UTSC makeover in the works

“It’s a very exciting time to be at UTSC,” said U of T Scarborough principal Frank Vaccarino.

Plans for expansion of the crowded campus of roughly 10,000 students have been given a boost by the coming 2015 Pan Am Games.

Ideas under consideration include more academic and residence buildings, an extension to the TTC’s light-rail plan that reaches campus, a performing arts centre, and replacing a section of Military Trail with a pedestrian walkway, complete with cafés and trees.

But the largest idea under review resulted from the coming Pan Am Games athletic centre. Vaccarino’s office has commissioned Pannell Kerr Forster consulting firm to complete a feasibility study on a hotel and convention centre. Results are expected within a month.
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“We’re being real careful with this,” said Vaccarino. “It represents a potential opportunity but before we jump to that, it’s an area we have to understand well.

“UTSC has a substantial space shortage. We’re not able to properly accommodate visitors.”

Vaccarino said a hotel and convention centre could be used to house visiting athletes for the Pan Am Games and other sporting events. He noted the area has much less surrounding accommodation than St. George campus, and said the new buildings could host families visiting students, academic conferences, and international speakers.

The closest hotel to the campus is a 10 km drive. At a conference held last year, guests were lodged in some of the unused residence rooms.

UTSC student Kevin Wang said he’s concerned about rising student fees. A $30 million escalating student levy was approved by a March referendum to build an athletic centre for the 2015 games.

“We already had the referendum which would shortchange a lot of us for next few years for an athletic facility, so adding to that might be a very bad idea.”

“As long as they don’t make us pay another levy, I’m fine with it. [It’s] nice to have more development in our neighbourhood,” said student Martine Lee. “Hopefully we can make use of the hotel or convention centre for student events as well.”

Vaccarino stressed that levies are out of the question. “A student levy would not be part of the funding plan for such a project,” he said, adding that a campus expansion would enrich the local community.

“This is really an opportunity for UTSC to play a role in the development of this region,” said Vaccarino. “When the GTA amalgamated, this area lost some of its self-definition and the UTSC vision is to be an anchor and a catalyst for the region.”

All new developments would take place on the north side of Ellesmere Road, a 50-hectare area owned by the campus currently used for parking spaces and parkland. Called the north campus, the area’s first building, a $78-million instructional centre, is almost complete and is planned to open in March.

The athletic centre, which will include two Olympic-sized swimming pools and space for multiple sports, is planned to be built at the north end of the area, bordering city land. The proposed hotel and convention centre would likely be placed beside the athletic centre.

With files from The Globe and Mail.

The politics of fear

France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy and Canada’s prime Minister Stephen Harper have benefitted from exploiting popular prejudices about immigrants.

When approval ratings are low, some leaders rethink their strategies, come up with practical solutions, and connect with the populace. Others with less integrity seek an easy scapegoat: often in the form of foreigners.

The Roma people, pejoratively known as “gypsies,” are Europe’s largest minority. Somewhere between 500,000 to a million live in France, mostly coming from Eastern Europe. Many live in encampments: cramped lots on the periphery of cities filled with scores of mobile homes. Poverty, disease, and crime run rampant among the squatters.

Long the pariahs of Europe, discrimination of Romani people is well-documented throughout the continent. Historically known as a nomadic people, their wandering has never ceased as European societies continue to stigmatize and deny the continent’s roughly 11 million Roma rightful education and social services.

Five years into the Decade of Roma Inclusion, an initiative backed with $17 billion in EU funding, many remain illiterate and unemployed. A sizable number roam city streets, peddling babies and begging passersby for spare change. Tourists are often pick-pocketed, conned, and sometimes, jumped.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government has been extraditing Romani to their countries of origin for the past year. But the effort has recently been stepped up.

Facing abysmal approval ratings halfway through his term, Sarkozy has been dealing with a rising deficit, staggering growth and a party funding scandal. This year he’s orchestrated unnecessary polemics, with a burqa ban and town hall-style debates on national identity, to distract the electorate and gain the support of France’s extreme right-wing factions.

