Don’t worry, it’s only temporary

It may come as a shock, but once you graduate from university you will be required to start paying for things yourself. Of course those exempt from this annoyance are the offspring of financially successful families and students in graduate school. Being neither rich nor academic, I was forced to get a job. I enjoy my part-time job at Book City, but it doesn’t bring in enough dough to pay the rent. Being lazy and not confident in my own abilities, I recently became a temp.

I found a company online and applied to a few postings. Two days later they called me to make an appointment to take a skills test. I showed up at the agency’s offices located above a hair salon in Yorkville. I completed a spelling, typing, and Excel test (man, my pie chart was pristine) and then chatted with a woman named Felicia about the job I would be looking for. “An office job,” I said. “I think I’d be good in an office environment.”

“You seem shy,” she said. “Are you shy?”

“No, I don’t think I’m shy . . . Maybe it’s just that you have to get to know me before I open up.”

“I hope it’s not the interview. I hate it when people tense up because of the interview.”

“I don’t mind being interviewed. Honestly, my friends would not describe me as a shy person.”

“How would your friends describe you?” I blanked. There was a long silence.

“ . . . A nice guy, I guess.”

“Okay . . . Well, Keith, we’ll be in touch, and hopefully we’ll find you something.”

Two days later I accepted a position at a truck insurance company in the financial district. The office was on the fourteenth floor of a nondescript building. I was a claims administrator, which basically meant I was a glorified secretary. I delivered mail, sorted faxes, and filed, filed, filed. Required to deliver faxes to cubicles at least six or seven times a day, I got a pretty good feel for the environment in no time.

Most employees were bored and desperate for conversation, especially in the afternoon. Talk came in starts and spurts, inquiries about kids’ soccer games and cross-border shopping, whispers of scandalous loss claims. People wanted to distract themselves. While productivity requirements forced workers to push paper most of the time, the office was eerily quiet except for my periodic awkward chime of “Hello, I have a fax for you.”

The office was constantly monitored like Bentham’s Panopticon. The advent of the cubicle has created a privacy-free space, as anything above a whisper can be heard, the office walls so short that a supervisor can poke their head over and spy you shopping for Hello Kitty merchandise online. Not that this stopped anyone from procrastinating. Many times I dropped off mail to people playing “guess the TV sitcom character” or reviewing the Leafs highlights. But paranoia ran rampant. A lack of privacy combined with little job security for most employees (it seemed that no one had been with the company for more than three years) led to a high level of anxiety carried on the shoulders of claims adjustors. No wonder Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club was so stressed out.

Ultimately I was fired before my two-month term was up. Perhaps because I was a young male in a cubicle full of three gossipy women that everyone referred to as “the girls.” The day before I was fired, I saw Paula, the 35-year-old, 270-pound woman who still lived with her parents, complaining to my supervisor in the conference room. The die was cast.

The next day I came in, put down my bag, and opened my e-mail.

Just to let everyone know, Keith has been replaced with a new temp.

Wow, I thought, what cowardly assholes.

My supervisor was surprised to see me. She ushered me into the conference room. “Oh, I’m really sorry. The temp agency was supposed to let you know last night.”

“Well they didn’t.”

The official reason was that I was too slow on the uptake. I had been ten minutes late in the morning twice, and that I was “socializing too much.”

“With who?” I enquired, shocked. Did Bill, the kind old man who asked me how I was liking the job, rat on me for talking to him about soccer for too long? “I don’t know,” she said, “that’s just what my supervisors said.”

“Okay, fine. Whatever. Can you just sign my pay stub please,” I held out the form I had prepared with my working hours the moment I read the e-mail.

“Sure. Of course.”

As I was leaving, I looked over the cubicles and saw a new, young, short, blonde, fresh-faced girl standing by the fax machine. In my mind I wished her luck.

