Blue day in July

It apparently took forty consecutive losses to convince U of T football coach Steve Howlett that enough is enough, as he resigned on July 4th, 2008. But who can blame him, considering that Howlett will be remembered as the coach who brought on the embarrassing 0-49 (and counting!) record to our beloved institution and athletic program.

Rather than act like our model sibling American schools and fire Howlett 3-4 years ago, U of T embraced the futility and mediocrity of our football program and let him ride to eventual rock bottom.

At least now he has abandoned the sinking ship and moved on with his life.

Howlett was hired to fix a football program that hadn’t had a winning season since 1995, when they went 4-3-1 (Four wins! Do you believe it?). Instead, the program has not progressed and we are stuck waiting for the next coach to fix this slumping team.

Why can’t a large metropolis like Toronto produce a winning football team, let alone produce a single win? Excuses are meaningless—U of T just doesn’t take responsibility, and no one seems to care.

With a losing streak as embarrassing as the one we currently own, there is no outcry from students, faculty, or the athletic administration. To the students, it has become an ongoing joke. They have accepted this record and use it as a tool for self-deprecation.

The administration, hell-bent on tradition, appears to be content with a team that simply goes out and plays. Having a high budget for sports doesn’t guarantee success, but what’s the point of a competitive university team if the results don’t matter?

Still, excuses are made. High entrance marks are preventing some players from attending U of T. Not having a permanent home while the old stadium was torn down and rebuilt also turned players off. It is ironic that while that stadium was rebuilt, the team wasn’t.

Does the athletic administration know something about the football program that we don’t? While maintaining a budget as high as it was, Howlett stayed on the payroll despite his lackluster results.

Football is not high on the to-do list for our school and sadly, it shows. However, football becomes important when there is outcry from the media realizing that we haven’t won a football game in five years.

Hopefully a new coach can be brought in who will vow to reverse this streak. The record could be broken, perhaps sooner than we may think, but a new coach can’t fix everything. We may progress in scouting and attracting new, skilled players, but if U of T continues with the mentality that it is okay to lose then we will never advance. Until the football team is no longer at the butt end of constant jokes, they can’t improve. As with those mediocre Toronto Maple Leafs, time is needed for things to be reversed, and now is a good time to start.

‘We are ready’

BEIJING—“Of course I’m excited, how could you not be?” It’s a brisk day in Beijing, but here in the dining hall of Peking University, nothing can cool marketing student Jackie Yu’s enthusiasm for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games. “I’ve never seen Chinese people so excited before, everyone is behind the Olympics,” says Yu. Signs of this fervor can be seen across the city. Crowds swarm the official Games merchandise kiosks at shopping malls. Subway commuters stare agape at flat-screen TVs playing educational videos about the various Olympic sports, many of which they have never seen before, such as equestrian events and kayaking.

For Yu and many other Chinese, interest in the Olympics has little to do with sports. Hu Ming, a computer science major at Beihang University, says it’s about showing his homeland to the world. “There is still a lot of misunderstanding about China—that we’re some underdeveloped people with long plaited hair and bound feet. So everyone sees this as an opportunity to show the world what the new China is really like.”

Of course, China’s path to the Olympics has been fraught with controversy. Despite promises to clean up its human rights record and improve air quality before the start of the Games, the government has continued to face protests and complaints, most notably for its ties with the Sudanese government, its continued occupation of the Tibetan and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions, and pollution around its Olympic venues.

While the central government has tried to appease foreign observers with piecemeal concessions, the mood at home seems decidedly resolute. “Personally I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about,” says Li Qing. As a political science and philosophy student at Qinghua University, Li is well aware of the arguments being put forth by human rights activists. He simply disagrees. “I think China just has a different understanding than the West of what it means to uphold human rights. Would it be better to go back to the old Tibetan feudal system where the peasants were treated like slaves to the Dalai Lama? Or to have offshore prisons like the American Guantanamo Bay?” He adds, “The government is like a person, they don’t always do everything perfectly, but overall we think they do more right than wrong, especially after the Sichuan earthquakes where they acted so quickly. How can you say they don’t treat their citizens right after that?”

Indeed, many see the May 12 earthquakes in Sichuan province as a turning point in Olympic preparations. The Games took on greater symbolic meaning: Not only do they unveil China’s grand debut as a world power, supporters say, but also the country’s strength as a survivor.

