Is Black History Month necessary?

As the month of February comes to a close, how many are reflecting on Black History Month? I’d bet that there are more people pondering the events of Valentine’s Day and what they did over reading week. Chances are that many do not recognize what this month is supposed to celebrate.

Black history is certainly not irrelevant. Youth should have the resources to educate future generations about black contributions towards a better society for mankind as a whole. We should, nonetheless, remember that there are many events in the history of other cultures, forming the basis of Canadian society today, worth equal celebration and education.

But forget designating months for the history of other races. I’m not convinced that we benefit from Black History Month. While the purpose is supposed to be celebrating black history and educating others about it, can a significant amount of us claim we absorbed any information? How many of us, black or not, can honestly say they learned something about black history this month, beyond a few token pieces of information about the inventor of the 19th century’s most effective steam engine lubricant? (African-Canadian Elijah McCoy, don’t you know!)

Carter G. Woodson, director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and creator of Negro History Week—now expanded into an entire month—specifically reached out to both blacks and whites in his endeavour to improve race relations. Although the original motives were filled with good intentions and aimed to eliminate racial mistrust at the time, it now serves to make us all feel awful for the slavery committed by and inflicted upon ancestors none of us remember.

I don’t intend to say that the horrors of slavery were—and are—in any way acceptable. However, rather than have a month of looking back on a time when our generation wasn’t even thought of, let alone born, let’s move forward, taking steps towards a future of equality. Race-specific history months serve to promote segregation, instead of improving understanding between culture. If we wish to have a peaceful future for our children, acknowledgment and acceptance of all races, cultures, and ethnicities is required, not singling one particular group out.

OUA Championship Final

It was a case of “third time’s the charm” for the women’s basketball team in their OUA Eastern final showdown with York on Feb. 24. The Lions had eliminated the Blues from the playoffs the previous two seasons, but U of T was determined not to let that happen again.

“They’ve played the same system now for the last three years, so we were getting used to it, and the players are slowly realizing what [York] is doing,” said Blues head coach Michelle Belanger, following her team’s 99-91 victory over their cross-town rivals. “They’re a such a good team,” Belanger said of York. “They’ve got some great scorers, and I think the ability for us to host this game at home was huge, to be in front of our home crowd was magical for the girls. “

With the win, U of T now prepares to take on the McMaster Marauders in Saturday’s OUA championship, also to be played at home. In this battle of number-one seeds, Toronto (18-4 in the East) will play tough against the best from the West, as the Marauders finished the season with an impressive 21- 1 record. The Blues have not defeated McMaster in three years, and lost in their only meeting of the season, 66-58, on Nov. 15.

In that game, the Blues had the lead going into halftime 36-34, but were outdone by a combination of sloppy play and a strong Marauder defence, surrendering with a season-high 34 turnovers, compared to only 20 for their opponents. Fifth-year McMaster centre Chiara Rocca had a strong performance, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Rocca, who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds this season, is one of the Marauders top players, but has battled a foot injury all season, playing in only 11 games overall in 2007-08. She is one of the players U of T should keep an eye on if they want to take their first OUA title since 2001.

The key to this matchup will be strong guard play and good post defence from the Blues. After the 6’1” Rocca, four of McMaster’s other top five scorers are guards. Third-year point guard Taylor Smith, who didn’t play when the teams last met in November, is now averaging 12 points and four rebounds in 2007, while two-time West player of the year, Lindsay Degroot is averaging 19 points a game (third overall in the OUA).

“They’ve got a very good mix of players, and we’re going to have to force them to go to their bench, and see how deep they can really play,” Belanger said of McMaster. Both Toronto and McMaster are high-scoring teams, who can easily put the ball in the basket. The Blues are averaging 88 points a game this season, while the Marauders are right behind them at 87. The win will be determined by who can make the most defensive stops and limit the scoring opportunities of the other team’s star players. “We expect a similar game from Toronto as we saw in November,” said McMaster head coach Theresa Burns of their opponents. “Whoever makes the least mistakes and is most effective in creating chances for their top scorers will come out on top.”

“We will need to limit Christine Cho’s chances, as well as contain Alaine Hutton. They are both outstanding players and you generally can’t completely shut down that type of player. If we can limit them or keep them in check, we feel we can be successful.”

The Blues have a great deal of experience on their roster this season. This showed in their eastern final win over the York Lions, where the Blues trailed for most of the game and came back on the strength of their defensive play.

