Halloween’s fun in Canada, political in US

Conservative Christians in the United States are criticizing Halloween as a pagan event celebrating Wicca, while in Canada it is still seen as harmless fun centring on candies and costumes, says York history Prof. Nick Rogers, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 31. This is just one more example of the growing differences between the two countries, which share many common cultural events and institutions but nonetheless are distinct from each other, he says. Rogers, the author of Halloween From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford Press), says the American evangelical right is launching a multi-pronged attack on government and culture. Complaining that Halloween isn’t Christian is just one example of this agenda, he says. Halloween has little religious connotation in modern society in either Canada or the US, says Rogers, although its origins are All Souls’ Day when Christians prayed for the dead. But, since 1880, it’s primarily been a time of secular fun and games. “The whole thing has taken off slightly ghoulishly,” says Rogers, with vampires, werewolves and zombies. “Clearly we have a highly secularized and commercial holiday.” He attributes this to Canada’s multiculturalism where a wide range of beliefs are tolerated.

Cyber ghosts and e-mail from the dead

“Any technology throughout history has been adapted to two things – first of all pornography, and secondly, the paranormal,” says James Alcock, a professor at York’s Glendon College.who specializes in the psychology of belief, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 31 in a story about a man who believes his dead wife sends him e-mails. Alcock is a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, a group that has investigated and exposed psychics, spoon benders, alien abductees and poltergeists since it was formed in the mid-1970s.

Horror writer dresses up as werewolf

On Halloween Edo van Belkom was “going to put on a werewolf costume and hopefully scare some of the kids when they come to my door,” reported The Toronto Sun Oct. 31. Scaring people is something van Belkom is very good at. The 1991 York creative writing grad has written 25 books and has had more than 200 shorts stories published since he started writing horror, science fiction, fantasy and mystery stories 16 years ago. Van Belkom has won three Aurora Awards from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, one Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer’s Association and has been nominated for three Arthur Ellis Awards from the Crime Writers of Canada Association. And his book Wolf Pack has recently been nominated for the Silver Birch Award from the Ontario Library Association.

Even the road less travelled can be harmful to your health

New research at York comes to the startling conclusion that driving in light traffic can be more stressful than driving in heavy traffic because it leaves one’s mind freer to obsess about work, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 29 in a story about commuter stress. Until recently, little attention has been paid to how work stress affects driver stress and vice-versa, says Christine Wickens, a PhD psychology student who worked on the York research project. Wickens tracked 42 commuters from a range of occupations – “everything from funeral directors to computer staffers to City of Toronto workers” – as they travelled on Ontario’s Highway 401. By interviewing them by cellphone at strategic heavy-traffic and light-traffic locations on their routes, Wickens found that in moderately congested traffic, “where highways are crowded but vehicles are travelling at 60 kilometres per hour, motorists must focus all their attention on their driving.” As a result, she says, they can’t dwell on workplace issues. “In effect, good driving conditions give you the mental room to fume over any job-related problems that were happening right before you got into your car,” said psychology Professor David Wiesenthal, co-author of the York study, which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Research.

Judge brokered Osgoode’s decision to move to York

As a litigator, judge and advocate, the late John Arnup spoke quietly, wrote eloquently and acted with integrity. He argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court of Canada, handed down 200 written judgments in his 15 years as a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal, and pioneered universal legal aid in Ontario, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 29. As a bencher, he was very effective in resolving a conflict between the U of T and the law society over who should be responsible for legal education – the academy or the profession. “He got the parties together and got them to settle their differences and the law society stopped running its own law school and moved up to York University,” said George Finlayson, who worked for Arnup as a junior in the mid-1950s.

US refuses to fund UN Population Fund

On Sept. 17, the US State Department announced that Washington would not support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), reported Western Standard Oct. 31. The reason? According to the State Department’s press release, it’s UNFPA’s complicity with China’s forced-abortion policy. Critics of the agency note that abortions Chinese women seek out on their own are gender-based, since cultural norms compel couples to have a single male child over a single female child. But pro-choice feminists in this country seem unperturbed by the gender-based abortion trend – or the lack of reproductive choice Chinese mothers face, suggested the Calgary-based magazine. “Internationally and in the global scenario, the issue is a lack of access to contraception,” said Shelley Gavigan, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

On air

  • Broadcasters turned to two York history professors for commentary Oct. 28 following American Jerry Zucker’s takeover bid of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Marcel Martel, professor of Canadian history in York’s Faculty of Arts, was interviewed about the founding history of HBC, on “The Stafford Show” on CFMJ-AM in Toronto. And Gary Spraakman, a professor in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, discussed the potential billion-dollar takeover on news programs aired by Global TV affiliates in British Columbia.
  • Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was a guest panelist at a CBC public forum about restructuring the healthcare system in Canada, aired on CBC Radio’s “The House” Oct. 29.
  • CBC Newsworld rebroadcast a national CBC news item on Oct. 28 about the Canadian Space Agency’s announcement at York Oct. 27 of an additional $6 million for a York-led team to complete a weather station for NASA’s next mission to Mars. The item featured comments by space scientist Peter Taylor of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.