Blues rise in East

After a tremendous first half of the season, which saw the team win the first five games and put up a record of 7-3 overall, the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team must have been sad to see 2007 come and pass. The team can take solace that while the Gregorian calendar has already brought us into 2008, in the Chinese lunar calendar, the year of the pig, which officially began on Feb. 18, 2007, will not change until Feb. 6, 2008. So far the year of the pig has been nothing short of a blue-ribbon year for these “Beasts of the East.” Coach Michelle Belanger praised her team’s overall consistency this season, following an 89-48 route of the Ottawa Gee- Gees over the weekend.

“The players should get all the credit for our success this year. They’ve matured a lot, and are finally playing up to their ability. They’re taking things a little more seriously than they have in the past and it shows. They really want to win!”

The Blues have not only been consistent this season, but dominant. In wins they are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 75-58 (17 points per game.) First in the East in overall scoring per game, our team trails only high-powered Laurentian and Western in the OUA.

“We try to run a lot of back-screens, and play a motion offense,” said coach Belanger after Saturday’s blowout against Ottawa. “I think we did a good job today of scoring in transition and taking advantage of our speed. When we play in the half court, we want to move the ball really quickly, set some screens, then look inside to our post players. We did that today.”

Against the Ottawa Gee Gees, quick ball movement resulted in excellent shooting percentages and mismatches down low. Toronto finished the night shooting 46.4 per cent from the field, while going to the line 29 times compared to just 14 attempts for their opponents. Four Toronto players scored in double figures on Saturday: forward Laila Bellony had ten points and seven rebounds for the Blues, while Christine Cho and Allaine Hutton had 13 apiece. Any of these players could have easily grabbed Player of the Night honors, which eventually went to second-year guard Jessica Hiew who scored a season-high 16 points. Asked why this edition of the Blues has been so successful thus far, Hiew said, “I think it comes with playing a lot together. We’re starting to get to know each other’s games, what everyone can do, and that has helped a lot.”

The Blues haven’t only gotten familiar with their teammates in the New Year, but will be renewing hostilities with old foes the RMC Paladins and Queen’s Golden Gaels. The teams will be squaring off this Friday and Saturday at the Athletic Centre. Toronto opened 2008 with two victories on the road against them, and Hiew expects a dog fight this time around: “RMC and Queen’s are probably looking for revenge ’cause we beat them just last weekend. Especially Queen’s, because that was quite a close game. RMC we beat by quite a lot, but they’ll be looking to improve this time around as well.”

With another pair of victories, the Blues could creep closer to the top of the standings. Their current record, following a sweep of Ottawa and Carleton, stands at 11-3, good for second overall in the East behind the York Lions. The Blues are on pace statistically to win 17 games this season, their best total since 2003 when the team went 18-4. All coach Belanger wants to see is a hard-working team that learns from their past successes and failures.

“I just hope that we get better after every game we play, and I think that we have improved a lot in some areas. The goal is to put it all together by February so that we’ll have the total package.” The year of the pig isn’t quite over yet, and neither is the Varsity Blues season, so it’s possible that the 2007/2008 campaign will indeed be their year.

Strike and lockout tensions stew at STU

Picketing continues at Fredericton’s St. Thomas’ University, where administrators and faculty are negotiating amidst a simultaneous strike and lockout. In an unprecedented move, the liberal arts university locked out its faculty in anticipation of a strike two weeks ago, a move they said was an effort to reduce the negative impact of a strike on students. The undergraduate school’s 2,800 students have seen the start of their term indefinitely postponed. Faculty will meet Monday to decide whether or not to continue their protest.

On Friday, the St. Thomas’ University Students’ Union held a march through campus to protest the delays. They included a detour off campus so that faculty, barred from entry to the university itself, could participate.

“Students are the ones who are directly affected,” said Alicia Del Frate, STUSU’s VP administration. “[But] we don’t really have an avenue to speak. [The march] shows that students are united.”

Throughout the labour dispute, many students have declared their support for the administration, who they said are more conscious of the burden an ever-changing calendar puts on students.

