Debating bigotry on Toronto campuses

While some think that recent acts of bigotry on university campuses are isolated and progress is being made, others maintain that the bigger problem of systemic racism is still not being acknowledged, reported the The Globe and Mail March 22 in a feature that included several York commentators. “Universities are basically small cities," says vice-president of the York Federation of Students Gilary Massa. "York is a large university with 45,000 undergraduate students and over 20,000 graduate students. It has a diverse student body. It is definitely a reflection of the makeup of Toronto." She calls the graffiti incident in January a "violation of the space dedicated to black students as a safe place for them to express themselves and celebrate their blackness." But she says it’s not just a problem on campuses, pointing to the Don Jail’s black prison guards receiving death threats and Toronto city councillor Rob Ford’s quip that "Oriental people are taking over."

"I think that a lot of times these incidents are painted as though they’re just on a particular campus or that they don’t occur on a regular basis. But the fact is they are everywhere."

Selwyn McSween, ombudsperson and director of human rights at York University, agrees that there are always individual overt cases of racism but doesn’t see a lot of evidence of systemic racism. "What’s happening is that the campus is becoming more diversified. The demographic of the campus is changing so it appears to me that whoever is putting this graffiti out is offended by a very positive trend that’s happening at York.

"You always have some people who are trying to turn back the tide. But that number of people is very, very small. The greater trend is toward a wider acceptance at York."

Carol Tator, course director in the Department of Anthropology at York University, has worked on and researched the anti-racism and equity movement for more than 25 years, and is currently co-editing the first tome that will explore what racism looks like in Canadian universities, said the Globe. She warns against looking at these incidents as isolated and time-specific. "Racism operates below the radar of most white people. We haven’t been taught in our schools about racism all through our history so we’re coming at it from a very shallow analysis, which results in all of us being horrified by these incidents. Everyday racism is much more subtle – but not to the victims. It’s subtle to those of us who are white."

Where exactly does racism fester? Observers such as Michael Ornstein, director of York’s Institute for Social Research, say it’s below the surface, in poverty figures and in a lack of representation in civic life. By 2010, he says, approximately 51 per cent of Toronto’s population will be visible minorities. Yet, as he points out, 40 per cent of the members of African ethno-racial groups are below Statistics Canada’s poverty-line cut-off. Ornstein insists that Toronto must "think outside the box, because the usual diet of exhortation and incrementalism doesn’t work that well. This is a local responsibility, but cities are short on the resources needed."

All-you-can-eat seats at Jays games

Dozens of arenas, stadiums and tracks are offering tickets that come with unlimited snacks, reported the Toronto Star March 22. The seats have been a hit with fans, a money-maker for the venues and a worry for obesity-conscious health officials. Now the Toronto Blue Jays are testing out the concept for a weekend series of games in May. For $39, fans attending a game on May 23, 24 or 25 at the Rogers Centre will score a 200-level outfield seat and a pass to stuff themselves with an endless stream of iconic baseball treats. The cost is $10 above a regular 200-level ticket. On the menu, hotdogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos and soft drinks. Beer will be extra.

Canadian marketing expert Alan Middleton, who teaches at the Schulich School of Business at York University, said he expects the new offering at the Rogers Centre to be quite popular. "Part of the ritual of baseball is the hotdogs and other concessions, all of which have become hugely expensive at most stadiums," he said. "This is a very smart way of not lowering the ticket price but getting a price deal out to people who think about the total cost."

Critic pans Alberta nuke plan

Bruce Power’s ambitious plan to build nuclear reactors in Alberta is unlikely to find the customers it needs in the province’s booming oil sands sector, critics say, reported The Globe and Mail March 19. "There’s no obvious market for the output from a nuclear facility in Alberta," said Mark Winfield, a York environmental studies professor who has studied the province’s electricity sector for the Calgary-based Pembina Institute. Winfield said he believes Bruce Power – a private-sector consortium that operates a nuclear site in Ontario – wants to "create a buzz" around the concept of a nuclear renaissance, as Ontario and New Brunswick look to purchase new reactors. He said oil sands companies produce their own electricity from co-generation plants that create both power and steam, with the latter being used to recover bitumen from in situ projects or to prepare it for upgrading in mining operations.

