Bikechain needs grad levy

“Bikes are how I access Toronto. Bikechain is how I access my bike,” says Simon, a user of Bikechain—U of T’s free bicycle repair and educational facility—who came in to replace tires on his bike and get a tune-up. Most people wait until summer is in full swing before they get on their bicycles, but a busy March day illustrates Bikechain’s year-round commitment to cycling as a lifestyle choice.

On a sunny early spring day, the basement shop on St. George just north of College is filled with young men and women who are fixing flats, installing fenders, and rebuilding entire sections of their bicycles. The mechanics point out the best way to make the fixes, but the work is mostly done by the riders themselves. Bikechain wants people to know their own bikes and get down and dirty with them.

Ruth, another Bikechain user, says, “I have found that as a cyclist you enjoy riding your bike more if you have done the maintenance yourself and are more in tune with your bicycle.” Inside the busy shop, it’s easy to see that many student cyclists share her thoughts.

With over 5,000 users in the last 18 months, the student-run organization has grown from a grassroots operation to a facility that offers educational seminars, information about cyclists’ rights, a fleet of bikes students can sign out at no cost, and a staff of mechanics who will teach people of all skill levels about bicycle maintenance and repair. It’s governed by students and members of the cycling community. They aim to promote cycling in the community as a cheap, accessible and ecologically friendly way of getting around the campus and the city. All students, faculty, and staff at the university community can use the space. The only cost? New parts. Everything else, including the mechanic’s time and advice, is free. The shop is supported by undergraduate student fees: students pay a dollar per year to keep the space running.

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This year, Bikechain is hoping to expand its revenue. A referendum on March 23 to 25 will ask graduate students at U of T to contribute a dollar each year as well. The added funding would allow Bikechain to offer more seminars, hire mechanics to help out through the busy summer months, and expand the rental fleet, opening the doors for more students to become cyclists. The grad student fee also means Bikechain can take the long view: while the basement of the International Student Center serves as the current location, the increased number of people using the space means that, sometime soon, Bikechain will need a bigger home.

From international students who want to use the rental bikes to save on cash, to hardcore bikers who ride rain or shine, to folks who are interested in high-end fancy bikes, to riders of beat-up hand-me-downs, users are welcome no matter what they ride. The space is democratic right down to the choice of music on the stereo. When Molly, another frequent friend of the space, says, “I use Bikechain because it’s freaking awesome,” people nod in agreement. Bikechain needs a yes vote on March 23 to 25: more help from students means more Bikechain for everyone.

Kaitlyn Kochany works on advocacy and outreach at Bikechain.

True confessions from RJD2

The Varsity: In 2009, you established your own record label, Electrical Connections. How has that been going?

R: I have very low expectations, so I’m never in a situation where I’m over my head. So at the moment everything’s great—it’s manageable, a lot of work and I feel like I’m fighting a great fight. Overall, I feel justified and strong about the choices that I’ve made so far.

TV: Did you have any set goals in mind for your fourth solo album, The Colossus?

R: I think the main goal was to inhabit the working approaches that I had used in the past—those basically being using sample-based instrument music, working with rappers, working with singers, and then live instrumental music.

TV: Speaking of which, you’ve got an amazing lineup of artists accompanying you on this record, including everyone from Kenna to Phonta Coleman. Is it ever difficult to match artists to songs, or do find it to be a relatively organic process?

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R: Usually it’s pretty obvious, but it can be difficult to get the people you want for particular songs. There’s a song on the album that I had a pretty specific idea regarding how it should be formatted and how it should progress. Naturally, though, there were a couple of lineups before I was able to get it executed. But by and large, you throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. It’s a lot less romantic than you’d like to think. But that really is the way things work when you’re recording an album. So, what you end up hearing is what ends up getting recorded.

TV: The music videos for “The Glow” and “Let There Be Horns” are easily some of the most innovative I’ve seen in some time. Are you the brains behind the operation?

