Palestine visit was empty political theatre

President Bush’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this month, his first to the region in the seven years of his administration, brought with it little hope for any substantive resolution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. The president has an unenviable record of being slow in responding to numerous critical events during his presidency. but for once, incompetence cannot be blamed for the president’s failure in the Middle East. On the issue of peace in Palestine-Israel, the Bush administration has made a definitive choice to give low priority to resolving the ongoing conflict.

The president’s Jan. 9 visit was a distasteful demonstration of political theatre, utterly devoid of any substance. The same goes for the entire Annapolis Peace effort which began last November but has yet to move forward in resolving any of the core outstanding issues, making the prospects of a long and lasting peace agreement any time soon extremely remote. The unattainability of peace is reinforced by the political weakness of both Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, who are both hugely unpopular leaders at home and face domestic opposition to making any of the concessions that are necessary for peace.

The political climate in the region is not one conducive to a peaceful resolution, despite what the vast majority of the civilian population desires. Instead, cosmetic measures such as peace talks that never lead to any tenable solutions have become the instrument of choice for both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to gain cheap political points at home and abroad. However, the prospects of peace are remote because the preconditions set up in these much-hailed talks sabotage any chance for real negotiations to take place.

Prime Minister Olmert’s success in getting President Bush to not push Israel into a peace agreement until after the Palestinian leadership clamps down on Palestinian terrorists is an automatic recipe for failure. This would essentially require President Abbas to take on and potentially demolish militant Hamas before any progress can be made on the issue of an independent Palestinian state. President Abbas is in no position to accomplish this precondition. This fact has been acknowledged by Olmert, who last November characterized his Palestinian counterpart as “a weak partner, who is not capable.”

Olmert and Bush know that this precondition cannot be met by Abbas, and yet they insist upon it because the status quo of continued low-level conflict is advantageous to Israel, America’s main ally in the region. This is because Israel’s leadership has accepted the emergence of Fortress Israel, whereby the Jewish state, with its vastly superior armed forces and its almost total control of movement in the region, can live in relative security without making any concessions to the Palestinians—such as refugees’ right to return to their occupied lands or the cessation of deadly raids into Palestinian territory—which would be necessary for real peace.

A perfect example of Israel’s choice of security over real peace is the current project of erecting the West Bank barrier, an eight-metre high, 700 km wall separating Israel from parts the territories. The wall has been highly effective in virtually eliminating the threat of suicide bombings, but it has done nothing to address the underlying reasons for conflict between the two groups.

Israel’s prospect of genuinely cordial relations with the Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are not terrorists but rather peaceful citizens, remains unlikely. Especially as long as the Palestinian people’s right to return, a right anchored in international law, goes unfulfilled. In so far that a physical barrier has achieved some level of success in smothering the ferocity of the Israeli-Palestinian violence we can perhaps be thankful that President Bush’s shenanigans didn’t make things any worse.

The case for Twelve Angry Men

Ordinarily, one associates Mirvish with song-and-dance (or, shall we say, very cheesy) theatre. But the latest from the regular Mirvish subscription season, Twelve Angry Men is a gripping courtroom drama that every theatre lover must see. Based on the famous drama by Reginald Rose, New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company has brought the hit production of this classic play straight from its Broadway premiere, which stars the Emmy-winning film and TV actor, Richard Thomas (The Waltons, Wonder Boys). The production has earned three Tony nominations and unanimous praise from critics.

The plot is simple. Set in 1954 in New York City, 12 jurors are corralled into a hot, humid room to deliberate the guilt of a 16-year-old boy accused of killing his abusive father in a moment of rage. One juror, to the frustration of his 11 peers, feels that there is not enough evidence to declare a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt. During the heated debate that follows, the hidden preconceptions and assumptions of the jurors are revealed. Each juror is forced to face himself as he plays hangman.

Granted, the plot is not as interesting as the characters themselves, all of whom are clearly defined and well-cast to boot. It would be unfair to call them stereotypes, but they each embody a different slice of life, such as an overtly arrogant businessman, a lower-class worker, a middle-class intellectual, and so on. The interaction between the characters was dynamic—however there was the occasional confusion in identifying the speaker if everyone in the scene is chatting.

The set was well designed, and the direction was crisp. There were many gasps and applauses in appreciation of certain moments. The audience’s verdict: a well-deserved standing ovation.

Twelve Angry Men runs at the Princess of Wales Theatre until February 10, 2008. For more information, go to www.mirvish.com

Iran: Bush’s last chance at saving his legacy?

Thankfully, Bush’s days in the White House are winding down, but it seems as if his legacy will impact the landscape of American foreign and public policy long after he is gone. If it were up to him, his name would appear in the textbooks of the great nation to the south forever tied to his self-annointed persona as a “war president.”