At the same time, Alberta has a competitive electricity system, unlike Ontario where the government-run Ontario Power Authority is the principal broker of wholesale electricity. As a result, it will be difficult for Bruce Power to win price guarantees and offload construction risks as it has done in Ontario. "The only way you could do nuclear would be to abandon the market model that Alberta uses for its electricity," Winfield said.

It’s Easter, time to rev up the revisionism

Jesus needs saving, once again, from his followers, wrote the Toronto Star March 22.  This time, however, it is not from those he preached to or from one of his most loyal supporters who, the Bible says, betrayed him. It’s the Christians who came later. That’s the shared thesis of at least two recently released books about the man crucified almost 2,000 years ago. How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson and The Jesus Sayings by Rex Weyler both try to take the reader back to Biblical times to uncover Jesus’s lost message.

The popular history of Christianity is that it evolved out of the Jesus Movement that begun before Jesus’s crucifixion and was led by his brothers and closest followers afterward. The Bible’s Book of Acts has been the basis of such an understanding.

Wilson, a retired religious studies professor at York University, however, rejects such theories, calling the Book of Acts "pure fiction." Instead, he says, Paul and his followers simply appropriated the Jesus story to give their own movement a historic credence that would make it more appealing to Roman gentiles. "Paul was a religious genius," Wilson says. "He saw a way to take a Jewish figure (Jesus) and turn him into a universal saviour."

Paul’s Christ movement did catch on, spreading fast among non-Jews and within a few centuries it was the official religion of the empire. Much of its attraction, Wilson says, was that it didn’t require the same strict Torah observance that Jesus wanted, including adult circumcision for converts, and requiring only that Christ be accepted as a personal saviour. "It was much easier," says Wilson. But along the way, the message of Jesus was not only lost but deliberately suppressed in an effort to beat out the rival Jesus Movement in the fight for followers, says Wilson. Paul’s writings on the subject, Wilson says, became the basis for centuries of anti-Semitism in the Christian world as Jews came to be blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus the saviour. For Wilson, the far more disheartening death was the lost story of Jesus the man. "Really," says Wilson, "it was the Christians who killed Jesus, metaphorically."

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) and the Calgary Herald also published a CanWest News Service review about the books.

Rated Rx: Viagra turns 10

Studies show that roughly half of all Viagra prescriptions are not refilled, reported The Globe and Mail March 22 in a story on the 10th anniversary of the drug. As doctors and therapists point out, the drugs don’t create desire, and they don’t work as well when men are tired, stressed or struggling with relationship problems. Yet Viagra is billed, critics argue, as a cure-all that reduces sex to simple mechanics, failing to consider how age and lifestyles naturally influence sexual desire and activity among both men and women.

"Do we want 50-year-old men to behave like 20-year-men all the time?," asks Dr. Joel Lexchin, a drug-safety expert and professor at York’s School of Health Policy & Management. "When I was 20, to be quite frank, I’d hop into bed with just about anybody. Now that I am 60, I have more discriminating standards and my sexuality is different."

He says that Viagra is good for men suffering from neurological and vascular problems. "If that’s all it was used for, it would be a modestly successful drug." But Pfizer had other plans, he suggests, and the Viagra debate needs to be framed in terms of the resources invested to sell it, money that could otherwise be going into the development of new, life-saving drugs.