R: No, I basically just okay them. I let the video guys do what they do best. I don’t like someone “arm-chair-quarterbacking” me when I try making a record. So I figure these guys know more about video production than I do. As long as their idea isn’t anything ridiculously offensive or stupid, I basically let them run with it.

TV: Are there any pieces of technology you could not live without?

R: I’d like to think that regardless of whatever existed or didn’t exist, I could still go about making music. But the main things that I absolutely need are the MPC sampler and the Pro Tools rig.

TV: I recently saw a documentary called Copyright Criminals, which discussed the strict and unfair sampling laws in the U.S. How do you deal with rigid sampling laws?

R: I feel that my opinions are pretty irrelevant. You’ve got to play by the rules. It’s like what I think about the fees that my bank levies, because I’m not going to be able to go in there and talk them out of charging them. I see sampling in the same way.

What I do think is interesting is that if we were to theoretically move towards a world where no money is generated from recordings, then labels would have a lot less of a vested interest to go after artists for copyright infringement. Lawyer fees are so expensive. What are people going to do? It doesn’t make sense to spend $250 of lawyer fees to recover $100.

TV: Time for a series of questions containing the word “rap.” Who’s your favourite rapper?

R: At the moment, Ludacris.

TV: Favourite rap group?

R: De La Soul. Or Wu Tang Clan.

TV: Favourite rapper you have worked with?

R: Ahhhh. I don’t think I can decide.

TV: Rapper you would like to work with?

R: Ludacris.

Wooopsies, she did it again!

For just $5 at the door earlier this month, I left Wooopsies Laugh Lounge with a sore tummy from laughing so hard. My mouth just couldn’t stop turning upwards and my hands applauded on their very own as if programmed to do so. This show is literally laugh-out-loud hilarious.

It all started with a one-night stand. U of T grad and comedian Kaitlin Loftus went home with someone after a night of drinking. Realizing her embarrassment the next morning, she thought it would be a good idea to send him a personal message that read, quite simply, “Wooopsies,” via Facebook. She never received a response. But she did turn a negative into a positive—specifically, into a comedy series.

“Sometimes the best comedy comes from real-life situations and I can definitely say that Wooopsies was inspired by a true story,” said Loftus. “There’s no faking in comedy. It’s either funny or it’s not. You know if you’re good and you know if you’re not, because nobody laughed.”

Loftus, who is a self-proclaimed klutz, admits to using many of her own life experiences as inspiration for stand-up material. The humour and subject matter incorporated into this show is edgy, explicit, and appeals to an open-minded crowd. Simply put, it’s bold and it’s ballsy.

“In the three years, we’ve seen about three dicks on stage,” said Loftus, adding that flashing is something to be expected and the show’s comedians possess little to no shame.

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At every show, she also performs in the sketch troupe Cheap Smokes, which is constantly writing new material. “Because we perform every two weeks and we want the same people to come back, we don’t want them to see the same thing twice,” she said.

The show itself started as mainly a sketch comedy series, then evolved into sketch stand-up and monologues. Now the performances include comedic videos and vaudeville-esque acts. Wooopsies host Allyson Smith, who is a teacher by day, opens every act with a wise crack. She’s sassy, silly, and has no problem making fun of herself if a good giggle comes out of it.

As Loftus explains, “I always try and get a couple new acts per show because there are a bunch of different cliques in the comedy scene in Toronto. We want to give stage time opportunities to other people. At the beginning, I would go down to Humber College and talk to first years and second years. I give priority to people just starting out.”

Although she’s always a bit apprehensive about bringing on new acts, she points out that comedy itself is a funny thing and you just never know who’s going to receive uproarious laughs or standing ovations.

“Whenever a comedian is on stage, I’m like a proud mom,” said Loftus. “The more nervous they are, the more nervous I get for them. I just always care.”

