Saturday, August 30, 2008

Playing the Enemy

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation
John Carlin
The Penguin Press, 2008
274 pages

John Carlin's Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that made a Nation is a book about heroes, first of whom is Mandela himself. Mandela distinguished himself as a man of history not because he spent 27 years in prison as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, but more because of his efforts at national reconciliation following his release and election as President. The other heroes are the 15 some men, largely Afrikaaners; the people responsible for the subjugation of the black majority during the Apartheid era, who made up the national rugby squad, the "Springboks".

Carlin's is not a book strictly about rugby. Nor is it simply an historical account of the extraordinary period of South African history, spanning the period of 1985, where Mandela began secretly meeting members of the government to negotiate his release and the ultimate transformation of South African society, to 1995 and the triumph of the Springboks in the World Cup of Rugby tournament. Along the way, we are introduced to a cast of characters, both of the radical black nationalist set and the most conservative of Afrikaaner Apartheid apologists, all of whom were steered around to the extraordinary vision of national reconciliation as proffered by Mandela.

Certainly, Mandela had less difficulty enlisting the support of his African National Congress brethren. The challenge was to bring on board white South Africa, which was poised to relinquish much political and economic clout in the post-apartheid era. The solution? Rugby, and the chance to host its premier event, the World Cup. Until the nineties, South Africa had not been able to participate in international rugby, owing to the apartheid-inspired international boycott. Rugby is to white South Africa what hockey is to Canada, and soccer is to many South American nations - a national religion.

Mandela set about to use the game as a tool of national reconciliation. The problem? For black South Africans, rugby was as much a symbol of white oppression as was the old flag and racist national anthem Die Stem. Winning over the black population to supporting the game and its almost exclusively white participation in the national program would prove to be a formidable task.

Skeptical at first, Afrikaaners initially threw Mandela's gesture back in his face, using one of the first international rugby matches in South Africa in decades as an opportunity to engage in "counter-revolution", with the loud singing of racist Afrikaaner songs and the unfurling of the old South African flag. However, engaging the players on the national team themselves - they were inspired to sing rounding renditions of Nkose Sikele, the former anthem of black resistance and now half of the new South African anthem - Mandela's charm offensive continued. Soon, the whole country was poised to cheer on the Springboks to victory on the eve of their tournament final match against the heavily-favoured All-Blacks of New Zealand.

Mandela sealed the deal, and effectively united the country for good, when he appeared on the pitch to greet the players in a pre-match ceremony wearing the green and gold jersey of the Springboks. For a black leader, the donning of this oppressive symbol would have been unthinkable even in recent years. Many will recall this pivotal moment, beamed on television screens around the world, as that where Mandela was finally accepted by white South Africa, as their chanting of "Nel-son! Nel-son!" proved.

Playing the Enemy is an excellent and insightful account of the historical events surrounding the astonishing conversion of South Africa to a united country. It also demonstrates how the power of sport can be used as a force of good - even one as violent as rugby!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trou de cul (Asshole, en anglais)

Scanning the French-language press, I came across an editorial written by Alain Dubuc of La Presse, on of the writers I most respect, not only in the French press, but in all of journalism.

He had objected to an interview given by Jacques Lanctôt, a newly-annointed contributor to Le journal de Montréal and writer for the French-language equivalent of Canoe media, to Christane Charrette of Radio-Canada's, Première Chaine.

Mr. Lanctôt's other claim to fame? He was one of the kidnappers during the FLQ crisis of October 1970. Certainly, having done his time in prison, the man is entitled to earn a living, and even to be interviewed by the French-language national public broadcaster. However, Dubuc objected to the tone of the interview, wherein Mr. Lanctôt seemingly reminisces with fondness his days as a terrorist, serving shepherd's pie to his terrified captor as means of introducing him to a "people's meal". He ends the interview by nonchalantly observing that he "doesn't regret a thing", referring to his acts of terrorism.

What was even more disturbing about the interview was the astonishing flippancy with which the hostess seemed to treat the whole thing. Other guests on the show made at least token efforts to challenge his acts of almost 40 years ago, for which he seemed to show little remorse. However, Ms. Charrette seemed more concerned about being a gracious host.

