York TAs back in president’s office

Striking TAs are back in York University president Mamdouh Shoukhri’s office since 6:00 p.m. last night, after a 96-hour sit-in marking the end of the wasted fall semester. An e-mail message circulated to members warns that the Liberals are preparing a legislation to force York TAs back to work.

Sleeping bags and textbooks littered the floor outside President Shoukri’s office all week starting Dec. 15, but the president himself was missing. During the sit-in YU security ejected a City TV journalist from the building.

YU spokesperson Alex Bilyk confirmed the President would not be going to his office. “In today’s day and age business can be conducted from anywhere,” he said.

Early afternoon Monday, over 120 people including members of TA union CUPE 3903, and undergrad students held a rally to escalate pressure on university administrators to reach a deal.

“We are here because the university has refused to bargain in good faith with the union for six weeks and our members want to take this week to show our resolve to win the strike,” said Dhruv Jain, a CUPE 3903 member.

The protestors demanded that Shoukri answer a list of 12 questions and commit to holding a public forum in the first week of January to discuss the strike and the issue of accessible education. In December, York Federation of Students organized a community forum. No representatives from the President’s Office showed up. YFS has been criticized for supporting the strike while undergrads are being kept out of class.

“The YFS called this forum and I believe it was a last minute type of thing. Quite frankly, it was felt that this was their meeting with their students. They did not need the administration there,” said Bilyk.

“We are here demanding York University hold a public forum to talk to us directly and not through the media,” said Victoria Barnett, undergrad and sit-in organizer.

The York University administration says that they are available to address concerns. The President made himself available after two Senate meetings to answer questions.

The Most Anticipated Films of 2009

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has been talking up his “war epic” for over a decade. The disappointment of Grindhouse aside, there’s nobody who can bring vitality to old-school exploitation fodder better than Tarantino. The cast (Brad Pitt, Maggie Cheung, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson, Eli Roth) is a typically intriguing Tarantinoian grab bag.

2. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Werner Herzog was the last director I expected to tackle a remake/sequel to Abel Ferrara’s insane 1992 Scorsese-on-steroids cop movie. Let’s see if he can pull it off—and if Nicolas Cage will turn in one of his increasingly rare good performances.

3. Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese is up to his usual tricks—suspense, thrills, and tons of brooding Leonardo DiCaprio closeups.

4. Whatever Works

After a lengthy stay in Europe, Woody Allen returns to New York, and even if his films’ moral conundrums are getting a little stale, Whatever Works promises the additional consolation of Larry David in a starring role. Sounds to me like the neurotic movie event of the year!

5. This Side of the Truth

Ricky “funniest man in the world” Gervais makes his directorial debut. Incidentally, am I the only one who loved Ghost Town?

6. Watchmen

I must confess I’m not a fan of the comic book (it takes an awfully long time to say very little), but I’ve been told that if I don’t include Zack Snyder’s film on this list, I will be arrested and thrown in jail.

7. The Three Stooges

The Farrelly Brothers are currently casting this new comedy, featuring contemporary actors adopting the questionable haircuts and poor conflict resolution skills of Curly, Larry, and Moe. This is such a terrible idea that I’m dying to see it.

Stories to Watch

Feeling the recession

U of T’s $5 billion in assets are hit by the recession, threatening endowment payouts. Admin claims that student funds will be the last to be affected, but the fate of your bursaries and scholarships are looking dire.

UTSU elections

As usual, Spring will bring the prospect of new student union execs. Cross your fingers for an actual competitive election, centered on real issues and genuine debate.

The ‘Apartheid’ issue

Israeli Apartheid Week, better known as “Hate Week” will return next month, stirring up bitter debates, finger-pointing, and possible fist-fights. Last year the president commented that it was his least favourite time of the year. For better or worse, the most sensitive and heated debate will come to the forefront.

Abortion debates

Anti-abortion groups demonstrate on-campus every spring, comparing abortion to genocide and prompting counterprotests and debates over free speech. Last year, pro-life and pro-choice camps faced off at St. George and Harbord, after U of T Students for Life refused the university’s requests to keep their posters of aborted fetuses in a closed-off area. Last year, University of Calgary threatened legal action after a student group refused to display posters for students forced to view them.

Harper to stay?

With Ignatieff leading the Liberals, Harper will have something to cry about. While Iggy’s not fond of a coalition, he won’t be afraid to use it if Harper’s budget doesn’t look like it could tackle the severe economic crisis.

World of wonders

The gigantic piece of amethyst at the entrance gives a good hint. The chunk of mineral larger than a dinner platter looks raw, prehistoric, and a whole lot more permanent than you. Its purple depths are alien with crystals larger than your fist. This is like experiencing your childhood rock collection were you transformed by a miniaturizing machine.

Reporters at the media preview seemed strangely immune to the amethyst’s powers as they continued into the Teck Galleries, which opened to the public over the December break. For that age that hops more than walks, this might as well have been kryptonite. They were powerless in its grasp. Must. Touch. MASSIVE CRYSTAL! With an allure not so much to learn as to be amazed, reactions ranged from “pretty cool” to “super awesome!”

