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.

To Iraq and back again

Ryan Phillippe stars in Stop Loss as an Iraq war veteran who has to choose between returning to the war zone and disobeying his country.

During his Oscar monologue, Jon Stewart remarked, “The films that were made about the Iraq war [in 2007], let’s face it, did not do as well. But I’m telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in theatres we can turn this around.”

Indeed, following the box office failures of In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Rendition, and Lions for Lambs, the landscape for Iraq-themed Hollywood fare does not look promising. Still, another has crept in under the wire: Stop Loss, the latest from Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), starring Ryan Phillippe, Victor Rasuk, Rob Brown, and Channing Tatum, a cast that would make any reasonable male momentarily question his sexuality.

The film is about an American soldier (Ryan Phillippe) in the Iraq war forced into serving beyond his discharge date as part of stop-loss, an actual U.S. military policy. Displeased, he runs away, hoping to make it to Washington to explain his situation to his congressman. His experience stands in contrast to that of his friend (Channing Tatum), who plans to return on his umpteenth tour of duty because it’s the only job he can excel at.

“Stop-loss is essentially a backdoor draft,” said Ryan Phillippe in an interview with The Varsity. “People are being forced into combat who don’t want to be there any longer, and I think that’s a pretty terrible situation to put a person in. But hopefully— and this is the way I truly feel about the direction the country’s going— the war is going to end, and we won’t have to be dealing with this in the same capacity. I think that we’re going to get somebody else in there and a new group of people who are going to make a difference.”

This is Kimberly Peirce’s first movie since Boys Don’t Cry. She spent several of the intervening years trying to launch Silent Star, a film about the murder of William Desmond Taylor that was to star Hugh Jackman and Annette Bening. After that project collapsed, she sold Stop Loss to Paramount on spec, unusual for an established filmmaker.

“My brother was fighting in Iraq, and on his leave he brought back videos,” said Peirce. “So I was in my bedroom and heard, ‘Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!’ I went in the living room and I saw him staring at this television at images that soldiers had shot with handheld cameras—[they] put them on a sandbag, or wired them to their humvee—and then they would go back to their barracks and they would cut them together. So I saw that and I was mesmerized. I was like, ‘This is an anthropological find. This is this generation’s war; this is how they’re experiencing it. The movie needs to come from that.’ I took those videos and cut those into a five-minute trailer, went to the studio with a script, five-minute trailer, and I was like, ‘This is the movie.’”

Peirce put a lot of preparation into the making of Stop Loss. “I was interviewing soldiers who were both pro- and anti-war the entire time, and I was taking from their stories these essential truths. So now when soldiers see it, I’m very happy to say that they really love it.”

“In America, the soldiers say, ‘This is my life. This is happening to me, I’m stop-lossed.’ Wives write in, ‘This is happening to us. My husband is not seeing the birth of our child because of stop-loss.’”

Selling Stop Loss to the general public will be a challenge for Paramount Pictures given the apathy shown to previous Iraq films. They have an interesting strategy, though: the poster features the ab-tastic cast wearing tight t-shirts and spread out around a car like something out of an Abercrombie ad. Best of all, Paramount will be partnering in distribution with MTV Films, of all things. Eat your heart out, Paul Haggis!

TTC cries poor

New legislation will soon replace the existing policy for budget surpluses, which currently directs all surpluses towards eliminating Ontario’s current debt of $160.8 billion. Of the targeted $800 million surplus, $600 million will be spent to reduce provincial debt and any outstanding funds will be distributed among Ontario municipalities based on population size. The GTA will see an estimated $40 million, or 20 per cent, of the remaining funds.

“Investing in municipal infrastructure not only addresses the capital needs of our communities, but it also creates more jobs in the short term and prosperity in the long run,” says the Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan.

Adam Giambrone, chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, criticized the province for not pursuing improved student transit options. “It has never crossed the province’s mind to make a U-Pass for students,” he said. The TTC has offered university students a bulksavings U-Pass, which gives unlimited TTC use for eight months at a cost of $480, but would be mandatory for all students. The lack of an opt-out has prevented any student union from accepting the UPass deal so far.

The decline of Denys Arcand?

Days of Darkness, the latest from famed Quebecois director Denys Arcand, has not ranked high on anyone’s list of the director’s finest achievements. Allegedly the third part of a trilogy that began with The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and continued with The Barbarian Invasions (2003), this new film feels more like a lighthearted American Beauty with touches of Brazil. While early reviews have been harsh (an inevitable problem with following a work as important as The Barbarian Invasions), the film undoubtedly would have benefited from another rewrite to iron out some of the sloppiness in the script. Still, Days of Darkness emerges as one of the more entertaining mid-life crisis films of recent years. It’s that rare thing: a genuinely enjoyable art house flick.

Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Labreche) is a mousy, middle-aged civil servant who’s a dead-ringer for U.S. talk show host Alan Colmes. His day alternates between a stifling job and an even more stifling life at home, where his frigid wife and daughters ignore him. Leblanc’s only solace comes from a large pornography collection and his outrageous fantasies of a life with wealth and power. Fantasy is easy to spot: they usually end with a stunning woman demanding sex.

Days of Darkness is not the polished work one might expect from a filmmaker of Arcand’s stature. The first hour grows fairly repetitive, and there’s a long, awkward scene at a medieval fair that could easily be confused with one of Leblanc’s dream sequences. It lacks the strong emotional centre of The Barbarian Invasions, but what it does have is a droll, biting sense of humour. There are lots of big laughs, particularly in Arcand’s depiction of an increasingly oppressive Quebec (the word “negro” is declared illegal and security guards track down smokers like Big Brother). Labreche too is very funny and believable in his suburban everyman role. Days of Darkness may be a lark, but it’s the smartest and funniest lark currently playing.

Carleton student still missing

Nadia Kajouji, an 18-year-old student at Carleton University in Ottawa, has been missing for over a week. Her roommates last saw her leaving the Prescott suite residence the night of Sunday, March 9, when she returned from spending reading week with her family in Brampton.

Kajouji’s parents have offered a $50,000 reward for her safe return. The couple was notified of her disappearance on March 12 and immediately drove to Ottawa.

Deborah Chevalier, Kajouji’s mother, told the Ottawa Citizen that the first-year public affairs student was depressed in recent weeks and disappointed with her marks in school. Chevalier has returned to the family home in Brampton, while her father, Mohamed Kajouji, is staying in Ottawa to search for her.

Ottawa police say there was no sign of a break-in or disturbance at Kajouji’s dorm. “At this time, there’s no information to lead us to believe foul play is a factor in this case,” said constable Alain

Boucher of the Ottawa Police Service. Boucher said Tuesday that there were no new developments in the case. “Officers are still trying to retrace where she’s been and the last time she was seen,” he said. “We have an idea, but we’re still trying to confirm different sources.”

Worried family and friends are organizing their own search efforts, including a ground search that began at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning outside Kajouji’s residence.

Kajouji was reported missing on Wednesday, March 12. On Thursday, Carleton University sent out a missing person advisory to students, faculty and staff. Kajouji is described as Mediterranean, dark skin, 5’8”, 130 lbs, hazel eyes, and shoulder length brown hair with blonde streaks. Her eyebrow and tongue are pierced.

“She was very outgoing, happy-golucky,” said Candita Marten-Mills, Kajouji’s aunt. “This is not typical of her, so we’re thinking she’s somehow being held against her will.”

A Facebook group to help find Kajouji, started by Marten-Mills, has over 7,000 members.

“Lots of people have stepped up to help,” she said.

U of T star leaves his Mark

In a swanky downtown hotel, a group of young hopefuls stripped down to their underwear. They stood on a stage in front of gaping onlookers who scrutinized their bodies, recording their heights and their weights. No, this wasn’t an audition for the latest top modelthemed reality show. This was the scene at the CFL Draft Evaluation Camp, held over the past weekend at the Varsity Centre and the InterContinental Hotel. What first seemed like a bachelor auction on steroids was actually a showcase of the skills Canada’s best football prospects have to offer.

Modelled after the NFL Scouting Combine, the CFL Camp featured 54 talented athletes vying for the attention of general managers, coaches, and scouts before Draft Day on April 30. The prospects’ skills and professional potential were evaluated through a series of tests and drills, including the 40-yard dash and short shuttle. In last year’s event, 20 of the 52 participants were eventually picked in the 2007 CFL Canadian Draft.

When asked about the importance of the combine, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said, “One of the things we want to do is promote young athletes coming up into our league. So if you can identify who the great athletes are gonna be, and start promoting them, it’s perfect for us.”

One of those great athletes was Varsity Blues star wide receiver and co-captain Mark Stinson. As U of T’s sole representative, a humble Stinson said, “I knew coming into this that I would be an underdog, so that I had to turn heads some way. Hopefully I did that at this camp.”