Theatre Interview: Bloody Caesar

Julius Caesar: not the most uplifting play within the Shakespearean Folio, but one that bears a story ripe with intrigue, politics, and, of course, lots of blood. Hot on the heels of Hart House’s season opener, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, Shakespeare’s great historical tragedy is centralized through the complex figure of Brutus and the effect of Caesar’s assassination.

Director Anthony Furey, making his Hart House debut, is a rising force within the Toronto Theatre community as both a director and producer. His creation (at the tender age of 16) of the Paprika Festival, now in its seventh season, has provided valuable theatrical experience to youth across the city by offering a platform for their work, as well as mentorship by professional artists. Since then, he has directed for the New Ideas Festival, and the Toronto Fringe, as well as writing, directing, and producing a number of short films, all while finishing up his degree.

Now, Furey has moved on to darker material, taking on the grand task of Shakespeare with a steely dedication that seems appropriate in relation to the grittiness of the play itself. When asked about his reaction to the material, his response is spontaneous but has obvious consideration behind it.

“It is a play about people, who, for different reasons resolve to do one of the most startling acts of assassination in world history, and they do so because they’re passionate about their country.” Furey describes how he spent a good chunk of the summer months absorbing as much information as he could find—theory, criticism, even a biography of Shakespeare— as a means of further inhabiting Caesar. “I learned that it’s really a lifetime pursuit,” he said, smiling. Furey’s not the sort to pretend that he’s learned everything there is to know about the Shakespearean canon over the summer holidays, but he’s obviously picked a few things up.

“You can observe who different political minds over different eras have considered to be the protagonist of Julius Caesar. It is debatable—not exactly a ‘choose your own adventure’ play, but rather, it testifies to the depth and introspection of all Shakespearean leads. Julius Caesar is extravagant, spectacular—and I have to say—swashbuckling. I often call it unrelenting because there is no other play of Shakespeare’s that moves forward with such relentless ferocity. Julius Caesar has no gentle moment; everything has this foreboding darkness riding behind it. The research informed my vision of the play by making me feel like I’ve actually lived it. By attacking it from so many angles, it gets in your blood.”

Furey goes on to describe the components of the production’s design— lighting and sound in particular—and why he opted for stylization of its image and tone when he is such an unapologetic advocator of naturalism on the stage.

“I opted away from the traditional Roman style—we’ve taken it out of space and out of time altogether. It’s set in an Orwellian Dystopia in which the system is down and the sun never rises. [Sound designer] Richard Feren has crafted a soundtrack for the show which underpins, but also sometimes contrasts what we’re feeling when viewing a scene. Everything is very hyper-theatrical. The play is always moving, but there’s a great sense of contrast—slow versus fast, very loud moments and very quiet moments— but there’s never a time when the curtain is pulled down. There are no reflective moments before a soliloquy; there are always other images or characters encroaching in on them.”

Julius Caesar is not only a history play with tragic consequences, but is also a distinctly political play with its depiction of the public and private spheres, leaders, subjects, and rebellion. What does Furey make of this?

“There’s the potential to stage (and see) Julius Caesar as an interpretation of the American government versus a Middle Eastern government—a really heavy contemporary interpretation. I’m more interested in how Brutus commits to doing something, follows through with it quickly, and realizes that life still sucks after doing what you said you always wanted to do. Hamlet is the guy who never went far in life, sitting in some dive bar, saying that he ‘coulda done it’—Brutus is the guy who succeeded—he’s got wealth and fame—and he’s still miserable. That’s more tragic, because he doesn’t have a fail-safe. You realize that even when you get to that end point in life, what you think is your teleological destination—you’re still fucked.”

At this, Furey looks momentarily unsettled, as if this interpretation has struck an inner chord. Then he cracks a grin, a less angst-ridden thought overpowering that last, grim statement.

“We have a great actor starring in the play. Jason Fraser, who has spent time performing off-Broadway, as well as a very accomplished supporting cast rounding things off. It’s a really strong and unique team. The show’s a powerhouse, and there is so much spectacle, in terms of processions and huge fight scenes with twenty shirtless guys all trying to rip limbs off each other.”

