ASSU’s labour pains

The Arts and Science Union’s two remaining executives, Edward Wong and Sheila Hewlett, are facing the fallout from last spring’s contested election alone. Last week, interim provost Cheryl Misak froze ASSU’s funding and recommended a new election. In the wake of president Ryan Hayes’ resignation, the remaining execs are one vote short of quorum—according to their own constitution, they need at least one more member to make any decisions. This afternoon, ASSU will hold its regularly scheduled fall elections for four more executive members.

Wong and Hewlett have also inherited a tense working relationship between ASSU staff and some of last year’s execs.

ASSU has three full-time employees. Terry Buckland and Jane Seto Paul have worked there for 25 and 17 years respectively, according to the ASSU website. Ranjini Ghosh, former ASSU president (2002-04), was hired last fall.

The three have been working without a contract since their collective bargaining agreements expired last June. Staff have three pending grievances against ASSU, and negotiations can’t begin until they’re resolved.

None of the 2007-08 executives returned this year, though that could change with today’s exec elections. Ghosh said the changing of the guard hasn’t improved the working relationship: “I think it’s gotten worse, because in the summer the split [between the executives] didn’t exist as much. The staff didn’t have a say in how to run the office.”

Neither Wong nor the three staff members could comment on the pending grievances. If they can’t be resolved, both sides will split the cost of an arbitrator, which can run to to $3,000 or $4,000 per day. Morrison said the two sides will try to settle the grievances outside of arbitration.

Executive assistant Terry Buckland saw his role significantly scaled back last year. Buckland had traditionally attended exec meetings and taken minutes. Beginning last fall, he was no longer invited. The execs began taking minutes in turn and passing them among each other to fill in the blanks.

Buckland used to put together the budget for the execs’ approval. This year, he said, ASSU is working on it themselves: “I don’t have access to this year’s budget.”

Buckland is also president of the Association of Part-Time Students and has sat on different U of T committees in the past. Until last year, he said, he could easily take time off to attend various meetings. He no longer has that flexibility. “I am required to give one week’s notice,” he said. “And it’s very frustrating because sometimes you don’t get a week’s notice.”

Staff also voiced complaints of secrecy, condescending treatment, and disregard for their input. The office was re-arranged over Labour Day, said Ghosh, even though she told Hayes the new configuration only allows one photocopier to be plugged in at a time without blowing out all the sockets in the office. “If you come in the afternoon to the ASSU office, there’s at least 10 to 15 students waiting to photocopy tests.”

Seto Paul said staff wasn’t given the information they needed to run the day-to-day operations of the office. “It’s not been a very happy work environment,” she said. “It was a divided executive for most of the year. Staff wasn’t a part of a lot of things any more, we didn’t know what was going on.”

Eyes on the Prize

The Polaris Prize is an annual music award given to the best “full-length Canadian album, judged soly on artistic merit, without regard to genre or record sales.” It comes with a cheque for $20,000, which has been put to good use by previous winners. Rumour is that Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet donated half the money to his label, Blocks Recording Club, and Patrick Watson used the money to pay the damages on a Budget rental van that his band totalled. As you can see, the award might not be tabloid fodder just yet, but one lucky Canadian artist will hit the jackpot at the gala next week. The Varsity separates the contenders from those who suck.

Rob Duffy

Who will win

Shad — The Old Prince

Here’s hoping that Shad wins the 20 grand, because, as he admitted in the title of his new single, “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home.” Shad deserved the Polaris just for the video, which was a shot-for-shot remake of the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, played in reverse order to find Shad back at the nest, alone in his room.

Who should win

Caribou — Andorra

Caribou’s Dan Snaith crafted a genius formula with Andorra – Beach Boys vocals over a bed of 60s psychedelia that had legions of hipsters singing along to “Desiree.”

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Kathleen Edwards — Asking For Flowers

So let’s get this straight: there’s Sarah Harmer, Sarah Slean, Sarah McLachlan…why wasn’t Kathleen Edwards named Sarah? And didn’t Lilith Fair call it quits in 1999? Who still listens to this stuff?

Who should have been shortlisted

Cadence Weapon — Afterparty Babies

Denied two years ago, the Edmonton MC didn’t even make the short list this year. Let’s hope he’s still having fun at the after parties. Something tells me he’s got that covered.

Chandler Levack

Who will win

Caribou — Andorra

U of T math whiz Daniel Snaith‘s Brian Wilson-influenced Andorra is highly reminiscent of last year’s would-be shoe-in, Miracle Fortress. Trust this year’s Polaris board to turn back time and find a way.