“I think we’re starting to find ourselves as a team and find our chemistry,” said forward Laila Bellony, following the game. “A lot of the time we were concentrating too much on what the other team was doing, instead of playing our game and finding each other.”

Bellony, who is one of five Toronto players in their fifth and final year of eligibility, led the Blues with 21 points and 14 rebounds against York. Her defence was equally important for Toronto, who had troubles containing York star forward Emily Van Hoof (25 points and 13 rebounds). Toronto trailed at the half 43-40.

“We had trouble getting our defence going, but when we started to play better defence it was outstanding,” said coach Belanger.

Belanger, who is currently in her 27th year at the helm, has seen her team grow over the span of a single season: “They really persevered, they’ve played outstanding all year round, and really bought into the system. I’m really proud of each and every one of them.”

When asked about how her team was able to make such a remarkable comeback, the coach said: “We never lost confidence in each other, we always knew there was an ability for us to pull it out of the bag, and I just said, ‘there’s four minutes left, we have to go hard here,’ and they did. And you know what, we made it happen.”

The key play of the game occurred with less than thirty seconds left. With her team trailing by three points, fifth-year guard Kyla Burwash hit a tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime, where the Blues would take over for good on the way to a 99-91 win.

“I think the turning point of the game was that threepoint shot,” said Bellony, who took home player honours. “I think that took the air out of York a little bit.”

“When the momentum shifted in our favour, I just said, ‘we’re not letting this go, this is ours now.”

Burwash, who finished the game with 20 points, showed veteran poise in making what was possibly the biggest shot of her career: “Honestly I didn’t think a whole lot about it, it was just automatic, like any other play in the game. The ball comes to you and you’re open; you’re going to take the shot.”

If the Blues are going to beat the McMaster Marauders this weekend, they will need one more inspired performance like the one they just had against York.


No sane reason not to recognize Kosovo

The anti-Kosovo backlash that has occurred in recent days is founded in irrational thinking. The idea that the Canadian government could somehow benefit from refusing to acknowledge an independent Kosovo, or would suffer for opposing that such a state ought to exist, is as illogical as it is unrealistic.

In attempting to prevent international diplomatic recognition of the newborn Republic of Kosovo, the Serbian government and its international allies have put forth the “secession precedent” argument: that recognizing Kosovo’s independence will lead to the independence of approximately every aspiring nation- state in the world, including Quebec. This argument stems from the triumph of ideology over reality, of an opinion held with much emotion and little thought. It blinds one to the facts of Kosovo’s situation, how it differs from the other countries on the wannabe seccessionist list, and the illegitimacy of Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Just as all countries are unique, so are all secession movements. They share the same desire for independence and their own identity—nothing more. To claim that all national independence movements are “the same” as Kosovo, that they are illegitimate, ignores the legitimacy of national independence movements entirely; as if the map of the world has never been changed, or that no country has ever rightfully broken from another in the past.

By this logic, the United States should still be under the control of the British Crown, and Serbia should by right be a province of the Ottoman Empire. To argue that Kosovo’s independence would lead to Quebec’s is not merely falseto- facts, but downright absurd. Kosovo is not Quebec. The differences between the territories are many, but most pertinent is that Quebec, unlike Kosovo, is a very large, prosperous and influential part of a larger polity, and Kosovo is not. In 1999, while the Canadian government was led by a Québécois Prime Minister, the Serbian government murdered Kosovars while simultaneously driving them from their homes. Even if the Serbian state did have a right to govern the Kosovars, its attempt to eradicate a population nine years ago is a clear indicator that they have no interest in doing so justly.

Serbs who oppose the secession are concerned with the land of Kosovo itself, not its people. The land has deep spiritual and cultural significance to Serbian Orthodox Christians, but individuals have more rights than states or churches. Serbs have, and should have, every right to visit Kosovo and worship freely there. But a divine mandate or appeal to history cannot overrule the mandate of a citizenry united in a just and democratic cause.

Protesting the hero

Some believe that children should not look to professional sports players for role models, and much of what’s occurred in Major League Baseball this year supports that view. Dozens of players, including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have been implicated in the Mitchell Report examining steroid use in baseball. Clemens and Bonds were heroes a few years ago, some of the best players to step foot on a baseball field, and now villains who could face jail time for perjury.