But the distraction hasn’t been enough. His plans for EU austerity measures are meeting hostile opposition. The French blogosphere is swarming with rumours of violent uprisings on Labour Day resembling the 2005 and 2007 riots—both of which included scores of torched cars and civilians opening fire on police.

Two weeks ago, Sarkozy started an aggressive campaign of Roma deportation. Feeding off prejudice and fear, he’s linked immigration to crime and has begun a program of “voluntary repatriation” for supposed illegal migrants. Adults are offered 300 euros and a seat on a flight to Romania or Bulgaria.

The move has been condemned by both the UN and the Vatican. The EU has questioned the legality of the expulsions, noting that its open-border policies make claims of illegal immigrants difficult to prove.

It gets uglier. Sarkozy even threatened to withdraw citizenship from immigrants convicted of endangering police. The last time French citizenship was revoked from naturalized foreigners was in the 1940s, when Pétain’s fascist-collaborative government expatriated Jews to get them into Auschwitz-bound trains faster.
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Similar scapegoating has also taken place in Canada. Last October, the Ocean Lady docked at Victoria, B.C. with 76 Tamil men aboard. All were released after the Canada Border Services Agency found no evidence of terrorist connections. The event provoked some debate and editorials, but faded from prominence within days.

Since then, Harper’s government has been plagued by scandal: the Afghanistan torture allegations, the long-form census, building more prisons for “unreported crime,” the G20 in general.

The second boat of Tamil migrants couldn’t have chosen a worse time to arrive.

We were we told that these people were aliens jumping the queue and feeding off our tax system, that the Tamil Tigers are establishing a government in exile and sending more boats.

As the boat came closer, our collective intelligence was increasingly insulted. We were hysterically warned of terrorists on board. Rejecting the concept of innocence until proven guilty, the Conservatives still continue to spread these unsubstantiated allegations.

Not only does this slander those involved, it undermines the trust the public places in their government. The danger in throwing around terrorism allegations is that it opens the door to a boy-cried-wolf situation.

Harper’s efforts have largely been successful. With weak media seeking the latest sensationalized story, the Conservatives have gained support from tough-on-crime voters and the pesky Afghan torture scandal is far off the radar.

Terrorism means using fear to coerce. It seems this is exactly Harper and Sarkozy’s approach to public debate.

The Tamil migrants deserve the fair process afforded to all claiming refugee status. The Roma in France deserve concrete moves to help them assimilate into society. The Canadian and French electorates deserve governments that don’t steep to scapegoating when faced with tough questions.

While the Tamil migrant situation is less elaborate than the French expulsion of Roma people, it sets a shared and dangerous precedent. Using xenophobia as a political tool is dangerous, cowardly, and undermines democracy. I trust Canadians will be smart and courageous enough to see past the fear-mongering and focus on getting answers to our real questions.

No rest for the wicked

While many of us were lazing around during our final days of freedom before returning to the University of Toronto for the fall semester, athletes from The Varsity Blues were on campus training hard for the 2010-2011 season.

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek into what can be expected in the upcoming weeks.

Baseball

A mid-season surge after a slow start gave the U of T men’s baseball team their first playoff appearance since 2006 last year. Despite losing superstar pitcher Jake Gallo, the Blues’ pitching is still the strongest part of their lineup. Three out of the last four years, and five out of the last nine, a Varsity Blue has been named OUA pitcher of the year. Hall of Fame Coach Dan Lang has stepped in as General Manager and former assistant coach Charles Pascal will be taking over the duties as this season’s skipper.

Football

With new recruits and a few transfers, this year’s football team has a roster loaded with strong players. There is plenty of competition at each position, ensuring that players will push themselves to the limit to secure a starting spot, and also providing the team with a useful pool of talent so it won’t get burnt out in the second half of games. “If you look at our games last season,” said Coach Greg DeLaval, “we lost most of them in the third and fourth quarters.” Tom Gretes has been brought on staff as the new defensive coordinator and the Blues’ defense is full of experienced players this year. Defensive backs Hugo Lopez and Brad Morton, who have transferred to U of T from the University of Waterloo, are expected to provide a big contribution. John Engel is the new offensive coordinator and will be taking on a very young offense eager to prove itself to the OUA. Running back Chris Weiland, a former member of the University of Toledo program in the NCAA, has committed to U of T and is also expected to compete for a starting position. This mixture of new faces and veteran leadership will be turning some heads—and hopefully some losses into wins.
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Men’s Water Polo

