Putting democracy to the test

The Democratic presidential contest intensifies with every passing day. It’s those who whine about the prolonged process that extend the race. As cutthroat as the competition between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appears to be, the primaries are extraordinary assets to their campaigns, as well as the party. Each of the candidates has accumulated record amounts of money and voter turnout from state to state, effectively outnumbering Republican support. The invigorated Democratic electorate has shown, and continues to show, that this long and drawn-out process isn’t limiting their enthusiasm one bit. Democrats are eager to reclaim a country that has suffered at the hands of the current administration, and they’re not ready to give it over to another Bush clone.

The presumptive GOP candidate, Sen. John McCain, holds overwhelming similarities to the current president and his unsuccessful policies, conjuring up visions of a third Bush term. It’s obvious that he’s not running a campaign of change like his rivals. That could explain why he hasn’t been as prosperous as the Democratic contenders, or why the energy and enthusiasm of McCain supporters is incomparable to those of Obama and Clinton. The ideas he has put forth lack the idealism of his opponents, and have yet to resonate with voters. Extending the Iraq War for another 50 or 100 years doesn’t sit well with Americans or with the struggling, war-torn economy. His hopes of proclaiming victory in the bloodied region are unattainable, despite a surge in troops. Along with his recent displays of incompetence in regards to foreign policy in Iraq, many scrutinize his claims to expertise in foreign affairs.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Senators Obama and Clinton have faced tough criticism from rival camps, Republicans, and media pundits. Both candidates have had difficulty trying to overcome the racial and gender stereotypes that are deeply entrenched in the American psyche. Obama has opened up new levels of dialogue to bridge the gap between conflicting racial groups. Clinton has proven that, despite challenges imposed on her as woman, she possesses the leadership skills to make her a formidable candidate. While they have have miles to go before the showdown at the Democratic National Convention in August, upcoming primaries in Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are shaping up to be highly climactic races.

Senator Clinton had a substantial lead over her rival in Pennsylvania for a while, but as the campaigning for blue-collar votes heats up, Senator Obama is inching higher in the polls. Recent numbers place them in a statistical tie, but polls tend to fluctuate like the temperature. It’s too early to assume a winner, but we can say for certain that this year’s highly-contested primary process is putting democracy through a rigorous obstacle course. Americans have every right to challenge, scrutinize, and pick apart these candidates. Voters see two individuals who have a common vision in improving healthcare and education, stabilizing the weary economy and initiating troop withdrawal from Iraq. Now it’s just a matter of selecting the best candidate to unite the nation across partisan lines. This is perhaps more difficult than casting a ballot in November, but I’m confident that the electorate will choose the most qualified individual to defeat Sen. John McCain. If they don’t, they might end up with George Bush 2.0.

Final Score: Blues year in review

Women’s Volleyball: A-

The team boasted strong regular season, finishing first in the East with a record of 17-2, and a CIS ranking of ninth overall. The Blues came up short in the finals, losing to McMaster, finishing as silver medalists. Caley Venn, Heather Bansley, Mila Miguel, Asya Danilova, and Michelle Wood were all named OUA allstars, while Kristine Drakich was named the Coach of the Year. Despite dropping a gold medal match to a strong McMaster squad, the Blues had a great year, on the right track to improve upon it next year.

Women’s Basketball: A

The 2007-2008 season was a great success for women’s basketball. With a season record of 18-4, the Blues cruised into the OUA Playoffs knocking off Carleton and rival York before losing in the finals against the McMaster Marauders. They still made it to the CIS tournament, the first time U of T has made this tournament in women’s basketball since 2002. While the Blues lost both matches, making an appearance shows strong team chemistry under Coach of the Year Michele Belanger.

Women’s Hockey: B+

The 6th ranked women’s hockey team had an improved season from the last. The Blues finished the regular term with a 20-5-1-1, second place five points behind the Laurier Golden Hawks. After winning the OUA bronze medal last year, the Blues improved, making it to the OUA finals this year dropping two games against Laurier. This was due to conference-leading scorer Janine Davies, awarded with her first All-Canadian award, while goaltender Stephanie Lockert was awarded her second. While the Blues strengthened one position, they have moved closer to an OUA gold .

