Iggy’s reverse Pygmalion

“To some extent, all political leaders are inventions, creations of their handlers,” York University political economist James Laxer wrote recently on his blog, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 19 in a profile of Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff. “The Ignatieff case has taken this to the point of absurdity. One almost expects a George Bernard Shaw to conjure up a Professor Higgins who can transform the fussy academic into a man of the people, in a reverse Pygmalion.”

York chemistry prof wins honours

At York University, chemistry Professor Diethard Bohme is being honoured with the 2007 Chemical Institute of Canada medal, presented for an outstanding contribution to chemistry or chemical engineering, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 19. Spanning more than 40 years, Bohme’s research stretches from biochemical ions that might damage DNA to the formation of exotic carbon rings in interstellar dust clouds.

All 60 films to be with you in a minute

One Minute Film and Video Festival director Meredith Dault, a York University film graduate, said the idea came to her in 2003 as a way to encourage herself and others to do something “do-able,” reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18. “Come on, if you can’t make a one-minute film because you don’t have any time, get over yourself,” Dault said of the fourth annual festival that starts Wednesday at the Bloor Cinema. “Think about advertising. Ads give you a whole story in 30 seconds or even less,” Dault said. “You can actually do a lot in a minute. But if a film is very bad, a minute can drag,” she added.

Canadian retailers latest target for foreign takeovers

When Canadian lingerie retailer La Senza agreed to be bought by its US counterpart this week, it raised questions yet again about why some of Canada’s best and brightest seemed destined for foreign takeovers, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18. It’s not just American retailers that see Canada as a friendly “first stop” on an international expansion program, as Limited Brands chief executive Leslie Wexner put it when he explained this week why he wants La Senza. In recent years, several European multinational players, including H&M, Sephora, Mango and Zara, have come to Canada partly for a window on the larger North American market. “Canada is a step in the market for North America,” said Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Journalist crusaded for orphans

Helen Stacey (née Allen) laboured for decades to improve the lot of unwanted children, many of whom were better off because of her efforts, reported The Globe and Mail in an obituary Nov. 18. Allen, a journalist who became a crusader for adoption, believed that all children deserved parents and a home to call their own. For nearly 20 years, she devoted her energies to the task through her column Today’s Child in The Telegram in Toronto and the long-running television program “Family Finder”. Stacey received many honours, including being named to the Order of Canada, an honorary doctorate from York University in 1979 and the Award of Merit from the City of Toronto.

MBA women face hegemony of the suit

“Report on Business Television” anchor Kim Parlee has watched the evolution of executive dress from both sides of the desk, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 18. She completed her international MBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business in 1995 and says the only lifestyle advice she received had to do with other countries’ customs and dress codes, which are dressier than North America’s. At the time, a new female employee had to quickly read the wardrobes of her seniors; hence the continuing hegemony of the suit. Parlee admits that she has been admonished for wearing such un-corporate attire as a pink blazer on air. “It’s very subjective. So for the most part, you’ll never go wrong with a suit,” she says.

Bissondath inspired title of book on Canadian immigrants

In The Land Newly Found: Eyewitness Accounts of the Canadian Immigrant Experience, Canadian historians Norman Hillmer and J. L. Granatstein give us 144 eyewitness accounts of the Canadian immigrant experience, stated a Globe and Mail book review Nov. 18. The title comes from an essay by Trinidad-born writer Neil Bissoondath (BA ’77, D.Litt ’99) about his experiences as an 18-year-old student at York University, recently arrived in Canada: “Alone in a new land, I faced inevitable questions. Questions about my past and my present, about the land left behind and the land newly found, about the nature of this society and my place in it.”

Ed Broadbent’s wife loses battle with cancer

After an almost decade long battle with metastasized breast cancer, Lucille Broadbent died in her sleep at her Ottawa home on Friday, reported The Globe and Mail in a Nov. 18 obituary. She was 71. Her husband Ed Broadbent, former leader of the New Democratic Party and former York University professor, was at her side. They met in 1968. She campaigned for him when the New Democratic Party persuaded him to give up his teaching job at York University and run in Oshawa-Whitby in the 1968 federal election. After he won his seat and arrived in Ottawa as a rookie MP one of his first social engagements was to ask her out for dinner.

