Pick a fight’

A crowd of 500 squeezed inside UTSC’s largest lecture theatre to hear the Honourable Louise Arbour speak on human rights last Thursday. The Montreal native, who was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights until September, gave a speech entitled “All Human Rights for All: A Broken Promise.” Arbour, who was recently named Companion to the Order of Canada, is also a former Supreme Court judge. Her lecture takes place a few months in advance of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The evening began with the recount of a journey to Gaza where a factory had been attacked by an Israeli missile, killing one employee, while Arbour was at a meeting across the street. Bitter silence greeted Arbour when she visited the factory to speak to the shaken crowd, and someone threw a stone at her UN vehicle as she left. These workers, Arbour said, are among the people who feel human rights staff have failed them.

Arbour touched on how working for peace can only be done through cooperation, and how equality must be put ahead of past conflicts. Everyone, regardless of nationality, must be held accountable for his or her actions, she said.

The former UN commissioner also spoke of Canada’s reputation as a champion of human rights, and of her experiences in prosecuting war criminals from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Although an overflow room with a projector was set up, scores of students chose to sit on the aisles. During the Q&A period, a student asked how well-meaning but uninformed youth can help. Arbour’s reply was greeted with a resounding applause.

“You cannot be at the forefront of every good fight. I think you have to chose one or two and make them your own,” said Arbour. “Get an education, pick a battle, and support in solidarity all those who are fighting all the other ones that you can’t.”

How polls work

Robert Orben famously mused, “Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?”

In this day of constant polling and the media frenzy caused by the inching of percentages, what focus should there be on the numbers?

“Any one poll probably should not be focused on too much, but the whole series of them as they go along up towards the election can give you a fairly good indication of how things are going to go,” said Nancy Reid, a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto. “Unless you get a real surprise right near the end or something changes quite suddenly[…] then there is a time gap where the polling is not done at the time of that big change.”

The use of statistical methodology maintains the appearance of accuracy. However, a poll sampling 1,000 people results in a built-in margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. This means that if a poll places a party’s support at 40 per cent, realistically it is indicative of support that could fall anywhere between 37.9 and 43.1 per cent.

In addition, polls are only considered accurate 19 times out of 20. This means that one out of every 20 polls could be expected to provide results that lie outside the margin of error.

In polling, staticians use samples that accurately reflect the demographic of the country. Though polling companies use random digit dialing—calling landlines at random to get the right number of people—with the widespread use of cell phones, this method is proving ineffective and could skew results.

“People are starting to wonder if [random digit dialing] is going to stick because a lot of younger people just have cell phones, they don’t have a landline anymore. As far as I know they haven’t adapted for that yet,” Reid said.

Errors in polls can also be attributed to the group of voters who refuse to take part. This can result in a sampling bias if the group’s statistics are somehow different.

The National Council on Public Polls Review Board has stated, “In general, the quality of a sample improves the longer the survey is in the field. Surveys conducted on one evening, or even over two days, have more sampling biases—due to non-response and non-availability—than surveys which are in the field for three, four, or five days.”

Accuracy of polls also depends heavily on voters providing truthful answers. According to research conducted on voting behaviour, many people answer less than honestly.

Professor Reid remarked, “This could prove to be a factor in the American elections. It’s been shown people often don’t respond to the polling people honestly on certain questions about race and that can have an impact—especially when you have a black candidate.”

Where pop meets politics

A panel concluding the first Toronto Palestine Film Festival discussed the history of Palestinian cultural resistance through art last Saturday morning. Drawing on Jackie Salloum’s award-winning documentary and festival closer Slingshot Hip Hop, discussion focused on the emergence of new art forms as means of cultural resistance.

Salloum’s film tells the interrelated stories of young Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel as they discover hip hop as a way to overcome divisions fostered by occupation and poverty.

Based in New York, Salloum is a filmmaker whose pop-infused work focuses on challenging the stereotypes of Arabs in the media. “I chose to merge pop-culture and politics in my work, because there is a fine line where you don’t want to sound preachy. If you hold a sign and scream at peoples faces it’s not very effective […] I started using things people were comfortable with, gumball machines, collages, and toys,” said Salloum.

Sling Shot Hip Hop took nearly four years to develop mainly due to troubles finding financers who were not keen to fund the project about Palestinian struggles excluding their Israeli counterparts.

Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at OISE described hip hop’s mobilizing potential. “One of the things that is really interesting about hip hop as an art form, is that every time you think hip hop is dead, it raises its head somewhere else and appears to be relevant again.”

