Money on my mind: G8

The G8 will likely focus less attention on Africa in the wake of the global financial crisis, announced the G8 live Research Group. On Feb. 11 the group presented its 2009 findings at the Munk Centre. The student-run analyst group is U of T student’s division of the G8 Research Group, which keeps tabs on how well G8 countries measure up to their promises from the previous summit. Founded in 2006, G8RG is run by 150 undergrad and grad students at U of T, who work as volunteer analysts.

The Group of Eight is comprised of the major industrialized countries of the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This year’s summit is in Italy from July 8 to 10.

“Most of the states, with the exception of Germany, are making big cuts in official development assistance spending for the 2009 fiscal year,” said lead analyst Nike Adebowale. “Germany has been one of the major pushers to increase aid to Africa. German Chancellor Merkel has always placed it on the top of her G8 agenda.” But overall, the G8 is concerned with financial stability.

The group also found a positive outlook for the G8’s commitment to biofuels initiatives, which could lead to major reform. The G8 also has high compliance to promises of aid for China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa.

The G8RG also archives essays, news briefs, and other information on their website. For more, head to g8live.org.

Isn’t It Bromantic?

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. But this year, the most commonly whispered word on smitten lips is “bromance,” a portmanteau that defines the love shared between straight men everywhere.

But bromance is not a gay thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s just the latest development in the world of masculine psychology.

The widespread adoption of the term bromance is a major advancement in the ways men are allowed to behave socially without fear of reprisal. Put simply, it’s about the right to express a meaningful, platonic bond between two male friends, a type of male liberation.

Too long have men been saddled with the challenge of living up to the hyper-macho standard set by 20th-century heroes like Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. These were larger-than-life personalities who embodied the male ideal: stoic, solitary, emotionless.

They defined the type of hard-drinking bull-fighter that gave birth to countless redundant phrases like “manly man” and “guy’s guy.” Hemingway wrote volumes about his youthful, carefree days with friends in Paris, but it’s hard to imagine him grabbing F. Scott Fitzgerald in a bear hug and crying out, “Scottie, you’re my bro, and I love you!”

In recent times, new masculine idols have emerged, like the original metrosexual himself, David Beckham. But back when Becks was the brightest star of the metro movement about four or five years ago, the most men were allowed to do was moisturize and exfoliate. It seemed liberating at the time, but in hindsight, metrosexuality was a mere aesthetic movement designed to improve grooming patterns. A whirlwind bromance comprises far more complex emotional terrain.

That’s why a bromance is a significant alteration to social norms, because it’s an indication that machismo is on its way out the door. Consequently, it’s become permissible for men to embody what was once a cardinal feminine virtue: being in touch with one’s emotions.

Nowadays, it’s acceptable for guys to love their friends just as women do, with similar levels of expression and trust. Before bromance, the best term we had for this kind of relationship was a “man-crush,” which always seemed to imply a hidden insecurity, as if dudes who enjoyed each other’s company had to feel as sheepish about it as a 13-year-old girl fawning over the captain of the football team.

The earliest recorded usage of the term bromance was in the late 1990s, when Dave Carnie of skateboard magazine Big Brother used it to describe the close relationship between skaters who practiced together, partied together, and shared rooms when travelling.

Since then, it’s been used to describe countless friendships between grown men. In 2007, Canadian indie rockers Joel Plaskett and Peter Elkas were profiled together on the cover of Exclaim with the tagline “A Fine Bromance.” (For further evidence, check out the YouTube video where they sit down for a heart-to-heart to “examine their relationship.”)

Other famous bromances include the almost co-dependent bond between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, or the four main characters on HBO’s Entourage, who are quite obviously involved in a tightly-knit four-way of bromosexuality.

But the television show to thrust the concept to the fore of pop culture is Brody Jenner’s recent six-episode reality series in which the former Hills love interest lined up a group of suitors eager to score the most precious commodity of all: friendship (a luxury condo was also part of the winning package…but nothing could be as valuable as friendship, right?)

