Ignatieff’s Canadian album

“You’re having a history of Canada on the sly.”

Two days prior, from the same born-again professor: “Everything a politician does is political, but some things a politician does are less political than others. […] I hope you’ll forget the current context and we’ll have an interesting discussion about our country.”

For three days last week, Michael Ignatieff—academic, author, journalist, MP, and, many suppose, Liberal leadership hopeful—presented University College’s F.E.L. Priestley Memorial Lectures in the History of Ideas. His subject, “The Canadian Dream: Past, Present, and Future,” covered “three generations of sustained reflection on what Canada was, and what Canada could be” through what his mother’s side of the family, the Grants, hoped for this country.

Who do the Grants think they were? And why does Ignatieff think the audience would care?

Ignatieff justified his approach in the lecture: “It’s a double kind of thing I want us to go through: a sense of understanding how deeply their love of their country ran, but also how problematic some of their visions of our country turned out to be, and how much difficulty we’ve had as a country since, because we were saddled with the dreams that they gave. I don’t assume that the only thoughts were by my family. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.”

Emblematic of Ignatieff’s approach might be the image he used to describe William Lawson Grant upon the death of his father. “The death of parents is a complex experience in any man or woman’s life, but it’s also a release, whether we admit it or not. The son was able to step out of the shadow of the father, yet the shadow had given the son’s life its meaning.”

Ignatieff admits that he has been “shadowed” by his family history. The lectures are related to a book he is working on, similar in nature to 1987’s Russian Album, in which he delved into the Ignatieff line.

“This was a ground-clearing exercise to figure out ‘What are some of the ideas we’ve had of Canada?’” Ignatieff said in an interview with The Varsity after the final lecture. “You gotta start somewhere, so you start with what you know and what’s familiar to you. Where we are now? I think we’re struggling, we’re trying to figure out how to make a multicultural, multiethnic, bilingual, multinational, transcontinental nation-state hold together, cohere, and be a model of tolerance for other countries.”

Three generations of Grant men thought of Canada in relation to empire. For Ignatieff’s great grandfather, George Monro Grant (who accompanied Sanford Flemming in his 1872 trek across Canada to survey a route for the Pacific Railway, and later became Principal of Queen’s University), if the sun never set on the British empire because of Canada’s place in it, it was as if that empire that ensured Canada’s place in the sun.

For William Lawson Grant there was no question about Canada supporting Britain during the First World War. His experiences at the Somme, though, convinced him that Canadians had earned their country’s sovereignty with their valour and their lives.

As George Parkin Grant famously grieved in Lament for a Nation, the waning post-war British colonial influence would surely result in Canada being engulfed by the United States.

“The intellectual history I’m telling you, which is I think a history of the illusions about Canada that we’ve believed in, is that they were powered by the mistaken belief that there wasn’t enough here,” Ignatieff said Thursday afternoon. “Part of what the burden, [John Ralson Saul’s] A Fair Country and others have argued, is that there was an awful lot here, we just didn’t see it.”

“The question now is how to deepen love for a country that remains unfinished and incomplete. The task for all of us is to rid ourselves of the feeling that life—real life—is somewhere else.”

The future of Canada remained the very large elephant in the small lecture hall. Because there were actually four generations participating in this sly history. Pleading it was a history as opposed to a campaign, Ignatieff deflected questions concerning whether he’ll run for the Liberal leadership.

“All appearances to the contrary, I do not want to convert a series of academic lectures into a political platform,” he apologized, though there were hints of how for the politician, everything is political. “As someone who’s gone into elected office for the first time in my life, the single most useful thing to me has been whatever knowledge I’ve had of the history of my country.” The historical was also political. “Canada was called into being by an act of choice, and she could only be sustained by an act of political will.”

No one called the bluff. Ignatieff did thank the college for allowing a practicing politician to give the lecture. “It’s a very daring thing for University College to do.” Asked a year ago to give this year’s lectures, perhaps Ignatieff didn’t know the question that would be on everyone’s mind.

