In a short film from 1947 called Johnny at the Fair, a five-year-old boy and his family spend an exciting afternoon at the Canadian National Exhibition. Bored while his parents peruse the art exhibits, little Johnny sneaks away and embarks on a wondrous adventure, touring the midway, hobnobbing with celebrities (Joe Louis, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Olsen and Johnson), and even visiting an exhibit called “Chemical Wonderland,” where a smiling Ex employee throws him a bouncy ball of Plutonium. Oh, 1947…I was much like Johnny when I was his age. During my first few years at the Ex, my parents would always make me watch the Second World War veterans’ parade—an unbelievably boring spectacle if you’re five. While my grandpa waved at us in the audience, I anxiously eyed the midway, shaking like a junkie going through withdrawal.What I love about Johnny at the Fair is its wide-eyed innocence: like my own five-year-old self, Johnny is able to take the Ex purely at face value. For me, the Ex began to lose a lot of its luster when I became a teenager. Why, I asked, would I waste my time on The Zipper or The Haunted House when I could get a better rush on the Drop Zone at Wonderland? Why would I want to wander through a shopping centre with a bunch of skinny men in crew cuts selling mops and Jacuzzis when I could just go to the mall? And oh dear god, what sort of social suicide would I face if one of my friends saw me with my parents at the Superdogs?Granted, Johnny had the advantage of living in a time when the Ex was a decidedly greater cultural force than it is now. Whenever I go to the Ex, I wander through the always-unchanged “Hall of Memories” (I love seeing that same picture of the Three Stooges year after year) and suspect that I’m witnessing a wistful yearning for better times rather than a pleasant walk down memory lane. Indeed, it sometimes feels like the Ex is virtually unchanged since Johnny visited: a decaying time warp from an era when a trampoline act was exciting and cultural exploration consisted of eating Chinese Chicken Balls at the Food Building.But this year is different. This year, Bill Clinton is coming to deliver a speech, and curiosity has compelled me to buy a ticket. In the years since the end of his mediocre presidency, Clinton has painstakingly transformed himself into a beloved elder statesman, and one of the most expensive and sought-after public speakers in the world. The Ex, which boasted Elvis Stojko and Petula Clarke as its other big guests this year, rarely lands such an A-list attraction.I’m back to see Clinton, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been lured to my old haunt. The turning point came last summer when ’70s singer and Branson, Missouri mainstay Tony Orlando came to perform. My knowledge of Mr. Orlando came from his frequent appearances on the Jerry Lewis Labour Day Telethon, where the washed-up entertainer annually belts out his couple of nearly forgotten hits and generally appears as a sad testament to the fickle nature of fame.I’m ashamed to say that I went to Orlando’s concert solely to laugh at him. “Any Tony Orlando fans out there?” asked the DJ from the radio station sponsoring the event, and I chortled when the throngs of middle-aged couples enthusiastically cheered this kitschy, hack relic of the ’70s. But when Orlando came out on stage and launched into his repertoire, pausing now and then to tell a funny anecdote or banter with his band, he was actually good. Nobody would confuse him for Bob Dylan, but what he lacked in artistry he made up for in likeability, stage presence, and a keen understanding of how to put on a crowd-pleasing, well-paced show. I daresay that I (gulp) enjoyed his performance un-ironically.I feel much the same way about Clinton. His speech was a remarkable piece of craftsmanship: from the opening moments when he praised Toronto, talked about how much he enjoys fairs like the Ex, and revealed his memories of Ted Kennedy (whose funeral he had come directly from), it’s clear that this is a man who knows how to make sweet, gentle love to his audience. The thousands of people in the BMO Field were eating out of his hand. When he launched into what I can only assume is his standard speech about the environment, the potential for political unity, and the essential goodness of humanity, he occasionally sprinkled it with crowd-pleasing facts about Toronto and the Ex (did you know that the Ex was the first fair to have electric lights?).There was nothing life-changing about the speech, and I doubt it really mobilized anyone in the audience, but I appreciated it for what it was: a chance to see an old pro deliver a smooth, well-oiled performance. Later, I headed to Ricoh Coliseum to see an ice show of popular songs from movies, during which Elvis Stojko skated to the Kill Bill theme. This was a pretty dreadful show, but there was Elvis, giving a technically flawless performance and providing some mild entertainment.The Ex is no longer the Toronto juggernaut it once was, but neither is it the tacky embarrassment I saw in my teens. It’s a charming diversion, a chance to play a game of Bingo, sit in a hammock-chair, try out a Miracle Mop, watch a man being fired out of a cannon, or some cows get milked, and leave your self-consciousness behind. Eating my traditional bag of Tiny Tom donuts, embracing the modest pleasures of this tired old fair, I feel, for the first time in perhaps a decade, a little like Johnny.