The men’s water polo team is ready to start a brand new season and will be working hard for a third consecutive OUA championship. The team this year is strong and will be welcoming back a slew of players from last year’s roster when practices begin on September 8. Led by Head Coach Vlad Tasevski and Assistant Coach Som Seif, the Blues are anticipating an exciting season. The biggest competition is expected to come from the Carleton Ravens, the McMaster Marauders, and the York Lions.

Men’s Soccer

Most of the old starting lineup of the men’s soccer team is still intact, despite the team losing six players. With the addition of highly-touted recruit Ezekiel Lubocki, a centre-midfielder, expect this team to exceed last season’s tremendous accomplishments. The experience gained en route to the OUA Finals, and subsequently a berth at the CIS Championships last season, is going to speak volumes on the field, particularly with the pressure of hosting this year’s CIS Championships. “We put the pressure on ourselves, we welcome it,” said Coach Anthony Capotosto. Toronto FC Academy coaches Jason Bent and Stuart Neely have been involved in this season’s training camp, and it is expected that this will give the Blues an edge. “Having these coaches help out is a luxury that most teams don’t have,” said Capotosto.

Women’s Soccer

Last season’s women’s soccer team posted a record winning 11 games, tying one and losing just four, and Coach Eva Havaris expects an improvement after having lost only three players and recruiting well. Kate Crowley, a transfer from Western, and rookies Fatima Braimoh, Caroline Murphy, and Lisa English have Coach Havaris looking for immediate contributions from them. U of T hosted last year’s CIS Championship, and Coach Havaris hopes to see the Blues make an appearance again this year. “Being part of nationals last year gave our young squad the experience they needed to compete at the national level with top programs in the country,” said Coach Havaris. “I expect that we will do as well as last year and look to make our mark in the OUA post-season and qualify for nationals in P.E.I.” Her expectations may seem high, but they are warranted as the team has recently been ranked fifth in the CIS prior to this upcoming season.

Women’s Field Hockey

The women’s field hockey team will be in for a rough ride this season after losing four starting defenders from last season’s squad. Coach John De Souza is confident that his new recruits will fill the voids nicely though, particularly Lauren Mansfield and Frankie Vondrejs, a third-year transfer from York. Rookies Alex Thicke and Heather Hughan, both of whom attended Junior National Camp, will be big contributors as well. “I am excited about the recruits and what they have to offer,” said Coach De Souza in a statement, “They make us a faster team and allow us the versatility to change the style we play.” For the past three seasons the road to the OUA Championships has featured a match-up between U of T and Guelph, with the Blues winning once. “I’m not sure how that will pan out this year—I think the league has a lot of parity,” said De Souza.

Women’s Lacrosse

Last year the women’s lacrosse team had an outstanding regular season, setting a perfect record of 12 wins and zero losses. The team also finished first, second, and third in the OUA scoring race. This seasonwill be one to watch, with Tory Wasson, a transfer from an NCAA Division I school in Vermont added to the roster, and Jeska Eadens, who was awarded Most Valuable Defence Player by the OUA, returning. The team is led by Head Coach Todd Pepper, who was the 2009 OUA Coach of The Year,

Tennis

OUA bronze medals were snatched up by both the men’s and women’s tennis teams last season. The women will be relying on two-time OUA all-star Daria Zakharchenko to lead them to victory this year. On the men’s team, second-year standout talent Stefan Srnic is a talented player expected to be on the prowl, having been named an OUA all-star this past year.

###Golf

The men’s and women’s golf teams will once again be led by veteran coach Chris Tortorice. Scott Samuel, a 2010 individual silver medalist who also finished in 13th at the Canadian University/College championship, is expected to give a strong showing this season. The women’s team was comprised of four rookies last year and came out on top and won the OUA championship. They are led by 2010 OUA individual silver medalist and 2009 OUA all-star, Laura Upenieks. Na Eun Park was a first-time OUA all-star in 2009 and Christine Ho received the honour for the second time.