Michael Grant Ignatieff was in his first year at U of T when Lament for a Nation was published in 1965. “I rebelled against that pessimism then, as I do today,” he said, noting that shortly after the book’s publication, Canada went through what he typified as the most rapid reassertion and transformation of its identity. “But,” back to Uncle George, “his pessimism lays down a challenge. There’s no easy answer to that challenge. For my uncle asked, as I think no one had ever done before: Is Canada possible? Can love of this country be sustained? Does this place make sense any more?”

The vision for Canada that Ignatieff presented did not depart from the points of his “What I would do if I were the Prime Minister” essay in Maclean’s in 2006, though he rooted his desire for “a shared dream that leaves no one out and no one behind” in the lessons learned about his ancestors’ dreams that had fractured the country.

On the campaign trail, “a shared dream for everyone” might sound like so much pap. Ignatieff acknowledged that patriotism is an unfashionable word, unless properly applied.

“Patriotism: enduring, impatient, non-ironic belief in the promise of the land you love, is the single greatest asset of successful societies. […] Patriotism is the source of that impatience and anger that makes abuses seem intolerable, injustices unacceptable, and complacency a delusion. Patriotism is the sentiment that makes us want to be one people. It is the shared feeling that allows us to rise above our differences and make a complex unity of us all. This unity, never certain, never to be taken for granted, is always a work in progress, and it has meaning for us, but it also offers an example to the world. Canadians know as much as anyone on earth about living together across the gulf of difference.”

Everything you wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask your grandpa

“It’s about pleasure of the mind, not the flesh,” explains dominatrix Miss Barbie Bitch as she shows me the bondage cage.

The box is a steel rectangle, only slightly larger than a dog carrier, complete with a studded collar hanging from the top. “I’ll leave a sub in there overnight or so,” she shrugs. We move on to the bondage coffin, as she urges me to get inside. “When you don’t have someone in it, you can use the coffin to hold your laundry or towels,” she says, a regular Martha Stewart with a cat o’ nine tails.

Barbie Bitch, who has spent nearly two decades as a dominatrix, fit right in at this weekend’s Everything To Do With Sex Show. Lodged into a convention room at Exhibition Place, a 19-plus audience revelled in smut. While some came to watch pole-dancers or have a porn star instruct them on the best way to lick a nipple, others were there to simply pick up an extra pair of flogging gloves, or sample a cake in the shape of a large phallus. Larry David would be proud.

In a nation that recently re-elected a pro-abstinence Conservative government, open discourse about sex seemed liberating. Yet the most shocking aspect of the convention wasn’t the genital shavers or portable dungeon equipment, but rather the attendees. I had been expecting youngsters in body paint, but the average age seemed to be about 45. In fact most could have starred in those Stephen Harper campaign ads.

Compared to our European neighbours, North Americans have always been pretty uptight about sex. Seeing grey-haired husbands pose with porn stars and post-menopausal women in nipple tassels made me feel hopeful, yet it was sad to see so few young people in attendance. Does it really take us 30 years of sexual activity before we can say the word “masturbate?” I know I’m still working on it.

It’s scary that we’ve created a society where “orgasm” is a more offensive word than “murder,” and we’d prefer to watch two men on television kill each other than kiss. I was happy that the attendees felt relaxed enough to publicly lick chocolate dildos, but the event still had a secret, back-alley aura. Take the investment-banker type who whispered to his girlfriend, “I just don’t want to run into anybody I know, that’s all.”

God bless the old timers whose age has made them comfortable with kink. “If you know you’re a dom, you know that it means being one in every aspect of your life,” Miss Barbie tells me. She’s strapping her sub, a mid-sixties man in a pink brassier wearing a nametag that reads “Miss Bitch’s Pain Pig,” into a bondage chair. When I ask her what the downside is to being a professional dominatrix, she smiles wickedly. “There’s no such thing.”

Further down the hall I find “The Dungeon,” a section where cameras are banned. Inside, a woman is being tied to a spider web-like contraption, while a man in leather masks paddles someone bent over a bench. I approach a man carrying what looks like a toolbox. In his hand is a bulb of static electricity, which looks like a miniature of the ball you touch at the Science Centre to make your hair stand up. I hold out my hand, and the demonstrator gives me a series of electrical shocks down my palm, described as the feeling of being tattooed. When I inquire if it’s intended for use all over the body, he nods. He informs me that there might be some burning or scabbing after a long play session. “But nobody has ever died from it—that we know of.”

