Mastering the court

The Tennis Masters Cup wrapped up last week in Shanghai, with number three seed Novak Djokovic winning the prestigious title. The last tournament in the ATP season, the Tennis Masters Cup featured a unique round-robin format not employed in any other tournament. The top eight seeded players are invited with the top two seeds placed in opposite groups. Roger Federer, the top seed in the tournament, was placed in the red group, whereas Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s second seed, was placed in the gold group. The remaining six players are randomly assigned to one of the two groups. The top two players from each group qualify for the semi-finals, and the subsequent winners play for the title.

The tournament featured new young talent with Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and the gifted French player Gilles Simon—all of whom made their first appearance at the Tennis Masters Cup.

Roger Federer left the tournament in the round-robin matches with a 1-2 record. After losing to Gilles Simon, Federer had to defeat Andy Murray in his final match to qualify for the elimination round. Hampered by fatigue and a back injury, Federer lost to Murray.

Federer’s early exit marks the first time he’s failed to qualify for the tournament’s semi-finals, adding to a disappointing year compared to his previous results. Despite his poor results this season with only one grand slam win, Federer appeared pleased in his post-match press conference.

“It was a good season. I was happy I could win the U.S. Open for the fifth straight [time],” Federer said. “I’m looking forward to next year, to go for six. It was an incredible match at Wimbledon. [I had] very emotional victories in Basel, my hometown […] and winning the Olympic gold for Switzerland was a big moment for me. [It was] tough to start off with [and] tough to end.”

Gilles Simon, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Nikolay Davydenko qualified for the semi-finals. Djokovic defeated Simon in a tight three-set match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, and Davydenko upset Murray 7-5, 6-2.

Last Sunday’s final was one-sided as Djokovic rolled past Davydenko 6-1, 7-5. Djokovic outplayed his opponent in every aspect, having converted more break points, winning the majority of the points with more winners and fewer unforced errors.

“I would put [the Tennis Masters Cup] in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here,” said Djokovic. “I feel very happy. Ended the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event. So it’s a great boost up for the upcoming season.”

Gracious in defeat, Davydenko acknowledged Djokovic’s fine play. “Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, you must also play very fast, and be very good. That’s what he did, and I didn’t.”

Ironically, the last tournament of the year had no effect on the rankings. Rafael Nadal, having secured the number one ranking prior to the tournament, subsequently withdrew from the competition, citing fatigue and a nagging knee injury. Despite his poor results, Federer remained at the number two spot, and Djokovic remained at number three.

In the doubles tournament, Canada’s Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic won a dramatic winner-take-all final to overtake the number one ranking from Mike and Bob Bryan.

Holiday drive seeks baby food, toys

For student families living in poverty, the holiday season is an additional struggle. The annual Baby Food and Toy Drive, run by the Student Housing Service and the Family Care Office, is an effort to lighten their burden.

Now in its seventh year, the drive is accepting essentials like cereal, diapers, baby formula, bottled food, and baby wipes. Also welcome are new, unwrapped toys, games, books, and gift certificates for children 16 years and under. While there’s particular demand for baby items, said Jerry Zhuang, the drive’s coordinator, “any kind of generosity is highly appreciated.”

“The whole spirit of the holiday is basically joy, giving, and hope, so we’re hoping the whole community can join in our efforts,” said Zhuang, who estimates that more than 120 student families benefit from the project annually. With a tanking economy, he noted, the need will likely be greater this year. All the more reason to add baby food and toys to your shopping list.

It takes a whole country to babysit a terrorist

In bleak economic times, there’s nothing as insulting as flagrant government spending. Yet, as a York University PhD student in sociology uncovered, Canadian taxpayers are still paying astronomical amounts to monitor suspected al-Qaeda members who have been released from custody into communities around the country.

National security and counter-terrorism are hardly hot-button issues nowadays. It seems painfully old-fashioned to speak of the dangers posed by religious extremists who “envy our freedom,” to quote loosely that one infamous head of state (who will go down in history as the embarrassment that ushered in the 21st century.)