Cross Country

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams boast some of the best runners in the country. Despite losing four-time U of T athlete of the year Meagan Brown, the women’s team looks strong and will be relying on the leadership of Tamara Jewett, who established herself as one of the top contenders in the country in her early days at U of T. Incoming recruits include Tamara Jewett’s younger sister Rachel and Colleen Hennessy, who was gold medalist at last year’s OFSAA track and field meet. The men’s team will be led by Michael Del Monte, a two-time OUA all-star who helped the team to a fourth-place finish at the OUA championships in 2009. Veteran Head Coach Ross Rissucia has delivered a solid team in the past, and this season should be no exception.

From the bottom up

The recent floods in Pakistan have affected more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami, Kashmir earthquake, Cyclone Nargis, and Haiti earthquake combined. An estimated 20 million people, about twice the population of New York City, have been internally displaced, out of which 70 percent are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. In response to a call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the international community has delivered a cumulative total of $800 million in foreign aid with more on the way.

Unfortunately, as proven by the 2005 earthquake in the Kashmir region, aid alone cannot ensure long term rehabilitation. Despite an estimated total of $5.8 billion pledged by the international community, thousands of earthquake victims were still living in refugee camps, waiting for the government assistance they were promised to re-build their homes. A similar fate awaits the flood victims if things are not done different this time around.

To ensure the long-term sustainability and effective mobilization of funds, aid needs to take the form of development assistance. As President of the Transnational Project, Imran Ahmed Khan pointed out, “We need to help the Pakistani government fix its own system. By throwing money and aid at Pakistan, we are not solving the problem.” Hence, long-term growth and sustainability can only be achieved if donors complement aid with capacity training and technical assistance to local institutions, thereby increasing the ability of local NGOs and CBOs to manage relief and rehabilitation efforts.

However, the widespread distrust of the government means that flood victims and donors alike prefer international organizations to handle funds. Such organizations are often an inefficient means of allocating funds as much of the appropriated funds are used up within, due to the high overheads and costs, and the costs involved in ensuring their security. Recent threats by the Taliban regarding the unacceptable presence of the foreign aid workers may drive up these costs further.

Community-based organizations are a cheaper and more sustainable alternative. One example is the Shahina Aftab Foundation which seeks to help small groups of women and children at a time, providing their initial needs, and creating income-generating projects to ensure their long-term rehabilitation. However, due to their limited resources and technical capacities, organizations such as these cannot operate alone on a large scale. The allocation of funds toward the capacity building and support of such projects should be treated as a key goal, one which will ensure ground-up development in the region.

Another obstacle faced by the country in its mobilization of aid is the widespread corruption inherent in the system. As one political leader in Pakistan warned, competition over international aid could result in corruption and violence, causing instability and social unrest as everyone tries to grab a piece of it. Given the scale of the disaster and the potential for corruption, the transparent transformation of the funds into a fair relief and recovery plan is a difficult task. One suggestion, made by the Interior Minister himself, has been to hire international auditing firms to ensure accountability and transparency of the funds.

This is not a feasible option, as apart from being costly, these firms could only stay for a limited period of time, thereby providing only a short-term solution. A more sustainable, if less scrupulous way of ensuring accountability could be expanding the reach of local chapters of Transparency International. Furthermore, the media’s ability to inform the public and thereby influence public opinion can also serve as a powerful watchdog for keeping local politicians and the civilian-elite in check. Unfortunately, media interest tends to fade after the initial stages of a crisis, creating an opportunity for aid to be stolen or misallocated. By encouraging the media to continue its coverage on the affected regions into the long run, some amount of transparency may be ensured.

The rehabilitation and reconstruction of Pakistan is a monumental task, one that will probably take many years. However, as suggested by some American officials, the disaster should be treated as an opportunity for Pakistan to “leapfrog” ahead. Through technical assistance and development programs, new water, and energy systems, better schools and hospitals can be created. The global community can help Pakistan achieve ground-up development, thereby ensuring the stability of Pakistan and the surrounding region.

