Crossing borders is business as usual for Hollywood

Don’t be fooled by the international theme at this year’s Academy Awards, says John McCulloch, a film scholar in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts who studies the political economy of Hollywood, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 25. "It may have the appearance of a new openness and benevolence on the part of Hollywood, but it’s really the result of a series of complex moves on the political-economy side of the business," McCulloch said.

"There’s nothing better for them than to appear benevolent: Send out films to the world that says America is giving you these gifts, hiring your filmmakers, shooting in your home country," he said. "But what tends to be perpetuated, then, is a pretty standard worldview that’s already been shaped by American ideology – that freedom is better than the alternative, and that the world needs heroes."

Blender company’s viral videos ask, will it blend?

A series of videos in which a grandfatherly man wearing safety glasses smiles placidly at the camera while annihilating iPods, golf clubs, Barbie dolls, cellphones and ballpoint pens in a blender has become a huge Internet hit, wrote CanWest News Service Feb. 26. It’s a viral marketing effort that has succeeded beyond all expectations of Utah-based Blendtec.

"For a small company’s effort, this is a 10 out of 10," says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. "It’s great!" "The "Will It Blend?" videos are a brilliant viral marketing device because they are so entertaining that people will automatically pass them along to their friends, Middleton says. "All it takes is one person to send an e-mail to another person saying, ‘Have you seen this?’ and all of a sudden, it’s passed on to 10 other people," he says.

Mom gets cell firm’s number

"Ask any mother, if somebody messes with their kids, they’re going to intervene," said Susan Drummond, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Toronto Star Feb. 24 in a story about her successful court battle with cellphone company Rogers Communications. "They messed with my kid, and that’s the last person in the world you’re going to mess with."

And so, for two days this week, Drummond, who had never before represented anyone in court, stood uncertainly before a cranky small claims court judge to represent herself, at times testifying, at times questioning or cross-examining witnesses, apologizing often for getting procedure all wrong, wrote the Star. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Drummond won – $2,000 in punitive damages against Rogers and slightly more than $800 in compensatory damages for what Thomson ruled was a breach of contract.

The judge "said she’s never seen a worse plaintiff in 30 years of practice. She gave the decision in my favour, so who cares how she treats me," said Drummond, whose speciality is legal anthropology – the study of how unofficial legal systems, like corporations issuing contracts, work. And Drummond said she is planning a book. As a legal anthropologist, she found the whole process fascinating. "I couldn’t have had a richer ethnographic experience."

Public transit is cool again

When Ontario Conservative leader John Tory urges Prime Minister Stephen Harper to spring for more money for public transit in the Greater Toronto Area, as he did last week, something’s up, wrote Lorrie Goldstein in The Toronto Sun Feb. 25. Tory wouldn’t embarrass Harper, a fellow Conservative, who introduces him as the next premier of Ontario. So it must mean Ottawa and Queen’s Park are working on a "green scheme" for the GTA that involves new funding for public transit.

Ontario set aside $670 million in its last budget to pay one-third the cost of the planned 6.2-km York subway expansion, running from Downsview station, through York University into the “905”. Toronto and York region would pick up another third of the cost, with the last $670 million coming from Ottawa, to finance this $2-billion mega-project.

Expect some similar deals for municipalities in the GTA, since Harper has to win more seats in Ontario as well as Quebec, also slated for "green" goodies, if he hopes to win a majority government. Funding for public transit is "in" again because of the panic over global warming. Expect to be hit with lots of political rhetoric about this.

  • Dramatic transit expansion is needed if Toronto is to come close to meeting its needs. That means major spending on subway construction, wrote the Toronto Star in an editorial Feb. 26. The provincial government has already set aside $670 million for expansion of the Spadina subway line to York University and beyond in Vaughan. To get construction started as quickly as possible, it is important that the March 19 federal budget include at least a similar amount in support of this project. Ottawa must also take steps to create a National Transit Strategy, detailing long-term federal support, and funding, for Canada’s public transit systems. Stable, predictable financing is vital to any orderly, steady expansion of public transit and highway systems.

Pensions in trouble

Ontario Energy Minister and Chair of Cabinet Dwight Duncan said the government has "an absolute obligation to look at every aspect" of pensions and that’s why the Ontario Expert Commission on Pensions, headed by Harry Arthurs, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, is reviewing the Pensions Benefits Act and will offer recommendations in 2008, wrote the Windsor Star Feb. 24. "This is going to be one of the most controversial and difficult pieces of public policy in the next 10 to 15 years," said Duncan. "Pensions are going to become an enormous issue, not just in situations like this, but a lot of our biggest pensions are not properly funded."

