Strike and lockout tensions stew at STU

Picketing continues at Fredericton’s St. Thomas’ University, where administrators and faculty are negotiating amidst a simultaneous strike and lockout. In an unprecedented move, the liberal arts university locked out its faculty in anticipation of a strike two weeks ago, a move they said was an effort to reduce the negative impact of a strike on students. The undergraduate school’s 2,800 students have seen the start of their term indefinitely postponed. Faculty will meet Monday to decide whether or not to continue their protest.

On Friday, the St. Thomas’ University Students’ Union held a march through campus to protest the delays. They included a detour off campus so that faculty, barred from entry to the university itself, could participate.

“Students are the ones who are directly affected,” said Alicia Del Frate, STUSU’s VP administration. “[But] we don’t really have an avenue to speak. [The march] shows that students are united.”

Throughout the labour dispute, many students have declared their support for the administration, who they said are more conscious of the burden an ever-changing calendar puts on students.

“As president of St. Thomas’, it would be irresponsible of me to allow delays in reaching an agreement that would penalize our students and compromise future accessibility,” said STU president Michael Higgins in an open letter.

The Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas’ accused the administration of using distorting fi- nancial projections to exaggerate the cost of FAUST’s demands and scare students away from supporting them. Dawn Morgan, a professor and FAUST representative, went as far as saying the administration had deliberately misled and manipulated students to weaken FAUST’s bargaining position.

Del Frate highlighted the difficulties surrounding the uncertain start date for this term. Students living nearby have gone home to wait for classes to start, but those from out-of-province or outside the country have had to repeatedly reschedule travel plans. The first day of classes was rescheduled twice before being postponed indefinitely.

Though they decide when the semester begins, neither the administration nor faculty are affected in the same way as students, according to Del Frate.

Morgan pushed for solidarity between students and FAUST. “Faculty and students are natural allies. The university is the universe in which students and faculty come together, that’s the whole purpose,” she said.

The administration and FAUST are negotiating salary and workspace issues for part-time, full-time, and temporary faculty. The latter group is of special concern.

Morgan explained that temporary faculty, many of whom have just left graduate school, tend to get excessive workloads. Temporary faculty often teach four classes a semester, while full-time professors only teach two or three. “It is absolutely overwhelming,” said Morgan. “We just don’t think that’s equitable.”

FAUST has won some concessions from the administration, and will decide tomorrow whether or not to continue picketing. Morgan said she was particularly happy about gains for part-time faculty, including health benefits and more office space. “That’s a really good agreement and we’re very happy with that,” she said.

Paying for our eco-sins: the story behind carbon offsets

“Marge, I agree with you—in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory,” said Homer Simpson in response to his wife’s concerns over owning an elephant. Replacing the word “communism” with “carbon offsets” might be appropriate considering a recent turn of events.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating green marketing and advertising claims in a series of hearings. One of the topics under review is carbon offsets, a $54-million (USD) business in the United States alone last year.

As part of a growing “green trend,” many companies are featuring environmental incentives for consumers who choose their brand. One doesn’t have to search hard to find examples of this practice. Air Canada started a carbon offset program last May, in conjunction with a non-profit group called Zerofootprint. After typing in your destination and point of origin, the Zerofootprint website calculates the money you owe in order to cover the carbon dioxide emissions you are responsible for creating by flying. Other large corporations, such as Dell, Volkswagen, and General Electric offer optional environmental programs that range from investing in tree planting to reward points that earn the customer carbon offsets.

The FTC’s guidelines for environmental advertising haven’t been updated since 1998. Coupled with worries over where the money put into these programs actually goes, it is easy to see why some people are concerned.

On top of all this, the effectiveness of some carbon fighting strategies has been called into question. The number- one reason planting trees has been advocated as a tool for fighting climate change is the fact that they act as carbon sinks. Through photosynthesis, trees are able to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and use it to create leaves, branches, and other structures. Conceivably, extra trees will absorb the excess carbon dioxide that human activity puts into the atmosphere, provided they live long enough. A typical tree in the tropics is estimated to be able to absorb 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. However, trees in slower growing temperate forests absorb much less.

Compared to other carbon reduction strategies, planting trees is extremely cost effective. The International Panel on Climate Change notes that the price for this strategy can be as low as $0.10 to $20 USD per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered. In contrast to the usually steep costs of developing alternative energy sources, planting carbon sinks is an attractive and easily implemented solution. Whether or not it is an effective one remains to be seen.

