Dirty projected

While many critics accuse indie rock bands of drawing on too many esoteric references, a few artists are turning to America’s new pop music, contemporary soul and R&B, for inspiration. It’s easy to be skeptical of white dudes trying to sound like Amerie, but when confronted with this music live this past Tuesday at Sneaky Dee’s, it’s hard not to feel that these guys might be on to something.

After an entertaining set by local electronic musician, Nif-D—one of these “indie R&B” bands—No Kids, took the stage. Three-quarters of defunct Vancouver band Piano, No Kids played pleasant pop ditties that would have been unremarkable if it weren’t for lead vocalist, Nick Krgovich.

Singing in falsetto with dead seriousness, Krgovich displayed a vocal ambition unusual for most. Although he occasionally came across like someone’s dad fronting a Mariah Carey cover band (Coke-bottle glasses, and a sweater vest didn’t help), Krgovich kept No Kids’ songs interesting.

As the half-hearted applause died at the end of No Kids set and the audience surged closer to the stage, it was clear that everyone in the packed venue was there to see the headliners, Brooklyn’s Dirty Projectors.

Formerly a solo project of mastermind Dave Longstreth, The Dirty Projectors has morphed into a formidable live band, with guitarist Amber Coffman and bassist Angel Deradoorian providing backup harmonies for Longstreth’s melismatic singing.

While The Projectors clearly draw from urban music, evident in their vocal acrobatics and prominent bass lines, their success lies in how well they blend this infl uence with a variety of other genres to produce intriguing music that’s hard to classify.

Playing a mixture of newly written songs, tracks off their most recent album Rise Above (a re-imagining of Black Flag’s Damaged), in edition to older material, The Dirty Projectors demonstrated reasoning behind their stylistic quirks. Their voices were dramatically expressive, providing accessible points for the listener to grab on to, while the disorienting interplay between Longstreth’s and Coffman’s guitars drove the songs forward.

During a highlight of their set, a breakneck speed version of “Imagine It,“ a portion of the audience near the stage started to mosh. Perhaps that’s what these R&B infl uenced bands are after: soulful music you can mosh to.

Bring back the glory Jays

It was just like old times for Blue Jays fans at the Jays’ home opener on Friday night, as a sold-out Rogers Centre watched Roberto Alomar’s name and number rise to the Level of Excellence in a pre-game ceremony to honour the former second baseman. The team donned vintage powder blue uniforms for the first “Flashback Friday” of the season, defeating the defending champion Boston Red Sox 6-3. A boisterous crowd showed enthusiasm not seen in years—two fans couldn’t even confine their excitement to the stands, jumping onto the field in a state of partial undress. The typically vocal contingent of Red Sox fans was smaller and quieter than usual as Jays fans made sure their team enjoyed a memorable welcome, saving their loudest ovations for Alomar while reminiscing about the Jays’ glory days, including Alomar’s famous home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1992 ALCS.

If Jays fans seem a little stuck in the past, it’s understandable. Perennial third-place finishers in the ultracompetitive AL East, the team hasn’t played a postseason game since winning the World Series in 1993. While introducing Alomar and surprise honouree Paul Beeston, the long-time Jays executive, president and CEO Paul Godfrey received a hearty round of boos, a testament to the frustration of Toronto baseball fans. They were promised a more competitive team when the Jays received a substantial payroll boost a few years ago, but it hasn’t been enough to push them past their two divisional foes, the powerhouse Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

But there’s an optimism this season,one that hasn’t been seen in years. A homemade sign reading “This is our year” graced the 200-level outfield, a sentiment echoed by fans in the cheap seats who dissected the weaknesses of their AL competitors while watching starting pitcher Shaun Marcum, who enjoyed a breakout year in 2007, hold a potent Red Sox offence to only three hits in seven innings of work.

While it seems strange to put faith in a roster that is not substantially different from last season’s—the Jays added shortstop David Eckstein, swapped third basemen with St. Louis, acquired utility infielder Marco Scutaro and brought back Shannon Stewart— fans are hoping that their young arms continue to improve. As the bats that lay dormant in an injury-plagued 2007 wake up, the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. If Toronto’s first few games against their chief rivals are any indication, there is reason for cautious optimism. Although the Jays dropped two of three games in New York, they outscored the Yankees 9-8 as the two losses were made by only one run. After winning the home opener, the Jays hammered the Red Sox 10-2 in their second meeting.

