Archive for January, 2006

Why students love ANA300 & ANA301 …

Here’s a transcript of part of an ANA301 lecture, Dr. Wiley is responding to a girl who’s just told him that he forgot to shut off one of the projectors (he uses two):

You need to tell me that if I do that — if I forgot to shut off one or the other projector you’ve got to tell me because I can’t see what’s going on behind me. If you can’t read my writing you’ve got to tell me, if you can’t hear me you’ve got to tell me, if you have a question you have to … ask it. (Laughter.)
And I tell this to all my classes: if you want to get my attention call out, okay, don’t put your hand up because I won’t see you if you put your hand up. I did see her because she’s got a yellow shirt on there (laughter) in the middle.
But it may look like I’m sweeping my head around and engaging the audience and all that kind of trap (laughter) — this is the thousand yard stare. Okay, I’m just as nervous as you would be standing in front of a large group of people and I have all the insecurities that you have (some laughter) in front of a large group of people. And so, you know, I’m not really looking to see if you have your hand up.
Not a long time ago somebody told me keep moving your head around during a lecture and don’t just look in the same direction all the time so that’s all I’m doing. (Great laughter.)….

Wiley isn’t a spectacular lecturer who jumps around and throws his arms in the air. Nothing like that. He’s a solid lecturer, who knows how to engage an audience. If you don’t know what the course is about, or if you’re an arts student, you’d walk in and fall asleep. He peppers his speech with “okays” and “you knows”. But for a science student, Wiley is probably one of the best lecturers they’ll find — even in a huge class like ANA301. Other lecturers should take tips from him.

This is part of the reason why the Anti-Calendar keeps returning rave retake values (over 90% everytime) for Wiley’s two courses, ANA300 and ANA301.

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There’s something to be said about double standards…

Hamas believes that the land of the state of Israel is really just Palestinian territory that eventually needs to be repatriated.
Many Israelis, including Likud and Sharon, believe that the land of the Palestinian territories is really Israeli territory that eventually needs to be repatriated.

Hamas kills civilians, arguing that since all Israelis are required to serve in the armed forces at some point in their lives, they are valid military targets.
The Israeli Defence Forces kill civilians. No justifications, just obscenely massive collateral damage.

Hamas is a lot of things, but at least it’s honest. It uses terrorism and admits it. Israel uses terrorism but doesn’t admit it.

If Hamas only targeted Israeli military targets, and not civilians, would it be welcomed as a “partner for peace”?

What peace is there in the Middle East that is apparently now being put at risk? The unilateral declaration of cease-fire by Hamas?

For the majority of the world, the IDF is no less terroristic (and perhaps moreso) than Hamas. That’s not a justification for anything, it’s simply a fact of public opinion. In Africa, in Latin America, in Asia, the CIA is no less terroristic, and definitely more terroristic, than Hamas.

If Palestinians are expected to negotiate with Israel, then I don’t see why Israel can’t negotiate with Hamas. Maybe something good will come out of it. Hamas is willing to repudiate violence for one, ten, a hundred years if Israel is willing to do the same. Why not?

Give peace a chance.

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Back from Windsor.

More on that later, perhaps.

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No Man’s Land

The editor of the Varsity got back to me and said he’d like to publish the comic strip. It’ll appear in the Varsity beginning Monday, I think.

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Hindi songs.

Recently, I’ve been watching some good Hindi films, and have been listening to some good Hindi songs. To the extent that that’s all I’m listening to (to the exclusion of the English, etc. songs) and I’m annoyed that all the CDs I’ve burned for my car are full of English songs (with the exception of Ande Ka Funda and Kajra Re which, despite their merits, aren’t exactly the cream of the crop) and that those are all that are on my iPod.

I want to get these Hindi songs on my iPod, but I’m kind of lazy and don’t entirely have the time. Besides, I’m paranoid about using my iPod with the buds because of ear damage (and I’ve used buds for a hell lot of time). I’m thinking of getting some noise-cancelling headphones from ebay, or worst come to worst, just the normal types of headphones.

The film Main Meri Patni Aur Woh has some excellent songs, as does Hungama, but the former is actually a pretty solid film as well.

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A footnote, so to speak:

Being an idealist doesn’t mean ignoring pragmatic concerns.