“The Meteors were my favourite part,” opined Keighvin, 12. “If I could add any piece to my collection, it would be a meteor.” Currently on loan to the ROM is the world’s largest lunar meteorite. This specimen of the lunar highlands is scientifically significant not least for being from a previously unsampled part of Earth’s closest neighbour. The ROM’s own meteorite collection is impressive, totaling one third of the world’s known lunar and Martian meteorites.

The galleries contain twice the number of rock and mineral specimens as exhibited previously. Their displays do a fair job of explaining the classification of minerals, physical and scientific properties, the geologic conditions in which they occur, and the causes of colouration, though this contextualization is fairly thin. Occasionally the exhibit takes a strange perspective of orienting geologic occurrences, almost as if the earth presaged our later use. “Luckily for future miners and mineral collectors, glaciers then removed most of the sedimentary rock,” one display reads.

In one corner sits a piece of industry propaganda called the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, determined to let the gallery-goer know the importance of mining to the Canadian economy, and our reliance on mined substances for almost everything we use. Both points are valid, but nowhere did the galleries mention the ecological damage almost inherent to mining, nor the labour disputes that often mire this lucrative business. The suite of galleries is named after Canada’s largest diversified mining company. Teck President and CEO Donald R. Lindsay sits on the ROM Board of Governors.

The inclusion of 42 computer kiosks throughout the minerals gallery highlights the collector’s desire. At each glass case a touch screen allows viewers to zoom in on what they might wish they could hold in their hand. The visual aspect was a favourite of Roshon, 8. “I liked the colours of the different minerals. I liked how they are in different shapes and everything.”

The minerals do slightly show up the Gallery of Gems and Gold, which is currently displaying Light & Stone: Gems from the Collection of Michael Scott. The amazing collection of ornamentation proves humans are clearly secondary artists when compared to the beauty of the raw material.

Serendite is like stalks of coral made brittle from being packed in analcime ice. Ram’s horn gypsum is a playful curlique of smoke. Rutile may as well be an Art Deco stylized alliteration of the sun, even if the six-ray golden titanium oxide needles are arranged by the atomic structure of the iron oxide hematite.

Did the galleries’ biggest fans learn anything? “Primary, secondary, tertiary minerals?” Marcus, 14, tentatively offered. Daniel, 13, said that his dad has a rock collection. “He taught me a bit so I learned only a little bit here. But it was cool just to take a look.” Deanna, 11, concurred: “This is just fun.”

The Three-Day Diploma

A York University grad who forged diplomas was busted by an undercover reporter from the Toronto Star in December. Peng Sun, 26, also sells academic transcripts and other documents to desperate jobseekers.

Sun guaranteed that his documents, ranging from $500 to $4,000, are identical to the authentic versions from some of the most prestigious universities in Canada, including U of T and Queen’s.

“The paper, its weight, quality, pattern, color, fonts, layout, logo, design, stamp and seal are all the same as the real thing” Sun told a Star operative.

Sun advertises his forged degrees via an Internet bulletin board. All he asks for are date of birth, requested graduating year, and a $400 down payment.

Employers can now verify any U of T degree online, if they know a student’s name and social insurance or student number, within five days.

The rivalry that wasn’t

In sports, a rivalry has the unique ability to add an extra dimension to a game. Meaningless match-ups somehow gain meaning, diehard fans show their teeth, and the end result is almost always a good game. Sadly, the recent showing of the Bills in Toronto was an exception to the rule: a low scoring game, shoddy play by the Bills, and a largely indifferent crowd combined to make the event a snoozer.

As the first NFL regular season game played outside of the United States, the match already had importance. It also added another chapter to the long and storied rivalry between the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills. Since 1966, 86 games have been played between the two teams. Yet the rivalry existed before they played a single match. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson was not allowed to found an AFL team in Miami, so he took the idea—and his money—to Buffalo. The saga has a strong supporting cast that includes Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, and legendary coaches Marv Levy and Don Shula.

Lately, both franchises have struggled to put together strong teams, with the Dolphins losing almost every game last year, going 1-15. After acquiring displaced (and possibly bitter) quarterback Chad Pennington from the New York Jets, the Dolphins made a dramatic turnaround, helped in no small part by their unpredictable “wildcat” offence. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, but the long-suffering faithful had reason to be hopeful after a 5-1 start to the season. With Tom Brady out for the year with a knee injury, both the Fish and the Bills had a serious shot at taking the AFC East. In a pre-game press conference, Jim Kelly explained the importance of the Dolphins-Bills game.

“It doesn’t matter where it’s at, this is a game where it’s very important for both teams. They’re seven and five, we’re six and six. Both teams have struggled. We’ve lost five or six games a piece, but the thing is when it comes down to the end of the year, you have to win those AFC East games,” said Kelly.

