Mars scientists ecstatic over ‘historic’ weather-station data

Spirits at the Canadian Space Agency have taken off, reported The Toronto Sun June 2. And who can blame scientists for being excited, given the recent arrival on Mars of the Phoenix lander, a $420-million NASA spacecraft with the first Canadian technology to reach the Red Planet? "It’s been amazing, awesome, incredible," said Alain Berinstain, of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). "This week has been momentous, historic, emotional, picture perfect."  

After a nervous week of tests to ensure all the lander’s instruments — including Canada’s $37-million meteorological station – survived the 10-month, 276,000,000-km journey, Phoenix team members are finally seeing results. The spacecraft, which landed May 25, is looking for signs of ice, proof that water existed and the planet might be habitable.  

Detailed images of Mars’ surface have already beamed back from the Phoenix. The verdict? A true Canuck forecast – even in June, there’s a low of -80C. The main objective, of course, is to find ice. The discovery of water would prove the Red Planet possesses the crucial building block for sustaining life. "All signs have shown it’s there, but we always wanted to know where did that water go," Jim Whiteway, head of the Phoenix’s Canadian team from York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, told the Sun. "If we find it under the surface, then the planet is much more habitable to humans than previously thought."  

When exactly a human will be able to walk on Mars is anyone’s guess. Scientists offer different viewpoints, but the general estimate is that it will take at least 20 years. The flight to Earth’s nearest neighbour is so long an astronaut would need almost two years of supplies just to stay alive for the duration of the trip. A propulsion system required to lift a ship off Mars’ surface and return it to Earth is far from complete. "It’s one thing to lose a box of goodies up there that may have cost a few hundred million," said York Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell, one of Canada’s pre-eminent space scientists and a member of the Phoenix team. "It’s another when you’re dealing with one or two or three astronauts."  

  • Peter Taylor, professor of atmospheric science in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, talked about the Phoenix mission, on Business News Network TV’s “Market Call Tonight” May 30.  

YFS approves funding ban for anti-abortion groups 

The Toronto Star reported June 2 that the York Federation of Students (YFS) voted in favour of a motion to ban funding to anti-abortion groups on campus. The decision means that groups promoting anti-abortion ideas will not be reimbursed by the student union but will still be allowed to operate on campus. Global News also reported the vote June 2.

  • YFS vice-president external Gilary Massa said student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student spaces as long as they do it “within a pro-choice realm” and the clubs will be investigated to insure compliance, reported CHCH-TV in Hamilton May 30. 
  • A May 31 op-ed in The Gazette (Montreal) said free speech and free expression are getting a rough ride these days, especially on university campuses where you’d think they’d know better. At York University, for example, student leader Gilary Massa has announced a ban on all clubs that oppose abortion, and chillingly, has promised that student groups will be investigated for ideological purity. Oddly enough, this same Massa wrote a letter to the provost of McMaster University to protest – quite rightly in our view – that university’s ban of the phrase "Israeli apartheid”. It seems many people – even aspiring members of the intellectual elite – don’t realize that free speech means just that – free speech.

  • The idea that free speech and women’s rights are somehow contradictory, even exclusionary, would seem odd in a rational world – it was, after all, free speech that enabled women to finally assert their rights, argued an opinion piece in the Winnipeg Free Press May 31.
  • CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” interviewed Gilary Massa May 29 about YFS’s call for a ban on student clubs opposed to abortion, which the York University administration has condemned as contrary to its academic mission. 

Trina McQueen: TV titan’s career marked by firsts

If you’re talking television, Trina McQueen is one of the few executives who doesn’t really need a last name, reported Playback May 26 in a profile of the new inductee into the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame. Most everyone knows her, respects her, and – perhaps most unique in an industry known for bold criticism – likes her. Not in a "gee, she’s so nice" kind of way, but in a more formidable manner.  

McQueen rapidly made her way up executive ladders that are typically male-dominated – and she busted more than one glass ceiling en route to the top. Even early in the game, McQueen was the first female reporter for CFTO; first female co-host of “W5”; and, upon joining the CBC in 1967, the first on-camera female reporter on “The National”. Then, at 33, she became the Ceeb’s first female executive producer. McQueen was at the helm for the CBC’s launch of “Newsworld”, as well as the NetStar launch of the Canadian Discovery Channel.

After she retired post 2001, McQueen authored a comprehensive report on drama for the CRTC – one of the more contentious issues in this industry. Then she was appointed inaugural CTV visiting professor of broadcast management at the Schulich School of Business at York University, where Joyce Zemans, director of the Arts & Media Administration program, says she has made "an enormous contribution. She is a phenomenal teacher. She knows the industry so well, but is also able to convey her knowledge of management issues of the industry. She has brought an enormous wealth of experience to her work at Schulich." Most recently, she facilitated a partnership between Women in Film and Television and Schulich to offer a Business Management for Media Professionals program.

