York poet writes accessible profiles of researchers’ work

Toronto’s York University has tapped poet Jason Guriel to decode the sometimes dense writing of academic work and create plain language summaries, also available online, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 2.

“It’s a strange role for a poet,” says Guriel, a graduate student at York who was placed in his post as a research assistant. “At first it was an experiment. Now it has really found its footing.”

David Phipps, director of the York project, which is available on the University’s ResearchImpact Web site, says the two-page snapshots are designed as a kind of calling card to highlight research expertise. They are a way, he says, to let decision-makers know who to go to for help in specific policy areas, much the same way as Yaffle works as a research matchmaker. “I don’t see any reason why these two pieces couldn’t work together,” he says.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri says academics have always shared their knowledge through scholarly journals and the classroom, but there is growing pressure to be sure research is not “kept on the shelf.”

“We are not going to be competitive as a society unless our knowledge is put to use,” he says. “We need to translate it in a way that the average person can use it.”

Robin Wood, film critic who wrote on Hitchcock, dies at 78

Robin Wood, a film critic who published the first serious work in English on Alfred Hitchcock and who applied formal rigour and moral seriousness in his book-length appraisals of Howard Hawks, Arthur Penn, Ingmar Bergman and other directors, died on Friday at his home in Toronto. He was 78, wrote The New York Times Dec. 22 in an obituary.

The cause was complications of leukemia, said Richard Lippe, his longtime partner.

Influenced by the Cambridge critics F. R. Leavis and A. P. Rossiter, whose morally committed approach to literary criticism galvanized a generation of British university students, Wood never lost sight of the ethical and political aspects of film. This tendency became more acute after he came out as a gay man in the 1970s and took a sharp turn to the political left.

He had come to believe, he told the reference work Contemporary Authors in 2005, that there was only one defensible motive for writing about film: “To contribute, in however modest a way, to the possibility of social revolution, along lines suggested by radical feminism, Marxism and gay liberation.”

Robert Paul Wood was born in Richmond, Surrey, on Feb. 23, 1931. A fractious child, he was often taken by a maid to the movies to get him out of his parents’ hair and soon developed an infatuation with the Hollywood comedies of Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant.

In 1973, Wood was invited to create a film studies program at the University of Warwick, in Coventry, where he lectured until accepting a post as professor of film studies at York University in Toronto in 1977. He retired in 1990.

In addition to Lippe, he is survived by his children Simon, of Toronto; Carin, of Bath, England; and Fiona, of Bordeaux; and five grandchildren.

  • Wood’s obituary also appeared in the National Post Dec. 29.

The making of a martyr

A key figure in the growing movement against Iran’s theocratic regime, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri may, in death, prove to be a more powerful voice for reform, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 22.

Observers say reformists are using any holiday or celebration as cover to hold what would otherwise be unapproved demonstrations. The strategy is spreading from the heart of Tehran, where demonstrations broke out after the disputed election, to cities such as Qom.

“Any time there’s an opportunity, they pour into the street,” said Saeed Rahnema, an Iranian and professor of political science in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “The Iranian civil society is taking advantage of every single moment to come out and object [to the government’s leadership].”

  • Rahnema also spoke about Ali Montazeri on CFRB Radio Dec. 22.

Cutting back at Christmas

If you’re feeling guilty about having less to put under the tree this year, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, wrote the Aurora Era-Banner Dec. 23.

The holidays can be a difficult time for families coping with one or both caregivers out of work or under financial duress, York University psychology Professor Myriam Mongrain said.

Frequently, a parent may feel guilty for not having as much to give, she said. But, in truth, Christmas should be more about togetherness than gifts. “It’s a parent issue more than a child issue,” Mongrain said, adding children younger than 10 tend not to notice if their holiday haul is lighter. “I think the atmosphere parents create during the holidays is more important than the number of gifts. Often, parents feel bad that they failed to get this or that, but the kids cope quite well.”