Ken Caldeira, a researcher with the Carnegie Institution, denounces this “feel-good” practice of purchasing offsets, recommending that more effective strategies be pursued, such as stopping ecosystem destruction and changing the way we use energy.

English environmentalist George Monbiot famously compared the carbon offset system to that of buying indulgences in the Middle Ages. For a certain fee, Catholics could buy forgiveness for sins, easing their guilty consciences through monetary donations to the church. Rather than changing consumption habits, everyday consumers can use carbon offsets in much the same way.

Admittedly, it is difficult to gauge how effective climate change strategies are, and here is where the problem lies. Aware of the potential for abusing the system, many organizations that deal with carbon offsets are beginning to use independent groups to monitor their efforts. A formal certification system is needed and hopefully the FTC can get the ball rolling on this initiative.

Carbon offsets are a positive step towards fighting climate change, and the speed with which consumers and corporations have adopted the practice is encouraging. But accountability is needed to make sure carbon offsets are not money thrown out the window. The theory behind carbon offsets is a good one. Let’s hope the experiment proves they are effective.

Students push York to dump Burma stocks

York students are lobbying their university to let its money speak for democracy in Burma. The student-led York Coalition for Responsible Investment is urging the university to review its Burma-related investments. In support of the boycott of the Burmese military regime, YCRI has launched a petition calling on the school to divest itself of these stocks.

The group’s petition, available online, cites human rights abuses reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and includes a pro-boycott statement from the All-Burmese Monks’ Alliance. Last September, Burma’s military dictators weathered a storm of public and official condemnation of their regime and its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“The campaign is really just beginning, consisting mainly of the petition and investment research at the moment,” said Simon Granovsky-Larsen, a student organizer of YCRI. “But we plan to eventually bring motions to the York Board of Governors addressing some or all of the companies active in Burma.”

YCRI found York University investments totaling over $1 billion in companies active in Burma, including Total, Chevron, Petrochina, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Hyundai, LG, and Samsung.

Their petition is a part of the ongoing effort to reform the ways universities invest. YCRI wants ethical standards, decision-making structure, voting methods, and the role of students in investment processes to be made explicit.

This isn’t the first time the students have criticized the university for involvement with Burma: York students led a five-year boycott of Pepsi products in the mid ’90s, following the soft drink maker’s opening of a plant in Burma.

MP Larry Bagnell, the chairman of the group Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Burma, just returned from the Thai-Burmese border. In a public letter, he reported on his experience with various groups, including deserters from the regime’s army, monks, and ex-political prisoners:

“I learned that, though it may appear to the international community that the worst of the violence is over in Burma, atrocities in the ethnic states including rape, forced displacement, forced labour and extrajudicial killings are going on daily,” he wrote. “The people I met expressed support for Canada’s humanitarian aid to Burma and increased economic sanctions against the regime.”

McGill set a precedent with a similar campaign in 2006. In response to that program, the Montreal school’s Board of Governors adopted an ethical investment proposal.
The petition can be viewed online at: petition.html.

Katz’s crew catch Gee Gees

With RMC and Queen’s set to visit the Athletic Centre this weekend, the Blues will be looking to build on momentum from an impressive 71-65 victory over the Ottawa Gee Gees. RMC and Queen’s are two teams going in opposite directions. While RMC currently sits last in the OUA East with an 0-12 record, Queen’s (8-4) is in the upper tier of the division, and challenging Toronto (9-3) for third.

“We played both of them last weekend.” said Blues centre Nick Snow. “This year RMC hasn’t been that strong as in the past, but Queen’s is a pretty good team, they’re right behind us, so we expect another good game.”

The Blues hope there is no letdown following tough weekend match ups against the Carleton Raven’s (ranked number one in Canada) and the Ottawa Gee-Gees, second in the OUA East division. Against the Carleton Ravens, the Blues lost 86-70 in a game that was dominated by poor officiating. The Ravens were allowed to go to the free throw line an astonishing 42 times, compared to only 24 for the Blues. It was a disappointing game, but there was no shame in losing to the number one team in all of Canada. Nick Magalas lead the Blues with 28 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s early foul trouble. Starters Nick Snow, Paul Sergautis, and Mike DeGiorgio fouled out of the game with more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Blues were also badly out-rebounded in this game 38-16.

In Saturday’s match against Ottawa, Toronto faired much better. Ottawa (10-2) is currently second in the OUA East division, just ahead of Toronto (9-3). The who’s who of Canadian basketball were in attendance for this meeting of division rivals. Members of Toronto Raptors brass, including head coach Sam Mitchell and assistant Jay Triano, took in Saturday’s game on a rare night off for the pro-team.