Serious concerns arise that this intensely renewed nationalism has allowed the central government to get away with imposing questionable policies. The Olympics have brought a host of new regulations that range from the more innocuous “social courtesy” program of instructing citizens on Western norms—to line up, not wear pyjamas and slippers in public, and avoid noisily spitting on the street—to more contentious measures that some call social cleansing. The latter call for stricter controls on the flow of itinerant workers, police registration of migrant travelers, and crackdowns on such “unseemly” sights as homeless panhandlers and street vendors. To U.S. expatriate Weiling Wong, the measures are attempts to cover up ugly urban realities. “The government is hiding the children under the bed while company’s over,” Wong says.

Li, the Qinghua student, still stands by his government. He argues that the controversy is overstated. “We are the most populous country in the world. One city here has more people than some European countries, so of course our government has to take certain policies that you Westerners find terrible, but without them, we would have total social chaos.”

Though some locals are ambivalent to the Games or oppose them altogether, there is a general recognition of this as a historic moment. “We are ready,” goes the theme song for the one-year countdown to the Olympics. The propitious date of August 8, 2008, holds high hopes for a country that has hurled headlong into modernization—and for protestors demanding social and political change. Let the Games begin.

Ricciardi is off-base

If casual baseball fans were searching for clues as to how the Toronto Blue Jays have fared this season, they wouldn’t have to look much further than the fact that the sole Jay selected for the All Star Game in New York is Roy Halladay.

A perennial candidate for the Cy Young Award, Halladay has been consistent in his ability to give the Jays a chance to win. Despite his best efforts, the past several seasons have been characterized by team-wide underachievement, untimely injuries, and a revolving door of excuses and ‘wait-til-next-years’ given by the front office.

This door is about to come to an abrupt stop, however, with general manager J.P. Ricciardi caught in the middle.

After seven years of respectable results (such as building a .500 club on a lower payroll than divisional rivals Red Sox and Yankees), Ricciardi seems to have run out of rope, and his only hope is a late season surge by the sub-.500 Jays. This year was supposed to be the year, but on-field losses have translated to the overall failure of Ricciardi’s master plan.

Riccardi has done little to stay on board until his contract expires in 2010, and he has always maximized expectations while downplaying the importance of not meeting them. In the past few seasons, he orchestrated a handful of public relation disasters that have undermined fans’ interest in the Blue Jays brand and their confidence in Ricciardi’s ability to deliver a winner on the field.

The most glaring offense came early last season when, after admitting that he lied to the media about the nature and extent of closer BJ Ryan’s elbow injury, Ricciardi tried to downplay his deception.

Ryan went on to have season-ending Tommy John surgery, as Ricciardi was vilified for disrespecting fans.

An uglier example of Riccardi’s tendency to say the wrong thing happened in June when he answered a fan’s question on Mike Wilner’s radio show about the Jays’ potential interest in acquiring Reds slugger Adam Dunn. A very frustrated Ricciardi went into a tirade, claiming that the Jays had ‘done [their] homework on Dunn’ and discovered that he ‘didn’t even like baseball’.

The outburst received considerable media attention and was subjected to a sharp rebuke from Dunn who dismissed Ricciardi as a ‘clown’ whom he didn’t even recognize by name. After Ricciardi’s remarks, Dunn, a free agent after this season, ignored the possibility of playing in Toronto.

Ricciardi was caught in even more drama after the firing of long-time personal friend and Jays manager John Gibbons, despite his statement that ‘Gibby’ had the ability to lead the team to the playoffs. It was suggested to Toronto baseball writers that President and CEO Paul Godfrey chose to remove Gibbons, which if true, would show a blatant lack of Ricciardi’s authority. Ricciardi claimed the decision was his, and that he is happy with current manager Cito Gaston.

With a background in politics and a keen eye for public perception, Godfrey must know that fans have almost completely lost patience with Ricciardi. Given Godfrey’s mandate to deliver high attendance figures and black bottom lines, it is difficult to imagine that he will be the one to throw Ricciardi a lifeline for next year as the team limps through the dog days of another wasted summer.

Dunlap’s last lap?

By the end of this month, the University of Toronto will finalize its sale of the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill to an undisclosed private third party. The university has already laid off the observatory’s staff.