Genocide in Sri Lanka
It’s time to start calling the situation what it is.As Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long civil war drew to a close in May of this year, allegations that the Sri Lankan government engaged in genocide against the ethnic Tamil minority proliferated. The editorial boards of all three national newspapers argue these cries are an overblown and frenzied reaction to a much more complicated problem, and comparisons with similar situations in Cambodia and Rwanda have been dismissed.This Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Hart House, the Hart House Debates Committee and the Canadian International Council will host a panel entitled Sri Lanka: Short Term Imperatives and Long Term Solutions, which will discuss how to bring about lasting peace in the region. The panelists must not gloss over the inconvenient reality in Sri Lanka: the government has committed genocide in every sense of the word .The UN Convention on the Crime of Genocide lays out specific conditions for determining whether a particular humanitarian crisis can be considered genocide. According to Article II, genocide is defined in international law as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.”Genocide can consist of killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.Each of these conditions is present in the Sri Lankan case.An investigation by the Times of London found that in the final days of the war at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed, almost entirely by government shelling after being routed onto a small strip of land. That figure represents nearly three times the number of civilians killed in the Srebenica massacre in the Balkans, which is commonly considered a genocide.In late 2007, Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, published a report in which he concluded that torture was “widely practiced in Sri Lanka.” A new report by the International Crisis Group, an international NGO set on preventing and resolving crises, details how Sri Lanka has further institutionalized the use of torture against minority Tamils. It notes the “endemic torture” practiced by official state agencies, and draws attention to the courts, especially the Supreme Court, who encourage and “abet human rights violations on a daily basis.”In blatant defiance of international law, the Sri Lankan government is imprisoning some 270,000 Tamil civilians in detention camps where access by independent media is prohibited, according to Human Rights Watch. Despite unspeakable sanitary conditions, inadequate access to food and water, widespread disease, overcrowding, mental illness, and crime within these camps, the International Committee of the Red Cross has recently been asked to scale down its operations, while other aid workers have been told to leave the island entirely. Although the government had guaranteed that the civilians would be resettled within six months, it has pushed that deadline back and now openly advocates establishing permanent structures within the camps.The government has set up what it calls “rehabilitation centres” for the reintegration of several hundred child soldiers who were recruited into the Tamil Tigers during the civil war. The reality of these camps, however, is that they “fall short of internationally recognized best practice,” according to a press release issued in July by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, an umbrella group headed by Amnesty International. The Coalition further asserts that these children have inadequate access to their families. The facilities are surrounded by barbed wire.Despite such evidence, it’s still contended that what’s going on in Sri Lanka is not a genocide. Some argue that even though the government is engaged in “genocidal acts,” the crucial condition of “genocidal intent” is not satisfied. They argue the government’s intent is to prevent the resurgence of the LTTE, the rebel group it defeated in May, and not to harm civilians.But the government itself has openly acknowledged that the LTTE no longer poses a threat. In late June when the United States issued a travel advisory warning against Sri Lanka because of possible LTTE activity, the Sri Lankan government angrily denied that the LTTE posed any threat whatsoever and called the allegations “totally baseless.”There is, however, a wealth of documentary evidence showing that the government does indeed intend to harm Tamil former combatents. The nongovernmental group University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), recently issued a report on an incident where government troops slaughtered LTTE fighters after these fighters had surrendered. “The army had for the most part conducted itself in a disciplined manner in trying to protect civilians. But once the command gives a signal for barbarity to be let loose, the men touch the most depraved depths of humanity,” the report reads.We must first be clear about the nature of a problem before we can even begin to talk about ways of addressing it. Thus, a meaningful international response to what is happening in Sri Lanka must start with recognizing the crisis for what it is: a genocide. Far from being an issue of semantics, acknowledging this would activate legal obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention that countries like Canada have agreed to follow.In her 2002 Pulitzer Prize–winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power concludes that one of the reasons for the recurrence of genocide is the unwillingness of policymakers to identify it when it happens. “They avoid use of the word ‘genocide,’” she writes. “Thus they can in good conscience favor stopping genocide in the abstract, while simultaneously opposing [their] involvement in the moment.”It is impossible to overstate the sense of urgency or seriousness in Sri Lanka. The international community must face the reality.
