Search continues for Osgoode subway shooter

A young man was shot in the abdomen and leg last Thursday after three bullets were fired inside Osgoode Subway Station during the mid-morning rush.

Within minutes, police from the city’s Emergency Task Force and 52 division arrived at the station’s entrance at University and Queen Street. Police closed a section of the north-south line for four hours to search for the weapon used and to question witnesses.

No weapon has been found.

According to reports, the victim was shot following an argument that erupted as a group of young men exited a southbound train.

Detective David Barwell, who has been following the case, told The Varsity the victim had seen the shooter before, but does not know his identity.

“We know the guy was targeted,” said Barwell. “My hunch is that it is gang-related.”

The 19-year-old victim was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital and released the same day after undergoing surgery for non-life-threatening injuries.

Late Thursday, police released a security-camera photo of the suspect. He is described as being in his early- to mid-20s, a light-skinned black man, and about six feet tall with a medium build.

“Lots of people saw the incident and they certainly cooperated enough to say that the picture released is definitely the guy who pulled the trigger,” said Barwell.

There are about 10,000 security cameras throughout the city’s transit system, but most don’t cover subway platforms.

The TTC is boosting its security by mounting more cameras inside stations. Beginning this fall, subway cars, buses, and streetcars will also be equipped with video surveillance.

Is extra security worth the added cost?

“I would pay more to use public transportation if that meant stations would be safer,” says Regina Cho, a U of T student and TTC rider.

Barwell cautioned against overreacting to the isolated shooting, saying the city and the TTC are safe.

“This was an incident between two individuals that could have happened anywhere. Toronto is a very safe city and our subway system is very safe. We have transit security and they are able to deal with any problems that arise.”

No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting. Additional video footage of the suspect walking in Downsview station was released on Friday. Police have received several tips pointing to one individual’s involvement, but according to Detective Barwell, “we can’t call him a person of interest yet, just someone we are going to have to look at.”

Police are urging anyone with information about Thursday’s shooting to call 416-808-5200 or Crime Stoppers 416-222-TIPS (8477).

Goodbye neo-cons, and good riddance

To many, the image of George Bush leaving Washington in a helicopter following the inauguration was a welcome sight. The last eight years of American politics have been some of the worst on record: two poorly planned and disastrously executed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic crisis, a surge in radical Islam, and a deeply rooted mistrust of the United States and its policies worldwide. The transition that took place on January 20 marks not only a fundamental shift in American politics, but the end of the political monoculture driving the dangerous and destructive policies of the last eight years.

The self-described “neo-conservatives” have enjoyed a vital role in the formulation and implementation of American policy since Reagan. In the post 9-11 era, they have monopolized US politics and the broader American political establishment. Yet prominent neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger were nowhere to be seen at Obama’s inauguration. The politically questionable Colin Powell was barely visible, hiding in the back row. Witnessing former vice-president Dick Cheney (who, ironically, injured his back while packing up the VP residence) being pushed around in a wheelchair, we’re met with a literal depiction of the state of American neo-conservatism at the dawn of the new administration: frail and unpopular.

But as many have noted, the Obama campaign’s success would have been unthinkable eight years ago. When one compares the current political climate in Washington to that of March 2003, at the peak of the “War on Terror,” the nation’s sharp turn becomes apparent.

Just five days before the inauguration, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband strongly rebuked the outgoing administration and its policies. Miliband suggested that the War on Terror had been a “mistake,” and had “only served to unite disparate groups against the West.” He later added that the right response to the threat would have been to champion law, not subvert it, a reference to the secretive detention facilities and military courts that have been the subject of criticism for their legal and moral dubiousness. Miliband’s words are surprising considering the role that the Labour government played in the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Until Tony Blair’s resignation in 2007, Great Britain had been the staunchest ally of the Bush Administration, and one of the leading participants in the implementation of neo-conservative policy worldwide. Miliband’s statements seemed to reject the reasoning behind Bush-era foreign policy, which reached its apex with the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech during the State of the Union Address in 2002.

The notion that terrorism is a unified, ideologically motivated movement bent on destroying the West was one of the central tenets of the neo-conservative worldview. This way of thinking led to the Iraq War, brought the US close to war with Iran, and established the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Above all, this worldview has encouraged unilateralism over diplomacy, disdain for international bodies like the UN and the World Court, and a readiness to use military force over negotiation.

