Harper must say no to the death penalty

In an open letter to federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper printed in the National Post June 24, lawyers, advocates of the wrongfully convicted, and academics including Dianne L. Martin, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote: “The imposition of the death penalty is so horrific, the likelihood of error so great, the psychological trauma from the delay in carrying out punishment so repugnant and correction so impossible, that it should be banned in any civilized society. We are therefore concerned that your party, if it takes power, could return Canada to a very small group of countries that impose the death penalty. In 2003, for example, 84 per cent of executions in the world occurred in the United States, Iran, China and Vietnam.”

Enrolment still high at Ontario universities

York University will see a first-year class of about 8,000 this fall, down from 10,000 last year, reported the Toronto Star June 24, in a story about high enrolment at Ontario universities. But York officials still expect the school to grow until the year 2005, when its total enrolment will peak at about 48,000, said Sheila Embleton, vice-president academic. “But we won’t go back to those pre-double cohort levels because of the changing demographics.”

Superheroes have always filled an important place in our culture

A CanWest News Service story examining superheroes June 22, a day before Spider-Man 2 opened in movie theatres, noted that there was a Cold War suspicion that superheroes were subverting the values of youth: a bunch of foreigners, loners in tights, seducing American boyhood, in the same way that a Communist conspiracy was seen to be subverting democracy. “This may sound like a crackpot notion, but it had great purchase in the ’50s,” said Jonathan Warren, a professor of English at York’s Faculty of Arts, who teaches a survey course in American comics and cartoons. “The superheroes were targeted as the causes of moral depravity, sexual perversions, juvenile delinquency.”

The superhero DC line of comics was discontinued, and reappeared in the 1960s with a firmer grip on American values. Superman had a girlfriend. Batman had a girlfriend. Robin had a girlfriend. Superman had a superdog. Supergirl had a super cat. As Warren put it, it was all supernauseating. It was also instructive: at the dawn of feminism, Superman would explain to Supergirl that it would be superfun for her to do nothing but stay hidden. She would thus help out the man by stepping aside. “It was clearly directed at female readership, explaining to them that it was really important for little girls to stay out of little boys’ ways, so that Mommy won’t take jobs away from Daddy,” Warren said.

Today, said Warren, we have come back to Spider-Man for two reasons. For one thing, the original fans of the Marvel comics are now the people running movie studios, which also accounts for big-screen versions of The Flintstones and Bewitched and other shows of their youth. The second, more complex explanation, is that after 9/11, America feels insecure: there’s a dark gothic enemy out there once again. The strange thing is that it’s the Marvel superheroes who are coming to defend America on the nation’s movie screens, rather than Superman V. The Man of Steel has been replaced by the ambivalent teenager, the kid who would pause in the middle of his heroism to doubt what he was doing. It’s an ironic choice in an America where the ruling politicians do not value ambivalence or ambiguity. “It’s always `an evil-doer’ or `a force of good’,” Warren said. “Dead or alive. All these old frontier cliches. Frontier cliches that are in fact from the movies.”

Seager appointed dean of environmental studies

Celebrated environmentalist, feminist and academic Joni Seager has been appointed the next dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, reported the North York Mirror June 23. Her appointment is effective July 1 for a five-year term. She will succeed David Morley, who returned to York from an early retirement to assume the role in 2001. Seager has achieved international acclaim for her work in feminist environmentalism and on the environmental costs of militaries and militarism.

Federer tops entry list for Masters event

The top 50 players on the ATP Tour rankings, including world No. 1 Roger Federer and veteran Andre Agassi, are all on the entry list for this summer’s US$2.5-million Tennis Masters Canada championship, reported the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, The Windsor Star and Nanaimo Daily News June 24. The July 24.-Aug. 1 event will be the first at the new Rexall Centre at York University.

Canadians skimp on market research

“Canadian-based and Canadian-owned companies spend far too little money and time on researching their markets and in particular their customers,” argued Alan Middleton, marketing professor and executive director of the executive education centre at York’s Schulich School of Business, in Marketing Magazine June 14. “My second contention is that what research we do is far too dominated by two methods: the basic quantitative telephone survey, and, more dangerous, the badly run focus group.”

Body Shop Canada in sale talks

The Body Shop International is in “advanced negotiations” to buy The Body Shop Canada, a skin-care retailer with a social conscience and 111 outlets, reported the Toronto Star June 24. The Body Shop Canada has been owned by Margot Franssen, an honorary member of York’s Board of Governors, Quig Tingley and Betty-Ann Franssen since 1980. Of the 111 locations across Canada, 42 are corporately owned and 69 are owned by sub-franchisees. “We have tremendous confidence in The Body Shop and we believe that this transfer in ownership will be a positive step that will strengthen the company for our franchisees, shop staff, and customers from coast-to-coast,” Franssen, president of The Body Shop Canada, said in a release.

Sun never sets on Dusk Dances in the park

David Danzon, who came to Canada with his parents from France in 1985, had recently graduated from York University’s acting program in 1992 when he happened upon Toronto’s first Dusk Dances, reported the National Post June 22. In 1995, he and Dusk Dances founder Sylvie Bouchard met and started talking about collaborating. The week-long 1996 edition, with Danzon – an accomplished clown and mime – playing the role of master of ceremonies, was even more successful than the 1993 original, said the Post. As the crowds grew, Dusk Dances doubled its length and offerings in 1998 to present 10 choreographers in two different weekly programs. The next year, Bouchard and Danzon decided to add an east end location to its usual Dufferin Grove location and moved into Riverdale’s Withrow Park. This summer, with support from the Trillium Foundation, a special edition of Dusk Dances will visit six Ontario cities between July 1 and Aug. 8.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, dicussed strategic voting and how it can affect elections, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Morning” June 23.
  • Fred Lazar, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed the basic economic choice Canadians face between two leading parties, on CBC Radio’s “The World at Six” June 23.