Wounded soldiers get lost in fog of war

In a war defined by the number of dead, the wounded get little mention, wrote the Calgary Herald April 24. As Canada’s role in Afghanistan approaches its final year, the number of injured soldiers is more than 10 times the fallen.

“Fatalities do draw the most attention, because there’s a finality to it,” says Martin Shadwick, a military analyst in the York Centre for International & Security Studies. “It’s a cliché, but it’s the ultimate sacrifice. Even though our number of wounded is quite high, it doesn’t resonate. That’s disquieting, because some of these guys are horrifically injured for the rest of their lives.”

The Canadian Forces say they simply don’t want Taliban insurgents to know.

Shadwick points out that security concerns are somewhat valid because information can travel the globe in moments. However, Canada’s suppression of their numbers is far greater than other countries, such as Australia, which makes a public announcement every time a soldier is seriously wounded.

“A yearly release of the numbers seems overzealous. There must be a compromise in there somewhere. In comparative terms, we seem to be relying very heavily on the side of caution,” Shadwick says.

York prof’s rights claims are dismissed

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has dismissed charges by a history professor that York University punished him for challenging its former practice of scrapping classes on Jewish holidays, wrote the Toronto Star April 24.

In a 32-page decision released Friday, adjudicator Michael Gottheil ruled he could find no proof York University had assigned David Noble unpopular Friday afternoon teaching slots as punishment after he launched a human rights complaint over the University’s policy of cancelling classes on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, saying it discriminated against students of other faiths.

The policy was cancelled last fall.

Gottheil also found no evidence York retaliated against Noble, who is Jewish, by issuing a news release about a pamphlet the professor wrote that criticized the influence of what he called the “Israeli lobby” over York’s fundraising foundation and campus operations.

The ruling also dismissed allegations York threatened Noble with reprisal in 2005 if he held classes on Jewish holidays in violation of the policy, which he didn’t do till 2008.

As well, the tribunal found it was not an act of reprisal when York failed to intervene after a student disrupted his class over Noble’s stand on the holiday policy.

York spokesperson Keith Marnoch, associate director of media relations, said the University was “generally satisfied our arguments were heard and considered.”

While Noble said Friday that he was “on some level disappointed,” he noted the ruling did concede he might have been penalized for other acts of rabble-rousing, from challenging limits on campus demonstrations to participating in campus debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Alumni reminisce about their time at seminal National Ballet School

National Ballet School alumni fall naturally into two groups: those who trained under “Miss O” – founding principal, the late Betty Oliphant – and the remainder who date from the 20-year regime of her successor, Mavis Staines, wrote the Toronto Star April 25.

From the perspective of many of her students, however, “Miss O” was definitely from the “stern love” old school.

Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, whose book, The Ballet Class: A History of Canada’s National Ballet School, 1959-2009, was launched on Saturday, agrees. “Betty wanted to run people’s lives,” says the class of ’70 graduate, today an associate vice-president at York University. The biggest fear among students, she explains, was the threat of not being invited back for another year. “It just hung over you.” Adds veteran faculty member Deborah Bowes: “It was her way or the highway.”

Fisher-Stitt also recalls Oliphant’s tendency to pick favourites and go easy on the boys yet emphasizes the deep compassion that underlay the no-nonsense exterior. Conscious of the psychological pressures involved in such a competitive environment, Oliphant made sure students had access to outside support as needed. And for female students, as Fisher-Stitt points out, Oliphant was an important role model. “We never had the feeling we couldn’t achieve things.”

York prof comments on Obama critic in The New York Times

In reviewing David Remnick’s biography The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (April 11), Garry Wills writes that Obama “wasted” his first year, wrote Joseph Gonda, a social science  professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a letter to The New York Times April 25.

But consider the mix of problems Obama inherited and the remedies initiated under his watch: a soaring unemployment rate, at last beginning to be tamed; financial markets formerly in the tank, now functioning again; the greatest economic downturn since the ’30s, turned around so that now the economy is edging back to positive growth; two seemingly endless wars on foreign soil, now set on a new course, one showing signs of resolution. GM and Chrysler were in the tank; if they are around 10 years from now, look to Obama’s decisive actions. There is today a strong possibility of Russia’s and China’s being on board for sanctions against Iran, something that seemed unlikely 18 months ago. Health care reform has been initiated.

This is the short list. Is Wills’s blindness willful?

Don’t expect Barbara Budd to be quiet any time soon

On Friday, her voice will be heard one final time on “As It Happens”, wrote the St. Catharines Standard April 26 in a story about York grad Barbara Budd (BA ’74). Budd’s contract, negotiated annually, was not renewed by the CBC.