Who should win

Holy Fuck — S/T

The explanation behind Stephen Harper’s federal cuts to Canadian artists, Toronto’s prolific electro outfit deserve far more than their scapegoat status. Fear is four-letter word too, you know.

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Stars — In Our Bedroom After the War

Fulfilling the Polaris’ Broken Social Scene member-quotient, Stars’ boring follow up to 2005’s Set Yourself On Fire has the love-lorne Montrealers up to their old tricks: orchestral chamber pop, sweet morning-after laments that read like an aspartame hangover, and the tortured (read: dubious) sexuality of Morrisey-lite Torquil Campbell.

Who should have been shortlisted

Sandro Perri — Tiny Mirrors

Toronto experimental artist Sandro Perri’s intimately crafted full-length debut was a breathtaking foray into hand-plucked folk that spoke achingly of love. Collaborating with some of Toronto’s most talented improvisers, his inspired arrangements veer delightfully into ambient noise, samba, and free jazz. Obviously, Canada’s critical public was too exhausted from their Kevin Drew jack-off session to bump Perri to the shortlist, ongoing since 2001.

Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

Who will win

Black Mountain — In the Future

The most hyped to emerge from the rainy west rode last year’s prog tidal wave with their coattails blazing. Judges love any genre revival, and these aww-shucks kids are perfect for the part.

Who should win

Caribou — Andorra

A John Cale for the twenty-first century, Dan Snaith takes typical heartbreak angst and covers it with honey. “Irene,” a discombobulated “Stephanie Says” for the slacker set, is worthy of the prize on its own.

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Stars — In Our Bedroom After the War

Don’t get me wrong, I have no hate-on for these endearing, Montreal-based romantics. But when you are selling out Exhibition Place, do you really need $20,000?

Who should have been shortlisted

Destroyer—Trouble in Dreams

The judges will be kicking themselves into next month for not giving props to Dan Bejar’s brilliantly woozy European blues. But alas, a penny for his thoughts was never (even close) to enough.

CKLN tunes out volunteers

Radio station’s two opposing boards of directors hold rival fundraisers

As Ryerson’s deeply divided radio station prepares to launch its yearly fundraiser Friday, Sept. 26, dissenters are holding their own fundraiser. CKLN’s student levy has been withheld and its members have tried to impeach the board. Come Friday, the radio station will have its own reputation to fight.

Tensions between the CKLN board of directors and its staff and volunteers started to boil over in December 2007, when CKLN program director of eight years, Tim May, suddenly resigned from his post. The job wasn’t advertised and board member Tony Barnes was appointed by CKLN’s board to replace him.

Interim station manager Mike Phillips argues that the appointment was consistent with CKLN bylaws. The bylaws allow for a vacancy to be temporarily filled by a board member, to be permanently replaced no later than April 30. A permanent replacement has to be made by a hiring committee, and require the position to be advertised.

At an emergency meeting in February the radio station’s staff, students, volunteers, and donors voted by an overwhelming 90 per cent to impeach the board for its actions. A brand new board was voted in, but the impeached board refused to acknowledge either move. Both boards still exist, the new one holding open meetings with members, which include all Ryerson students, while the other does not publicly disclose meeting times.

Soon after the February meeting, 30 volunteers were dismissed with a letter that read, “Please be advised that your volunteer services at CKLN Radio Inc are no longer required effective immediately.”

“They never criticized me and never warned me or anyone that I was going to be cut,” said Don Weitz, who hosted the monthly anti-psychiatry segment ‘Shrinkrap’ for over 14 years. “There was no explanation or reason given to anybody.”

Carmelle Wolfon was also puzzled when her show, Radio Cliteracy, was taken off the air. “As far as I know the show was well-liked and we were doing a pretty good job,” she said. “I’m fairly certain that is was politically motivated. Many of the programmers who have been dismissed are vocal in their opposition to the board and Mike [Phillips] and Tony [Barnes].”

Phillips brushed off challenges to his board’s authority. He says the dismissed volunteers were “going on air and flagging off the station, misrepresenting the station, making comments about the directors which were untrue.”

Volunteers Oriel Varga and Joeita Gupta say their show, Frequency Feminisms, was taken off-air while dismissed CKLN programmer, Lisa West was on it, talking about what was going on at CKLN. Gupta says they were given certain rules when they signed up as hosts, things like “don’t swear on air,” but keeping CKLN business under wraps was not one of them. “That, in my book, qualifies as direct censorship.”

