my baseball team,” he said.

Godfrey was incredulous at the time.

“I didn’t know you had a baseball team,” he replied.

The rest, as they say, is history. Rogers Communications bought the Blue Jays from Interbrew on August 31, 2000, and Godfrey was named president and CEO the following day. To an outside observer, Godfrey may seem like the kind of man who has stakes in many different ventures. Even for a man his age, his accomplishments and plans are difficult to imagine. Godfrey said that much could be attributed to his mother’s advice. “She said it’s better to quit two years too early than it is to quit two minutes too late. If you want to win, you have to know when to leave.”

So what constitutes success to this constant striver?

“Success?” he hesitated. “I think it should mean something different to each person. The bottom line is at the end of the day, you want to feel fulfilled personally and professionally, you have to be content with yourself.”

An idiot’s guide to sounding intelligent

There are a lot of things you need to know to get yourself through university, like how to study when your roommate insists on blasting the latest Rhianna single at full volume in your ear, or how to do the crossword during your history tutorial while looking like you’re really digging the inadequacies of the Schlieffen plan.

But for us arts and science students, the most important skill to master is how to talk the talk. Each discipline is different, but a common feature of all subjects is how they harbor a sticky kind of jargon, a stable team of go-to words and phrases that slither into fifty to sixty per cent of all observations made in every class.

These token terms are the kind of oft-repeated, trite, simplifying, roll-your-eyes-amusing, roll-youreyes- the-other-way-obnoxious, and always well-trodden phrases that thanks to countless repetitions, have lost all meaning. But they’re apparently necessary when describing the academic discipline you’ve chosen, and that’s important becaues what you study may or may not land you a paying job. Probably not.

My advice is to consult the field you’re now bound to, and to pay attention to the singlespeak exchanged there. Learn it, become well-versed in it, and quote it in your essays and final exams. You’ll need to keep these words in your scholarly back-pocket, and pull them out every time your essay-writing hits a snag, or when you find you’ve lost your train of thought in the middle of what you thought was a trailblazing rant in your tutorial.

Some illustrative examples might help you understand the nature of jargon awareness. Consider some of the shtick that crops up in my own major, Women and Gender Studies. The green WGS student will quickly bloom after an encounter with the term “intersectionality”, necessary to describe the thorns of identity politics, and will mature by making acquaintance with “subject position”, “subjectivity”, “agency”, “historicity”, “reflexivity”, “intertextuality”, “stand-point”, and “privilege”, all while pondering the interlocking nature of dominant master narratives and normative assumptions.

Students will become wise by stringing together an indefinite chain of factors following from gender, as in “gender plus race plus class plus sexual orientation plus some differentiation of your choice plus another identity factor that rhymes with orange”, and this all equals a poststructural, third (or fourth?) wave understanding of post-modernity as it relates to an interpolation of Foucault’s understanding of power and hegemony. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Just don’t ask me what it means.

And so, as we embark on an eightmonth campaign of scholarly academic guerilla warfare, let’s review some of our ammunition:”discourse” is a wonderful designation for the way things are talked about. “Postmodern” is a term which no one can really define (how post-modern), making its use flexible and abundant. “Dialectic” is something to do with how things relate to one another. “Problematize” is a powerverb conjugated out of the adjective “problematic” and invites vague intellectual scrutiny to bear upon anything, anything at all. It also rhymes nicely with “contextualize.”

The university student may also want to think about “otherness”, “hegemony”, and about the different combinations of “geo” plus “political” and/or “spatial”. Also consider the ramifications of globalization, globalism, globality, and globalescence. If a word is really authentic, it will register both an approving nod from your impressed fellow students and a bad-ass red line from your spell-check. Prepare to recycle, reuse and then reuse yet again, all for the sake of entering the club of great minds and great futures, and all in service of that other ubiquitous and over-circulated university term, the good ol’ “four-point-oh.”

Conversations with Godfrey

The Varsity: What was the best advice you ever got and was it here at U of T?

Paul Godfrey: No. Actually, the best advice I ever got was from my mom. She used to say you pass the same people up the ladder in life that you’re going to pass down the ladder, so make sure you treat people the way you want to be treated. And it’s advice that has always kind of stuck with me.

TV: You used to be a politician, a newspaper publisher, and now you’re the president of a baseball team, you must have heard some awful things, some really scathing criticism. What is the worst name you’ve ever been called?

PG: When I first got into politics, being so young, I got a lot of attitude from some of the other politicians who were of the mindset like “what does he know.” At first it was really hurtful, especially being as young and as brash as I was. But I didn’t let them get away with it, and some of the media in the city dubbed me “North York’s angry young man.”