As Jenner induldged his candidates in a variety of amusing pursuits (schmoozing with supermodels, trying on new jeans, hanging out in a hot tub), it became clear that Bromance had been given the perfect tagline: “Brody needs a bro-friend.” Don’t we all?

It’s hardly intellectual fare, but a deeper look reveals the show to be an earnest search for a new best friend and close confidant. After all, Brody lost his best bud Spencer Pratt forever once he shacked up with the talentless demon goddess Heidi Montag. Spencer is now married, taking him out of commission for all bachelor-related activities, thereby making him extremely lame.

After a rigorous selection process, Jenner chose Luke Verge to be his new best friend. His declaration that he’d found his bromance was an oddly touching moment, as if anything was possible for two straight men in their early 20s who love each other and aren’t afraid to admit it.

The concept of bromance has led me to consider the ways I value my own best friends. I’ve since determined that ours is not an overly complicated relationship. We hang out as often as we can, drink pints, and discuss life’s most pressing issues: sports, girl problems, and insurance payments on cars we’ve yet to buy.

At our parties, it’s as perfectly natural for the guys to hug hello and goodbye as it is for the girls. The phrase “I love you!” gets kicked around as frequently as “More beer!” I used to think our abundance of emotion could be chalked up to a European spirit, but now I know better—it’s just one harmonious bromance, and it’s a blessing.

I know exactly what Jenner is going through. At this point in my life, friends matter most, and I’m not ashamed to say that I love them. I’d still prefer to spend Valentine’s Day with a girl, but that’s another matter entirely. ❤

CFS, SFSS lock horns over federation membership

The Simon Fraser Student Society and the British Columbia branch of the Canadian Federation of Students have been battling it out before the Supreme Court of British Columbia for the last two weeks to determine whether the SFSS is still a part of the CFS-BC.

SFSS members voted to leave the CFS-BC last spring. The federation, however, has refused to recognize the referendum, insisting that the union owes them $430,000 in membership fees for the academic year.

“It should have been over by now,” said SFSS president Joe Paling. “We had a vote last May and 69 per cent of students took part in that referendum. It should have been resolved that day, but [the CFS-BC] said that they wouldn’t recognize the referendum results.”

“CFS happily recognized the referendum while it was happening because they had 30 people or more, including some people from the University of Toronto, flown over the country to campaign on the CFS side of the referendum,” said Paling. “Even though they said they weren’t going to recognize the vote, they still actively campaigned hoping that they would get a result that was favourable to them.”

CFS claims that its own procedures were not properly followed in the referendum. The Referendum Oversight Committee, consisting of two representatives each from the CFS-BC and the SFSS, fell apart during the referendum. According to Paling, the group was ill-prepared and “basically broke down” despite lengthy notice given by the SFSS some six months in advance of the referendum date.

Paling is optimistic about the forthcoming proceedings. “We feel that this can be a summary trial without a jury because we think it’s fairly clear-cut. There’s no reason for it to go to trial when the students overwhelmingly voted to leave.”

“Since the Simon Fraser Student Society filed suit against the CFS-BC the legal process initiated by the SFSS has followed its normal course and it is my understanding that it has not been a lengthier process than a similar suit of this nature,” CFS-BC chair Shamus Reid told The Varsity. “The CFS-BC continues to vigorously represent the interests of Simon Fraser students.”

If the case does to go trial, it may remain unresolved until 2011.

Red Alert

Recently I realized that I feel a strange sense of nostalgia for the weeks following 9/11. My sophomore year of college had just begun, and I had freshly lost my virginity over the summer. I can obviously only comment on my own experience, but the days and weeks following the attacks were unbelievably surreal. I was living in a dorm on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, just north of Washington Square Park, so I used to be able to see the World Trade Center towering over the Washington Square arch from the front door of my building (this location made it sort of weird the morning of; I have no idea what it says about my psychological profile, but I was standing on the street and watched the second plane make contact, but rather than panic or try to do something, I went back inside to the dining hall to eat pancakes before I went to class).