The comment section on Radio-Canada's website containing the audio of the interview (linked below) is almost unanimous in its condemnation of both Mr. Lanctôt's cavalier attitude towards his victim - and Mr. Cross was certainly a victim, regardless of whatever sect of imperialism Mr. Lanctôt dreams that he represented - and towards Ms. Charrette and Radio-Canada itself for allowing such a low-life the air time he received. It was a slap in the face to James Cross, and and affront to all Canadians', whether federalist, Quebec separatist/sovereignist, sense of decency. Our public broadcaster should know better.

If you wish to hear the interview, here's the link (but plug your nose and check your gag reflex before you hear it. Below it is a link to the thoughtful article written by Mr. Dubuc.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Goodbye, Don

The following, I wrote to the "Track Canada" group in regards to the passing of Don Wittman:

Martin, thank you for posting.

I'm sure I'm not alone in recognizing Don Wittman as THE voice of track andfield in this country. The article
summarizes some of his most memorable moments covering the sport at the Olympic and Worlds level (Bailey, Johnson), but here's one of my vivid memories:

1984 Summer Olympics. We were in a London restaurant having dinner, as the OTFA Bantam-Midget-Juvenile championships were going on at the old stadium at Western. I had a bet with my coach regarding the outcome of the women's 3000 metres. I said Mary Slaney, my coach had Zola Budd. Well, we all know how that race turned out for the two of them! However, I cannot forget the indelible mark left by Wittman's cries of "LYNN WILLIAMS IS RUNNING THE RACE OF HER LIFE" as she rounded the final bend to finish with a bronze medal. This one I rank alongside "Donovan Bailey is pouring it on!" and "Donovan Bailey is tearing up the track" and "Oh, if you're Canadian, you gotta' love these Saturday nights in Georgia!".

And this doesn't even begin to cover what he contributed to other sports. I will miss Don Wittman. Track and field coverage will never be the same.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another voice on Lister

Need I say more? (from McKay, the Hamilton Spectator, Monday, January 14, 2008).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Toronto Lister Leafs

I am having difficulty deciding what I have been more annoyed by these recent weeks: the continuing saga over Hamilton's Lister Block or the poor play of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For those not in Hamilton, the Lister Block is a decrepit, old building that has blighted the landscape of downtown, having sat unoccpupied for more than a decade. The misty-eyed heritage crowd have decried any suggestion of removing the building, replacing it something more functional, or at least less of an eyesore. Apparently the Lister Block has some sort of historical, architectural merit. However, the type that loves to look at boarded up old buildings seem to only be prepared to see such buildings maintained (or rot, in this case), provided that it is on someone else's nickel, preferably that of the taxpayers of either the City of Hamilton and/or the Province of Ontario. Currently, the property is owned by an outfit known as LIUNA (Labourers' International Union of North America) who, in addition to being entitled to 7 million dollars of provincial tax money to restore the building, expect the City of pony up an outrageous amount to rent space in the building if and when it ever gets redone - 37 dollars a square foot at last count.

While LIUNA holds a knife to the throat of city and provincial officials, armed with the persisent moan of the inexplicably-influential architectural fetish crowd, all common sense appears to go out the window. Keep a stupid building standing at all costs, no matter how much it makes our decaying core resemble downtown Havana at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Which brings us to the current plight of the Toronto Maple Leafs. About two weeks before the mainstream media began writing articles about it, I noticed how the team was beginning to resemble the lowly lot of the Ballard years of the 1980s; a crappy team on the ice, an inept owner/group of owners, and an entirely dysfunctional staff of coaches and managers. The Chairman of the Board of Directors suggest publicly that it was "a mistake" to hire such an inexperienced general manager. The general manager tries to fire the coach, but is overruled by the Board of Directors. By all indications, the players have given up on all of the above as evidenced by their play of late. As this is written, they are second last in the Eastern Conference, and third last in the entire league.

Financially, however, business has never been better. In reality, this organization could field a pee-wee house legaue team and sell the same number of tickets and merchandise as ever. This was something Harold Ballard picked up on when he owned the team. He did sweet f-all to improve the team, traded the best players away as a function of petulance and still made a wad of cash. And the team seems to be basking in the new salary cap era where there is an added incentive to not improve the team. Either that, or John Ferguson Junior is just a really bad GM (probably the latter). To mix to metaphors, if Harold Ballard were alive today, he'd be laughing all the way to the bank.