Men’s Basketball: B

After a stellar season going 17-5, the Blues gained home court advantage for the OUA semi-finals against the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Disappointment came when the Blues were defeated by Ottawa for the second year in a row, 63-60. On the positive, 5th year guard Michael Degiorgio and 3rd year guard Robert Paris were both named First Year All-Stars, while Coach Mike Katz won the first Coach of the Year award for U of T since Ken Olynyk’s win in ‘95. But with such a strong season, the Blues playoff run was a stinker.

Men’s Hockey: C

For the first time in seven years, men’s hockey were not Mid-East Champions, finishing 13-13-0-2, one point behind the Queens Golden Gaels. Throughout the year the Blues only showed fl ashes of dominance, with a lack of long-term runs of strong play. In the OUA playoffs, the Blues were defeated in the quarter finals by the Ottawa Gee-Gees in three games. U of T was in the process of a slight rebuilding as they lost captain Simon Barg and last years OUA MVP goaltender Ryan Grinnell. Key players stepped up to fill the void as the team’s second leading scorer Mark Heatley was named a First Team All Star, and forward Anthony Pallotta and defensemen Ed Snetsinger named the Second Team All Stars. After last season’s playoff success swept the 9th ranked team in the nation, the McGill Redmen, this season ended with a whimper as the Blues streak of Mid-East titles was halted in the improving, but weak, Mid-East division.

Men’s Volleyball: D+

With a season record of 7-13-9, men’s volleyball had a rough season, finishing eighth in the OUA. While facing contention in January, the Blues were unable to secure the last playoff spot. Still the team ended their season strong, defeating the Winsor Lancers, an upset of the fourth seed Western Mustangs. Stephen Kung was honoured with CIS second team All-Canadian, along with a first team All Star nod. Last year the Blues were eliminated from the OUA playoffs in the quarter finals by the McMaster Marauders, with six games under .500 and an absence from the playoffs a step in the wrong direction for men’s volleyball.

The future of channel surfing?

Now that most of us take broadband for granted, budding filmmakers are using the net as a medium to mass-market creative ideas in a new format known as the webseries. Released periodically just like episodes of a television show, the webseries industry is burgeoning (hey, even Michael Cera has one called Clark and Michael). Creating a webseries is a great way for young upstarts to broadcast their capabilities to the industry while telling a great story. It’s like being in an indie band, but for TV and Film. Here, we evaluate two new Canadian webseries, Take Me Back, and Team Epic to check in on the quality of content in this new medium.

Take Me Back (Spinseeker Films)

CONCEPT: Kidnapped after coming into possession of a mysterious gadget, Al is imprisoned in a dilapidated attic while a doppelganger lives his life for him.

CHARACTERS: Al, played by series cocreator Seth Mendelson, is your typical indie kid. He loves riding his bike, writing down his thoughts, and flirting awkwardly with an artsy girl in a leg cast. Once imprisoned in the attic he is tormented by an enigmatic man in a silver mask, and must use the seemingly random contents of the room to figure out what the hell is going on. Take Me Back also has a good sense of humour. Watching Al decide to improvise a pair of deer antlers into a weapon is hilarious. With the obvious exception of the masked interloper, Take Me Back’s characters are imbued with everything necessary to make them into a believable slice of contemporary urban existence. That being said, it’s also like watching the weirdest day of your best friend’s life.

PRODUCTION VALUE: With Mendelson and partner Joe Baron at the helm, Take Me Back’s cinematography and editing are top notch, as is the original score, which fits the series’ spooky sci-fi slant.

FUTURE PROSPECTS: Just launched this week, Take Me Back will drop ten five-minute episodes over the next ten weeks. Based on the first three segments, this series looks promising, with the potential to become a prime-time web addiction.

PASS/FAIL: Pass

WATCH IT: www.tmbtheseries.com

Team Epic (Poetic Licence Productions)

CONCEPT: Toronto is the backdrop for a Canadian-themed super-hero saga.