Further along, I sit in a thousand-dollar sex chair, and bounce on a “sex-ercise ball” as a couple next to me browse for the right scented lubricant. I want to get as much education as possible, so I head to the seminar section where a tiny Japanese woman in her late forties discusses anal beads. Sexpert Midori quickly puts the audience at ease, promising to answer any questions. When someone inquires about semen, she informs us that you can change the taste of your juices by consuming certain liquids, like pineapple juice. Her advice on anal sex is pretty spot-on: “Everybody has an asshole,” she delivers to the man in the first row. “It doesn’t mean you have to be one.”

Midori’s focus, like most of the presenters, is education. After an afternoon of browsing through the stands, “normal” sex seems relative. If sweatpant-clad suburbanites seem so comfortable purchasing videos of the “Naughty Newfie,” why is my generation embarrassed even discussing coitus? If age begets wisdom, I think I should listen to my elders. “Everyone should work towards being a ‘try-sexual,’” Midori tells me. “It’s better to have adventured and spilled some lube along the way.” Wise words, I think to myself, as I smile at the Grandpa clad in the golden man-thong, walking towards the exit.

They Came From Robarts!

We know our beloved University of Toronto as a dignified institution, defined by the acquisition of knowledge; a gateway into adulthood with the occasional drunken hookup. However U of T’s hallowed halls have also stood in as the locale for many a spin-tingling horror film. In the spirit of Halloween, let’s take a full moonlit walk down memory lane and revisit these seven films shot in and around our fair campus. And you thought Robarts was scary!

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

The granddaddy of Canadian horror films, this statement really says more about Canada’s horror film industry than it does about Black Christmas. During Christmas break, a mad killer terrorizes and kills the members of a sorority, and it’s up to the police lieutenant (played by the great John Saxon) to stop them. The cast includes such masters of horror as… uh… Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Andrea Martin. I have seen director Bob Clarke’s earlier She-Man (1967), and I’m happy to confirm that U of T is not to blame for that one.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY (1998)

“Chucky gets lucky!” promised the ads for this fourth entry in the mildly popular killer doll series. Indeed, the little hellraiser does get some action in the form of Jennifer Tilly, far from the glory days of Bullets Over Broadway. Among other Ontario locations, director Ronny Yu brought the production to the University of Toronto, perhaps because creepy and vaguely unsatisfying sex scenes feel right at home on a university campus. Bride of Chucky was released one year after another U of T-shot movie, Good Will Hunting. Oddly enough, only one of these two films was mentioned on my residence tour.

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS DRACULA 2000 (2000)

Bram Stoker’s classic tale is updated for the 21st century when Count Dracula (Gerard Butler) travels to New Orleans to seduce and kill the daughter of his arch enemy, Professor Van Helsing (played by Christopher Plummer, seriously). U of T turns in a convincing performance as New Orleans, and, to give credit where it’s due, Gerard Butler is a lot easier on the eyes than Klaus Kinski. While author Bram Stoker does not receive credit, “fetish performer” Christopher Allen does.

THE SKULLS II (2002)

A direct-to-video sequel to the staggeringly unpopular Joshua Jackson film from 2000; the fact that the producers were unable to lure even Mr. Jackson into this film is not promising. I haven’t seen The Skulls II, but an IMDb user comment from “ragreen259” asks thoughtfully, “Who fished this turd out of the pool?”

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

While technically not a horror film, this film boasts a giant monster in it, so it counts. More importantly, it included scenes shot in and around Toronto, including a few unconvincing CGI action scenes at St. George Campus. During the extended, Godzilla-like monster vs. monster action finale, moviegoers across the world asked each other how a Sam the Record Man store ended up in Harlem, and why the Apollo Theatre looked suspiciously close to Club Zanzibar.

LITTLE SHOP OF EROTICA (2001)

Admittedly not shot at U of T according to IMDb, the film was made in the bustling metropolis we call home. Marilyn Chambers, from Behind the Green Door and Incredible Edible Fantasies, stars as “Marilyn” in this soft-core combination of sex and horror with an average IMDb user rating of 2.0 out of 10 (based on 36 votes). Just out of curiosity: why do you think Little Shop of Erotica received a tax break from the Ontario government? That’s yet another blotch on Mike Harris’ legacy.