When asked about what he hoped the effect of this powerhouse production will be, Furey contemplates for a few moments, attempting to pinpoint what he feels would be the most fruitful response to the work and the underlying message he has been working to generate.

“The play has such an operatic component, the grandness and intensity of convictions is beyond anything we see today. The message in Julius Caesar gives an example of people who care so much about what they’re doing that they’re truly willing to die for this. I liken this play to a Clint Eastwood film: you keep ’em entertained throughout, but at the same time, when they leave, they feel like they’ve been a part of something greater.”

Julius Caesar runs from Nov. 21 until Dec. 8. Student tickets are $12. Visit the website for more info:

The triumph and tragedy of Richard III

The Golden Age was brought back to life last week at the Glen Morris Studio Theatre with a performance of The True Tragedy of Richard III, produced by the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama and Poculi Ludique Societas. Well, kind of.

From inside, the theatre could easily be mistaken for a well-lit barn. With a stage set-up that looked like a makeshift cardboard cutout with four doorways, a single curtain drew each door entrance shut. The use of these doorways is no more exciting than it sounds, but it’s not for lack of funding or lazy set designers. Rather, it’s an attempt to recreate an Elizabethan theatre production.

Less than 50 people comfortably filled the seating area in the theatre—a platform of uncomfortably upholstered 1980s orange tweed wooden chairs. The attempt at recreating the viewing customs of the Elizabethan era—half of the house was reserved as standing room—was thwarted by the small crowd. The audience appeared to be made up entirely of family and friends of the performers, creating an awkward feeling of attending a recital for someone else’s kid.

The actors’ performances, however, drew attention away from the cheap setup and uncomfortable atmosphere of the theatre. In fact, the intensity of Jason Gray, who played the very convincing Richard of Gloucester, is the only aspect that might warrant a $20 ticket. Despite what arguably may have been a little over-acting in the closing of the performance, Jill Carter played a very entertaining Shore’s Wife, the emotional whore of the dead king. Carrie Hage (as Will Slaughter) and Rob Salerno (as Jack Denton) also drew some laughs with their memorable performances. Despite a couple of botched lines here and there, the overall performance was better than mediocre.

The production, which opened on November 15, follows last year’s Shakespeare and The Queen’s Men theatre experiment, an ongoing scholarly research project aimed at recreating the Elizabethan stage in the manner and techniques of the late 1580s. From rehearsing techniques (or lack thereof— the first performance is the first time the actors are all on stage together) to the limitation of actors receiving only their own lines to memorize, every aspect of Elizabethan theatre has been taken into consideration.

Admittedly, the production was interesting in terms of its historically accurate recreation of Elizabethan theatre techniques. But the performance of the players warrants a modern theatre, a larger audience, and a little less orange tweed.

‘Savage’ police strike students

Last week, over 40,000 students throughout Quebec went on strike to protest the provincial government’s decision to defreeze tuition for the fi rst time in 13 years. Québec’s tuition fees are set to rise by $50 per semester for the next fi ve years.

The Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante called a three-day strike after failing to get support for an extended one. ASSÉ, who since its foundation in 2001 has advocated for free tuition, is considered an extremist organization by some.

Though ASSÉ called the week a success, two alarming incidents left the strongest mark on the minds of many Québecois. On Monday, Nov. 12, police stormed the Hubert-Aquin building at the University du Québec à Montréal to break up a student demonstration. Three students were arrested after political science professor Claude Corbo called police, when 60 students tried to end a lecture he was giving. The three students were released hours later.

“He was breaking our strike,” one protester said, “We just wanted to talk to him.”

The following day, over 350 students staged a bed-in at the CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal. Police, called by school administrators, stormed the building through alternate doors and a broken window. In the resulting chaos, students were tasered and pepper-sprayed, and 105 of them were arrested and face charges including public mischief, assault and battery, and armed assault.

Between the bed-in and police action, the building took over $100,000 worth of damage. “[The events that night] were normal…the kind of activity which happens in every union movement.” Marc-André Faucher, a spokesperson for the school and information secretary for ASSÉ, told Montréal paper the Suburban.