“I think you’re seeing two of the better teams in Canada right now,” said Triano the former coach of the Canadian national team. “It’s a hard fought battle and both teams play very good defense, they run good sets, both very well coached.” Triano, who worked with Blues head coach Mike Katz on the Canadian team, was duly impressed by the talented home grown players from both squads: “There are a lot of guys that could play on the national team. If they keep working hard, they have a chance” said Triano.

It was an important game for the Blues, not the least because of who was in attendance. Under this scrutiny Toronto struggled early in the game, missing four of their first five shots. After a couple of early foul calls (one of them a debatable blocking foul on Paul Sergautis), coach Mike Katz brought in sub Nick Magalas with four minutes left in the first quarter, providing a spark.

Ottawa’s team was clearly more athletic than the Blues, with a few well-executed windmill dunks during warm up. But the Blues would stick to their game plan throughout, and it eventually paid off. With the first quarter winding down and the Blues trailing 11-4, Rob Paris had a block on Gees Gees forward Jacob Gibson-Bascombe under the basket, then promptly hit a three pointer on offense to cut into Ottawa’s lead, and get the Blues faithful in attendance, back into the game.

Ottawa’s defenders made it difficult for the Blues to get much going inside, so they had to rely on the three pointer early in the first half, hitting 10 of them. Rob Paris had three three-pointers in the first half to keep the team within striking distance, but sat out for most of the second as the team stayed with Nick Magalas at the off guard. The Blues entered the half trailing only 36-33.

In the second half, the Blues shooters got hot and began to pour it on against the Gee Gees. Mike DeGiorgio, who finished the game with 14 points was a major contributor. He hit a three at the seven minute point of the third quarter, to give the Blues a 40-38 lead.

With the score tied at 45, and inbounding the ball from behind the basket, DeGiorgio took a Nick Snow screen and hit a difficult fall-away jumper from the top of the key, giving the Blues the narrow two-point lead once again.

The emotional turning point occurred with three minutes left in the third quarter, when Paul Sergautis got fouled hard, but not before completing a fine three-point play. The Blues took a 50-45 lead, and didn’t look back.

In the fourth quarter, Ahmed Nazmi helped put away the game with a couple of three-pointers down the stretch. Nazmi who finished with a team-high 22 points, hit a three pointer with nine minutes left in the game to give the Blues the 57-44 lead. Our team’s stellar defence held Ottawa, who had been averaging 77 points a game, to only 65 points.

Trailing 68-63 with less than two minutes left to play, the Gee Gees tried to put on the full court pressure, but a Nazmi three pointer brought the score to 70-63. “I think in the second half we came out and really got into them.” said fi rst year forward Andrew Wasik following the win. “We focused on defending them, and just working as hard as we can because we play a similar style of game to them, so rebounding and defense, and will is important.”

It was a great win, and having the Raptors coaches there seemed to provide an emotional lift for the Blues. The usually glib Mike Katz was even more speechless after the game, only managing to comment: “We knew that we had to have a good second half, and I was really happy that we won the game. If Sam Mitchell doesn’t show up today, we don’t win that game.”

Who’s laughing now?

The Writers Guild of America strike is entering its 10th week today, and while it might warm some hearts to know that a new American Gladiators is back in the making, most television viewers are beginning to tire of the onslaught of game shows and reality programming hijacking TV airtime. Adding insult to couch potato injury, last week it was announced that this year’s Golden Globes will be cancelled. This means no red carpet and no fashion magazine “best and worst of” lists in the weeks to follow. This strike is beginning to hinder all sorts of guilty pleasures.

Still, it’s hard not to side with the writers. Now that they’re gone, we’re realizing just how badly television needs them. Well-written shows like The Office and Big Love—two of the many programs whose production has been halted by the strike—are what keeps the ‘boob’ out of boob tube. More pressingly, this is a U.S. presidential election year. How on earth are we supposed to follow the campaign without Jon Stewart’s whipsmart coverage on The Daily Show to fill us in on all the dirty politics? New episodes have returned, but with Stewart doing all his own writing, they are of lesser quality.

On the other hand, Canadian-produced television shows remain unaffected by the WGA strike. Perhaps an ongoing strike would allow for a push of Canadian programming into a broader North American spotlight. Can’t you just picture families across America rushing home to see the latest episode of Corner Gas? Then again, maybe not.

There is a major downside to the strike for Canadian entertainers. Our Hollywood North economy is beginning to suffer tremendous losses from the cessation of American television productions. In British Columbia alone, more than a dozen series that had been filming in the province prior to the strike have closed operations. The two that remain are expected to follow suit within the month.

