Tuesday marked the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. For those who felt it necessary to relive that day, all one had to do was tune into the American television networks, where the newscasts covering those attacks were being replayed, as they have been every year since 2001.Those newscasts reflect our collective, immediate response to the attacks, which was characterized by horror, confusion, and above all, surprise. But six years into the so-called “post-9/11” world, it is now prudent to ask if we really should have been taken off-guard by the attacks, especially as the West seems to be fuelling the situations that contributed to those massive acts of violence.After 9/11, the media tried address the confusion and shock left in the wake of that day by asking one question: “Why?” The news reports and talk shows struggled to give the world an answer, but the one they settled on, and the one the Bush administration soon began espousing, can be summed up in the single phrase “They hate our freedom.”Terrorists despise our way of life. This has become the most important thing to know about the people the U.S. and its allies are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hunting down inside our own borders.But this characterization of those we are fighting is, at its roots, utterly flawed, because it completely ignores any actual interaction between the West and the Islamic world over the past 20 years. It also reduces the millions of people who support armed action against America and its allies to one-dimensional, irrational ideologues, bent on destroying people for no other reason than that we live in democratic freedom.Examine the record of Western actions in Islamic regions of the world in the years leading up to 9/11. In Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, we supported highly unpopular democratic governments, which ruthlessly stifled any political opposition or moves towards democratic reform.To Israel, we sent billions in economic aid with no strings attached. No pressure was brought to bear upon our closest Mideast ally to end the occupation and find a solution to the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees.After bombing Iraq into submission during the Gulf War, the West used the United Nations to impose sanctions that were so strict and arbitrary that medicine and other vital resources became non-existent in the country. It is estimated that the sanctions led to the death of at least 500,000 Iraqi children, but when questioned about the high figure, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright infamously answered it was “worth it.”While these events were overshadowed in the West by the details of a president’s sexual relationships and the murder trial of a sports superstar, they did not go unnoticed in the Mideast. Anyone who felt connected to the victims of Western policy in the region, by virtue of common religion, race, or basic humanity, would feel aggrieved. To be angered would not be an irrational response.Those of us who were shocked by the 9/11 attacks, then, must have been ignorant of the implications of these events.An inevitable question now is whether we have addressed these issues. Have we done anything to prove that we in the West care as much about the lives of Muslims in the Middle East as we do about the lives of Europeans or Americans? The answer is certainly negative.In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan we continue our support of oppressive autocrats. In Afghanistan our stewardship has installed warlords into government.Last year, when the Israeli military claimed the lives of 1,000 Lebanese civilians, what was our response? We advised Israel to continue their bombardment for another week or so, to let them finish the job.The U.S. and the U.K. took custody over Iraq, only to see it dissolve in violence and displacement. The Coalition invasion in 2003 has created over 2 million refugees.Our post-9/11 policies in the Mideast can easily be read as the continuation of those we pursued before the attacks. While the leaders of the movements we seek to quell may be homicidal and even insane, they draw on a vast pool of financial and logistical support that persists in dozens of countries, support which can only have been fed by our actions in the “post 9/11” world.If we wish to understand those attacks six years after they occurred, it is well past the time to examine the implications of our interaction with the world from which that day’s assailants came.
The post-9/11 world looks eerily familiar
End the SPP ASAP!