“As president of St. Thomas’, it would be irresponsible of me to allow delays in reaching an agreement that would penalize our students and compromise future accessibility,” said STU president Michael Higgins in an open letter.

The Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas’ accused the administration of using distorting fi- nancial projections to exaggerate the cost of FAUST’s demands and scare students away from supporting them. Dawn Morgan, a professor and FAUST representative, went as far as saying the administration had deliberately misled and manipulated students to weaken FAUST’s bargaining position.

Del Frate highlighted the difficulties surrounding the uncertain start date for this term. Students living nearby have gone home to wait for classes to start, but those from out-of-province or outside the country have had to repeatedly reschedule travel plans. The first day of classes was rescheduled twice before being postponed indefinitely.

Though they decide when the semester begins, neither the administration nor faculty are affected in the same way as students, according to Del Frate.

Morgan pushed for solidarity between students and FAUST. “Faculty and students are natural allies. The university is the universe in which students and faculty come together, that’s the whole purpose,” she said.

The administration and FAUST are negotiating salary and workspace issues for part-time, full-time, and temporary faculty. The latter group is of special concern.

Morgan explained that temporary faculty, many of whom have just left graduate school, tend to get excessive workloads. Temporary faculty often teach four classes a semester, while full-time professors only teach two or three. “It is absolutely overwhelming,” said Morgan. “We just don’t think that’s equitable.”

FAUST has won some concessions from the administration, and will decide tomorrow whether or not to continue picketing. Morgan said she was particularly happy about gains for part-time faculty, including health benefits and more office space. “That’s a really good agreement and we’re very happy with that,” she said.

Matus named student kingpin

Effective July 1, 2008, Jill Matus, English professor and current viceprincipal of University College, will become U of T’s new vice-provost of students, a step up the administrative ladder that Governing Council approved this past week. She has been with the University of Toronto’s English department for over 25 years.

Matus will succeed U of T’s fi rst vice-provost of students, Jonathan Freedman, who held the job for seven months as an interim appointment while the university searched for a permanent replacement. During Matus’s upcoming fi ve-year tenure, she will be responsible for policies affecting the students and student organizations of all three U of T campuses.

In particular, she will oversee the operation and administration of student programs and services on St. George campus. Matus broke down her priorities for the downtown campus: “It would be things like the International Student Centre, First Nations health, student housing, and Hart House,” she said.

Other tasks Matus is expected to shepherd include supervising student recruitment operations, overseeing admissions and awards, and handling international student exchange programs. She will also supervise the assistant vice-president of student life, a newly created position, as yet unfilled.

After earning her PhD at the university in 1981, Matus worked as a part-time lecturer and an assistant professor at UTSC before joining the St. George English department as a full professor in 1997.

Three years ago, she began a term as vice-principal of University College, also taking on the role as acting principal of the college from July to December of 2007.

Announcing Matus’s new appointment, U of T vice-president and provost Vivek Goel said Matus embodies the essential characteristics needed for the position. Goel cited her “direct experience in undergraduate education, an understanding of the role of college life in the student experience, and a tri-campus orientation.”

“She has been engaged in activities that bridge curricular and co-curricular to ensure that our students have a well-rounded experience,” he said.

The outgoing Freedman expressed similar views of Matus, supporting her appointment, while bidding farewell to the post he has held since July 2007.

“She will be a wonderful addition to this office, and I look forward to having her take over the job,” said Freedman.

Matus was enthused about the appointment, but said she hopes it will not take her away from the classroom completely.

“I love teaching. It’s a wonderful way to maintain contact with students, particularly in my own department,” she said.

Apart from her administrative and academic experiences at U of T, Matus is also a distinguished humanities scholar and researcher, specializing in Victorian literature and culture. She has published writings on authors such as Dickens, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters—to name but a few.