The new administration brings hope for a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy. Less than 24 hours after entering office, President Obama signed an executive order announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility within 100 days. If Obama delivers on his campaign promises, he will withdraw American forces from Iraq within 16 months and hold multilateral negotiations without preconditions with countries like Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. In other words, he will bring an end to the divisive politics that have plagued Washington for the past eight years.

The Gaza war in our own backyard

Never has the chasm between political debate and military reality been so wide. The ease with which one can whip an entire polity into war fever has grown past the point of humanitarian realism.

“Stop the rockets, start the peace,” read the signs as I walked through the Toronto for Israel rally in Dundas Square last Sunday. I was there to support a friend of mine, who delivered an outstanding introduction to kick off the event.

Across the street was a small counter-rally organized by Independent Jewish Voices, a Jewish group highly critical of Israel’s policies, whose mantra is “Not in Our Name—Jews Against Zionism.” I overheard some resentful comments while leaving the rally, people charging them as “self-hating Jews,” but for the most part, there were no serious clashes.

Despite the fact that I stood out like a sore thumb—an Arab at a pro-Israel rally—nobody harassed me. In fact, most of the protesters were friendly, and greeted me with more respect than I would expect a Zionist to receive at a pro-Palestine rally.

The event’s theme was “peace.” The speakers impressed upon the crowd an image of a courageous Israel, supported by the international community for fighting the good fight while being the only democratic state in the area, struggling to coexist in harmony with its pugnacious neighbours. What the demonstrators failed to see was that Israel has made a pariah of itself through its condemnable actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s this kind of detachment from reality that makes it hard for someone of my background to comprehend the motive behind anything Israel does. Having lived in an Arab country that has been the target of terrorist attacks, I’ve grown to detest terrorism, and I’m not alone. The majority of Arabs are no fans of fundamentalist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Muslim Brotherhood. These are rogue terrorist organizations whose unmeasured actions put civilians at risk of reprisal.

But the retaliation exercised by Israel borders insanity. After 60 years, countless attempts at peace, and no less than 50 massacres, Israel should realize that answering violence with violence doesn’t solve the problem: it exacerbates it, and creates a vicious cycle of aggression. At the rally, I was truly disappointed that nobody mentioned how fundamental the peace process is to ending terrorism. Savaging a besieged Gaza does the opposite.

Halfway through the protest, the organizers delivered their bombshell: the evocative 15 Seconds in Sderot video, which sent a chill down my spine. The clip shows a girl, presumably playing hide-and-seek, counting down from fifteen while children run for cover before a rocket lands in the middle of Sderot. While I could find much more horrific images at pro-Palestinian rallies, I can’t deny that the horror of living in constant fear of rocket attacks struck a chord in me. But only for a few minutes.

As the crescendo of praise for Israel climaxed and the keynote speakers whipped the crowd into a frenzy, I wondered how the attendees would react if someone displayed a picture of a Gazan child maimed by a cluster bomb, or civilians charred to the bone by white phosphorus. WP is a highly controversial weapon, which burns everything in its vicinity, including human flesh. While it’s true that WP isn’t internationally banned, its use in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth is troubling.

To make matters worse, two medics with the Norwegian aid agency NORWAC have recently charged Israel with using Gaza as a “test laboratory” for new “extremely nasty” chemical weapons such as Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), which have a carcinogenic effect on people within its blast radius. This is precisely where the self-defence argument falls apart.

A good portion of the people at the rally, including an Indian speaker of questionable credentials, probably weren’t aware of any of these facts. They were too busy extolling Israel’s efforts to battle “terrorism.” They probably didn’t consider the words of Israeli founding father David-Ben Gurion, who said: “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country […] There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”

Pro-Israel activists need to be made aware of Palestine’s raw deal. They’re already living in extreme poverty, under a virtual occupation. The illusion that Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan has effectively ended the occupation needs to be cast aside, as does the deep-rooted desire on the Palestinian side to “wipe [Israel] off the Earth.” To cut things short, the borders of hostility must be broken down before peace can arise.