Yves de Repentigny, the secretary general of the schools teacher’s union, Le Syndicat des Professeurs du Cégep du Vieux Montréal, said that the school’s administration handled the situation poorly. “They should let the students do their bed-in. Otherwise you’re in for a mess. That’s exactly what happened” she told the Gazette.

ASSÉ was quick to accuse Montreal riot police of conducting “savage interventions.” ASSÉ official Hubert Gendron-Blais addressed the crowd and said, “Police brutality is no way to treat those who dare to fight for social change.”

McGill, Dawson, and Concordia sent delegations to a downtown demonstration of Thursday, Nov. 15 that was the centerpiece of the week’s events. Over 2,000 students marched through downtown Montreal in the cold rainy weather. The next morning around 100 students, most from UQÀM, protested inside the lobby of the Montreal Stock Exchange Tower. Only about 20 students braved the cold to protest outside of the Bibliothèque National.

Although not officially affiliated with ASSÉ, McGill students showed their support throughout the week. A vote for a strike failed after the Students’ Society of McGill University failed to reach quorum. Of those who did attend, over 70 per cent voted for a “motion of support and solidarity.”

“Students would be more open and less angry about a defreeze of tuition fees if it was going to solve the underfunding of our universities,” said Max Silverman, VP external of the Student Society of McGill University.

“Even in five years from now when fees will be $500 more a year than they are now […] the underfunding is estimated at minimum of $350 million,” he said.

Silverman said the Quebec government has the resources to implement a free system of education, but lacks the political will.

ASSÉ is currently working on plans of action for next semester while the Quebec branch of CFS remains paralyzed by a court order. The federation’s provincial chapter was shut down in September over a bitter election dispute.

In the meantime the Quebec government refuses to negotiate with the protesters. “The comment is that there is no comment,” said Stephanie Tremblay, spokesperson for the Québec Ministry of Education

Grad union protests U of T telling students to teach themselves

CUPE 3902, the Union representing all of U of T’s teaching assistants and well as sessional lecturers, has filed three official grievances with the university, challenging what it calls the use of undergraduates as “cheap labour.”

The grievances stemmed from CUPE’s investigation of a complaint last November against UTSC’s “Introduction to Psychology” course, taught by professor Steve Joordens, which used a peer grading program called Peerscholar. While examining the complaint, CUPE came across the University of Toronto Peer Tutoring club and the Economics Study Centre, both of whom promote and coordinate free services by undergraduate peer tutors and mentors.

CUPE called for all students engaged in peer tutoring, grading or mentoring to be professionally trained and paid for their services. But many U of T professors and students encourage undergraduates to tutor each other with little or no compensation, both to supplement funded TA support and promote engaged education

Undergraduate enrolment and class sizes grow every year. Even the recent influx of graduate students available for TA jobs, not enough funding exists to hire them.

“We just want [students] to get the proper help,” said Dr. Iain Martel, CUPE Grievance Officer. “U of T is finding ways of teaching without actually spending any money, which deteriorates the quality of education,” added Martel.

Others have joined CUPE in arguing that relying on peer tutoring and peer grading reduces the quality expected of a U of T education. “We need to regain that quality,” said David Scrivener, the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s VP external.

UTSU came out in support of CUPE’s grievance. The two unions have been strong partners in the past, and both lobby for more government funding of post-secondary education. Both CUPE and UTSU said that U of T needs to correct its funding priorities. The school, they say, needs to stop skimping and focus on increasing the number of tutorials and office hours, and accessibility of TAs.

The tutoring clubs were founded by professors who “clearly recognised that students weren’t getting the help that they needed,” according to Martel. He contended that these clubs should hire students under CUPE guidelines. Instead, he said, students are being “bribed with resume points and letters of recommendation” to voluntarily tutor their peers.

