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.

We are the champions

Danielle Greene – Fourth-year Physical Education

Many athletes live and breathe their sport. But U of T’s star golfer Danielle Greene literally grew up on the green. “I’m from the Kingston area and my parents own a nine-hole golf course, and it’s in the backyard of my house. I kind of live on the golf course,” said Greene.

While Greene has dabbled in a variety of sports, including field hockey, hockey, soccer, badminton, and baseball, golf remains closest to her home and her heart. “I chose golf because of all the sports I’ve played it’s the most challenging and I’ve met the greatest people through golf. I love how it brings different generations together. I’ve played with 70-year-olds; I’ve played with 10-year-olds.”

Her teammates must feel lucky to have played with Greene, as she led the Blues to a bronze medal at the OUA Championship. Greene also captured her third consecutive individual gold medal.

Despite these accomplishments, Greene is often teased by her fellow phys ed students. “Everyone is always like, ‘Oh, you’re a golfer, you’re not an athlete.’” But Greene argues that there’s more to golf than pure physical prowess. It requires a great deal of mental stamina as variables constantly change. “You’re never in the same situation; there’s never the same hole you’re playing on, and if it is, you’re always in a different spot. You’re never in the same state of mind.”

Yet, there’s one constant for Greene: she sees herself playing golf until she “can’t anymore.”

Rob Schmidt – First-year OISE

Rob Schmidt first learned about tennis from television. “I saw it on TV when I was four and I said to [my] mom and dad that I want to do that,” explained Schmidt. After borrowing his parents’ racquetball equipment and hitting balls in the kitchen, Schmidt grasped the nature of the sport.

Now that Schmidt has moved onto the court, he can teach others what he learned as a child. Schmidt definitely has a lot of knowledge to pass on as a five-time OUA champion. His most recent victory was his first with U of T, after winning four with Western. “The first year I played at Western was 2001 and we lost in the finals to U of T, which was a little bit heartbreaking,” Schmidt said, revealing that this year’s gold medal vindicates his initial loss to Toronto.

Schmidt came to Toronto because of his passion for teaching, which stems from his experiences as a tennis player. He’s coached for 10 years, and is looking forward to conveying the lessons he’s learned as an athlete to his future students. Schmidt admires athletes who are not the strongest physically, but never give up in the face of adversity. He believes that this attitude can be taken off the court and into the classroom.

“Anybody who is any good at anything are almost always inevitably the people who worked the hardest at it,” Schmidt said. “I get a real kick out of seeing kids when they’re working at something and they finally have that ‘aha’ moment.”

The underdog Blues exhibited this same work ethic, fighting through early season struggles. “[The championship] was maybe one of the most, if not the most, gratifying win because we weren’t really supposed to and everybody just picked up their socks at the right time.”

Adrian Cord – First-year Management

The first thing you notice about golfer Adrian Cord is that he’s a laid-back guy. But as you get to know him, you realize his easygoing attitude stems from his selfless nature. While Cord won an individual bronze medal at the OUA Championship, he was more excited about his team’s accomplishments as the Blues scored their first gold medal since 1988.

“It was the first OUA championship that I was a part of and we won so it was just icing on the cake,” said Cord. “Chris [Tortorice] and Dave [Woods], the coaches, were pretty thrilled, so it was fun to see them and the other guys on the team so excited.”

Cord believes that it’s better to win as a team because a collective championship makes more people happy. “Winning with the team was cool, that’s what you’re there for.”

This team mentality is what led Cord into golf in the first place. “One factor that probably kept me in [golf] was just that my friends played and I always had guys to go out and play with,” Cord revealed. “My little sister plays too, so it was a good way for us to spend time together.”

Although Cord enjoys hitting the links with those around him, he is looking forward to relaxing this off-season. “It’s nice to take a break because when golf season comes back around in the summer, it’s almost bittersweet. You haven’t had it for so long and then it comes back and you’re just so excited. I always say that my favourite time of the year is that first drive into the golf course. It’s kind of corny, but for me it’s just what I look forward to.”

Provinces of Canada, unite!