Having ideal goals is important, and it may take two, twenty, two hundred, or even two thousand years to get the pendulum swinging back the other way (by which time it might be too late anyway, but what the hell). Revolution is probably impractical if the masses are not ready for it and it doesn’t matter how enlightened any vanguard party is. If the masses are taught, gradually (because that’s typically the only way it can be done), to reflect upon their condition and take action, then the need for immediate revolutions is largely eradicated. (My problem is that right now, things aren’t even going in that direction — they seem to be moving largely toward apathy and the endless cycle of the rat race.)

I’m an idealist, but I’m also a realist. I have my long-term goals and principles in mind but I also acknowledge the lack of fit or feasibility and am routinely ready, willing and able to work within pragmatic parameters to nevertheless try and reach the end goal — which I do not give up sight of, bhale kitnee bhi der lagay.

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Clarifications on no man’s land.

I think it would be useful for me to make some clarifications on my post down there.

I don’t think I’m capable of “giving up” — but I am capable of becoming lethargic from disillusionment, taking forever to get things done. That’s already happened as I haven’t taken concrete action on some issues pertaining to ASSU this winter, which (though I didn’t really have much time this winter pursuing other goals, such as comics, and dealing with family issues, like visiting New Jersey) I could have focused on.

Ultimately, I am a romantic — a hopeless romantic. Idealism is sometimes impractical, and to be idealistic is often to wish impossible things.

One of my goals has been to see a significant portion of the student body to move around a significant issue.

But it seems to me that the vast majority of students are either too apathetic or too passive or too disenchanted or too disillusioned to attempt to affect any kind of change.

Perhaps it’s an issue of leadership. I remember at a meeting of the Council of Student Unions (where I typically represent ASSU), voting on endorsing a tuition freeze movement. I wanted to amend the statement to read something like endorsing the tuition freeze as a “positive step toward the eventual elimination of tuition fees.” This didn’t seem to go well with anyone else there (two Vice-Presidents of SAC, the President of VUSAC, and a representative from St. Mike’s whose name I’ve managed to forget, as well as a representative from the Faculty of Music — although Paul, President of SAC, was there and maybe would’ve supported the principle of elimination, he was quite literally checking up on the pizza while this particular discussion came to take place). It really struck me that student leaders were unwilling to pass a resolution endoring the tuition freeze as a positive step toward the eventual elimination of tuition — this being a resolution that no one will give a damn about anyway (not the Varsity, not the university, no one but perhaps overzealous conservatives and right-leaning Liberals trying to discredit leftists as impractical).

Perhaps it’s because of the issues on hand. Most of them are long-term, it takes a while to get things implemented. Something immediate like tuition, while many students do feel strongly about it (but not strongly enough to take action it because they can get by), seems to be unstoppable — hence, any resistance would be stereotypically futile.

There also seems to be a general sense of malaise as far as activism is concerned. We’re at university to get an education, but that’s all it’s about now. Getting the marks and getting the extracurriculars on our resumes, and spending the rest of the time doing inane and random things. The focus has been shifted from getting the government to get things done, to doing things by one’s self. Hence, rather than kicking the government for not moving on social housing, one may join Habitat for Humanity. I’m not criticizing the latter, not in the least, I have a great deal of admiration for folks involved in that, and reference my several posts criticizing myself instead for my lack of action as far as that is concerned. But kicking at the government is an important part of this, and while the leadership of organizations does seem to focus toward this, the rank and file don’t seem to digest it.

Many other students don’t seem to care even about that. It’s more about the iPod and the boots, or something. The focus has been shifted from being a nonconformist for the sake of getting things done to becoming a nonconformist to conform to popular notions of nonconformism, hence really becoming a conformist anyway. Conformity or lack thereof should be a matter of ideas and action, not just clothing and accessories. (The only reason I have a Che t-shirt is because someone gave it to me as a gift, not because I actively seeked one.)

Lobbying has taken precedence over direct activism, and while lobbying may make some difference it should be conceded that our lobby is nowhere near as effective as, say, the auto insurance or oil industries’ because we don’t have money. (One of my gimmicks as I campaigned for SAC to get students to vote in the tution referendum was to tell people that there are only two things politicians listen to: money, and votes — putting up my index and middle finger respectively — and that since we don’t have the money, we should give them the votes — putting down my index finger and leaving my middle finger up.) But we do have numbers, if we choose to mobilize those numbers. Like the students in Quebec did last year.

