Is Avatar weighed down by white man’s burden?

Some movie fans are crying the blues about Avatar, claiming James Cameron’s billion-dollar blockbuster is racist, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 12.

What started out as a few online comments exploded into a cyber phenomenon Monday, hitting Google’s top 10 searched items as writers and bloggers weighed in on whether the film about a white solider who helps the three-metre-tall, blue- skinned Na’vi people fight a human invasion of their planet is racist.

“I think it is racist, in the same way I see (racism) in Dances With Wolves,” said blogger, author and York University student Orville Lloyd Douglas.

Douglas posted about the issue on his blog, GayBlackCanadianman, and said he first became aware of the controversy through British blogger Will Heaven, who decried Avatar’s “racist subtext” on the London Telegraph Web site in late December. “The movie is another one of those white-saviour movies,” Douglas added.

Michael Zryd, professor of film in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, isn’t convinced the movie is racist, but he sympathizes with the argument. “I understand where the critique is coming from, while I disagree with it,” he said. “He still has the white man coming in to save the day,” observed Zryd. “It’s kind of a no-win situation for Cameron.”

Ontario to appoint Crown to prosecute OPP chief

The Ontario government is going ahead with plans to appoint one of its own Crown attorneys to prosecute Julian Fantino, even though it tried to stop criminal charges against the commissioner of the OPP from going ahead, wrote the National Post Jan. 12 in a story about OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, who is facing a criminal charge of attempting to influence municipal officials about the Caledonia land dispute, laid by activist Gary McHale.

The Supreme Court of Canada has described private prosecutions as being similar to grand jury proceedings in the United States, wrote the Post. Despite the unusual route, the legal weight of the charge is no different than if filed by police, explained James Stribopoulos, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “Now that process has issued, Fantino is indeed facing a criminal charge,” he said.

While the ministry has “absolute discretion” as to how to proceed with the case, it should retain a lawyer from outside the province to prosecute, Stribopoulos said. Otherwise, if the provincial Crown decides to drop the charge, “it would be feeding the very unfortunate impression that Fantino received special dispensation,” said the criminal law professor.

The canaries in Iran’s cages

The Islamic Republic of Iran is going to show any wavering authoritarian regime just how it’s done, wrote York Professor Emeritus Howard Adelman in Globe and Mail Update (online) Jan. 11. No “colour” revolution will be allowed. No surrender to the street. No departing on a quickly arranged flight to seek refuge, as the shah did. This regime has no intention of playing “nice” with anyone, including those mullahs who used to back the regime. To stay in power, even in the age of tweeting, ignore the tweets. Pick up your clubs and throw them in jail. Some technologies don’t change.

The few “moderates” left in the system have all been purged. Instead of a stick in one hand and an olive branch in the other, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his coterie of like-minded extremist ideologues project mistrust and defiance.

The regime has lost its legitimacy, wrote Adelman. As the economic situation deteriorates, more defections can be expected.

Values draw new VP patient services to Brant

Lina Rinaldi (BScN Spec. Hons. ’99), new vice-president, patient services, and chief nursing officer at the Brant Community Healthcare System, compares her role to that of a painter or a navigator, wrote the Brantford Expositor Jan. 12.

“We need to be able to paint a picture of what is needed and how we can navigate our way to make it happen,” Rinaldi said.

“I was born and raised in Timmins – a first-generation Italian,” she says. “While I was in high school, like many other kids, I worked at a McDonald’s. The experience convinced me that I wanted to work alongside people in a way that would be helpful, so I decided to become a nurse and studied for my (bachelor of science in nursing) at York University in Toronto.”

In her 23 years in nursing, Rinaldi has been tempted, one time in particular, to go to the private sector. “I almost made the jump, but the more I thought the more I knew the public sector is where I belong. You can make a difference for everyone working in public health care. I am truly a public sector servant.”

Perfectionism comes at high cost with little reward, study finds

Elementary- and middle-school-aged perfectionists don’t perform any better in class than their laid-back peers, according to a York University study, wrote Vancouver, BC’s Metro Jan. 12.

“People have often equated perfectionism with being gifted, but there’s increasing evidence that perfectionism in kids is associated with emotional problems” including anxiety and depression, says the study’s co-author, Gordon Flett, a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health. “Comparative studies hadn’t really been done until now.”

As for the study’s applications, Flett believes there should be an increased focus on mental-health issues in schools.

“There’s a lot that can be done to prevent these problems before they escalate into anxiety or depression, or even suicide,” he says, “and I think given the sheer volume of kids in need of assistance versus the relatively few resources that are available, we need to start being more proactive.”

An artist at heart, an appraiser by trade

When you love to draw and paint growing up, you can’t help but dream of becoming a professional artist, wrote Toronto’s Metro Jan. 11. But halfway through her degree in visual arts at York University, Charlotte McGhee (BA Hons. ’98), now 34, decided being a starving artist wasn’t for her. She transferred into cultural studies, hoping that would lead to a career.

It did. After graduation and a year teaching English abroad, she came home and found a posting for a research assistant at a Toronto company that appraised art and antiques for insurance. “I just have to get this,” McGhee told herself. Her knowledge of art got her hired on the spot.

For seven years, she learned on the job. Senior staff members would go out and look at a piece of china, art, furniture or jewellery, and come back with photographs and notes. McGhee’s job would be to compare their information to the materials in the company’s extensive library, and write up a report for an insurance company on the object and its estimated value.

As the years passed, McGhee got quicker and more knowledgeable, and soon was doing field work too. In 2006, the "Canadian Antiques Roadshow” on CBC needed a fine art expert, and called her in. She worked on two seasons of the show.

On air

  • Hala Tamim, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, spoke about her study of tai chi and computer workers, on Vancouver’s Fairchild Radio Jan. 11.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about changes in the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, on CBC Radio stations across Canada Jan. 11.
  • Laurence Packer, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the decline in the bee population, on CBC TV’s "The Nature of Things" Jan. 7.