Evacuations are a modern-day phenomenon

While the scale of flight from Lebanon may be unprecedented in Canadian memory, massive displacements of people, whether by evacuation or exile, have been a constant throughout history, reported the Toronto Star July 23. The first mass exile for which we have evidence, says Maynard Maidman, a professor of ancient Middle Eastern history at York, was very likely that of the Israelites from the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC at the hands of the Assyrians. But the term “evacuation”, in the sense of an official rescue of the kind that occurred in Lebanon last week, is a recent construct, experts say. “To my knowledge there aren’t any evacuations before modern times,” said Maidman.

“It [exile] happens to the Jews with depressing regularity,” added Maidman, mentioning as well the exile of Jews from Spain in 1492 and from various European countries before and after the Crusades. “It has only been in modern times that in many countries Jews were allowed to resettle.” What has this meant for the collective memory of Jews? It has meant action to prevent a repeat, Maidman argued, in the form of Zionism. “From the time of the Babylonian exile to the creation of the modern state of Israel, there has always been a religious and ideological impulse to go back home,” he said.

In related coverage:

  • Martin Shadwick, a foreign policy analyst at the York Centre for International and Security Studies, told CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” July 21 that the sheer scope of evacuation efforts has changed over the decades as an increasing number of citizens travel abroad. He added that the multicultural nature of Canada has also caused the expatriate community to swell. “This has added an element to contingency planning that 40 or 50 years ago wasn’t really a factor,” he said. In the future, he recommends Canada increase its use of allies in contingency planning, but adds that Canadians must be realistic. If they want to travel to potential hot spots, they can’t expect to be rescued immediately, he said. The interview aired on CBC Radio programs across Ontario and were included in the cbc.ca story posted July 24.

Thinking about cities

The world’s population is becoming increasingly concentrated in urban environments, and it’s important that policy-makers research implications of this phenomenon. Happily, Ontario is becoming a major centre for just this kind of research, opined the Ottawa Citizen in a July 24 editorial. York University already has The City Institute, and now the University of Toronto is injecting $1.75 million to build a new Cities Centre. Why do we need city think-tanks? Because most us live in cities – 77 per cent of Canadians to be exact. And they have unique assets, resources and challenges. Crime, transit, housing – all the big ones. Cities are how we live. We need to study them to discover how we can live better socially, economically, environmentally and politically. If Ottawa’s universities are to be national and world leaders, they need to follow Toronto’s lead and establish a major intellectual presence in this important and exciting field.

Canada’s major brands cut a low profile on the world stage

Culture ministries and tourism bureaus can spend all kinds of money to promote a country’s artists, writers, landscapes and historic sites. But rightly or wrongly, big brands can often be more powerful ambassadors, reported The Globe and Mail July 24. And Canada’s brand personality — outside of this country — is almost non-existent. “Canadian businesses haven’t spent time building strong brands, even domestically,” says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “They definitely haven’t taken the risk or had the imagination to go more global. This is a problem for the economy.”

Role reversal

It’s a long, strange journey from doing training-camp fitness tests on the Winnipeg Jets to co-starring with Taye Diggs in an ABC drama series, but Victoria Pratt has made the trip, reported the Winnipeg Free Press July 23. The Ontario-born actress studied kinesiology at York University (BA ’94 in physical education) before taking an unexpected right turn into the world of TV and movies. Pratt, 35, co-stars in the new ABC drama “Day Break”, which features Diggs (“Kevin Hill”, “Ally McBeal”) in a sort of Fugitive-meets-Groundhog-Day tale of a cop who suddenly finds himself stuck repeating the same day over and over and over again. A decade-and-a-half ago, however, Pratt was hard at work in York University’s human-performance lab, conducting fitness tests on NHL players from the Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs and also on many of Canada’s Olympic athletes. While in school, she also did some fitness-related writing for Oxygen magazine, and it was her editor there who suggested Pratt take a stab at acting.

Music lessons for grown-ups

There’s always “unknowable stuff about music and art but fundamentally some (jazz) basics are very simple things you can learn,” says Mark Eisenman, a Toronto jazz pianist, in an Ottawa Citizen feature July 22 about adults taking music lessons. Eisenman coaches jazz workshops part time at York, and he also teaches private jazz piano lessons. Many of his students are adults, including an eighty-something retired dentist. “It’s just something else that they can do to really focus, kind of like people do puzzles,” he says. “You want to keep your brain active and this is a physical, mental workout. There are lots of people out there who just want to get that buzz from music.”

Wikipedia used to wage Vaughan election wars

Arguments over back-and-forth changes to a Wikipedia story about the Vaughan election campaign have packed so much “byte” that an administrator at the online encyclopedia locked out any further editing of the article last Monday, reported the Vaughan Citizen July 22. One of the online combatants is Corey Shefman, 20 – son of Ward 5 Councillor Alan Shefman – who removed false allegations once posted to that article about his father being under investigation for accepting unethical donations from corporations. Councillor Shefman said the issue of who gives what to candidates running for office is not a major discussion point in the local election. On that point, the councillor differs with York political science Professor Robert MacDermid, who recently wrote a paper exploring corporate contributions in the GTA. MacDermid’s paper, which has received prominent media coverage, showed that corporate campaign donations hit a high of 81 per cent of all contributions in excess of $100 in Vaughan. “If they’re saying corporate contributions are not important to the elections in Vaughan, that’s incorrect,” MacDermid said.

As to whether sites such as Wikipedia could potentially be abused to get political platforms out into the public for next to no price, the professor said, “this does bear on the whole issue of advertising because there isn’t a cost. In a way, it’s getting around the cost and even time of ‘earned media’.”

Regina 5 artist Kenneth Lochhead taught at York

Kenneth Lochhead, a member of the trail-blazing Regina 5, a group of Prairie artists in the early 1960s who experimented with abstract expressionism, died on July 15 at the age of 80, reported The Globe and Mail July 22. “He brought modernism to Canada,” said critic and broadcaster Robert Enright, who was on the Canada Council jury that awarded Mr. Lochhead a Governor-General’s Award in visual and media arts in 2006. The artist left Regina in 1964, received the Order of Canada in 1971 and taught for two years at York University before accepting an appointment in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa in 1975.

Disability doesn’t mean no sex

Alessia di Virgilio recalls laughing uncontrollably when her high school sex-ed teacher asked the class to go home and stand over a mirror to examine their parts, began a story on sex and disabilities in The Edmonton Sun July 22. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do that. I can get a mirror, but I’m not going to ask my mother to help me look at my privates,” says the 25-year-old York education student who earned a BA from York in 2004. The sex-and-disability activist was born with arthrogryposis, a form of muscular dystrophy that has her getting around in an electric wheelchair. Sexually, di Virgilio was a late-bloomer, but not because she wasn’t wired for sex. She lacked the privacy most young people have in which to develop a healthy sexual curiosity.

Bets on York student to win Miss Universe

Winnipeg Free Press entertainment columnist Jason Chow was rooting July 23 for York student Alice Panikian to win the Miss Universe title. Panikian, he noted, was pegged by Australian betting site sportingbet.com to have 13.5 to 1 chances to win, ranking fourth, trailing Miss Colombia who, at press time, had 6.5 to 1 odds. Panikian, a second-year student at York University, is a stunning (of course) 21-year-old who has modelled in Europe and North America and is said to be one of the most photogenic of the lot this year.