Ontario grad fund misdirected

Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities has announced a $51.6 million investment to create 3,300 new spaces for graduate students over the next three years. Seventy-five per cent of the fund will be allocated to research-based universities.

“In Ontario, a highly skilled workforce is key and the allocation funds is meant to help more students in high-demand sectors,” said Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for the Ministry.

The government seeks to ensure that the use of the investment and resultant research align with their economic agenda.

In all, a total of 1,925 new Master’s and 1,373 new PhD spots will be created. U of T will receive the highest number of spaces and allotments: 588.

This investment attempts to extend Dalton McGuinty’s $6.2-billion Reaching Higher plan for postsecondary education, which prioritizes technological advancement. Much of the fund is being directed into marketable sectors like engineering and environmental studies.

In the midst of a recession, while most Ontario colleges and universities welcome the provincial investments, criticism has come from some student leaders.

“I’m sceptical about where the money is going,” said Sara Suliman, VP external of the Graduate Student Union, “It’s not necessarily going to cover funding for students in school.”

“If the intention is to cover scholarships which have been discontinued because of the recession, then it is a good thing. However from what I understand the money will be going to very short programmes.”

According to Suliman, in a meeting with the dean of arts and sciences it was explicitly said that more positions in terminal masters degree programs were being sought.

Typically, these are one-year professional programs in commerce or engineering which are in high demand but not funded and de-regulated by the university. There are not many scholarships for these positions and they are not necessarily research-based.

“It’s a quick way of recovering money using the economy as a justification” she said. “The intention is not increasing academic positions for students.”
Smaller institutions seeking to build their graduate programs, like OCAD, have expressed disappointment that the investment privileges established research schools.

Being Matthew Morris

There are only three things that bring together the true north strong and free: the Trans-Canada highway, hockey, and the Canadian Football League. On the weekend of March 6 – 8, the annual CFL player evaluation camp took place in Toronto, with events held at the InterContinental Yorkville Hotel and Varsity Stadium. The history of this great event continued when fifty of the top home grown talents in Canadian universities met to show their stuff in front of the watchful eyes of coaches, scouts, and general managers.

The Saturday event was the inaugural meat market day, consisting of weigh-ins and height measurements, along with broad jump and vertical leap events. But the “cattle” were treated like top quality heifers, from a swanky hotel room, to buffet meals, and bags full of Reebok swag given at the very start of the weekend.

The Sunday event literally started off with a bang with a collision between James Green, a running back from St. Francis Xavier University, and Jim Barker, the Calgary Stampeders senior vice-president of football operations. While Barker was evaluating drills from the sideline, Green stretched out to catch an overthrown ball from the Argos’ Cody Pickett. Both combatants went down hard, but Barker insisted he got the better of Green.

The ensuing 40-yard dash and one-on-one drills provided record breaking moments. Among the top performers at the camp was the Varsity Blues’ very own Matthew Morris. Morris, who is used primarily as a defensive back, but also saw time as a punt and kick returner, was by no means the tallest player, as his height was recorded at 5’8.5”. Yet Morris had an impressive 35.5” vertical leap, to go along with his 9’54” broad jump, numbers that helped him rank third among all of the defensive backs at the camp. He also ran a 4.59” in the 40-yard dash, which ties him for fifth overall and second among defensive backs. Impressively, Morris bench pressed twenty repetitions, the highest number of any defensive back in camp. He later revealed that the bench press was the event he was most proud of.

As the sole representative from U of T, Morris stressed how pleased he was representing the university, and what an honour it was to have been selected to be the “host” for the weekend.

“This entire camp has been an amazing experience,” gushed Morris. “We have been getting a bad reputation in the last few years, so this is an opportunity to show everybody that dudes coming out of U of T can play some football.”

There is no doubt that Morris can play. He first got noticed putting up outstanding numbers at the prestigious Cederbrae Collegiate. Morris was anxious to get involved in American football, and after attending an American prep school, he spent two years at Division I Colgate University in upstate New York. Morris later transferred to Division II Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, where he was injured and unfortunately did not get to play. After former U of T coach Steve Howlett came calling, the Scarborough native returned to Canada, where he ended up playing a major role for the Varsity Blues. He recorded twelve tackles, and led the Blues in both punt and kick returns yards. Perhaps Morris’ most famous play of the season was a 92 yarder in the first game of the season, when Toronto snapped its 49-game losing streak against Waterloo on Labour Day.