The Yankees could be vulnerable this year. They lost popular manager Joe Torre and their combination of young and inexperienced arms and past-their-prime pitchers could fall flat. And who knows what could happen with Hank Steinbrenner taking over from his father George as the new ringmaster of the Yankees circus, given the Steinbrenners’ penchant for bold, unpredictable, and sometimes questionable decisions. The Yankees’ offence could be strong enough to cover up any weaknesses, especially if they get another MVP season from Alex Rodriguez, but they may leave the door open enough for the Jays to squeak through.

Before fans speculate on who will be this year’s Eckersley and Alomar, the Jays will have to get past a number of talented teams. The BoSox have not done much to change their championship-winning roster, and that bodes well for them. Youngsters Jacoby Ellsbury and rookie of the year Dustin Pedroia will only get better, and with a stronglineup from top to bottom, Boston seems destined to win another divisional title. While that still leaves the AL wild card open, the Jays have to contend with the Yankees, two strong teams from the Central division in the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, and the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the West. The Tigers are fresh off a blockbuster trade that brought them 24-year-old sensation Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis. The Angels signed well-rounded outfielder Torii Hunter. Cleveland and Seattle pack powerful one-two punches at the top of their rotations, with C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona leading the Indians and Erik Bédard and Felix Hernandez on the mound in Seattle.

The Jays, having lost set-up man Casey Janssen for the year due to injury, lack the depth to compete with their AL rivals. But while the Jays may still be a long shot to make the playoffs, the chances that Toronto could be singing “OK Blue Jays” in October are looking better than they have in years. If the Jays could at least stay in contention until September, and bring back some of the atmosphere from the days when Alomar patrolled the infield, that would be a step in the right direction.

First Nations uni saved at last minute

In operation since 1985, the First Nations Technical Institute is the oldest Aboriginal educational institution of its kind in Ontario. With over 2,000 graduates, the school has around 320 current students in addition to its secondary school and after-school programs. Ninety per cent of FNTI grads find work and the institute hopes to continue its success for another 22 years. That is, unless it goes broke first.

On April 1, the provincial government announced that it would bestow a one-time payment of $1.5 million so the FNTI can stay open. The school was in danger of closing due to cuts in federal funding.

The federal and provincial governments have been quarreling over jurisdiction for some time. From the province’s point of view, the feds should fund FNTI because it is an Aboriginal institution. The feds counter that the province is responsible for postsecondary education.

FNTI was consistently funded by the federal government until 2004, with an annual budget of $2.7 million. The amount has now decreased to $531,687 for the 2008 academic year, not enough to keep the institute afl oat. The province’s money will keep the FNTI open for another year.

“For more than twenty years, the First Nations Technical Institute has helped Aboriginal people from this community and across the province find success through postsecondary education,” said MPP Leona Dombrowsky (Prince Edward-Hastings). “I am pleased that we are able to strengthen the partnership with the institute.”

FNTI is currently asking for $2.5 million per year with 2 per cent cost-of-living increases to make up for infl ation, a lesser amount than their 2004 funding and, supporters point out, in the context of a current federal surplus estimated at $2 billion.

“To say that this is a burden on another level of government is way off the mark, we’re talking about a small amount of money,” said Ken Marciniec, communications coordinator of Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

The funding crisis has FNTI’s students in quite a bind. How do you plan for graduation when your school might be gone before that happens? “It was a ridiculous situation for our students to be in, taking two-, three- and four-year programs and not sure if they were going to finish,” said Karihwakeron Tim Thompson, president and CAO of FNTI. “It’s pleasing that the province is

taking a constructive approach to intervene on behalf of our students for this year, we’re very encouraged by that,” Thompson said. But the reprieve, he knows, is only temporary. “FNTI’s hope is that a longer-term solution makes itself available long before Christmas break. We can’t be put in the same situation come the end of March next year.”

Columnists crack Canada conundrum

Sometimes Canadians get tired of talking about national identity. Luckily, a couple of opinionated New Yorkers were ready to take up the matter.

That’s exactly what happened last Sunday, March 30, when Maclean’s magazine brought Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik to Convocation Hall for a debate on that very subject.

The two staff writers for the New Yorker live full-time in Manhattan, but both grew up north of the border.

Gladwell, born in the U.K., graduated from U of T’s Trinity College in 1989 and worked for the Washington Post before being hired at the New Yorker in 1996. Gladwell wrote two best-selling books, Blink explaining the thinking behind quick decisions and The Tipping Point, which examined how “social epidemics” begin.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Gopnik, who has won three National Magazine Awards for his writing in the New Yorker, grew up in Montreal and attended McGill. Before this appearance, Gopnik and Gladwell had debated the Canadian system of health care published in the Washington Monthly in 2000.

