Tibet: Not an issue of Good versus Evil

For supposed peace-loving individuals seeking inner harmony with nature, Buddhist monks seem to be doing a lot of rioting. Violent clashes between ethnic Tibetan protestors and Chinese authorities over the past week have highlighted simmering tensions in Chinese domestic politics. But it is precisely that: domestic politics.

While an unconfirmed number of protestors have died as a result of the Chinese crackdown, international media coverage generally overlooks the acts of violence carried out by the protestors. This is no passive campaign of civil disobedience, but rather a full scale urban riot led by Buddhist monks only too willing to use violence as a means to further their agenda.

What began as a peaceful protest to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule has been hijacked by rowdy monks, and other Tibetan radicals. Protestors have targeted police stations and other government offices in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, symbols of Chinese authority. However, less appetizing is violence targeted toward the Han Chinese population in the capital, who are specifically singled out by the ethnic Tibetan protestors. As Chinese-owned businesses are looted and set ablaze, individuals are physically attacked. On the Internet, there is a video of an innocent bicyclist thrown to the ground, and then subsequently stoned by a mob of goons. These attacks are on Han Chinese, but also the predominantly Muslim Hui people, and can only be labeled as xenophobic, ethnically-based hate crimes.

While the Dalai Lama has distanced himself from the violent rioter conduct, he’s rejected calls to publicly ask the protestors to stop. The declared objective of the radical protestors is outright independence. While some may be inclined to support the independence movements of distinctive ethnic minority populations, anyone with a basic understanding of China will understand why the central government cannot allow this.

China is not made up of one people. Some 56 distinct ethnicities make up the over 1.3 billion people that inhabit the mainland, and for the sake of its national integrity, China cannot carve out its territory. Another point of grievance is the Chinese government’s policy to encourage the migration of the Han Chinese into Tibet. The Dalai Lama claims this to be “cultural genocide.” This type of xenophobic rhetoric might be expected from the likes of Lou Dobbs, but this does not bode well when a supposedly enlightened figure entertains the notion of cultural contamination due to an influx of immigration.

The protestors are undoubtedly playing into the spotlight of the international media, hoping to embarrass the Chinese government ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Hollywood celebrities such as Richard Gere make the rounds on CNN, attempting to capitalize on the deaths caused by agitators and calling for the boycott of the Olympic Games.

It would be foolish and immoral to support the Chinese government’s crackdown on protestors. But in light of the unwillingness of the mainstream media to explore the intricacies of the issues, a fair portrayal of such counter arguments is absolutely necessary.

The Internet isn’t private

Back in the good ol’ days, when Facebook was exclusively a post-secondary student networking site, I let incriminating photos slide. As far as I was concerned, the “remove tag” function was a vanity option for insecure undergrads phobic of unflattering camera angles.

Then my teenage brother got on Facebook. After that, some younger cousins. Former high school teachers, current professors, and mothers of bygone boyfriends followed in rapid succession. It wasn’t long before I became concerned at the fragments of my life I allowed to be documented.

While I adamantly refuse by superficial grounds—dopey grins and bad-hair days—to remove my name from Facebook photos, I am careful to edit myself out of pictures that draw attention to particularly uncouth moments of indiscretion. There are parts of my life that simply need not to be seen by everyone I know.

Online screening of prospective employees on networking sites is now practically standard procedure. A few months ago, an on-campus acquaintance attested to having been recruited by a family member to comb the Facebook profile of another student for hiring purposes. She dutifully, if guiltily, relayed the data she has amassed to her family member, who chose not to hire the applicant for reasons largely attributed to information gleaned from the applicant’s account.

Is this type of uninvited online attention an unfair transgression of personal space? Maybe, but it comes with the territory. As our ongoing obsession with Facebook plainly demonstrates, privacy is a right we will happily forfeit in order to feel socially connected.

That said, online communities don’t always serve a social function: Facebook can also be a handy tool for academic-related discussion. Then again, recent events have shown that even scholastic pursuits can lead to trouble when staged within the public sphere. Just ask Chris Avenir, the first-year Ryerson computer engineering student who served as admin for a group used for exchanging chemistry queries. The innocent online forum for sharing solutions to homework problems morphed into public controversy when the group’s professor caught wind, and denounced it as cheating. Avenir was charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct—one for himself in addition to each of the 146 students in the group—and faced expulsion hearings last week. He won’t be expelled, but it’s a chilling testament to how Internet- based action can have serious consequences.