Film Review: Love Happens
The opinions of audiences going to see Brandon Camp’s new film, Love Happens, can be easily depicted by the viewers who were seated to my left and right. My companions in the theatre were a sort of critic-version of the standard devil and angel, each whispering (quite loudly) mixed feelings into my ears. To my left presided a burly and cynical film critic with loftier aspirations than the latest Jennifer Aniston flick, and to my right an elderly couple who were moved by the intended flow of the movie, sobbing at the sad parts and laughing hysterically at the funny ones.Love Happens stars Aniston and Aaron Eckhart and follows the path of a self-help guru who hypocritically doesn’t follow his own advice. Eckhart’s character, Burke, is still reeling over the death of his wife and coping with an alcohol problem. Aniston plays a florist, fresh out of a bad breakup, who is initially skeptical of both him and his practice. Antics ensue, and she proceeds to help him take the steps he needs to move on.My devil to the left had no qualms about audibly sharing his disgust at the film, routinely grunting throughout. While he may have taken himself a tad too seriously, I did understand where he was coming from. Aniston’s character, Eloise—through no fault of the actress—is shallowly written and gains nothing from the storyline. While she helps Eckhart’s character through his problems, he does nothing in turn. Eloise’s issues mainly consist of a typical woman-screwed-over-by guys plot and she shows no other depth or complexity. An attempt is made to dive into Eloise’s history when she and Burke visit her mother, who appears to have a problem with alcohol herself (as is suggested by excessive beer bottles and a hint of crazy), but the movie never raises the issue again.The only interesting aspects about Eloise are her quirks. She has a unique capability to continuously call out Burke on his hypocrisy in a humorous but blunt fashion. For self-gratification, she enjoys writing bizarre words (such as “poppysmic”) behind paintings in the hotel she works for.Burke’s line of work often deserves a groan or two throughout the movie. At one point he stops Seattle traffic by dragging his workshop members into the middle of the street and forcing them to describe what they see, hear, and feel. When all of them describe things like “cars honking,” “a middle finger,” and “pollution” he takes them to the very top of an adjacent building and asks them the same question. This time, the responses predictably run along the line of “fresh air,” “the sea,” and “the sunshine.” The point of this exercise is to show that everything can change with a different perspective, even though they’re in the same place—a little “aw” inducing, but mostly cringe-worthy.The character I found most fascinating was Walter, played by John Carroll Lynch, a gruff man struggling with the untimely and accidental death of his son at his construction site. Walter deals with a highly realistic but interesting combination of guilt and anger, a closed-off exterior, and a skepticism of Burke’s work that the audience can clearly relate to. As the film progresses, his character continues to shine. The moment when he is able to shop at a hardware store again, however small a moment it may be, is truly moving.I would by no means label this movie a romantic comedy, but rather a romance with comedic bits—some of which fell very flat. Potentially the loudest “Oh, God!” produced by my neighbour came when each of the workshop members describe how they had been dealing with the deaths of their loved ones. One woman described how her late husband wanted her to have a plaster replica done of him, which seems a tad odd, but overall understandable. She then proceeds to explain that it’s of his genitalia, and that it was created so that they can still make love. The joke then becomes sick, twisted, and the potential subject of an entirely different, dark, underground indie film.Despite these moments, the angels to my right continued to weep and break into hysterics on cue, lending support to my opinion that Love Happens is not as bad as I thought it would be. The film does attempt to have more depth than the average romance, and although at times I felt as though it was trying to be Elizabethtown without the authenticity, it succeeded in avoiding a completely superficial tone.In the end, I left empathizing with both my devil and my angels. I genuinely enjoyed Love Happens, and although I can see much room for improvement, it exceeded my expectations.