York profs commented on other new inductees profiled in the same issue of Playback:

  • One of the longest-running comedy teams in history, Johnny Wayne and Frank Schuster, met as students at Toronto’s Harbord Collegiate in the early 1930s. Roy Wolfe, a former professor of geography at York University, now 90, sat behind Wayne (then known by his birth name Louis Weingarten), and opposite Shuster, in that class. He remembers rushing home after listening to the effervescent Weingarten to tell his mother, "The new Eddie Cantor is in my grade!", referring to the exuberant Jewish star of early Warner Bros. comedies.
  • Allan King is the second inductee in the creative category of the Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame, best known for his hard-hitting, compassionate but controversial documentaries Warrendale (1967), A Married Couple (1969) and Dying at Grace (2003). Seth Feldman, film professor in York”s Faculty of Fine Arts who curated the Toronto International Film Festival’s King retrospective, characterizes Warrendale – about a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children – as “pure cinéma vérité: the decisions made of what to show and what not to show – how to organize the material – was dead on.”

Luminato recaptures creative spirit of old Queen Street West strip

Mary Margaret O’Hara is giving a rare performance during one of Luminato’s opening weekend event, Queen Street Celebration 2008, reported the The Globe and Mail May 31. The free, day-long showcase next Saturday will feature five hours of live outdoor music at 100 McCaul St. (at Dundas), plus multiple documentaries and a memorabilia exhibit of photographs, vintage gig posters and band flyers at the Ontario College of Art & Design. It’s part of an event that hopes to capture the anarchic creative spirit of the old strip.  

Long-time Toronto music fans can breathlessly rattle off bands born out of that scene, including Martha and the Muffins, Cowboy Junkies, The Government, Rough Trade and Parachute Club, and anything promoted by the "Two Garys," Gary Cormier and Gary Topp. "The Garys moved down to the Horseshoe in ’79 and it became the cornerstone for the punk and new wave rock scenes," recalls Rob Bowman, a professor of popular music in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. "It was an amazingly active time – almost a renaissance period with all these up-and-coming rock and roll bands." 

The area featured cheap rents and warehouses where OCA kids could paint, and newly forming bands could rehearse. Two other defining aspects of the Queen Street renaissance, Bowman says, were the post-punk feminist bands and, to a lesser extent, the crossover with reggae.  

In other Luminato coverage:

  • With the help of some of the city’s top architects and designers, Dundas Square is about to be transformed into a surreal dancehall, reported The Globe and Mail May 31. Inspired in part by a concept from noted set designer Michael Levine, the square’s temporary overhaul will see a canopy of sorts raised over the plaza, in the form of 250 illuminated industrial-strength balloons hung from cables that span the square. The installation is keeping an eye toward the environment; helium being an increasingly scarce resource, the balloons are being inflated with air instead, and donated afterward to professors at York University, who can use them for atmospheric research.

Convocation speakers define different kinds of success

In convocation addresses, honourees may adopt a populist voice, says Sheila Embleton, vice-president academic at York University, reported the Toronto Star June 1. "We tend to choose people in selfless public service, who say there are many ways to define success: Be passionate about what you do, be a good citizen – it’s not all about chasing money."

  • The Star listed York President Emerita Lorna Marsden as among those who received BAs from the University of Toronto  (University College) in 1968 and became prominent Canadian citizens. The list was a companion to a piece about Ken Stone, an activist at U of T who dramatically tore up his diploma at convocation in 1968 and was honoured by his college (Innis) 36 years later. Stone’s son Brendan, 24, will start a PhD in social and political thought at York, the Star said.

Where you live determines well-being, says prof

Ask Dennis Raphael what makes a healthy community and his answers may surprise you, reported the Sault Star May 30. It’s not good nutrition, exercise and sleep, the York University health policy professor says. It’s housing, education, employment and income. They’re the key social determinants of health, and have been for decades, he says.  

Raphael was a keynote speaker May 29 at the Community Quality of Life Conference in Sault Ste. Marie. Social factors determine the state of a person’s health, the extent to which a person possesses the physical, social and personal resources to identify and achieve personal aspirations, satisfy needs and cope with the environment, Raphael said. "People who are making public policy and legislation are not taking this to heart," he said.

Keep new hospital at Finch, near York’s ‘new medical school’, says letter-writer

In a June 1 letter to The Toronto Sun, John Balatinecz wrote: Kudos to Christina Blizzard for her clear-cut analysis of the shaky future of the Humber River Regional Hospital (Finch Site), while the grandiose plans for the new mega-hospital at Keele and Wilson unfold. It seems those plans were cooked up in the back-rooms of power, without community input. Whose hospital is it going to be anyway – the community’s or the power brokers’? It would make eminent sense to build the new HRRH right here at the Finch site, within walking distance of the [proposed] new medical school of York University. With the University’s active participation, it could become a showcase for community medicine, education and research. It could truly revitalize this disadvantaged community. 

 On air

  • Valerie Preston, a geography professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed changes to the Canadian immigration system that would make it fairer, on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” June 1.
  • Debra Pepler, distinguished research professor in psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, commented on an incident on a school bus in Prince Edward Island in which a teen apparently picked up the emergency axe on board and tried to hit another student with it, on CTV Newsnet May 30.
  • Douglas Cumming, finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, discussed Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s struggle to win converts as he pushes ahead with plans to draft legislation that would create a national securities regulator, in CBC Radio interviews aired in British Columbia and Newfoundland May 29.