Rafeef Ziadah, who is a PhD candidate in Political Science at York University, cited the Black Consciousness Movement in as a source of inspiration for her own activism. Ziadah, also a local spoken word artist and a well-known Toronto Palestine activist and performer, said Palestinians are fighting for their basic human dignity, through art and culture.

Whole grain goodness

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that half of total grain servings be whole grain. However, most consumers fall nowhere near this recommendation. Whether you buy bread from the corner bakery or the local supermarket, the multitude of options can be overwhelming and often confusing. Whole grain, whole wheat, stone ground, white bread…what’s the actual difference? Many of us have heard that “brown bread” is healthier for you, but many sandwich options simply taste better on white bread. There are vast differences between the available varieties, which consumers should be aware of when making a decision.

The main distinction between white and whole wheat bread is in the processing and nutritional content. Harvested wheat is comprised of bran, endosperm, and germ. Each component is essential to the nutrient content of grain, as they contain fiber, phytonutrients and carbohydrates, and protein respectively. When a grain is refined, only the starchy endosperm layer is left over. The refining process results in a loss of up to 30 vitamins and minerals, despite the nutrient enrichment process employed in many white breads today.

Not all whole wheat breads are whole grain. In fact, molasses is often used as a colouring agent to make the bread look like the healthier variety. Labels such as “whole grain health” really translate to “containing one to 49 per cent whole grain.” In order to reap the benefits of real whole grain, the product should state that it contains “100 per cent whole grain whole wheat” as the first ingredient. In Canada, a food can be advertised as whole wheat even with up to 70 per cent of the germ content removed. Breads such as 12 grain, stoned wheat, and whole bran actually contain mostly white flour. For these reasons, it is important to read the ingredients when choosing bread.

Whole grain products tend to have a higher caloric content than more refined products due to their higher oil content. However, whole grain breads are an important fiber source as consuming them more often will improve gastrointestinal function and health. The daily-recommended consumption of fibre is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. On average, Canadians only eat about 14 to 21 grams of fibre a day. While lentils and beans are the best fibre source, it is often easier to incorporate whole grain bread into a meal.

Don’t be fooled by the packaging and too-good-to-be-true food manufacturers’ claims. Both white and whole wheat bread also contain chemical preservatives to increase shelf life. So if you’re really keen on making healthier choices you should visit the local bakery, or try baking your own bread.

Paul Martin, shaken and stirred

Scores of people lined up to shake a former Prime Minister’s hand, as Paul Martin stopped by Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 28, to promote his new memoir, Hell or High Water: My Life In and Out of Politics. Martin was interviewed by Indigo CEO Heather Reisman at the Bay and Bloor bookstore.

Martin spoke on a range of subjects, but the global financial crisis dominated the talk due to Martin’s days as a deficit-slaying finance minister.

“[They’ve] got the right idea—you need to stabilize the credit markets,” Martin said, expressing support for bailout plans in the U.S. and the U.K. He warned of dire consequences if the federal government runs a deficit.

“If you a run a deficit, your children pay for it. If they don’t, your grandchildren do.”

The former PM took several shots at Stephen Harper, who won a minority government in an October election of questionable legality.

Martin became emotional as he recounted a story of visiting a reservation and offering his condolences to a girl who had lost a brother to suicide, to which she replied that she wasn’t sorry. Dumbstruck, Martin asked another reserve resident what she had meant, and learned that it was the third time a brother of hers had killed himself. Harper’s government, Martin said, has turned its back on Aboriginal issues.

When an audience member asked how Martin thinks Harper would get along with Senator Obama should he be elected the American president, he laughed and said, “Boy, would I like to tee off on that one.” He then stressed the need for international cooperation.

Reisman wanted to know how Martin reconciled his support for same-sex marriage with his Catholic faith. Martin spoke of the teenage daughter of a close friend who became inexplicably depressed and suicidal. Upon meeting a female partner and her family’s acceptance of the relationship, the girl recovered and went on to obtain a PhD and move out West with her partner. “We cannot tell people that we’re going to put them in a corner and not understand where they’re coming from,” Martin said.

The imperfect ending

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues field hockey team played fourteen games this past year without losing a single one. Their worst outcomes were a tie against the Guelph Gryphons, the runner-up in the OUA, and a tie versus the third-place finishers, the Western Mustangs. The Blues also had seven shutouts in the regular season, including a 9-0 win over the McGill Martlets. Their eighth shutout was in OUA semi-final, defeating the Waterloo Warriors 4-0. The team was so dominant that even winning by one goal was often viewed as a failure. The Blues featured a great number of All-Canadians, and boasted the Liz Hoffman Award winner, given to the most valuable player in all of Canada. For the second straight year, the award was won by Blues forward Cailie O’Hara.