For whatever reason, a 2,000-strong demonstration had to be dispersed by a barrage of teargas, rubber bullets and swinging batons just outside the luxury resort where the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit was being held in Montebello, Quebec on August 20, 2007.CBC aired a 10-minute feature on the summit the same day. Curiously, the demonstration was not mentioned, but the clip did show Linda Hasenfratz (CEO of Linamar, one of the major corporations involved in the talks) commenting on how this innocuous conference was merely aimed at increasing economic growth throughout the continent.The CBC did, however, immediately throw itself on the demonstration story when it turned out that the police were implicated in hot controversy. But even with all that attention, nobody attempted to address what the demonstrators were actually trying to say.The activists were there at Le Chateau Montebello to present a petition urging the SPP participants to go home. The group was as diverse as the reasons why the SPP partnership is dangerous.One of the main problems of the SPP is that it is not subject to democratic consent. The summit happened behind closed doors, beyond the public domain. The SPP is being presented as a vague “dialogue based on shared values.” But it can escape public scrutiny and will never be debated in the House of Commons, as it is not an official treaty. Nor is it an official law. The only non-government agencies with a formal role in the SPP are mega-corporations in the North American Competitiveness Council, which brings together 30 business representatives (corporate giants like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lockheed-Martin) from around North America.While the SPP rhetoric boldly makes such statements as “in order to remain ahead of the curve and continue to reap the rewards of trade and commerce, our nations must act in concert to build on our complementary agenda,” it’s clear that the “rewards” in question are directed towards the members of NACC and other corporations, not citizens in general.Continent-wide regulations like the ones involved in the SPP are acceptable if they set high standards, but the key question here is: who is making the decisions, and on what basis? Although previous economic integration agreements, such as NAFTA, brought about significant prosperity for corporations, they displaced many workers while doing little to reduce poverty rates.By forming policy to comply with Canada’s largest corporations—many of whom benefit greatly from military and security contracts—the government has forced a foreign policy of war manufacturing on its people, despite the wishes of the majority of Canadians. Committing to uniform regulations stipulated by the SPP might threaten Canada’s sovereignty, as pressure to pass unprecedented (largely U.S. biased) policies in areas such as military and immigration ultimately furthers U.S. domination over Canada, Mexico and other countries.The SPP also threatens Canada with the bulk transfer of water southbound. The demand for water in the U.S. is huge. Though the Canadian government said it has no intention of allowing the bulk export of water, which legal protections would prevent anyway, the federal government has jurisdiction only over waterways that are shared across the border with the United States. There is no binding legislation preventing provinces from allowing the export of the vast reserves of water they control.The definition of “barriers of trade,” which are illegal under NAFTA, will also be expanded to encompass an increasing amount of regulations, including those regarding food safety. For example, Canada is now considering raising the amount of pesticide residues it allows on fruits and vegetables in order to harmonize with U.S. standards.Drug approvals, auto standards, and other consumer product standards are also under review through the SPP, a procedure that could affect many aspects of everyday life of Canadians.Plans for a common security perimeter involve the integration of police training and law enforcement. Military and training exercises will also be standardized in an effort to redesign the armed forces in preparation for combat overseas. Cooperation in global wars and occupations are a fundamental part of the “forward defence” strategy of the security perimeter.It is not an exaggeration to claim that a colonial and capitalist framework is at the root of the SPP. In practice, the SPP is criminalizing migration, privatizing government, militarizing borders, giving control of trade regulations to major corporations, and stealing indigenous land and resources. All in the name of war, occupation, profit, and national security.
Two years ago, director Gavin Hood, then unknown to North American audiences, premiered a film called Tsotsi at the Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto’s audiences fell in love with his little, South African gangster film and gave it the People’s Choice Award. Five months later, Tsotsi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Now Hood returns to the festival’s red carpet, this time at Roy Thomson Hall, with a bigbudget, star-studded feature called Rendition. Hood’s career has come full circle at TIFF and represents what the festival is all about: discovering new talents and welcoming back its past champions. With the 2007 TIFF—featuring 349 films—well underway, here’s what’s caught the Varsity’s eye so far.