Rocket science on the agenda

York alumnus Tom Stiff (MSc ‘76, PhD ‘88) will be the eighth presenter in the Lakehead University "Meet the Professors" lecture series on Thursday, March 1, wrote the Orillia Packet and Times Feb. 26. Stiff’s talk is titled, "A Manned Mission to Mars: What are the technical, physiological and psychological challenges encountered in a mission designed to safely land astronauts on the surface of Mars and return them safely to Earth?" Stiff has an MSc in experimental space science and a PhD in astrophysics from York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. He is an international researcher and educator and is a consultant for both NASA (Johnson Space Centre, Houston) and the Canadian Space Agency (St. Hubert, Que.).

Stiff has numerous research interests which range from manned space flight to K-12 educational outreach. His most recent projects involved three experiments conducted on the International Space Station by Canadian mission specialist and York alumnus Steve MacLean (BA ’77, PhD ’83) and space shuttle pilot Chris Ferguson.

Stronger parental authority is key to shaping mature behaviour

An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child, wrote the Calgary Herald in an editorial Feb. 26. Is it any wonder then that the blame for failing today’s children could be spread throughout the community? Anne-Marie Ambert, a recently retired York University professor, found there are more troubled kids today than 50 years ago, and everyone must shoulder some of the fault. "For their part, permissive parents place very few maturity demands on their children, and do not actively socialize them: they fail to set rules concerning school, behaviour at home or activities with peers," Ambert said in the study.

Ambert points out that parenting works best when it’s done collectively. She believes adults should be involved in school activities and should get to know other parents. They should also feel ease in supervising each other’s kids, although that no longer appears to be the case. "Unfortunately in this decade, only a minority of adults would feel comfortable reprimanding children who are misbehaving in public," says Ambert. "As one social worker told me, ‘You never know when they’ll pull a knife on you.’"

  • It’s no news to me that a study by the Vanier Institute of the Family, an outfit that enjoys considerable international status, reported this week that children and teens are even worse than we were when we were young, wrote columnist Iain Hunter in the Times Colonist (Victoria) Feb. 24. The author of the report, Anne-Marie Ambert, recently retired from York University’s sociology department. She uses many international studies to show that more children and adolescents exhibit "problematic behaviours" today than those who were growing up in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

As is to be expected of any report issued by an organization focused on the family, this one has been criticized for not recognizing that parents are more than nurturers today and have their own lives to lead. The Globe and Mail editorially on Thursday referred to the "overlay of moral lecture" in Ambert’s report, but what’s wrong with that?

And when the kids go bad and the parents seek professional advice, often they’re told to let the children make their own choices and not to teach them morality, because children are basically moral human beings. "But research proves the opposite." Ambert says. "Parents have been muzzled by professionals, intimidated by peer group influence on their children and brainwashed by the media. Many have lost their ‘parenting compass.’"

  • Ambertalso spoke about her report on CKRM radio (Regina) Feb. 23.

From ‘inmates’ to ‘clients’

"These places were so institutional they were like prisons," says Geoffrey Reaume, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, and a former psychiatric patient, commenting on the history of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, precursor to the 1001 Queen St. W. branch of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "It was warehousing of mad people, and it was not a therapeutic environment."

Reaume cites the current hospital’s walls, built by patients in two stages, in the 1860s and 1880s, as a testament to their capabilities. (Current renovations to the building accommodate the preservation of the remaining east, south and west walls.) "It’s very important to fight the discrimination that exists today – that people with psychiatric history are not capable of meaningful work," says Reaume, author of a book about the institution, Remembrance of Patients Past.

True RRSP tales: Moshe Milevsky

York finance Professor Moshe Milevsky, 39, has a good employer-sponsored pension, which means he has limited RRSP contribution room, wrote Jonathan Chevreau in his Wealthy Boomer column in the National Post Feb. 24. Milevsky is a big believer in stocks for the long run. He thinks his pension contains "way too many" bonds and too much Canadian equity. To counter this lopsided asset mix, Milevsky holds no bonds in his RRSP and has put it all into US equities.

Why? Ever the finance professor – he’s at York’s Schulich School of Business – Milesky says his "human capital" through his tenured salary at the University can be considered a bond. "I certainly don’t need more bonds on my personal balance sheet." So, he has in effect shorted bonds by leveraging into equity outside his RRSP.