The Blues went into the CIS Championship in Victoria, B.C. as the number one ranked team in the country, higher than teams from UBC and the University of Victoria where field hockey is staggeringly popular. (The Blues and the Guelph Gryphons were the only teams from Ontario to qualify for the tournament.) Opening the competion by beating UBC, the number two ranked team, 1-0, this game was followed by a shocking 2-1 loss against the host team the Victoria Vikings. The Blues then endured a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Guelph.

In the Blues’ last game of the Round Robin, the University of Alberta Pandas—a squad that finished the regular season with a losing record—pulled off an upset for the ages, with a 3-2 win over the Blues. The Pandas are led by star player and first team all-Canadian forward Bunny Hughes. Their best defender, Dilraj Bal, who helped stymie the Blues’ late charge, missed the previous game, not because of an injury, but for “academic obligations.”

Cailie O’Hara, who was voted most valuable player of the OUA Championship game, scored the final goal of the Blues’ season to keep her team alive against the upstart Pandas. Her foreboding attitude after winning the OUA Championship was surprising then, but seems especially prescient now.

“It was a good season, but we still have a lot to accomplish,” O’Hara cautioned after the OUA Championship.

The entire team seemed subdued in their celebrations, almost mocking the ceremony of hoisting a trophy that signified being the best team in Ontario, but not necessarily the best in Canada.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s an expectation for us to win the OUA Championship. It’s more of a relief than happiness when we win,” explained O’Hara.

In the OUA Championship, Toronto had to come from behind, rather than dominate in order to beat the defending champion Guelph Gryphons.

“When we get to the CIS, we hope to keep improving, because we weren’t entirely happy with what we just did,” said O’Hara. It will be interesting to see how entirely unhappy the team will feel after their performance in the CIS tournament.

The 2008 Varsity Blues field hockey team will probably take little solace from their undefeated season. In the case of the 2007 New England Patriots, an undefeated season seemed bitter when compounded by a playoff loss against weaker competition. Sometimes it’s hard to be the best, as Blues assistant coach Kelly Sadowski noted after winning the OUA championship, victory cupcake in hand: “There’s always an expectation that we should [win]. We’re the undefeated team in the OUA. We’re always the team that people are gunning for.”

While the Blues were gunned down in the CIS Championship, their imperfect championship does not erase a flawless regular season.

Savages, noble and otherwise

Painful questions of cultural superiority have been raised in Canada. Former International Olympic Committee vice president Dick Pound’s comments about Native Canadians’ “savage” pre-contact culture sparked major controversy, and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s recent column defending his statements stoked the flames. The uproar surrounding Wente’s piece, which unabashedly positions Western culture as superior to that of the “neolithic” Native Canadians, exposes a painful rift in North American cultural values.

The artificial Anglo/Native dichotomy exposes a startling lack of intellectual curiosity and respect for empirical, evidence based inquiry. The cultures of Western settlers in North America and Aboriginals are different, to be sure. But does difference imply superiority? A century ago, most European anthropologists and historians would have said yes. I disagree, though I might be accused of fence-sitting. Difference only means difference, not superiority, and certainly not “savagery.” The task of intelligent people in any field is to explore these differences and present them fairly, rather than romanticizing theories and presenting them as fact.

In his sweeping History of Madness, Michel Foucault claims that the rise of the therapeutic asylum in nineteenth-century Europe was the result of a “grand confinement” of those who did not comply with the goals of emerging capitalist states. In order to “encourage the others,” those who wouldn’t work were placed in lock up until they came to their senses. Those on the outside were warned to be on their best behaviour. Foucault’s treatise raises many questions about the nature of state control in the Western world. But as a historical account, nothing could be more flawed.

The rise of the asylum in Europe coincides with the Enlightenment-era ideas of physicians and nascent psychiatrists empirically testing the value of confinement and therapy in the treatment of the insane. Despite this fact, Foucault’s “history” gained currency among the chattering classes. The work of historians who have actually investigated the issue has been ignored.

