York’s Bartel brings precision to major test of relativity theory

Norbert Bartel is already getting the heebie-jeebies over his part in next year’s moment of truth for Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, reported Toronto Star science writer Peter Calamai in the first in a series marking the 100th anniversary of the publication of the theory of relativity. Bartel and his small research group at York University are responsible for producing one half of “The Number” that could decide if Einstein’s theory continues to rule as a central pillar in our current understanding of how the universe works. “And I don’t want to be the guy who says that after 10 years of analysis I actually made a mistake two or three years ago. That would be absolutely horrible, and that is why I am so nervous now,” he said.

By any rational standard, there’s no justification for this nervousness. The 55-year-old astronomer-physicist in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering was recruited for the most expensive space experiment ever – the US$700 million Gravity Probe B – because he and research associate Michael Bietenholz enjoy an international reputation in astrometry, the science of pinpointing the location and movement of stars, supernovas, black holes and other denizens of the cosmos.

Peers honour film pioneer Doug Munro

Dream big. Take risks. That’s former “Friends” star Matthew Perry’s advice as a dedicated school teacher in the title character of The Ron Clark Story, now filming in Calgary. It’s also the mantra of Calgary’s own Doug Munro, who received the prestigious David Billington Award Saturday for outstanding contributions to the Alberta film business and his dedication to the industry, reported the Calgary Herald Oct. 1. At the moment, the 1980 York film grad is working on virtually every movie filming in Alberta this fall. That includes four multimillion-dollar productions: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt; September Dawn, starring Jon Voight; Daughter of Joy, starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church; and The Ron Clark Story, starring Perry. As a pioneer of HDTV, Munro risked his livelihood on the belief that movie and TV lovers will demand higher-quality film and television production. Considering nearly every Top 20 TV show is now filmed in HDTV, it seems he may have been on to something.

The Calgary Sun reported that during the past 27 years, Munro has gained international recognition as one of the top directors of photography/cameramen for film and video production in North America. His skills and expertise landed him an Emmy Award in 1994 for his work on Team Remote with CBS, a Canadian Society of Cinematographers Award for On the Edge of Destruction: The Frank Slide Story and countless others. That’s pretty impressive for an Alberta boy who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in Grand Prairie and had high school grades he calls “barely passable.” But, all that changed in the summer of 1975 when Munro first saw Steven Spielberg’s thriller Jaws. “It was amazing – people cried, laughed and got scared all in the same movie. That’s when I decided to go to film school (York University). That was the best time of my life.” After graduation, Munro bought a 16mm camera, began shooting documentaries and moved to Calgary.

Schulich backs McGill music school to tune of $20 million

With his $20-million endowment to McGill University’s faculty of music, Seymour Schulich has suddenly become a leader in Canadian music and arts circles. It is believed to be the single biggest private donation made to a university arts program in the country’s history, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 1. At first, he was blase about the idea. He did it, he says, because of four women: McGill principal Heather Monroe-Blum; his wife Tanna, a classically trained violinist; and his two daughters. “Everybody loves the humanities, but nobody wants to put a dollar in it,” Schulich said at the opening of the school’s new building, now called the Schulich School of Music. “Usually people want something tangible.” Schulich certainly doesn’t come from an arts background. The 65-year-old, who was born in Montreal and attended McGill, was co-founder of Franco-Nevada Mining Co. His name is perhaps best known to Torontonians for the institutions that bear his name, including York University’s Schulich School of Business and the Schulich Heart Centre at Sunnybrook hospital. He has also donated millions to Toronto’s Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, among others places, and has started several student scholarship funds across the country. The recent McGill endowment marks the first time the university has named a faculty after a benefactor.

Another NEP to tap Alberta’s wealth would be a ‘mistake’

If the prime minister is considering some kind of direct snatch at Alberta’s oil royalties, he’d better think again, suggested the Western Standard in its Oct. 3 issue. Not only would anything in the style of an NEP [National Energy Program] simply be illegal, it would also be politically suicidal, says Peter Hogg, professor emeritus at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and one of the country’s leading constitutional experts. “I know people raise this issue [of another NEP], but I don’t think there’s the slightest political will to do so,” he says. “Everybody recognizes that the National Energy Program was a huge mistake and no government wants to repeat that mistake, not even the Liberal government in Ottawa, which gets nearly everything wrong.”

Grad ranks 20th of 25 most powerful women bankers in North America

Say one thing for Janice R. Fukakusa: in her 20 years at Royal Bank she has not limited her learning opportunities, reported US Banker Oct. 3 about the York grad it ranked 20th on its list of the 25 most powerful women in banking. She’s held a record 15 jobs at North America’s seventh-largest bank by market capitalization, and since September of 2004 she has served as CFO of RBC Financial Group. “I was very fortunate,” she said. “I had a huge range of experiences on both the retail and wholesale side.” With an MBA from York’s Schulich School of Business and a BA from the University of Toronto, Fukakusa began her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she worked from 1978 to 1985. “The depth of her understanding of the business, plus her strong financial acumen, means that any issue that needs tackling is done extraordinarily well,” said Barbara G. Stymiest, COO of Royal Bank, who supervises Fukakusa. “She’s also a thoughtful leader and is strong at understanding the evolving nature of a CFO, including attracting top high-caliber talent.”