Facebook may be a ready-made arena for the clashing of public and private realms, but the social networking site is merely a microcosm for the Internet as a whole, where anyone’s personal information is only a Google search away. The Ryerson Facebook scandal is only one example of recent headline-making incidents of online disclosure gone awry.

Late last week, area private school director David Prashker resigned from his post at the Leo Baeck Jewish Day School as a result of an anonymous email circulated among the school’s parents. The e-mail shed light on a website selling poetry Prashker had previously written, some of which included sexual and violent imagery. The incident sparked in the school’s community. Apparently, parents felt that Prashker should have accounted for young students discovering his explicit writings before making them public.

Three words sum up the lesson learned from Avenir and Prashker’s recent exploits: discretion, discretion, discretion. The Internet is a public forum: there is always the risk of personal information falling into the wrong hands. Privacy can exist, but maintaining it is a matter of personal responsibility. Unfortunately, this lesson is often learned too late.

Studying the brain politik

Tradition holds that political views are a byproduct of personality, family values, and social experience. However, intriguing new research has demonstrated that there may be neural mechanisms underlying a person’s preference of one political view over another. An experiment conducted by David

Amodio, assistant professor of psychology at New York University, used a simple computer game of various political affiliations to test whether there was a correlation between those views and the brain. The game tested how participants were able to respond to information that contradicted an accepted pattern of belief systems by creating a natural situation of developing and breaking a pattern.

Amodio and colleagues scanned the brains of 43 subjects during 500 trials of a task designed to test their ability to break from a habitual response. Prior to the experiment, volunteers rated their political leanings based on a scale from negative five (very liberal) to positive five (very conservative). They were given a computerized test in which they were shown one of two stimuli for 100 milliseconds. If an “M” popped up on the screen, the respondent had 500 milliseconds to press a key on the keyboard. If a “W” appeared, the person was told to do nothing.

The task, known as “go/no-go,” is an example of “conflict monitoring.” This explains the situations where we must pay more attention to what is going on. Subjects became accustomed to pressing the button when they saw an “M,” which appeared 80 per cent of the time during the trials. Thus, when a “W” cropped up, participants faced a conflict between their trained response and a new stimulus.

During the course of the experiment, EEG scans monitored participant brain activity. The pattern that emerged dictated that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) played a vital role in the decision-making process. Amodio explained that the ACC activates and signals to other regions of the brain allowed adaptation according to a sudden change.

“The ACC turns off the autopilot and grabs the wheel,” he said.

Those who reported to be strong liberals generally completed the adaptive task more accurately, displaying higher activity in the ACC than conservatives. On average, people who described themselves as politically liberal boasted 2½ times more activity in their ACCs and were more sensitive to the “nogo” cue than their conservative counterparts.

Although understandably wary of generalizations, Amodio believes that these experiments provide valuable insight into the psychological basis of ideology and personality. He plans to conduct similar research with subjects who have a range of views on politically charged topics such as gun control.

Breaking up UTSU’s balancing act

Students highly critical of UTSU’s officially neutral stance on the $18 levy Bubble plebiscite held an event entitled “Take Back Your Student Union” on Wednesday, March 19. The event consisted of a series of workshops and discussions aimed at pushing the student union’s executive board toward taking strong stances on social justice issues.

The day-long event ran from noon to 9 p.m. in UTSU’s main building. Numerous participatory workshops and art-based activities drew a circulating crowd of students throughout the day.

Talks included was “Police Brutality and Systemic Racism,” a discussion given by Rodney Patricio, vice-chair of the National Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance. Patricio spoke about Filipino youth

According to Patricio, Filipinos walking in groups of more than fi ve are often automatically stopped and asked for ID.

“The police would label a group as a gang, as opposed to just friends, because they were walking in groups,” he said.

Event organizer Ryan Hayes said that student unions have historically been at the forefront of movements for social justice equity, which include movements to stop fee increases.

“The purpose of this event was to bring students together and make a statement of what we think a student union looks like,” he said.