“I felt like my breath was taken away for about two minutes.” joked Morris about the return, the longest of the season. Interestingly, when asked what the biggest readjustment was to Canadian Football after playing in the United States, he replied that the much larger field took some getting used to. Of his kick return, Morris remarked, “I would have been in the end zone probably 20 yards earlier. But with the longer field I was only able to make it to the one.”

Morris is looking ahead to his professional future, but he also sees bright prospects for the Varsity Blues. “There are a lot of young players in our team that are really good,” said Morris. “Changing the program last year has definitely helped out the team and will better develop these players. They will definitely be here next year and the years to come.”

Morris spoke confidently about the team’s performance this past season, putting great hope into the team’s 2-6 record. Morris is truly representative of the dedication of the Blues team, and the pride that is starting to return to the franchise.

As for Morris, when questioned as to which CFL team he would like to play for, he stated confidently that whichever team that drafts him will get a very good player. Indeed, part of Morris’ appeal is that he can play multiple defensive positions in addition to his return skills, and he can even line up as a wide receiver, and has some quarterback experience. Morris is a multifaceted player, and the way that he has carried himself, his constant effort, his ability to interact with athletes from other schools, his deference to his coaches, and the whoops and cheers from his sizable entourage were constant highlights of the meaty CFL player evaluation camp.

Another highlight of the weekend was the record breaking 40-yard dash time and vertical score from Jamall Lee of Bishop’s University. A large surprise was the appearance of all three Toronto Argos quarterbacks in full uniform. Unlike last year, when two college QBs were in the camp, this year it was the Argo QBs that took turns throwing passes to university wide receivers and defensive backs on the field. It was promising to see Argonauts starting quarterback Kerry Joseph, who like Matthew Morris is a small, yet powerfully built football player, able to make the adjustment to Canadian football participate in some of the drills. In a later interview, Joseph revealed that he was very high on some of the wide receivers and defensive backs in the camp. Exposure to the players in the camp will allow Joseph to welcome future teammates or opponents to the league.

Before the season begins, the CFL draft takes place on May 2. If he had not done so already, Matthew Morris made an impression over the course of the weekend. A veteran CFL running back and quarterback coach revealed that even though Morris may not have been on the radar at the start of camp, he definitely made his presence felt by the end of it. Hopefully soon enough, when Matthew Morris takes to the CFL field, it will be our breath, not his, taken away.

Editorial: The Varsity introduces slate Rhinoceros

The Varsity would never think of endorsing a slate in this round of UTSU elections. Instead, we have decided to nominate ourselves in the very midst of the voting period. Rules, shmules. We know a good thing when we see it, and if everyone else wants your vote, we want it too. May we introduce the Rhinoceros Party of U of T.

We are straight-talkers, mavericks, and hope-mongers, but mostly we just open our mouths without thinking. We will say the things independents Perry Darkwa and Britt Silvestri, Slate ACCESS, and Slate CHANGE will not.

Just as there are Canadians and then there are real Canadians, Ontarians, and then real Ontarians, there are students, and then there are people who walk so damn slow down St. George they take up the entire sidewalk. We will represent you.

We note that both slates CHANGE and ACCESS are running “Equity” candidates, and that independent Silvestri is all about the equity. These three have fought diligently in the face of your apathy—for freedom from racism, for that rainbow-triangle sticker on the door, and for our school to participate in the fight against climate change. Where’s the representation for those who just don’t care?

Only Slate RHINOCEROS knows that the issue you have with the UTSU, if you know what the UTSU is (we don’t), is one of communication. It is obvious to us that you have not seen the posters advertising this election. Worry not, 32,000 who didn’t vote last year! We fill find the auditorium where you are hiding and poster it like crazy!

We know the fine points of your tortured relationship with that special someone who sits across Con Hall from you in psych. We know that it’s really, really complicated—i.e., she doesn’t know you exist—and understand that worrying about this takes every waking hour of your day. While you’d like to be more involved with student politics, you just don’t have the time. Plus don’t we have papers to write or something?

We couldn’t agree more! Slate CHANGE says they will walk across the street to negotiate with Queen’s Park. We will walk across the street to Queen’s Park, and keep on walking. We will walk farther than any of the other candidates who want your vote. We will keep on walking ‘til we hit the ocean, and then we’ll walk some more. By the time April rolls around we’ll be in the south of France. Au revoir, suckers!