And it shows. The 24-year-old comedian has worked hard to establish Wooopsies Laugh Lounge as a reputable comedy show in the city, receiving sponsorship from Humber College, free food from its venue during intermission and the support of city-based comedians at the shows.

“It’s a great feeling when I look out into the audience and I don’t know any of these people. At first, it was my family and friends in the crowd because I was always bothering them to come, and now, thanks to mostly word of mouth and Facebook and stuff, Wooopsies seems to be getting the attention it really deserves.”

It may be a hodgepodge of comedy combos, but it’s certainly funny.

Wooopsies Laugh Lounge hits the stage every Monday night at The Poor Alex at Dundas St. W. Tickets are $5 at the door. The next show is tonight at 8:30 p.m.

Campus Stage: Skule Nite 1T0

This year’s production of Skule Nite, the annual sketch comedy show put on by U of T’s Engineering students, opened with cloaked figures making their way towards the stage, their faces illuminated (appropriately) by glowing hardhats. In a clever bit of self-referencing, they chanted for the return of the very show they were about to perform. Skule Nite, according to the robe-clad characters, was desperately needed to revive the collective engineering spirit, which had been “crushed under the weight of midterms, problem sets, and douchey TAs.”

Fortunately for the audience at opening night, Skule Nite 1T0 was funny enough to boost the morale of both engineering students and anyone plagued by the midterms and douchey TAs of other disciplines. It did occasionally get a little in-jokey, so some of its humour was lost on those of us who have never taken a class in Bahen and have no idea what PEY is. Most of the sketches, however, did not focus on engineering-related humour, and the ones that did tended to keep the more exclusive references to a minimum. (You don’t need to know exactly what the Iron Ring is in order to laugh when one of the characters cringes at the mention of it.) The result was a broadly appealing and thoroughly hilarious production that lived up to the comedic standard Skule Nite has maintained throughout its long-standing run at Hart House Theatre.

The show is a much-loved U of T tradition that began in 1921, when the School of Practical Sciences staged a successful variety performance at Massey Hall called Ngynyrs in SPaSms. Two years later, the production moved to Hart House and eventually evolved into Skule Nite, a series of short musical and comedy sketches written, performed, and produced by a team of Engineering students and graduates.

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Over the years, Skule Nite has garnered a reputation for its creative and unabashedly crass comedy. Skule Nite 1T0 was no exception, staying consistently original, crude, and side-splittingly funny throughout its three hours. This year’s sketches featured dancing centaurs, the manliest restaurant in the world (“Taco Balls”), the womanliest restaurant in the world (where the appetizer is chocolate and main course is talking about your feelings), homosexual dinosaurs, lycra-clad aliens, a very supportive parking validation officer. (“The validation you needed was in you all along,” he tells a confused driver, before chucking him under the chin.) Add to all this a porn shortage, enormous sandwiches, and a whole lot of penis jokes.

The script was probably snappy enough to have shone in the hands of a less talented group of actors than the ones in this year’s production. Fortunately, the Skule Nite 1T0 cast carried the show very well. All of their performances were solid, although Scott Whitty was definitely the stand-out of the evening. His hilariously awkward demeanour, which appeared to consist largely of a controlled performance coupled with a bit of inherent gawkiness, proved surprisingly versatile and consistently funny. Whether he was playing the sword-wielding King of Gondor or a nerdy guidance counsellor with a penchant for saying “nifty,” he never failed to crack up the audience.

While the show’s opening night was a definite success, it wasn’t exactly seamless. The actors occasionally flubbed their lines, some of the vocal performances were a bit shaky, and the sound effects did not always synchronize with the action of the show. But given Skule Nite’s lighthearted silliness, these blunders served to add to the show’s humour. In one of the sketches, a prop sign was knocked over by the gigantic pair of fake breasts attached to one of the actor’s costumes—which would have been sufficiently entertaining if it had been intentional, but was downright hilarious since it was not. Even the sketches that went on too long and seemed in danger of falling flat managed to conclude with jokes that packed enough punch to redeem any lapses in comedic momentum.