Governing Council committees had voted for the observatory’s closure and sale starting last November, but now a group called the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders has stepped in, in an effort to classify the observatory and surrounding area as a world heritage site. The group said it will not hesitate to take the matter to the UN, under its UNESCO agency.

Meanwhile, the municipality of Richmond Hill has already approached the provincial Conservation Review Board regarding the protection of the site.

The Defenders group is arguing for protection of 100 per cent of the observatory and its surrounding area, while the municipality is arguing for 48 per cent, which includes the observatory but excludes an adjacent strip of forest land.

The university also wants to remove portraits of David Dunlap and his wife, currently situated inside the observatory, and relocate them to U of T’s new institute for astronomy. The Defenders are opposed to this proposal. They believe the portraits to be part of the building.

U of T has otherwise washed its hands of the matter, saying that the fate of the observatory remains a matter to be dealt between the town and the developers.

Rob Steiner, U of T’s Assistant Vice-President strategic communications, said: “[The observatory’s] historical value is for the town to decide.”

Steiner said the purpose of the observatory is for supporting astronomy, and that it is important for the university to “honour [that] original intent.” He added the observatory has not been able to do world class research over the last 20 years due to light pollution from the GTA. The university has said that funneling the profits it will make from the sale back to its astronomy program will better suit the intent of the Observatory’s original donor.

The 79-hectare site, along with the 74-inch telescope, then the second largest telescope in the world, were donated to U of T by Jessie Donalda Dunlap in honour of her husband in the 1930s. It was donated on the condition that the site be used for scientific research. If sold, the site could be reverted to the ownership of the Dunlap heirs. In 2003, U of T successfully fought for the termination of that clause.

Canadian Copyright Reforms: Made in the USA

The introduction of new legislation regarding copyright should not come as a surprise to any informed Canadian. After all, ours is the country where peer-to-peer downloading is currently legal. Yet the recently released details of Industry Minister Jim Prentice’s Bill C-61 are a shock to many.

The bill describes explicitly what consumers can and cannot do. You can record a television program for later viewing, provided that you delete it as soon as you see it. Transferring music to your iPod is allowed, but you can only make one copy per device and keep the original. Copying DVDs is almost certainly prohibited. Media technology has progressed at such a rapid pace, Canadian law can barely keep up—making clear what is and isn’t allowed under the law is a welcome development.

But what the bill giveth, it also taketh away. It allows for an undeniably harsh 500-dollar penalty for peer-to-peer downloading, and an even more ridiculous maximum of 20,000 dollars for illegally sharing content. Illegal sharing includes actions as benign as posting copyrighted material on YouTube, or sharing MP3s on Limewire.

In an astonishingly Machiavellian twist, Bill C-61 removes all the ‘rights’ it gives. If copyrighted material has digital rights management (DRM) technology that prevents the copying or transferring of content to other devices, bypassing this is illegal. Simply put, consumer’s rights are firmly in the hands of media companies.

Accusations that the bill was ‘made in the US’ are well- founded. Pressure over the past few years from prominent American political figures, ranging from California governator Arnold Schwarzenegger to US ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, made it clear that American movie studios and record labels have had a hand in Canada’s recent attempts at copyright reform.

They are also terrified about their future—perhaps with good reason. Ask any record store owner how sales are lately, and the answer will invariably be ‘slow.’ The industry’s figures are indeed dismal: in the first quarter of 2007, CD sales dropped 35 per cent in Canada. According to The Times of London, global music sales last year fell to their lowest levels since 1985. This is only one piece of a multi-billion dollar global industry. But is painting a target on the backs of Canadian citizens a logical solution to the problem of slowing sales?

According to Statistics Canada, 45 per cent of home Internet users downloaded music in 2007. Lobbing lawsuits at otherwise law-abiding citizens will not make the problem go away. Limiting consumers’ freedom by implementing frustrating DRM technologies only encourages further downloading. Anyone who has bought a CD only to find it won’t play in their car stereo or be copied to their computer knows the pain of dealing with an industry trying to protect itself in the laziest way possible.

Rather than lobbying for draconian laws, media companies are better off developing technologies that keep the customer in mind. Consulting with consumer groups and artists—something the government did not do when drafting bill C-61—would be a good first step towards a profitable model.

Already, the backlash against the proposed bill is noticeable: a Facebook group entitled Fair Copyright for Canada, created by University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, has 85,000 members. By bending backwards for American lobby groups, the Tories might lose a lot of votes in the next election if this controversial bill passes.