So, here's my idea. The two situations above present the potential for a match made in heaven. And Hamilton gets an NHL team to boot! The Toronto Maple Leafs should move their operations to Hamilton and play their home games out of a refurbished Lister Block. They can use additional space in the building to rent to the City of Hamilton. The team is awash in cash. The building in Hamilton needs a wealthy suitor. In addition to an awful product on the ice, overpriced merchandise, and a crappy TV station that shows little else of quality other than...well...awful Leaf games, the team should be looking at other avenues to bilk people. And who better than the City of Hamilton?

Desperate for an NHL team and seemingly indifferent to the principals of fiscal responsibility, particularly when there are constituencies to placate, such as the hockey in Hamilton and the building preservationist lobbies, this would be an opportunity they should not, nay, must not pass up. They might even be persuaded to pay 47 or even 57 dollars a square foot for space, provided that season tickets for City Councillors are included. All of this provided, of course, that the facade of the building is preserved. Minus the broken windows, doesn't the Lister Block on its corner location bear a striking resemblance to the old Maple Leaf Gardens at the corner of Church and Carlton in Toronto? They could even wear old Hamilton Tiger throwback jerseys to mark the occasion.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Lister Block. A match made in heaven.....or was I thinking of the other place?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Presidential Primaries

Its presidential primary season and looks to be interesting. There's no New England Patriots at this point in the process (John Edwards has just this second observed that only one half of of one percent of Americans have made their opinion known), in spite of the fact that the New Hampshire votes are currently being counted. John McCain won the Republican race big time, but the Democratic one remains too close to call...yet. Hillary Clinton has maintained a 2 to 4 point lead for most of the evening and will likely hold on to it. Iraq Osama, er......I mean Barack Obama, who won the first "caucus" in Iowa, will finish second.

So, never mind who's going to win, who do I want to win? Conventional wisdom holds that the Republicans have a snowball's chance in hell of taking the White House in 08', an opinion I am inclined to agree with. As such, much of the focus has been on the Democratic race and, in specific, the duel as between Clinton and Obama. Clinton, the establishment favourite and outright favourite for at least the past year, has lost a lot of ground to the upstart, Obama. And, indeed, she seemed shocked at her loss to him in the Iowa Caucuses earlier this month. I think she's been panicking; she's been more shrill than she's ever been the past few days and I'm certain she feigned tears earlier this week when she was being maudlin about why she is in the race. I'm sure fake tears come easy to Hillary; she need only remind herself that she's still married to Bill.

I don't like Hillary and never have. And I have had it with people who suggest, ad nauseum that she's a "smart" woman, as if that's the only criteria needed to be a President. You can be smart and evil at the same time (not that I'm suggesting that Hillary, herself, is evil). And I don't subscribe to the view that Hillary is the best candidate for the job, because its high time we had a woman. I think we could have a much better woman than Hillary. I sure hope so.

As much as I continue to lean towards the Republicans, in particular a moderate one like Rudy Giuliani, I think I could live with Obama. Short on policy though he may be, I like his message of inclusiveness and bi-partisanship. I don't see him as the arechetype liberal, pro-union, protectionist, a la Howard Dean or Richard Gephardt. Those types really scare me.

I would very much like to see a moderate Republican win the White House, but I guess Ronald Reagan is long gone. Don't laugh; Reagan may have been a military hawk, but he was NEVER beholden to the Christian right, unlike the incumbent. As such, my vote goes to Rudy Giuliani. John McCain, in my humble opinion, is just a little too old and bland. I appreciate his record of military service, but I don't think he's what is needed to inspire a war-weary country that's about to head into a recession. Everybody loves Rudy for the role he played as "lame duck" mayor during the aftermath of 9/11. However, he may hold just a little too much baggage in other areas, personal life included, to make a serious run at the White House. And he got absolutely trounced in New Hampshire.

As such, if it has to be a Democrat, and history and the current political climate suggests that this may be the inevitable, I guess I can live with Obama....

Unless Rudy can pull off a New York miracle!!! (oh...I guess the actual expression is "New York Minute").

Friday, January 04, 2008

Stéphane Dion or David Orchard. Who's the bigger boob?

I'm reproducing the below article from the Saskatchewan StarPhoenix, but actually got it from the National Post's website.

So let me get this straight. Stephane Dion has rejected the candidacy of a former Conservative and Conservative leadership candidate, in favour of a former provinicial N.D.P. cabinet minister. Umm...aren't there enough good actual Liberals in Saskatchewan to be carrying the party's banner? In any event, look at the picture. Don't the two of them make a nice pair of boobs?