CHARACTERS: Captain Epic (the Team’s leader) has got to be up there with Aqualad and The Red Bee as one of the lamest superheroes of all time. His Mountiered bodysuit is a total eyesore while an overly earnest demeanor just plays up Canadian stereotypes that 99 per cent of us want to forget. Epic’s sidekicks include a whole host of ill-conceived, ill-costumed characters, not the least of which is Master Brood whose goth apparel and emo attitude only enhance the complete ridiculousness of his cardboard delivery. Watching Master Brood on screen is like chewing a mouthful of lemon slices—seriously. Ironically, the only bright light in the cast is Peter Higginson, who plays the dark villain Bernard Embers. In reality, Higginson is the only real superhero here; he has the amazing ability to turn a terrible script into the only believable character.

PRODUCTION VALUE: While Team Epic benefits from TV-quality cinematography, special effects and editing, it is mortally wounded by some of the worst dialogue and acting I have ever seen. Maybe it’s the actors, or perhaps the director is unable to elicit quality performances, but the series is marred by inconsistent accents (The Seeker in particular), obvious stumbles, awkward word emphasis, and botched moments. Not to mention that each episode is an agonizing 45-minutes long, which is a sad waste because the crew obviously has the tools to make something far better.

FUTURE PROSPECTS: Style kicks the ass of substance in this showdown. The writing team, wardrobe designer and acting coach (if there even is one) have got to go if there is to be any future for Team Epic.

PASS/FAIL: Fail

WATCH IT: teamepic.tv

Farewell from the Arts Editor

I started working for The Varsity before I had even set foot in a U of T classroom. My first assignment as a cub theatre reporter was to interview veteran director David Gardner about a production of As You Like It at Hart House Theatre. About three hours after doing the interview I attended my first lecture, a poli sci class at Alumni Hall.

In the years since, I’ve been lucky enough to write for many campus publications like the Mike and the Independent, and to be a part of the editor’s collective of The Gargoyle. But my true home on campus has always been here at The Varsity.

Working my way from contributor to staff writer to associate arts editor, I became the editor of this section two years ago. Now after four years, writing literally hundreds of articles, it is time for me to step aside and let someone new take my place.

This job is not an easy one. As anyone who works at The Varsity can attest, the Arts section receives about ten times as much promotional mail and email as the other sections combined. Sifting through it all is like playing Sisyphus. The twice-weekly publishing schedule is journalistic trial-by-fire—amazing experience, but sometimes overwhelming in the face of academic commitments. On that note, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all my professors, instructors, and TAs who have been sympathetic and supportive of my work here at The Varsity.

But one section does not make a newspaper, and there are many people here at The Varsity who make my work possible. First I’d like to thank our production manager Rogelio Briseño, whose Job-like patience, and artistic eye benefits us all during long production nights. I’d also like to thank my predecessor Tabassum Siddiqui, who first recruited me to write for The Varsity all those years ago. It’s really scary to think where I’d be had we never met!

Finally, I’d also like to thank our EIC Chandler Levack for her help and guidance, my two associate editors, Rob Duffy and Naomi Skwarna, my film team Radheyan Simonpillai and Will Sloan, the entire editorial staff, our yeoman-like general manager David Levine, and my staff writers for making all of this possible. Thanks for a great run, and thank you for reading.— JORDAN BIMM

If anyone wants to keep tabs, my work will continue to appear in NOW Magazine.

Mudslinging ASSU elections go to round two

Sitting president Ryan Hayes is questioning the results of ASSU’s March 18 presidential elections. Hayes was challenged in the election by a group of executive candidates known as “ASSU is US.” Colum Grove-White, a member of the challenging bloc, beat Hayes for the position of president. For his part, Hayes is taking issue with the conduct of the election meeting.

“From my perspective, this was the worst meeting I have ever been to in my three years here and consisted of the lowest form of politics—repeated personal attacks and slander.”

Hayes explained that there was not enough time in the meeting to complete the elections. “It went far over time and people had to leave.” An emergency meeting has been scheduled for this Thursday to discuss the election.