The Varsity Interview: Sam Fogarino

Interpol’s self-titled and self-produced fourth album sees the New York post-punk revival act once again embracing dark minimalist music washed over with reverb. Interpol is back under the independent label Matador after a less-than-satisfying contract with Capitol Records for 2007’s Our Love To Admire. Intentionally or not, 2010 saw Interpol breaking out of their mold after the amicable split of longtime bassist Carlos D. and his replacement with Slint guitarist Dave Pajo. Drummer Sam Fogarino took some time before Interpol’s show in Toronto to discuss the all-too-familiar topic of repetition and the form Interpol might take in the future.

The Varsity: According to Wikipedia, it was your birthday yesterday. Happy belated Birthday!

Sam Fogarino: Thank you.

TV: How do you usually celebrate birthdays on the road?

SF: Pretty much with a bottle of champagne or some other spirits and a birthday cake. Sometimes confetti and strippers. Male and female — you have to keep it balanced. We’re all equal here. But that didn’t happen last night.

TV: No? Just kind of subdued?

SF: There was a little champagne, some maple syrup.

TV: Because you’re in Canada and we have a lot of that here.

SF: Indeed.

TV: More seriously, the album, Interpol by Interpol. Did anyone say that yet? I hope I’m the first.

SF: [laughs] No yeah, that’s awesome.

TV: Did you have a goal or objective in mind while working on this one?

SF: I think there was definitely an underlying desire to not repeat ourselves, but to keep a certain level of integrity intact. That’s kind of a challenge — to change but not change too much.

TV: I read in an interview that you talked about not fighting that sonic sound.

SF: Yeah, I personally view a sonic touchstone to be Daniel’s guitar. You know, aside from Paul’s voice. Paul can implement different techniques, but his voice is his voice. I think at a certain early point in the writing process, there was something to the purity of Daniel’s guitar tone that I personally thought, like, Wow, we’re getting back to something. And I think that, as opposed to the last record, we kept that mainstay intact and then let everything else be an experimental aspect. I think on this record, with the blending of different textures, the right mix was found in terms of how the very lush instrumental keyboards fit with these very simple guitar tones. That made me very happy.

TV: Did anything influence your song-writing this time around?

SF: I really think the main thing that influenced it was our own experience. Every place we’ve been, literally and metaphorically. We don’t discuss other new music while we’re writing. I really don’t listen to much new music during the process, it seems a little distracting. There might be individual influences from other forms of art like literature or film but for most of us that’s a daily occurrence. It’s not something we really harp on during the writing process. We try to keep it pure.
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TV: How has the band adjusted with the removal of Carlos D?

SF: [laughs] The removal was successful. There wasn’t too much contamination. There hasn’t been much of a hiccup. We have two great musicians supporting us on stage. For this mode of operation, they are integral to Interpol.

TV: Are the new members going to help write songs in the future?

SF: Without the record being released yet, it’s kind of hard to look into. Anything could happen. Personally speaking, I definitely wouldn’t reject that but we have a long way to go. We’ll be touring into next year and then there’s that obligatory break. We’ll see. They have their own projects too so at this point it would be presumptuous of me on all parts to say ‘Yeah sure, that would be great!’

TV: You seem like a flexible band.

SF: But we’re not! We haven’t been a flexible band.

TV: Really? Even with all the changes?

SF: We’re kind of tight-fisted. When you’re not given a choice with change then you do have to be flexible but when you do have a choice it’s hard to make decisions and get out of your comfort zone. So to bring in two new members to replace one is an adjustment. That’s something that will have to reveal itself, no matter how good it looks on paper.

TV: Another big change was that you went back to Matador as your label. What was the driving factor behind going from a major label to an independent label?

SF: It’s where we come from. We did two records with Matador and we only did one with Capitol and it wasn’t a great experience. It was great that Capitol let us go on a handshake. There was no litigation filed, and nothing ugly about it. It was a good lesson learned at the end of the day. We were also fortunate to be able to go back to Matador. It’s a great label and a great place to be. To compare the two operations, Matador’s office is open. I can walk in anytime, and talk to anybody about anything. I only went to Capitol twice and had to make an appointment, wait in a waiting room and be called upon with a limited amount of time.