Perspectives from Persepolis

Fearing social suicide, I very seldom use the word “nifty.” Yet when faced with the task of describing the animation style of Persepolis, it seems like the only word that will do. The characters are drawn in a stylishly minimal black-and-white and move in a herky-jerky way that is defiantly 2-D in a Pixar-dominated animation marketplace. When characters move, they often look like paper puppets— one part of the body will be flailing while the rest remains absolutely stationary. In the rare instances when 3-D is used, it is employed in a way that simulates a pop-up book. It looks like one of those Robert Smigel cartoons from Saturday Night Live filtered through German Expressionism.

Persepolis is based on two graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi about her own adolescence in a war-torn and increasingly oppressive Iran, and her subsequent tumultuous, soul-searching journey through Europe. The books and the film are also a pretty effective history lesson, summarizing years of Iranian war and revolution. Despite the difficult subject matter, both the graphic novels and the film are surprisingly whimsical and occasionally touching, and they have the same sort of irreverent humour one might find a comic written by a kid during class.

Unlike most literary adaptations, the Persepolis movie is co-written and codirected by the original author. “I never wanted to make a movie, and I always thought that was a very bad idea to make a movie out of the comics,” said Satrapi in a phone interview. “I had the possibility to make exactly the movie I wanted without making any compromise, and as an artist it doesn’t happen every day when people tell you, ‘Oh you can do whatever you want’—it was really an intellectual and artistic challenge for me.”

The challenge of the Persepolis movie was to take two rambling, tangential graphic novels and turn them into a relatively conventional 95-minute movie while still maintaining their spirit. “When I made the book, the story is linear: it starts at one point, it finishes at one point, and I had all the space to express whatever I wanted. When you a one-and-a-half hour movie of course you cannot put everything, otherwise you’ll find yourself with five movies in one, which is a complete disaster.

“It was really a book that I made to give another point of view to the world. I didn’t want the movie to become a political or a historical or a sociological statement, and I thought to make it universal it would be much better to concentrate on the story of one person, a very individualistic [structure] and humanistic point-of-view. And just to show how it is as a human being when you are in a place and how [cultural norms] become so much bigger than you as an individual and pressed down. And how do you leave? How do you grow up? I thought that was an interesting angle.”

Persepolis has received almost unanimous critical and popular acclaim. It has been selected as France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, beating out much-hyped candidates like La Vie en Rose and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and at last May’s Cannes Film Festival it won the Jury Prize. “The Cannes festival is like the day of your wedding,” said Satrapi. “Everybody enjoys it except you.”

But the film’s North American release is especially notable for coinciding with an unprecedented level of negative American media coverage about Iran. Considering the increasing tendency to label Iran, rather simplistically, as part of an “Axis of Evil,” Satrapi’s human story is particularly valuable.

“It is important that people don’t forget that the government is one thing, and the people are another,” says Satrapi. “I mean, even me, when I came to America for the first time, I missed [the fact] that American government and American people are not the same until I saw them, and I saw how people were…and American people are often not George Bush, thank God!”

“But most of the time people forget that, because every day 200 people die in Iraq, but nobody cares about it. They talk about it like it’s a dog dying. They have forgotten that those people [Iraqis] are just people like them, they have family and friends and hope and love, but they are reduced to some kind of abstract notion—‘Axis of Evil.’ So it’s very important that we put the human being at the centre of interest. It’s so obvious what I’m saying, but I feel that it can never be repeated enough.”

Students push York to dump Burma stocks

York students are lobbying their university to let its money speak for democracy in Burma. The student-led York Coalition for Responsible Investment is urging the university to review its Burma-related investments. In support of the boycott of the Burmese military regime, YCRI has launched a petition calling on the school to divest itself of these stocks.

The group’s petition, available online, cites human rights abuses reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and includes a pro-boycott statement from the All-Burmese Monks’ Alliance. Last September, Burma’s military dictators weathered a storm of public and official condemnation of their regime and its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“The campaign is really just beginning, consisting mainly of the petition and investment research at the moment,” said Simon Granovsky-Larsen, a student organizer of YCRI. “But we plan to eventually bring motions to the York Board of Governors addressing some or all of the companies active in Burma.”