Future generations will judge us, not by how many people we killed to take revenge on our enemies, but by our endeavours to set our differences aside. Some time in the distant future, when these nations can once again live in peace with one another, they will look back on this point in time and decry our legacy if we don’t start making reconciliations soon.

Stealing the spotlight

Nikolai Fraiture claims it was never his dream to be a frontman.

The Strokes’ bassist, whose debut solo album The Time of the Assassins hits shelves on Tuesday, is insistent that his new project Nickel Eye wasn’t designed as any kind of ego trip.

“It was never my intention,” he says. “These were always words and ideas that never really had a plan—they were always just a way to let things out. With the time off, I was able to make them into an album.”

The result is The Time of the Assassins, a collection of acoustic-based folk tunes inspired by Fraiture’s appreciation of Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. There are glimpses of The Strokes’ driving rhythms, but the trademark ripping solos and snarling vocals are conspicuously absent—the new frontman is as understated as ever when he steps behind the microphone.

Fraiture’s reservations aren’t surprising. With The Strokes, he’s always been the quiet bassist, shying away from the spotlight in the long shadows of modern rock gods like Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi.

In early 2007, after spending a year on the road in support of their third LP, First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes told dismayed fans that they would be taking an extended break.

Various solo albums have since followed, including two from guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., and Little Joy, the eponymous debut by drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s side project.

Yet with The Strokes weeks away from reconvening to begin work on album number four, a fact that Fraiture looks me in the eye and confirms (frustrated Strokes fans rejoice!), the oft-overlooked bassist has hit the road with a new backing band for what will be a very brief tour.

Why did he wait so long? It seems the creation of this record was designed simply as a way to pass the time.

“I had the basic words for quite a while, but most of the music was written during the two years we had off from The Strokes.”

Fraiture reveals he was frustrated by their lack of progress on new material.

“I think originally we [needed time off], and then Albert [began] concentrating more on his own project. It was by then that we wanted to get back together, and we tried, and for a while he wasn’t coming in so much, he was still focusing on his solo effort. We met up, all of us, and decided that February 2009 would be best [to get back together].”

Initially, Fraiture found time to finish an old project that had been lying dormant.

“It was this experimental film that I wanted to do for a long time with a friend from college. We had filmed it…in 2003 when we had a quick break back then. It’s based on French surrealist writing, mainly a few poems by Rimbaud.”

Fraiture met his new bandmates (which include guitarist Jamie MacDonald of the band South) unexpectedly while on vacation. “I was visiting my wife’s family in London for an extended period of time, and we all hung out. We started talking about music, they said they had a studio in Hackney, and we went in and recorded some demos.”

Though it’s been a while since Fraiture jammed with his most famous group of friends, he did call in a few hired guns—the album features guest appearances by Regina Spektor and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

True to form, Fraiture is modest about his new venture into the spotlight. “It [feels] the same, but with a twist. It’s the same kind of connection with the crowd, and I really enjoy that aspect of performing. It’s a little bit different of course, because it’s a different type of attention that you get.”

“The album’s not out yet, so it’s not that much pressure. People don’t know the songs, so they’re more just discovering a new band.”

With another successful solo album primed for release, Strokes fans are going to have to wait just a little longer for their heroes to return. In the meantime, they can tide themselves over by exploring this effort, which came as a surprise to everyone, including its creator.

Funny as hell

“I feel so dirty!” exclaimed the teenager next to me as Satan and Jerry Springer took their final bows. He wasn’t the only one: the older couple sitting to my right had left in disgust at intermission, dismayed at the show’s “utter lack of moral values.” (Just file theirs along with the other 50,000 complaints received when the play aired in 2005 on BBC Two.) Sure, in director Richard Ouzounian’s production, the F-bomb is dropped 297 times, while Jesus admits to being “a little bit gay” and the Ku Klux Klan tap dances with a Confederate flag. But even beyond surface-level controversy, Jerry Springer: The Opera succeeds as a challenging, rewarding piece.

“Bring on the losers!” begins the first act, which serves as a faithful recreation of the daytime trash-fest that is Jerry Springer. An onstage “studio audience” of Walmart-clad rednecks lob insulting chants at Jerry’s guests. The stars themselves, including feces fetishists, an aspiring stripper, and countless adulterers, are no tamer than the usual guests on the television series. The only difference in this musical is the stars’ overwhelming earnestness and naïveté, enhanced by the operatic delivery of the dialogue. As she searches for fame in a “Jerry Springer moment,” the soprano lilt of regressive prostitute Baby Jane (Jocelyn Howard) makes her intentions seem almost pure.

