Literate ghosts

Philip Roth’s latest novel, Exit Ghost, is a book written by a literary geek, for an audience of literary geeks, about the sordid lives of other, fictional literary geeks. Reacquainting a cast of characters from his 1979 novel The Ghost Writer, Roth finds his protagonist Nathan Zuckerman returning to New York after an 11-year absence in New England. Nathan quickly becomes involved in a dispute over the publication of a controversial biography of his deceased mentor, E. I. Lonoff.

Near the novel’s end, Zuckerman describes Lonoff’s artistry as a “rumination in narrative form.” This description could easily apply to Roth’s own technique. The narrative is slight, but the book’s conflicts and characters are constructed in such a way that they intricately reveal the novel’s questions. Roth succeeds by having his novel connect with the themes and storylines he first presented in these other Zuckerman books. Ideas and plots are resurrected and then cast in a new, intriguing light.

Exit Ghost’s most prolonged intertextual resonance is with The Ghost Writer. In that book, Zuckerman narrates the history of Lonoff’s lover, Bellette, imagining she is the author of a book popular because the public believes its author to be dead. Bellette therefore must not reveal that she is alive—outrageous consequences follow.

In Exit Ghost, Lonoff’s biographer— a brash jerk from Harvard— reveals to Zuckerman that he has discovered a long-buried secret from Lonoff’s past. The biographer hopes that by publishing this secret, all of Lonoff’s writing will be reappraised by the literary community that has forgotten him.

The book’s characters seem to argue that a work of literature can only be understood through acquiring total knowledge of the author’s life. The major irony of Roth’s last Zuckerman novel—which was preoccupied with the author’s relation to his text—is that the correspondences Roth creates between Exit Ghost and the other Zuckerman books, especially The Ghost Writer, convince the reader of the fictionality of a literary work many consider to be a veiled autobiography of Roth himself.

Of course, the book is not so unequivocal. When Zuckerman reads a letter Bellette has written to the New York Times arguing against the biographical interpretation of Ernest Hemingway’s stories, he recognizes that she is motivated by her time with Lonoff. Is this Roth’s subversion of the book’s argument?

Suns gambit could payoff in playoffs

Those rumblings you’re hearing out of Miami these days aren’t the last stages of El Nino passing through the coast—they are the sound of the Phoenix Suns stealing the thunder from a hated division rival. Mere days after the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off their most recent attempt to placate temperamental superstar Kobe Bryant by acquiring all-star Pao Gasol, the Pacific Division- leading Suns upstaged their rivals by trading for one of the most dominant players in NBA history. Certainly the man known league-wide as “The Big Aristotle” is far removed from his Kazam days, or more importantly, the peak form that saw him win four NBA championships from 2000-2004 with those very same Lakers, but Shaq should still have enough gas left in the tank to help the Suns win games.

Acquiring the 35-year-old O’Neal is a high-risk/ high-reward move, representing Steve Kerr’s first major trade since taking over as general manager from current Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo: “I’m well aware that I’m on the line,” Kerr told The Associated Press. “That’s my job. That’s why I’m sitting in this seat. I’m comfortable with the decision. I think it gives us a better chance to win, and a better chance to win in the playoffs.”

While the dirty details are yet to be finalized, the principles of the deal will most likely see four-time all-star Shawn Marion head to the Heat along with point guard Marcus Banks in exchange for Miami’s star centre. Marion is the trade’s centrepiece as far as Miami is concerned. The team currently owns the worst record in the league (9-37) and needs to augment its expensive—and often unproductive— roster with both youth and athleticism. With Marion, who helped catapult the run-and-gun Phoenix team to elite status, the Heat acquire one of the most athletic players in the league. That relationship had soured in recent years, as the 29-year-old began to feel unappreciated in the team’s three-star lineup, alongside two-time MVP Steve Nash and 2003 Rookie of the Year Amare Stoudemire.

It’s now Marion’s time to shine in Miami, only sharing the spotlight with superstar guard Dwayne Wade on a team whose short-term fortunes have taken a turn for the worse since their 2006 championship season. The team can now build around Marion who, previously averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in his ninth season with the Suns, an their lottery pick that could net talented players such as Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley or Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, who helped the top-ranked Tigers to an undefeated season.

Phoenix, on the other hand, entered into this trade with a win-now mentality. The team sees its window to win an NBA title closing as the 33-year-old Nash will be entering the final year of his six-year contract next season.. It’s easy to see the logic behind this move: Marion had the ability to opt out of his $17.2 million contract next season, and almost certainly would have because of his deteriorating relationships. Trading for Shaq gives the Suns roster certainty: the star centre has two more years guaranteed in his 40 million contract. In this poker game, the Suns have just gone all in.