However, those belonging to the “ASSU is US” group say the election was valid, and that holding an emergency meeting is unnecessary.

Grove-White argued that “in ASSU’s past, when a meeting went over the allotted time, members would stay, or move to a new room and finish off the business if necessary.” Grove-White also flatly rejected any ideas of running another executive race.

“Not a presidential election, it would be completely undemocratic. Council elected me, and Hayes and his supporters have planned to stack Council, nullify the elections, and elect him at this new meeting.” It is unclear if and when a decision will be reached.

Grove-White thinks his options are limited. “There is nothing I can do at this next meeting,” he said. “I feel bad for Arts and Science Students that they may have to endure another year of Ryan Hayes and his antics. I feel bad for those Council members who supported me.”

Loan on me

You will never forget your university years. These are not the best years of your life—at least, we hope not. Nope, these are just the years that you will be paying for during the best years of your life. It’s scary but true: someday soon, the government will stop putting cash in your pocket, and start siphoning off your paycheque. So how do student loans work?

Your “principal” is the dollar amount that you have borrowed. You must pay that back, but you’ll also have to pay back interest—that’s the price of borrowed money. The total amount owed depends on the size of your principal, the interest rate, and how much you dole out each month. If you have a bank loan, that’s about all we can tell you. Say a brief prayer, and give them a call.

OSAP loans are more clear-cut. You can start paying back your loans as soon as you graduate, and it’s worth trying, as interest starts to build immediately. In most cases, payments must start by your “consolidation date,” six months after you finish university, or stop being a full-time student. (Watch out: if you drop from full-time to parttime, you will likely have to start loan payments.) On your consolidation date, you can either pay the interest that has accrued over the last six months, or add the amount to your principal.

An interest rate is a fixed amount above the economy’s best (“prime”) interest, and it will change. You can fix your interest rate if you are willing to pay the current prime rate plus 5 per cent. Without clairvoyance, The Varsity can’t tell you if this is a good deal, and neither can most economists. If you have trouble making payments, you may qualify for interest relief or debt reduction. Both quire a lot of red tape, but might be worth your while.

How much will you actually pay? Average student debt in Ontario is $25,000.OSAP’s repayment calculator (which you can try yourself on their website) suggests $327 per month for 9.5 years. (That’s a total of $37,278.)

Unfortunately, minimum monthly payments also depend on income. If you get a high-paying job, your OSAP payments may go up—the increase could even cancel out your raise. But in the long run, at a higher monthly payment, you at least escape some interest. Your grandchildren will thank you.

Equity gets an F for effort

At a board meeting held just after vandals burned the bulletin board outside of Scarborough campus LGBTQ’s Positive Space office, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union announced that SCSU directors would undergo mandatory equity training. The only problem is that the training date, April 11, is the last day of SCSU’s term.

Poor scheduling aside, this isn’t the student union’s first brush with equity problems. Throughout the year, numerous public complaints have been lodged about the union’s VP students and equity, Ahmad Jaballah. Much of Jaballah’s work has focused on faith, and critics say he has failed to address issues like accessibility, campus safety and LGBTQ issues.

The aforementioned arson was the most recent instance when Jaballah’s reaction was criticized. The incident happened on March 29, when an unknown individual lit the indoor bulletin board on fire. News of the incident went out within minutes, and while letters of support came in to the understandably alarmed LGBTQ group over the next few days, Jaballah made little response. His name appeared at the bottom of a letter from SCSU president Rob Wulkan that was sent to all students on March 31, but only as contact information.

During the emergency board meeting the Monday immediately following the arson, Jaballah was absent attending to other SCSU-related business. SCSU chair Zuhair Syed explained that Jaballah was occupied at the time, photocopying posters for an interfaith event later that week.

“Couldn’t he have done that some other time?” remarked Chris Smith, SCSU’s VP internal.

Wulkan expressed similar sentiments. “It was a pretty lame excuse for missing the board meeting,” he said. “He should have been there. He’s paid to be there.”