Present realities are what make the numbers so shocking: on average, it takes $500,000 to $1 million taxpayer dollars yearly—per case—to monitor released terror suspects. These fees account for the costs of electronic bracelets and staffing: several government agents are required per case, as suspect monitoring is a 24/7 endeavor. Then there are the added factors of cars, fuel, and overtime.

According to researcher Mike Larsen, who was quoted in a Globe and Mail report, Canada’s surveillance program is a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along policy[…]with no end in sight.” Nor are the costs made public.

In the case of Mohamed Harkat, a suspected al-Qaeda “sleeper agent” living in Ottawa, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) not only requested six new full-time jobs but also bought a new $31,000 car for the task. More than $5,000 in gas and maintenance costs was also covered by the government—which means it was covered by unknowing taxpayers. These incidental costs are in addition to the basic monitoring fees, which in 2006-2007 totaled just short of $600,000. Harkat’s monitoring costs, however, are chump change in comparison with those of fellow suspect Hassan Almrei, the sole inmate of a specially-built Kingston prison that costs $2.6-million per year to operate, according to Larsen’s estimates.

How can this be happening right under our noses? Perhaps we assume that the government has moved on from the witchunt mentality that accompanied post-9/11 paranoia. It’s more likely that we haven’t bothered to think about it. With the great regime change that occurred on November 4, the North American “War on Terror”—an ideological phenomenon that unfortunately can’t be pinned entirely upon our southern neighbours—seems to have been relegated to the past. We now have bigger, more tangible fish to fry. Not only is this a new political era, our preoccupations have abruptly changed. Forget terrorism threats; what about the security of our jobs?

In light of the current economic crisis, the idea of nationalistic fearmongering almost seems quaint. Yet, we still participate blindly in that old system. We can only hope that the millions of dollars shelled out by our government have succeeded in preventing some form of catastrophe. At the very least, we might find comfort in the possibility that, for casualties of the volatile job market, our futures lie in the booming field of fugitive babysitting.

‘Food was used as a weapon’

Kalyna Kardash’s grandmother survived the Holodomor. The Ukrainian word for “murder by hunger” refers to the famine of 1932-33, where up to 10 million people starved as a result of Soviet policies.

Growing up with stories of the hunger, like when her grandmother traded a pair of gold earrings for a single apple, Kardash wanted to commemorate the tragedy. Over the weekend, the Ukrainian Students Club held a 24-hour famine to mark the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian famine. The overnight event was the culmination of a week of activities, including photo exhibitions in Robarts Library and Sidney Smith Hall.

At the time, Ukraine was part of the U.S.S.R. (It became independent after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.) Dictator Joseph Stalin imposed agricultural collectivization in the Ukraine, referred to as the “breadbasket of the U.S.S.R.”

Stalin began to enforce large quotas of grain exportation, sometimes up to 50 per cent of the national supply. When quotas weren’t met, individual homes were raided and emptied of all food and produce. By August 1932, a law banned the sale of bread to peasants, who made up the majority of the population. As the nation grew hungrier and food became virtually unobtainable, police units were dispatched into the farmlands to control rebellions and forbid locals from leaving villages in search of food.

The result was mass starvation. Bodies lined roads, while mothers buried their own children. Desperation even led to cases of cannibalism. The tragedy remains little-known: international media remained silent while official Soviet censuses and documents hid population drops.

Historians say that Stalin, weary of nationalist and independence movements, started the famine intentionally to force peasants onto collective farms. In 2006, Ukraine’s parliament voted to declare the famine as an act of genocide and is lobbying the UN to bestow that recognition. Russia has denied that the famine was deliberate.

Canada officially recognized the famine as attempted genocide earlier this year.

“Food was used as a weapon,” said Kardash as participants prepared for a candlelit vigil. “It was a genocide because we [Ukrainians] were resisting Soviet policies such as collectivization.”

The push for UN recognition isn’t the only purpose behind the club’s 24-hour famine. “People need to know about genocide,” said Kardash, pointing out that comparable atrocities continue to happen today, and like the Holodomor in its time, they continue to be ignored.