Employing O’Neal brings the team a more conventional lineup, allowing the 6’10 Stoudemire a chance to return to his natural power-forward spot. The 7’1, 350-pound O’Neal also gives Phoenix some much-needed toughness upfront. With Shaq acting as enforcer, the team will no longer have to worry about teams like San Antonio taking liberties with its star players like Nash and Stoudemire, as it did during last year’s playoffs. The hope on Phoenix’s end is that O’Neal can remain healthy enough through the remainder of his contract to be a factor in their pursuit of a championship, and that the talented Nash can revitalize the sleeping giant, who is having the worst season of his career, averaging just 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. By adding the slow, hulking O’Neal to their fast-paced offence, the Suns may cease to be the most exciting team to watch. But if everything turns out the way they hope, they will be the most feared team in the league come playoff time.

McDonald’s and three other corporations are now granting valid, advanced high-school credits in the U.K., through privately-run training programs. What do you say to that?

Clockwise from top-left.

Aldeli, 2nd-year Women’s Studies

It’s a good thing for people who don’t have as many opportunities to finish their high school education, like older people who want to go back to school and go to university. At the same time though, it could be seen as an easy way out. People might say, ‘I don’t want to work hard at school so I’ll get my A-Level from McDonalds’.

Nancy, 4th-year English

It’s a great opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t get an education to learn employable skills, but it makes me feel icky because emphasis shifts to the private sector providing education. Public services might become lax if people are opting for the corporate option.

Annemarie (l) and Christalle (r), 3rd-year exchange students from Zurich and Paris

A—That’s frightening! And right in the European Union! C—It contradicts the objectivity of education. A—The state cannot give away its responsibilities like that.

Dan, 4th-year History

It’s a reasonable alternative to people dropping out.

Herpes email causes flare-up

An indignant article by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford has raised the hackles of U of T administrators, who are defending their choice not to send a mass email informing female students about the vaccine Gardasil.

The vaccine was approved by Health Canada in July 2006 to immunize against four major strains of HPV, which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases and 90 per cent of genital wart cases, and is known to increase the risk of contracting HIV. The vaccine is currently approved for females aged nine to 26.

The university’s clinic gives shots of Gardasil, which cost $400 and is not covered by OHIP for recipients older than 13.

Two Toronto physicians tried for six months to convince U of T to distribute the message.

The 42-word statement reads: “Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women under age 50 today. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection at the U of T today. HPV can cause cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the new HPV vaccine.”

Dr. Rob Wagman and Dr. Raymond Tellier initially thought their proposal had been accepted when the university’s Health Services supported their plan.

“They thought it was an excellent idea,” said Wagman, who sits on U of T’s medical school faculty.

Several weeks later, Wagman and Tellier were told that U of T’s president David Naylor and VP and provost Vivek Goel had vetoed the mass emailing. Naylor and Goel both have a background in health care.

“There is no public health recommendation for mass immunization in our target age group,” said Naylor.

In a statement responding to Blatchford’s article, Goel noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada primarily recommends the vaccine for girls aged nine to 13.

“Experts agree […] that the most efficient use of the vaccine is in younger girls who are unlikely to be sexually active and therefore remain unex posed to HPV,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.

Goel added that the student health clinic website makes the information available for students, who can decide for themselves whether to pursue inoculation.

He also questioned the effectiveness of unsolicited mass emails. “Obviously, the university could send dozens of health-related messages to its students—on a range of important issues from safe sex to smoking cessation. We can only dimly imagine the resulting chorus of complaints from students about paternalistic and intrusive emails.”

The University of Ottawa has sent out a recommendation of the vaccine to both women and men, though Health Canada only finds it “favourable for prevention of infection” for females.

Tellier has pointed to the National Advisory of Immunization’s recommendation that females between 14 and 26 should also receive the vaccine.

Both he and Wagman said the message was meant to increase awareness of the cervical cancercausing virus, rather than advocate vaccination.

“We are not asking that the University of Toronto recommends the vaccine, but merely that it provides information by e-mail to its student listserv, or points to the relevant information,” said Tellier.

Dead students still repaying loans

The federal government is collecting on loans to student borrowers—dead or alive.

Since 2002, Ottawa has forwarded 100 accounts of deceased students to the Canada Revenue Agency, recovering $14,645.53 from their estates, according to figures obtained by the non-profit group Coalition for Student Loan Fairness under the Access to Information Act.

For student loans negotiated between 1995 and 2000, the government can still collect on loans if the death or permanent disability of the borrower occurs six months after graduation. This risk-shared regime, where financial institutions assumed the risk of the loan in return for a fixed payment from the government, ended in August 2000.

The government now directly finances all loans and forgives debts if the borrower dies.