“But wait,” you are saying, “I have no tortured relationship. I don’t even take psych. I have to work two jobs and take transit from Scarborough, and that’s why I don’t have time for student politics.” To you, the small, overwhelming majority of students, we say that if you’re going to vote for no one, don’t vote for us. No one will protect the status quo like we will.

(Note: This editorial is a satirical reminder to get out and vote in your student union elections. Make your voices heard!)

Too little too late

It seemed as if Stephen Harper had an epiphany when he claimed in a CNN interview that NATO troops are “not going to ever defeat the insurgency” in Afghanistan. This is a turnaround from a year ago, when he said during a visit to Afghanistan that NATO troops could completely wipe out the Taliban insurgency. However, if there is one politician whose change of heart should not come as a surprise, it’s Stephen Harper.

One could argue that the experiences of Canadian troops in Afghanistan have made him reflective. But during the interview, Harper gave a different reason: “My reading of Afghan history is that it’s probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind,” he said. Harper (and many notable others) were naïve to think they could destroy the Taliban. Fighting an insurgency in a highly unstable country where the opponents have the home-field advantage is not an easy feat. We’d like to think that our national leaders would read up on a country before sending their troops off to fight there.

Harper’s blunt talk about the war in Afghanistan to an American news channel was disappointing. His comments seemed to be directed at Obama—his change of view comes as the Obama administration begins to act on its promised troop increase in Afghanistan. The past month’s events also shed light on Harper’s comments. During his visit to Canada, Obama indicated that his government would emphasize development and diplomacy. Harper’s strategy in Afghanistan is similar to Obama’s rejection of military-only solutions. So what accounts for Harper’s new-found wisdom?

Harper’s claim that NATO cannot defeat the insurgency raises the question of why Canadian troops are in Afghanistan in the first place. Canada has spent more time fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan than it did fighting in World War II. So when will we finally withdraw? Harper’s claim that the insurgency is impossible to defeat was a response to a question about the decision to withdraw Canadian troops in 2011. Let’s not forget that, in 2007, Harper strongly condemned a “cut and run” strategy for Canadian troops, claiming that was not his “way of doing things.”

Harper’s new and realistic approach to insurgency and his emphasis on effective governance in Afghanistan are praiseworthy. However, his vision is not motivated by concern for stability. Whether Harper’s comments were motivated by Obama’s foreign policy or reflect his own government’s strategy for withdrawal, the bottom line is that his words carry weight—and he will be held accountable for them.

Obama Watch

Last week’s news cycle was much livelier than usual. Alongside ubiquitous stories about the declining stock market, staggering unemployment rate, and Depression-era gloominess, the media’s attention was fixed on one entertainment figure. The man of the hour was the government-bashing go-to guy for everything conservative: America’s neighbourhood blowhard, Rush Limbaugh. For those who aren’t familiar with the talk radio host, he’s been deluding American listeners for over 20 years with his unapologetic brand of abrasive, racist, and misogynistic banter. His extremist views and moral crusading have elevated him to rock-star status in Republican circles, and as an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference a couple weeks back, his mere presence caused the audience to erupt with elation. During his rant, he called for a non-interventionist, free market approach for dealing with domestic issues and lambasted President Obama’s strategy for fixing the financial system, saying that he hoped it would not be successful. Over the years, Limbaugh has maintained a core fan base predominantly of white working-class men, and a strong following of GOP members of Congress. Considering that the Republicans suffered devastating losses in a number of red districts during the presidential election, one might expect the party to craft a new electoral strategy, broadening their message and creating policies to speak to a changing demographic. Instead, they’ve been portrayed as Limbaugh-worshipping fools that speak from both sides of the mouth—one minute they criticize his words, the next they’re begging for forgiveness.

It is truly shameful to witness these distinguished men—and so far, it’s only men—seeking political advice and wisdom from one of the most divisive and inflammatory people in the country. Bill Maher summed it up best when he said, “they went looking to the future and they found radio.” The party’s counterarguments to the president’s policies originate largely from Limbaugh, as the nation rejected the Republican way of doing business. Their ideas are no longer credible or effective, and this can only mean good news for the Democrats.