NYU cancelled classes for the rest of that week and lower Manhattan was shut down south of 14th Street for at least two weeks, so for awhile it felt like we were living in an alternate dimension. Keep in mind that there were bomb scares at Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Times’ offices in the weeks following the first attack, so there was the constant suggestion that it wasn’t over and that we could die at any time. I think I slept about three hours a night—not necessarily out of fear but because my adrenal glands were pumping all the time. I think other people had the same sort of experience—it seems like everybody I knew (myself included) drank less during those weeks because we felt high all the time. I did smoke a ton of American Spirits, but that’s only because I needed something to do.

But here’s the thing that I miss the most, and the thing that stirs up strong feelings of crippling nostalgia and guilt: terror sex. A lot was written about the fact that there were a shitload of babies conceived in the weeks following 9/11, and many have also suggested that the Sex and the City-style one-night-stand lifestyle was heartily boosted by the fact that people thought they could die tomorrow (I suppose people were having babies for the same reason; it all depends on your tax bracket). But terror sex was something different. A lot of people I talked to hooked up during that time because they had essentially gone numb to everything else, and sex was the only way to feel anything (like that scene in High Fidelity where they fuck in the car during the funeral). That was part of it, but there was also a certain rawness that everybody seemed to feel in the wake of brushing up so close to mass murder. I think that’s the only time in my life where I really knew what it was to be human in a purely animal, anatomical sense. Even though we only made love a handful of times, I remember every detail about Libby, who was from San Francisco and had taken a year off after high school to work before coming east; I later found out that the reason she did that was because she got pregnant and was going to keep the baby, only to miscarry. She had no ass, kept her pubic hair trimmed in a very peculiar and asymmetrical way and always smelled like mangoes even though she chain-smoked Marlboro Lights. My other partner from that era was a girl I went to high school with. She was a year behind me and I didn’t know her that well, but she ended up at NYU and we ended up hooking up a few times. Her name was Sarah and she was allergic to gluten. I have no idea what happened to either of these women; it seems like when the fear wore off and we got back to the business of going to college in New York, everybody drifted back to their lives.

I feel guilty about this whole scenario for a number of reasons. I feel horrible that I have admitted to myself that Libby was the best sex I’ve ever had, even though I adore my current girlfriend and know that we’ll marry and have kids someday. Somehow, it feels like cheating retroactively. I feel extremely guilty that I feel nostalgic for an event that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. But there was something about that rush of fear that I know I’ll never capture again, and that makes me feel sad and relieved at the same time. ❤

Kyle Anderson is the author of Accidental Revolution: The Story of Grunge (St. Martin’s Griffin). He lives in Brooklyn.

Who’s afraid of Ahmadinejad?

As worries of a showdown between the U.S. and Iran increase, so does the Cold War déjà vu. The techniques that the neoconservatives pioneered during the Reagan years have been retooled, and are once again being used to ensure that U.S. ascendancy continues unchallenged.

When the Soviet Union rose to challenge the United States’ global hegemony during the Cold War, the neoconservatives created a culture of fear, fabricating nightmares that manifested themselves in what came to be known as the Reagan doctrine.

What most people don’t know is that the entire threat was contrived by the CIA and perpetuated by the media: the “Evil Empire” never sought global preeminence, and had no plans to attack until the U.S. media drummed up war hysteria on behalf of the neocons.

Today, the threat posed by Iran is similarly imaginary: an Islamic country supposedly hell-bent on wiping out Israel by use of nuclear weapons and pursuing an Isalmization agenda throughout the Western World.

Fear not. America’s noble politicians will protect us from the new menace…but can we really count on the U.S., itself one of the greatest threats to global stability, to police the world? As Noam Chomsky said in 1990, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

From the invasions of Vietnam, Cuba, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq, to the bombing of Cambodia and pharmaceutical plants in Sudan, to sponsoring dictatorships in Arab and Latin American countries, to supporting militaristic coups against democratically elected governments that didn’t agree with them (such as Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic), the U.S. has started more conflagrations in the latter half of the 20th century than any other country.

By contrast, Iran hasn’t started a single war in 300 years.