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote that socialism would evolve into communism after capitalism was replaced. A near-perfect order would be achieved, and all would be equal. Although Marx wouldn’t agree, provinces must evolve similarly out of the equalization program.

The Canadian equalization program began in the 1950s as a provincial welfare system. Money was transferred from economically sound provinces to ones in financial struggle. At the time, this meant that the poorer Maritimes received money to quell unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure.

Recently, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that Ontario, for the first time, would begin receiving payments. Ontario qualified for equalization each year between 1977 and 1982, but never chose to accept it. While Ontario’s growth has been slowing, its GDP is still ahead of the national average. We took the offer this time around—and rightfully so—due to an economic downturn with catastrophic consequences for automotive and manufacturing industries.

The reason Ontario is eligible is that other provinces have quickly caught up to us. Less than two decades ago, Newfoundland and Labrador’s GDP was merely 65 per cent of the national level—it’s now 97 per cent. For the first time, the province will not be on the receiving end. “I don’t think the Newfie joke is there anymore. I think we’re now an example to our fellow Canadians of how it can be done and how to work your way through hardship,” said Premier Danny Williams. While I think Newfie jokes will remain a beloved Canadian tradition, I agree that Maritime provinces are working through their difficulties.

No parent wants a 30-year-old living in their basement. While parents support their children through youth and the occasional adult hardship, no one expects to do so forever. Canadians should expect the same of provinces. The equalization program kept everyone afloat before we developed into a G8 nation. Today, the provinces that needed help in the past can thrive without Ottawa’s cash flow.

Provinces have become dependent on federal money. Some even expect it. They don’t need to be financially responsible, because if they screw up, Ottawa will write a cheque.

Not only is the program unnecessary, it is corrupt. Though Quebec has always qualified for equalization payments, it is always the richest recipient. Politicians know that even suggesting a slight cut is a sure way to lose votes. Quebec is certainly not a province of have-nots. This terminology is radically outdated, indicating that provinces no longer need equalization payments.

It’s difficult to imagine the United States implementing a similar program—equalization is uniquely ours. Canadians have an instinct to support each other. We realize we’re all in the same boat, that we all weather the storms. Many are fervently against privatized healthcare for this reason. We consider universal healthcare a national symbol—for better or worse, it represents our belief in looking after others when they need help and expecting the same in return.

But we can dump the equalization program without forsaking eachother. Instead of adhering to a perverse balancing scale, our federal government should allow provinces to work through rough patches.

We throw cash at not-so-needy provinces without realizing that these provinces are fine without the support. These bailouts encourage dissent among provinces and threaten national unity. We can find better solutions to economic woes, like creating jobs and increasing funding for education. We can replace our infighting with a new order of real solidarity.

York student leader takes a working holiday

Note: Hamid Osman agreed to speak to The Varsity regarding this story, but missed his scheduled interview and at press time had not responded to multiple phone calls and messages. He had said earlier that family events were interfering with his schedule.

Students at York are being used as leverage in the bargaining game between the university and its staff union CUPE 3903, according to a growing faction of students upset at their student government’s alleged failure to represent them during the strike.

With 50,000 undergraduates facing the prospect of repeating the year, members of the student body expressed disbelief that the elected representatives at the York Federation of Students not only backed the strike, but then disappeared on an unannounced trip to the University of Ottawa to help out at an unrelated Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario campaign.

Maclean’s reported on Wednesday, Nov. 19 that the YFS president, Hamid Osman, had left Toronto unannounced to participate in a CFS-O effort to bring U of O’s students into their federation. The move that would bring CFS $378,000 per year in membership dues.

YFS is a CFS member union, and their executive director Jeremy Salter has issued statements that YFS had made a prior commitment to assist in the federation campaign. But Maclean’s points out that the strike started a day before the campaign period, and adds that it is unclear what these commitments entailed and and why extenuating circumstances did not warrant a change of plans.

Osman has yet to answer these questions. He also hasn’t explained who paid for his travel and accommodations, why he could not cancel plans to observe ballot-counting at U of O, or why he didn’t tell students he would be traveling to Ottawa even as he said YFS was “doing everything possible to bring York University and CUPE 3903 back to the table” on his website.