One motivation for players to take steroids is the desire to win at all costs. This passion is often considered admirable, yet no one is applauding Bonds and Clemens for ingesting illegal substances.

It’s ironic that Mats Sundin, who has done nothing but meet or exceed expectations in his 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is vilified by some fans and members of the media for refusing to win by any means necessary. Sundin was asked by interim general manager Cliff Fletcher to waive his no-trade clause to go to a Stanley Cup contender in exchange for young players, prospects or draft picks. This trade would give Sundin a chance to win a championship with a talented team, and the chance for the Leafs to kick-start a badly needed rebuilding process. Sundin would likely have the opportunity to re-sign in the summer. But Sundin has continually stated his desire to retire, risking the chance that he may never win the Cup. He sees no honour in becoming a rental player. Spending only a few weeks with a new team before heading to the playoffs doesn’t sit well with him. He’d rather play for a team he truly feels a part of. Yet, Sundin’s loyalty is questioned for his refusal to allow himself to be traded for prospects, and his passion doubted for his loyalty to a losing team. He’s been called selfish by journalists and fans alike.

The notion that steroid use is cheating is widespread, and for many, it’s a cost of winning that they’re not willing to pay. We all draw the line somewhere. For Sundin, winning is not worth sacrificing his loyalty or compromising his concept of what makes a team. Sundin’s critics may not share his views, but the inability of so many fans and members of the media to do so is mind-boggling. Some people may, oddly enough, consider staying with a team a sign of disloyalty, but that doesn’t mean Sundin’s concept of loyalty is disingenuous.

While facing the difficult task of deciding whether or not to waive his no-trade clause, the legendary Phil Esposito called Sundin to offer advice. Esposito did not tell Sundin about the joy that comes with winning a Cup, but rather advised him to follow his heart. Esposito is known not only for his 717 NHL goals and 1590 points, but also for his inspirational leadership in the 1972 Summit Series. Sundin also sought Leaf hero Borje Salming, who expressed his regret at retiring with a team other than the Leafs. If two players as respected as Esposito and Salming understand Sundin’s position, why can’t fans? Salming’s opinion may not mean much to those who judge a player’s heart by his passport, but it’s difficult to argue that he should be evaluated according to a Don Cherry-like anti-European prejudice, and not a logical evaluation of whether their actions confirm what they say.

It is possible that Sundin is too comfortable in Toronto, and that he’s a selfish player who would rather make millions of dollars playing for a mediocre team, booking tee-times in mid-April while other teams are just starting the two-month playoff grind. But if that were true, it seems unlikely that he’d want to play in the biggest market in hockey. Sundin could surely live as comfortably in a number of American markets with a small chance of making the playoffs, where he would not have to deal with being lambasted by fans and writers on a regular basis. His reserved nature may give the impression that he lacks passion, but his coaches and teammates have never questioned his loyalty. While Sundin and Oscar may share a hair style, it seems doubtful that, if Sundin were as selfish as his critics suggest, he’d have the acting chops to maintain such a façade under the watchful eyes of the Toronto media and Leaf fanatics.

Yes, it may be difficult for the cynics among us to believe Sundin’s unwillingness to sacrifice his principles for the Stanley Cup. But to suggest that he doesn’t care about winning just because he’s loyal to the Leafs is a conclusion that the facts don’t warrant. Given Sundin’s behaviour in his long tenure as team captain and the testament to his character given by those who know him well, there is no reason not to take him at his word. There is, however, reason to question how fans who live and die with the Leafs can throw their captain under the bus for doing the same, and how parents who teach their children that winning at all costs is less important than sportsmanship can criticize Sundin for exemplifying that principle.

U of C’s accidental oil field

The University of Calgary has announced plans to use engineering students to search for oil or gas deposits on a small patch of land it owns in Spring Coulee, an oil-rich area near the American border.

Two questions still linger around the discovery: How did the university come to own the land (the paper trail leading to the previous owner seems to have vanished), and, more pressingly, is the land worth anything?

“There is a producing oil well nearby, so we too could have some black gold,” said Rob Steward, a geoscience professor at U of C.

If the land proves to have sufficient oil reserves to merit mining, U of C will most likely bring in an established oil company such as Trican or Shell, with which it has close relations, for the extraction process. This would not be a first for the university as it already receives money from oil production on land it has leased out.

Either way, the land will allow U of C students to try oil prospecting with the university’s newest gadgets. Last month, in surveying the land to assess resources, students got to test the university’s new seismic vibrator truck.