There’s no doubt that the current Iranian regime has undertaken a series of actions that appear calculated to sabotage any détente with the U.S., but that’s only half of it. A history lesson is in order:

During the long rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Iran was a staunch ally of the U.S. The Shah was brought to power by a British-led coup in 1941, lost power briefly to the popular nationalist leader Muhammed Mosaddeq in 1953, and regained leadership in another coup sponsored by the CIA. The Shah was notorious for his brutal secret police force, Savak, which was formed with the CIA’s help.

The Shah, loved by the U.S. but increasingly hated by the Iranian people, was no less a tyrant than the recently deposed “Butcher of Baghdad,” Saddam Hussein. But he could be counted on to side with the U.S., and was therefore a “friend” regardless.

But tyrants can only stay in power for so long before their victims turn against them and their sponsors. This is precisely what happened in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution erupted and the Shah was replaced with Ayatollah Khomeini, who proclaimed the U.S. “the Great Satan.” It’s not hard to see why Iran has been steadfastly defiant to U.S. bullying, especially when it comes to their nuclear program. (It should also be noted that, shortly after the Iran-Iraq war ended, a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing 290 people, and still hasn’t apologized.)

The neoconservatives conjectured that Iran’s defiant attitude regarding its nuclear program, coupled with its leader’s “death threats” to Israel, pose a threat to world peace. Bush also erroneously stated that Iran wanted “nuclear weapons to destroy people.” Yet the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities states the following: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program …We [also] assess with moderate confidence [that] Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.” There’s no evidence to suggest that Ahmadinejad’s alleged threats against Israel are any more than heated rhetoric, and certainly prominent Likud members have made some heated suggetsions themselves.

The U.S. media has repeatedly misquoted and spun his words. CBS’s 60 Minutes omitted a sentence on peace in the Middle East from the final cut of an interview, and deliberately misquoted him as saying that his country was entitled to “nuclear weapons,” when in fact he was referring to nuclear energy. But that’s the modus operandi of major media outlets: deliberate prevarication, which fosters ignorance. On several occasions, Ahmadinejad has said explicitly that he has “no plans to attack Israel.” But the U.S. media never reports on this, because Iran is the enemy. It’s not in their interest to arouse calls for a U.S.-Iran détente. And let’s not forget that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and bars international inspections, and the only country in the Middle East in defiance of 69 United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Nobody commissioned the U.S. to preserve world peace. An EU poll showed that the majority of Europeans believed the U.S. and Israel to be the biggest threats to world peace, beating out Iran. But this is the new world order, where you can say and do whatever you want if you’re a global hegemon, where the U.S. can nuke any non-nuclear country at will. Let’s just hope that, in due time, America will see the irony in trying to limit nuclear proliferation by threatening to nuke other countries—a strategy that will inevitably result in the reverse and put the future of our planet at risk.

Ten Love Songs

Goldfrapp – Lovely Head

“Why can’t this be killing you? Frankenstein would want your mind your lovely head.”

Allison Goldfrapp might be oh-so lulling with her ethereal electro-noir audioscapes but don’t be fooled. This “love song” could just as easily come from the lips of a scalpel-wielding maniac.

Peaches – Operate

“He is perfect for me to practice surgery. One look coagulates it’s time to operate.”

Add this to the aforementioned “scalpel-wielding maniac” category of love song that seems to be growing alarmingly large.

Neutral Milk Hotel – Oh Comely

“Place your body here. Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine.”

The inclusion of everyone’s favourite bizarro-psych-rock indie band in this list shouldn’t surprise anyone, as their odd obsession with body parts in their love songs has been well documented. I chose this track for its candid, instructional approach to flesh-stealing.

Björk – My Spine

“I adore backs of necks, beautifully shaven…”

Looks like some Icelandic vampires have found a way to survive the 24-hour daylight that comes with the summer months. You can’t help but be a little impressed. (The Icelandic word for garlic is “hvítlaukur.” This information may one day save your life, or at least your plasma.)

Tokyo Jihen – Genjitsu wo Warau

“I would like to be composed of you… I would like to be merged into you.”

Shiina Ringo, the “Japanese Björk,” often ventures into songs with English lyrics. Here, she shows her full grasp of the Western lyrical idiom by singing a jazz ballad using the Frankenstein-fetish imagery seemingly beloved by our American songwriters.