TV: You and Paul had your own solo projects as well. You were in Magnetic Morning and Paul had Julian Plenti. Was it hard to go back into the studio and work on Interpol after Magnetic Morning or was it completely natural?

SF: With Magnetic Morning there was less pressure and more freedom involved. In comparison, it was playtime. I kind of stepped out of my norm.

TV: And you got to play the Horseshoe in Toronto as Magnetic Morning, so it must be cool to go from huge venues to touring as a small solo project.

SF: The funny thing is, when I first played with Magnetic Morning, the first show we ever did was at the Mercury Lounge in 2007. The last show I played in New York was at Madison Square Garden with Interpol. So I went from MSG back to the Mercury Lounge. That was a trip. Interpol does that to a degree. We still have the ability to go from The Kool Haus to the Greek Theatre in L.A. I think it would get boring otherwise to play the same type of venue.

TV: Yeah, you don’t want to be Kings of Leon.

SF: Yeah, in more ways than one.

TV: Final question: if you were the real Interpol, who would you arrest first?

SF: George Bush.

TV: I didn’t see that coming. He’s not relevant anymore, but I suppose he should still be arrested.

SF: He did a lot of damage. He’s off skating free, man. Eight years of damage and no ramifications whatsoever.

TV: People still love him.

SF: They’re crazy.

TV: He’s the new Ronald Reagan, except he wasn’t as charismatic.

SF: And he makes Ronald Reagan look like a good president. At least Reagan was smart.

TV: Was he?

SF: At the beginning, then he kind of lost his cookies.

TV: Most of them do.

SF: Ronald Reagan kind of screwed my sister, who’s older than me, out of financial aid. The year that he became president, there was a very liberal financial aid system in place. We were a lower-middle class family and my sister was going to go to university and be fully funded. Then he cut the budget, so he took a great education away from her. But Bush makes him seem like a fucking god.

Interpol’s fourth studio album will be released September 7, 2010.

I want to [censored] Chromeo: a reflection

Chromeo-oh. CHROMEOoo-OH.

The crowd loudly chants in perfect unison – in feverish anticipation of what is sure to be a night of non-stop bump and grind. The moment the self-proclaimed “only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture” emerges from the darkness and Dave 1 utters “Two-step! Two-step! Two-step!” the audience erupts in a wild frenzy and the first wave of cries of euphoric excitement explodes upon the scene.

The splendid yet unlikely pairing of Dave 1, a lanky half-Moroccan hipster god with confidence in spades and P-Thugg, a burly Lebanese G and synth master of groove, is embodied in their unique sound: a deadly combo of 80’s old-school funk and new age electro music aesthetics. The venue is quickly transformed from a concert hall to a club in a dizzying swirl of lights and constant motion. Hotties, bodies all around—a smirk here and a look there, all behind the façade of wayfarers, as Dave 1 manages to make every girl swoon, and piss off every guy trying to score.
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Such was the atmosphere a few weeks ago at the Phoenix Concert Theatre when Chromeo last graced us humble Torontonians with their dance-funk charisma and talk-box skillz. Once again, they are scheduled to take the stage — but this time at the Engage Orientation 2010 Concert Friday, at Back Campus field with hometown sweethearts ZEUS and Allie Hughes, as the highlight of UTSU’s orientation. Hopefully, the concert will make all of that group chanting and those horrible t-shirts that you’ve worn all week worthwhile.

Chromeo is best known for its eclectic upbeat mix of Dave 1’s catchy guitar riffs, P-Thugg’s funky synth beats and talk-box magic and their sexy mostly female fan base. This two-some began creating music together at the tender age of 15, while both were in high school and still known as Dave Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel.

All the while, Dave 1 is earning a PhD in French Literature at Columbia University where he also teaches undergraduate classes in French. One person, two lives: Professor Macklovitch, poring over Laclos and de Sade in the library by day versus donning a flying-V guitar night by night as Dave 1. Not to mention Monsieur Gemayel, with a history as a number crunching accountant that completely disappears once he assumes his gold-toothed guise, would be a travesty considering this couple may just be the closest thing to superheroes I have ever seen.