YCRI found York University investments totaling over $1 billion in companies active in Burma, including Total, Chevron, Petrochina, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Hyundai, LG, and Samsung.

Their petition is a part of the ongoing effort to reform the ways universities invest. YCRI wants ethical standards, decision-making structure, voting methods, and the role of students in investment processes to be made explicit.

This isn’t the first time the students have criticized the university for involvement with Burma: York students led a five-year boycott of Pepsi products in the mid ’90s, following the soft drink maker’s opening of a plant in Burma.

MP Larry Bagnell, the chairman of the group Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Burma, just returned from the Thai-Burmese border. In a public letter, he reported on his experience with various groups, including deserters from the regime’s army, monks, and ex-political prisoners:

“I learned that, though it may appear to the international community that the worst of the violence is over in Burma, atrocities in the ethnic states including rape, forced displacement, forced labour and extrajudicial killings are going on daily,” he wrote. “The people I met expressed support for Canada’s humanitarian aid to Burma and increased economic sanctions against the regime.”

McGill set a precedent with a similar campaign in 2006. In response to that program, the Montreal school’s Board of Governors adopted an ethical investment proposal.
The petition can be viewed online at: http://www.petitiononline.com/YUburma/ petition.html.

Cops on the prowl for peeping Tom

Residents of the area around St. George St. and Bloor West have been warned by Toronto police to keep vigilant after reports came in of a man peeping into women’s homes during the evening and early morning hours. Police sent out a safety alert last week, asking for the public’s assistance identifying the man, described as 5’6” to 5’10” with a thin build, wearing a dark bomber jacket and toque.

It is not clear whether any of the peeping Tom incidents took place on U of T’s downtown campus, but Justin Fisher, assistant to the dean of Woodsworth College—whose new residence tower sits at the intersection highlighted by police— said he could not recall any similar incidents in the six months since he took on his position.

“The measures that we have in place, we’re very confident in those, and in the policies we have in place too,” said Fisher. He cited such security measures as a 24-hour front desk, guest sign-in policy, and nightly rounds made by staff.

“I just think being in downtown Toronto and how we have an such open campus where anyone from public or students are able to access our buildings, that’s why it’s important that we take security seriously and that we’re always on top of it.” In September, two female students at York university were sexually assaulted by men who snuck into their dorm. GTA universities condemned the assault and responded by reaffirming their commitment to student security. Later that month, two editors of Ryerson’s newspaper the Eyeopener tested the security at two of the university’s dorms and found they could sneak in easily. No such incidents have been reported at U of T.

Guild guilty of gutting Globes?

If you’re like me, your entire life revolves around the annual Academy Awards. (Then again, if you’re like me, you’re probably also very, very alone, but that’s beside the point.) Oscar obsession usually starts around September with the Toronto International Film Festival, when I spend endless hours ignoring loved ones in favour of reading reviews of whatever four-hour Ang Lee movie is premiering that day. The next five months until the Academy reveals its award winners are like hot, sweaty foreplay for any true Oscar junkie—the sweet caress of the “For Your Consideration” ads, the sensuous lubrication of the box office reports, the gentle thrusting of the early award shows (Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards), all leading up to a vaguely unsatisfying and all-toopremature Oscar telecast. It’s a yearly ritual that gives my life meaning.

But this year, the Oscars are in jeopardy. As you’ve probably heard, the Writer’s Guild of America is striking because of a dispute with the Producer’s Guild over residual payments for sales of movies and TV shows over online venues like Itunes. The writers believe they should receive 2.5 per cent of online revenue in residuals. By contrast, the producers believe the writers should receive zero per cent.

As a result of the strike, no Writer’s Guild members are allowed to write new movie and TV scripts until the issue is resolved. Furthermore, anyone who appears on a show that is being produced in violation of strike guidelines is perceived as not supporting the writers’ cause, and can rightly be considered a traitor. As a result, virtually no important people will cross a picket line. This is why Leno’s guest the other night was some guy from the L.A. zoo and Conan’s guest was Bob Saget.