Hayes applauded student unions raising broader issues, such as workers’ rights, poverty, and war.

The day included a discussion about student unionism in Latin America and a video screening presented by Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

Xavier LaFrance, an organizer of 2005’s student strike over tuition in Quebec, moderated a discussion on eliminating all tuition and ancillary fees.

“These events are generally things that the union hasn’t taken positions on in the past,” said Hadia Akhtar, UTSU associate VP university affairs.

“We’re really just trying to create awareness as to what a student union is for, in positions of things, and to not be neutral,” said Akhtar.

The rise of technopolitics

Just in case you needed further evidence that presidential hopefuls are employing that burgeoning area of message distribution, social media—aka, everything on the Internet including social networks, blogs, and websites— just search for the Will.I.Am and Obama music video, “Yes We Can,” on Youtube.

But is the Internet simply a new way of communicating the old message, or are they changing the nature of our politics? That was the topic for discussion at “The Permanent Campaign: The Impact of Technology on Politics,” held at the MaRS building on Tuesday afternoon. Speakers included U of T alum and CBC industry analyst Jesse Hirsh, Dr. Greg Elmer, Ryerson professor and director of the Infoscape Research Lab, and Andrew Coyne, national editor at Maclean’s magazine.

A permanent campaign is one that continues off TV screens and away from public appearances, running around the clock through media such as the Internet. The idea of the permanent campaign is nothing new: though first defined by Jimmy Carter’s advisor Patrick Caddell, it has been around for 200 years.

But, added the conference’s experts, in the political climate of the information age—with its expanded cultural politics, easier transnational travel, increased competition within TV media itself, and the development of social media—the permanent campaign is a must. This kind of marketing requires a large number of decidedly partisan staff and volunteers, usually taking the form of extremely opinionated bloggers. This may be where the Internet has changed politics the most: blogs have become an important part of the election process to influence political writers in more traditional newsmedia.

Perhaps the turn to web-based campaigning is a rehash of a simpler time when people would have known their candidates through face-to-face meetings. Although Internet campaigning and social media is still small in its influence compared to television and public appearances, social media is an area in which uncensored opinions can be divulged and people can contest a statement publicly without regard to political correctness. In this way, the biases that would have been imposed through television and newspapers can be removed. Videos on Youtube and Facebook profiles might seem to divulge more about the personality of each candidate. Social media may change what it means for a candidate to win office based on reputation.

Rez fees go through the leaky roof

Students in residence at New College are nervously rebudgeting at the news that their rent will rise 20 per cent next fall. Many are organizing in opposition—the New College Residence Council and the student activists AlwaysQuestion have planned a protest for Thursday, March 20. New College is looking for a way out of a financial sinkhole dating back at least to the double cohort, but principal Rick Halpern said the fee increase was planned for years, and is not meant to fix the college’s large deficit.

Even if the hike isn’t a direct response to the financial woes, the decision to spring it the all at once, rather than rolling it out over several years, is calculated to shock.

“I saw it as a political intervention whereby I could get the Provost and Simcoe Hall to respond to the college’s situation,” said Halpern. That situation is an operating deficit of $2.3 million for this year alone. Halpern said he hopes to renegotiate the mortgage for 45 Willcocks and sell several floors of the building back to Simcoe Hall.

Halpern defended the increase on the grounds that it brought New College residence fees in lines with other colleges’. To some students, this argumnet fell flat.

“There is a reason why New College has the lowest-price residence,” said Ann Marie Chung, president of the New College Residence Council. “The other two buildings, Wilson and Wetmore, have been in a state of disrepair for a long time.”

The original–and, most would now concede, flawed–business plan for 45 Willcocks suggested that profits from Wilson and Wetmore could pay down the mortgage for the new residence. But the leaky older buildings have not paid off their own 40-plus-year-old mortgages. Willcocks’ original plan predicted 100 per cent occupancy all year round, an assumption Halpern pronounced “ridiculous.”

The chances of U of T bailing out the college with a the college a no-interest loan look slim. In a possible sign of a new approach to ancillary services at U of T, the university is insisting that New College get its financial affairs in order on its own. A report, to be presented to the University Affairs Board next Tuesday, suggests that instead of receiving subsidies from the university, ancillary services should actually produce funds for the university. In fact, the report predicts that by 2013, ancillary services will make U of T a profit to the tune of $1.9 million.