For the Buffalo Bills, home is an important place. The roaring, frigid winds and borderline insane fans of Ralph Wilson stadium—named after the near-immortal, 90-year-old owner—play an important role. The weather conditions are especially important against teams used to playing in warmer weather, like the rival Dolphins. Much was made of the Rogers Centre’s closed roof and the effect it could have on the Bills’ supposed home field advantage.

The classic AFC East match-up had playoff implications for both teams. For the hometown Bills, having lost six of their last seven games, it was a must-win situation.

Ronnie Brown made the difference for the Dolphins, running for 70 yards on 16 attempts. The typical freight-train force of Marshawn Lynch was effectively contained by the Dolphins’ linebackers, held to only 31 yards on 13 carries. Pennington was his reliable, unassuming self, throwing for 181 yards with a 79 per cent completion rate. Losman was an unimpressive foil to Pennington’s effort, going 13-for-27 with a fumble and a costly interception in the Dolphins end zone in the third quarter. The frustration felt by the Bills’ offence became evident later in the game when they tried their own version of the “wildcat formation.” After watching it work against their reeling linebackers all game, the Bills were desperate to spark their running game in any way possible. On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Porter made two sacks on what has been a surprisingly good season for him.

The game was promoted heavily with the rivalry between the two teams used as a selling point. Considering that tickets ranged from 90 dollars for nosebleeds to hundreds of dollars for decent seats, pricing may have been the main factor as to why the game did not sell out. Theoretically, the game promised to be an exciting match-up.

“I think that the reason [the NFL] did it was because they realize how big of a rivalry it was and they knew that Bills fans would travel to come up here and watch this game. It’s a big game and to be honest with you, for Canadians this is the best game on our schedule they could have picked for this particular weekend,” said Kelly.

At kickoff, the environment felt like anything but a home game. Gold and green jerseys—most featuring Marino’s 13 on the back—were in abundance in the stands. Although many of the Buffalo faithful made the trip up the QEW, the non-capacity crowd did not provide the play-off like experience fans were hoping for. To make matters worse, JP Losman had the start for Buffalo, as starting quarterback Trent Edwards couldn’t play due to a groin injury.

“A groin pull for a quarterback is not real good because you can’t follow through, you tend to throw off your back foot, you don’t want to push off it too much,” explained Kelly. “I just hope he gets to the point where he’s healthy for a whole season and we’ll really see the real Trent Edwards. He started out hot, you know, the NFL’s all about your quarterback. You see any team out there that really doesn’t have a great quarterback, they’re not doing well.”

Both Kelly and Marino admitted that the rivalry has lost steam in recent years.

“I’m sure Dan would be next in line to tell you that that rivalry, you want to continue to see it because it means so much. It’s not quite the rivalry it used to be back when Dan and I played but hopefully we can get it back to that standpoint,” said Kelly.

At the very least, Ontario’s NFL fans can rest assured that more Bills In Toronto games are on the way, with regular season and pre-season match-ups slated for the 2009-2010 season at the Rogers Centre. The financial success of the series could pave the way for more NFL games abroad in the future.

“I foresee more games internationally in the future, I just think that’s the way the league’s going,” said Marino.

Let’s just hope that the sequels live up to the hype.

Clown college awaits

For those wishing to escape the routine of classes, the National Circus School is accepting audition applications until Jan. 16. The school will hold auditions and mandatory entrance exams this February in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal Grants and scholarships will be available.

Currently the school’s 140 students come from all over the world, with backgrounds in gymnastics, dance, diving, and martial arts. Marc Lalonde, director of the National Circus School, says 95 per cent of students are hired mere weeks after graduation, with many forming their own successful companies or joining the famed Cirque du Soleil.

For more information on the program, check out www.nationalcircusschool.ca

Retraction

On September 25th, 2008, an anonymous letter to the editor was published by The Varsity regarding Sammy’s Student Exchange. Although this was a comment piece, it has come to The Varsity’s attention that readers have interpreted the contents of the letter as factual. The Varsity did not investigate the arguments made or speak to anyone at Sammy’s Student Exchange to confirm such allegations. As such, The Varsity was, and is, unable to confirm that the allegations made within the article were in fact true. Following the publication of the opinion piece, Louise Cowin, Warden of Hart House, conducted an independent investigation into the article’s accusations, specifically regarding intrusive camera surveillance, withholding of employee tips, and violations to the Employment Standards Act. Ms. Cowin concluded that the allegations made were either unsubstantiated or had been since addressed by Sammy’s Student Exchange. Accordingly, The Varsity wishes to retract the letter in its entirety.

The Varsity seeks to provide readers with the opportunity to publish their opinions. However, in light of the reaction to this letter, it is apparent that The Varsity did not properly inform readers on the nature of the piece and that such information contained in the letter was not researched by Varsity staff. The Varsity apologizes for, and regrets, any harm Sammy’s Student Exchange may have suffered following the publication of the Sept. 25, 2008 letter.