Osgoode profs back radio station’s move to give extremists air time

Claiming an Arizona gunman had been sent by God to yet again punish sinners in America, the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church’s latest plan was to picket the funerals for victims of last weekend’s shooting rampage in Tucson, starting with the funeral for 9-year-old Christina, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 14 in a story about a radio station’s successful move to stop the stunt by offering the group air time.

A pending US Supreme Court decision involving the church could place restrictions on this kind of picketing, “perhaps along the lines of restrictions on picketing at abortion clinics,” said Jamie Cameron, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

But “distasteful as it is, US law, as it stands today, does not prohibit the kind of offensive funeral picketing that the Westboro Baptist Church has been engaging in,” said Cameron, who specializes in free speech issues.  Given that reality, it is “difficult to fault” the station for granting the church an interview “in order to protect the dignity and privacy of the girl’s funeral,” she said.

Cameron’s colleague, Professor Alan Young, agrees. “I’ve always been a big fan of letting the lunatics get access to the airwaves, in limited measure,” said Young.

Do good stories lead to good lives?

The power of narrative isn’t always a positive, wrote the American Psychology Association’s Monitor in its January 2011 issue, in a story about narrative and psychology that cited research by Ian McGregor, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, and John Holmes, psychology professor at the University of Waterloo.

Do good stories really lead to good lives? Longitudinal studies suggest they do, says Holmes. A case in point: McGregor and Holmes found that if you provide students with an ambiguous story about a breakup and then ask them to tell a slanted version that places the blame on just one of the parties, the students begin to believe their own stories (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 76, No. 3). Two weeks later, even after re-reading the ambiguous story script, the students still said the person they previously championed was relatively innocent. Forty weeks after the initial study, the participants had forgotten almost all the details of the vignette, but they still knew whom to blame.

Rental textbooks take off at York

Earlier this month, York University implemented a textbook rental service allowing students to rent textbooks for a period of up to 125 days — saving up to 75 per cent off the retail price, wrote the University of Western Ontario student newspaper, The Gazette Jan. 14.

“Student textbooks have increased in price by twice the rate of inflation for about two decades now – it just isn’t affordable,” said Steven Glassman, York University Bookstore director. “So far there have been a few hundred customers,” Glassman explained. “To get this service underway involved a combination of my initiative and the co-operation of several campus stores.”

The York Bookstore aims to have as many used books as possible, including e-books. To increase the amount of books available for students to rent, York is trying to exchange used books with other stores.

Glassman commented that since the program is in its early stages, only one book has been returned and there have yet to be any problems. He also said he has received little feedback from students at this point. “It doesn’t matter,” Glassman said of the quiet reception. “It would be nice to have feedback, but we wanted to do what is best for the students regardless.”

Health officials’ involvement in drug studies can be problematic

A health policy expert says when public health officials get involved in commercial activities it can create the appearance of a conflict of interest, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 14 in a story about the use of a provincial logo by the makers of cold remedy Cold-FX in advertising that was later withdrawn.

Prof. Joel Lexchin of York University’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, says such situations can pit commercial considerations against public health goals. Are the health officials representing the public through the government, or private enterprise? Whose values are being put first?

“There is significant literature that indicates that when drug companies fund clinical trials, the trials are much more likely to be positive than when anyone else funds these trials,” Lexchin said from Toronto. “This makes the involvement of a public health official even more dubious, as the participation of this person can be seen as giving the results of the trial more legitimacy than the results may deserve.”

Fine arts grad follows Acconci’s footsteps

In Following Following Piece, an exhibition continuing until March 6 at Blackwood Gallery at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, York Fine Arts grad Thérèse Mastroiacovo (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘94) has exhaustively researched every instance in which images of performance/conceptual artist Vito Acconci’s work Following Piece have appeared in print, wrote The Mississauga News Jan. 13 in a review. She then meticulously draws the entire page including images, texts and page numbers.

York prof’s warning still holds true, says reader

"Success is not measured by the height of new office buildings and surges of almost 500 per cent population in less than 20 years”, wrote Howard Doughty in a letter to RichmondHill.com Jan. 13, taking issue with editorials supporting local land development. "Moreover, despite the self-congratulations by politicians, the Oak Ridges moraine is no more protected now than it was in 1990, when [the late] York University Professor John Livingston described its development as an ‘urban-industrial holocaust’."

SIU clears officers in fatal takedown of 18-year-old

The Ontario Special Investigations Unit has cleared all officers involved in the takedown of Junior Manon that turned fatal last May, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 13, in a story about the death of the 18-year-old after he ran onto York’s Keele campus to escape arrest.

The 18-year-old’s death spawned outrage as some, including his parents Louisa and Alejandro, alleged that his death was a result of police brutality.

The SIU said Manon continued to struggle, forcing the officers to physically put their weight on his upper body. By the time nine other officers arrived on scene, Manon became limp.

EMS officials discovered the man at 6:50pm without vital signs. He was transported to Humber River Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A post-mortem examination determined that “positional asphyxia” was the cause of death.

On air

  • Rob Tiffin, York vice-president students, spoke about how to deal with students who have mental issues, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Jan. 14.