“Don’t you think that your place would be with the students that elected you? All 50,000 of us? But we’re all put on hold for [the referendum] in Ottawa?” asked Catherine Dinaris, organizer of the group York Not Hostage.

She accused YFS of irresponsibly declaring support for the union without consulting its constituents. “They just took the student voice and threw it behind the union—there was no poll asking students’ opinion,” she said. “I mean, I feel like maybe they just thought that they had free reign. It just shows that they didn’t put much thought into it.”

“I think they’ve got their priorities completely messed up,” said Harrison Bland, a fourth-year political science student hoping to graduate this year. Bland is an organizer of a group of students seeking to force Osman to resign over the strike debacle.

He said he believes CUPE has some valid reasons to strike, but that the student union is obligated to speak for students, not CUPE.

“They should have put pressure on both sides, on the university and the union. Instead they’re only saying critical things about the university. They have basically gone 100 per cent in support of the [CUPE 3903], they have not said a single critical thing about what they’ve done.”

A statement on the YFS homepage advises students to consult a YFS group on Facebook or an information table run by YFS staffers for information on the strike. YFS offices are closed in solidarity with CUPE.

Last Monday, about 500 students took part in a rally at York held by York Not Hostage. CUPE supporters, including UTSU and the Ryerson Students’ Union, were bussed in to a counter-rally in support of the strike. UTSU and RSU are both members of CFS.

Osman did not attend either event, though he had told the National Post he would talk to students at the protest rally. Maclean’s has discovered that he was helping conduct the U of O vote at this time.

“Was that the only way that CUPE was able to get people out to the rally, was to bus other universities over?” asked Bland.

It is not unusual for CFS to fly executives from its local unions to help out in membership votes at other universities. Last year, UTSU president-elect Sandy Hudson and other execs flew to Victoria for a referendum at Simon Fraser University to withdraw from CFS.

York was shut down for 11 weeks in 2000 and 2001 by a similar strike during the height of the Harris government’s assault on the publicly funded education system. Students that year were expected to catch up quickly to make up for the loss of almost an entire term’s worth of classes.

Dinaris summed up the frustration she feels about belonging to a student body without a voice, abandoned by representatives and caught in the middle of a vicious contract dispute. “Education is apparently a right, say both the administration and the union. But our right to education is being taken away.”

Zero tolerance policies are driving me nuts

If you’re lucky enough to drive around campus, don’t get comfortable. New rules, introduced to keep Ontario roads safer, include a zero tolerance policy on speeding and alcohol consumption. If you’re under 22 and caught burning rubber, or with a blood alcohol level higher than zero per cent, you could have your license suspended for 30 days on the spot. G2 drivers are not allowed to have more than one passenger under the age of 19 at any time of day, excluding siblings.

It is true that traffic violations are highest among youth, and the alcohol consumption policy is rational. There is no excuse for impaired driving, especially with passengers present. Speeding has been a problem, but it seems ridiculous to penalize a person going 10 miles over the limit the same way you would a person going over 50.

The rules for passengers are particularly unfair. Although the statistics are certainly against us, not every youth driver would hop into a car with four of their friends while drunk, and neither would they speed or race.

Rules should be focused not on youth, but new drivers. A new driver myself, I know how hard it is to stay focused with three or four friends talking all around me—this is why I used to avoid it at all costs. But as I get more comfortable with driving, my passenger seats have filled. It doesn’t make sense for an 18-year-old with two years of driving experience to have less freedom than a 22-year-old with three month’s worth.

These laws may not deter dangerous driving as well as hoped. After all, there have always been strict laws on drinking and driving, and drivers under the influence continue to be hazards on the road. There are rules for speeding, but they don’t stop people from street racing and endangering others on the road. If a person does not value their own life or the lives of those around them, they aren’t likely to honour the driving laws.

If you feel these new laws should be revised before being passed, you can sign the petition online at http://www.petitiononline.com/ydont/petition.html. Write to your MPP, or participate in the protest at Queen’s Park on November 27th.

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.