Rendition (Dir. Gavin Hood)
Although it’s a slightly overpopulated and overzealous affair, Gavin Hood’s Rendition makes for an effective political thriller. The title references a cloak-and-dagger U.S. tactic that extradites terrorist suspects to foreign locations in order to maneuver around anti-torture laws.Secretly abducted while en-route from South Africa to the U.S., Anwar El-Ibrahim (Omar Metwally) becomes subject to this seemingly routine procedure after he is dubiously connected to a suicide-bombing in Egypt. Overseeing Anwar’s torture is Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a doubting CIA analyst who has few questions for the suspect but plenty more for his superiors in Washington. All the while, a subplot races forward in which an Egyptian teenager is prepped for what might be another bombing.Since the film deals with themes like counter-terrorism tactics and homeland security, it’s understandable how it could get overheated. However, Hood’s direction gets too caught up in the thrill of the chase, and sometimes forgets to keep things within the boundaries of believability and, succumbs to manipulative Hollywood clichés. That being said, there’s a terrific ensemble cast that keeps the film grounded, with terrific performances by Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Meryl Streep in particular.—RSRating: VVV
Control (Dir. Anton Corbijn)
In this haunting, black and white bio-pic, Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn presents the tortured and all-too-brief life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. For years, fans and rock critics alike have wondered what could have brought Curtis— the twenty-three-year-old singer in what would become one of the most influential rock bands of all time—to hang himself on the eve of Joy Division’s first North American tour. The film follows Curtis (played so brilliantly by Sam Riley it feels like a documentary) from the age of 16, through the formation of Joy Division in Manchester in 1976, to his suicide in 1980, and paints the picture of a young man who, while following his dreams, finds himself incredibly unhappy, and increasingly desperate. Fans of Joy Division’s gloomy post-punk songs will be impressed by the casting (all four band members look nearly identical to their namesakes) and by the fact that shots of the band playing live are backed by versions of their songs recorded by the actors themselves. This could have been the recipe for a cheesy disaster, but Riley and Co. pull off complex gems like “Disorder” and “Transmission” with astonishing fidelity. Co-produced by Curtis’s widow and Factory Records head Tony Wilson (who sadly passed away last month), Corbijn has created the most fitting elegy possible. Dark, enlightening, and at times quite funny, Control is a must-see for fans of this amazing band.—JBRating: VVVVV
Eastern Promises (Dir. David Cronenberg)
You have to give screenwriter Steven Knight credit for being able to shine within one of director David Cronenberg’s strongest films to date. Knight gets help from a strong cast, including Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, in this dark, blood-curdling tale set in London’s creepy, Russian underbelly.Mortensen plays Nikolai, a rising henchman in the age-old criminal dynasty Vory V Zakone, the members of which can be identified by their elaborate tattoos. Nikolai’s allegiances become divided when a British mid-wife named Anna (Watts) confronts the Vory with the diary of an exploited 14-year-old Russian immigrant who died giving birth to a now-orphaned baby. The British-born infant with Russian blood seems to be the only link between two very disparate worlds, one that the Vory would like to see severed at any cost.Knight depicts London as a secretive and decaying hub of immigrants (as he did in 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things), a place where Russians build businesses and families but never truly find a home. Indifferent to British citizenship, the only thing the Vory identify with is their tattoos, which are permanent “passports” to a hidden world far from Anna’s quaint existence.As intelligent as it is spine-tingling, Knight guides the viewer through dark back alleys while Cronenberg shines a light on the dark recesses within.—RS Eastern Promises opens in theatres this Friday.Rating: VVVVV
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Dir. Julian Schnabel)
The delightful and inspiring true story of former Elle editor Jean- Dominique Bauby is given the right treatment in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. After a stroke leaves him completely paralyzed, Bauby (Mathieu Almaric) has only his dreams and memories for comfort. Visitors only imprison Bauby in a perpetual state of being talked to, as he apparently lacks the ability to respond to them in any way. Director Julian Schnabel takes pains to focus on the discomfort and awkwardness in these one-sided interactions. However, hope arrives by way of a nurse (Marie-Josee Croze) who develops a method of communication that utilizes the one function Bauby still has command over: blinking.Often shooting from Bauby’s perspective, Schnabel sympathetically brings the audience face-to-face with the frustration and anger that burns inside of his incapacitated subject. Yet Diving Bell manages to stay optimistic and humourous, largely in keeping with Bauby’s own personality.—RSRating: VVVv