Muhammad Talal Latif, president of UTPT, was not aware of CUPE’s grievance when he spoke with The Varsity. He emphasized that the club’s service was academic support and one-on-one qualified tutoring Each UTPT tutor must officially apply and interview for a tutor position, and is selected by a panel of UTPT executives. Talal said the services provided by his club complement those given by TAs.

Joordens stood by his experience in the Peerscholar program, saying that Peerscholar neither reduces the quality of education nor saves the University money, as many TAs are involved in the grading process and oversee the program.

“CUPE is putting TA reputation ahead of the education of thousands of students,” says Joordens. “if we can’t use Peerscholar we will be punishing students for years to come.” Higher education should not be a “chip” traded by CUPE for something else.

Joordens is currently preparing a research paper, soon to be published, on the reliability and fairness of the Peerscholar marking process, which he has claimed measures up to TA standards. If students feel that their paper was graded unfairly they have the right to ask for it to be remarked by a TA, but fewer than 2 per cent ever do, according to Joordens.

Most TAs, Joorden contended, hate marking work, and Peerscholar is superior to the traditional marking method. Thus, he said, if more TAs are free of the “chore” of marking, they may spend their hours supporting undergraduate students in other ways, such as leading study groups or class discussions.

U of T Professors and undergraduate students, who are in support of clubs such as UTPT and the Economics Study Centre, along with those who are part of the Peerscholar program at PSYA01, are looking for an honest and fair solution to the issue raised by CUPE 3902. “If the issue really is about peer tutoring, there will be a rational solution,” said Joordens.

Third dime’s a charm, hopes a critic with CFs in his sights

Gregory would tell you to be persistent. After twice trying to force the Canadian Federation of Students to admit to mismanagement, Gregory has called on CFS national chairperson Amanda Aziz to accept a motion condemning her organization’s executive board.

The 38-point motion, largely authored by Gregory, moves to censure CFS’s national decisionmaking board and impose strict limitations on its powers to grant “extraordinary loans.”

Last year, Gregory was influential in unseating seven student council executives at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, where he was a student. Now working for the Kwantlen Student Association at Kwantlen University College on BC’s lower mainland, Gregory is spearheading an attack on CFS, of which KSA is a member.

KSA has twice tried to force a vote at CFS’s National General Meeting to censure the federation’s national executive board over a series of unsecured or shoddily documented loans amounting to over $600,000, handed out by CFS and CFS’s British Columbia wing in 2005 to prop up an ailing and mismanaged member union.

The Douglas Students’ Union of BC’s Douglas College, failed to conduct audits of its finances during 2002-2005. BC’s College and Institute Act requires unions to have accounting specialists check their books annually and inform their members of the results. Because of this, Douglas College’s Board of Governors cut off DSU’s funding, effectively paralyzing the union.

CFS-BC and CFS-National’s Services division lent the union a total of $614,000 to pay its health and dental dues, without proper documentation.

DSU commissioned a forensic audit of its finances but later criticized the audit. “The auditor failed to interview key DSU board members, including the individuals who served as the DSU treasurer and board chair during the time the auditor focused on the review,” said DSU finance and services coordinator Joey Hansen.

The audit strongly chastised Hansen over DSU’s disorganized books and Hansen’s role in a loan of $20,000 granted by DSU to Hansen’s girlfriend Christa Peters.

PETA picks U of T in nationwide vegan vote

When it comes to alternative food options, it’s quality, not quantity that matters. At least, that’s the message from PETA, who declared the University of Toronto Canada’s most vegetarian- friendly campus on the strength of a few delectable but hard-to-find meals served here.

Representatives from PETA2, the university and college wing of the avid animal rights group, will visit New College next week to serve up the award-winning dishes and talk with students.

PETA2 held an online poll in which approximately 10,000 votes were cast. Voters (presumed to be students) chose their favourite dishes from a short list of food options offered at 10 schools, which PETA compiled using student recommendations and talks with the schools’ administration.

Out of 10 nominees, U of T topped the list of vegetarian-friendly schools in Canada, beating out Mc- Master, UBC, the University of Victoria, and Trent.