He has cultivated this legacy throughout his eight years as president by launching the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to combat autocratic rule. These conflicts were necessary, Bush has said, because autocratic states not only cause instability to their respective societies but they are havens for terrorists, who can take advantage of both the protection offered by despotic leaders and the general lawlessness at the fringes of society, to recruit, train, and plan devastating attacks against Western targets, with impunity.

Under this rationale, Bush started his War on Terror in the Middle East to secure American safety and American interests abroad. He also threw in the whole “bringing democracy to the oppressed people” aspect in order to make a potentially long, expensive, and dangerous set of wars more palatable to the American public. With the sudden shock of 9/11, Bush embarked on an ambitious and violent program of eradicating terrorism from the face of the earth and bringing democracy to every corner of the globe.

But with rising death tolls in Afghanistan, and especially in Iraq, and with no end in sight, the honourable moniker of a “war president” now must certainly take on negative connotations. Given the dismal results of his supposedly necessary wars, Bush must be seen as more of a “war-mongering president.” With his current approval rating at an all-time low of 20 per cent, the lowest of any president in American history, we can safely consider him a “failed president” in the court of public opinion. The only way he can shed this title with the 10 months he has left in office is to create a resounding success in either the domestic or foreign policy sphere, which will not only boost his public ratings but revive his status as a “successful war president,” by the time he leaves office.

This is where Iran comes in. Bush is in the Middle East now, attempting to build another coalition of the willing with Sunni Arab allies, for a probable pre-emptive strike against Iran. Bush’s harsh stance against Iran faces growing skepticism from Gulf Arab states, which are currently extending diplomatic relations to the Shi‘ite country. Bush’s accusations that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program have fizzled out. Iran recently declared all its previous nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency and as American intelligence found, Iran suspended its military nuclear projects in 2003.

Iran’s increasing importance to Bush can even be seen at home. A mere three hours after Nicholas Burns, the State Department official in charge of Iran policy, resigned, Bush appointed William Burns to the position. William Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, is loyal to Bush’s cause and many think will cooperate with the administration’s pushes for harsher anti-nuclear sanctions on Iran.

However, with the American elections looming, it is unlikely Bush will embroil America in another long and expensive military operation. For now, he is verbally locking horns with Iran, hoping the “enraged” Iranian bull will spend its energy and eventually back down, exhausted by the rhetoric and diplomatic might of the U.S. Bush is hoping to salvage whatever legacy he has left as a “war president” through his dealings with Iran. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have more time in office, otherwise he might have tried the same thing with North Korea, the only remaining member of the Axis of Evil club he hasn’t said he’s prepared to invade.

Shut out: Black players still a rarity in hockey

Barriers exist in many forms, sometimes they come in the form of a glass ceiling, other times they resemble a floor of ice. But the harder they are to see, the more difficult they can be to overcome. An old reminder of this came on Saturday night during a seemingly unimportant hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers.

Prior to the opening faceoff, a well-dressed man walked along a black carpet towards centre ice. Clad in a well-tailored French suit, a pink dress-shirt, and a yellow rose in his chest pocket, he looked somewhat out of place among the players in uniform. But this man belonged on the ice as much as any player at the rink that day. It was a place he had known since he was two-years old, skating on a pond outside his native Fredericton, NB. Yet to the majority of spectators looking on, there was little to suggest that this now 72-year-old man had ever been a professional hockey player: least of all his colour.

In the NHL today there are only 14 players of African-American descent, in a game that is often termed pejoratively as a “white sport.” How much more difficult would it have been to imagine then, on January 18, 1958 at the old Forum in Montreal, the man they were now seeing became the first black player to lace up a pair of skates in an NHL game, when he donned the black and gold of the Boston Bruins.

On this night, at Madison Square Gardens he was no longer just the answer to a trivia question, but a man of flesh and blood, in attendance to receive an accolade that was long overdue. Willie O’Ree: hockey player, underdog, symbol.

New challenges

When Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball, making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, it ushered in a new era. After Robinson, hundreds of thousands of black players would go on to have successful careers in the major leagues. Yet the concept of breaking down a colour barrier, something more abstract than tactile, often creates new challenges of its own. It’s the kind of barrier that becomes more unmoveable the more one thinks it no longer exists.

The Toronto Star, typically grounded in reality, was somewhat idealistic with its premature pronouncements. A 2003 article by Mike Morrison read: “Once an all white enclave in the world of sports, the face of professional hockey is changing.”

Sadly no one watching the National Hockey League today could possibly take this position. Consider that from O’Rees’s first game in 1958 to 1991 only 41 black players suited up for an NHL team. In fact, after O’Ree there was no other black player in the NHL until Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“There are around 20 black players in the NHL now” said O’Ree during a recent interview. “There’s definitely going to be more in the future,” O’Ree currently works for the NHL as Director of Youth Development for the Hockey Diversity Task Force, so he has more than a vested interest in the outcome.