Ontario’s public service is being repoliticized, says York professor

Adam Radwanski correctly identifies the problems created when young and inexperienced political staffers in ministers’ offices try to run departments (McGuinty’s Government Doesn’t Know If It’s Coming Or Going – Dec. 23), wrote Michiel Horn, professor emeritus of history at York’s Glendon College, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Dec. 24. But why was this task taken from permanent public servants, whose job it used to be?

In the 19th century, public servants were usually selected for their political reliability. A change in government prompted a change in the public service. The general inadequacy of this system eventually led to the gradual development of a permanent, non-partisan public service.

What we’ve seen during the past 15 to 20 years is the repoliticization of the upper levels of the public service. Recruited by politicians motivated by ideology or their prospects for re-election, young people with limited experience and no lasting commitment to the ideals of public service now mediate between permanent public servants and the ministers they serve. We shouldn’t be surprised by the results.

Five things that should keep you awake about the economy

It seems absurd to worry about inflation right now, wrote The Canadian Press Dec. 23. Canada’s is at one per cent and the Bank of Canada says it isn’t worried about it reaching its target of two per cent for another year or two.

But the world’s printing presses have been busy flooding financial markets with money, and governments have been spending like drunken sailors in an effort to keep the Great Recession from becoming the second Great Depression. It worked, with a cost.

“I don’t see how we can increase the money supply the way we are increasing it and avoid inflation,” says James Gillies, professor emeritus at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “I can see it happening everywhere around the world, and with heavy, heavy inflation, we’ll see rapidly rising interest rates,” he adds. Gillies believes that will bring the recovery to a grinding halt, possibly as early as the end of 2010.

Legitimate criticism is not racism

As a Jewish academic who knows closely the horrifying reality of anti-Semitism, I am outraged by the systematic effort to confuse it with legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies, wrote Ricardo Grinspun, of York’s Department of Economics in the Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, in a letter to the Toronto Star Dec. 22.

The latest episode is the gutting of Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funding to KAIROS, an ecumenical aid organization. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested the funding was lifted as part of the Conservative government’s effort to cut off anti-Semitic organizations.

I know first hand the work of KAIROS, and its predecessor, the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America, for almost 20 years.

This is an organization with an unequalled commitment to human rights, ethics, transparency and social justice. To say that this suggestion of anti-Semitism is baseless is an understatement.

Furthermore, this action severely harms CIDA’s integrity and its international reputation – one more instance whereby the Harper government undermines Canada’s standing in the world.

McAdams squeezes into role as ‘Sherlock’ muse

If you want to find yourself breathless over a designer frock then just ask screen beauty Rachel McAdams (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01) about the torments she went through to become Sherlock Holmes’ main squeeze, wrote the Chicago Sun-Times Dec. 27.

McAdams was raised by her father, a truck driver, and her mother, a nurse, in St. Thomas. By age 4 she was participating in competitive figure skating. She put her skates down to act in local Shakespearean productions and eventually majored in theatre at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. “I wanted to get into acting as a little kid and my parents were like, ‘Honey, maybe later.’ But a theatre company came to town and I begged my mom to let me do it,” she says. “I started on stage with that company and then I studied acting in college.”

Her career didn’t experience many lulls. “I pretty much got noticed right out of school,” she says. “York University is great for showcasing their talent and their students. They bring the agents in.”

Should we be proud or ashamed?

Let me suggest the alternative, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, in the Toronto Star Dec. 29 in response to an editorial, “Why Canadians should feel proud”. Among wealthy nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), we rank 24th of 30 in infant mortality, 18th of 26 in child death by injury, 21st of 28 in teenagers giving birth, 21st of 30 in poverty rates for families with children, 29th of 30 for spending on early childhood education and care, and dead last for reaching early childhood education and care benchmarks. And the OECD recognizes Canada as one of the two nations showing the greatest increase in poverty and inequality over the past 10 years.