It was remarkable, I wanted to move to Quebec at that stage. It was inspiring. I wrote an article on it, that was published in the Varsity in a hastily-edited (not by me) format, and rather than responding to the substance of what I wrote, people largely criticized my style (because the opinions editor managed to leave out some integral parts of my article, like the thesis). The mainstream media largely ignored the Quebec student strikes and pretended they didn’t exist or barely mattered, but this was the largest mobilization of students and unions since the sixties.

Many of the students who are involved politically are partisan hacks (including several student leaders). Whether this hackery be for the Liberals (who seem to have the largest hack to member ratio I’ve ever empirically experienced), the NDP or the Conservatives. Being a party ideologue may be fine as long as that party conforms to your ideology, but once it shifts, or manages to deviate remarkably from your vision, means that you should try to change it while voting for someone else. Being a member of a party isn’t the problem, having blind faith in its ultimate righteousness despite its failings is. If the coat doesn’t fit or is falling apart, you have it repaired and wear another coat for a while.

I don’t usually bother with Conservative hacks because, well, they’re on the other side anyway (that doesn’t mean that they have nothing meaningful to contribute to discussions and debates, or even that their motivation is in the wrong place). But Liberal and NDP hacks really get me ticking. The Liberal party has become something that is anything but liberal, and is in fact difficult to distinguish from the Conservative party (except on certain human rights issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion). Nevertheless people refuse to see this.

In looking at all of these things, I’ve also seen my role in not doing much about it. For instance, I don’t call my MPP and MP every week (not that it would make much a difference, living in Markham) to complain about poverty or education, although I’ll join the occasional protest and wear buttons to improve the lot of Sodexho workers. But I really don’t do much beyond that.

I haven’t tried to reach out to others to build the kind of consensus needed to get the ball rolling on a mass movement (I wouldn’t know how to begin). And getting a massive student movement going, even a year from now, is most probably something impossible. El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido is simply my mythology. “To wish impossible things,” as the Cure once sang.

More on this later, maybe.

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Police and thieves in the streets…

I was coming home today from UofT, and some time after 10 pm I reached the Scarborough Centre Station bus terminal, to be met by a massive police presence there, with several police officers, some speaking with a few people.

There were several police cars, at least five — some parked where the taxis usually stand. There was a dog squad van (and you could hear the dogs barking inside the van) parked at the McCowan 129 bus stop as well.

On the opposite side of the terminal (south-bound buses), a couple of police officers (white) had a young male (black) in custody, handcuffed. It seemed like they were patting him down. I was considering standing around to make sure he wasn’t mistreated (not sure why I thought he would be mistreated in the first place). But then the 129 bus got there, and of course catching the bus is more important than documenting potential police mistreatment, or anything else for that matter. As we exited the bus terminal two police cars were exiting ahead of us.

I was intimidated more by the large police presence than any perceived threat. I’m not sure what occurred there though I’m sure it’ll come up on the news (or maybe not). Seemed like some kind of (drugs/gun?) bust. No ambulances, no fire trucks — so it wasn’t a regular 911 call where someone was injured (or perhaps they had long since left), and the dog squad usually doesn’t show up for those kinds of problems either.

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On Governing Council and the no man’s land.

It’s kind of odd when you’re stuck in that place where your spirit is thoroughly broken but your mind refuses to stop thinking about things. Where you’re entirely disillusioned but refuse to acquiesce. I guess one could call it a no man’s land.

I find myself going through this kind of thinking quite often — nearly a year ago I made this post.

A commenter named patlajica left this message:

because you have no other choice! people like you, who refuse to be swallowed by ignorance, have no other choice but to think and fight. you are cursed with a brain that will not shut down, a mind that will not stop asking questions and eyes that will not look away when wrong-doings or abuse happen. your very existence is tormenting but there is nothing more beautiful than your cause.

She summed it up quite well, and in fact that reflects my first paragraph.

I’ve done a lot of thinking this winter, perhaps one of the worst I’ve had (and conversely perhaps also one of the best I’ve had). I’ve seriously considered resigning from ASSU to take a break from it, even as I’ve seriously considered running for a seat on Governing Council — all the while I’ve also come up with some thoughts and ideas to do something about both.