Obama has kept his distance from the loudmouth, but congressional Democrats and pundits alike have alleged that Limbaugh is now the unofficial leader of the Republican party. While it is technically untrue, the notion is not far-fetched. Democrats are pushing this guilty-by-association meme as much as they can because, for the most part, Americans loathe Rush. Many tune into his show out of morbid curiosity, not ideological allegiance. If it appears he’s running the show for Republicans, then voters are more likely to be turned off. Of course, this isn’t a surefire strategy. Last week’s media blitz and the over-the-top live coverage at the CPAC event must have upped his show’s ratings. However, his popularity stands in stark contrast with the president’s. Approval ratings for Obama hover at around 70 per cent, and a large majority have confidence in his policies and leadership. If the opposition chooses to remain loyal to the sermonic Limbaugh, it will be much more difficult to modernize their party and build a stronger coalition for upcoming elections.

CIA debacle leaves hope for lessons learned

A little over a month has passed since U.S. president Barack Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay and other CIA detention centers. Now, new information has surfaced about the extent of the 2005 destruction of interrogation tapes by the CIA. The number of tapes destroyed by the CIA was previously unknown, but the news broke early last week that 92 was the total.

The number comes as a disappointment to many, but a shock to few. The CIA has long been known for the torture tactics it employs during interrogation sessions. The injustices, not surprisingly, only increased during Bush’s post-911 terror interrogations. Consequently, when the investigation against the CIA began in 2005, it came as no surprise that the audio and visual evidence that documented the interrogation sessions was systematically destroyed in an attempt to protect the CIA officials that engaged in these sessions. Now that the amount of evidence destroyed has been revealed, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Amrit Singh has stated that the CIA should be held in contempt for failing to reveal the information at an earlier date.

That this revelation arose in conjunction with the instructions to close down Guantanamo Bay leaves me wondering if this string of events signals a long-overdue reign-in of the CIA, and the dawn of a new era under President Obama. The disclosure of the destruction statistic was made by CIA officials during legal proceedings, but it was the Obama government that released to the public the information from the trials (along with the Justice Department memos from Bush’s presidency). Could this mean greater transparency in the future? All that Obama has done since his inauguration points to a move in the right direction. Still, these are only the first steps, and it will take more work to correct past injustices and ensure better practices in the future.

The optimism in response to the information release was tempered by the grim realization of belated atonement for the Bush administration. A further and even more troubling realization is that the government has probably only scratched the surface of revealing, and moving to correct, past wrongdoings. Given that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel gave Bush the authority to suspend freedom of speech, ignore the Fourth Amendment, and send prisoners to countries known to use torture, what is left to discover isn’t likely to make the free world proud. Nevertheless, it’s better to be disappointed with eyes wide open than to be blissfully ignorant of the truth.

The Rebirth of Gentleman Reg

The most interesting aspect of the fourth record from Toronto folkie Gentleman Reg (a.k.a. Reginald Vermue) is that it almost never happened.

After Three Gut Records—the legendary Guelph indie label that unearthed The Constantines and Royal City, among others—folded in 2006, Reg found himself without a label or a project.

“I made this on my own,” he says. “My record label had collapsed, but I decided that I needed to make a new record. I just started working on it. It was very much ‘Let’s just record these songs we have,’ and after that there was no plan.”

The record sat in limbo for two years until powerhouse Toronto indie label Arts & Crafts picked it up last fall.

“I’ve been around them for a long time, and it felt very natural,” Reg notes, and he admits to having received offers from smaller labels as well. “But they were the best deal for me. Arts & Crafts are putting my record out for the world, which is nice.”

Indeed, the label founded and headlined by Broken Social Scene is putting Gentleman Reg in a much better position than he could have anticipated even a year ago. Aside from releasing the record in Canada, they’re also releasing a compilation of his previous work in the United States and Europe. The international introduction is a little jarring for Reg, who has garnered national attention since his first record, The Theoretical Girl, made him a hit with Canadian indie music fans.

“It’s a little bit strange. It’s technically my fourth record, but in so many ways, it’s the first that anyone is ever going to hear. It’s strange, but it makes sense in a lot of ways. I wouldn’t want anyone to hear that first record—I actually wouldn’t want to be associated with it now!”

The new material is a big change in direction for the Guelph-born rocker, following 2005’s Darby & Joan, a romantic collection of sentimental pop ballads.

On Jet Black, Reg lowers his trademark fey tenor voice to a baritone, and surrounds knowing lyrics with muscular guitar riffs, most of which were provided by The Constantines’ Bry Webb.

The songs also take a more downbeat worldview. The album’s standout track, “You Can’t Get it Back,” is an ode to remorse in all its forms.

“There’s not a big point to hanging onto regrets,” says Reg. “You can’t get the time back, you can’t get the innocence back.”