Higher pump prices won’t slow down SUV drivers

Shell Canada CEO Clive Mather is not your typical Big Oil boss. He’s glad Canada joined the Kyoto accord on climate change, drives a Lexus hybrid, thinks carbon dioxide emissions are bad news for the planet (and has an idea what to do about them) and hopes gasoline conservation will be taken seriously, reported Globe and Mail columnist Eric Reguly Oct. 1. But he’s also a realist and thinks North America’s voracious appetite for energy will remain more or less intact, in spite of the tripling of oil prices since the 1990s. At a dinner sponsored by York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability last week, he called the SUV the “litmus test for North American [energy] attitudes.” His conclusion: “I doubt they are going to disappear any time soon.”

Real moms give crash courses on kids

Ottawa women are heading up two new Life Network series this fall devoted to the most hectic job on earth: Being a mom, reported The Ottawa Sun Oct. 1. And former Rogers Daytime host Catherine Marion and actress Nicole Oliver know exactly what they’re talking about. As a mom to sons who are two and six months, Oliver gets a kick out of watching candidates flounder. “There’s this old-fashioned, if I could say kind of ’50s, June Cleaver perception about the mom. About how easy it should be and is,” she said. Oliver left Ottawa when her family moved to Toronto. After graduated with a BFA in theatre from York in 1991, she headed for L.A. and spent four years on the David Carradine show “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

The trials of being a translator

The Toronto Star interviewed translators like Brian Mossop, who has taught translation courses at York’s Glendon campus, in an Oct. 1 story about The Meaning of Tingo, a new book by BBC researcher Adam Jacot de Boinod about foreign words without English equivalents. Working for the Canadian government’s translation bureau means rendering all manner of scientific, medical, legal and political documents into either English or French, much of it highly specialized. “The problem is to understand the area you’re working in,” Mossop said. “You have to research the subject matter, which used to mean my putting on my coat and heading over to the University of Toronto library. Now, fortunately, there is the Internet.” The inclusion of a foreign word when there’s no corresponding English word is not a problem in non-literary work, he said. The word is used with an explanation on the first reference, not unlike newspapers which explained perestroika for a while, then used it on its own.

The woes of excess

David Rakoff has just published a collection of essays – Don’t Get Too Comfortable – in which the burden of too much choice and hyper-luxury is thoroughly explored, wrote Christine Sismondo, a humanities lecturer at York University and author of soon-to-be-released Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History, in a Toronto Star review Oct. 2. Fear not, this is no sanctimonious call to simplify, or trudge off to some Third World nation and devote your life to ensuring the natives will also one day be “tormented” by low thread counts. In fact, Rakoff is just as savage with the pretentious would-be minimalists as he is with those who fly Hooters Air. 

Women also enjoy that ‘free sex’

Regarding the column, “Shacking up not all it’s cracked up to be” (Sept. 22): “What got my attention was the comment by the York University sociologist [Anne-Marie Ambert, in a paper published by the Vanier Institute of the Family] that cohabitation benefits men more than women because men get free sex,” wrote Shauna Gutoskie in a letter printed in the London Free Press Oct. 3.The last I heard, men don’t have to pay for sex in non-cohabiting relationships. And furthermore, women are also on the receiving end of that ‘free sex,’ and typically have few complaints. The sexual revolution may not have fully eliminated the double standard, but it definitely made it known and acceptable that most women actually enjoy and pursue sexual encounters with their significant other. If women are feeling used because of the ‘easy sex’ that living with their partner provides, then there is a bigger issue in their relationship than the fact they share the same bedroom before they walk down the aisle.”

  • A CanWest News Service story about Ambert’s research has found its way into many Canadian newspapers, including The Daily News in Halifax Oct. 2. Ambert has found that cohabitating couples are more likely to split after marriage.

Group wants an alternative to city budget process

It’s not the budget committee. But the group of councillors, academic and business leaders who came together in a meeting room at city hall Tuesday morning is aiming to be the best alternative, for those who don’t agree with the direction that Mayor David Miller and Toronto city council have been taking with the city’s spending, reported the Annex Guardian Oct. 2. The committee consists of academic and business leaders and an indeterminate number of councillors. From the academic world, city councillor Norm Kelly brought Prof. Joel Baum of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, Prof. Richard Irving of York University’s Schulich School of Business and Lawrence Solomon from Renaissance Research.

Natural disaster exposes gender divides

“As the media coverage of the recent disaster in New Orleans swung into high gear, reporters started to notice the racial dynamics of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath,” wrote Joni Seager, dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in an opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times reprinted Oct. 3 in The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn. “And yet there is another equally important and starkly apparent social dimension to the hurricane disaster that media coverage has put in front of our eyes but that has yet to be ‘noticed’: This disaster fell hard on one side of the gender line, too. Most of the survivors are women. Women with children, women on their own, elderly women in wheelchairs, women everywhere.”

Murder victim attended York

An Oct. 1 Toronto Sun profile of Loyan Ahmed Gilao, gunned down Aug. 9 in downtown Toronto, called the victim a York University student. Gilao, 23, studied information technology at York’s Glendon campus during the 2002-2003 academic year.

On air

  • Writer Priscila Uppal, a humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed random words picked out of a bowl, with other professors and viewers on TVO’s call-in show “More to Life” Sept. 30.
  • David Armborst, a former professor of German language in York’s Faculty of Arts, faces a curfew and 10 years probation, and must submit a DNA sample, following conviction on charges of possession of child pornography, reported “CKCO News” on CKCO TV in Kitchener-Waterloo Sept. 30.