The strike is a nuisance, but fair is fair. This isn’t the first time American writers have gone on strike. Back in 1988, the WGA ended its five-month strike with an ill-forged deal that wound up costing them enormous home video and DVD residuals in the following years. Now, the writers’ concerns surround new media, specifically a share of internet-based media profits, which don’t add up to much today, but are projected to be worth billions in the future. Though it may seem mind-boggling, production companies that rely so heavily on the talent of their writers for enormous profits have long been reluctant to grant these writers a fair piece of the pie.

Hopefully the studio execs are paying close attention to the low-grade pap that’s being churned out on their networks, and realize that pretty soon we’re going to get tired of watching reruns of House, turn off the TV and, I don’t know, pick up a book or something.

Just compensation for writers is the obvious, ethical choice for the entertainment industry, even if it means viewers have to endure more of the same dismal programming until an agreement can be made. The writers have already been shortchanged. This strike is about making sure it doesn’t keep happening.

Blues rise in East

After a tremendous first half of the season, which saw the team win the first five games and put up a record of 7-3 overall, the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team must have been sad to see 2007 come and pass. The team can take solace that while the Gregorian calendar has already brought us into 2008, in the Chinese lunar calendar, the year of the pig, which officially began on Feb. 18, 2007, will not change until Feb. 6, 2008. So far the year of the pig has been nothing short of a blue-ribbon year for these “Beasts of the East.” Coach Michelle Belanger praised her team’s overall consistency this season, following an 89-48 route of the Ottawa Gee- Gees over the weekend.

“The players should get all the credit for our success this year. They’ve matured a lot, and are finally playing up to their ability. They’re taking things a little more seriously than they have in the past and it shows. They really want to win!”

The Blues have not only been consistent this season, but dominant. In wins they are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 75-58 (17 points per game.) First in the East in overall scoring per game, our team trails only high-powered Laurentian and Western in the OUA.

“We try to run a lot of back-screens, and play a motion offense,” said coach Belanger after Saturday’s blowout against Ottawa. “I think we did a good job today of scoring in transition and taking advantage of our speed. When we play in the half court, we want to move the ball really quickly, set some screens, then look inside to our post players. We did that today.”

Against the Ottawa Gee Gees, quick ball movement resulted in excellent shooting percentages and mismatches down low. Toronto finished the night shooting 46.4 per cent from the field, while going to the line 29 times compared to just 14 attempts for their opponents. Four Toronto players scored in double figures on Saturday: forward Laila Bellony had ten points and seven rebounds for the Blues, while Christine Cho and Allaine Hutton had 13 apiece. Any of these players could have easily grabbed Player of the Night honors, which eventually went to second-year guard Jessica Hiew who scored a season-high 16 points. Asked why this edition of the Blues has been so successful thus far, Hiew said, “I think it comes with playing a lot together. We’re starting to get to know each other’s games, what everyone can do, and that has helped a lot.”

The Blues haven’t only gotten familiar with their teammates in the New Year, but will be renewing hostilities with old foes the RMC Paladins and Queen’s Golden Gaels. The teams will be squaring off this Friday and Saturday at the Athletic Centre. Toronto opened 2008 with two victories on the road against them, and Hiew expects a dog fight this time around: “RMC and Queen’s are probably looking for revenge ’cause we beat them just last weekend. Especially Queen’s, because that was quite a close game. RMC we beat by quite a lot, but they’ll be looking to improve this time around as well.”

With another pair of victories, the Blues could creep closer to the top of the standings. Their current record, following a sweep of Ottawa and Carleton, stands at 11-3, good for second overall in the East behind the York Lions. The Blues are on pace statistically to win 17 games this season, their best total since 2003 when the team went 18-4. All coach Belanger wants to see is a hard-working team that learns from their past successes and failures.

“I just hope that we get better after every game we play, and I think that we have improved a lot in some areas. The goal is to put it all together by February so that we’ll have the total package.” The year of the pig isn’t quite over yet, and neither is the Varsity Blues season, so it’s possible that the 2007/2008 campaign will indeed be their year.

No thanks, your kidneys are too gay for me

Last week, Health Canada announced controversial new regulations surrounding protocol for organ donation. The new rules, which have been harshly criticized, list sexually active gay men as unsuitable donors because of the risk of HIV infection. This has, of course, angered many activists who have fought for years to erase the idea that HIV is an exclusively homosexual disease.

Surely, homophobia and discrimination are nothing to laugh at, but this is definitely not a fight that the Stonewall rioters could have imagined having to take up. “We’re here, we’re queer, harvest our organs!”