The only redemptive character is Jerry himself, with impressive deadpan delivery by Byron Rouse. Jerry is set apart as the only non-singer, speaking his own lines with amusing awkwardness. While interjecting the fights with witticisms, quipping that “a broadcaster with less experience might feel responsible,” Jerry is occasionally faced with his conscience in the form of a Valkyrie (Sarah Parkin). His Nordic foil takes the moral high ground, criticizing Jerry’s apparent lack of concern for the well-being of his guests. Jerry remains unconvinced until the second act, when the same argument is provided in Hell by Satan (JP Bevilacqua) himself.

The show morphs into a parody of Paradise Lost as the boorish guests of the first act take on the roles of Adam, Eve, Jesus, and God. The analogy makes sense: if Satan was sentenced to damnation for leading Adam and Eve astray, can Jerry be accused of the same sin? Shouldn’t he be held responsible for glamourizing self-destructive lifestyles, dishonesty, and violence? Both on television and in the musical, once his guests’ 15 minutes of fame are up at the end of each episode, it is evident that Jerry has not changed their lives for the better.

As noted by Ouzounian, “If countries get the leaders they deserve, they […] get the TV shows they deserve as well.” Inevitably, a critical commentary on the Jerry Springer demographic extends to American culture as a whole. The outside view of life in the United States is full of contradictions: we endlessly lambaste their crass taste in entertainment, but also their fervent religiosity. This omnipresent dichotomy collides in Springer’s portrayal of the deification of television personalities. Dropping Jerry Springer into one of the most familiar Judaeo-Christian narratives provides a powerful illustration of false idolism.

Those looking for the addictive, cathartic humour of the television show (regardless of the lofty morals) will be similarly impressed by Ouzounian’s production. Hopeless Hawaiian-shirted cheater Dwight (Greg Finney) particularly stands out as a comedic force, especially when reincarnated as a preening version of God. But best of all is the studio audience, who don’t miss a single opportunity for a cheap shot, no matter how self-reflective their insult. Their most telling scene is a trance-like chant that aims to sum up existence: “Eat, excrete, and watch TV.” Surely, we the (real) viewers can get past such passivity in our interpretations of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Providing big laughs, Hart House’s bold production will have you cheering for Jerry, for better or for worse.

Jerry Springer: The Opera runs at Hart House through January 31.

Med postgrads lose funding

All postgraduate medical research awards at U of T will likely be cancelled, the school’s Postgraduate Medical Education Office told The Varsity. PMEO’s awards officer Gerard Nagalingam made the announcement last week, citing a major drop in the university’s endowment fund due to the global economic situation.

Nagalingam added that the cancellation must be approved by the faculty dean before it comes into effect.

“We are waiting for a confirmation from the dean before a memo is approved,” he said. “The awards come from endowments and there have been no payments. External awards are still available.”

According to Nagalingam, the faculty generally pays out between $250,000-$300,000 in such awards annually. Students in the program rely on these awards to help pay back debt accumulated over the course of their research.

These awards are the first to be cancelled in what may be a string of financial aid cutbacks, the university’s top financial executive has confirmed.

“Division by division, we’re going through to see how we can make choices with presumably the lowest impact. We have no choice but to cut back,” said Cheryl Misak, the university’s interim vice-president and provost.

Endowments are funds created by the university for scholarships, bursaries, and research projects. They rely on donations, government funding and the success of U of T’s investments. All of those have taken a hit in recent months.

With less award money and an increasingly competitive job market, some students are concerned about funding their education and finding employment.

In a Jan. 17 article, The Globe and Mail reported a study conducted by economists with Statistics Canada, UBC, and Columbia University. The study found that it takes postsecondary graduates eight to 10 years to return to their normal earnings after a recession.

For its part, the university is trying to offer students some assurance that funding is not about to dry up any time soon.

“This is an extraordinarily difficult time and we’re trying to make the best decisions,” said Misak. “But we’re definitely committed to keeping with our contractual agreements and financial aid for students.”