Future business leaders must regain public trust

Ronald Burke, professor emeritus of organizational behaviour in the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University, predicts a major challenge for business leaders in the next decade is “be results-oriented and be accountable for getting things done.” Not only that, he says top executives also need to hold their staff accountable in the future, wrote the National Post Dec. 29 .

“Too many leaders haven’t been able to create environments that capture hearts and minds of their people,” he argues. And because there’s less money to throw around in bonuses, there will be a premium on non-financial incentives, and leaders will need to be more inspiring to get their people to buy into their visions and programs.

“Leaders have to use the next decade to regain trust, not only of their people but of the population at large,” Burke says. “Right now, there’s a ton of cynicism on Main Street about Wall Street, and that’s got to be restored.”

With Canadian business leaders increasingly peddling their wares outside the country, courses in international business are intended to make people more self-aware of their own biases and assumptions. “In the next decade, leaders are going to have to be more flexible and tolerant in the diversity of their workforces,” says Burke.

“Too many people are happy to be ‘yes’ men and women,” says Burke. “For a leader to be effective in the next decade, I don’t think that would be doing you a great service.”

The end of the gender wars

Rob Kenedy, a professor in the Department of Sociology in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies with a specialty in the men’s rights movement, was unique amongst sociologues in teaching a course in the 1990s about men and their particular tribulations and needs, wrote Barbara Kay in the National Post Dec. 30. In a telephone interview he recalled his surprise when more young women signed up than men: “Women are far more interested in learning about men and masculinity than men are.”

Because the numbers in universities are so skewed to the distaff – in a current obligatory sociology course, his own tutorial is comprised of 25 women and two men – Kenedy predicts sociology departments will have to open up (positive) masculinity courses to satisfy the burgeoning curiosity of women about what makes men tick.

Kenedy is convinced, as I am, that we are exiting the gender wars, wrote Kay. Feminism is increasingly “out of fashion” and recent years have seen “a crumbling of the [feminist] foundation.” Culturally sanctioned misandry is beginning to cause discomfort. Women today, he says, want equality without stridency, a return to feminism’s first principles.

Wine and women boost liquor sales

Canadians are drinking 12 per cent more than they did in 1998, according to Statistics Canada, and some industry watchers are attributing a significant portion of the increase to women, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 31.

The large rise in consumption – as high as 24 per cent in Prince Edward Island – is thought to be the result of a number of factors: a broader product assortment that tends to attract women, successful marketing strategies targeting both sexes, and boomers who are experimenting with more sophisticated ways to entertain.

Alan Middleton, a marketing expert at York University, largely attributes this boom to women. Middleton said that as retailers expanded marketing campaigns for wine and mixed drinks over the past decade, women consumed more of those beverages as alternatives to filling, harsher-tasting beers and brown liquors.


Ali Kazimi is an award-winning independent filmmaker. He teaches film production in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts where he is a key member of a multidisciplinary research team in 3-D digital cinema, wrote the National Post Dec. 31 in an article about a panel discussion of the film Avatar

Kazimi: The 3-D imagery is quite breathtaking, but I don’t think it is a game changer in terms of 3-D. It just might be a game changer in terms of the use of virtual (i.e. CGI-based) “actors”. I do think it breaks new ground in this regard and paves the way for the creation of CGI-generated characters.

Not only the way they move or look, but one can feel their “weight”, and their eyes were the most alive of any such characters so far. Coming to 3-D, Cameron has acknowledged that the threshold of how much 3-D an audience can see is still unknown. So the dimensionalization in the film is mostly behind the screen and rarely, if ever, ventures to the space in front of the screen.

Contractors to fly surveillance planes on hunt for IEDs

The Canadian military hopes to have new surveillance aircraft operating out of Kandahar by the summer to help hunt down insurgents planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), wrote Canwest News Service Jan. 1.

The aircraft will be flown by private contractors but the Defence Department is declining, for reasons of national security, to name what firm it has hired for the job.

IEDs have claimed the lives of more than half of the 138 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since Canada entered the conflict.