FEVER PITCH (2005)

Queen’s Park turned in an admirable performance in this grim tragedy from the Farrelly brothers, from which millions of moviegoers fled screaming at the horrifying sight of Jimmy Fallon as a romantic lead.

Torture Me

Over the years, I’ve watched young women suffer a battle’s worth of gruesome deaths; the prettier, the sassier, the closer to 18—the better. Recently, I watched a naked woman get yanked to her watery grave by monstrous tentacles, while her severed arms hovered in chains above the sacrificial pit (Dagon). I’ll always remember the one who cried tears of blood before throwing up her innards (City of the Living Dead). Watching ladies squirm on the ends of long knives, hearing their suspiciously orgasmic screams, I’ve often asked myself: who watches this shit?

In my case, it’s an outspoken and nitpicky feminist. I have a knack for detecting sexism in unlikely places, and male friends are sick of hearing about it. Yet I get off on watching one of the most barefaced and egregious manifestations of woman-hating in the Western world: the horror flick.

One rather sucky explanation is that I’m too sensitive to violence against women; it offends me so deeply that subconsciously, I hope to exorcise the shock through watching scenes of extreme violence repeatedly. But seeing splatter films is not the key to self-healing; it’s just a lot of fun. I have to be honest with myself, as any horror fan must: sadism, masochism, and self-loathing underlie my viewing habits, to varying degrees. More importantly, I get a kick out of it.

Sometimes sexism is entirely excusable for the sake of a great flick. Few directors devote as much time to the aesthetic of expiration as Dario Argento does, and Suspiria’s famous window scene is as elaborate as brutality gets. It’s also somewhat pornographic: a very masculine arm (wasn’t the “killer” supposed to be a witch?) thrusts a girl’s face into a window, and then stabs her repeatedly as she lies, panting, on her back. We even get a penetration shot of the knife entering her heart. Stage Fright’s scantily-clad Italian ladies are a mere fringe benefit in a stylish, cheesy classic. Though I feel for the sorority sisters at the receiving end, the obscene phone calls in Black Christmas offer more golden moments in slasher history. Often enough, there’s more misogyny than movie, and Maniac is a standard example of this kind of picture: join Frank Zito as he slaughters New York broads in explicitly sexual ways and pins their scalps to mannequins. It’s utterly excessive, but completely awesome.

Within any genre, there’s good and there’s good. Last year’s Inside is brutal to a panic attack-inducing degree, largely to the fact that the primary victim is a pregnant woman (it should be noted that the villain—and what a villain—is a woman; the filmmakers, of course, are men). It’s absolutely painful to watch, but the immaculate use of tension and violence contribute much to its quality; the gore is abundant, but it’s far from gratuitous. In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, just about every woman that appears on screen is murdered (or already dead): prostitutes, mothers and their families, even the female lead that the audience dares to hope might live. But the film’s matter-of-fact tone and Michael Rooker’s staid depiction of Henry Lee Lucas are what make it more than just a genre film. It’s worth noting that both of these movies were based on real events; the more you worry, the more you crave cinematic release.

Unfortunately, classics like these have stoked the ambitions of far lesser filmmakers. Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible has the pretensions of an art film, but the structure of a cheap exploitation flick: a ramshackle plot built around a few shocking scenes and gimmicks. It takes a lot of nerve to establish your film—your career—on the basis of a cold-blooded and unnecessarily prolonged rape scene. The makers of Inside had nerve, but they made a great film. This is key: much like off-colour jokes, outrageously sexist movies are only acceptable if they’re good.