In Saturday’s debate, entitled “Canada: Nation or Notion?” Gladwell presented the argument of Canada’s “small” international profile as a powerful advantage. In an example, he likened Canada to businesses operated by Chinese immigrants. According to Gladwell, being a minority outside of the mainstream allows one to be unburdened by the needs and considerations of a broad group of constituents, allowing one to “be mean” if necessary and forcing one to be connected on a greater scale in order to succeed. Gladwell added that he didn’t mean to imply these traits were inherent to Chinese businesspeople.

“That might be the best argument for the separation of Quebec I’ve ever heard,” Gopnik said of Gladwell’s remarks. Gopnik called his vision of Canada “notionalism.” Canada, he said, was not unburdened and mean, but encumbered by its history—why else did Toronto have signs in two languages when so few Torontonians speak or read French?

If Gladwell’s idea of Canada lurking in the wings of the international stage was a bit cynical, Gopnik’s notion of the country was downright sentimental. After sharing his love of the CBC and anecdotes about Don Cherry’s quixotic charm, he went on to define Canada in everyone’s favourite way: by comparing us to the U.S. According to Gopnik, U.S. nationalism is tied to “flags and fears,” whereas Canadian nationalism springs from “hopes and holidays.”

On a basic level, Gopnik’s argument for Canada as “notion” was yet another stab at giving the country a national identity—one, in this case, of common sense and inclusivity. Canada, he said, was not a place where people just come for the short term.

Among those seated in the front row were former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, her husband the acclaimed essayist John Ralston Saul and author Douglas Coupland, of jPod fame.

“What role or mission do we have—or should we simply be a happy little country fond of our habits?” Clarkson asked, opening the event’s question period. Gladwell responded by commenting on Canada’s need to speak up and serve as the place for experimentation. “I think it’s time for us to tell the world what we’ve accomplished and to experiment and show the world new direction. The world really needs that kind of example.”

Losing paradise

We have commenced our descent when a strong wind from the north pushes the tiny aircraft headlong into the mountain to our left. Soren, my partner and travelling companion, clamps his sweaty palm hard on to my thigh—he’s always had a fear of flying. As our plane touches down on the barely-paved runway, I breathe a sigh of relief. Surrounded by the lush tropical forests of eastern Panama, we make our way towards Immigration, which is really just a bamboo hut with a few benches. A local man stamps our passports, and children paw at the few bags we’ve brought. It seems like the whole village has made its way to the airport to welcome our arrival.

The Cormaca de Kuna Yala is the semi-autonomous home of the Kuna, located in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. The region is only accessible by aircraft. Rough terrain, combined with annual floods and guerrilla activity to the east, has made it impossible to build roads. Consequently, the Kuna have flourished in relative isolation, maintaining political and cultural autonomy. The area’s inaccessibility has also led to the natural preservation of the ecosystem against development. Simply put, the San Blas Islands are the stuff of postcards. White sand beaches, windswept palms and tiny islands dot the rugged costal terrain. In the early 1980s, the Kuna put aside 60,000 acres as designated parkland, making them the first indigenous group in Latin America to do so. The creation of the protected area was based on their belief in “Spirit Sanctuaries,” a space where spiritual animals, plants, and demons reside. This system, in conjunction with the belief that all living things have a spiritual dimension, forms the foundation for the conservationist efforts of the Kuna people.

We board a dugout canoe outfitted with a modern motor engine on the back, and head for the tiny island we’ll call home for the next week. The Kuna pack their communities tightly onto the islands of the archipelago, reserving the mainland for agriculture and hunting. This technique protects the communities from the influx of malaria and yellow fever, which thrive in the jungles but have little impact on the coast. Our own island has seven bamboo huts. There is a communal space for eating and bathing.

Over the next few days our guide, Domi, takes us around the region. Sporting Guess Jeans and a baseball cap, Domi speaks little Spanish and even less English, telling us “the mangroves are the life force of the Kuna people. We use them for everything, for making rope, building houses, and to prevent erosion. Ukupseni relies of them for her nature. The mangroves are like a mother.”

Emphasis on the balance of the earth, and the great mother is made repeatedly throughout our stay. At the community gravesite, Domi explains the symbolism of the graves. The Kuna do not bury their deceased, but rather pile mounds of earth on top, posting sticks at either end. “The stick posts represent hammock posts, to help the deceased find comfort. The mounds of earth are symbolic of the pregnancy of the mother earth. The deceased will be reborn from the mother and into the natural world.”