Lady Luck smiles on too many in 6-49 draw

Second-prize winners of Wednesday night’s Lotto 6-49 draw probably thought Lady Luck had favoured them in a big way, but she actually smirked instead of smiled, reported Canadian Press March 20. The draw for a $3.99 million jackpot saw 239 tickets with five of the six winning numbers plus the bonus number, making for a smaller second-prize payday than some ticket holders might expect. Total second prize money was valued at $285,294.30, but holders will only receive $1,193.70 each after the loot has been divided.

Tom Salisbury, a professor of mathematics and statistics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, was less surprised by the sequence of Wednesday’s winning numbers as by the number of people who appear to adopt a losing strategy. He said lottery fortune-hunters who consistently choose numbers in a pattern run a much higher risk of having to share the wealth than those who play random numbers. He said Wednesday’s results only prove that playing consecutive numbers in a popular group like the 40s is not a surefire route to easy street. “The moral of the story is that if you’re one of the people who chooses six numbers in a row, it’s certainly not going to help you win. And if you win, it’s going to guarantee that you don’t take much money home,” Salisbury said.

Prof joins mayor on China trip

Toronto Mayor David Miller, who has met twice with the Dalai Lama, said Thursday that his trade mission to China next month will go ahead, despite the country’s worsening crackdown on dissent in Tibet, reported The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star March 21. The mayor told a news conference that he was leading a delegation of 15 business people, academics and city officials to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, Toronto’s long-time sister city, and aiming to promote business links and his environmental agenda.

Miller pointed out that Bernie Frolic, director of York’s Asia Business Management Program, is coming on the trip and will be giving lectures on human rights. But Miller did not commit to raising the issue of Tibet with his hosts.

Here’s to drinking on an empty stomach

For the first time in almost 80 years, due to recent changes in provincial liquor-control legislation, drinking establishments in Nova Scotia can remain open on Good Friday, reported The Globe and Mail March 21. The move is part of a larger modernization of Canada’s liquor laws. As far as Good Friday goes, Nova Scotia was one of the last holdouts. Only Manitoba and Prince Edward Island still require pubs and clubs to be shuttered during the Christian holiday. In Saskatchewan, bars can open, but not until noon. "Good Friday has held out as one of the last ones because of its religious connotations," said Craig Heron, associate professor of history in York’s Faculty of Arts and author of Booze: A Distilled History. "Which is odd in a society where there are many, many other religions that don’t celebrate Good Friday."

Nursing-home study bolsters York findings

Almost half the residents at several nursing homes in Nova Scotia exhibited aggressive behaviour that ranged from outright violence to resisting help, according to a new study that buttresses concerns over the risks care-providers face on the job, reported Canadian Press March 20. The report, released Thursday by the Canadian Institute of Health Information, also showed that many of the behaviours were linked to a handful of health conditions, including dementia, delirium and depression among the elderly.

Albert Banerjee, who led a recent study on abuse suffered by care providers, said the institute’s findings corroborate a number of reports outlining the challenges of working in nursing homes. Banerjee, a doctoral candidate in the sociology department at York University, found that long-term workers in Canada are seven times more likely to be physically abused by elderly residents than their peers in Nordic countries. “In Canada there seems to be a myth that this is just part of the job and what this shows is that it’s not necessary,” he said, referring to his study released earlier this month that surveyed workers in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. “But you need legislation to guarantee minimum standards of care, so documenting the needs of residents and workers is the first step.”

In a related story March 22 about violent nursing-home residents, the Edmonton Journal cited a survey by York University in Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia found 43 per cent of workers surveyed in 71 facilities reported physical violence was a daily occurrence.

Pavlo adds wine to his repertoire

Vino and Mediterranean music pair so well, Canadian six-string great Pavlo Simtikidis has his own line of wine and guitars, reported the Cowichan News Leader And Pictorial March 22. The energetic bon vivant and his six-piece band visit the Cowichan Theatre Wednesday where the toast of global stages will perform tunes from his seven CDs. Born in Toronto to Greek parents, Pavlo began playing guitar at age 10, later studying music at York University from 1988 to 1991.