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.

Why Israel is an apartheid state

This week, Israeli Apartheid Week is sparking debate across campus as to the true nature of the Israeli state. Depictions of Israel as an ethnically- divided nation will no doubt be countered by those who point to the fact that Palestinians in Israel proper have the right to vote, and enjoy the same status in courts of law. Despite these realities, no mistake should be made: Israel is a state in which non-Jews have an inferior legal status, and its people live different lives depending on their ethnicity.

As any high-school student can tell you, apartheid is a term literally meaning “separation” (or “apart-hood”). It is characterized by the forcible transfer of populations, land control, labour exploitation, and humiliation. Article 2 of the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines state practices that constitute apartheid, all of which apply to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

In 1948, after having declared its independence, Israel established itself as a “Jewish state” in 78 per cent of historical Palestine, after 750,000 people, three-quarters of the native population, were ethnically cleansed from their lands. In 1967, Israel conquered the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine by taking control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This led to the further expulsions of another 250,000 people, and ushered in the longest-standing military occupation of the modern era.

As a consequence of 1948 and 1967, Palestinians now constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world, numbering close to five million. Today, Israel continues to deny these Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, claiming that they are a “demographic threat” to the maintenance of a Jewish majority within Israel.

Hand in hand with the expulsion of the indigenous population has come the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land by the state of Israel. Today, 93 per cent of the territory of the state of Israel is controlled by the Jewish National Fund and other state institutions, reserved for Jewish citizens only.

Similar to apartheid South Africa, present-day Israel also practices containment of the Palestinian population in the “Bantustans” of the West Bank and Gaza. Indigenous Palestinians who live in these open-air prisons are arbitrarily cut off from the rest of historic Palestine by the Apartheid Wall. Entry and exit from these Bantustans—and movement within them—is controlled by Israel through an intricate network of checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements, “bypass” roads, curfews, ID systems, and constant harassment by the Israeli military, all of which make daily life virtually impossible. These refugees’ lives are under the control of Israel. They have no say, they have no vote.

It is worth noting that the analysis of Israel as an apartheid state was developed by progressive Israelis, Palestinians, and South Africans themselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared present-day Israel to Apartheid era South Africa and accused Israel of creating Bantustans for Palestinians.

The apartheid analogy should bring to mind the international activist movement that helped dismantle South African apartheid. Starting in the 1970s, a grassroots popular boycott, international isolation, and economic sanctions were critical to ending the racist regime in South Africa. A similar campaign is crucial to ending the apartheid regime of Israel.

The purpose of International Israeli Apartheid Week is to contribute to this chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid, and to bolster support for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. This is in accordance with the demands outlined in a July 2005 statement issued by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, who called for full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, the dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties.

Nausheen Quayyum is a member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

FDA: Cloned meat is safe

Like a match set to a pile of paper, the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep, set off a firestorm of controversy, and endless speculation regarding the cloning of animals. Now, 12 years later, another event has rekindled the smoldering ethical and moral debate: the FDA released a ruling last month stating that cloned farm animals are safe to eat.

While this decision may come as a shock to consumers intent on going organic, there is no reason to suspect eating cloned farmed animals is unsafe. These cloned animals are not born by traditional reproductive methods where sperm meets egg, but in some ways, the natural birthing process has already been stripped away from animals farmed for consumption. In the cattle industry, the sperm of a singular bull inseminates many female cows. Considered in this light, cloning seems to be just another step of human manipulation in the procreation process.

The FDA investigation is assuredly thorough, and undeniably controversial. The 986-page unreleased report concludes that there are no hidden risks from consuming food from clones. This report removes the U.S. regulatory ban—in place since 2003—of the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats. The report, which includes the raw data studied, analyzed 600 clones and their offspring. The authors found that the nutrient levels in cloned meat and milk were either the same or within normal, accepted ranges. When milk and meat from clones were fed to animals for at least 3½ months, there was no evidence of health problems, allergic reactions, or behavioral changes due to consumption. The report’s overall conclusion was unequivocal: provided that the clones are healthy, there is no reason to suspect products derived from them are unsafe.