At York University, she studied theatre arts. Midway through the program, three theatrical job offers came her way – and went. The first, was the part of Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at the Charlottetown Festival. “A role I was born to play,” says Budd, who self-identifies with the outspoken, tell-it-like-it-is, psychiatric-advice-for-five-cents friend of Charlie Brown.

“It isn’t the end of the world,” she says of her departure. “Whatever life presents to me, I know I can deal with and walk away and say, this has been a hell of a good ride.”

Former student remembers Glendon art professor

The first thing that came to my mind, when I read in The Globe and Mail on Dec. 4 of the outstanding contribution that Peter Kolisnyk, art instructor, sculptor and jurist, made to Canadian art, was that it was too bad that he was not here to appreciate his obituary, wrote former York student Shirley Kofman in an obituary in The Globe and Mail April 26.

My initial experience with Peter, at Glendon College in the 1980s, was very dramatic, wrote Kofman, describing her hastily drawn picture of a plate. In class the following morning Peter began, desk by desk, to comment on our homework. When my turn arrived, he just picked up the drawing, held it high so everyone could see it, and very slowly shouted, “Well, look at this $500 Chinese plate. Wouldn’t it have been a lot more interesting if she had dropped it on the floor and drawn the pieces!”

Needless to say, I was very humiliated and shall never forget those words.

With many more years of wisdom and art appreciation, I have come to realize what a great and unique teacher he was, and what an impact he had on me. Peter’s instruction was always very creative because of his experimentation and originality.

At the end of my second year at Glendon, one of my watercolour-and-ink drawings was chosen by the judges to be purchased for the dean’s office.

Appreciate your house, but don’t expect it to appreciate a lot

Another point of view comes from Cynthia Holmes, professor of real estate at the Schulich School of Business at York University, wrote The Globe and Mail April 26 in an article about home ownership.

Her research shows that over the very long term, average house prices go up with inflation – but typically don’t provide much in the way of a real return at all.

She points to exceptions – for example, areas going through a transition in housing quality can experience she calls “windfall gains”. She identifies substantial benefits to owning a house – it creates forced savings and can lead to psychological satisfaction from the pride of owning versus renting, but as a whole, houses have not been particularly good investments over the long term.

As evidence, she pointed to research tracking house prices in a central area of Amsterdam over 347 years, from 1628 to 1974. Price appreciation in real terms was very close to zero and nearly all of the growth in real value that did occur happened in two exceptional periods.

Words a Canadian jury can’t hear

Alan Young, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, feels prohibiting exculpatory statements to be “archaic and unsound”, wrote the Toronto Star April 26 in a story about differences between the Canadian and English law.

“If a jury is considered competent to assess the reliability of an inculpatory statement tendered by the Crown, then surely it has the same ability with respect to exculpatory statements tendered by the defence,” Young said.

Film aims to show poverty can be beaten in Canada working poor

In the film Poor No More, premiering in Toronto Monday, viewers follow part-time LCBO worker Vicki Baier to a government-run liquor store in Sweden where a casual worker there is shocked to hear part-timers in Canada typically get no sick pay, drug benefits or pensions, wrote the Toronto Star April 26. Baier hears how the Swedish government ensures these benefits are extended to all workers. “It makes me wonder why we don’t try it here,” she said.

It is a question the film’s executive producer and York University contract faculty member David Langille hopes other Canadians will ask, too.

“I teach social sciences and I know we should be following best practices,” says Langille. “It’s clear the Scandinavian countries have the best social and economic indicators in the world. They manage to have successful economies and reduce poverty,” he says. “And if they can do it, why can’t we?”

“Corporate propaganda has convinced Canadians that the poor will always be with us,” says Langille. “So we think minimally – increasing the minimum wage by a minimal amount, reducing childhood poverty by minimal fractions.”

Langille hopes the film’s union and community backers, which range from the Anglican Church of Canada to the United Way of Calgary, will use it to rally support for a “radical rethink of the miserable status quo.”

Futuristic 3-D film helped usher in the future at York

Forget Avatar, it was just the tip of an ice cube, wrote Delhi, India’s Hindustan Times April 25. The technology that James Cameron’s film is credited to have breathed life into has been around in some way or the other since the 1890s, when a 3-D moviemaking process was first patented in Britain. Over the next century came technologies that failed on the cost-benefit scale. What Avatar did was to show the marketing possibilities of 3-D – marking the second coming of the old magic. Much of these must have been in the works for years. What has brought about their releases now?