Who needs capes and X-ray vision when you have instant anthems like ‘Needy Girl’, ‘Momma’s Boy and Bonafied Lovin’ (Tough Guys)”? Their third LP, Business Casual drops September 14th.

Chromeo will perform alongside Zeus and Allie Hughes at Back Campus field Friday. 4pm.

A good sport: It’s not ‘Rocket’ science

Pitching hero ‘Rocket’ Roger Clemens has come under fire after allegedly lying to U.S. congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Early next April, as Major League Baseball teams prepare for the 2011 playing season, one of the greatest pitchers ever to throw a ball will be finding out the date that he will be tried for lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s been a long, slow, public and painful fall from grace for ‘Rocket’ Roger Clemens, a seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award for his seemingly supernatural pitching skills.

The cat came bouncing out of the proverbial bag with a vengeance in December 2007 when former Senator George Mitchell published the Mitchell Report. The Mitchell Report was an exhaustive study was requested by embattled MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to provide a vestige of transparency into baseball’s steroid era.

Clemens was heavily implicated in the report. His former trainer Brian McNamee informed Mitchell that he had injected the ‘Rocket’ with illegal, performance-enhancing drugs on numerous occasions over several playing seasons.

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Through his all-star legal team, Clemens slammed back against the accusations, called McNamee a liar, and argued that he made it all up to avoid prosecution for refusing to co-operate with Mitchell’s investigation.

Although fans looked back on Clemens’ career numbers and noticed abnormalities in performance that made no sense for a player of his age, Clemens was unrelenting. He demanded and got a day before Congress where he and McNamee exchanged testimony under oath. Many observers expected that someone would eventually be charged with perjury and most assumed it would be Clemens.

Sentencing guidelines suggest he could go to jail for as long as a year and a half if he is convicted.

It’s hard to fathom what could have made Clemens deny what, in the court of common sense, has to be considered slam-dunk evidence. Always a bit of a megalomaniac, Clemens could have felt insecure that his place as one of the best ever pitchers, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, would disintegrate with his golden-boy image if he admitted to illegal drug use.

Others, like Alex Rodriguez, who will go to the Hall of Fame, have admitted to steroid use and come away unscathed for their honesty. It’s tough to imagine that the baseball writers who will vote on which players make the Hall of Fame will forgive Clemens for dragging out a profoundly traumatic period in baseball history.

The odds of the ‘Rocket’ making it into the Hall of Fame are not likely given the path he’s chosen to take, and it’s probably a safe bet to say that if he ever does, a detour through the American prison system will come first.

Coming attractions

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful follows the life of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a single father living in poverty. After being diagnosed with cancer he must insure the safety of his children, clear his debt and resolve his sins so that he may pass safely into the afterlife. However, a past in drug trafficking, a career in transporting illegal immigrants and an abusive, unstable ex-wife bring him no end of misfortune. Biutiful is gut-wrenchingly dismal from start to finish – even moments of happiness are overshadowed by tragedy. Running just under two and half hours, it is by no means a leisurely watch but, thankfully Iñárritu’s film is still worth the effort.

Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography gorgeously captures the desolate area of Barcelona, where the film is set, and no member of the cast stumbles in their performance. The narrative at times becomes too intricate, dealing with multiple themes and stories, many of which seem present only to amplify the misery. However, Biutiful is ultimately a story dedicated to fatherhood and when matched with Bardem’s impeccable leading presence, the two (dare I say it?) work beautifully together.–Ariel Lewis

Buried (Rodrigo Cortés)

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First, the obvious: Buried is a formidable, and rather miraculous, technical achievement. The 95 minute film takes place entirely within the confines of a coffin, where independent contractor Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has been buried by terrorists somewhere in Iraq. Director Rodrigo Cortés’ camera swerves dynamically through the seemingly unworkable space, with cinematographer Eduard Gau’s shadowy compositions (the character only has a flashlight, a lighter, and a cell phone to work with) looking like striking pen-and-ink drawings. Another obvious point: Buried is something of an actor’s showcase for Ryan Reynolds, who is called upon to enact each of the seven stages of grief many times, often in close proximity to each other, completely convincing throughout. Here is the surprise: it’s a terrific entertainment, social commentary and all, with a race-against-the-clock structure that feels like good, pulsating pulp.–Will Sloan