The Edge of Heaven (Dir. Faith Akin)
Gorgeously photographed and filled with awkward and endearing moments, Faith Akin’s The Edge of Heaven feels a tad too plotted to match the rash, offthe- cuff nature of its characters. Dealing once again with cross-cultural relations between Germany and Turkey (the director has roots in both nations), Edge has an almost tiresome familiarity to films like Babel, which undermines what would otherwise be a fresh and enjoyable film.Akin’s characters include a sex-obsessed widower and his Professor son, a prostitute and her political-activist daughter, along with the daughter’s German lover and his conservative mother. Over the course of three morbidly-titled chapters, these characters seek each other out to fill personal voids but are frequently disappointed, missing one another in their hurried travels between Germany and Turkey.Both countries become characters in their own right, as Akin invests a lot in the political relationships between the two, and consistently relies on location photography to capture a unique feel for each place. It’s a pity that it ends up feeling like a place we’ve seen before.—RSRating: VVV
The Banishment (Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
This brooding and atmospheric work from the director of The Return has so much style he should have traded some of it off for characters that are more believable.The film follows a family of four as they retreat from an industrial wasteland to the pristine countryside. Things take a turn for the worse when the mother’s many indiscretions begin to surface, forcing the father to make a difficult choice: forgiveness or revenge?The Banishment’s magnificently shot compositions and endearing performances (particularly that by Maria Bonnevie) are deceptive in the way they lure an audience into the film’s elusive direction. It’s only near the end of the film’s 150 minutes that we realize it’s a total tease.—RSRating: VV
Starting Out in the Evening (Dir. Andrew Wagner)
Adapted from Brian Morton’s novel of the same name, Andrew Wagner’s Starting Out in the Evening is an exercise in restraint and subtlety. It’s a film about people who have lived quietly, and find their world altered by a series of events that come late in the day, so to speak.Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller, a mostly forgotten novelist whose comfortably dull existence is stirred when Heather, a graduate student writing her thesis on him (played with slick confidence by Lauren Ambrose), foists herself into his life. Contrasted against this relationship is the one between Leonard and his daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), a woman who has learned to compromise what she really wants for familiarity’s sake. As Heather prods at Leonard’s reserved manner, she unintentionally leaves herself stranded within the consequences of her own self-interest. The results are not jarringly climactic, but realistically understated.Not exactly blink-and-miss, the grace of this film lies in the delicacy of the realization. Starting Out is a moving exami- nation of complacency and desire, maturity and youth and also offers rare glimpses of Manhattan that are usually only found in Woody Allen films. Langella gives an outstanding performance that indicates his vast theatrical experience, and is supported admirably by Ambrose and Taylor. Kudos to Wagner for coaxing such an elegant story out of seemingly ordinary material.—NSRating: VVVVv
No Country for Old Men (Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
A stash of drugs, $2 million in cash, a handful of bullet-ridden trucks, and several torn corpses all lay cooking under the Texas sun. This is merely the pretext to the Coen Bros’ No Country for Old Men. It’s a set-up that one character describes as “a mess.” Another responds: “If it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.” Sure as John Wayne is dead, that mess most certainly arrives in this layered, ultraviolent, neo-Western.No Country stars Josh Brolin as the hard-headed yet resourceful yokel who stumbles upon the drug money, and Javier Bardem as the crafty, psycho killer who’s hot on his trail. In the middle of it all is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones in his element), who can’t quite believe the type of innovative blood-letting he’s witness to.The film’s gravitational pull is Javier Bardem’s diabolical performance, which taps into fears that haven’t been felt since Anthony Hopkins first played Hannibal Lector.An engrossing thriller featuring a sharp screenplay, No Country only lags during its final minutes which seem to blaze past major plot points. Overall the film is a welcome rupture in generic expectations that gives open range to interpretation.—RSRating: VVVV
4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Dir. Cristian Mungiu)
