York exhibition clarifies how prescient General Idea really was

For starters, let’s make one thing very clear: the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion (sic), which was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1977 – a fire of suspicious origins, I might add – neither burned nor was it ever actually built – not seven years before its construction, or at any other time, wrote Murray Whyte in the Toronto Star Sept. 27.

Which would seem to make the Art Gallery of York University’s (AGYU) apparent reconstruction of it, which opened last week, a mind-bending exercise in virtual archeology. Funny thing about that, though, is that’s more or less what General Idea, the three-man artists’ collective formed in 1967 by fresh-faced art school graduates AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, had been doing all along: excavating their own myths of greatness, long before they had been realized.

But the York exhibition is something more than nostalgic; the gallery’s carefully constructed campaign built on the ruins of General Idea’s own hype machine actually clarifies how prescient the group was, and how relevant they remain.

At the AGYU, director/curator Philip Monk pushes a little further back into General Idea’s hall of mirrors, to earlier, less morbid days, to reveal a practice laced with acid wit and an awareness of the seismic shifts taking place in media and information that was nothing short of groundbreaking.

Let’s drop the facades for a moment. Monk, who spent several years as a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, collected a significant amount of General Idea’s work through the ’70s and ’80s. At the AGYU, two exhibitions first mounted in the ’70s at the Carmen Lamanna Gallery, General Idea’s Toronto dealer, are recreated in striking exactitude.

In that much, his archeology is completely sincere, even if the Pavillion itself was not.

Pandemic strategies

Many employers remain doubtful about how big a problem swine flu will present in the workplace, wrote The Hamilton Spectator Sept. 26. Of the 350 businesses surveyed by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce during the first two weeks of September, 21 per cent said they believed the threat of swine flu is minimal and has been blown out of proportion.

Those figures are troubling, given the effect a true pandemic could have on the economy, said Amin Mawani, acting director of the Health Industry Management Program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

The costs associated with lost productivity due to swine flu could surpass even the $2-billion bite that SARS took out of the economy, he says. “As we saw in Mexico, this is a bug that can shut businesses down,” he said.

A severe pandemic can make 35 per cent of the population ill and keep scores of additional people at home caring for sick family members.

High time to ‘wash away sins’

At turns solemn and playful, the custom of Tashlich is being performed this week by members of the Jewish community at bodies of water across the city, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 26.

Martin Lockshin, professor of humanities and Jewish studies in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said the ritual falls somewhere between a folk custom and a religious law.

“It’s become a social event also, as opposed to just being a prayer service," he said. “It’s just a pleasant way of thinking for a short time about self-improvement, about sin, about new starts.”

Lockshin said water is also seen cross-culturally as a purifying agent. “But I have to admit that the creek that we go to in the G. Ross Lord Park (in North York) isn’t the cleanest body of water in the world,” he said.

Vaughan reaches out to voters

Vaughan’s tarnished political image could be in for a makeover if the city and council agree to adopt a series of recommendations tomorrow designed to combat voter apathy, wrote the National Post Sept. 28.

Critics say that won’t be easy in a political environment wracked by rampant public cynicism where several local politicians – including Mayor Linda Jackson – are facing dozens of charges related to election-finance irregularities.

Robert MacDermid, a York University political science professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who studies municipal election financing, says many candidates raise more money than they are allowed to spend under current campaign expense limits. Preventing the use of these funds in future elections makes it easier for first-time candidates to challenge incumbents who might have war chests from which to draw, he says. But when it comes to asking candidates to voluntarily disclose who their contributors are, good luck.

“Without enforcement, a candidate could still withhold their contribution list until after the election,” he said. “It’s still open to manipulation without a body like Elections Ontario to make sure candidates follow the rules.”

MacDermid says Internet voting presents too many security concerns, in addition to the fact that there is a lack of data to suggest it actually increases voter turnout. The recommendation to provide tax receipts, however, is a good one, he says.

“It stuns me that some councillors who have been in office for many years could have so few contributions from individuals,” MacDermid said. “There’s more of an incentive for the candidate to get out into the community if they have to rely more on donations from individuals.”

While MacDermid applauds the task force for making an effort to improve voter turnout, he says the report also has a public relations role to play. “Unquestionably, these people are trying to burnish their image,” he said.

Court rulings jeopardizing fight against terrorism, minister suggests

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan says he fears for the government’s ability to fight terrorism in light of “an increasingly complex legal environment” in which judges are no longer deferring to the government in its efforts to deport foreign suspects, wrote Canwest News Service Sept. 27.

“All this adds to the already tenuous legitimacy of the regime,” said Mike Larsen, a security analyst at York University’s Centre for International & Security Studies. “They’ve never done anything to serve the intended purpose to facilitate a swift deportation process, through secret proceedings.”

Larsen scoffed at complaints, raised not only by Van Loan but also by former CSIS director Jim Judd, that overzealous judicial scrutiny of anti-terrorism intelligence is threatening national security.

Rather, court oversight is serving the purpose of revealing shoddy Canadian Security Intelligence Service practices in the post 9-11 era rather than state secrets, Larsen said.

Convicted terrorist claims rehabilitation, wants to practise law in Ontario

A convicted terrorist is asking to practise law in Greater Toronto, wrote The Canadian Press Sept. 27.