I’m not sure organ donation is a right per se. The right to actually keep all your organs inside your own body is probably more important. But still, in a society free of discrimination, everyone should have the right to be treated equally, in life and in death, regardless of sexual orientation.

However, these regulations didn’t appear out of the blue. The experts at Health Canada object to sexually active gay donors on health, not moral grounds. It’s not as if they’re worried that non-gay patients will have their innards infected by the sinful tissue of blasphemous sodomites. They’re worried about disease control. The reality is that sexually active gay men account for 51 per cent of all Canadians living with HIV in this country, and 45 per cent of new infections.

Besides male homosexual sex, the new regulations also take into account other high-risk sexual practices, like taking money for sex or having sexual contact in jail. But some health officials are saying that Health Canada may be overlooking other risky practices among heterosexuals.

Gary Levy, director of the multi-organ transplant program for the University Health Network in Toronto, had this to say: “The fact is, if someone has 62 partners, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual, there still is a risk [for HIV transmission].”

So apparently, sluts aren’t suitable organ donors either. But how could we weed them out? “I’m very sorry for your loss Mrs. Jones, but before we donate your daughter’s heart to this dying man, could you tell us, was she, you know…loose? How about unprotected anal sex, did she have a lot of it?”

In any case, Health Canada is in a tight position. The results of an inadequate screening process would be disastrous, and the risk is very real. In Chicago alone, four people contracted HIV from donated organs last year. With the memory of the fatal tainted blood scandal still a painful memory in this country, Health Canada has a duty to make sure they don’t accept organs from high-risk populations. But is it discrimination to link HIV with a certain marginalized population? It’s taken decades to dismantle the idea of HIV/AIDS as a disease exclusive to homosexuals, and to hear the opposite from Canada’s most important health institution seems to be a huge step backwards.

The good news is that these regulations are not blanket interdictions against homosexuals. Gay women are considered safe donors, as are any homosexual men who are not sexually active. Gay men who are mostly monogamous, and whose partners have no communicable diseases, will also be allowed to donate.

Although these regulations are troubling, they probably say more about the worryingly high rates of HIV among Canada’s gay men than they do about homophobic attitudes among our health professionals. The reality is that HIV infections continue to grow at a startling pace among gay men, and it’s this problem that our health system and gay activists alike should be desperately trying to tackle. We should be trying to keep gay Canadian men alive for longer, rather than arguing over what to do with their organs once they’re dead.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. considering switch to uFC

2007 was a renaissance year for the sport of boxing. It brought back old fans, created new ones, and gave us a sports star that gets people talking. When Pretty Boy Floyd jumped into our televisions he created 2.4 million PPV buys for his first fight of ‘07, and over 500,000 buys in the states alone for his December bout. Sure there were better knockdowns, but unlike past years, Floyd Mayweather Jr. never failed to deliver the goods.

Rumours of Maywhether plunged inside a cage to fight in a Mixed Martial Arts match abound. The undefeated six-time world champion in five different weight classes, he also earns over 30 million per match. His self appointed nickname is “money” and UFC will never be able to cough up that sort of dough now.

Even if officials find 50 million for a Mayweather fight, we still won’t see him in a UFC cage as a fighter. While skeptics might see professional boxers as intellectual lightweights (thanks to multiple concussions), Mayweather is to the contrary. He understands that he is in a business where a small slip up equates to being hurt seriously. No matter how supremely gifted an athlete is, it’s a struggle to switch from your chosen sport and try competing at the highest level. That clip of Michael Jordan striking out flashes in our minds. And unlike baseball, you can’t afford to swing and miss several times in a UFC fight. Getting an armbar placed on you and having your limb broken would probably hinder a Jordan-esque comeback in boxing as well.

What would Floyd prove by doing this? What would he gain? As boxing royalty, he is the sports’ biggest draw, plus his style doesn’t suit MMA. If you plan on boxing your way to victory, then you need to be a knockout artist. Floyd is a boxer in its purest sense, he dances around ring throws to blow extremely accurate punches. Entering a sport where clinches won’t get broken up, use of elbows won’t disqualify, and falling on your back will not result in a timeout means Mayweather won’t be converting to Mixed Martial Arts anytime soon. The only way you will see him inside a cage is if Mayweather decides there is money to make and starts promoting young, talented, destined for MMA fighters.

I don’t know where people get these crazy ideas. Maybe its their desire to see that brash, arrogant, cocky, money flaunting Mayweather get beaten up. But that’s not going to happen inside the ring anytime soon.