A steady diet of blood and guts leaves one in need of comic relief. Luckily, the horror genre is wonderfully self-reflexive, and not a few directors have made virgin (more often slut) sacrifice fun. Slither makes a farce of phallic slaughter: the town tramp is impregnated by tentacles extending from the ever-virile Rooker’s torso; she then becomes rabid for raw meat, expands to the size of a barn, and bursts with alien slugs. The Wicker Man remake is an unintentionally hilarious parody of male paranoia about feminism. Nicolas Cage, facing an island full of man-hating drones in silly clothes, delivers some of the best lines since “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in They Live: “Killing me won’t bring back your goddamn honey!” Some horror directors have even saluted their feminist detractors: Stuart Gordon, clearly concerned about sexual reciprocity, has a dismembered head pleasure Re-Animator’s female lead.

I’d be a dirty liar if I didn’t admit that some horror movies, however stupid, serve their basest purpose: titillation. In most slashers, the killers—much like the real-life murderers they’re based on—are far from sexually potent. On the contrary, they’re driven to kill by their inadequacies—virginity, gender confusion, and, of course, mother issues. One notable exception is David Hess, the Robert Redford of grindhouse: he kills because he’s so ridiculously, delightfully masculine. Hess started out as a songwriter in the late ’50s, but carved a niche for himself as an onscreen psychopath in the ’70s, playing characters with names like “Krug Stillo,” “Bosco,” and “Ferret.” And carve he did, as anyone who’s watched Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left knows quite well. With pot as their bait, Hess and his gang capture, sexually humiliate, rape, and disembowel two teenage girls; it sounds horrible, and it is. The parental retribution doesn’t quite atone for the bloodbath, but Hess, as much as it worries me to admit, is a pleasure to watch. For the more compassionate, Ruggero Deodato’s House at the Edge of the Park is much less brutal (some of the sex is even consentual), and features Hess in various stages of undress. Aside from a particularly tense scene involving a razorblade, the Jewish Adonis is in fine, cheesy form—if you ignore his love handles.

It’s easy to draw the line between politics and pastimes; we’re well aware that many of our cultural indulgences are sexist, racist, or just stupid. There could be a host of psychological reasons for why a feminist enjoys watching her own kind get picked off like piglets; there are certainly enough real-life examples to make me question my own habit. I think the answer can be summarized quite succinctly: horror movies are harmless, often goofy fun. And like anyone else, we’re up for a good time.

Massachusetts fundraiser gives alumni the ‘blahs’

Earlier this month, officials at Framingham State College in Massachusetts were forced to apologize to thousands of graduates who received a fundraising letter in September containing more than 130 “blahs.”

The letter was a part of a failed campaign mailed to 6,000 former students that included such lines as, “With the recent economic downturn and loan crisis, it has become more important for Framingham State College to receive your support. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.…”

“Our decision to send you a letter containing the words ‘blah, blah’ was a misguided and embarrassing attempt to connect with alumni in a different way,” explained Christopher Henry, vice president of college advancement, who spearheaded the campaign that had offended some of the community.

The school raised $2,000 from graduates who got the joke.

A woman’s right to not harm her fetus

Some things are so bizarre that you just couldn’t make them up. Consider a recent ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal: Dr. Shaffiq Ramji, assuming that his patient Dawn Paxton would not become pregnant (her husband had had a vasectomy), prescribed an acne drug that has devastating health effects on fetuses. Against the odds, a child was conceived, and Jaime Paxton was born with severe birth defects. The Paxtons sued Dr. Ramji on Jaime’s behalf. However, the court declared that Dr. Ramji owed no duty of care to Jaime, since she had not yet been conceived.

This ruling overrides Justice Margaret Eberhard’s 2006 decision that Dr. Ramji did owe a duty of care, but fulfilled it since it was reasonable to assume that Ms. Paxton would not become pregnant. This is a much more sensible approach. The drug’s manufacturers had established protocols to ensure that no fetus would be harmed by the product. This implies a duty not to harm fetuses—already conceived or not—which seems like common sense.

In this instance, reason was defeated by the reductio ad abortionum, employed in cases where even a slight recognition of a duty towards fetuses might be implied. Aiming to protect a woman’s right to choose, the judges decided, “Because the woman and her fetus are one, both physically and legally, it is the woman whom the doctor advises and who makes the treatment decisions affecting herself and her future child.”

This argument is disingenuous, and misses the point. It is generally understood (except, it seems, among judges) that there are necessary distinctions between woman and fetus. For example, smoking while pregnant is doubly dangerous because it damages both the woman and the fetus. Additional warnings are placed on smoke packs because there is another entity being harmed when a pregnant woman lights up.