“This bill reflects a win-win approach,” said Jim Prentice recently at a press conference. But who exactly is winning?

Troops into Afghanistan

If Canadians want to teach their neighbours down south a lesson on smart, successful foreign policy, Afghanistan presents a welcome opportunity. By increasing troops to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s resurgence before the country teeters on the brink of collapse, as happened in Iraq in 2006, we can humble Americans with our willingness to adjust to environmental changes in a timely fashion. That such an underrated ability could be witnessed is a fundamental lesson to be taken from the near-tragic American occupation of Iraq.

In arguing for a “surge” in Afghanistan, we must provide some context. In 2006, Iraq was suffering from attacks on all fronts. Shiite and Sunni internecine warfare grew so prevalent that a civil war was predicted to be imminent. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was relentless in its inflammatory acts, dealing bloodshed to all Iraqi factions and heightening tensions in an already strained environment. By early 2007, with Baghdad lost to factions and insurgents, it was clear that the calls from various dissenting generals and Republican senators for a larger post-war force had been correct all along.

The premise of the surge was that counterinsurgency requires sustained security. When Robert Kagan and Jack Keane developed the policy at the American Enterprise Institute and argued for it in various publications, they made it clear that providing a safe environment was key: it is only when civilians feel safe that they are able to provide the information necessary to root out insurgent hideouts. Likewise, only when nascent police forces feel they have enough backup can they be willing to follow through on their duties to protect. The American mission in Iraq demonstrated that army forces could take out terrorist strongholds with ease, but the final two components of their “clear, hold, and build” strategy failed to materialize. “Holding and “building” were never ensured because the lack of total troop numbers meant that American forces had to move on to the next hot spot in the country before they could stay long enough to assuage the civilian population and build local facilities for reconstruction. Thus, in due time, once-pacified strongholds were re-infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives or factional insurgents.

With the increase of 32,000 troops, American forces could follow through on the “hold” and “build” portions of their operations. Instead of leaving once enemy forces were rooted, the army placed enough troops to “hold” a given city for the long term. With the aid of the Americans, each pacified city was able to subsequently rebuild and restore normalcy. By now, the results have been positive. Sunni militants have turned on their al-Qaeda collaborators and violence has fallen to 2004 levels.

In Afghanistan, we have a similar problem on a much smaller scale. The issue is less about security breakdown, instead resting on a lack of military progress. As The Economist reported, the primary danger in Afghanistan is “that the war will settle into a stalemate, one in which the Taliban controls much of the countryside in the Pushtun belt and Mr. Karzai’s government runs the rest.”

More troops would allow the multinational mission in Afghanistan to focus on Operation Enduring Freedom’s task of hunting out al-Qaeda along the Pakistani border and the International Security Assistance Force’s efforts to attend to humanitarian and reconstruction needs. It would also increase the likelihood of sustained success, just as in Iraq, halting the downward spiral of public opinion regarding the war in most of the countries involved.

Some say that the most pressing issue is political stagnation. This is due to the lack of credibility that president Hamid Karzai commands. While more troops will not fix endemic corruption or a lack of will among politicians to make deals with Pushtuns, government credibility can be bolstered when security and stability are extended to all parts of the country. In Iraq, one overlooked aspect of the surge was its theoretical implication that without security, political power would shift from democratically elected leaders to factional and sectarian war leaders. Since the surge and the security that came with it, the White House has now reported that 15 of 18 benchmarks have been met, most concerned with political reconciliation. In the beginning, only 3 of 18 benchmarks had been achieved.

One has to wonder if the troop increases in Iraq came too late. Those who believe that the future security and stability of millions of Afghani civilians living in an infant democracy is worth fighting for should act quickly to prevent mistakes in Iraq from repeating themselves. Instead of drifting along the course of attrition and prolonged failure, Canada should revitalize its mission in Afghanistan and make an effort to increase the number of troops so that success can be attained.

Who says you have to be elected to be president?

In a controversial move, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union board of directors has recently hired and ratified Zuhair Syed as interim president until September 30. During SCSU elections earlier this year, the election committee disqualified Syed from the presidency after he received three strikes for election violations, and recommended Jenna Hossack be ratified as president. However the board chose to ratify only the committee’s recommendations for directors, leaving the presidential position temporarily vacant until the next by-election in the fall.