Information overload

Canadian academics are complaining that they don’t have enough time to think, reported the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 20 in a story about a study by York sociology Prof. Janice Newson. It is a symptom of a larger problem: Modern society’s dysfunctional relationship with information.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Italian professor and writer Umberto Eco said: “We are today unable to discriminate, at least at first glance, between a reliable source and a mad one. We need a new form of critical competence, an as-yet unknown art of selection and decimation of information, in short, a new wisdom. We need a new kind of educational training.” It seems Canadian professors are feeling the lack of that training. That’s the implication of a study by Heather Menzies of Carleton University and Newson in Academic Matters: The Journal of Higher Education.

York poet explores society’s ABCs in fifth book

Priscila Uppal, a poet and novelist who teaches in the humanities department of York University, takes a jaundiced view of the human condition in her latest collection, suggested a Toronto Star reviewer Nov. 19. Ontological Necessities, Uppal’s fifth collection, is a kind of surrealistic portrait of 21st-century life, with an emphasis on absurdity, banality and consumerism. (Think of them as our society’s basic “ABCs.”) Many of the poems bristle with startling imagery and sardonic humour. As Uppal puts it in the title poem, “No one watches television / for the stories. Our universe is fresh out of those. / The galaxy yawns and pops pills.” Uppal’s predominant tone is bitingly ironic, but she changes tack in a remarkable poem based on an Old English lament from 975 AD. (Uppal calls her version “an extremely liberal post 9/11 translation.”) “The Wanderer” describes a world of calamities, violence and fearfulness, in language stripped to sombre plainness “This is life then – / Every day declines and falls and no one / knows a thing who hasn’t lived through / his share of governments.”

Maverick MP rails against political machines

Maverick MP Garth Turner launched a speaking tour of the country Friday by urging a York University audience to fight against the “unaccountable political machines” that run Parliament Hill, reported The Gazette in Montreal Nov. 18. The former Conservative backbencher from Halton, Ont., called himself the “poster boy of how to piss off a prime minister” and railed against the backroom political strategists he says run Ottawa by telling MPs how to vote and what to say. The MP was turfed from the Tory caucus last month after being accused of breaching party confidentiality with entries on his Internet blog.

Unforgettable York experience

Sylvie Lapointe left Quebec in 1990, reported the National Post Nov. 18 in a story about Quebec exiles in Toronto marking the 30th anniversary of the first victory by the separatist Parti Quebecois. “I was 20 when I moved here permanently, but I had spent the summer of ’87 at York University for an English immersion course,” she said. “At the time, [in the] York immersion class you lived with a family. [I lived with] immigrants from Jamaica who’d just recently come here. I’d never seen black people in my life, and found it super interesting. I even started speaking English like a Jamaican person, and heads would turn around and I thought I was not speaking properly.”

Accidental political operative

With barely half the polls reporting, Sean Hill erupts with words nobody wants to hear, let alone believe, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18 in a story about one woman’s run for Toronto city council. “We lost.” Gulping back tears of disappointment, Alejandra Bravo buries her head in her campaign manager’s shoulder as Hill throws his arms around her. A York University theatre graduate, Hill, 38, is an accidental political operative. He spent the early ’90s touring schools and union halls with a feminist theatre troupe. But in 1996, after the Conservatives slashed grants that paid his salary, he went to work for the NDP, turning political theatre into real-life politics.

On air

  • Seth Feldman, York film professor, discussed the movie Borat on CBC Radio’s “World Report Nov. 17.

  • Comedian Rick Branson did a skit about York University providing a professor with a room in which he can smoke medicinal marijuana, on “Breakfast Television” on CKEM in Edmonton Nov. 17.

  • York University has announced a bursary in memory of OMNI TV founder Dan Iannuzzi, reported OMNI’s “Studio Aperto” Nov. 17.

  • York grad Irvin Studin (BBA ’99) talked about his book What Is a Canadian? on CPAC’s “Talk Politics” Nov. 19.