This is not necessarily a question of fetuses’ personhood—it is simply an admission that the woman is not the only one affected, since the effects of smoking while pregnant remain with the child for the rest of his or her life after birth. The drug company warns its consumers for the same reason. To suggest that a doctor has no duty of care towards the fetus because the fetus and the mother are “one” defies reality.

The judges see this as dangerous logic, since it might lead to the conclusion that the woman has a duty of care towards the fetus. For abortion advocates, it is absolutely forbidden to even suggest this. The notion that Dr. Ramji might have such a duty must be thrown out the window.

With abortion rights in mind, the judges appealed to the one-size-squashes-all argument of “a woman’s right to choose.” It isn’t enough to insist that Dr. Ramji did not act negligently, as Justice Eberhard found. The justice system has to press further, eliminating any duty of care towards the fetus regardless of the lifelong effects caused by neglect. This isn’t the first time that the desperation to protect abortion rights—whether or not they’re under fire—has fatally skewered logic. This sends a message to future Canadians yet unborn: “Take note; we owe you nothing.”

Fierce Fashion

The style and spectacle of Toronto Fashion Week brought a large measure of glamour amid the highlights and inevitable lowlights. I had the privilege of being insulted on-camera by Much Music’s Maha the fashion chicken, and the pleasure of overhearing Toronto Star fashion writer David Livingstone whining, “It’s a professional insult to be put back here with such a bunch of nobodies,” while sitting next to me in the media lounge. But aside from all the drama, noteworthy new collections took centre stage. Here’s the official runway rundown:

Joeffer Caoc

Joeffer Caoc is a master of sculpted, body-conscious fabric draping—which is why I was baffled to see his latest collection dominated by uninspired pillowcase silhouettes. Caoc’s Fall/Winter showings were among the highlights of Fashion Week last March; this time they made me wonder whether anyone (apart from a 5’10” Parisian princess) looks good in a sack dress. Even the scrawny teen models looked dumpy in Caoc’s clownish bloomers and shapeless frocks. While Caoc showed promise with a series of billowy-backed goddess dresses and shapely jackets, I was severely underwhelmed by the collection as a whole.

Rating: VV

David Dixon

Tailoring continues to be David Dixon’s forte. His jackets fit like cosmic fashion armor and his tulip-shaped skirts moved elegantly with the bodies of his cavalcade of models. Highlights included a flowing, asymmetrical kimono blouse detail, paired with fishtail-gathered black skirting, and a swingy draped cocktail dress in punchy coral. Even the scummiest, sweatpants-wearing university student would rise to sultry glamazon perfection in designs like these.

Rating: VVVV

Andy The-Anh

I can picture Andy The-Anh sitting at his desk, pensively chewing on the end of a pencil, pondering the best way to crank the level of drama in his next runway show to a Spinal Tap-worthy level 11. I imagine him leaping from his chair, shouting, “Psychotic electric violin!” as the horn-rimmed glasses fly off his face. Indeed, the live electric violinist’s spastic, hard-rock shredding certainly made for the week’s most entertaining runway presentation. The clothes weren’t half bad either. While The-Anh’s more structured pieces—suit jackets and rigidly zippered slacks—appeared too stiff for a summer silhouette, a collection of airy, tapered-leg jumpsuits revealed unexpected high-fashion elegance.

Rating: VVVv

Joe Fresh Style

Navy blue was designer Joe Mimran’s colour of choice for Spring/Summer ‘09, and snotty prep school kids seemed to be his inspiration. Models were paraded down the catwalk wearing lab goggles atop their jaunty Joe Fresh creations, but stylistic weirdness didn’t detract from the palpable excitement surrounding the fun, accessible fashions.

Joe’s smart navy blazer with skinny lapels is at the top of my springtime “must-have” list, and I plan to make a special trek to the nearest Real Canadian Superstore for a certain crisp white shift dress emblazoned with bold geometric print. Admittedly, the collection did have a few shortcomings: balloonish navy windbreakers left some shape to be desired, and puff-sleeved, bib-front blouses—heavily featured in this collection—have been a springtime staple for years. Nevertheless, a few lapses in innovation can be forgiven in the name of such budget-friendly styles.