Good Neighbours (Jacob Tierney)

In an unassuming apartment building in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal, four neighbours play a part in an elaborate crime spree inspired by misguided love, alcoholism, and the cats. Victor (Jay Baruchel) stars as a needy and painfully clueless elementary school teacher who moves into the apartment above waitress-by-day cat-lady-by-night Louise (Emily Hampshire) and the seemingly charming, decidedly unsettling, wheel-chair-bound Spencer (Scott Speedman). As Victor clumsily attempts to ingratiate himself among his new neighbours, an eerie connection to a string of violent murders emerges. And as tensions run high between Louise, and their cat hating, francophone, alcoholic neighbour, it becomes clear that this connection can only end in gratuitous and uncomfortably hilarious bloodshed.

Director Jacob Tierney’s follow-up to last year’s The Trotsky creates a tense and claustrophobic thriller/comedy that, despite the looming prospect of a serial killer on the loose and the desolate backdrop of Montreal in early winter, creates a thrilling movie that is not so much plot-based, as it is a study of unlikeable people. Through spot-on performances and brief but pointed dialogue between characters, murder and mayhem become the backdrop to an uncomfortable clash between unrequited love and Louise’s lack of interest in anything besides her two cats. Interactions between neighbours build in intensity with perfectly paced, and methodically repeated scenes of nightcaps and dinner-parties, and Tierney’s reliance on shock value (the crime scenes are caricatures, tempered by almost robotic characters) makes the painful movements of individuals who never seem to leave their somewhat dingy apartment building, interesting.–Emily Kellogg

Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan)

When an early scene of Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats features a young man and woman dressing, applying makeup, then walking towards each other in slow motion while one blows cigarette smoke, set to a Spanish cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” it is easy to deduce that Dolan is a fan of Wong Kar-wai circa 2046. But when his camera also lingers fetishistically on the woman’s backside, pressing tightly against her vintage dress, that homage turns into plagiarism. Ditto Jean-Luc Godard, a well-known influence on 21-year-old Dolan’s first film I Killed My Mother, who is quoted not just in a series of self-consciously verité faux-documentary interludes in which several millennials talk about their love lives, but also in four separate dreamy post-coital interludes where the characters are bathed in primary colours (red, green, yellow, blue) in a way not exactly dissimilar to Brigitte Bardot in Contempt.

Dolan throws plenty more visual styles into this film about two hipster best friends (Monika Chokri and Dolan – his camera loves him so) whose relationship is complicated by a mysterious, magnetic third wheel (Niels Schneider), but these selfish, shallow characters never seem like more than pretty faces to pout, and walk in slow motion. It’s tempting to say that Dolan at least has a good eye, but he’s stolen it from someone else.–WS

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)

If you believe that life is filled with sound and fury and ultimately signifies nothing, then Woody Allen’s latest effort, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, might be your kind of film. The plot revolves around the lives of two married couples, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and husband Roy (Josh Brolin). Being of a ripe age himself, it’s surprising to see Allen’s portrayal of elderly divorcees reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes: Helena has an emotional breakdown and becomes obsessed with the occult while Alfie deals with forlorn bachelorhood by courting a streetwalker named Charmaine. Sally is a constant point of irritation throughout as she fills her days droning about her husband’s lack of success and the emotional state of her mother.

The one plus side is Brolin, who is able to play a neurotic writer/part-time chauffeur without becoming a bumbling mess. Greg (Antonio Banderas) and Dia (Freida Pinto) act as hollow eye candy when Sally and Roy need a distraction from their deteriorating careers. Banderas’ performance is rigid and lifeless while Pinto, referred to as an “exotic, beautiful creature” proves to be an extremely awkward muse. The story slithers its way to a climax and ends just when things get interesting. Viewers are left grasping at thin air for any sense of attachment. While the bouts of boredom and bellowing may be part of Allen’s overall view of life, it’s all so facile and unpersuasive that getting past the first hour proves to be a daunting task.–Damanjit Lamba