Breaking up UTSU’s balancing act

Students highly critical of UTSU’s officially neutral stance on the $18 levy Bubble plebiscite held an event entitled “Take Back Your Student Union” on Wednesday, March 19. The event consisted of a series of workshops and discussions aimed at pushing the student union’s executive board toward taking strong stances on social justice issues.

The day-long event ran from noon to 9 p.m. in UTSU’s main building. Numerous participatory workshops and art-based activities drew a circulating crowd of students throughout the day.

Talks included was “Police Brutality and Systemic Racism,” a discussion given by Rodney Patricio, vice-chair of the National Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance. Patricio spoke about Filipino youth

According to Patricio, Filipinos walking in groups of more than fi ve are often automatically stopped and asked for ID.

“The police would label a group as a gang, as opposed to just friends, because they were walking in groups,” he said.

Event organizer Ryan Hayes said that student unions have historically been at the forefront of movements for social justice equity, which include movements to stop fee increases.

“The purpose of this event was to bring students together and make a statement of what we think a student union looks like,” he said.

Hayes applauded student unions raising broader issues, such as workers’ rights, poverty, and war.

The day included a discussion about student unionism in Latin America and a video screening presented by Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

Xavier LaFrance, an organizer of 2005’s student strike over tuition in Quebec, moderated a discussion on eliminating all tuition and ancillary fees.

“These events are generally things that the union hasn’t taken positions on in the past,” said Hadia Akhtar, UTSU associate VP university affairs.

“We’re really just trying to create awareness as to what a student union is for, in positions of things, and to not be neutral,” said Akhtar.

The rise of technopolitics

Just in case you needed further evidence that presidential hopefuls are employing that burgeoning area of message distribution, social media—aka, everything on the Internet including social networks, blogs, and websites— just search for the Will.I.Am and Obama music video, “Yes We Can,” on Youtube.

But is the Internet simply a new way of communicating the old message, or are they changing the nature of our politics? That was the topic for discussion at “The Permanent Campaign: The Impact of Technology on Politics,” held at the MaRS building on Tuesday afternoon. Speakers included U of T alum and CBC industry analyst Jesse Hirsh, Dr. Greg Elmer, Ryerson professor and director of the Infoscape Research Lab, and Andrew Coyne, national editor at Maclean’s magazine.

A permanent campaign is one that continues off TV screens and away from public appearances, running around the clock through media such as the Internet. The idea of the permanent campaign is nothing new: though first defined by Jimmy Carter’s advisor Patrick Caddell, it has been around for 200 years.

But, added the conference’s experts, in the political climate of the information age—with its expanded cultural politics, easier transnational travel, increased competition within TV media itself, and the development of social media—the permanent campaign is a must. This kind of marketing requires a large number of decidedly partisan staff and volunteers, usually taking the form of extremely opinionated bloggers. This may be where the Internet has changed politics the most: blogs have become an important part of the election process to influence political writers in more traditional newsmedia.

Perhaps the turn to web-based campaigning is a rehash of a simpler time when people would have known their candidates through face-to-face meetings. Although Internet campaigning and social media is still small in its influence compared to television and public appearances, social media is an area in which uncensored opinions can be divulged and people can contest a statement publicly without regard to political correctness. In this way, the biases that would have been imposed through television and newspapers can be removed. Videos on Youtube and Facebook profiles might seem to divulge more about the personality of each candidate. Social media may change what it means for a candidate to win office based on reputation.

Rez fees go through the leaky roof

Students in residence at New College are nervously rebudgeting at the news that their rent will rise 20 per cent next fall. Many are organizing in opposition—the New College Residence Council and the student activists AlwaysQuestion have planned a protest for Thursday, March 20. New College is looking for a way out of a financial sinkhole dating back at least to the double cohort, but principal Rick Halpern said the fee increase was planned for years, and is not meant to fix the college’s large deficit.

Even if the hike isn’t a direct response to the financial woes, the decision to spring it the all at once, rather than rolling it out over several years, is calculated to shock.

“I saw it as a political intervention whereby I could get the Provost and Simcoe Hall to respond to the college’s situation,” said Halpern. That situation is an operating deficit of $2.3 million for this year alone. Halpern said he hopes to renegotiate the mortgage for 45 Willcocks and sell several floors of the building back to Simcoe Hall.

Halpern defended the increase on the grounds that it brought New College residence fees in lines with other colleges’. To some students, this argumnet fell flat.

“There is a reason why New College has the lowest-price residence,” said Ann Marie Chung, president of the New College Residence Council. “The other two buildings, Wilson and Wetmore, have been in a state of disrepair for a long time.”

The original–and, most would now concede, flawed–business plan for 45 Willcocks suggested that profits from Wilson and Wetmore could pay down the mortgage for the new residence. But the leaky older buildings have not paid off their own 40-plus-year-old mortgages. Willcocks’ original plan predicted 100 per cent occupancy all year round, an assumption Halpern pronounced “ridiculous.”