For borrowers who become permanently disabled, debts could be forgiven if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Monte Solberg, is “satisfied” that the borrower “will be unable to repay the loan without exceptional hardship, taking into account the borrower’s family income,” reads the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

“Between April 2003 and June 2007, 921 Canada Student Loans with a total value of $6.5 million were forgiven due to the death of the borrower,” wrote Pema Lhalungpa, an assistant to Solberg, in an email Monday.

But families of deceased students with risk-sharing loans have been getting calls from collection agencies, and the CSLF is calling on the government to forgive those debts.

“There is no reason to have such different rules for the collecting of certain loans versus others,” said Julian Benedict, founder of the CSLF. “I don’t think it matters to the family of the dead borrower whether the loan was taken out in ’95 or 2000.”

Deceased borrowers’ estates are contacted to “determine if there are any available funds to be applied towards the debt,” Catherine Jolicoeur, a spokeswoman for the CRA, told the Canadian Press.

After a borrower’s income tax refunds are applied to the debt, Jolicoeur said, collection activity stops even if there is still money owed.

Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, said the post-mortem collection was a manifestation of a larger student debt problem in Canada. “It’s an example of people falling through the cracks of an already broken system,” she said.

“The whole problem with the system is that it relies on loans,” Hassum said. “It’s a profit-driven approach to financial assistance, because they charge interest rates, there are collection agencies involved, there are third parties that run our loan system on a day-to-day basis.”

CFS has called for an end to interest on student loans and for the creation of a national system of need-based grants.

Solberg’s ministry also disburses scholarships through the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is up for renewal this year. The University of Toronto Students’ Union wants the CMSF and the student loan program “merged into one system that would waste less on bureaucracy,” said Dave Scrivener, UTSU’s VP external.

“Our petition is calling for the creation of a national program, using money from the CMSF towards a dedicated, direct infusion into the system for grants,” he said.

Malcolm X’s daughter sets record straight

The name Shabazz still carries powerful connotations. It was the chosen name of one of the principal figures of the civil rights movement, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known to the world as Malcolm X. A commanding public persona, Shabazz was an eloquent speaker and inspirational leader whose philosophy still resonates worldwide today. His daughter Ilyasah now spreads his message, a responsibility she reflected upon during a speech Monday night at OISE.

“Education was one of the fundamental values my parents emphasized and instilled in my sisters and me,” said Shabazz, one of the civil rights leader’s six children.

“Both my parents understood the value of education and its critical importance to the advancement of our nation. Both understood the importance of education to the movement, and the ongoing struggle for human rights.” Speaking at Canada’s largest university, Shabazz’s discussion of universities’ responsibility called to mind images of her father’s infamous debate at Oxford prior to his death.

Her speech was part of Expression Against Oppression week, a series of campus events organized by UTSU’s equity commission to raise awareness of injustices at home and abroad. From Feb. 4 to 8, U of T will stage for a series of demonstrations, film screenings, art exhibits, and lectures.

On Monday night, 46-year-old Shabazz spoke about the need for an “eternal vigilance.”

“The worldwide struggle for equality and justice cannot be over when racial inequities still exist,” Shabazz told the near-capacity crowd. “In Toronto, there exists a socio-economic polarization between people of European descent and people of the [African] Diaspora, which is really shocking.”

While Shabazz’s discussion centered mainly on marginalized black Americans and Canadians, UTSU VP equity Sandy Hudson, who helped organize Shabazz’s talk, said that oppression crosses all social boundaries. “I think that even though the discussion of oppression was framed in a mostly African-American context, a lot of people can still take something from it, and make it personal for themselves,” said Hudson.

At a Q&A period at the end of the evening, a woman took the microphone to discuss parallels between injustices faced by Canadian First Nations people and African-Canadians, but was shouted down by the audience. Shabazz tried to calm the crowd, telling them she was only there to discuss her own experiences and could not speak to the experiences of First Nations people. Nevertheless, the woman was silenced.

Feb. 21 marked the 43rd anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder, and this month has historically been busy for Shabazz, author of Growing up X. With this year’s festivities coinciding with Black History Month, it proved challenging to fit the XAO event into Shabazz’s busy schedule: “Ilyasah announced the day she would be arriving almost at the last minute, and we only had four days to really promote that she would be speaking,” said Hudson. “I was very worried that there would not be a large turn out in the room for 500 people, but it was almost full, so I was shocked surprised and excited by the response.”

U of T ‘passive’ on investment picks

A new policy on university divestment has already earned critics, as the administration commits to working with students, staff, faculty, and alumni to overhaul investment ethics procedures.

Decision-making power and the role of proxy voting are among critics’ foremost complaints with the new policy. The University of Toronto currently signs its voting power over to investment firms in its employ. A responsible investment movement wants the university to start using its voting power to avoid socially and environmentally damaging investments.