Volunteers worry Phillips is sweeping away radical voices to make way for a more commercialized station, particularly after his comments to NOW Magazine that he’d be interested in a sponsorship from well-reputed Canadian businesses like Canadian Tire. Phillips denies allegations of corporatization: “We are certainly not attempting [to become] ‘more commercial.’ We are in fact adding more student programming.”

CKLN has a history of money troubles. The Ryerson Students Union had to bail the station out of $100,000 in unpaid taxes in 2003.

In addition to the volunteers, two paid employees have also been controversially fired: news director Kristin Schwartz and assistant music director Tien Providence. According to Schwartz, she was told she was being fired for not seeing “eye-to-eye” with the board. Schwartz also finds the timing of her dismissal revealing. “There had been a strike vote of the staff scheduled two days after that,” she said. Schwartz also noted that, out of five bargaining employees, two were fired.

David Hauch, who represents Schwatz and Providence with CUPE, said the firings were illegal because they took place during bargaining. Both cases are being filed for arbitration, to be addressed in the next few months.

Rebecca Rose, Ryerson journalism grad and vice-president education of the Ryerson Students’ Union, said: “I just think that people are sick and tired of hearing about the mud-flinging that’s happening at CKLN.” Despite the low student involvement, Rose sees the changes at CKLN as a loss for the community. “CKLN has always been a really progressive voice on campus, […] and over the past year because CKLN has been in shambles, we’re missing that progressive community radio.” RSU is currently withholding CKLN’s student levies, which make up 60 per cent of its funds until the boards reconcile.

The controversy at CKLN bears a striking resemblance to changes at U of T’s radio station CIUT in 1999. CIUT was then an estimated $150,000 in the red, which led SAC (now known as UTSU) to take control. Volunteers, including students, were dismissed or had their slots changed or shortened. Two paid employees were fired with similar allegations. Late-night airtime was sold to internet broadcast network, Virtually Canadian, a move that attracted similar complaints of corporatization.

CKLN members will hold a public forum to discuss these issues at 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, at Ryerson’s Oakham House. The opposition fundraiser is currently ongoing at takebackourradio.blogspot.com.

The Phantom Comedian

If Ricky Gervais’ characters have a redeeming quality, it’s their vulnerability. In the British version of The Office, Gervais’ David Brent was a blowhard who deluded himself into thinking he was a popular and inspirational boss (“It’s like bloody Dead Poets Society out there!”), when in reality his petty backbiting, clueless bigotry, excessive braggadocio, and general narcissism were objects of scorn and indifference. Yet I never hated David Brent: he’s a pitiful, emotionally needy figure, and that tempered his egoism.

Ricky Gervais understands comedy. As Brent, he demonstrated how the slightest misjudgments in tone and context ruined the wannabe comedian’s attempts at levity. Perhaps the most brilliant moment in The Office was one of its most subtle: Brent smiles weakly and his eyes dart from side to side as he explains his motto, “Live hard—live too bloody hard, sometimes.” Gervais’ glance suggests a man desperately trying to convince himself of his own bullshit.

In Ghost Town, Gervais plays Dr. Bertram Pincus, a Manhattan dentist who is such a misanthropic prick, he might make David Brent pause for reflection. Placing support instruments in his patients’ mouths just to shut them up, he sneaks out of the office early to avoid looking at a co-worker’s baby pictures. Retreating nightly to his antiseptic apartment, the dentist lives a lonely, hermetic existence. “It’s not crowds I dislike,” he says. “It’s the individuals in the crowds.”

After a botched anesthetic during his colonoscopy leaves him clinically dead for seven minutes, Pincus gains the ability to see and speak to the ghosts who haunt New York, stranded in a purgatorial state until their “unfinished business” is attended to. The most persistent of these lost souls is Frank (Greg Kinnear), a smarmy, unfaithful husband who wants Pincus to break up his wife’s (Tea Leoni) impending marriage with a “sleazeball lawyer.” Pincus agrees on the condition that he will be left alone.

Gervais’ comic genius is not entirely intellectual. Like W.C. Fields and the Three Stooges, he simply looks funny. His 47-year-old frame is short and plum-shaped, with swollen cheeks, a neck that sags tiredly, and a mouth poised in a weary grimace. Preparing to meet Leoni, he experiments with a look in front of a mirror. The juxtaposition between Gervais’ puffy face and his bizarre aesthetic choices (shirt buttons undone; hair combed like a bad ‘80s rock star) is poignant. It’s heartbreaking to watch Gervais’ characters try to be more dashing and charismatic than they are.