I am taken by the myth of the Kuna tribe, at one with nature, in perfect balance and harmony. Miles away from the pressures of globalization, these people have carved out a sustainable existence based on coconuts, fresh fish, and local crafts.

On our final day in the San Blas, Domi wakes us up early and declares that we will visit the community. I am thrilled to see the life force of this impressive region. As our canoe docks at the tiny island, I immediately notice the hundreds of children. We walk down the dust-covered street between the rows of bamboo huts. It seems the entire community has come to greet us.

The children sport western outfits, belly tops, jewellery, some even have Ipods. Almost every girl over the age of twelve is pregnant. A cross looming at the end of the main street proves that the animistic traditions of the Kuna have long been put to rest. I look harder at the children. There is a glazed look in their eyes. One girl stumbles past me, a pop can in one hand, and a comb repeatedly pulled through her greasy hair. She must be about nine years old. I look closer. She’s high. On gasoline. I look around the crowd of children before us. They’re all high. Some of the adults too. I look at Domi who refuses to meet my eyes, a heartbroken look on his face. On our way back to the canoe, we spot a larger boat, docked at bay. Columbian drug runners on their way up the coast to Carti.

At night I curl up in my hammock, wind howling through the cracks of our bamboo hut. Tomorrow we will board a plane, back to the mainland. I wonder if I was naive to believe this place should be different than any other. I wonder if it’s my mere presence as a tourist that has rendered the dismal future for the Kuna. It’s dark now; there are no lights for miles. I sink further into the hammock and gaze up at the mystery above.

Students rally to abort ‘genocide’ demonstration

Along with the first robins, tulips and term papers, spring at U of T is marked by the arrival of anti-abortion activists. Around this time each year, U of T Students for Life and their off-campus allies break out a set of posters from the U.S. group Genocide Awareness Project and protest on campus.

This year’s demonstration was held last Thursday, April 3, at the corner of St. George and Harbord. The pro-lifers stood on all four corners, holding graphic posters equating abortion with slavery and the Holocaust. They were outnumbered about three to one by a coalition of pro-choice campus groups, including UTSU, ASSU, the Centre for Women and Trans People, the GSU, CUPE 3902, CFS-Ontario and the Steelworkers.

Jim Delaney, director of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, was on hand observing the demonstrations. Delaney makes a point of observing controversial events on campus.

“It’s simply useful to have a firsthand account of what transpired,” he said. In this case, very little did: “I did not witness any problems directed against either the group displaying the GAP materials, or against the counter-protesters.”

The university keeps tabs on these protests, usually attempting to negotiate their location ahead of time with U of T Students for Life.

“The university acknowledges the group’s to right to free expression. However, the rights of others who choose not to view the materials must also be respected,” said Delaney. Admin would prefer that the gory posters be set up in a circle or a tent, where students can choose to view them or avoid them.

But Students for Life isn’t having any of it—this year, they broke off negotiations with admin and set up shop on the sidewalk, which is not under U of T’s jurisdiction.

As fellow protesters held up their graphic posters, anti-abortion activist (and non-student) Rosemary Connell discussed the beginning of life.

“When you deny that a child is conceived, that there’s a child, right there, there is no other place to draw that line,” she said. “Who puts it there? Who puts it at 26 hours? Who puts it at two months?”

David Knight, a passing student who identified himself as prochoice, countered Connell: “You have to admit there’s a huge difference between a 24-year-old, sixfoot- two man and a collection of cells the size of a quarter.”

Connell claimed repeatedly that women who choose abortion are psychologically damaged by the experience. With adoption, she argued, “There isn’t that terrible, terrible regret, for the rest of her life.”

She also covered issues from capital punishment to the Terri Schiavo case.

“Terri Schiavo could smile, could communicate, the media didn’t want you to know that because we live in a very anti-life society,” she said.

The mood at the counter-protest was upbeat, with cheers greeting a call of “20 years of reproductive choice in this country!” Chantal Sundaram, a CUPE 3902 staff rep, said the counter-protesters were well-received by passing students.

On other campuses across North America, Jewish student group Hillel has demonstrated against GAP’s Holocaust comparisons. Hillel was not available for comment. Sundaram, however, did take issue with the GAP materials’ juxtapositions.