TV: I guess everyone is wondering now, what’s next for you?

PG: Well, I want to have fun with the rest of my life. I’ve been asked to go back into politics and publishing, but if I do anything else in the future it will most likely be completely different from what I’m doing now. But I will hint: I’m determined to do two things in the near future. One is to build an aquarium, which is currently being constructed at the foot of the CN tower, and will open within the next few months. The other thing is I want to bring an NFL team to Toronto hopefully within the next five years. It will probably have to be an existing team from an American city, which will no doubt put me in hot water with the U.S. government.

TV: What is your greatest regret?

PG: That my father only lived long enough to see me help bring the Blue Jays to Toronto, but not long enough to see me running the team.

TV: What did this university do for you?

PG: This happens to be a university that in my opinion is second to none. Most of the people present here today are studying engineering, but the most important thing they will learn is how to think and rationalize, and how to draw conclusions.”

TV: You said during your speech that it’s better to quit two years too early than two minutes too late. How does this philosophy apply to your baseball team, currently in the seventh year of a proposed five-year plan?

PG: I don’t think the two are related at all. The five and seven-year plans were something drummed up by media types. When J.P. came on board in 2000 we talked about being a contender within five years, but no specific time frame was ever set. Obviously things happen which you can’t account for. This year, for instance, no one could have forseen that we’d have injuries to half our starting rotation. Roy Halladay was injured, A.J. Burnett was injured, as were B.J. Ryan and Gustavo Chacin. Add to that Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay hit way below their team average, and you have a recipe for disaster. Going into spring training, everyone thought that the hitting on our team was going to be awesome, but that the pitching would be full of question marks after Roy and A,J. But the opposite happened, as we got some stand-up pitching performances from Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, who really developed, as well as Jeremy Accardo, who will probably be our set-up man next year. It just goes to show that you can never predict what’s going to happen.

TV: What are you going to name your NFL football franchise if you get it?

PG: Contrary to popular belief, the team does not get to choose the name, the league does. They do the market research. Everyone thinks that the Toronto Raptors held this big contest but that was a phony contest. The group that was awarded the franchise had a choice between the Toronto Raptors or the Toronto Grizzlies. In the NFL, when a new team comes into the league, the name is already chosen by the NFL. They may give you choices like they did to the Raptors, or they may consult you, but they have the final say.

TV: Who do you think is going to win it all this year?

PG: I think the Yankees and the Red Sox are going to meet in the ALCS and whoever takes it will win the World Series. I think that the American League is way stronger than the National League. Last year when St.Louis won was an anomaly. Of all the post season teams, they had one of the worst regular season records.

TV: Who is your favorite baseball player?

PG: Carlos Delgado. He’s a good friend of mine, and a great human being.

TV: Favorite baseball movie of all time?

PG: I’ve seen a lot of baseball movies. I’d say my favourite is “Field of Dreams.” But I love the Leslie Nielson scene in Naked Gun where he does an umpire dance number.

The smoking stigma

This spring, some acquaintances and I were relaxing between exams at University College. Relaxing, to us, meant smoking.

A woman walked by in a huff. “You shouldn’t smoke here,” she said. But there were ashtrays installed next to where we stood. “This is a historic building,” she explained, “and smoking degrades things.”

Students have a longstanding tradition of congregating in the UC quad to smoke, a tradition which, presumably, dates back to “historic” times. While smoking is not particularly good for anything, I’ve never heard it cited as a leading cause of structural degradation.

Of course, smoking degrades the smoker, but she didn’t need to tell us that. Her implication seemed to be that smoking degrades a smoker’s moral character, and as a non-smoker, she therefore had the right to chastise us.

This is a common opinion and to refute it, given all the tangible damage that smoking causes is generally considered self-righteousness on the smoker’s part. But why did this woman feel so justified in scolding us?

Perhaps her quarrel is with the tobacco companies we support. Fair enough. The tobacco industry is obviously a nefarious one, and I wholeheartedly support activists like EBUTT, the student group that made U of T’s tobacco investments public (and successfully encouraged them to divest ten million dollars from cigarette companies).

Certainly, the consumer assumes some culpability. But, as everyone knows, the corporate lineages of most products are far from morally sound. So why harp on one purchase and not another?

Perhaps she had a loved one who died of a smoking-related illness. That would make her cause a noble one, but I doubt many would be sympathetic to someone who berated chefs at greasy spoons in order to avenge their father’s cholesterol-induced heart attack.

Maybe she was crusading on behalf of non-smokers forced to breathe in second-hand fumes. But we were outside, and as long as we were lit up, that was where we were staying.