4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days is stripped down in both narrative and aesthetics. Set during Romania’s final days of communism, the film follows two university roommates—the headstrong and matter- of-fact Otilia and the spacey Gabita—as they set out to secure Otilia an illegal abortion. Shot with what appears to be a handheld camera and utilizing long takes, the film hovers uncomfortably over Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) while she scavenges through the worn corridors of Romania. Her preparations for her operation are frequently fumbled by Gabita’s own incompetence. Both find themselves in situations that become obscenely compromising.Although the film doesn’t take a firm stance on the abortion argument, it certainly doesn’t shy away from depicting the subject. As much a film about living under a communist regime as it is about abortion, 4 Months keeps an open mind to desperate measures in desperate times.—RSRating: VVVVV
Sleuth (Dir. Kenneth Brannagh)
A ruthless power-play unfolds in Sleuth, a dark and prickly remake of the 1972 film of the same name about a crime novelist and the man who is boinking his wife. Michael Caine is absolutely ferocious as wealthy cuckold Andrew Wyke, who invites Milo Tindle (Jude Law in the role played by Caine in the original) into his lavish-yet-cold estate for some matters of business and pleasure. The two leads then embark on a homoerotic battle of wits at times fiendishly funny and at others somewhat repulsive.The remake seems promising from the onset, with the screenplay’s razorsharp verbal blows not dulling over time, yet the film eventually winds down and has trouble shaking the 1970s air that hangs over from the original: even a reference to Dick Cheney feels out of place. See it for Caine’s performance, which alternates from devilishly witty to ultimately pathetic.—RSRating: VVV
Secret Sunshine (Dir. Lee Chang-Dong)
Don’t be fooled by the title. What at first seems to be a chipper and brightly-hued testament to moving on in life in this South Korean film soon drops off into the darkest wells of depression and psychological torment.Jean Do-Yeon delivers a sweet and devastating performance as Shin-Ae, a mother who moves to the unappealing hometown of her late husband to start life over with her young son. Tragedy follows close behind in this uncomfortably funny and surprisingly intelligent film.Unsatisfied with traditional portrayals of mourning, director Lee Chang-Dong crafts a film that dissects the countless stages of depression and anger that follow misfortune. The film builds a smart and daring critique of the popular therapies that offer dangerously temporary senses of healing.—RSRating: VVVV
Reservation Road (Dir. Terry George)
There should be no shortage of Kleenex at Roy Thomson Hall for the Gala screening of Terry George’s Reservation Road because, really, there’s really nothing sadder than watching beautiful celebrities cry. This floodgate of woe boasts remarkably sincere performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Connelly in a tragedy that revolves around a child’s death.Phoenix and Connelly play Connecticut parents Ethan and Grace Learner, whose postcard-perfect existence is disturbed when an SUV, steered by Ruffalo’s Dwight Arno, accidentally takes their son’s life. After Dwight flees the scene, Ethan—the film’s all-too-obvious equivalent to the impulsive revenge-driven post-9/11 America—barely gives himself time to mourn before engaging in a cat-and mouse hunt for his son’s killer.There’s not much new to be found in this type of drama given that these themes have been recently mined by more accomplished filmmakers like Todd Fields (In the Bedroom) and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams). However, the director has the support of predictably good actors, particularly Mark Ruffalo who once again steals the show as a smug weasel who can still elicit sympathy when the proverbial noose tightens around his neck.—RSRating: VVV
It’s Not Rocket Science
Wikipedia has just surpassed the two-million mark in a number of English articles, approximately 15 times as many articles as the largest version of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last-second essay writers are rejoicing the world over. (I just looked up Wikipedia on Wikipedia and it blew my mind).
Organism of the week: Rattus norvegicus.
Otherwise known as the common rat, this is one of a few organisms to have a truly worldwide distribution, discounting Antarctica of course. Its name means “Norwegian rat” but this is a misnomer as it most likely originated in China. Responsible for spreading the bubonic plague (with the help of fleas) through Europe during the 14th century, rats are capable of carrying and transmitting many other diseases as well. These spectacular pests are known to eat almost anything and are probably one of the best examples of omnivores known to exist. There is an upside, surprisingly—brown rats have been used to breed many strains of laboratory rats, which have been extremely useful in a wide variety of biological experiments. Their favorite foods? Macaroni and cheese, cooked corn kernels and scrambled eggs. Least favourite? Celery, raw beets and peaches. Should I find it weird that my culinary tastes are similar to those of the common rat?