“It’s just such an insulting comparison to anyone who has in any way been affected by actual genocide, whether it’s the Holocaust or any other sort of terrible calamity that they’re drawing a parallel to,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to the real victims of those events.”

Don’t ignore the nitty gritty

As anyone involved in political activism can tell you, nothing derails a movement quite like a fight over tactics. U of T’s student movement is off the rails— in the face of a 20 per cent residence fee increase at New College, most students seem to be siding with President David Naylor.

While we exchange insults in the Varsity’s comment threads, important issues are getting lost. At the University Affairs Board Meeting on March 25, a group of senior administrators presented a report that could fundamentally change the way ancillary services are funded at U of T. The report articulated a “fourth objective” for residences at U of T: to bring in a profit.

At the moment, most residences operate at a substantial net loss. Since a relatively small number of primarily well-off students live on campus, it’s reasonable to suggest that commuter students should not subsidize residences. That means, ideally, that residences should break even. It doesn’t mean that they should fund other initiatives.

Residences can’t haemorrhage money the way New College does, so something needs to change. I’m not sure that change should come on the backs of students, especially students living in the decrepit Wilson and Wetmore halls. But the fee increase was only one item on that UAB meeting agenda. The university’s whole attitude towards ancillary services is changing, and in the long run, that is what will hurt students.

While we squabble, a precedent is being set. In the past, some residences have brought in modest profits. Those profits have funded residence expansion the right way: with a large down payment and a small mortgage. If this report’s recommendations are taken seriously, in the future, those profits will be put to use by the administration at Simcoe Hall.

Other changes may be on the way. The New College Residence Review Committee also suggested closing down 89 Chestnut to “increase demand and pricing power for remaining residences.” Another recommendation: scrapping the first year residence guarantee.

U of T has been underfunded for as long as you or I can remember. It’s no surprise that this administration is desperately seeking new streams of revenue. If the admin was really concerned with student engagement they would be open about their intentions. And If the student movement was serious about access, they would stop shouting for a few minutes and spread the word about all the nitty gritty policy changes that will ultimately make education inaccessible.

Quebec isn’t the only player in the Conservative constitutional controversy

The Conservatives may be biting off more than they can chew. In the most recent controversy involving Quebec, voices from within the Conservative caucus have given credence to the possibility of the Harper government opening up the Constitution to enshrine new clauses for Quebec, providing that the Conservatives win a majority in the next election.

But is this just a way for the Conservatives to reach majority seats in Quebec, as they did in the heyday of the 1988 Progressive Conservative government, or is this a genuine approach to appease the province that once sought secession from Canada? Word from within the party caucus has described the party debate as incredibly heated. Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn has said that there is a definite possibility of his government opening up the Constitution for Quebec’s gain. Blackburn also raised ideas of winning 30 to 40 seats in the province purely as a result of this promise. Emphasizing the need for a focused goal, Blackburn ruled out Liberal gains in the province. This, he said, has sent a message to Quebeckers that “people will choose between the Bloc Quebecois and us.”

The issue of extending powers to Quebec through the opening of the constitution can go in two directions. Canada stands by the democratic principles of federalism, whereby exclusive powers are given to each province that separates each one from the government. But there’s a limit to how far these powers should extend. It is beneficial for Canada to willingly recognize Quebec as a prominent province, however this recognition needs to be limited. Certainly giving more powers to Quebec would bind the referendum-happy province with Canada, but what about the other provinces?

The government should be concerned how the remaining provinces in Canada would react if an exclusive agreement was granted to Quebec. There should be a mutual relationship between the provinces and an assurance that the provinces outside of Quebec will receive equal consideration for their own unique identities, instead of focusing federal attention on Quebec.

It is still premature to predict the outcome of granting extended powers to Quebec—though the Conservative government has since denied these ambitions—but it’s likely that the rest of Canada would have mixed feelings.

Provisions should be taken to appease all provinces, preventing Quebec from abusing these powers. Quebec would certainly have a stronger sense of federalism if they had more autonomy within the country, since it would make calls of separation somewhat moot. However, too much power may anger other provincial leaders. Opening up the Constitution shows weakness on the part of the federal government—they’d be seen as being subservient to the province and may hurt Conservative numbers come election time.

Conservative have lofty ambitions for a majority government, and a key to this is gaining more seats in Quebec. The federal government’s desire to triumph in future elections may or may not bring Quebec closer to Canada, but giving Quebec special treatment is far too likely to raise concerns from other provinces.

For now the Conservative government has declared the issue closed, but that’s likely to change when it’s election season once again.