The spread of digital projection and better camera technology helped. But there’s surely more to the momentum. A few weeks ago, the Delhi-born Ali Kazimi, a professor at the Centre for Film & Theatre in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, started on a $1.4-million interdisciplinary project to research 3-D cinema. “A project this size cannot be started overnight…but the funding fell in place after the success of Avatar.” Now everyone is playing for the 3-D effect, said Kazimi.

Webster named a second-team all-Canadian on defence

Duncan hockey star and York student Kelsey Webster has ended her collegiate career in fine style, wrote BC’s Cowichan News Leader Pictorial April 23.

The fifth-year health & society student was named an all-Canadian for the first time. The standout defenceman with the York University Lions earned a place as a second-team all-Canadian for the entire Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).

Webster has previously been an Ontario University Athletics first team all-star on three occasions. She’s the first York player to be named an all-Canadian in four years.

Webster finished second in CIS scoring for defencemen with 18 points.

“I’m really proud of Kelsey and her achievements during her career at York University,’’ stated head coach Dan Church in a statement.

Bain to be honoured by basketball officials

Former York University coach Bob Bain will be inducted into the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East Basketball Officials Hall of Fame in the builder category when the group hosts a meeting Saturday at the Mariott Hotel in Belleville, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer April 24.

In 35 years of coaching, Bain amassed more than 700 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) victories, missing the playoff just three times and leading York to 11 OUA East titles and six OUA championships. He coached in eight CIS national championships, winning two bronze medals, and is a two-time CIS Coach of the Year and nine-time OUA Coach of the Year award winner.

Helm’s Cities of Refuge attacks the sense of place

Originally from Saskatchewan, Michael Helm, now an English professor in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is the author of The Projectionist, which was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, and In the Place of Last Things, a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, wrote The Globe and Mail April 24. With Cities of Refuge, he breaks away from the Prairie-fuelled earlier novels.

Helm sat down with The Globe and Mail’s Alison Gzowski to talk about his latest venture.

Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?

A: For a long time, I wanted to write about Toronto because it’s the place I’ve lived the longest and I am interested in cities of this size…open cities in this moment.

Q: What is this moment?

A: Well, the start of the 21st century, the mix of histories and stories and languages, the surfaces of the place, the so-called erotics of public spaces. I also think it’s true that almost anything can count as character in fiction, in the way that landscape can be character in Thomas Hardy.

Environmental law is a competitive vocation

The environment and how it affects individuals, communities and corporations is very much in the spotlight these days, wrote Canwest News Service April 24. Businesses, individuals and governments are thinking about their footprint, and what it will mean for the future.

York grad Dianne Saxe (LLB ’74, DJur ’91), a Toronto-based environmental lawyer, has watched as the intensity of these concerns has varied over time. “There was a big upsurge in enthusiasm around 1972, another in the late 1980s, then environmental issues receded somewhat in visibility in the 1990s,” recalls Saxe.

Saxe is regarded as one of Ontario’s pioneering environmental lawyers. After graduating from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto in 1974, she joined the Ontario government, where for 14 years she drafted laws, appeared in court and advised successive provincial ministers.

In 1989, Saxe decided to go back to school; she earned a PhD in environmental law from Osgoode, making her one of the rare private practice environmental lawyers in Canada to hold a doctorate in the field.

Residents join mayor in rally to save Transit City projects

About 400 people came to Toronto City Hall Wednesday night, waving signs urging Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to restore about $4 billion in funding to Toronto’s Transit City light rail expansion program, wrote the Beach-Riverdale Mirror April 23.

Rexdale student Pilal Aynab was among them – having taken transit for 90 minutes to get downtown for the rally. And like others there, he had a simple message for Queen’s Park:

“I go to school at York University and that York University station on the Finch line would help big time,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that need this program and the sooner it starts the better.”

Chiefs continue protest against HST

Regional Chief Angus Toulouse called on the provincial government Thursday to reconsider point of sale exemptions, when the Harmonized Sales Tax is introduced this summer, wrote Kenora’s Daily Miner & News April 23.

In their media release, the Chiefs of Ontario referred to a detailed study by Fred Lazar, an economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University. The report provided detailed estimates on how much the new tax might cost area communities, along with some statistics on unemployment rates and average incomes.

  • Lazar’s study was also mentioned on North Bay’s CFXN-FM Radio April 23.

On air

  • Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the British pop music invasion of the 1960s, on 680News Radio April 24.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the Hubble telescope and NASA’s newest probe aimed at the sun, on CTV’s Canada AM April 23.
  • Mitchell Bernard, a consultant on Asian business and professor emeritus in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Japan’s fiscal difficulties, on BNN-TV April 23.
  • Sarah Flicker, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about reactions to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to cancel plans for new sex education curriculum, on Global TV April 23.