All in all, should the Skule Nite cast ever tire of suspension bridges and software design, they would probably do quite well as drama majors. It is doubtful, however, that any of them would consider switching into an arts program. As one of the characters points out, “[engineering] may be hard, but at least you don’t wind up with a useless degree like English.”

Freshly pressed: Gorillaz and Ben Harper

Gorillaz—Plastic Beach

Plastic Beach seems to offer what the title implies: transparent garbage.

It’s the third studio album by Gorillaz, the world’s number-one animated band, and their first release since Demon Days. Considering the innovative ambition that went into their previous albums and Plastic Beach’s contributor list (including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon playing together for the first time since the Clash disbanded), this kind of wait builds up a lot of anticipation. Surely this was destined to be the group’s most creative and groundbreaking album yet, right? Well, no, not quite. Plastic Beach just doesn’t compare to Demon Days, getting about as creative as a ’90s lounge album.

Plastic Beach creates a picture of desolate humanity resulting from consumerism, waste, and destruction. Gorillaz falls into the concept album trap by becoming too self-involved: they’re so focused on electronic experimentation that the band seems to have forgotten that they are meant to be playing music to be listened to. With its excessive sound effects and consistently obnoxious bass line, Plastic Beach gets exhausting only a few tracks in. Even the few stand-out tracks (“Superfast Jellyfish” and “Some Kind of Nature” which features Lou Reed) fail to go anywhere. Ultimately, the album falls into a rut, accomplishing the exact opposite of its intention.

It is ironic that the opening track should reference the Planet of the Apes, because I’m sure it’s has many a Gorillaz fan quoting Captain Taylor, yelling “You damned dirty apes!”—Ariel Lewis


Ben Harper and Relentless7: Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Ben Harper’s been committed to his new gig with Relentless7 for the last two years, and their performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival marks Harper’s best attempt at imitating the hedonistic cock rock of his idols. The whole show is laden with bluesy slide guitar solos, funky grooves, and high-octane vocals. He even manages to throw in raunchy lyrics like, “I feel like an underpaid concubine who’s outstayed her welcome.”

The show is solid, but it’s not quite what I’d expect for a climax to the epic relationship between Harper and guitarist Jason Mozersky. Solos on songs like “Keep It Together” are long but never really compelling. Especially towards the end, Harper’s voice sounds strained and falls out of key.

To Harper’s credit, he refuses to play within his comfort zone. He pushes hard to distance himself from the soulful reggae and folk genres that brought him fame in the past. So for this album, I give him sincere respect.—Ben Nieuwland


Orange crushed

The Stronger Together slate swept the exec positions in the UTSU election, according to unofficial results released on Saturday. Official results will be announced once the new board of directors formally adopts the results on April 30.

“This is by far the highest turnout I can remember and it reflects a message that both teams shared—to promote an engaged campus community,” wrote president-elect Adam Awad in an email to The Varsity. As current VP university affairs, he was one of two incumbent execs running on the Stronger Together slate. Their opponents, the Change slate, was composed of leaders from college student councils. This is the second year that Change has lost to the incumbent slate.

Awad received 4,152 votes, while Change presidential candidate Steve Masse pulled in 2,977.

“It’s like a college basketball team going up against the Lakers,” said Mike Maher, the Change candidate for VP internal, who said he found out on Friday night that he had lost. “We’re a bunch of students that have come together with a common purpose, wanting to change things, still being full-time students, but we got pitted against a cabal of paid student union staff and their friends who all don’t go to this university.”

In the email, Awad said both teams relied on non-U of T students in the campaign and that his campaign adhered to elections procedures to the best of their ability. “If you walk around campus on any given day, you’ll encounter lots of people who interact with U of T who aren’t students,” he wrote. “…[M]ost students will tell you that our campus is integrated into Toronto and it’s impossible to shut ourselves off from outsides.”