In reality there are only 14 black players on active rosters as of Jan 18, 2008 (less than one per cent of the league’s overall composition),

“I thought there would have been more minorities in the NHL by now, but I guess it’s slowly growing,” said Darren Lowe, in a 2003 interview with the Star. Lowe, the head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team, was one of four black players in the 1983-84 NHL season when he played eight games with Pittsburgh.

A number of cultural factors have been suggested for the dearth in black hockey players.

African-Americans make up only two per cent of the Canadian Population and 12 per cent of the American. The United States contributes approximately 15 percent of the players in the NHL, while Canada produces close to 70 percent.

Still, that hasn’t stopped other professional leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB from having a visible black presence. The bottom line is one per cent in is unacceptable when considering how other leagues have embraced the diversity of it’s players.

A change for the better

The NHL needs to promote a more inclusive ideology in the sport. Hockey leagues can to often feature a countryclub mentality, denying membership to certain types of people. At some point one has to stop making excuses, cultural or otherwise, for a continuing problem .

Yet Ken Martin, an African-American, and senior director of community relations and diversity programs for the NHL, seems to do just that when he says: “Traditionally, black youths have turned to basketball, partly because some blacks in lower economic areas can’t afford the equipment and travel expenses of hockey”

It’s interesting that the NHL would use such an obvious stereotype to defend accusations of racial bias. But examples of it’s exclusionary culture continue to this day.

How about the story of Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley, who was the recipient of a racial slur from his own head coach with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.

“Each black player has had to wage a personal battle for acceptance and respect,” said Cecil Harris, author of the book Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey. “Facing abuse that is verbal, physical or psychological because of their colour has been an unfortunate reality for almost all of them.”

It is perhaps the most compelling reason why there are so few black players in hockey. Many people caught in the same situation would simply quit rather than face the abuse. Not everyone has the strength to be the only black player or player of colour on an all-white team. That’s what makes players like Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree are a rarity.

The idea of breaking down barriers can often be misleading, since it suggests that there are no longer any obstacles to entry. In reality, the barriers never really go away, and they are even more dangerous because no one knows it except the people that have to fight through them.

Talking Heads: What are your plans for after graduation? Is it a scary prospect?

Clockwise from top-right

Jagneet , 3rd-year Commerce

I’m trying to become a CA (chartered accountant), so essentially I’m looking at work right out of graduation. Really its getting to graduation and getting certified thats the scary part. The rest is easy.

Federica, 4th-year Peace and Conflict Studies

My plan is to continue my studies back in Italy. I’m applying to places, scared to leave Canada but excited at the same time

Andrew, 2nd-year Engineering

I’m not afraid in the least. I plan to go to grad school, and anyways, after 20+ years of schooling, it will feel good to finally be independent.

Victor, 3rd-year American Studies

Oh…God…uhh…perpetual academia is the easiest choice. I’m staying in school as long as I can.

Looking out for number one

Women’s basketball head coach Michele Belanger got her players to crush the RMC Paladins 67-25 Friday night at the Athletic Centre the opportunity to see what work needs to be done during the final three weeks of the regular season before the OUA playoffs begin. Belanger was pleased with the results of her team’s latest victory,

“I think they’re working really hard,” she said. “I hope that we can get a little more communicative out on the court, that would be our biggest weakness right now.”

With three regulars, Alaine Hutton, Amanda Van Leeuwen and Jessica Hiew, sitting out the game to rest up for their Saturday tilt versus Queen’s, the Varsity Blues still had no trouble in building up a 36-17 halftime advantage. The Blues were led in scoring by cocaptain Christine Cho’s 13 points, while Cassandra White led RMC with five points at the half. In the second half Belanger started her bench players, and was rewarded with a stellar defensive performance. The Paladins shot only 16 per cent from the field in the second half, good for eight points.

Cho finished with a game-high 18 points in only 22 minutes, while Ilana Weissberger pulled down eight rebounds. White, despite getting no second-half points, still led her team with five points, while teammate Kalaneet Malik led the Paladins with seven rebounds. Rookie forward and player of the game, Allie Collyer, took advantage of her increased minutes by planting herself down low and posting up the Paladins for three straight field goals while her bench cheered her on. Cho saw the performance of the bench as a good indication of the skill level on her team.

“Our team is pretty deep and this proves it. Everyone contributed,” Cho said. “We really try and take it one game at a time, but it was good to get everybody into the game.”

Looking ahead after Saturday’s game versus Queen’s, the Blues have a tough schedule to close out the 2007-2008 regular season with four of their last six games coming against York and Laurentian, two teams battling it out with the Blues for the top spot in the OUA east. Coach Belanger sees next Saturday’s game at York University versus the Yeomen as their biggest test.