The Rolling Stones – Give Me Your Hand – (And I’ll Hold It Tight)

“I don’t pretend that I don’t need you so come on, come on and give me your hand. I need you bad, it makes you glad, so give me your hand, I’ll hold it tight.”

I like to think this song is being sung to a monkey, and its mummified paw is currently the only thing keeping Mick and Keith alive.

Erykah Badu – Green Eyes

“My eyes are green ‘cause I eat a lot of vegetables it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.”

For your new (Irish, formerly-sighted) friend, I’d like to think that she isn’t actually talking about stealing someone’s eyes—her heartfelt delivery says no, but her double-negative says yes. Who gave Erykah the ice-cream scoop?

Herbert – The Audience

“You are my fingers, I am your hand, I am your three-man one-man band. You are my breath, I am your tongue…”

Herbert knows that if you give a little, you get a little. Even if it turns you and your loved one into stitched-together monsters. How romantic!

Kate Bush – Eat The Music

“Let’s split him open like a pomegranate insides out, all is revealed. Not only women bleed.”

This song would be more appropriately titled if you replaced “the music” with “your entrails.” Though I’m not sure intestines have the same antioxidant properties as pomegranates, I suppose it’s best not to take nutritional advice afrom someone who dresses up as a lion and has more than one song in which she imitates bird and donkey sounds.

PJ Harvey – Legs

“Did it hurt when you bled? …You were going to be my life, damn it! …No other way, cut off your legs… how will you ever walk again?”

zehen Polly says something, she means it. This song is actually about cutting off her lover’s legs so he won’t leave her. Who needs metaphor when you’ve got a chainsaw?

Gawking at the puritans

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” proclaimed Pastor Josh Duggar of TLC’s 17 Kids and Counting, as he kissed his 20-year-old bride at the culmination of their televised wedding. That kiss was their first ever, and it signified the fact that the couple, who had been courting for two years, could finally enter into a physical relationship. In fact, until that moment, the two had never been alone together; family members had chaperoned all of their visits. Yes, it’s hard to make out while your mother is watching.

To many, these values seem archaic, drawn straight from the depths of the Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching land of Mike Huckabee along the Bible belt. In reality, the concept of moral and physical purity before marriage is alive and kicking. Chastity has been getting significant media attention these days: shows like Big Love and the recent arrests of two Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) leaders have sparked a rising interest in the sect; TV documentaries like Purity Balls and the Duggar family phenomenon are piquing curiosities as well. People are riveted by stories of young men and women who follow the conservative paths of not dating, finding marriage partners through prayer and parental council, and abstaining from sex until these prayers are met. These virtuous young folk—most of them in their teens and early 20s—believe earnestly in the value of abstinence, and make it clear to onlookers that chastity is a choice they’ve made for themselves, not something forced upon them. Considering the passion these youth have for their lifestyles, the notion of saving your first kiss for your wedding day seems logical—even romantic.

These values are vulnerable to criticism—after all, we’re a sexually liberated public—and accordingly, many write them off as crazy. This explains the secular public’s overwhelming interest: the more outdated and quaint these values seem, the more they fascinate us. The shows aren’t marketed towards religious teens, but to the opposite. They attract sexually liberated viewers who are, in a way, shocked by antiquated worldviews and curious about communities they’ll likely never be exposed to. The irony is that the channels that air these programs also present unabashedly bawdy content: lurid celebrity gossip, and dispatches from the single, rich, and lusty. As a result, the public is caught between two extremes. One could argue that juxtaposing the pure with the lascivious is merely presenting two different sides of the story. But what about the moderate view? What happened to the idea of following your heart? And what about love?

Whether it’s waiting for your marriage bed or waking up in a different one every morning, both sides will attempt to prove that their lifestyles are better. They market their values by making them trendy, presenting them as things that “everyone’s doing.” What people forget is that sex is a personal choice. Sex has become a duty, an initation ritual. What’s wrong with waiting until you’re ready, or really “making love?” Sex can be sacred or lewd, but it’s up to the person having the sex to decide. So laugh as Jim Bob tells Josh of the birds and the bees, scoff at Britney’s newest beau, but know that there’s a whole world in between.