“At the moment we are very passive with proxy voting. We don’t really vote against management. We’ve seen the policy records,” said Thomas Felix, cochair of the Responsible Investment Committee. RIC, a campus coalition whose members include the Canadian Union of Public Employees, UTSU, and the Arts and Sciences Students Union, presented an alternative to the adopted policy, which was ultimately not discussed by Governing Council’s University Affairs Board.

Felix added that ethically secure investments could be more financially stable in the long run, avoiding such pitfalls as lawsuits and other losses caused by social upheaval. “We were disappointed to find that we didn’t take more active ways to protect our own interest, especially through further environmental and social standards that could help in the long term,” he said.

RIC’s proposed policy called for a permanent board of advisors who would issue recommendations on controversial investment decisions. The policy approved by UAB only defines how the university will get rid of unethical stocks, with no process in place to avoid acquiring them in the first place.

“The proposed policy is a more proactive approach to responsible investment,” said Felix. While the university’s policy gives a protocol for getting rid of ethically questionable investments, the draft calls for screening investments before making them.

Critics also expressed concern that the new policy removes elected representatives of the university community from the advisory committee. “We’re not convinced that [a representative system] is necessary, but we’re not opposed to having it,” said Catherine Riggall, VP business affairs. The approved policy is an update of one brought before the UAB in November 2007, which was rejected over concerns that it would strip Governing Council of their authority in stock decisions.

The new policy addressed these concerns with a requirement that the ad hoc committee be approved by GC. Felix said he was confident that RIC’s suggestions would be taken into account in future meetings with administrators.

“I don’t believe that just because this passed, this is the end. Clearly the administration has shown that they want to work with us, and that they just want to get a procedural issue off the ground,” said Felix.

Is U of T funding war crimes?

Our generation was young in the era after the Rwandan Genocide. As children, we grew up hearing tales of the world’s terrible hush in the face of this atrocity. Indifference allowed two million people to die at the hands of their neighbours, and silence sanctioned what humanity should have risen up against.

In Darfur this legacy of apathy continues. There, 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced by the brutal attacks of the Janjaweed, a militia backed by the Sudanese government. The world has watched for four years, but little has been done to end the violence.

What’s more troubling than our acquiescence is the possibility that we may be silent partners in this crime. Many major international corporations operate in Sudan; their taxes help provide the government with revenue for military spending used to fund the campaign of murder and rape that is currently ravaging Darfur.

Research conducted by the Sudan Divestment Task Force indicates that the University of Toronto is invested in two companies whose operations in Sudan merit scrutiny: Total SA, an oil company, and Alcatel, a telecommunications company.

Alcatel warrants particular attention because a major portion of its Sudanese operations involve providing communications for Petrodar—one of the biggest oil consortiums in the country and a significant source of revenue for the Sudanese government. Total SA is suspect because they own the rights to an oil block in Sudan, and have publicly stated that they intend to begin operations as soon as possible. Total SA has demonstrated its willingness to profit from relationships with oppressive regimes. As Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated, “Total has become the main supporter of the Burmese military regime.”

U of T has invested $9.7 million and $7.6 million in Alcatel and Total SA, respectively. In May 2007, the U of T chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) submitted a 50-page proposal to the Governing Council, along with 300 petition signatures requesting that our university divest from offending companies.

On October 30, U of T president David Naylor responded at a Governing Council board meeting. While he stated that the Council condemns the atrocities in Darfur, he also announced that they had chosen not to divest from the two aforementioned companies, as they do not meet the threshold required to warrant divestment.

While we appreciate the council’s strong moral stance on the issue, words will not fulfill our responsibilities as a respected educational institution. Our Governing Council has chosen not only to refuse divestment, but disregard the myriad alternate courses of action in the proposal. There are no plans to engage the companies in dialogue, to demonstrate shareholder concern, or to utilize shareholder votes, as we suggested.

The Governing Council also ignored our recommendation of a screening mechanism to avoid future investments in companies whose operations render them accessories in the Darfur genocide. We had the chance to question the VP of business affairs at the Nov. 6 University Affairs Board meeting. Apparently, the recent decision to install a filter for tobacco investments is already costing the university $20,000 a year. The board claims it would be simply “too expensive” to screen for Darfur as well. Though the University joins STAND in expressing outrage at the four-year-long government- backed campaign of systematic murder and rape, $20,000 is too costly to prevent our participation in this crime.

Queen’s University has already divested from Darfur as of March 2007, working directly with STAND to form their plan for divestment. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and UPenn have already divested. In contrast, U of T is tangled in a web of bureaucracy when we could be helping Darfur.

If the University of Toronto truly belongs in the league of the world’s top universities, it must find the moral courage to avoid funding these crimes, even if it means paying for our conscience in dollars and cents.