The chances of U of T bailing out the college with a the college a no-interest loan look slim. In a possible sign of a new approach to ancillary services at U of T, the university is insisting that New College get its financial affairs in order on its own. A report, to be presented to the University Affairs Board next Tuesday, suggests that instead of receiving subsidies from the university, ancillary services should actually produce funds for the university. In fact, the report predicts that by 2013, ancillary services will make U of T a profit to the tune of $1.9 million.

Thursday’s protest meets at 1 p.m. in the New College quad.


You might already know Parisian record label Ed Banger as the home of ultra-hip artists like Justice, Uffie, and Mr. Flash—so what were they doing repping at the corner of College and Robert on Thursday night? The answer is on the cover of nearly every Ed Banger release: the artwork of graphic designer So Me.

The inaugural exhibit of Studio Gallery (formerly known as Ourspace) had an impressive audience in attendance to lavish praise on So Me’s North American debut, Portraits.

Influenced by everything from ’60s French comic books to graffiti, and the mastermind behind award-winning music videos for Justice, DJ Mehdi, and Kanye West, So Me’s work has exploded internationally in the past few years. As an expression of Banger’s love for Toronto, So Me even created a series in his trademark style exclusively for the T-dot— vintage Jays caps and all.

Aptly titled Portraits, the exhibit is a magenta- heavy ode to the face of Ed Banger, namely the label’s founder and director, Pedro “Busy-P” Winters. So Me imagines Winter’s face in a variety of different contexts, even as an Olympic weightlifter—collect them all!

The special media preview for the exhibit featured the artist in attendance, alongside the dudes from Justice, fresh from their sold-out Sunday night gig at the Sound Academy, and Busy P, whose face was distributed to the guests in the form of both masks and buttons.

The preview party ran a little behind schedule with a slight air of frustration vented by the organizers, as a large portion of the evening was spent in a stark white-walled room awaiting the mounting of the artwork. However, Studio Gallery curator and U of T alumna Vanessa Gronowski maintained her optimism, patiently explaining that they had “just received the art yesterday.”

As it turns out, a laser printer in another room was birthing the pieces one by one as So Me’s crew frantically mounted them in frames, with volunteers rushing them straight to the walls for viewing.

One of the many magenta portraits of Busy P depicts a wet paintbrush in an artist’s hand over a half-completed face. With my broken French I was able to get in a brief word with So Me. “Always last minute!” he proclaimed. A sentiment I’m sure almost every artist can understand.

Located above the Savannah Room at 294 College St., Portraits runs from March 21 until May 17, 7-10 p.m. Check for more info.

Bubble vote overblown

Threats, fines, and weeks of campaigning— it could all have been for nothing if the Bubble plebiscite turns out to be a colossal waste of time.

UTSU’s election officials have advised that the results of this month’s bubble vote be tossed out. The plebiscite on whether or not to fund operations of the Varsity Centre was a nonbinding referendum in which 56 per cent of students supported the permanent levy of $18 per year to fund the Varsity Centre’s operation costs.

UTSU’s Election and Referenda Committee reached the decision at a marathon meeting that concluded late on the evening of Sunday, March 2. ERC chair Faraz Siddiqui confirmed that the committee had determined that pro-levy Yes campaigners had exceeded their $2,000 limit on campaign expenses. The campaign ran four quarter-page colour advertisements in The Varsity. “I respected that limit with a maximum total spending of $1955.64 on our campaign,” said Masha Sidorova, who led the Yes campaign. Sidorova said this number included $1,800 for the four ads, which were bought through an agency. The Varsity does not disclose individual ad rates.

The ERC, however, ruled that they would consider only the normal market price of the advertisements.

The decision was made just over a week after the ERC fined and penalized No campaigners for sending a coercive email to members of the Unite U of T slate.

UTSU is not required to accept the ERC’s recommendation, nor are they required to act on the results of the plebiscite. “I am confident that this recommendation will be revisited and defeated at the Board meeting on Monday. I trust that the Board will respect the results of the plebiscite as they were achieved in a fair manner,” said Sidorova.

The levy must be approved by the Council On Student Services, whose 17-member voting board includes four UTSU representatives. If UTSU does accept the outcome of the vote, these four will vote in favour of the levy. APUS and GSU, who together have four representatives on COSS, have said that they will oppose the levy regardless. The seven individuals representing administration have a history of supporting ancillary fee increases, and can be expected to vote for the levy.

UTSU’s representatives are expected to be the deciding votes on the otherwise deadlocked board.

To Iraq and back again

Ryan Phillippe stars in Stop Loss as an Iraq war veteran who has to choose between returning to the war zone and disobeying his country.

During his Oscar monologue, Jon Stewart remarked, “The films that were made about the Iraq war [in 2007], let’s face it, did not do as well. But I’m telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in theatres we can turn this around.”

Indeed, following the box office failures of In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Rendition, and Lions for Lambs, the landscape for Iraq-themed Hollywood fare does not look promising. Still, another has crept in under the wire: Stop Loss, the latest from Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), starring Ryan Phillippe, Victor Rasuk, Rob Brown, and Channing Tatum, a cast that would make any reasonable male momentarily question his sexuality.