“We’re going through a stretch with four tough games (versus York and Laurentian), two of which are on the road,” Belanger said. “It’s a test to find out whether or not we’re strong enough mentally to go into someone else’s gym, particularly York […] and beat them.” Cho also sees York as the key matchup. “We know Laurentian and York are really good teams and York, they basically pride themselves on their defense and playing together as a team,” Cho said. “So it’s something that we recognize because it’s against a team we’ve played in the past.”

The Varsity Blues basketball coaches declared a “white-out” before the game, where all Varsity Blues fans were asked to wear white to support the Blues’ playoff bid. Clearly the message had not caught on yet, as few fans showed up and even fewer wore white. Cho believes that message will catch once Blues return for their final two regular season home games, on Feb. 8 and 9.

“Our next home game is in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to get more fans out and plus they will be better games,” Cho laughed. “So as far as the white-out goes, it’ll happen when everybody knows more about it, especially the students, because there wasn’t a huge fan base tonight.”

Pioneer prof switches schools

Political science superstar Thomas Homer-Dixon is leaving U of T for a position at the start-up Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, beginning this July.

Homer-Dixon came to U of T in 1989 after completing a PhD at MIT. He rose to prominence with the 1991 article “On the Threshold: Environmental changes as causes of acute conflict,” which caught the attention of academics and policy-makers worldwide. Subsequent work followed this strain, including the award-winning books The Ingenuity Gap and The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, among others.

Homer-Dixon currently holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. David Welch, director of the centre, credited Homer-Dixon with “[taking the] small research centre on peace and conflict issues, renamed it the Trudeau Centre, and brought it global recognition.”

Homer-Dixon said he is moving towards an intensely interdisciplinary approach on issues of scarcity, conflict, and complex systems. “I don’t feel the University of Toronto is particularly well-suited to allow me to do that research.”

Waterloo’s smaller, closer-knit community, he said, allows for the clearer, more focused vision that he desires.

“Sometimes you reach a watershed where you think about what you’re going to do for the next section of your life,” he said.

A joint venture between the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, the Balsillie School was funded by a $50-million gift from Jim Balsillie. Balsillie is the founder of Research in Motion, the company that produces Blackberry handhelds.

Despite his misgivings about U of T’s structure and direction, Homer-Dixon spoke glowingly of his colleagues, principals, and mentors in University College, and most of all, his students. “The best thing about [the Trudeau Centre] is the students. We’ve somehow got something going on here that attracts just truly wonderful people, interesting people who will make a real difference.”

“This is going to be an emotionally wrenching thing. I have deep roots and deep commitments and a lot of friends on this campus.”

UTSC split in social justice squabble

Posters reading “Stephen Harper hates white people too” have reignited a running feud between student politicians at UTSC. The posters advertise eXpression Against Oppression, a week-long social justice event planned for Feb. 12.

At last Friday’s board of directors meeting, the Scarborough Campus Student Union voted to maintain an earlier decision not to endorse the week, which will involve a number of student groups on all three campuses. SCSU’s ire was raised when their logo appeared on XAO posters around campus, though the union had not actually endorsed the event.

During the three-hour discussion, the controversial poster campaign figured prominently. Some SCSU directors said that, while they were willing to provide tables, chairs and room space for the event, they thought the Harper posters could offend many members of the school community. They argued that since the SCSU’s mandate was to represent the needs of all students and this event confl icted with the opinions and ideologies of some, it would be best not to take a position at all.

While the 10 members of the board who voted in favour of official endorsement outnumbered the seven who voted against and two who abstained, the motion required 2/3 of the vote in order to pass. Consequently, the union neither supports nor opposes XAO.

At the head of the event is Alexandru Rascanu, a student who lost to current SCSU president Rob Wulkan in a bitterly divisive election held last year. He demanded that the SCSU support XAO, calling it “a slap in the face of students” for the union to do otherwise. However, there are other students involved in the event that disagree, saying that they feel the SCSU shouldn’t be taking a specific stance on the matter.

“If XAO takes any one side of a particular political issue, the SCSU, as representatives of the whole student body, can’t endorse that one side, and still claim to represent the entire student body,” said David Leaman, Coordinator for UTSC’s LGBTQ. His group is one of the many student groups participating in XAO.

The event will also take place on the St. George and Mississauga campuses, with the support of the University of Toronto Student Union. Sandy Hudson, VP equity at UTSU, said XAO was in line with the values of the SCSU.

“Student government is intrinsically centered around anti-oppression,” said Hudson. “The SCSU wants to remain politically neutral—but how can you be neutral about oppression?”

Wulkan pointed out that SCSU involvement could hamper XAO’s ability to act freely. “An endorsement from SCSU means that every piece of advertising on an event has to be personally approved by me,” said Wulkan. “XAO has a lot of manpower behind the organization. Do they really need the SCSU?”

With files from Maria Shibaeva