Awards ceremonies are similarly affected, as evidenced by the recent cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards. Oh yes, that beloved presenters’ banter is, in fact, written by a professional, and unless the award show received special permission from the Writer’s Guild, no big stars will cross the picket line. Even if they did, what would they say? Since we all know the main appeal of the Golden Globes is the outside chance of seeing a celebrity drunk, there was nothing left to do but cancel it.

For any hard-core award show fan, this is bad news. As Dick Clark says, the Globes are “the party of the year,” and if Dick Clark says it, it must be true. Who can forget all those wacky and wonderful memories from past Globes ceremonies? Like that time when…uh…well, actually, the only really wacky moment I can think of is when Pia Zadora won, and that was before I was born, but the point remains: we’ll surely be missing out on some wonderful memories. Another unfortunate result of the cancellation is that Steven Spielberg, this year’s lifetime achievement winner, will have to wait until 2009 to collect his trophy. Poor guy. I hope he catches a break someday.

With the Globes cancelled, all eyes are now on Oscar. If I may illustrate this situation using a metaphor in the form of the 1996 movie Executive Decision, the Globes are like Steven Seagal to the Oscars’ Kurt Russell: if Seagal dies early on, then Russell can no longer be considered safe. Okay, terrible example, but you get the idea.

If the writers and the producers don’t come to an agreement soon, the Oscars will probably be cancelled. And with no Oscar-cast to watch, my life will lose all meaning, and I might be forced to go outside, read a book, or even interact with other people, and nobody wants that. So if anyone from the Producer’s Guild is reading this, I beg of you: if you don’t care about fairness, honesty, accountability, and creativity…could you at least care about me?

Who’s laughing now?

The Writers Guild of America strike is entering its 10th week today, and while it might warm some hearts to know that a new American Gladiators is back in the making, most television viewers are beginning to tire of the onslaught of game shows and reality programming hijacking TV airtime. Adding insult to couch potato injury, last week it was announced that this year’s Golden Globes will be cancelled. This means no red carpet and no fashion magazine “best and worst of” lists in the weeks to follow. This strike is beginning to hinder all sorts of guilty pleasures.

Still, it’s hard not to side with the writers. Now that they’re gone, we’re realizing just how badly television needs them. Well-written shows like The Office and Big Love—two of the many programs whose production has been halted by the strike—are what keeps the ‘boob’ out of boob tube. More pressingly, this is a U.S. presidential election year. How on earth are we supposed to follow the campaign without Jon Stewart’s whipsmart coverage on The Daily Show to fill us in on all the dirty politics? New episodes have returned, but with Stewart doing all his own writing, they are of lesser quality.

On the other hand, Canadian-produced television shows remain unaffected by the WGA strike. Perhaps an ongoing strike would allow for a push of Canadian programming into a broader North American spotlight. Can’t you just picture families across America rushing home to see the latest episode of Corner Gas? Then again, maybe not.

There is a major downside to the strike for Canadian entertainers. Our Hollywood North economy is beginning to suffer tremendous losses from the cessation of American television productions. In British Columbia alone, more than a dozen series that had been filming in the province prior to the strike have closed operations. The two that remain are expected to follow suit within the month.

The strike is a nuisance, but fair is fair. This isn’t the first time American writers have gone on strike. Back in 1988, the WGA ended its five-month strike with an ill-forged deal that wound up costing them enormous home video and DVD residuals in the following years. Now, the writers’ concerns surround new media, specifically a share of internet-based media profits, which don’t add up to much today, but are projected to be worth billions in the future. Though it may seem mind-boggling, production companies that rely so heavily on the talent of their writers for enormous profits have long been reluctant to grant these writers a fair piece of the pie.

Hopefully the studio execs are paying close attention to the low-grade pap that’s being churned out on their networks, and realize that pretty soon we’re going to get tired of watching reruns of House, turn off the TV and, I don’t know, pick up a book or something.

Just compensation for writers is the obvious, ethical choice for the entertainment industry, even if it means viewers have to endure more of the same dismal programming until an agreement can be made. The writers have already been shortchanged. This strike is about making sure it doesn’t keep happening.