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.

Windsor profs walk off the job

Classes have been off at the University of Windsor since Wednesday morning, with professors on the streets picketing. The faculty has been on strike since negotiations broke down Tuesday night between their union, the Windsor University Faculty Association (WUFA) and the administration. Windsor president Alan Wildeman has termed the strike the “saddest day of [his] academic career.”

WUFA VP internal Stephen Pinder alleged that administration is aiming to remove the Windsor Salary Standard mechanism, which ensures that all faculty salaries fall within the Ontario universities median.

The introduction of “teaching only” faculty has also been a point of contention between WUFA and the admin. “We feel that it would damage the research mission of the university,” said Pinder. He said WUFA is also concerned about changes to the “Promotion, tenure, renewal” process whereby the guaranteed annual salary increase has been slashed from $2,200 to $1,000.

While students face an uncertain academic year, both the undergraduate and graduate student unions have formally supported the strike and pledged assistance to the faculty. University of Windsor Student Alliance President Tiffany Gooch said the union was anxious for both parties to get back to negotiations. He said students were displaying their solidarity by walking on picket lines and supporting WUFA before the media.

Pinder said that the diminishing government funding to universities poses a threat to the quality of education. The increasing reliance on the private sector for funding is worrisome, according to Pinder, as the curriculum is often augmented to appeal to a particular donor.

While talks between both sides have yet to officially recommence, Windsor spokesperson Kevin Doyle said that the university was considering removing the “teaching only” faculty item from its policy. Windsor spokesperson Kevin Doyle refused to comment on specific issues, which were currently on the bargaining table.

Doyle said that the university would assure that students did not lose their term as a result of the strike.

Gastronomy

The past few weeks have seen panic and paranoia surrounding the issue of food safety. Salmon, beef, ham, ready-to-eat deli products and meat sandwiches from several food chains and supermarkets have been recalled due to listeriosis outbreaks. For the typical omnivore, avoiding particular products for several weeks wasn’t a big sacrifice. However, sliced mushrooms, certain brands of cheese and even pre-made cookie dough have been pulled off the market due to the danger of listeria or salmonella. All of this negative media buzz would leave any consumer stumped about what is really safe to eat.

In total about 12 people have died from the listeriosis outbreak in Ontario this year, with the number of nationwide cases estimated at around 26. Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that cause listeriosis, can be commonly found in soil, vegetation, water, animals, and even humans. Any organism can carry the bacteria without even knowing it. Usually, carriers of listeria don’t develop listeriosis, but those who do become ill experience symptoms characteristic of food poisoning. In the most severe cases, the disease can lead to brain infection or death. According to Health Canada, “20 to 30 per cent of foodborne listeriosis infections in high-risk individuals may be fatal,” with the elderly, most pregnant women and those with weak immune systems at greatest risk. Amendments have been made to the Food and Drugs Act, as well as the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act to prevent future outbreaks, although Canada possessed relatively strict food safety policies and regulations prior to these changes.

The fact remains that you can’t win the fight against nature. We associate with potentially fatal bacteria on a daily basis. The good news is that there are some safe food-handling practices that can be used at home to minimize the chance of foodborne illness. For one, most bacteria cannot survive heat and will be eliminated by properly cooking meat. Always follow the packaging instructions regarding correct food storage and preparation. Clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils for preparation of raw food. Refrigerate food promptly and only keep leftover food for a maximum of four days. When defrosting food, do so in a microwave, cold water or in the refrigerator—never at room temperature. Regularly monitor the fridge temperature (recommended four degrees Celsius or below). Store meats below food that will be consumed raw. Most foodborne illnesses or bacteria cannot be eradicated entirely, so it’s up to consumers to take food safety seriously.