In one capacity or another I’ve been involved in just about every level of student government on campus, from course unions (HBSU and APSS) to a faculty student union (ASSU) to the university student union (SAC). The one that I haven’t stuck my nose in is the Governing Council.

One issue that really bothers me is the fact that there is no public accountability of the University of Toronto (or indeed, at an Ontario university). The results of its internal audit are never made public, the Audit Committee of the Governing Council has no student members (for what reason, I do not know) — it reports back to the Business Board (which has two student members, and the reports are publicly viewable) but many of its items are confidental and undisclosed. The web site for the internal audit serves as a “resource” for members of the “University community” — of course student societies don’t get audited by this ‘Internal Audit’ (so are we members of this “University community”?) and we aren’t given the most important resource of all: the results of the audit.

The very structure of the Governing Council also bothers me. 8 students out of 50 members. That’s one less than the number of alumni (eight plus the Chancellor), four less than the teaching staff (12), eight less than the provincial appointees (16). At the very least, I feel there should be more students on the Governing Council — substantially more — than there are alumni. Sure, they contribute to the “University community,” but really, we’re the ones who go through the crap here on the ground. To change this, one would have to go to the provincial government, because apparently the Governing Council is rooted in Ontario law (hence the 16 provincial appointees).

And that just brings it round full circle. The University of Toronto is established in the law, by the province, and yet it has no public accountability.

Many of the committees on the Governing Council co-opt unelected students. This is a route to get “in” — so to speak — but not being elected isn’t my thing. I used two negatives. I would rather be elected than be co-opted or appointed. (During ASSU’s March 2005 elections, I was acclaimed an Executive Member rather than being elected because not enough people ran for anything. Had I not stood against Yaser for the presidency, he too would have been acclaimed. At that point I didn’t want to become President, but I wasn’t happy at all about the lack of choice and the automatic acclamations.)

I’ve also noticed that no full-time undergraduate student representative on the Governing Council has reached out to faculty student unions — at least not to ASSU. If they had I probably would’ve known about it by now. Of course, I and ASSU have certainly not reached out to them either, despite their contacts being public information. Neither of us initiated anything.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about a lot more (more on that, hopefully, later). And although sometimes I feel like walking away, I think Shawn summarized it best when, in March responding to my post, he said “keep fighting b/c you probably won’t give up either way..”.

Sometimes, though, it just gets awful lonely when yours is the only voice you hear, regardless of how much you like listening to the sound of your own voice. Perhaps you’re not listening, or you’re not listening in the right places. But that just makes you feel even lonelier.

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Parlez-vous Frenchais? En plus, les bandes-dessinées.

The fact that I can kind of half-speak French is annoying. I know enough to string together basic sentences but advanced speaking is hard. Also, understanding people who speak in French (i.e., native speakers) is difficult unless they slow down.

It’s annoying because, say I’m sitting in the subway or at the back of an Air Canada plane and people are speaking to each other in French, I can understand enough of it to pique my interest and keep my ears trained on the conversation and yet not enough for me to truly comprehend what’s being discussed.

I also remember several weeks ago, a girl came into the ASSU office to inquire about a French course and I gave her my card, saying, “Mon carte.”

“‘Ma carte’ you mean,” she corrected me.

I already had to grapple with my sleepy brain to come up with the French word for “card” in the first place and then ended up using a wrong term anyway.

It would be nice if I could consistently practice my French and keep a grasp on it. That won’t happen anytime soon though, watching French television, reading French comic books and listening to Francoise Hardy is no substitute for speaking French.

Before I left for New Jersey I managed to squeak out 13 comic strips. I’ve e-mailed the editor-in-chief of the Varsity, and am now awaiting a reply. I’m probably going to have to keep reminding him.

I spent a lot of time working on comics at the expense of working on two essays that are due immediately after the break, and I now have to spend all my time focussing on that. It wouldn’t be too bad if I werent going to Windsor for the Canadian University Science Games on January 11 (until the 14th).

It’ll be my first time in Windsor, and — with the exception of Peterborough and Collingwood (does driving through Barrie count?) — the only place outside of the GTA I’ve ever been in Canada.

Here’s to hoping Windsor doesn’t suck and that we actually win something.

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