How little we know
This piece from NewScientist.com may reduce your confidence in the almighty power of science. It surveys thirteen glaring holes—ranging from dark matter to the placebo effect—in our knowledge of the universe. It’s a lengthy read, but worth the time and effort. After reading this article, I tore up my copy of The Universe In A Nutshell and wept for several hours. Link: http://space.newscientist.com/ article.ns?id=mg18524911.600&print= true
I need to get me one of those Science … it works, bitches t-shirts.
Anyone who can point me in the right direction gets a free pound of dark matter.
Supply and demand
(Whales owe the economy, big time): Iceland has decided to call off its whale hunt not because of pressure from other governments or environmental groups, but because there was simply not enough demand for whale products to justify it. Even better, Iceland’s whale-watching industry is estimated to bring in over $20 million per year.
Power of wind (I miss Captain Planet)
It feels good when another group recognizes the usefulness of renewable energy. As reported at ecogeek. com, the Bahrain World Trade Centre is installing wind turbines to take advantage of otherwise wasted wind flow at the higher stories of the giant structure. It’s like getting something for nothing (after a few million dollars of construction costs, that is).
If you like big holes (this is not goatrelated, you sicko)
Also from ecogeek are the Seven Largest Holes in the World. Five of the seven are man-made (apologies to eco-friendlies for the graphic pictures of open pit mines) and are a stark reminder of the power of humanity to shape the world we inhabit. The scariest one would have to be the 100-metre-deep sinkhole in Guatemala that opened up and consumed several homes. I am currently fighting the urge to visit some of these and throw a pebble down to the bottom. Link: http://deputy-dog. com/2007/09/09/7-amazing-holes/
With apologies to Carl Sagan
A weekly web-roundup column would be incomplete if I neglected to add a YouTube link. View for possibly one of my favourite Family Guy moments of all time. (Sure to get me a lot of angry e-mails from creationists). Link: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=VYOYfG0QGG0&NR=1
In the year 2000
This collection of pictures from 1910 depict what French life could have been like by the year 2000—including flying firemen, automated barbers and (accurately enough) helicopters used for surveillance. While it’s probably for the best that heating with radium didn’t catch on, the futuristic school where books are transferred directly into students’ brains without reading them is an idea I wish was reality. The flying policemen are still kind of scary, though. Link: http://paleo-future.blogspot. com/2007/09/french-prints-show-year- 2000-1910.html
The Crazy Things We Used To Believe #1
Orthogenesis: Ever since Charles Darwin proposed the idea of natural selection in 1859 (with a little help from the spectacularly-bearded Alfred Russel Wallace), the field of evolution has seen controversy, debate and discovery on a regular basis. Although evolution is far from being fully understood, we have a fairly good idea of how it works, thanks to advances in genetics and evolutionary biology. At one point, though, it wasn’t so cut and dry. In the 19th century, the idea of orthogenesis had a large following in the scientific community. The hypothesis centred on the assumption that evolution is linear organisms evolving towards a particular goal. Under this model, species were thought to specialize by developing certain traits (say limb length or visual ability) towards perfection. This model had difficulty explaining extinctions, which by that time were known to occur. Those who defended orthogenesis argued that organisms could overshoot their goal and end up being unable to survive due to the over-development of a trait. The poster boy for this explanation was the extinct Irish Elk (see picture), whose giant antlers were said to be an overdeveloped advantageous trait. One major flaw in the theory was that it couldn’t find a driving force to explain linear evolution. In a famous critique of the hypothesis, George Gaylord Simpson harangued “the mysterious inner force.” Surprisingly, orthogenesis had hangers-on in the scientific community up until the 1950s. It only goes to show that the dumber the idea, the harder it falls (see: creationism).
Schrodinger’s cat up for adoption
No takers yet.
Are U of T’s stocks bombing?