Thursday’s protest meets at 1 p.m. in the New College quad.


You might already know Parisian record label Ed Banger as the home of ultra-hip artists like Justice, Uffie, and Mr. Flash—so what were they doing repping at the corner of College and Robert on Thursday night? The answer is on the cover of nearly every Ed Banger release: the artwork of graphic designer So Me.

The inaugural exhibit of Studio Gallery (formerly known as Ourspace) had an impressive audience in attendance to lavish praise on So Me’s North American debut, Portraits.

Influenced by everything from ’60s French comic books to graffiti, and the mastermind behind award-winning music videos for Justice, DJ Mehdi, and Kanye West, So Me’s work has exploded internationally in the past few years. As an expression of Banger’s love for Toronto, So Me even created a series in his trademark style exclusively for the T-dot— vintage Jays caps and all.

Aptly titled Portraits, the exhibit is a magenta- heavy ode to the face of Ed Banger, namely the label’s founder and director, Pedro “Busy-P” Winters. So Me imagines Winter’s face in a variety of different contexts, even as an Olympic weightlifter—collect them all!

The special media preview for the exhibit featured the artist in attendance, alongside the dudes from Justice, fresh from their sold-out Sunday night gig at the Sound Academy, and Busy P, whose face was distributed to the guests in the form of both masks and buttons.

The preview party ran a little behind schedule with a slight air of frustration vented by the organizers, as a large portion of the evening was spent in a stark white-walled room awaiting the mounting of the artwork. However, Studio Gallery curator and U of T alumna Vanessa Gronowski maintained her optimism, patiently explaining that they had “just received the art yesterday.”

As it turns out, a laser printer in another room was birthing the pieces one by one as So Me’s crew frantically mounted them in frames, with volunteers rushing them straight to the walls for viewing.

One of the many magenta portraits of Busy P depicts a wet paintbrush in an artist’s hand over a half-completed face. With my broken French I was able to get in a brief word with So Me. “Always last minute!” he proclaimed. A sentiment I’m sure almost every artist can understand.

Located above the Savannah Room at 294 College St., Portraits runs from March 21 until May 17, 7-10 p.m. Check www.studio.to for more info.

Bubble vote overblown

Threats, fines, and weeks of campaigning— it could all have been for nothing if the Bubble plebiscite turns out to be a colossal waste of time.

UTSU’s election officials have advised that the results of this month’s bubble vote be tossed out. The plebiscite on whether or not to fund operations of the Varsity Centre was a nonbinding referendum in which 56 per cent of students supported the permanent levy of $18 per year to fund the Varsity Centre’s operation costs.

UTSU’s Election and Referenda Committee reached the decision at a marathon meeting that concluded late on the evening of Sunday, March 2. ERC chair Faraz Siddiqui confirmed that the committee had determined that pro-levy Yes campaigners had exceeded their $2,000 limit on campaign expenses. The campaign ran four quarter-page colour advertisements in The Varsity. “I respected that limit with a maximum total spending of $1955.64 on our campaign,” said Masha Sidorova, who led the Yes campaign. Sidorova said this number included $1,800 for the four ads, which were bought through an agency. The Varsity does not disclose individual ad rates.

The ERC, however, ruled that they would consider only the normal market price of the advertisements.

The decision was made just over a week after the ERC fined and penalized No campaigners for sending a coercive email to members of the Unite U of T slate.

UTSU is not required to accept the ERC’s recommendation, nor are they required to act on the results of the plebiscite. “I am confident that this recommendation will be revisited and defeated at the Board meeting on Monday. I trust that the Board will respect the results of the plebiscite as they were achieved in a fair manner,” said Sidorova.

The levy must be approved by the Council On Student Services, whose 17-member voting board includes four UTSU representatives. If UTSU does accept the outcome of the vote, these four will vote in favour of the levy. APUS and GSU, who together have four representatives on COSS, have said that they will oppose the levy regardless. The seven individuals representing administration have a history of supporting ancillary fee increases, and can be expected to vote for the levy.

UTSU’s representatives are expected to be the deciding votes on the otherwise deadlocked board.