In his four years playing for the Blues, Stinson has had no trouble doing just that. Throughout his career, he’s played quarterback, wide receiver, punt and kick returner, as well as punter and placekicker. This past season alone, Stinson led the Blues with 34 receptions for 386 yards, had 39 carries for 205 yards, and scored two touchdowns. He took over as primary punter when kicker/punter Joe Valtellini was sidelined with an injury, averaging 32.4 yards per punt.

Even in the midst of the CFL Camp, Stinson was not one to forget his time with the Blues. “In the past four years, I think I’ve learned more than my share. It’s been such an experience. Even though we haven’t had the record we were hoping to have, it’s been phenomenal learning how to be persistent, how to pursue your goals and dreams, and this is the goal and dream for me.” Stinson also had high praise for his fellow teammates, saying, “We have so many great players, and we have so many guys that could be here. You see a lot of freshman that are already further ahead than I was, and it’s exciting to see where they’re gonna go, and what they can do when they get to this point.”

It’s that same positive outlook that helped Stinson excel at the CFL Camp. He wasn’t even fazed by the awkwardness of stripping down and getting weighed and measured in front of the CFL’s top coaches and scouts. “It’s a meat market, it’s funny. You feel like cattle, just getting marched up there and you’re on display. But it’s part of it, it’s expected. I knew it coming in. It’s more of a joke than anything.”

But the joke sure isn’t on Stinson. In Sunday’s 40-yard dash, arguably the most important drill of the entire event, Stinson drew the attention of scouts with his remarkable performance. With a time of 4.65 seconds, he placed fifth overall and second out of all wide receivers. In fact, Stinson consistently placed in the top half of all prospects in every drill. Notably, he was ninth overall in the vertical jump with a mark of 36 inches.

According to the Commissioner, “football is big in Toronto.” And Stinson and his performance at the CFL draft camp was no exception. Cohon revealed that “[The Grey Cup] will be back [in Toronto] within the next five years”. And who knows, maybe Mark Stinson will be back too. But instead of getting marched around “like cattle” he’ll be marching across the field as a Grey Cup hero.

The future ain’t Purdey

“Would people have been inspired had Martin Luther King said ‘I have a nightmare?’” That was the question put forward Wednesday night at the Munk Centre, in a lecture strikingly titled “Spectacular Success, Spectacular Failure? Modern Human Society at the Crossroads.” Despite the sobering and grandiose nature of his presentation, speaker Stephen Purdey emphasized the importance of optimism in confronting several monumental problems facing humanity.

The lecture discussed nothing less than the fate of the human race and questioned the morality of the Western lifestyle when the degradation of our planet is at stake.

According to Purdey, the main obstacles of the future of the planet are overpopulation and the infinitegrowth- oriented free market economy. A constantly growing economy cannot exist in a fixed earth in other words, “We have become, quite literally, a force of nature.”

Purdey suggested a different model called “steady state economics” which aims to keep the economy at its current size. With the right balance of regulation, the gap between rich and poor could be reduced and the burden on the earth lessened, said Purdey.

He knows the lay of the land well. He once worked in the private sector himself. Before entering grad school, Purdey also worked in federal politics and with several NGOs.

For such policies to be implemented, however, a major paradigm shift would have to take place in economic and political circles. “Incremental change to the current form of governance will not do the job,” said Purdey.

Around the bases:

Seattle Mariners

Despite losing out on the Johan Santana sweepstakes, last year’s World Series Champs countered by adding 2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon. Even if Colon doesn’t pan out and none of their top players go down due to injuries, the Red Sox will have all the ingredients to win their third championship in five years. 2007 Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia, adds more firepower to one of the league’s most gifted offenses. The Red Sox have a strong rotation, solid bullpen, and an overpowering closer that should make it tough for the Blue Jays or Yankees to dethrone them from the top spot in the American League East.

Anaheim Angels

Coming off their third division title in four years, the Angels didn’t need to make a lot of changes to maintain their comfortable digs atop the west. However, a few upgrades that may help them reach the World Series for the first time since winning in 2002: Jon Garland and Torii Hunter. Garland, a two-time 18-game winner with the Chicago White Sox, joins starters John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, 19- and 18-game winners respectively, giving the Angels much needed playoff experience. Vladimir Guerrero will lead an Angels offense that finished in the middle of the pack last season, but the addition of Hunter, a seven-time gold glove winner who also had one of his best-ever offensive performances in ‘07 (.287, 28 homeruns, 107 RBIs), should power the Angels to another division crown.