Just wondering.

Dion snubs supporter Orchard, appoints candidate
CanWest News Service Published: Friday, January 04, 2008

Richard Marjan/Saskatoon StarPhoenixStephane Dion with David Orchard in Saskatoon, Aug. 16, 2006.

REGINA -- Federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion apparently has snubbed a man who was one of his most prominent supporters when he was running for the Liberal leadership: David Orchard.

Mr. Orchard, the former anti-free-trade activist, had been seeking the Liberal nomination for an upcoming federal byelection in Saskatchewan.

However on Friday, Mr. Dion appointed Saskatchewan NDP MLA Joan Beatty as the Liberal candidate for the sprawling, northern riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River.
The byelection is set for March 17.

Mr. Orchard had been campaigning hard for the nomination, but last month his supporters said Dion was contemplating appointing Beatty at the urging of Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, the former finance minister.

Mr. Orchard was one of Dion's strongest supporters in his 2006 leadership campaign.
A former journalist, Ms. Beatty in 2003 became the first aboriginal woman elected to the provincial legislature and named to cabinet.

She was re-elected as an MLA in the Nov. 7 provincial election, taking the largest percentage of the vote of any NDP candidate in an election that pushed her party from power.
She served as culture, youth and recreation minister and northern affairs minister.
A provincial byelection will have to be held within six months of Ms. Beatty's resignation of her legislature seat.

Saskatchewan StarPhoenix

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

To keep the faith - or not

John Tory and the Conservatives lost October's provincial election, but the debates remain - not only whether to publicly fund one, or any, faith-based school system, but the very place of "religion" within public education. Even if one believes that there ought to be one, and only one, publicly-funded system, it need not follow that the system be entirely secular.

Those who believe that the churches have no place in the schooling of our children will predictably repeat the mantra that "church and state are separate", opting for a laudable principle first enunciated in American constitutional discourse. However, they conveniently forget that "Judaeo-Christian morals" are to be inculcated under Ontario's own Education Act. They suggest that separation of church and state means no religion in schools at all. Period. Thus, Christian prayer groups proceed directly out of the building into the freezing cold to do their god-bothering across the street. As a teacher, I don't want to dissuade freedom of association. And, the current reality in our schools, and indeed in general society, mitigates against having public education exclusively secular.

When arguing against religion in public schools, proponents of secular education offer that our increasing cultural diversity means that we cannot favour any one religion, even a Judaeo-Christian one (despite the Education Act). Ergo, no religion in schools. Ergo, an entirely secular system. However, this fails to recognize that, in insisting on secularism, they are merely substituting one world view for another. The fact that secularism may not call upon supernatural deities or forces does not make it any more valid to be enforced on public education, than is any world view or religion that does. Secular humanism is just as capable (arguably more capable) of marginalizing competing world views as is any religion, be it fundamentalist Islam, orthodox Jewry or Catholicism.

What we should be insisting upon in our publicly-funded schools is religious pluralism. Where, rather than being banished from any form of recognition, faiths are not only tolerated and accommodated, but actually celebrated. I am fortunate to teach in a school (as opposed to a system) where, I firmly believe, we get it right. Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School is a high school in the core of Hamilton that copes with one of the highest rates of poverty and dependence on social assistance to be found anywhere in Canada. However, what our students lack in the usual socio-economic indicators is more than made up for in a thriving climate of spirituality. We have a significant Muslim population, whom are excused from classes every Friday to pray in a common area - within the school! We have the Nya-Weh (Mohawk for "welcome") program where aboriginal students are invited to celebrate their spirituality through programs such as the Drumming Circle, among others. And, yes, every December we gather the entire school community, some 1,000 staff, students and invited guests, in the gym for our annual CHRISTMAS luncheon.

Certainly, the critics may suggest that all such religion, be it Christian, deistic or secular humanism, be simply kept out of the schools and taught in the home. However, in a system that tackles everything from evolution and creationism in the science curriculum to the recent emphasis on "values" education, burying our heads in the sand against the faiths, or lack thereof, that our students are bringing to school on a daily basis is simply a non-starter. We can have it all. By changing our world view of education from one of secular publicly-funded education to one that supports religious pluralism, we can continue to enrich the lives of the students we are teaching. Just ask anyone at Sir John A. Macdonald.