The knee-jerk reaction of the media and governmental bodies to this FDA report is not surprising. In reality, it will take years before food from clones actually hits the market. The process of cloning is far more expensive than traditional breeding. Until the techniques are perfected and the cost of production is driven down, don’t expect to be able to buy cloned cow or duplicated ducks at the supermarket.

Another complication is the ethical concern that surrounds the life of a cloned animal. Dr. Gurfinkel, of the department of nutrition at U of T, raised an interesting point regarding this dilemma.

“At the present time, making a single viable clone requires thousands of embryos. Even when a cloned animal is made, the large majority are unhealthy and are born with genetic abnormalities that promote suffering. Now that it has been established that cloned animals are safe to consume, we have to ask ourselves about the welfare of these clones. Is the tradeoff of a novel farming method worth the suffering of the sick and frail clones?” said Gurfinkel.

Secondary to the animal welfare issues is the economic impact that these clones may have on American industry. There is a valid concern that farmed clones will undermine the wholesome image of American milk and meat. Taking the European Union ban on genetically modified organisms as a pertinent example, one has to wonder if clone farming can ever become a worthwhile industry. If the future holds a global ban on these clones, the entire enterprise will be lessened, and the export industry may suffer.

Policy makers need to look beyond the human health concerns of eating cloned farm animals when considering the FDA’s recent approval. This issue requires risk analysis based on moral and ethical grounds, in addition to the currently studied biological issues.

In the end, it’s Dolly who has the last laugh. The FDA hasn’t ruled on the safety of cloned sheep, citing a lack of information.

Come to the Cabaret

“There was a city called Berlin, where there was a cabaret, and it was the end of the world.”

For those whose midterms are stirring up a different sort of apocalyptic vision, here’s your chance to go back in time with the UC Follies’ production of the acclaimed Broadway musical Cabaret.

The scene is set in 1931 Berlin, bleak with political unrest, and the rising Nazi Party. It’s a grim era, but Weimar Germany also has a warm, sensual side—especially Berlin’s indulgent, pleasure-seeking Kit Kat Club. It is here that lead dancer Sally Bowles meets American journalist Cliff Bradshaw. When Sally’s boyfriend kicks her out of her home, she moves into Cliff’s boardinghouse room, and the two fall in love. They’re not the only ones engaging in a cross-cultural relationship: the owner of the boardinghouse, Fräulein Schneider, gets involved with a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz. Can either love withstand the political pressure descending on Berlin?

Despite being a musical, Cabaret is no fluffy romp. It delves into themes of abortion and prejudice, as everyone knows where Germany ends up as the 1930s progress. Nonetheless, Cabaret has received perpetual praise: the 1966 Broadway production earned an impressive eight Tony awards in its first run. Subsequent revivals in 1987 and 1998 have added four more Tonys, a Drama Desk Award, and a Theatre World Award to the musical’s mantelpiece.

An award-worthy performance can be expected from the UC Follies as well. The goal of this student company is to dispel the notion that amateur theatre always seems unprofessional. And if last year’s Follies production of Nine is any indication, director Stephen Low and musical director Lily Ling will once again be working magic.

The cast of Cabaret is made up of a mix of professionals and U of T students who just happen to have remarkable talent. They’ve been working since September on the production, which has been generating major buzz from New College to Vic, and in the mainstream media too: the UC Follies have fans at the Toronto Star and all over the blogosphere— a real feat. So, if you’re strolling by Hart House this week and hear a voice belting out, “Come to the cabaret!” don’t resist. Instead, buy yourself a bargain $12 ticket because this production is bound to please. Cabaret runs from Feb. 7 to 16 at Hart House Theatre. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit uofttix.ca

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.