Student union execs from Ryerson and York have been photographed campaigning for Stronger Together at St. George. Asked to confirm reports that Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of YFS, had been campaigning for him at UTM, Awad wrote that he was friends with Saravanamuttu and that the latter had offered to help after a meeting ended at UTM. Saravanamuttu did not respond to requests from The Varsity.

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Masse told The Varsity in an earlier interview that all Change volunteers are U of T students.

“[The Stronger Together] campaign has done nothing but libel and slander my name to the point where candidates on my slate are concerned about passing federal government security checks because they’ve been labelled as the promoters of […] date-rape, homophobes, Islamophobes,” said Maher. “The way they conducted their campaign was deplorable. I’m not impressed at all.”

Maher also criticized the Election Procedures Code for what he said were excessive controls on free speech. “A normal election would operate under the premise that I would be punished for things I did wrong, not [that] I need to be cleared for everything that I do,” he said.

Non-U of T scrutineers

CRO Dave Blocker informed candidates on Thursday, the last day of voting, that he decided scrutineeres do not have to be current UTSU members. Scrutineers observe the ballot count. A UTSU member is any full-time student registered in a program leading to a degree, diploma, or certificate who has paid membership fees.

“Because of rule c, that candidates may not scrutineer, the ERC made a change to one of the rules provided at the All-Candidates Meeting: d) Scrutineers do not have to be current members of UTSU,” wrote Blocker shortly after 12:30 a.m. on March 18.

Blocker did not respond to phone calls from The Varsity.

Demerit update

Blocker has handed out four rulings after last Wednesday, two of which involved Sumaya Ahmed, a student who Blocker deemed a non-arms length third party campaigner for Stronger Together. The first ruling followed from a complaint that Ahmed wrote derogatory comments about the Change slate and Steve Masse in particular. The CRO wrote that one sentence of Ahmed’s comments could be considered a violation of election rules and cautioned all candidates but did not issue demerit points.

The second ruling involving Ahmed stemmed from a complaint that she had misrepresented Change’s position on Israeli Apartheid Week and that she had falsely alleged that Change was funded by Hillel. The CRO noted that Change did not state its official position on IAW and that there was no evidence to support the contention that Change was funded by Hillel. He assessed Adam Awad five demerit points.

A Stronger Together supporter and Donna Graves, chair of the Transitional Year Program, were accused of harassing a Change supporter and slandering Antonin Mongeau and Alyssa James, the Change VP equity candidate. Blocker issued three demerits to Danielle Sandhu, Stronger Together’s VP equity candidate. He ruled that Graves made comments that were “derogatory” and “overtly hostile” but blamed Mongeau, the EFUT alumni chair and outspoken UTSU critic, for what he called Mongeau’s “ongoing attempts to sabotage the Stronger Together campaign.”

In his final ruling, the CRO took direct aim at Mongeau and ruled that his YouTube videos constituted a breach of fair play and existing policy. Blocker ordered Change candidates to immediately cease using tactics aimed at what he called sabotage “particularly through underhanded efforts to posture Change campaigners as journalists who effort to undermine the spirit of a fair and democratic election.”

Some Change supporters have alleged that the CRO betrayed a bias for Stronger Together in the wording of his rulings. Maher said he thought Blocker was a lot better than last year’s CRO, Lydia Treadwell, but stopped short of saying that Blocker abused his authority. (A change to the Election Procedure Code this year now deems “any attempt to undermine the authority of the CRO and/or the [Elections and Referenda] Committee” an offence.)

“There were a few questionable calls that he made, let’s put it that way,” Maher said. “We’d send him clear evidence of the other side basically race-baiting our supporters and saying that they’re being traitors to their culture for supporting Change,” said Maher. “That’s when I started getting upset [but] once [we] sent it to the CRO it really just fell on deaf ears for him.”