Something similar has happened in the field of Aboriginal studies. The romantic notion of pastoral, peaceable, highly developed First Nations peoples has taken on a life of its own. Caged in by ignorant attacks, intelligent people have been forced to defend Native Canadian culture rather than research it. Those who want to study rather than rhapsodize have had little choice but to promote the archetype of the one-with-nature Native Canadian. This is akin to claiming that Fuji apples are superior to naval oranges. Each should be explored in its own context. Of course, when speaking of Native culture, one is generalizing about many different cultures. The many groups that existed in pre-Columbian North America were distinct, and while some were building complex urban areas, others were leading nomadic lives on the plains. This holds true for “European” culture as well: what is the primary connection between Germany and Portugal?

In a response to Wente, Aboriginal scholar Hayden King of McMaster University fell into this common trap. King defended Native over European governance, showing his own lack of understanding by claiming that Natives had strict incest laws while the “crowned heads of France and England were as inbred as poodles.” Any medievalist or early modernist will tell you that the Catholic Church had stricter consanguinity laws than we have in Canada today.

King also claims that traditional forms of healing practiced in Native societies have directly impacted modern medical practice. It seems to me that traditional healing has little to nothing to do with modern, empirical-based medicine.

This is not to say that traditional healing ought to be dismissed as “savage” any more than the practice of blood-letting. Each represents a unique period of scientific development in two very dissimilar cultures. Every modern Canadian must live with the historical reality of European conquest. Sadly, it is impossible to know how traditional healing would have developed without Western intervention, but we cannot allow guilt to motivate historical inquiry and inform cultural values. Romanticizing Native Canadian or European culture does little good for anyone, and contributes very little to genuine understanding. We must insist on intellectually sound, evidence-based interpretations of each culture, and resist the impulse to declare one superior over the other. Wente’s and King’s comments about Native culture are not simply “stupid” or politically incorrect. They have both committed an even greater intellectual sin: laziness.

Blues go down swinging

The Varsity Blues baseball team was one game shy of the fourth and final playoff berth this season, despite finishing the year on a three-game winning streak. Nosed out by Waterloo, who finished with 18 points on the strength of nine wins, the Blues wound up winning eight games with 16 points.

Notably, this season marked the second straight year that the team missed the playoffs by two points. They finished with 25 points, two behind McMaster, in the 2007-2008 baseball season. If the Blues’ playoff hunt was an instant replay of last year’s, someone hit the rewind button. A year ago, Waterloo finished a spot behind Toronto by a single point.

Despite the final result, the team can look back on several morale-boosting victories. The Blues won their season series with the eventual OUA champion McMaster Marauders, taking two of three games. The teams split a two game set at U of T’s Scarborough home field on Sept. 20, with the Blues dropping the first game of the double header 4-0 before picking up a 3-1 win in the afternoon game. They clinched the season series by notching a solid 7-4 win at Bernie Arbour Stadium in Hamilton to finish the season.

While the Blues didn’t get to enjoy the playoffs in the formal sense, their three-game winning streak at the end of the regular season felt like a playoff series due to a do-or-die element.

“The games were against the top-ranked OUA teams. The players stepped right up by playing near-perfect baseball. From the top to the bottom of the batting order the team was able to hit with runners in scoring position,” said Blues head coach Dan Lang. “We had several games rained-out, which meant playing without much rest in make-up games, and playing the top-ranked teams at the end.”

It is often said that baseball is an individual sport wrapped around team concepts. The team’s strong efforts were due in large part to the work of Mississauga native Marek Deska, named OUA’s Most Valuable Pitcher of the season. Deska is also a member of OUA’s first team all-stars, an honour shared with Blues’ outfielder Jamie Lekas who finished in a tie with McMaster’s Sean Lemon for the last outfield spot.

Deska demonstrated his team value when he strung together two exceptional late season performances to keep the Blues’ playoff hopes alive as the regular season dwindled away. He tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the cellar-dwelling Guelph Gryphons on Oct. 1. Pitching on three days rest, Deska knocked off a more competitive opponent when he threw another eight innings of two-hit ball—allowing only a single run to score—against the playoff-bound second place Western Mustangs on October 5. Deska’s performance helped lead the Blues to a 3-1 upset over Western.

David Fallico was the Blues’ strongest offensive player this year, leading the team with a .360 batting average and .400 slugging percentage. He finished with a .450 on-base percentage, tying Lekas for the lead. Fallico also led the team with 18 hits, while his eight stolen bases left him tied with Michael Dahiroc.

Looking ahead to next year, Coach Lang saw several variables that could alter the team’s fate for better or worse. “[Next season] depends a lot on whether or not some players recover from injuries. The turn-over next year will be larger than usual, especially in pitching and the infield.”