Master of the Epic: David Lean remembered

Brief Encounter (1945)

The housewife who engages in an affair to alleviate the monotony of domestic life is a central character in countless films. In Brief Encounter, David Lean revisits her again: Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) comfortably conforms to the role of a 1930s homemaker until she falls uncontrollably in love with Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), a doctor whom she met at a train station while heading into town to do her weekly shopping. It’s a familiar premise, but the film retains its originality as Lean refuses to let his characters become archetypes. Laura’s husband is kind and doting, not the bully that would justify her need to escape to the arms of another man. Nor can Laura be condemned as a conniving seductress—she refuses to consummate the affair, oscillating between excitement and guilt over her newfound love. Tension mounts as Laura struggles to resist her love for Alec, and she is forced to face the zest for life that he awoke within her.

—Brigit Katz

Rating: VVVVV

Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean’s classic adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel is a compelling drama that contrasts social mobility and suffering in 19th-century English society. The movie chronicles the life of the orphan Pip, who at the age of 20 receives a large monetary sum from a mysterious benefactor designed to make him a refined gentleman. The story follows Pip’s life from his early days as a young working boy (Anthony Wagner), his playdates with shut-in Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), and his encounter with the object of his desire, Estella, through his rise as a society gentleman. While the cinematography and Lean’s direction make this an enduring classic, the screenplay would have benefited from adhering to Dickens’ original ending. In altering the resolution, much of the story’s meaning is lost. The “happily ever after” ending doesn’t fit the tone of the film, leaving viewers wanting more.

—Daphne Vrantsidis

Rating: VVVv

Oliver Twist (1948)

Oliver Twist wonderfully adapts the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, about the young boy who suffers hardships and misery in an orphanage, only to run away to the large, scary metropolis of London. There, he meets the Artful Dodger and Fagin (played by Lean’s great friend and enemy Alec Guinness), and an assortment of other devious characters, well played but sadly undeveloped beyond superficial caricature. Lean’s film clearly understands a setting’s importance in Dickens’ story: from the cold, uninviting, and savage orphanage, to Fagin’s dirty yet welcoming lair, to the bright open spaces of the grandfather’s mansion. Oliver Twist is carried by the weight of the innocent and sympathetic face of our young hero, but the film would have benefitted had Lean paid more attention to the supporting characters, the true heart of any Dickensian story.

—Alexandra Heeney

Rating: VVVv

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

War cinema has changed a great deal since 1957. Modern films like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan depict the grisly nature of battle, exposing the irrationality of bloodshed on a large scale. The audience is obligated to sympathize with each soldier’s sacrifice. David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai does the opposite, focusing on the pride and dignity instilled in soldiers as a consequence of their training and military life. At the onset, British POWs, captured by Japanese troops in WWII, are forced to build a bridge across a river. When the British Colonel (Alec Guinness) defiantly refuses to have his officers partake in manual labour, they are imprisoned. The Japanese Colonel eventually gives in, realizing the lack of manpower in the construction of the bridge. Unbeknownst to the prisoners or their captors, the British army devises a plan to destroy the very bridge they are building. It demonstrates a different type of heroic behaviour—not born out of intense, bloody struggle, but instead from a honourable sense of military duty.

—Justin Beaubien

Rating: VVVVv

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The definition of a sweeping epic, Lawrence of Arabia chronicles the World War I exploits of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a British lieutenant in the Middle East. As the war effort rages on, Lawrence closely identifies with the Arab tribes that he wishes to unite, as the film suggests an inner confusion of where his heart lies. While the film has been criticized for taking liberties with historical events, the masterful performances by O’Toole and Omar Sharif (as Sherif Ali) are powerful enough to alter history in the mind of the viewer. The film is most famous for its expansive scale. In Lean’s Arabian desert, the sky seems endless, and the horizon unreachable. The stunning cinematography is a perfect complement to Lawrence’s idealistic vision. With Lawrence of Arabia, Lean realized his most lofty ambitions, making it his most famous film, and deservedly so—it’s also his best.