The film is directed and co-written by David Koepp, whose recent screenplay credits, including War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, don’t indicate how good he is with funny, rapid-fire dialogue. It’s nice to see a mainstream romantic comedy with so many intelligent and entertaining conversations. The other performances are all effective, particularly Greg Kinnear, who captures a certain kind of amicable smugness.

A few weeks ago, I saw a screening of the upcoming How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, a truly awful comedy starring Simon Pegg as yet another jerk that finds redemption. The filmmakers expect us to sympathize with its obnoxious hero, despite the fact that his character arc involves no real change in personality. He’s a prick from the first scene to the last. Maybe Gervais’ secret is that he always depicts his characters with blunt objectivity. The actor doesn’t expect us to sympathize with Pincus, he earns his redemption in a way that is plausible within the story’s context.

While Gervais was not involved in the scripting or directing of Ghost Town, it still feels tailor-made for his talents. Pincus is the type of sad-sack that Gervais specializes in, and there are cringe-inducing scenes that showcase his mastery of embarrassment comedy. Initially, I was worried that Gervais would be straitjacketed by the conventions of a Hollywood romantic comedy, but Ghost Town understands the persona. It’s a Ricky Gervais vehicle, through and through.

Man stabbed at frat house

A 21-year-old man landed in hospital with three stab wounds Friday night, following a scuffle at a frat house party.

Police have confirmed the wounds are not fatal. The victim was treated at St. Michael’s Hospital and has since been released.

Police say five gate-crashers got in a fight with partygoers. Division 53 police were called in for a noise complaint at 1 a.m. when the brawl started to get out of control. The victim, a party guest, was stabbed while trying to break up the fight.

The incident happened at 182 St. George Street, just north of Bloor Street.

No arrests have been made in relation to the case. Investigations are still under way and police are seeking witnesses. Anyone with information about the case can call Division 53 at 416-808-5304.

Going the distance

Visiting the grocery store used to be so easy, but while perusing the produce section I encountered an unexpected dilemma. Two kinds of apples caught my eye; both begged to be eaten, but one was grown in Ontario, the other in New Zealand. I questioned whether this New Zealand apple should take a ride in my grocery cart. Could the locally-grown Ontario apple be the better choice?

The local eating movement has recently grabbed the media’s attention and public interest. Spurred by ‘locavores’ who prefer to eat food that is locally grown and harvested, the movement has entered mainstream culture with the help of people such as Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. Their book, The 100-Mile Diet, follows their year-long commitment to eat food only grown and produced within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home. Not surprisingly, it became a national bestseller. Local eating has a strong impact environmentally, economically, socially and, of course, on one’s personal health. Food grown and produced closer to home has traveled a shorter distance than imported food and thus, has used fewer fossil-fuels and non-renewable resources. Indeed, this informs the nutritional content of locally-grown food; the further your food travels to get to your plate, the more nutrients that are lost from the final product. Ontario-grown and produced food is not only better for your health, it’s also great for your palate. (It tastes fresher because it is fresher! )Locavores support the local food economy and in the process build food systems that are sustainable. This is the story Barbara Kingsolver tells in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, chronicling her family’s yearlong experience of only buying food grown and raised in their local region or by themselves.

Changing food habits may seem like a daunting, even scary thought for students who have enough to worry about with classes, assignments, and social lives. Besides, how could someone who’s dependent upon their college cafeteria change their eating habits even if they wanted to? Luckily, you’re probably eating locally to some extent and didn’t even realize it. The University of Toronto has done the work for you by partnering with Local Food Plus (LFP), a non-profit organization that links local Ontario farmers and processors with institutions. Since 2006, U of T has been working with LFP to incorporate local food produced through socially and environmentally sustainable ways into a number of cafeterias and residences at St. George campus.

If you’re hungry for more locally grown food, you need not go far. There are farmers’ markets in the GTA almost every day of the week. If you haven’t checked one out this summer, many markets stay open well into the fall season, some even into winter. Farmers’ markets feature fresh fruits and vegetables, and you’ll often find meat and dairy products as well. One of the greatest rewards of shopping at these markets is meeting those who grow your food, Ontario’s farmers. I was recently given such an opportunity with Ron VanHart, owner of VanHart’s All Organic family farm and frequent friendly face at the Bloor and Borden Street farmers’ market.

In a recent phone interview, VanHart made his case for shopping from Ontario farmers at local markets, saying supermarket chain stores are “buying cheap food from other countries and when you buy cheap food from other countries, you’re not supporting Ontario, you’re not supporting Canada.” Indeed, this is one of the reasons why so many family farms have stopped operating in Ontario. According to Statistics Canada, around 72,000 farms were operating in Ontario in 1986. As of 2006, there has been a loss of just over 15,000 farms in this province. For those farms that were able to stay in business, VanHart assured me it wasn’t easy. He aired his frustration saying, “We don’t get the big pay-cheque […] I had a career for thirty years to pay for everything that came on my farm and my wife still has a job,” adding, “Why isn’t there a standard of living for a farmer who competes in the local economy?”

