Writer Camille Paglia takes a dated swipe at York (or is it Canada?)

A social critic, teacher and iconoclast, Camille Paglia has been provoking, if not outraging, people for years, wrote columnist Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail May 1, in an introduction to an interview with the American writer and academic.

Wente asked Paglia, “Do you have any impression of the landscape in Canada right now?”

“I’m not that familiar with Canada,” said Pagila. ”But when I was at York University a few years ago, I thought, “Oh my God, they are so shallow. Such a backwater.”

Later, Paglia told Wente: "This whole thing about global warming – I am absolutely incredulous at the gullibility of people. What is this hysteria over drowning polar bears? And finally I realized, people don’t know polar bears can swim."

This provoked two letters:

  • Discussing global warming, Camille Paglia is right in that polar bears can swim, wrote Peter Urmetzer, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, in a letter to The Globe and Mail May 3. So can Camille Paglia, I am sure. To make a point, let’s drop her in the middle of Lake Ontario to see whether she can survive.

This would also answer the question of whether she would swim toward the backwaters of York University – or head south.

  • Camille Paglia says of York University, “Oh my god, they are so shallow. Such a backwater” – with no explanation or qualification, wrote Raymond Fancher, professor emeritus and senior scholar in York’s Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, in a letter to The Globe and Mail May 3.

I am one of many faculty members from this backwater who actually share many of the values Paglia otherwise endorses, who try to practise them in teaching and research, and have received institutional support in doing so. I am sure we would all be glad for enlightenment regarding the basis of her blanket condemnation of our University.

It’s all in the family as York author ponders his third novel in 13 years

It’s a tricky business this, writing about your own brother, wrote Richard Helm in the Edmonton Journal May 2 in a review of York Professor Michael Helm’s latest book, Cities of Refuge. But what can I do? He’s produced another damned novel and I’m supposed to write about people who write novels.

Besides, this one’s mighty good.

Michael Helm is 48, he teaches English and creative writing at York University in Toronto and makes his home in a leafy little acreage just outside of Dundas. His writings on fiction and poetry frequently appear in North American newspapers and magazines, including Brick magazine, where he has been an editor since 2003. He fancies himself something of a golfer.

Michael and I chatted recently, just a few days before Cities of Refuge hit store shelves.

Q: Are you comfortable being interviewed by your brother?

A: As long as we stick to the book. You don’t mention my strangeness at age seven and I won’t mention any of that stuff from your teen years. I mean, how does a guy get his pants on backward between classes? And then not notice? So none of that. But otherwise it’s fine. And Mom would have approved. So thanks for asking.

Q: It’s been six years since [your last novel] In the Place of Last Things. Is that about the cycle that works for you? Do you sometimes wish you could knock these things off like Alexander McCall Smith?

A; The math is three novels in 13 years, and that doesn’t count the time it took to write the first one. The writer’s either slow or exercising heroic discretion.

It just takes time to get it right. When a novel is forming in the imagination, characters are like invisible planets. I know they’re there because there’s a kind of gravity at work, and this gravity seems to draw a certain kind of language and that’s why I end up writing about this character and not that one. I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious – I’m trying to be exact. If this sounds mysterious, it is, and whatever offers me this mystery is probably why I write.

Q: What’s up next? What are you working on now?

A: I have a couple of novels in early stages. I’d like the next one to be short, but it seems to have other ideas.

The long road to the Prairies

Rob Sheridan (BFA Spec. Hons. ’94) is a veteran Canadian television writer who was awarded a six-figure development deal last month with Warner Bros., wrote the National Post May 3. The screenwriter, who cuts his teeth both at Garth Drabinsky’s Livent and on popular Canadian shows like “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and “Corner Gas”, recently told the Post’s Ben Kaplan how a former publicist for Tom Bosley became one of Hollywood’s most eagerly anticipated new lights.

I was in a lot of drama clubs and school plays, but I couldn’t commit to a character. I was always winking at the audience. I got into doing some stand up in Toronto, but I never had a compulsion to do it. I studied screenwriting at York University but, again, nothing much happened. After graduation, I got a job in the mailroom of Livent, Garth Drabinsky’s old theatre company, and worked my way up to publicity. When Livent went bankrupt in 1998, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to rethink my life.

‘It’s complicated,’ York prof explains to New York Times 

What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex, wrote The New York Times May 2 in a story about accounting regulations. It’s complicated, she says, to send a rocket to the moon – it requires blueprints, math and a lot of carefully calibrated hardware and expertly written software.

Raising a child, on the other hand, is complex. It is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints won’t help. Performing hip replacement surgery, she says, is complicated. It takes well-trained personnel, precision and carefully calibrated equipment. Running a health-care system, on the other hand, is complex. It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment. To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment. It takes a set of simple principles that guide and shape the system. For instance: Teach everyone the best practices of doctors who are really good at hip replacement surgery.