Rating: VVV

Morales

Hints of Rodarte and Comme des Garcons could be found in Morales’ eccentric, candy-coloured chiffon creations as they floated down the runway. Bodices twisted into candyfloss florets before dissolving into layers of deconstructed ruffles. Fantastic smog-tinged ombre cityscapes embellished minimalist column dresses while blown-up Yoshitomo Nara prints completed Morales’ pitch-perfect anime dream.

Rating: VVVVV

Buffalo by David Bitton

Cargo shorts (!) were featured prominently in this show’s menswear component, as were horrible 80s-style nylon baseball jackets embroidered with the Buffalo logo. The women’s collection was a sloppy regurgitation of run-of-the-mill American Apparel street style: jumpsuits in sluttily see-through mesh and pewter lamé were paired with Herman Munster-esque shoulder padded jackets. Ensembles of plain, racerback cotton tank tops and pastel-coloured skinny jeans were almost painfully mundane. Adding injury to insult, the runway music was much too loud.

Rating: V

Lucien Matis

Matis’ beautiful spring designs resonated with the air of a modern-day Roman Holiday. While the collection may have lacked cohesion, watercolour splashed textiles and innovative structures did not disappoint. An ensemble of high-waisted, red satin trousers with a pinched-shouldered, ruffle-placket blouse balanced old-school elegance with contemporary edge. A flapper-style halter dress shingled in alternating peach and cream- coloured panels was among several of Matis’ individual designs to draw massive audience applause.

Rating: VVVV

Arms and the man

All of a sudden, it seems like everything is Reagan’s fault. Tracing the sub-prime mortgage crisis to his deregulation-happy administration isn’t hard. Think what you will of his trickle-down economics, there was another unsavoury aspect to his presidency: the Iran-Contra affair.

This particular chapter of Reagan’s mighty Republican reign is suddenly pertinent: the American government has recently applied sanctions on foreign companies for the sale of weapons technologies.

According to The New York Times, 13 “foreign persons” were found to be in violation of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which disallows the American government from selling high-tech military equipment to organizations like Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and other countries within the “axis of evil.” The foreign companies have to deal with the prospect of sanctions from the default world power—sanctions that may not necessarily jibe with international law.

These under-publicized actions—appearing on Thursday in the Federal Register after being enacted in August—represent hypocrisy of the highest order.

The Iran-Contra affair began as an effort to shore up relations with Iran: a plan to sell weapons to a group of moderate Iranians opposed to the Ayatollah Khomeni. It became a poorly supervised weapons-for-hostages swap. After the details were scribbled upon by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council, profits from the sale of arms were funneled towards anti-communist rebels (Contras) in Nicaragua. Large volumes of documents relating to the program were destroyed or misplaced, complicating efforts to uncover the truth. At the end of the saga, 14 officials in the Reagan administration were charged, and 11 convicted. In typical American fashion, presidential pardons by Bush Sr. absolved those involved of their sins.

The Russians are pissed about the latest sanctions, and rightly so. They insist that this will not discourage them from trading with Iran.

To state the obvious: arms sales are big business. Accounting for over one trillion dollars worldwide, the United States leads the pack in terms of sales and purchases by a long shot. Three of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average directly manufacture military goods. For a country that spends roughly 528 billion dollars on military expenditures each year, this is no small surprise.

For the American government to slap sanctions willy-nilly on foreign companies is an arrogant move at best. Considering the countries involved, it amounts to not-so-subtle brinksmanship from a lame duck administration. Considering mighty China’s runaway economic (and subsequently political) growth, and a resurgent Russian government led covertly by the remarkably surly Putin, it is easy to see why the Americans want the rest of the world to play by their rules.

Weapons manufacturing is deeply ingrained in the American industrial machine. When you watch NBC television, you are unwittingly supporting General Electric, a company that specializes in manufacturing weapons. Boeing, that friendly maker of airliners, is also involved in the business of war.

It is a profitable one. With that in mind, you can see why the Americans are desperately trying to protect their interests.

Wouldn’t you?