Jaballah receives a $14,000 salary for his position. He has already been issued strong censures by the SCSU for failing to complete his duties. Unsatisfied by these measures, several campus groups brought forth a petition in mid-March, calling for his resignation. The SCSU ultimately voted against Jaballah’s removal, but nearly half the board was absent.

On March 31, the board passed two motions responding to the arson, decrying the actions as hateful and homophobic. Also present at that meeting was LGBTQ coordinator David Leaman, one of the students who petitioned to fire Jaballah, and the creator of the Facebook group “Stop Homophobia at UTSC.” Leaman had been upset by SCSU’s earlier decision to keep Jaballah on staff, and had mixed feelings of their handling of the matter.

“It’s depressing,” he said of Jaballah’s absence at that meeting. “But at least this time the rest of the board didn’t give us the finger.”

It’s been a hell of a year

I’ve been rewriting this editorial since November, trying to come up with the perfect depiction of what a student newspaper editor endures. Yes, I’ve slept in my office. Yes, my GPA is lower than a high school meth head. Yes, my inbox is littered with psychosomatic pleas from enterprising publicists begging The Varsity to review a band named Tequila Mockingbird. But honestly, I can’t complain. I have the greatest job on campus, and it occasionally keeps me in Tankhouse Ale and skinny jeans. I get to edit The Varsity.

Which is why it is so hard to step away from, even for a summer.

Beginning in September, I was riddled with imposter syndrome. Begging anyone with a prior masthead position for advice, they all said the same thing. “You’ll have some crazy people who want the paper to more leftist, or more in tune with conservative concerns… people who want the paper to be more purple, whatever,” said one current Globe columnist. “You can’t please anyone, it’s impossible. Most of the time it’s impossible to even please yourself.”

What I didn’t anticipate were the twiceweekly vampire shifts of 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., nightmares of misplaced photo credits, hordes of student politicians barraging me in Sid Smith about our coverage of the Student Commons referendum when all I wanted was some Dunkaroos. It’s sad to say, but becoming entrenched in campus concerns has actually made me more apathetic. I now understand how complicated the University of Toronto is, that diversity does not always breed idealism, that the administration is happiest with a bastion of disenfranchised commuters. If we don’t make a sound, no one has to listen. If we make light of an organization actually voicing the increasing corporatization and lack of government funding (no matter how ineffective cries of “Shaamme” might be), we align ourselves with the very forces contrary to what a University should endorse.

Varsity alumni Mark Kingwell once asked what purpose the university experience should serve. Is it a socialization agent intended to turn quivering frosh into ready-made adults, approaching the workforce with keg-stands and dorm-room threesomes behind us? Is it an arena for intellectual exploration, that pretentious Art History T.A. aside? Or is it merely a holding arena until we finally get it together? What purpose does the university serve, and why do we endure it? And if it’s not to assure your parents that you are “doing something with your life,” then what are you doing?

What are you doing?

The Varsity masthead is just as scared as you are. Student editors are a strange breed—living on leftover beer and stale cigarettes while munching reimbursed pizza and correcting semi-colons, producing stories the majority of students will either ignore or become incensed by. While most use Varsity‘s as makeshift napkins for their Second Cup latte spills, others write letters complaining of “journalistic bias,” due to a headline drummed up at 3 a.m. It’s strictly a labour of love, and the relationship we have to it is passionate, duplicitous, and definitely unconditional. I feel the same way about my co-workers, who are the most inspiring, intelligent, and hilarious masthead one could dream of. I would especially like to thank Jordan Bimm, who I owe most of my greatest Varsity moments to. Over the years, he has been a mentor, smoking partner, and a close confidant. And after his four years at the paper, we will miss his presence sorely.

The weather’s getting warmer, and all you have left are post-colonialist essays, finding a sublet, and job application forms. To all those soaking Varsity‘s in hazelnut foam right now, I wish you the best of summers, the first of many on your post-university experience.


Sincerely yours,
Chandler Levack
Editor In Chief
The Varsity Newspaper
2007/2008