From the archives: March 2004

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Independent’s Day

Thursday, 18 March 2004 — 10:43pm | Journalism

Add Hidalgo to the movie review backlog, since I got around to seeing it last Friday. Then take it off, because it is an underwhelming accomplishment so ho-hum in its mediocrity that there is very little to say either for or against it. Let’s just say that Omar Sharif in the Arabian desert has been done, and Viggo Mortensen riding a horse has definitely been done.

Today marked the launch of The Independent, the new University of Alberta student newspaper run by Students for a Stronger Alberta. One must commend the success of the first issue’s deployment, in terms of getting distribution boxes set up next to The Gateway‘s in prime locations like SUB entrance and CAB. As far as content goes, it is clear that Editor-in-Chief Weston Rudd and Editorial Coordinator Rob Anderson are aiming not to supplant the established campus publication, but to supplement it by focusing exclusively on political commentary at levels federal, provincial and collegiate. It looks like these guys are bent on creating a student paper imbued with “professionalism” – that is to say, devoid of streaking photos and genitalia-laden comic strips.

The first issue, however, is indicative of some very fundamental growing pains that may sink the publication if they are not fixed before the next one goes to press in the new academic year.

The most immediately obvious problem is a failure to appreciate the fact that professional content requires professional design. Simply put, even before one delves into the wealth of verbiage on each individual page, one cannot help but notice that the publication looks like crap. Indentation is disproportionate, headlines are oblivious to basic typography, articles are unclearly delineated, and the bottom of the front page sports a horizontally compressed photograph of Belinda Stronach. People don’t read content, no matter how comprehensive, if it isn’t formatted to be readable.

What is encouraging is that the paper’s editors seem to realize this. In their call for volunteers and staff, special notice is made of the fact that design and layout will be paid. They had better reward a considerable sum to whomever is tasked with fixing this mess.

On the content side of things, The Independent fares better. The depth of thought and analysis is impressive when not constrained by limitations on space imposed by advertising, though it is uncertain how long the sparsity of intrusive advertisements will remain sustainable. This issue comes out guns blazing and hits the big issues – Liberal Party scandals, marijuana, the Tory leadership race – and the writers clearly have a lot to say. Although these debates have been done to death, it is a positive indication of what this publication aspires to be: a forum for big-issue political discourse specifically for student writers. The university-level coverage is not quite so well informed; in writing about the recent Universal Bus Pass referendum, Jane Freeman falls victim to the incorrect and misleading notion that the 63% Yes victory is a greenlight to negotiations with Edmonton Transit – possibly the same misdirection that led to the margin of approval in the first place. When it comes to issues that are relevant to students and students alone, The Independent doesn’t hold a candle to its older cousin.

It may be asking a bit much considering the volume of text in this issue – sixteen solid pages with little to no advertising – but it is in need of more rigorous stylistic editing. While Rob Anderson is visibly analytical and full of ideas about how he thinks the system should work, it is worrying that someone so high up on the editorial chain expresses these ideas with a somewhat amateur grasp of rhetoric. “Doesn’t it just drive you nuts?” he asks about hypocrisy. “Well, it drives me nuts. And it drives me nuts even more when its someone I care about; which is why I am pretty nuts right now with the hypocrisy of Albertans.”

I’ll defer to Strong Bad on this one: “If you want it to be a possessive, it’s just I-T-S; if it’s supposed to be a contraction, it’s I-T-apostrophe-S… scalawag.”

First impressions are key, and the first impression here is that this issue was rushed to press to fit a target date and ride a wave of coverage from the Dave Rutherford Show to The Gateway itself. While this may serve as an effective volunteer call for people who genuinely want to see a content-rich student periodical focused on political issues become a legitimate reality, a lot of this should have been thought through a lot more carefully prior to delivery.

Regardless, I wish The Independent the best of luck, and hope its entirely reparable problems are addressed by the time we next see their distribution boxes stocked.

Now, I’m off to Montreal to run for CUSID Executive Director.

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My paper is overdue

Thursday, 11 March 2004 — 6:43pm | Journalism

Today’s Gateway rocks. Kyla Coulman writes the article we all needed (and in some ways, the one I always wanted to write myself), a diatribe against the menace to society that is Internet illiteracy. It’s about time somebody stood up for the preservation of our great language in the face of the barbaric throes of lazy idiots. Engineering Students’ Council candidate Graham Lettner proposes to Steve Smith, who finally deserves some recognition for being the God of Separated Powers, and consolation for the Legacy Fund referendum’s crushing defeat last week.

Congratulations to the incoming Students’ Union executive, by the way.

The University of British Columbia’s Pacific Cup tournament last weekend was heavy on rain, short on sushi and left this writer without a break-round appearance, but it came with one valuable lesson: should you ever encounter a Trivial Pursuit question about a college course commonly referred to as “Sadistics”, the answer is not Advanced Organic Chemistry.

Edmonton Opera presents the third and last performance of Madama Butterfly tonight. This has been precluded by outstanding homework in a most unfortunate manner. I would elaborate further, but there is little need for this little website in the sky to degenerate into the angst-filled ramblings of tearful bitterness one often associates with these mythical “blog” creatures. Even if it does, however, I promise linguistic standards will remain upheld.

Speaking of linguistic standards, the measurable quantity of forehead-slapping pettiness and ignorance in this CUSIDnet thread on the pluralization of the word “novice” is almost on par with the uproar about The Passion of the Christ being allegedly anti-Semitic, which it isn’t. Review forthcoming, someday.

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Students’ Union Endorsitorial

Tuesday, 2 March 2004 — 11:49pm | Studentpolitik

First off, I finally saw The Passion of the Christ last night, but I would hardly call my thoughts on it collected at this stage.