VanHart and other Ontario farmers may one day have that standard of living, given the recent surge of media interest in eating locally. The public is hearing the farmers’ story and they’re responding, “because nobody’s heard this kind of honesty before and they never realized that it was as bad as it was,” says VanHart. As a witness to the dramatic changes the agriculture industry has undergone in the past thirty years, VanHart is finally seeing positive changes. “Attendance to all the farmers’ markets across Ontario have jumped leaps and bounds in the last couple years because finally, finally people […] don’t want to talk to the chain store [and] they don’t want to talk to a produce broker, they want to talk to the grower.” But people aren’t just coming for the conversation; they’re coming for the food. VanHart’s success is a testament to this fact.

VanHart realizes that many people don’t eat local because they simply haven’t been informed about the option. He aims to increase public awareness and knowledge about Ontario farming through film and television. The VanHart website will soon feature an extended commercial on his farm and family story. Ron’s father, John VanHart, was an innovator in Ontario organic farming and a pioneer of Holland Marsh, one of the best produce-growing areas in Canada. VanHart’s excitement for the commercial is quickly subdued as he points out he is not in this for the money. For him and his family’s farm, the commercial is a way “we can work on our audience and explain and educate.” This Ontario farmer is not a one-trick pony. “In terms of public relations we’re just in the beginning of the trail. Now that we’re getting an audience, we’re going to take it up another notch in the next couple years and we’re going to take our own innovations here [in film to grow] so that we can take agriculture to a new level that the public is just going to love […] and love to support.” By next year, he hopes to release a documentary on organic farming. These films are expected to offer a glimpse into the farming lifestyle VanHart believes is the “best for mind, body, and soul.” It is through endeavours like VanHart’s and other proponents of local eating that Ontario farmers are finally getting the attention and appreciation they deserve.

After talking to Mr. VanHart and learning that local eating is more than just a fad, I began grocery shopping with a different mindset. Now I shop with an understanding and awareness of how purchasing certain foods support Ontario’s farmers and the province’s economy. Buying groceries has become a way of protecting the environment and keeping my body healthy. Who knew local eating in Toronto offered so many rewards, and such delicious apples?

Crime in Brief

The first three weeks of the academic year have been busy for U of T’s Campus Police. Between Sept. 4 and Sept. 18, there were 32 trespassing incidents, 23 thefts, 23 liquor offences, five noise complaints, and one incident of indecent exposure.

Seven car thefts occurred in the OISE underground parking lot alone, four of them taking place on Sept. 6, in the middle of Frosh Week. OISE was the most crime-ridden spot at U of T, with 14 incidents since school started.

On Sept. 15, Campus Police responded to a report of a man exposing himself in Gerstein Library. Witnesses described him as a black male with long black and blond dreadlocks. The man was gone when police arrived.

Another notable incident occurred on Sept. 11, when a Knox College trespasser turned out to be wanted by Toronto Police.

Chemicals That Changed The World: Nicotine

Nicotine, the active molecule in tobacco, has an immense impact on the world as we know it today. It is the centre of an industry that reports annual revenues of over $185 billion, responsible for approximately three million deaths each year.

Nicotine is a water soluble alkaloid that crosses the blood brain barrier rapidly after it is absorbed from the lungs. Reaching the brain roughly seven seconds after the first puff of a cigarette, it acts on the nicotinic cholinergic receptor, causing the release of dopamine and endorphins. Both of these neurotransmitters are believed to be responsible for the mood altering effects of nicotine.

This molecule also has some nefarious effects, such as elevated resting heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increased blood lipid levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease. It contributes to the majority of global lung cancer cases.

In the 1500s, Native Americans introduced tobacco to the Europeans, who were impressed by the alkaloids’ alleged medicinal properties. In fact, nicotine is named after French diplomat Jean Nicot, who promoted the drug in France. Soon after its introduction in Europe, the addictive aspect of the chemical swiftly took hold. From a few European explorers, the chemical is now inhaled by approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide.

More recently, its neurotoxic properties were exploited for use as a highly effective insecticide. Interestingly, nicotine does seem to have some medicinal potential, as believed by its earliest proponents. Recent research points to a possible use in treating wounds, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and ADHD.