This month, the two gun clubs at Hart House will effectively be shut down, due to an administrative decision in June that said implements of violence had no place in universities.Rini Rashid found this ironic, since the university has almost $2 million in stocks and bonds with Lockheed-Martin, an aerospace and advanced technology manufacturer cited by Defence News as the largest defense contractor in the world by revenue.Rashid, vice-president of Investing in Integrity, a member of the rifle club last year who never found time to go shoot, is quick to point out that U of T has investments with a manufacturer of F-35 rifles widely used in armies and militias, but bans sport .35 rifles.The University of Toronto Asset Management corporation manages the university’s $2.5 billion of investments in a roster of companies, including Lockheed-Martin, Chevron, and ExxonMobil.Rashid claimed U of T’s investments would be more sustainable if they preferentially bought stock in companies with good environmental, social and political practices.I in I works under the auspices of the Responsible Investment Working Group, an advocacy group composed mostly of law students at U of T, who are working to put forward a proposal for a new investment policy that would involve all stakeholders—that is, university staff, faculty, students and alumni, in the university’s investments.According to a RIWG report, the university administration agreed to review its policies “to explore its role in promoting corporate social responsibility” in a meeting with the group in 2005.Since then, the university has decided on a process for divesting its $10.5 million holdings in tobacco and tobacco-related companies, following pressure from the campus tobacco control group E-BUTT. However, it still has stocks in companies like Chevron, responsible for an ecological disaster now known as the Rainforest Chernobyl, in which some 18 billion gallons of crude oil were leaked into the Amazon.Rashid emphasizes that the university must revise its policies mostly for to its own financial well-being. “By ‘responsibility,’ we do not only mean the moral kind,” says Rashid. “Bad governance will get you unsustainable business results.”
Bonds: chemical agent
Home run supremacy, or debauchery to a beloved record and athlete?When Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run on August 8, surpassing Hank Aaron’s all-time leading record, baseball fans were divided, on an ethical level, about whether Bonds’ feat was “legitimate.”756 is what it is. No matter how you feel about the man, the numbers speak for themselves. Fans may still regard Hank Aaron as the homerun king, but to deny the historic event that was 756 is just ludicrous.Still, enthusiasts remain split on Bond’s alleged steroid use, particularly outside of San Francisco where interest in the accomplishment varied from apathy to disdain.When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ record for most home runs in a single season, it garnered plenty of media interest, for the right reasons. The same could be said of Bonds’ surpassing the same record years later. But with steroid stigma casting a dark cloud over baseball, few really gave this historic moment its due– not even Major League Baseball.Around this time Major League commissioner Bud Selig was in New York, attending a meeting, ironically, about steroid use and its policies. The man whom Bonds surpassed, Hank Aaron, had already stated his poor opinion of Bonds with a congratulatory video, showcasing his obvious disappoint concerning what had transpired.The historic home run was hit on August 8, in San Francisco, Bonds’ only refuge from the slurs and innuendo. With two months to pad his record beyond reach, few fans would be able to tell you the correct number of home runs the athlete has reached. The number is 762 and counting, yet it’s barely reported in sports media today.Seven years ago, when Mark McGwire surpassed Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61, the home run ball fetched 2.7 million at Guerney’s Auction House to an anonymous bidder. This year, the man who caught Bonds’ 756th dinger, New Yorker Matt Murphy, started bidding at 500,000 U.S. Sports in recent years has alienated itself from its fans. Maybe we too often look back on previous eras with nostalgia-after all Shoeless Joe Jackson inspired the movie Field of Dreams primarily because of his exit from baseball as part of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. To a cynic, baseball will always be tainted by the so-called steroid era it is currently under. While the record books will forever show that Barry Bonds is the homerun king, the history books will tell a different story, exposing the man Bonds really was.