Relatively speaking, however, my thoughts are collected regarding tomorrow’s election. Without further ado, here’s where my votes are going – noting, of course, that the candidates are treated preferentially and these are my endorsements for first place:

President: Adam Cook. It’s a win-win this year to some extent, as both Cook and Blatz are reasonable people with both enthusiasm and tact, and I would not be uncomfortable with either in the Presidential seat – that is, until they royally screw something up. Their stances on Council issues – or in Cook’s case, his voting record – has little effect here, as there I have disagreements with each of them on certain controversies. Overall, I favour Adam on account of his experience working in the system, not just through Council and the committee structure, but especially his familiarity with services and programmes such as Orientation. Blatz has repeatedly tried to pass off his LHSA presidency as sufficient experience in a similar system of smaller scale, but from what I have observed of the structure and operations of the LHSA, the comparison is faulty. However, I would like to see both gentlemen sit on next year’s Council, and only a horrendous display of incompetence or ideological wonkiness would dissuade me from ranking Blatz highly should he run again in a year.

VP Academic: Lisa McLaughlin. Vivek is running a very similar campaign to the one he ran last year, with small technology-based solutions to immediate problems concerning schedules and textbooks. This year, that campaign is even less relevant given Stephen Kirkham’s developments at Bear Scat, as Kirkham was quick to point out at Myer. Although one can see his reasoning behind how these technical issues are the easiest to ensure repairing within the span of a year, this does not justify shunting aside the bigger picture. Lisa’s campaign, albeit rife with generalities in need of a more specific plan in the near future, is extensive, broad, and indicative of a lot of preparation going into the election.

VP External: Alex Abboud. Nobody can fault Heather for her dedication and enthusiasm, but to put her in this position amidst the volatility of a triple election year is far too risky, given her emphasis on aggressive media campaigns, gearing a significant cut of student fees to political advocacy, and her having pushed a premature Universal Bus Pass referendum on the table. The lack of tact in her “What the f@#k else do you need?” poster slogan, albeit attention-getting in the same way joke candidates are attention-getting, does not bode well. While both candidates are knowledgeable, committed and demonstrably experienced, Abboud has the upper hand on the basis of moderation.

VP Operations/Finance: Josh Bazin. It’s been said elsewhere, but this portfolio has hardly been a relevant presence this election. Law finally had a platform extending beyond the cartoon of the little guy zapping the Power Plant when he got up and spoke at the Horowitz – and granted, he had some good ideas – but a last-minute salvage of a platform does not reflect well on his readiness for the position this year. Bazin ran on a similarly thin platform, but has the edge when it comes to knowledge of how the Students’ Union actually works. There are places in the SU for newcomers, but Operations and Finance isn’t one of them, unless you are a total hack who shares a name with a hockey player who sent the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals.

VP Student Life: Carmen Gustafson. For the longest time I was going to put Daignault on top, and on my ballot, he will still finish a very close second. While he does take a status quo approach to the SL position as one focused on events and programming, which is of questionable usefulness in the grand scheme of things, he is by far the best equipped to handle the portfolio as it exists. Gustafson is a radically different candidate with an approach to bring the more neglected side of SL back into the spotlight. While I am ideologically opposed to her decidedly left-wing stance on certain issues, revitalizing SL as a useful position may pay off in the long term. This, of course, only bumps her up to second. To be quite honest, my real motivation for putting her first is because she recognizes the need for a piano on SUB Stage.

Board of Governors: Roman Kotovych. He has been one of the best student representatives in the past year, and his opponent lacks a clue.

Legacy Fund Elimination: Yes. Athletics are currently overvalued, and student fees already go to them under other blanket expenses. $3/semester is a measly sum in absolute terms, but I still expect $3/semester of added value.

Universal Bus Pass: No. Personally, as a semi-regular transit user, I like the idea of having a massive discount or subsidy of some sort on the basis of being a student. In fact, even $60/semester is getting there. The problem, however, is that the referendum question as it currently stands is junk. U-Pass should not be going to anything even approaching referendum until there is an acceptable deal already in place. The current question aims to be a bargaining chip and a yardstick of demand, yet compromises this by binding the Students’ Union. This should be defeated, though it should not be an abandonment of transit-related initiatives.

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Variations on a Theme by Uematsu

Tuesday, 2 March 2004 — 3:53pm | Game music, Music, Video games

With the U-Pass referendum Yes side walking away from yesterday’s Myer Horowitz election forum beaten and bloodied, and campaigning officially ceasing tonight, the race for the 2004-2005 SU Executive has effectively come to a close. Extensive coverage can be found in both The Gateway (26 Feb/04 and 2 Mar/04) and Steve Smith’s posts on the Webboard, including several rigorous candidate interviews and two very similar Poster Slams, one being the Smith Report Card and the other being the annual Gateway feature here (Boutet/Kaszor/Berry). Expect my final endorsements soon.

On another press-related note, congratulations to Adam Rozenhart, the section editor I worked with this year on Opinion and last year on A&E, for being selected as the next Editor-In-Chief.

And now for something completely different: a few days ago, something momentous happened at game music fan site OverClocked Remix. Jeremy Soule, composer of the scores to Secret of Evermore, Morrowind and Neverwinter Nights – and best known to me as the one who infused life into Knights of the Old Republic and emulated 1980s John Williams like nobody else – had his own submission admitted after three months in the elephantine queue.

Entitled Squaresoft Variation, it is a symphonic arrangement of Nobuo Uematsu’s signature title melody to Final Fantasy VI (or III here in North America), “Terra’s Theme” – one of the true standards of video game music in the genre’s short history. This is almost the equivalent of Ted Naismith submitting something to a Tolkien fan art community website, so this is no insignificant milestone. Be sure to check out the fallout.

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