What’s the 311?
Torontonians will soon be able to access city info at all hours, when the city’s 311 service opens to the public on Sept. 24. Callers will dial 311 for information and services, whether it’s to report that gaping pothole or a missed garbage collection.311 is meant to improve accessibility to non-emergency city services, answering the majority of enquiries on the first call. It replaces Access Toronto, which directed callers to various departments. This system brings together many different computer work-order systems to streamline service delivery.Callers can get a tracking number for some service requests. The list of trackable services is expected to grow as the 311 operation expands.“I believe that residents and businesses are entitled to high-quality, efficient, and easily accessible services,” said mayor David Miller. “311 Toronto ensures that every resident has direct access to a city employee who can help, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”Initially, residents can contact 311 by phone, email, or snail mail. In the coming months, the 311 service will expand on the web at toronto.ca/311, and allow residents to make service requests and track the status of their requests online.Fourth time is the charm for the service: after Miller first raised the idea in 2003, launch dates were set for July and September 2008. The launch date for this July was delayed because of the city workers strike.The city will use compiled data from 311 calls and service requests to plan, forecast, and budget for improved service delivery. The call centre at Metro Hall on John Street is expected to field 7,000 calls per day, with 70 staffers at peak times and as few as five for overnight shifts.Staff are available to respond in more than 180 languages, and there is TTY service for the hearing impaired. Staff were trained to learn 15,000 answers to 13,800 possible questions.
Season Preview: Being Erica
Being Erica is a television show that straddles genres: it’s not a comedy, but it can be wildly funny; it’s not a drama per se, but is at times very dramatic; it’s not a romance, but…well, you get the idea. Perhaps it is this broad spectrum that has allowed Being Erica to reach such a wide fan base and enter a second season.The premise of the show is one that many of us wish we could experience. The titular character, Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk), is a charming and witty 32-year-old dissatisfied with her life and overdue for a change. Each episode, she magically goes back in time to fix one of the many mistakes she feels put her on the “wrong path.” Through these trips down memory lane, Erica works to find and come to terms with herself, largely through the help of her enigmatic shrink, Dr. Tom (Michael Riley).The first season was a huge success and Being Erica has secured its place on CBC television’s line-up, despite fears budget cuts would put the new show on the chopping block. “Erica Strange” has even secured nearly 1,500 Facebook friends. (Not bad for a fictional character.) The show’s writing is fresh and fun when it needs to be, and poignant and emotional at particularly harrowing times in Erica’s journey. The casting also works effectively, particularly talented Canadian actors Karpluk and Riley. Karpluk, who has previously appeared on The L-Word
* and *Godiva’s, brings an authenticity and vulnerability to Erica that make her relatable and easy to root for. On his part, Riley’s performance blows every preconceived notion about psychiatrists out of the water.But maybe, just maybe, it’s the show’s setting that makes it come alive. Toronto serves wonderfully as the backdrop to this series—it has all the beauty and bustle of a big city, without the overused triteness of Central Park and Times Square (no offense to New York). After all the screen time Toronto has played substitute for other major cities, it is refreshing to see the city cast as itself for once.The landmarks we all take for granted at U of T are shown in a new light. Places like the CN Tower, the Distillery District, and even the Starbucks in the Toronto Life Building become as much a part of the show’s fabric as its characters and plot lines. One episode, for instance, showcased the Toronto Islands. Though I have been there and done that (or perhaps because I’ve been there and done that), watching Erica relive her perfect day there eating funnel cake at Centreville made me take a longer look at how this city has shaped my own memories. (It also made me crave funnel cake.)More important than the warm fuzzy feeling and the ability to say “I know where that is!” is how the rest of the TV audience sees Toronto and Torontonians. In every episode, there seems to be a genuine effort to share a bit of Toronto with the audience, from small complaints about the traffic on Bloor to more elaborate things like touring Casa Loma. It gives Toronto a good name, so to speak. Those watching in the States (and there are many) finally get to see a glimpse of Canada that is far from our typical maple syrup and hockey exports.Season two of Being Erica, like season one, promises to be full of different challenges and harder decisions for the title character. The major problems she faced in the first season, such as finding direction in her career and being in a relationship, have for the most part been addressed, so it will be interesting to watch how the writers let the show evolve and find more nuanced issues to explore.I would probably watch Being Erica regardless of its Canadian content. After all, a good show is a good show. But how can I not be a number-one fan when I see Ms. Strange participating in a Drop Fees rally at U of T and then head off to class at Vic?The second season of Being Erica premiers on CBC Tuesday, September 22 at 9 p.m.