To equate “smoker” with “inconsiderate asshole” is unfair. I wouldn’t smoke next to a stranger without asking. If it’s raining, the by-law states that I must brave the elements rather than risk endangering a bystander. I assume it would be futile to point out that we live in a polluted city, with almost daily smog alerts during the summer.

Maybe she has children, and doesn’t want them subjected to bad influences. In that case, she has her work cut out for her. Sure, recent studies have shown that onscreen smoking, for instance, can influence younger viewers. Common sense, however, says that classmates and parents have a much greater impact on a child’s decision to smoke. And parents, not strangers that children might encounter, are responsible for instilling good sense in their children in the first place.

Finally, she might resent the burden that we smokers present to the health care system, and therefore to her as a taxpayer. But I pay hundreds of dollars a year in tobacco taxes, not for nothing.

Everyone has a vice, whether tobacco, alcohol, or trans fat; we all have to indulge our self-destructive instincts somehow. Granted, some outlets are healthier than others, but one person’s stupid decision is not necessarily another’s business. I can only conclude that most people who go about haranguing peaceful, unobtrusive smokers do so based on personal prejudices rather than genuine concern for the greater good.

Something happened on the way to the funny

Hart House Theatre’s season kickoff production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum holds much enjoyment: an energetic and appealing cast, some creative—if not limiting—set design, plenty of dynamic dance numbers, and a terrific band. The quandary then is the show itself, an old chestnut which, despite noble efforts from many of the performers, was just not that funny.

Forum has a pretty basic plot—in Ancient Rome, three houses fill the stage—The House of Lycus (a.k.a., the local cathouse); the House of Senex, a wealthy and licentious citizen; and the House of Erronius—owned by an old man who’s hit the road in search of his children, stolen by pirates. Got that straight? Within that, there’s a cockeyed scheme by the adorable rapscallion slave Pseudolus to win his freedom by hooking up his smitten teenaged master Hero with the foxy virgin courtesan next door, a charmer by the name of Philia.

Leading the audience through the various ridiculous plots and schemes is Pseudolus, who seems to have a pretty sweet gig lined up considering he is able to spend most of his time getting up to no good. Cory Doran’s Pseudolus is charismatic and warm with a voice to match, but what he lacks is connection with many of the other performers on stage. Director Graham Maxwell’s choice to have him and most of the actors play the majority of the dialogue directly to the audience makes for an embarrassing amount of elbow-nudging against the fourth wall.

The best sequences come when Maxwell slows down some of the non-stop prat-falling/dashing about the stage. Certain numbers, like “Lovely,” between Hero and Philia are completely charming in their restrained silliness; relying on a few awkward leg movements to bring in the laughs. That being said, there was real chemistry between Hero (Robert Rainville) and Philia (Megan Nuttall). Their matched ingenuousness added a thread of candor within the manic wheeling about of some of the other scenes.

On that note, the houses on wheels got a little tiresome and didn’t really provide the sense of mobility that seemed to be the intention. Maxwell’s set, although eye-catching, had very little sense of the Greco-Roman, and began to feel rather claustrophobic by the middle of the first act. Because the houses surrounded a smaller opening downstage-centre, Maxwell’s design effectively hemmed in all the action, cramming the ensemble into what felt like a space that would be a tight squeeze even for a SmartCar. And that reminds me—what was with the Trojan product placement? It’s one thing to give a half-page programme ad to a sponsor, but to actually incorporate a brazenly modernday banner into the pseudo-ancient action, that’s just discouraging! Also conspicuously out of place were placards with Arabic numerals. In ancient Rome didn’t they use, ah, Roman numerals?

Acknowledgement must be accorded to the ladies—and gentleman— who made up the company of courtesans. In a way, they’re the ones with the most thankless roles (and the least clothing), but they bring a definite sexiness to the staid suggestiveness of the book. The same praise is due to Matt Selby’s Miles Gloriosus, a swaggering general more taken with himself than anyone else.

In spite of the cheesy songs and vaguely uninteresting storyline, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is still a good time, if only because—to paraphrase a line from one of the numbers—the cast and general atmosphere are positively winsome.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum runs until September 29th.

Who is caring for Gaza’s refugees?

This summer was a disastrous one for Palestinians. After months of stalled negotiations, their Hamas-Fatah unity government was fractured in June. Fighting broke out between the two factions, and when the smoke cleared militant group Hamas had taken control of the Gaza Strip, while Fatah retained the West Bank.

As the governments of Israel and the West become ever more involved in the dispute between Hamas and Fatah, Gazans have become the victims of not only a crippling Israeli occupation, but the political maneuverings of leaders from all sides who seem unwilling to do anything to help them.