Or at least that was the plan.

Earlier this summer the SCSU board decided to hire an interim president rather than have the VP academics temporarily fulfill those duties. After a brief interview and hiring period, Syed was ratified as interim SCSU president and CEO at a board of directors meeting on June 20. Under the contract, Syed will be president for the rest of the summer until September 30.

In a telephone interview Syed expressed this as a correction of a faulty process. “It seems that by the actions of the election committee that they were definitely incompetent in terms of the presidential election.” He holds that he was unfairly disqualified by the elections committee, and the board recognized this.

Responding to the accusations of bias and unfair disqualification, Elections Committee chief recruiting officer Dawn Cattapan said that the entire committees for elections, hiring and elections’ appeals would also have to be biased for that argument to be valid. “I don’t think we’re biased and quite frankly during the director elections there were way too many [candidates]. We didn’t know anybody’s name. Until counting night we didn’t know half the candidates’ names.”

Cattapan admits that her favourite candidate was neither Syed nor Hossack. “I was actually hoping that Edward would win. He had some really cool ideas and really went in there and got to know people. He only got like 50 votes though.”

Cattapan thinks that aside from the results, the election went pretty smoothly. “I didn’t expect it to be thrown out – it was a great election that we ran. I would hope that future elections would be run very similar where they would have that sort of luck where things would stay so organized but without the controversy,” she said, pausing for a second on the phone. “But it’s student politics, controversy always seems to ensue.”

One thing is for sure, debate and controversy definitely have not deterred Syed’s aspirations in student politics. The well-known management student has already announced plans to run for president again during the SCSU’s October by-election.

The Battle of the Flip-Floppers

As the Democratic presidential primaries have finally winded down, and as senators Barack Obama and John McCain proceed with their general election campaigning, those of us who have followed this phenomenal race with exuberance and anticipation have witnessed the candidates take some serious political punches from the left and right. If it wasn’t a preacher’s conspiratorial remarks, it was some conservative network unleashing false rumours within the blogosphere. Every statement has been publicly scrutinized and carefully investigated under the media’s microscope. We’ve watched the contenders grace our television screens on a daily basis, at times delivering rousing speeches, and at others making one too many gaffes. It’s not unusual for politicians to backtrack on certain positions, or simply refine their policies to suit their audience. That’s the nature of politics, where upholding integrity is low on the list of priorities and political expediency reigns supreme. While both candidates are vastly different, in terms of ideology, policy, and personality, neither has proven his innocence. Accusations of flip-flopping have already begun their vicious circulation in the news.

Senator John Kerry was famously characterized as a flip-flopper during the 2004 presidential election, which proved to be disasterous for the candidate. Although Barack Obama and his campaign are confident that they will not repeat past mistakes, his recent change on issues like public campaign financing, the death penalty, gun control, and illegal federal wiretapping are driving the media haywire. Being labeled the most liberal senator by the opposition didn’t hurt Barack Obama in the primaries, but now he faces the challenge of breaking away from the liberal progressive wing of his party to reach out to independents, a key constituency that may hold the fate of both candidates. Some identify this as a flip-flop, others as a move to the centre, but either way it’s a move towards the right. With a campaign built on progressive ideals and a strong anti-Bush sentiment, this strategy appears disingenuous.

His Republican counterpart doesn’t fare any better. John McCain has flip-flopped on almost every significant issue: tax cuts, abortion, the Iraq War, torture, public campaign financing, offshore drilling, and the list goes on. The senator from Arizona paints himself as the maverick from the Straight Talk Express, not afraid to stand alone from the Republican establishment. However, this political chameleon has reversed any and all moderate positions he once supported as a senator, and now as a presumptive presidential candidate, he has taken a hard-line Republican approach to policy. He’s denied any allegation of inconsistency, but his gaffes and slip-ups can be easily accessed via YouTube. As a self-proclaimed straight-shooter (but more of a sweet talker than anything else), John McCain has always been the darling of the media, while Barack Obama’s treatment is indicative of serious media bias.

A politician who changes their mind does not merit unyielding persecution. We should expect our political figures to remain open-minded and watchful of the changing global climate, and make their judgments accordingly. But when politicians shift sides frequently and then have the audacity to deny any changes of heart, the public has a right to question their sincerity and the media has an obligation to examine their political motivations.