Copyright law shouldn’t restrict research: Academics
The Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences has released a proposal to reform the current Copyright Act in the context of digital technology in response to government-sponsored national consultations.“The crux of our argument is that we need a fair-dealing clause that is as clear as possible,” said Ryan Hill, a spokesperson for CFHSS, which represents 75 universities and colleges.Fair dealing is a set of possible exceptions to an existing copyright law and is found in most common law jurisdictions.The proposal recommends two main revisions to Section 29 of the Canadian Copyright Act. The first calls for the use of phrases like “such as” to make the current list of fair dealing defenses suggestive rather than exhaustive.The second revision supports the integration of the 2004 ruling of the Supreme Court case Canadian Limited vs. Law Society of Upper Canada. In what is considered a landmark case, the court unanimously held that photocopying material for researchers did not constitute copyright infringement.These changes would make the Copyright Act similar to the one existing in the United States.The proposal also calls for using digital locks to block academic material online only if locks are broken for dubious purposes. Digital locks, also known as Digital Rights Management, are software designed to control how online media is used and prevents unauthorized copying.According to CFHSS, the use of digital locks restricts free dealing mechanisms that allow for some unofficial use of copyrighted material, such as independent study and critique.“Digital locks are not a good idea,” said professor Andrew Clement of U of T’s Faculty of Information. “When Digital Rights Management is used to lock entire pieces of work, it is detrimental to scholars.”“Academics work for the most part from the public purse. All our writing should be made available to the public,” Clement said.According to Clement, the advent of digital technologies has opened up more opportunities for scholars to share their work, but presents publishers with the challenge of developing a business model to monopolize control and access to online material.The CFHSS recommendations are a result of nationwide public consultations on copyright issues held by the Canadian industry and heritage ministries. Responses were collected online and during a series of town hall meetings between July 20 and Sept. 13.
Why so smog?
With autumn weather here and midterms around the corner, it’s hard to think that summer was in full force last month: the flip-flops and sunscreen, the trips to the beach, and the smog days that made breathing difficult. But smog is not a thing of the past: a new study in the July issue of Atmospheric Environment confirms that come May, it will all be back.Professor Jennifer Murphy, Canada Research chair in atmospheric and environmental chemistry, and graduate student Jeff Geddes have found that the last decade has seen no overall smog reduction in the GTA, despite programs enacted by municipal and federal governments.Their study analyzed atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and volatile organic compound levels, finding that while both NO2 and VOC have decreased between 30 and 40 per cent across Toronto since 2000, the amount of tropospheric ozone, a major component of photochemical smog, has remained relatively unchanged. The lack of tropospheric ozone change is somewhat unexpected in light of Toronto’s clean-air efforts.“Local clean-air efforts have focused mainly on reducing traffic and vehicle exhaust, which has led to dramatic reductions in nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons—two key precursors to smog,” says Murphy.The study reviewed NOx, O3, and VOC data available from the federal and provincial cooperative National Air Pollution Surveillance network. NAPS researchers measure NOx and O3 using automated continuous chemiluminescent and UV absorption analyzers respectively, and update the data annually.Data collected by NAPS, however, is completed with the “mandate to answer ‘are we above or below a threshold?’” says Murphy. “They don’t have the research mandate to interpret the data.” After analyzing the data themselves, Murphy and Geddes concluded that smog-reduction efforts simply are not as effective as anticipated.Murphy is an assistant professor of chemistry whose research focuses on ground-level air pollution. Her interest in photochemical ozone began during her PhD work at the University of California, where she studied the difference in nitrogen oxide levels on weekdays versus weekends, a difference predominately due to changes in diesel car traffic.The Ontario government and City Hall have implemented several efforts—including