Awad declined to comment on whether he had complied with a CRO ruling instructing him to publicly disassociate himself from Ahmed. “The CRO was very fair and consistent in my opinion. Of course we didn’t think we should have gotten some of the infraction points we were awarded, but that’s part of running in an election.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported an altercation between Donna Graves, Alyssa James, and Antonin Mongeau. In fact, the altercation took place between Graves and a Change supporter, where Graves was accused of slandering James and Mongeau. The Varsity regrets the error.

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Missing student ‘killed in battle’ for Somali militia

A video has surfaced on the Internet claiming that Muhammed Elmi Ibrahim, a U of T student who went missing last year, has died fighting for a group with ties to an Al-Qaeda. The Toronto Star reported that Ibrahim was the first of six Somali-Canadian men who disappeared from Toronto last year and who are suspected of joining Al-Shabaab, a youth militia group in Somalia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not confirmed his death.

In the last two years, over 20 Somali men have disappeared from Canada and the U.S. to fight with Al-Shabaab, according to the CBC.

The video provides scant details of what happened, stating only that Ibrahim was “killed in battle” and that “he was firm and calm, rushing toward death.” It shows a man purported to be Ibrahim talking about the historical significance of a mountain in Saudi Arabia. The opening paragraph that accompanies the video states: “Glad Tidings to the youth in Canada. Your dear brother Mohamed al Muhajiri has succeeded. Don’t be sadden but rather rejoice in the news of your dear brother and follow his foot steps and march forth in the ranks of the honest mujahideen in Somalia.”

Ibrahim had worshipped at the Abu Huraira Centre and went by the nickname “Canlish,” a reference to the Scarborough neighbourhood he grew up in. An English major, he was known in his community as bright, well-spoken young man with a great future. Omar Kireh, an administrator at the Abu Huraira Centre, told reporters that while Ibrahim came to the mosque frequently in his youth, his attendance dropped off as soon as he entered university. If the reports are true, Kireh said, this would be a loss for his family, community, and Canadian society. “It’s very sad…everyone had high expectations from him,” he told the Star.

Ibrahim went on the traditional hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but did not return with his travelling companions. Five other Somali Canadian men, Mahad Ali Dhore, Khalid Aden Noor, Mustafa Ali, Ahmed Heybe Ahmed, and Abdirahman Yusuf, also disappeared around the same time and had also worshipped at the Abu Huraira Centre.

Ibrahim’s family, who are in mourning, have turned away reporters.

UTSC gets credit/no credit course option

UTSC students can now take one class with the credit or no credit option as part of their degree. The St. George campus’s Curriculum Renewal Committee approved the option to Arts and Science Students in 2008. It is not available at UTM.

Under this option, the student’s mark in the class does not factor into their GPA. Students need 60 per cent in the class to get a degree credit, or CR, on their transcript. Those with lower than 60 per cent get a “no credit,” or NCR.

“This option will give students an opportunity to explore the various courses on campus not at the expense of your GPA,” reads an email from Aisha Khaja, VP academics for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, and UTSC student affairs dean Tom Nowers.

Students need to choose the option before the last day to add the course. The credit/no credit course cannot count towards satisfying program requirements. The decision, once made, is final. The instructor, however, is not told which individual students in the class are doing the course on that option.

“It took a little while for students to grasp a couple of its features, that they couldn’t switch back if they were getting 51 per cent or 90 per cent, and that they shouldn’t be using this to avoid a non-stellar mark in one of their hard program-requirement courses,” said Glenn Loney, assistant dean of the arts and science faculty. “But now that those things are sorted out, it seems to work well. They seem to like it and are taking advantage of it,” he said.

Execs of the Arts and Science Students’ Union want the option expanded to two course equivalents. “I think that because the breadth requirements for the next academic year are changing, the faculty should consider increasing the opportunity to exercise the CR/NCR option,” said ASSU executive member Grant Gonzales. ASSU president Gavin Nowlan said the no credit option will allow students to engage a wider variety of courses and to take intellectual risks.