  • A recent study commissioned by Manulife Investments and conducted by two York professors, Moshe Milevsky, of the Schulich School of Business, and Tom Salisbury, of York’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Arts, examined the Retirement Risk Zone and its impact on retirement income, wrote News Canada in the Kenora Daily Miner & News Feb. 24. The Retirement Risk Zone is the critical period leading into and just after retirement when the retirement nest egg is most vulnerable to market downturns. The study shows that the sequence of returns in the Retirement Risk Zone is an important factor when it comes to the success of a retirement portfolio. 
    "If a retirement portfolio experiences negative returns early in the Retirement Risk Zone, it may never recover – the damage is done," explains Milevsky. "When there is a fall in the markets, many people react by moving their investments into bonds and fixed income investments, which can make matters worse," notes Milevsky. "By doing so, investors lose potential capital appreciation and inflation protection."

Workshop held for better videos

Jeffrey Paull, internationally known Toronto filmmaker and professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, communicates his enthusiasm and expertise in Beyond Snapshots – a Video Intensive five-day workshop, April 25-29, at the Denman Island Arts Centre, wrote BC’s Courtenay Comox Valley Record Feb. 23.

From an early age Paull was entranced by the art of film. He currently teaches Film Production at York University. A number of his students have gone on to become documentary, fiction and experimental filmmakers. He has recently co-edited a feature length documentary, Dead Time, and is finishing his own film Always Oral.

Stars face each other

First team all-star selections Laura MacCallum of York University and Claire Meadows of Queen’s University will face each other tonight [Feb. 23] at 6pm at York University’s Tait McKenzie Centre in the Ontario University Athletics east division women’s basketball championship game, wrote the Brantford Expositor Feb. 24. MacCallum, a graduate of Paris District High School, and Meadows, a graduate of North Park Collegiate, were recently named to the OUA’s east division first all-star team. MacCallum topped York in scoring this season as she averaged 13.3 points per game. She also led the team in assists with 63 and steals with 41.

Alumnus talks about Canadians in Hollywood

Toronto-born Robin Gurney (BFA ‘92), head of development at Imagine Television, says her American boss is both amused and bemused by the Canadian forces at work in Hollywood, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 24. "Someone will come into our office with a television pitch, and we’ll be blown away," says Gurney, who co-produces the hit legal drama, “Shark”, starring James Woods as a frighteningly savvy lawyer. "Then later, he’ll find out they’re Canadian, and he’ll inevitably shake his head, saying, ‘What is it with you Canadians? You’re taking over the business. Hell, you’re taking over the world.’ "

The ever-burgeoning Canuck stronghold is difficult to explain, Gurney admits. "But it’s commonly understood that if you need young actors, you must go to the Canadian pool, because there is a certain depth there. We hired Vancouver’s Taylor Kitsch for NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” because he was so fresh he blew all of us out of the water."

Racist carnival prank is disheartening, says York professor

"You can’t have the Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, the dreads and the joints without recognizing that there is intense hatred being expressed toward visible minorities through such an abuse of stereotypical images," offered Greg Malszecki, a York professor specializing in social and cultural studies and discrimination within Canadian society, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 24. Malscecki was commenting on an incident at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University’s Winter Carnival that was posted on You-Tube.

"When such an offensive charade as this – seen as a prank by the students but which has a far deeper, more dangerous and disturbing source of energy because it’s based in racial hatred, shame, guilt and fear – takes place, it is disheartening, to say the least. These jokes are just a reassertion of white privilege."

Celia Franca always showed real grace, says former York student

The opening nights at the Stratford Festival will be somewhat dimmer with the passing Monday of a Canadian of rare quality and grace, wrote former York student Matt “the Busker” Murphy, in the Stratford City Gazette Feb. 23.

I was playing the opening at the Avon Theatre — outside, of course — when I noticed a very beautiful elderly lady standing near my guitar case. Having been a dancer in my youth, until I blew out my knee at York University while a member of their dance program, I recognized her immediately. To my amazement she began to softly weave a slow, quiet pavanne to my humble chordal progression and, after a couple of minutes, she reached into her purse and then placed a toonie in my guitar case. I bowed to her and then said, "Thank you Ms. Franca." She lit up like a winter sunrise and asked, her turn to be amazed, "You know who I am"? I replied, "Anyone who knows anything about dance in Canada knows who you are." I think we both made each other’s day.

On air

  • Fred Fletcher, University Professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Arts, asked why the media reports on threats at schools after an incident at an Oakville school, on AM640 News radio (Toronto) Feb. 23.
  • York alumnus David Rosenblatt (LLB ’88), president of online video-resume service CV.TV, spoke about his company on CTV News Feb. 23.