“This is a great treasure hunt that is going to provide real-world experience that might even result in a new source of revenue for the university,” said Stewart. “We are in the remarkable position of being able to do a lot of the exploration work ourselves, which is a wonderful way for everybody to learn. The data we acquired is a treasure trove of information that students are analyzing in class.”

The two patches of land, five square kilometres in total, will be the site of summer field courses organized by the geoscience department. Gathered data will be further analyzed by students from the Schulich School of Engineering, home to the new Trican Petroleum Engineering Laboratories. The new lab gives students access to equipment similar to that used by the oil industry.

The project is expected to expand and include students from the Haskayne School of Business and the environmental sciences department. “I think this is a real motivating opportunity for students, who can be involved in every step of the oil and gas development process,” said Dave Eaton, head of the geoscience department.

Steward expressed interest in using the potential revenue stream, which could be significant for U of C, to create new scholarships. The money could also be used to reduce the school’s tuition, one of the highest in the country and the object of lobbying efforts by U of C’s student union.

With increasing environmental concerns about Alberta’s oil sands development, U of C’s new land will also serve as a testing ground for the university’s commitment to reduce its impact on the environment.

Gee Gees bounce Blues from tournament

It wasn’t the way they envisioned their season’s end, but for the men’s basketball team, enjoying a surprising renaissance in 2007-08, it was a twist that was never unexpected. Despite dominating Ottawa during their season series, the Blues knew that facing a team as talented as the Gee-Gees in a single-game elimination would be a difficult challenge.

“It came down to a couple bounces at the end,” said Blues forward Nick Snow. “We played [Ottawa] three times this year, and we beat them two times, it could have gone either way.”

Both teams struggled shooting from the field, with Ottawa making 22 of 63 field goal attempts at 35 per cent. The Blues also had difficulty finding their range, shooting at a 36 per cent clip. Toronto player of the game Rob Paris led the team with 16 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Nick Snow posted a double-double with 13 rebounds and 12 points, while Mike DiGiorgio posted double digits with 13 points.

“We didn’t come up with big rebounds, they went to the glass, that was it,” said Blues head coach Mike Katz, following his team’s nail-biting 63-60 loss. “I’m disappointed in the outcome, but I’m really proud of our guys.”

The score remained tight, with Ottawa nursing a 23-18 advantage into the first break, which became a 31-31 deadlock by the halftime buzzer. The Blues maintained a lead through the third quarter, keeping the Gee-Gees off the scoreboard for the first fourand- a-half minutes, briefly holding a nine-point lead. Ottawa had shaved Toronto’s advantage to 45-43 by the final intermission. Trading the lead back and forth with their guests in the final frame, Toronto entered the final minute of play with a slim 60-59 advantage. The Gee-Gees claimed two pairs of free throws in the final minute—all successful—while the Blues were unable to find the net for the remainder, despite a pair of desperate three-point shots in the final five seconds of play.

The loss officially ended the Blues season, one in which they unseated Ottawa as the second overall seed with an impressive 17-5 record, two wins more than the previous year. But anything can happen in the playoffs, and with a trip to the National championships on the line, the team came up a little short.

“It put a little damper on the end of the night,” said Blues guard Sherri Pierce, whose women’s team had just clinched a berth in the finals with a win earlier in the day. “[The men’s team] had a real good season. They were the under dogs all year, and they really pulled it out. They won a lot along the way. But it’s still kind of heartbreaking.”

UTSC may be first campus to opt into UPass plan

If approved in an upcoming referendum, UTSC students might get their hands on the long-debated Universal Pass, a discounted monthly TTC pass for Toronto post-secondary students.

The UPass is a proposed alternative to the TTC’s current Volume Incentive Program, which gives bulk buyers a discount on metropasses as long as they buy at least 50 passes a month.

In 2005, the University of Toronto Students’ Union secured a VIP discount with a yearly contract that begins and expires every January.

Since UTSU entered the program, the price of the VIP has risen from $87 to $96 per pass. The regular adult metropass costs $109.

The more metropasses a university purchases, the cheaper each pass costs for each student. However, the TTC limits the number of metropasses a school can buy. UTSU is limited to a maximum of 12,000 passes per month. This sets the pass price. UTSU is the single largest buyer in the VIP.