The film is about an American soldier (Ryan Phillippe) in the Iraq war forced into serving beyond his discharge date as part of stop-loss, an actual U.S. military policy. Displeased, he runs away, hoping to make it to Washington to explain his situation to his congressman. His experience stands in contrast to that of his friend (Channing Tatum), who plans to return on his umpteenth tour of duty because it’s the only job he can excel at.

“Stop-loss is essentially a backdoor draft,” said Ryan Phillippe in an interview with The Varsity. “People are being forced into combat who don’t want to be there any longer, and I think that’s a pretty terrible situation to put a person in. But hopefully— and this is the way I truly feel about the direction the country’s going— the war is going to end, and we won’t have to be dealing with this in the same capacity. I think that we’re going to get somebody else in there and a new group of people who are going to make a difference.”

This is Kimberly Peirce’s first movie since Boys Don’t Cry. She spent several of the intervening years trying to launch Silent Star, a film about the murder of William Desmond Taylor that was to star Hugh Jackman and Annette Bening. After that project collapsed, she sold Stop Loss to Paramount on spec, unusual for an established filmmaker.

“My brother was fighting in Iraq, and on his leave he brought back videos,” said Peirce. “So I was in my bedroom and heard, ‘Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!’ I went in the living room and I saw him staring at this television at images that soldiers had shot with handheld cameras—[they] put them on a sandbag, or wired them to their humvee—and then they would go back to their barracks and they would cut them together. So I saw that and I was mesmerized. I was like, ‘This is an anthropological find. This is this generation’s war; this is how they’re experiencing it. The movie needs to come from that.’ I took those videos and cut those into a five-minute trailer, went to the studio with a script, five-minute trailer, and I was like, ‘This is the movie.’”

Peirce put a lot of preparation into the making of Stop Loss. “I was interviewing soldiers who were both pro- and anti-war the entire time, and I was taking from their stories these essential truths. So now when soldiers see it, I’m very happy to say that they really love it.”

“In America, the soldiers say, ‘This is my life. This is happening to me, I’m stop-lossed.’ Wives write in, ‘This is happening to us. My husband is not seeing the birth of our child because of stop-loss.’”

Selling Stop Loss to the general public will be a challenge for Paramount Pictures given the apathy shown to previous Iraq films. They have an interesting strategy, though: the poster features the ab-tastic cast wearing tight t-shirts and spread out around a car like something out of an Abercrombie ad. Best of all, Paramount will be partnering in distribution with MTV Films, of all things. Eat your heart out, Paul Haggis!

TTC cries poor

New legislation will soon replace the existing policy for budget surpluses, which currently directs all surpluses towards eliminating Ontario’s current debt of $160.8 billion. Of the targeted $800 million surplus, $600 million will be spent to reduce provincial debt and any outstanding funds will be distributed among Ontario municipalities based on population size. The GTA will see an estimated $40 million, or 20 per cent, of the remaining funds.

“Investing in municipal infrastructure not only addresses the capital needs of our communities, but it also creates more jobs in the short term and prosperity in the long run,” says the Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan.

Adam Giambrone, chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, criticized the province for not pursuing improved student transit options. “It has never crossed the province’s mind to make a U-Pass for students,” he said. The TTC has offered university students a bulksavings U-Pass, which gives unlimited TTC use for eight months at a cost of $480, but would be mandatory for all students. The lack of an opt-out has prevented any student union from accepting the UPass deal so far.

The decline of Denys Arcand?

Days of Darkness, the latest from famed Quebecois director Denys Arcand, has not ranked high on anyone’s list of the director’s finest achievements. Allegedly the third part of a trilogy that began with The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and continued with The Barbarian Invasions (2003), this new film feels more like a lighthearted American Beauty with touches of Brazil. While early reviews have been harsh (an inevitable problem with following a work as important as The Barbarian Invasions), the film undoubtedly would have benefited from another rewrite to iron out some of the sloppiness in the script. Still, Days of Darkness emerges as one of the more entertaining mid-life crisis films of recent years. It’s that rare thing: a genuinely enjoyable art house flick.

Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Labreche) is a mousy, middle-aged civil servant who’s a dead-ringer for U.S. talk show host Alan Colmes. His day alternates between a stifling job and an even more stifling life at home, where his frigid wife and daughters ignore him. Leblanc’s only solace comes from a large pornography collection and his outrageous fantasies of a life with wealth and power. Fantasy is easy to spot: they usually end with a stunning woman demanding sex.

Days of Darkness is not the polished work one might expect from a filmmaker of Arcand’s stature. The first hour grows fairly repetitive, and there’s a long, awkward scene at a medieval fair that could easily be confused with one of Leblanc’s dream sequences. It lacks the strong emotional centre of The Barbarian Invasions, but what it does have is a droll, biting sense of humour. There are lots of big laughs, particularly in Arcand’s depiction of an increasingly oppressive Quebec (the word “negro” is declared illegal and security guards track down smokers like Big Brother). Labreche too is very funny and believable in his suburban everyman role. Days of Darkness may be a lark, but it’s the smartest and funniest lark currently playing.