Despite the fact that 1.5 million Gaza refugees live in intense poverty, the West, Israel, and even Fatah have cut off aid to the region since Hamas took over. As long as Hamas is in power, it seems Gazans will be left to wallow in their misery. While leaders pass blame around like a live grenade, who is really responsible for the disaster in Gaza?

The finger must be pointed at Hamas. In clinging to the doctrine of military resistance against Israel, they condemn their people to defeat. It is time for them to realize that armed struggle against Israel is ineffective and has failed to emancipate the Palestinians.

But the United States and the European Union are also complicit in Gaza’s troubles. They demand that Hamas must renounce violence once and for all in order to receive aid, yet they make no such demands of Israel. The Jewish state receives billions of dollars’ worth of military aid each year, using it to build an army that has killed innocents on a scale that Hamas can only dream of.

The U.S. and E.U. must end their economic and diplomatic boycott of Gaza and acknowledge the unfortunate reality that Hamas is a democraticallyelected major player in the region. No solution can be reached without their inclusion.

Israel too is contributing to the suffering of Gaza’s refugees. They have effectively sealed off the borders to the Gaza Strip, bringing the region’s already meagre economy to a standstill. Palestinians are dying at border crossings because they can’t access proper medical care on the outside. Electricity, supplied to Gaza by an Israeli company, has been periodically shut off, plunging hundreds of thousands of people into darkness for days at a time.

But what is truly astonishing is that even Fatah, which under Yassir Arafat became synonymous with the Palestinian cause, will do nothing to aid Gaza.

While Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is touted by Israel and her allies as more “moderate” than Hamas, what they really mean is that he is more likely to do what Israel wants. While at university, Abbas speculated in his doctoral thesis that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust might have only been a few hundred thousand, and that Zionists had inflated the number to gain sympathy for a Jewish state. This is not the kind of person Israel would normally praise as “moderate.”

Despite these clearly anti-Semitic leanings, Abbas has become Israel’s go-to guy in Palestine, for the sole reason th at he does what Israel wants. Adhering to the old strategy of divide and conquer, Israel has demanded that he not attempt to heal the rift between Hamas and Fatah, and Abbas has obliged. In August, he even took the unprecedented step of quashing a UN draft resolution expressing concern about the humanitarian disaster Gazans are facing under the economic boycott.

Since his defeat by Hamas in the 2006 elections confirmed that he does not have the support of the majority of his people, Abbas’ only legitimate claim to leadership is that he is the only Palestinian with whom Israel and the U.S. will negotiate. Now, he will apparently do anything he can to maintain that position, even if it means abandoning Gaza.

The world may one day grant Palestinians leaders who are capable of bringing them out of the darkness they have been mired in for 60 years, but for now they are surely nowhere to be found.

No more condos, please

In the spring of 2007, Toronto was ranked as one of the best places in Canada to buy real estate. A centre for scholarship, employment and tourism, more people are flocking to live here every year, but space is getting tight. Very tight.

Downtown Toronto is stretching to its breaking point with new condominium developments sprouting up like weeds. In the last few years some 17 000 units have been built. It seems like every week, another parking lot, old resturant or struggling corner store is scrapped for the sake of another shiny glass condo.

U of T’s campus is surrounded by developing real estate, the most recent example of which is on the north side of Bloor street where construction is set to begin on a high tower, replacing storefronts and restaurants. All these units may be necessary for our city’s growing population, but how much is too much?

The architecture of condominiums is generic, and is now clogging our skyline. Construction cranes and hard hats have filled our city and coupled with garish work sites and giant pits perforating the downtown core, they are quickly turning Toronto into a concrete jungle.

Pedestrians must navigate construction blocks and parking lots, clogging traffic. Tall, dominating towers create hideous shadows and often block out natural sunlight. Moreover, in erecting all these condos we are creating residential areas devoid of natural green spaces and backyards. However, there are more than just cosmetic criticisms of condominiums in Toronto. Increasingly, condo builders are responding to a newer, larger market. Once reserved for the rich, condos are coming down in price and are being built more cheaply. Often environmental sustainability suffers on this account. Rushed and inexpensive construction sites often do not incorporate green roofs, solar power, or energy saving tools as they would increase fees for tenants, making units less and less sellable.

While Toronto has a vested interest in building more housing, city landmarks and neighbourhood hang outs are often targets of construction. Toronto landmarks are at risk of being built over to create more housing. Even our beloved CN Tower competes for attention in the skies with the bevy of condos surrounding it. Toronto must limit the number of new developments in downtown Toronto to save its cultural integrity and pedestrian traffic. Condos might be classy and sophisticated, but only in small doses.