Professor Martin Shadwick of the York Centre for International & Security Studies said the Canadian military has pilots who could operate the twin-engined, propeller-driven planes, similar to those currently being used at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont.

Former York coach plays for Canada on tennis’s international stage

Eric Bojesen has a pretty sweet deal going with his wife, Lydia, wrote Kamloops, BC’s The Daily News Dec. 22.

Eric, a 66-year-old tennis sensation, and Lydia, recently returned from Australia, where he competed in the International Tennis Federation’s Super Seniors World Team Championships.

Actually, Eric competed in the tournament in Perth from Nov. 1 to 6. He and Lydia spent the next five weeks touring around Australia, and recently returned to Kamloops. Bojesen was part of a 23-person Canadian contingent in Perth, and he and his three-person 65 to 69 squad finished seventh of 13 teams.

Bojesen has been involved in tennis for a long time, and is taking it as seriously as ever now that he is retired. He grew up in BC and spent some time teaching at Ogden Secondary in 100 Mile House. He eventually made his way to Toronto, where he was the head coach of the York University tennis team from 1987 to 2003. During his tenure there, he coached the Lions to seven Ontario titles – four men’s championships, and three women’s titles.

A way to share in a nation’s growth

Corporations raise money by issuing both debt and equity, the latter giving investors an implicit share in future profits. Governments should do something like this, too, and not just rely on debt, wrote Robert Schiller in The New York Times Dec. 27.

Such securities might help assuage doubts that governments can sustain the deficit spending required to keep sagging economies stimulated and protected from the threat of a truly serious recession. In a recent pair of papers, my Canadian colleague Mark Kamstra, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, and I have proposed a solution. We’d like our countries to issue securities that we call “trills”, short for trillionths. Each trill would represent one-trillionth of the country’s GDP. And each would pay in perpetuity, and in domestic currency, a quarterly dividend equal to a trillionth of the nation’s quarterly nominal GDP.

York grad is named director of Oakville Galleries

Matthew Hyland (BA Hons. ’05) has been named director of Oakville Galleries, effective immediately, wrote the Oakville Beaver Dec. 23.

Educated in women’s studies and cultural studies at York University and the University of Victoria, respectively, Hyland has been with Oakville Galleries since 2006. Prior to joining the staff at the Galleries, Hyland held positions at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre and the City of Toronto.

Selfish giving: Charity’s dark side

Psychologists and charity officials caution that the giving/receiving relationship can leave people with a sense of shame, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 24 in a story about seasonal charity.

There are, of course, many like Fiona Kay, manager of Student Financial Services at York’s Glendon campus. She recently made a quilt for a student in need, and had her husband deliver it anonymously. “I don’t want the student to feel indebted to me,” Kay says. “I focus on the result – that she gets what she needs – rather than where it comes from.”

Hitting the brakes on a dream career

I graduated from York University in Toronto in 1975 with an English degree and worked as a junior copy clerk at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation there, wrote Stephen Moyse in The New York Times Dec. 27.

My last job, years later, put me behind the wheel, driving a tour bus. Then, last winter, I had a heart attack. I returned to work after I recuperated, but after a second one I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest. By law I can no longer drive for the public. It broke my heart to have to leave that job.

Recently Gray Line West sent me an e-mail to ask if I’d be available to drive for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The person who wrote, a new manager, had looked at the initial Olympics sign-up list from 2007. I would have been driving athletes and maybe VIPs back and forth from Vancouver to the ski slopes at Whistler.

On air

  • Suzanne MacDonald, biology professor and chair of the Department of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about differences between human and primates’ eyes, on CBC Radio’s "Quirks & Quarks", Dec. 30.
  • James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Department of Equity Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the past 10 years in environmental news, on Vancouver’s CKNW Radio Dec. 31.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the possibilities of earth-like planets existing elsewhere in space, on CBC Radio’s "Quirks & Quarks", Jan. 2.