improving vehicle technology, regulatory initiatives, and incentive programs—to control emissions of ozone-precursor compounds such as NO2 and VOC.In 2000, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment adopted a Canada-wide standard for particulate matter and ground level ozone. By 2010, ground-level ozone measurements in all Canadian jurisdictions should not exceed 65 ppb (parts per billion) over an eight-hour period. The formal recognition of the impact of smog on human health began in the early 1990s, when the CCME responded with a plan for the management of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The initial plan featured over 16 codes of practice for reductions from various sources.In 2007, Toronto put together a Climate Change and Clear Air Action Plan committed to cutting back by 20 per cent locally-generated smog-causing pollutants from 2004 levels with a deadline of 2012. The city is also peppered by a slew of additional air quality initiatives, including an idling control by-law, cycling promotion initiatives, and participation in the Greater Toronto Area Clean Air Council.The Ontario environment and health ministries estimate that ground-level ozone costs the province several billion dollars in human health impacts and an additional $200 million in agricultural crop damages each year.The continued presence of tropospheric ozone is largely due to it being a secondary pollutant, making its atmospheric levels difficult to predict and control.“Ozone doesn’t come out of a tailpipe, it gets formed in the atmosphere from other pollutants that we emit. It’s not as easy to control as other things because it’s not a one-to-one relationship. So you can’t just stop driving and everything goes away,” says Murphy.The study also reaffirmed a previously established correlation between smog days and high temperatures. “The number of days where the temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius is strongly correlated to smog days,” says Murphy.Toronto is not alone in the battle with smog. The study points to long-term monitoring data in Japan and Taiwan that report steadily increasing ozone levels despite the implementation of clean-air efforts.Does this mean the battle with smog is in vain? “Absolutely not,” says Murphy, “It is good to reduce the precursors of smog, but you can’t expect it to drop down immediately.”
Wanted: Interns for war crimes court
Students eagerly filed into the solarium room at the law faculty last Thursday to hear from Sidney Thompson, an associate legal officer in the Special Court for Sierra Leone that is presently trying former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes.Thompson is one of the five lawyers in the Taylor case chamber and who, among other duties, is in charge of drafting legal documents and ensuring just trial proceedings. Although she could not talk about confidential elements of the trial, Thompson discussed previous SCSL cases, including those dealing with rebel groups such as the Revolutionary United Front and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council.The Special Court was created as a bilateral agreement between Sierra Leone and the UN to try war criminals for crimes against humanity during the Sierra Leone Civil War, which was fought from 1996 to 2002.This July, the SCSL became the first international court to sentence militia leaders for using child soldiers.Thompson, described with nuance some of the most brutal and violent crimes she had ever come across, refraining from giving grisly details about her cases. Some experts estimate up to 100,000 people died during the civil war, with thousands more affected by acts of violence, including sexual violence.Thompson emphasized the importance of maintaining a connection between the Court and the people of Sierra Leone. “The SCSL was designed to remain in situ, and facilitating access to the civilians is the one of the main responsibilities of the tribunal,” she said.“[They’re] very dedicated,” Thompson added, describing the tribunal’s outreach programs. “[They’re] managing radio talks, one-on-one sessions, field trips with local school groups and having them walk through court grounds so children as young as nine or 10 can understand what’s going on and such.”Thompson spoke of international criminal law as an expanding area of practice, and encouraged students to follow the ongoing Charles Taylor case, which is being broadcasted online.She also urged pursuing an internship with the SCSL.“We need you. There is so much evidence, so much work that we rely a lot on our interns,” Thompson said. She should know: she started out as an intern in 2005.For more information on the Special Court of Sierra Leone, visit http://www.sc-sl.org or contact Sidney Thompson at email@example.com.