“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

Those complicated financial instruments that helped bludgeon the economy, she says, should have been subjected to elemental tests: Is this good for consumers? What are the risks involved?

Crystal-ball gazing

Perhaps no one in Canada knows better how to figure out the economics of the international auto industry than Carlos Gomes (BA Gen. Hons. ’83, MA ’84), wrote the London Free Press May 1 in a story about Scotiabank’s auto industry specialist.

Gomes is the author of Scotiabank’s Global Auto Report, a monthly analysis of trends in North American and worldwide auto production and sales. The only report of its kind published monthly by a Canadian bank, it is a must-read for industry execs and analysts wanting a comprehensive sense of how the industry is doing and where it’s likely going.

In October 2007, Gomes was one of the first analysts to predict, based on falling used-car prices, that a downturn in the auto sector might be on the horizon.

A chartered financial analyst with a master’s degree in economics from York University, Gomes, a 22-year Scotiabank economist, has been covering the Canadian and US auto markets since 1993, and the global auto market since 2005. In addition to his monthly report, he also puts out Auto News Flash, a monthly one-page review of the latest Canadian and US vehicle sales.

The charmed climb of Toronto’s tree whisperer

What exactly does an arborist look like? For some, the answer is: not Todd Irvine (BA Hons. ’96), [a graduate of York’s then Faculty of Arts], wrote the Toronto Star May 1.

With his black-rimmed glasses, wiry frame and faint whiff of urbanity, Irvine is no Paul Bunyan. But the 37-year-old definitely is an arborist.

Some might even argue that Irvine – a full-time tree consultant and Eye Weekly’s new “Green Living” columnist – is the arborist of Toronto. However, he cringes at such a description, protesting that there are far more experienced tree experts in the city. Irvine prefers to call himself a “tree enthusiast”.

Today, Irvine is hosting one of the annual Jane’s Walks titled “Rosedale to Regent Park: The Story of the City Told by Trees.” About 20 walks this year have a reservation limit, and Irvine’s was the second to fill up – just after “Places to Bonk on your Lunch Hour”, hosted by NOW Magazine sex columnist, Sasha.

Jane Farrow, executive director of this weekend’s Jane’s Walk, likes to think of Irvine as a kind of tree whisperer. Not only does he have the arboricultural chops – he can identify some 140 species, prune a 50-foot tree and explain the finer points of Toronto’s tree bylaws – but he also has a talent for making other people care about those big, green, leafy things too.

“Todd…not only relays information about trees, but he’s charming, funny and can tell a story,” Fallow says. “He puts the cha-cha-cha in tree tours.”

As a kid growing up in Mississauga, Irvine rarely gave trees a second thought, he says. It wasn’t until he reached York University that his sense of “eco-justice” was awakened.

Windsor hoopster chooses York

Two-time all-star Travis Turnbull will play basketball for York University next fall, the Lions announced Friday, wrote The Windsor Star May 1.

A six-foot guard, the Tecumseh native can play either position in the backcourt.

This past season, he averaged 18 points per game, four rebounds and six assists in leading the St. Anne Saints to a spot in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAAA championship tournament. He was named the team’s most valuable player for the past two years as well as a first-team Windsor & Essex County Secondary Schools Athletic Association all-star.

In a press release, Turnbull said he chose York because he liked the energy and excitement surrounding the program under rookie head coach Tom Oliveri.

The Lions beat the top-ranked Carleton Ravens this past season with a roster of young talent that includes former Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East rookie of the year David Tyndale and 2009-2010 OUA East all-rookie team members Dejan Kravic and Ostap Choliy.

Women of distinction nominee is an Osgoode grad

By age 22, Ashley Smith (LLM ’09) had completed her law degree at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), wrote Saskatoon’s The StarPhoenix May 3 in a story about her nomination in the youth category for a Women of Distinction Award. Upon receiving her degree, she worked for the judges of both the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon and the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa.

Ashley recently received her Masters of Laws and a Diploma in Justice System Administration from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and has been published in several peer-reviewed journals. She is a litigation associate at MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP in Saskatoon and a sessional lecturer at the U of S College of Law where she coached the Western Canada Moot Team to a second-place finish nationally. Smith serves on the Saskatoon Children’s Festival Board, the editorial board of Barnotes and the St. Thomas More Corporation and Lawyers Guild. Smith won the Saskatchewan Youth Talent Search and has performed with the New York cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Alberta Ballet, the Saskatoon Fireside Singers and many local theatre companies.

On air

  • Bridget Stutchbury, Distinguished Research Professor of Biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about her latest book, The Bird Detective: Investigating the Secret Life of Birds, on CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks” May 1.