—Rob Duffy

Rating: VVVVV

A Passage to India (1984)

Based on the E.M. Forster novel, A Passage to India capped off Lean’s career with a vivid and emotional take on colonialism and culture shock. On their first trip abroad, Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, the mother and fiancée of a racist British magistrate, object to the segregation imposed upon Indians by the British Raj. In their effort to take in “the real India,” the friendly Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) offers to take the women to the nearby Marabar Caves. While the harmony in India is already tenuous at best, an unseen incident during the expedition puts Dr. Aziz on trial, throwing the city of Chandrapore into racially-charged turmoil. While the British dismiss failing efforts in India as “a muddle,” Lean’s ornate depiction of India from the British point of view exposes the hypocrisy of colonialism. As the distrust heightens, the struggle to understand and accept one another becomes an obstacle too great to overcome. —RD

Rating: VVVV

Queen’s rez get ‘dialogue facilitators’

Queen’s university has hired six students as “dialogue facilitators” in an attempt to improve sensitivity and embrace diversity.

The program, introduced last week, has the facilitators living and working on campus residences. Their job is to prevent offensive language, like racial slurs or homophobic and misogynist remarks. For example, facilitators would stop students from using phrases like “that’s so gay” and “retard” in conversations that are loud enough for a third party to overhear. They will also hold movie nights and book readings on a range of social issues on campus.

Reactions vary. “Having a program like this in place could stifle public discussion if people are worried their private conversations are being monitored,” Angela Hickman, managing editor of the campus newspaper Queen’s Journal, told the Globe and Mail. The Journal published an editorial criticizing the program, calling it a lackluster effort.

Jason Laker, dean of student affairs at Queen’s, disagreed. “If people are having a conversation with offensive content and they’re doing it loud enough for a third person to hear it […] it’s not private,” he said.

Laker said the new “intergroup dialogue program” focuses on respectful, non-confrontational discussions that don’t impede freedoms. “This is difficult work, it needs to be done respectfully.” Laker said. “There really is no interference. “

The introduction of intergroup programs and facilitators is not new. Universities in the U.S. have also put them into practice, but those have included credit courses taught by faculty members in addition to training the intergroup facilitators.

Queen’s facilitators went through an 11-day training course briefing them on a number of social issues and possible scenarios.

Daniel Hayward is a student facilitator who started working in August. He said he’s already had success discussing a variety of social issues with students.

He also said that much of the work that is done by the facilitators is more subtle than intervening in conversations. “It’s helping to create an atmosphere of inclusivity,” said Hayward.

Night Lights takes flight

For the record, there are only two things higher than the CN Tower: the Burj Dubai, and the unwavering spirits of Newmindspace.

“We’ve got hot chocolate, we’ve got some music to keep people dancing and moving a little bit,” remarked Lori Kufner, co-founder of the local interactive art team. “That’s all you need.”

Despite the wind chill falling to -15 degrees Celsius on Saturday night, dozens braved the cold to watch a string of colourful LED lights unfurl into the sky. Carried off by a cluster of white helium balloons, the goal of the installation was for the lights to rise above the CN Tower.

“Well, I don’t know if they’re actually measuring anything,” noted Newmindspace volunteer Ben. “So we won’t know when it [reaches] the CN Tower, right?” He was echoed by six-year-old participant Jonah: “Mm, hopefully, it won’t go higher than the CN Tower, so probably. But maybe it might not. But it will probably go high!”

Exact measurements aside, Night Lights: Higher than the CN Tower is Newmindspace’s fourth event designed to carry colourful lights into the night sky. The last of these exhibitions, String of Diamonds, created for Nuit Blanche 2007, was plagued by theft of materials. Handicapped by LED-loving bandits, String of Diamonds never quite took off. This time around, the lights began successfully hovering around 8:15 p.m., rising to 900 feet before balloons broke off and drifted away.

Apart from the beauty of the glittering sky, Newmindspace had lofty ambitions for the impact of Night Lights: “It’s kind of a commentary on light pollution in the city,” explained Kufner, “and how you can’t really see the stars very well. So we’re kind of creating our own stars.” Admittedly, it’s hard to remember the last time real constellations were visible on campus. But did the message come across clearly to the crowd?

