Ashley MacIsaac a cautionary tale

Ashley MacIsaac has been turned into a kind of “white-trash” cautionary tale, a sort of Atlantic Canadian Bill Clinton or Elvis Presley who left his rural, working-class roots only to become pathologically enslaved to citified habits and tastes, writes Globe and Mail music columnist James Adams April 5. Adams was quoting former Cape Bretoner Erna MacLeod from her essay “Ashley MacIsaac: Star Image, Queer Identity and the Politics of Outing” printed in the latest TOPIA, a biannual journal of Canadian cultural studies that has been published out of York University since 1997, now in association with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. MacLeod, writes Adams, thinks MacIsaac was “done in” largely by an anxious, puritanical media, including writers for the likes of Maclean’s, the Toronto Star, The New Yorker and Frank. The media and audiences initially were entranced by the way the prodigiously talented virtuoso seemed to uphold the traditions of Cape Breton fiddle music while infusing them with other flourishes that appealed to new, younger audiences. But the volatile centre could not hold: eventually, MacIsaac’s unrepentant behaviour – the drug binges, the free-floating sexual identity, the extravagant, gaudy purchases and his antics on stage and on TV – “exceeded the media’s tolerance for unconventionality, activating powerful, repressive forces seeking to conceal or eliminate his transgression and demote him from his position as a cultural icon.”

Education tax credit for seniors a ‘mistake’

“It’s a dreadful mistake, I think, to relieve seniors of their obligation to support the education of the next generation,” says Neil Brooks, who teaches tax law and policy at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a Toronto Star story April 5 on the Ontario government’s proposed tax credit to exempt people over 65, regardless of income, from paying education taxes. “These kinds of innocuous-looking measures have terrible long-term consequences in the way in which we view our relationship to one another and our relationship to government,” he adds. Brooks says this is part of a worrying trend toward treating taxpayers like consumers and not citizens. “It’s just an outrageous perversion of our collective morality that we would allow this government to get away with this,” Brooks says. “I guess we’ve all just become so cynical about governments trying to buy votes that we’ve stopped looking at the long-term consequences.”

Legal analysts take aim at top court

Supreme Court of Canada bashing was served up last Friday at an annual legal conference hosted by Peter Hogg, dean of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. The conference is widely recognized as one of the most significant in Canada when it comes to analyzing the highest court in the country, reports The Ottawa Citizen April 5. Veteran Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci watched from the front row as scholars dissected the bench’s performance last year. “We admire how he has been sitting in the front while everybody has slagged the court,” observed Hogg. Also at the conference, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Sonia Lawrence said equality rights law is developing “haphazardly” and that the court’s abstract interpretation in several cases was short on analysis.

York student addresses anti-war protesters

Encircled by 4,000 anti-war protesters holding hands in silence, York University student Hiba Masood called on the crowd at Dundas Square to think of the Iraqi people suffering through the invasion, reports The Toronto Sun April 6. “They are systematically and deliberately destroying a people and its land,” he said. “The Americans are attacking, assaulting and raiding – anything but liberating,” Masood told the protesters, who gathered at the weekend to march to Metro Hall.

Adam Smith was no neo-con prophet

“Contrary to the misconceptions of the letter writer, Blair H. Gough [‘Wealth makes the world go round,’ Toronto Star, April 3], Adam Smith wouldn’t have wanted to be caught dead in the company of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, or the neo-conservatives he claims to be too much to the left for his taste,” writes Louis Lefeber, professor emeritus of economics, York University, in a letter to the Star April 6. “As a moral philosopher and teacher of jurisprudence, in the Wealth of Nations Smith was outspoken against monopolies, monopolization and unfair market practices. He advocated government-imposed ceilings on usury. He was a defender of the wage worker, and claimed that high profits contributed more to high prices than did high wages.”

Planes make modern Canada

If flight had proved impossible for anything not born with wings, what a different world we’d live in, muses a Toronto Star writer April 6, who then quotes Bruce Powe, English professor at York, cultural critic and author. Other countries, says Powe, “would retain mystery, remoteness, strangeness…[and would be] more sovereign, less permeable. Borders would be more like barriers…. Canada would probably have stayed smaller, located around the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. Railroads helped, but the modern nation of Canada could not exist without flight. Flight consolidated Canada. With the nation’s capital in the middle of nowhere, we need flight just to keep the government functioning. Contact in the bush would die without bush planes.”

Training trauma teams

We are living in perilous times, Toronto’s Dr. Anna Baranowsky tells The London Free Press in a story on trauma training April 7. She is executive director of the Traumatology Institute and is coordinating a certificate program for professionals in trauma response training this summer at York University. Baranowsky says roughly 25 per cent of us experience high levels of anxiety daily. “They are victims of crime, domestic violence, child abuse, rape, sudden or prolonged illness, combat trauma, natural disasters, industrial and traffic accidents,” she says. “And then you have the people on the front lines – the police, firemen, emergency nurses, chaplains, physicians and funeral directors – who may experience occupational trauma in the course of their work.”