At a proposed cost of $480 per academic year, the UPass offers students unlimited travel on all regular TTC services, as well as York Region transit services, from September to May.

Student unions have shown some resistance to the UPass, however, because all students would have to purchase the pass, whether they like it or not. Fourteen student unions, representing universities and colleges across the GTA including U of T, Ryerson, and York, have been in negotiations with the TTC since last January. After more than a year, no school has signed up for the program

On March 19 and 20, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union plans to hold a referendum for part-time and full-time students to decide whether or not to accept the offer. In order for the referendum to pass, it will need the support of the majority of full-time UTSC students.

UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener said that although the student union at St. George isn’t going to referendum with the UPass any time soon, they haven’t rejected the offer completely. If UTSC were to accept the UPass, it would weaken UTSU’s and other unions’ bargaining position in negotiations with the TTC.

“For such a massive levy increase, we want to make sure that students at U of T are familiar with the issue first,” said Scrivener.

A disputed study conducted by the TTC in 2005 claimed that 57 per cent of full-time UTSC students use the TTC and that if a referendum were to pass, 87 per cent of those students would use the UPass.

The same survey reported that 84 per cent of full-time St. George students use the TTC at least once per year, and claimed that 93 per cent of them “would use the UPass if available and passed in a referendum.”

According to TTC marketing research director Michael Anders, the price was calculated to bring in the same revenue that the TTC earns from metropass sales to university students. He said that the $480 fee would keep the TTC’s metropass earnings neutral, though critics have charged that the UPass program will inflate their ridership numbers,which are useful in getting increased financial support from the federal government.

“If all of the eight post-secondary institutions were to come along, which are about 150,000 students, we’re looking at somewhere around 15 to 20 million more rides,” said Adam Giambrone, TTC chair.

In the case of Scarborough, a campus of 10,000 students, Giambrone says that the TTC can expect to see around one million extra rides. Giambrone has noted publicly that the additional ridership will mean increased operating and maintenance costs for the TTC. The city recently announced increased service along many TTC lines, but critics have said the public transit network cannot accept a dramatic increased in ridership without drastically slowing down service. Anders and Giambrone have said repeatedly that any schools that approve a UPass referendum by the end of 2008 are guaranteed the $480 per year price until May 2010.

Asked if UTSU would be able to subsidize part of the UPass fee, Scrivener said that the student union simply doesn’t have enough money to give a meaningful subsidy.

“The amount of money we could potentially save by no longer offering the [VIP] metropass sales program is only in the ballpark of $20,000 for our financial year, which would offer a discount of less than a dollar per member of St. George,” said Scrivener.

Scrivener noted that UBC, SFU, and U of A all subsidize their transit pass programs.

“Perhaps the U of T administration is a little bit more thrifty,” he said.

Microsoft gives away software to students

Since well before the IT boom, the University of Waterloo has been jumping- off point for many of Canada’s best and brightest software designers, hackers and engineers. It’s no surprise, then, that Bill Gates made Waterloo his only Canadian stop on a tour of North America’s top computer science schools.

One talking point was the Dream- Spark program, which plies students around the world with free Microsoft software, including the Visual Studio programming suite for web and video game design, and Expression Studio, which provides tools for animation and photography. The download site comes with a large dose of lifestyle marketing, promising “access to the inside scoop about our products and life working inside Microsoft and information on cool things coming out. This is your community.”

Critics say DreamSpark is a last desperate attempt to win back a generation of programmers weaned on free, open-source software, but Gates is always well received at Waterloo. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave the university’s school outreach programs a $12.5-million boost.

“We want to do everything we can to equip a new generation of technology leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to harness the magic of software to improve lives, solve problems and catalyze economic growth,” said Gates.

In his speech, Gates highlighted the decreased interest in IT jobs after the high-tech boom fizzled out. “When we want to hire lots of software engineers there is a shortage in North America—a pretty significant shortage…It’s partly that the enrolment in the field is going down.” Gates commented that Waterloo is pushing the trend in the other direction: applications are up in fields like computer science.

John Gantz, chief researcher at the IT market research company IDC, emphasized the importance of IT jobs. “The emerging economies are forecast to drive over 25 per cent of the new IT jobs over the next four years. These jobs will be driven by an evolving, highly skilled labour force. Tech skills are key to employability.” According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, 90,000 IT workers will be needed over the next five years to employ the wireless Internet business. Each unfilled position could cost the economy $120,000 a year.