Global Catwalk

University fashion aficionados: pull out your Moleskines and pencil in February 21 and 22, because you’re invited to the fashion and cultural event of the season. Hosted by Fashion Television’s style impresario Jeanne Beker, FashionEAST highlights the top design talent from the land of milk and honey.

“Israel has such a rich culture. You’ll find fashion plays an integral part as Israeli creativity manifests itself in many ways,” says Beker, who has traveled to the country numerous times on assignment for FT. “I was just so thrilled to see the level of talent. The Israeli aesthetic is really cutting edge—from the young to established designers, there is long history of fabulous fashion and now there is a whole new wave.”

Beker skips between fashion capitals like we skip between cafés and class, but she’s still excited to host an event that highlights Israeli talent on terra firma. While some may be surprised to learn that Israel has a booming fashion scene, Beker says it makes perfect sense. “Any cosmopolitan urban centre with energy—from Bogotá to Lisbon—you’re bound to find young people, visionary artists, and wonderful craftsmanship. I’m really looking forward to seeing their work. It has a unique sense of colour and spirit.”

FashionEAST kicks off on the eve of the 21st with an exclusive cocktail gala and runway fashion show at Toronto’s tony Design Exchange. On the 22nd, the space will be transformed into an Israeli fashion showroom with apparel and accessories for sale.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Leaders of Tomorrow fund. These organizations support Israeli performers participating in Canadian music festivals, film screenings, and dance performances. It will also provide scholarship opportunities for Israeli cultural students who wish to take their talents abroad. Funding raised for the Leaders of Tomorrow will provide extracurricular cultural programming to over 300 at-risk Israeli youth between six and 18-years-old.

“The idea came from [leading trips] in Israel so often,” says FashionEAST executive director Shira Webber. “I was impressed by the amazing talent and chic designs. I felt these designers should have more exposure.” Webber is a savvy Israeli culture advocate who is passionate about the cause. In her role as alumni and outreach coordinator for Canada Israel Experience, she visits twice a year with Birthright groups.

“Participants on my trips always want me to give them more time to shop, even though the trip isn’t really about that,” she says. “I always buy pieces when I’m in Israel. People inevitably stop me and inquire where I got it.” Isn’t it great to have an exotic answer?

Israeli fashion reflects its unique global positioning and the Diaspora. Designers are influenced by the middle-eastern diaphanous aesthetic—which leans to flowy, draped silhouettes. Close proximity to Europe brings refinement and access to the most luxurious fabrics. Israel’s ties to North America create a preference for casual elegance. Israeli couture combines these global elements.

Designer Anata Taiber, who will be showing her Anata collection at FashionEAST, falls into this category. This Israeli-born globetrotter says her work is about reflecting the Israeli liveliness. “My work is all about being bold. It begins with the colours and the inspiration I get from Israel. I think Israeli designers are less conservative than in Canada.” Taiber has mastered looks that transition easily from day to night. As she says, “It’s very hot in Israel, so people don’t want fussy clothes.”

Webber is thrilled to feature designers like Taiber who portray Israel in a positive light. “With sensationalism and the news, things like this get lost in the mix.”

Part-time English major and FashionEAST volunteer Sara Farb agrees. “It’s very obvious what people pay attention to here with regards to Israel,” she says. “That’s why this event is so great—everyone can enjoy Israeli fashion.”

The event is an opportunity for the Torontonian Jewish community to connect with Israeli culture, but Webber stresses that anyone can take part. “FashionEAST is for anyone who loves fashion and is curious about Israeli style. Jews already know how amazing Israel is!”

FashionEAST runs February 21 to 22 at The Design Exchange (234 Bay Street). Ticket prices range from $50 for an adult weekend ticket, $36 for a young associate weekend ticket (40 years and under), $15 for a Sunday sale-only ticket, or $50 at the door for all events. To purchase tickets online, visit fashioneast.ca.