This movie is on shrooms

Toronto-based filmmaker Ron Mann’s office looks like a comic book store. Located in a dilapidated building on Mercer Street, it’s sprinkled with a chaotic collection of assorted knick-knacks and doohickeys: a framed, original Doonesbury cartoon, a complete set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse action figures, bobbleheads, old lunchboxes, and collectible memorabilia from his own films (I notice he has a Tales of the Rat Fink novelty mousepad).

With documentary films ranging from comic books (Comic Book Confidential), marijuana (Grass), Rochdale College (Dream Tower), early rock ‘n’ roll (Twist), and Woody Harrelson (Go Further), Ron Mann is invariably described in reviews as a “counterculture documentarian”—or, in some of the more conservative publications, a hippie. Mann acknowledges the truth to these labels.

“I see myself more as a cultural historian than a filmmaker,” says Mann. “What I really want to do is turn people onto different ideas and alternative culture that are not exposed in the mainstream media. Really, what I’m fighting is the status quo. And also, [I want] to resurrect history and document our times, so that there is a record of who we are that isn’t, y’know, mainstream.”

As the conversation progresses, Mann gradually moves from accepting the counterculture label. “I started to document what I was a fan of, and I was a fan of jazz music, because I worked at the jazz department at Sam’s, and the beat poets who I related to, and comic books—I mean, I grew up reading Mad Magazine. So I’m really more of a fan of the work that I’ve documented.”

Mann’s enthusiasm for his subjects can be seen in every frame of his films, not least with his latest, Know Your Mushrooms, opening for a limited engagement at the Royal on January 30th. While the topic is mushrooms, the film is fast-paced and entertaining in Mann’s typical fashion. In addition to their well-established food value, the hallucinogenic, aphrodisiacal, and medicinal uses of mushrooms and fungi are explored, as well as the thriving mushroom subculture (including glimpses of the Telluride Mushroom Festival).

Mann first imagined Know Your Mushrooms when editing a compilation of “mushrooms in the movies” with friend and director Jim Jarmusch. “He was encouraging me all along to make this movie, and he would say things like, ‘Did you know that the DNA of the mushroom is closer to a human than it is a plant?’ There’s these fungi facts that just flipped me out. And to go as an ethnographic filmmaker into this subculture…it turns out there are a lot of people who are attracted to mushrooms.”

The topic of counterculture rises again, but at this point, Mann has firmly established himself as an auteur—a director whose films are stylistically or thematically consistent. Stylistically, Know Your Mushrooms is as light and playful as Mann’s previous pop documentaries. Thematically, Mann depicts his subject as a bold piece of alternative culture, misunderstood by the fearful and ignorant status quo. He even finds two bona fide counterculture protagonists in Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans, a pair of colourful mushroom experts far outside the mainstream. Leave it to Ron Mann to create a polemic about mushrooms.

Like Mann’s other work, Know Your Mushrooms is a plea for adventure and open-mindedness, a spirit that Mann contends died with Reaganism. “I am nostalgic for that period,” he says of the 1960s, “mostly ‘cause, y’know, I was smoking pot and sleeping with women, and all the good things you go to university for.”

The laughter subsides, and Mann describes the torturous process of making Grass—three years, he claims, spent virtually isolated in a rat-infested office, sifting through countless vintage documents and propaganda films. He finished the film, he says, only out of the conviction that a movie like Grass had to be made. “There are only two real reasons to make a film,” he says. “It’s about something you really like, or something you really dislike.” Does Mann advocate for a return to the liberal values of the ‘60s, or is he just one of Canada’s pre-eminent fanboys? His answers suggest both.

Economic disaster crowds grad schools

Grad school applications are pouring in as the economic downturn prods many to continue their education instead of entering an uncertain job market. With entry-level job postings down as much as 25 per cent, U of T has received 12,631 grad school applications so far this year, a nine per cent increase from last year according to grad student dean Susan Pfeiffer. Applications to Queen’s MBA program have doubled since last year, and undergrad applications are also at record levels.

Gregg Blachford, McGill University’s director of career planning services, remains encouraging. “There are still jobs and […] opportunities out there, especially for university graduates,” he told the Globe and Mail. Many experts agree that the downturn will likely only delay career advancement, before evening out when the situation improves.