Carleton clocks out
Less than one week into the school year, 700 office staff, technicians, and other workers at Carleton University in Ottawa are on strike, demanding pay raises to bring their salaries on par with those working similar jobs in the community. Both the Carleton University Student Association and the Graduate Students’ Association have declared their support for striking CUPE local 2424 members on campus, demanding a fair deal for members of the workers’ union.Complicating the issue is the fact that the presidents of both student unions sit on Carleton’s Board of Governors, which BG chair David Dunn believes restricts them from supporting the strike. Dunn has questioned their right to publicly comment on the strike, even going as far as suggesting to CUSA president Shelly Melanson that she should step down from BG unless she falls in line with the university’s position.Jen Hassum, who recently concluded a term as president of UTSU (then SAC) to become chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario, deplored Dunn’s contention.“The reality is that the whole idea behind having student positions, and positions for staff and positions for faculty on the committees, is that they represent the interest of the constituency that elected them.”On Sept. 11 the student unions staged a rally to show their support for CUPE 2424. Despite rain, more than 200 students took part. Some protestors said they viewed CUPE’s and Carleton’s failure to reach an agreement as a blunt negotiating strategy on the part of the university.“A lot of students, particularly in the upper years, are starting to see this kind of behaviour and tactic of bargaining repeated”, said Melanson.Many important services and facilities campus-wide, including libraries and registration, have been reduced because of the strike.“As the semester progresses and we start tests and towards midterms and paper- writing time it’s going to become increasingly problematic.”Wiz Long, a spokesperson for CUPE 2424, noted the two sides are still far from agreement on many issues, including wages, sick leave benefits for older workers, and the right to have union representatives present at preliminary disciplinary meetings.Carleton has proposed a two-tiered system for sick leave benefits, with separate procedures for workers over 65. Long pointed out that the average staff worker retires at 62, with most of those who continue to work doing so out of financial necessity.“We are looking upon this as an attack upon the very vulnerable,” she said. For the past week negotiations have been at a standstill, though the union has backed down from its hard stance on wage increase equity.“[Carleton’s] last offer was essentially same as their previous one. We don’t consider that bargaining,” said Long.Meanwhile, tempers at the student unions are short over Dunn’s warning to Ms. Melanson and Oren Howlett, the president of the Graduate Students’ Association.Dunn told Melanson that he had been contacted by members of the BG frustrated with both CUSA’s stance alongside strikers and Melanson’s comments to the press. Dunn told her he considered it inappropriate for her, as a member of BG, to speak out against administration in a labour dispute.“I will not step down,” Melanson said. “I was elected to represent students and represent their interests.”
If it ain’t broke…
Disgruntled about your student loans? Tell it to the man.The man, in this case, is Human Resources and Social Development Minister Monte Solberg, who has invited students, parents, and general citizenry to air their views in online consultations from Sept. 7 to Sept. 28. The forum is part of a review of the Canada Student Loans Program announced in the government’s 2007 budget.HRSDC’s annual surveys say that student borrowers’ satisfaction levels have ranged between 63 and 75 per cent since 2002. Detractors of CSLP, however, are vocal about the program’s shortcomings.Common complaints include high interest rates (2.5 per cent above prime for variable rates or a whopping 5 per cent above prime for a fixed rate) and harassment from collection agencies ($450 million, or around 56 per cent, of defaulted loans are handled by private agencies and the rest are collected by the Canadian Revenue Agency).U of T alum Leena Sharma said that, of all her debts, she’s repaying her OSAP loans last because they have the lowest interest rate. “I’m glad I had the help at the time, but I’d stress more grants and scholarships,” she said. “Students should leave school with less debt.”How long till Sharma finishes repaying her loans? “Maybe a few years,” she conceeded. Christina, her co-worker, had a drearier outlook: “Forever, until I die. At my funeral, they’ll be the ones robbing my grave.” Christina declined to give her last name, under fear of “blacklisting” by U of T.Third-year student Daniel Kim, meanwhile, has no idea how he’ll repay his OSAP loans. “I’m not even thinking about it,” he said. “It’s good that they don’t have interest until we graduate, at least. It’s ok, it’s better than nothing.”Registered Education Savings Plans are also due for an overhaul; the budget will increase the lifetime limit from $42,000 to $50,000 and eliminate the annual limit.