The rest of the album seems similarly obsessed with the passing of time. Tracks like “How We Exit” and “Rewind” reflect a general downtrodden tone, maintaining a consistent, harder-edged, guitar-rock sheen.

It’s on the album’s sole danceable track, “We’re in a Thunderstorm,” that the idea of turmoil is most pronounced and literalized, while “To Some it Comes Easy” and “Falling Back” temper the idea of tragedy with a weary acceptance.

For Reg, the album’s title reflects a whole new state of mind.

“[Jet Black is] a reflection of the change in direction and what I wanted to put out there. We rocked out a little bit more. I actually don’t know why it happened. There were some ballads, but we decided to keep them off this time.”

Despite this admission, Reg bristles at the thought that his music is becoming more masculine.

“Obviously, I’m very macho,” he blurts out sarcastically. “My music will never be masculine.”

Yet in spite of the newfound blackness in his lyrics, Reg still sees much cause for optimism.

“I’m very forward-looking right now, in so many ways. I’ve been cleaning out my apartment, getting rid of things I don’t need, and just looking at everything in my life. I’m getting ready to tour now, more than ever before. It’s a lot at once, but it’s good.”

Gentleman Reg plays the annual Chartattack Horseshoe showcase (368 Queen St. W.) tonight at 11 p.m. Single tickets are $20, and all-access wristbands for CMW are $50.

Boys who cried wolf

Alexander Ortiz is fluent in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and music.

“Music is an extension of the everyday for me,” explains the We Are Wolves bassist and singer over the phone, while relaxing with his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Paloma. “I speak French with my friends, English at school, and Spanish with my parents. So my music reflects all sorts of interactions.” On Total Magique, his latest album with We Are Wolves, Ortiz’s conversations are hinted at through trilingual track names. His sources of inspiration, though, go far beyond the aural.

“I also love looking at interesting architecture…it can become a song, or a song can become art. My real dream is to become a contemporary artist,” he says. “I’d love to do conceptual installations and sculptures.”

Ortiz, along with bandmate Vincent Levesque, came to music through the visual art world, learning his craft through jam sessions rather than professional training. The tribal, primal energy of We Are Wolves emerges from this spontaneity. “We learned from being together, from allowing the emergence of feeling from inside,” he says.

We Are Wolves’ unique sound stems from the way they combine this raw emotion with analog synthesizer tones. “We’re really inspired by sounds from the ’70s and ’80s, especially bands like Kraftwerk and Trans Am. The texture is just more appealing, there’s more colour behind it.”

The resulting post-punk mayhem of We Are Wolves is equal parts Velvet Underground and Atari gaming system, sounds which sometimes purposely clash but are generally complementary. The lead track on Total Magique, “Fight and Kiss,” is upbeat and catchy, but its dark undertones deepen the sound. This explains Ortiz’s opposition to “stuff that’s digital, cheesy, commercial. Like, you know the bass line for Seinfeld? I love Seinfeld, I watch it so much, but that bass line is just bad, bad, bad!”

We Are Wolves lack originality only in their choice of name, frequently being confused with fellow Montréalers Wolf Parade and English crooner Patrick Wolf, among others. “Yeah, I think wolves were just the cool thing five years ago,” laughs Ortiz. “Since then, you’ve had a lot of bands with the word ‘black’ in the name, and then a ‘crystal’ phase with Crystal Castles and Crystal Antlers. But it’s so hard for a band to find a name. You just have to hope it pops out. When it does, you know it comes from the heart.”

Their naming strategy seems to have worked—We Are Wolves were on tour in England and Germany this month before returning home for Canadian Music Week. On Thursday night, they’ll be taking part in Sirius Radio’s Vive la Musique Montréal line-up at the El Mocambo, and on Friday, they’re opening for London indie rockers Bloc Party at the Kool Haus. “We love Bloc Party,” declares Ortiz. “It’s a real honour to be playing with them.”

But while you’ll only see three people onstage at their shows, We Are Wolves has a self-proclaimed fourth member: rock. Just as music is a fourth language for Ortiz, it’s also a bandmate, a near-physical presence: “Music is just part of our lives. That’s just how it is.”

Catch one of We Are Wolves’ shows this weekend, and you’ll hear exactly what he means.

We Are Wolves play the El Mocambo (464 Spadina Ave.) tonight at 11 p.m., and the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay E.) tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Single tickets for both shows are sold out, and all-access wristbands for CMW are $50.