“I see it as reclaiming public space,” expressed fourth-year U of T student Angela. “That’s why I always love what [Newmindspace] does. They use the space in a different way, and it’s cool because there’s always some sort of meaning behind it.”

Added York undergraduate Kerry, “I find inspiration in people having such creative minds, and not only being able to think of it but to put it into action. To be people who thought, ‘Hey! Why don’t we attach lights to balloons and put them up in the sky and have all these people be a part of it?’”

“I was picturing something completely different,” admitted Ryerson alum Jessie. “An actual structure, maybe made of plastic toys, not a string of lights.” But overall, the successful launch was met by cheers—with none louder than the Newmindspace volunteers.

“I do it gratefully and without pay. I don’t need pay at all!” exclaimed volunteer Enso while tugging on errant balloons. The event crew stayed admirably jubliant as balloons popped, strings tangled, and hot chocolate turned lukewarm. After all, volunteers are crucial to the success of Newmindspace, funded solely though PayPal donations and T-shirt sales. Any proceeds from the clothing sold at Night Lights will go towards a “surprise art installation” next month and a proposed holiday subway party.

This may be the last we see of Newmindspace for a while, as co-founder Kevin Bracken plans to move back home to New York following his upcoming graduation from U of T. But this is far from the end of playful urban renewal for Toronto: Bracken plans to return for certain events, while international “fun organizers” Improv Everywhere continues to build up a local following. In the end, it’s less about Newmindspace as an organization, and more about the effect they’ve had on Toronto’s urban culture.

Onlooker Kerry summed it up best: “If you get people interacting and building something together, well, I like that. And that’s what inspires me.” In that case, Night Lights was as inspirational as it gets.

Minorities targeted for academic misconduct charges: report

The colour of a student’s skin may increase their chances of academic misconduct charges, according to a recent report by the University of Ottawa’s Student Appeals Centre. The student-run centre provides consultation and support to students who have been accused of misconduct such as plagiarism.

According to the report, minorities made up 45 per cent of the 388 students who sought consultation in the past year. Of the 48 students who sought help regarding academic fraud (for violations like plagiarism), 71 per cent were visible minorities.

The centre’s report casts much of U of O’s appeals process into question, arguing that a student’s intent is not considered in determining their guilt, and that leeway is rarely given for honest mistakes.

In one case study, a student known as “Wendi” got a zero on an exam because she left her notes under her desk while writing it. Wendi claims she never looked at her notes and only the blank side of the paper was visible. Neither the testimony of the student sitting next to her nor that of the TA who accused her were considered in determining her guilt. “At the U of O, whether or not a student has fraudulent intentions is irrelevant in determining if there is academic fraud,” reads the report.

Student advocates close to the case cite differences in plagiarism standards between countries (which international students may not be clear on), a lack of awareness among students about what constitutes plagiarism, and plain old racial discrimination as causes of the disproportionate number of minority students facing charges. “It shows that there is systemic racism at the University of Ottawa,” said Seamus Wolfe, VP university at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. The report recommended sensitivity training for university personnel.

The administration has not issued an official response, and is still considering the report’s recommendations. “We’re moving as fast as we can,” U of O spokesperson Andrée Dumulon told the Ottawa Citizen.

At U of T, when a student is under suspicion of academic misconduct, they are allowed to explain their case at a hearing with their professor and a representative of their dean, explained Adam Awad, VP university affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union. The student may request their registrar to be present, and registrars often advise students on the appeal process, but they are not always able to attend the hearing. Students may bring their own legal counsel, but they must pay for it themselves.

Downtown Legal Services, provided by the Faculty of Law, is available to advise students on their options. They can also contact their ombudsperson for assistance, though Awad pointed out that most students are unaware of these options when they are accused. There is no office comparable to U of O’s Student Appeals Centre at U of T.

“I think something like that would be very useful at U of T, particularly because it’s so big,” said Awad.