Parminder Singh Saini (BA Hons. ’03), 46, blames youth and naïveté for his role in a violent airline hijacking 25 years ago in his native India and says he is rehabilitated.

He deserves a second chance, he and his advocates say. “He served his time and was subsequently pardoned,” says York University political science Professor Sandra Whitworth, of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who taught him in 2001.

Canadians love the Internet. So why don’t advertisers get it?

Canada has one of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world , wrote the National Post Sept. 26 in an article about continued reluctance by advertisers to by Internet advertising . More than half the adult population is on Facebook. Nearly 70 per cent of Canadians watch videos online, while the average Internet user in Canada spends about 60 hours a month online.

“With relatively smaller budgets…the splintering of your spending across different media is a greater risk,” said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “In other words, the more different media I add, the danger is I do not do an adequate job in any one.”

Call it the case of missing pompoms

Where have all the pompoms gone?, asked the Toronto Star Sept. 26. For decades, cheerleaders were as much a part of high school life as the sports teams they cheered for. But today, there’s hardly a sis-boom-bah or cartwheel to be found at high school games.

By last count, less than a dozen of the 300 public, private and Catholic high schools in Toronto still cling to those familiar teams that once roused crowds and even inspired players.

When Corby Anderson (BA Spec. Hons. ’99) was in high school, he was among the handful of male cheerleaders on the Cardinal Newman squad.

Now, as head coach of the York University squad, Anderson said he is frustrated at constant rumblings that cheerleading can be a dangerous activity. “There are accidents and injuries in everything,” said Anderson. “I got into cheerleading not because of fear of being hurt but because it was something for great athletes – people who knew gymnastics, had experience in power lifting and acrobatics as well as dance. “Now, what I see at high schools is simply pathetic.”

Finding what works for a patient: One size does not fit all

The road to recovery from mental illness can be long, and it is invariably sinuous, at times torturous, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 26.

Enid Weiner, manager of York’s Mental Health Disability Services, says that while students with psychiatric problems – past or present – get support, they still need good marks to get into university and they tend to thrive. “I see recovery every day and it’s a pretty amazing sight.

Win a Vespa contest highlights York booth at OUF

University marketing has come a long way since brochures in high school guidance offices and campus tours were about the only way to plug the product, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 27 in a story about this year’s Ontario Universities Fair.

But contests are becoming popular. Universities have offered chances to win tuition discounts, laptops, cellphones and other electronic gadgetry. York University has offered a chance to win a Vespa in York colours and its booth was dressed up to look like a nightclub, complete with thumping music and mood lighting.

Quinte paddlers do fitness testing at York

It was a week to remember for eight members of the Quinte Dragon Boat Training Centre, wrote The Belleville Intelligencer Sept. 26.

Representing Canada in the Grand Masters division (age 50-plus) at the World Dragon Boat championships in Prague, Czech Republic last month, the local paddlers and their Canadian mates were perfect – 11 races, 11 gold medals.

Strength and endurance testing was held at York University then the final selection for the Canadian team was made in May.

Southern guitar style picks up fans in Stouffville

Fingerstyle guitar, whereby the musician plucks the strings directly with the fingertips, has found an audience at The Earl of Whitchurch, wrote the Whitchurch-Stouffville Sun-Tribune Sept. 25. Once a month members of the Stouffville-based York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association perform at the Main Street pub. The next open stage takes place Oct. 4 from 1:30 to 5pm.

“It’s just a way for us to celebrate the art in a local environment and introduce it to other local people,” said Stouffville resident Brian O’Sullivan (BEd. ’83, BFA Spec. Hons. ’83), who, along with Erwin Shack and Bob Vopni, founded the association three years ago.

O’Sullivan studied classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, then moved over to jazz in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in the early 1980s.

A fine way to distract the troops

Some things change, yet remain the same. Take the theatrical production MASH 6000 currently playing in the Stubley Auditorium at St. James’ Anglican Church, wrote The Orillia Packet And Times Sept. 26.

The cook, Rob Reid, the terminally posted-to-guard-duty private, Todd Cleland (BA Comb. Hons. ’04) and a USO officer, Heater Vance are the only characters.

“I grew up in Warminster. Then we moved into town,” Cleland said. When he was 20 years old, it was off to Toronto and acting school at York University’s Glendon College.

Course typo makes Punctuation Day favourite

One of my favourite misuses of the apostrophe came from York University several years ago; in a list of courses being offered was the following: “Canada and its’ Landforms” , wrote York English grad Glenda Bocknek (BA Hons. ’98) in a letter to the National Post Sept. 26 about Robert Fulford’s idea for a Punctuation Day. National Punctuation Day – I love it!

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, on CBC Radio stations across Canada Sept. 24.
  • York grads Ivan Fecan (BA ’01), president & CEO of CTV/globemedia, and former Conservative leader John Tory (LLB ’78), and several students spoke about a career speed-mentoring event, part of York 50th birthday events, on CP24 and CTV Sept. 24.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about a meteor shower seen in southern Ontario, on CTV News Sept. 26.
  • Rachel Turkienicz, contract faculty member in York’s Dept of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about why women are underrepresented in the House of Commons, on CTS-TV Sept. 24.