“At every meal, [U of T] is proving that keeping fit, trim, and healthy. And helping animals at the same time—has never been easier,” said Dab Shannon, the assistant director for PETA2.

A PETA2 press release praised U of T for its efforts to meet the challenge of providing vegetarian options to a student population of more than 63,000. They especially applauded the work of the student group U of T Coalition for Animal Rights and the Environment. UTCARE helps offer vegan lasagna, rosemary vegetable ragout, and tofu cacciatore on campus.

U of T’s vegetarian food options are found at various college cafeterias, supplied by Aramark. Student initiatives are also doing their part in creating a vegetarian and environmentfriendly atmosphere on campus.

The Hot Yam, a vegan restaurant run out of the International Student Center every Wednesday, serves up a healthy, animal-free lunch. The Hot Yam is a haven for the vegan and ecologically-conscious: many students bring their own dishes and Tupperware. The eatery revived vegetarianism at the ISC after the sudden shutdown of Radical Roots last May. Radical Roots operated at midday five days a week. It closed amid outcry from its volunteer staff that administrators had conspired to oust them from their space. They had planned to greatly expand Radical Roots’ capacity and hours of operation, The Varsity reported at the time.

Its spiritual heir, the Hot Yam, provides a weekly alternative to those looking beyond the nearest cafeteria.

Running out of self-control

Attempting to achieve more than one goal at once—be it losing weight, studying for exams, quitting smoking, or hitting the gym—may not be a good idea. These tasks require self-control, an essential but limited resource.

A new study led by Dr. Michael Inzlicht, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, explores how exercising self-control for too long depletes the brain. Forty students from the Scarborough campus were divided into two groups and asked to perform two unrelated tasks involving self-control. For the first task, both groups were shown the same two movie clips depicting animals in distress or close to death. One group was asked to suppress their emotions while the other group was instructed only to watch the clips.

Shortly following the movie, the participants were asked to perform the ‘Stroop task’: the words red and green were displayed in either red or green font. Participants were told to identify the font colour, not to read the word itself. For both tasks, all participants wore an electrode cap to record their brain activity (EEG or electroencephalographic recording).

The study found that participants who suppressed their emotions during the first task performed poorly during the second task. Additionally, this poor performance corresponded to decreased brain activity in the cingular cortex, the part of the brain that monitors a person’s intention to achieve a goal.

Inzlicht explained, “If you have already used self-control in a previous task, then the cingular cortex gets tired. For example, if you then try to eat a french fry it won’t tell you not to.” Inzlicht continued, “When you work out a muscle it becomes tired. It will be tired and you won’t be able to function as you did beforehand.” When the cortex is worn-out, it cannot function as usual, depleting a person’s self-control over, for example, eating that french fry.

Inzlicht offered a take-home message for students. “If you’re studying for an exam (for example) and you’re a smoker, it wouldn’t be the best idea for you to try to quit smoking during exam period. It is difficult to stop smoking because it requires a level of self-control, as does studying. Self-control is limited, so when we use self-control to stop smoking it will be hard to study for our exams.”

His research study, entitled “Running on Empty: Neural Signals for Self-Control Failure” appeared in the November 2007 issue of Psychological Science.

The study expands on previous knowledge that self-control is a limited and essential resource. Experiments similar to the one preformed by Inzlicht determined that tasks requiring intentional and controlled actions exhaust this central resource. But it was not known what brain processes were involved or that the cingular cortex is always active and, therefore, gets tired.

Further research may look into the psychological level of self-control. For example, a person who manages to achieve their goals is likely to possess intrinsic motivation. Or, it may look more closely at the cingular cortex of the brain with respect to dopamine. It has been previously determined that the cortex is responsive to this chemical, a hormone that is often associated with feelings of enjoyment and motivation.

Pay attention to the things that matter and don’t waste that limited self-control on pointless goals. Maybe quitting smoking would be a good start—but wait until January, perhaps.