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McGill Reporter
February 24, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 11
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Of course: Dissecting disasters

ILLUSTRATION: TZIGANE

Why do people insist on living in San Francisco, at river's edge or high in the Alps when they know the risk, respectively, of earthquakes, flooding and avalanches? That's just one of the questions being examined in geography instructor Geraldine Akman's new course, "Natural Hazards and Human Disasters."

In the description of her course, Akman maintains "adequate knowledge of the interactions in large-scale physical systems" cannot be equated with wise choices for human habitation.

"Indeed," she writes, "students will discover that in the study of hazards and disasters, much can be learned about the way economic development and environmental management affect the life-chances of individuals."

In this Wednesday class, for instance, the students are suggesting reasons why people insist on living in dangerous locations. In the old days, for instance, people would live in intermontain areas for reasons of defence, fertile land, proximity to water, etc.

Today, they suggest, people make their choices for aesthetic reasons and some may believe they're protected from, for instance, earthquakes by technology such as Early Warning Systems. Furthermore, the job or leisure possibilities — in the case of such places as the Alps — may outweigh the risk.

"It's not necessarily the case that earthquakes and volcanoes are more frequent but that people are living in more and more endangered areas," says Akman of deadly natural disasters.

Coming from geography, environmental studies, developing area studies, architecture, management and elsewhere, the 33 students in the course are each working on their analysis of an actual disaster, including giving a report of the losses. Some are easy to calculate, such as loss of life, housing and infrastructure, Akman tells the class. "But how do you measure helplessness, loss of identity, soil erosion?"

Cassidy Johnson, an MA student in architecture, is studying the Izmit (Turkey) earthquake of last August that left 200,000 homeless. "This was an area of rapid urbanization where badly constructed apartment buildings collapsed," says Cassidy, whose architecture thesis will be related to post-disaster reconstruction.

Images of China

STILL: NFB

Want to see an Academy Award nominee up close?

Then turn up next Wednesday for a free screening of two movies by Montreal-based filmmaker Shui-Bo Wang, who earned his Oscar nomination in 1998 with Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square.

Wang will attend the screenings and answer questions about his works.

Nominated for best documentary (short subject), Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square uses a blend of original artwork, archival and family photographs and animation to chronicle Wang's experiences as a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution and his stint in the military as a propaganda poster artist.

"It is difficult not to marvel at [Shui-Bo's] artistry and adroit use of minimalism," enthused The Globe and Mail about the National Film Board production.

Wang's film Swing in Beijing, a documentary about the contemporary arts scene in Beijing, will also be shown.

Born in 1960 in China, Wang studied and taught at the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts before immigrating to Canada in 1989. He worked as an assistant to Frederic Back on his celebrated animated short "The Mighty River" before making his own movies.

Refreshments will be served during an intermission. The screening starts at 4 pm and ends at 7 pm in room W 215 of the Arts Building.

The event is presented by the McGill Art History Graduate Students' Association in collaboration with the Departments of Art History and East Asian Studies, and the Post-Graduate Students' Society.

For more information, please call Alice Jim, at 849-6055, or e-mail ajim1@po-box.mcgill.ca.

Women in business

According to a recent study, almost half of Canada's major corporations have no women at all in senior positions and in Quebec, only 12.3 per cent of the top corporate jobs in the province's largest companies and crown corporations are held by women.

Three women who managed to smash their way through the glass ceiling and reach top positions will take part in a panel discussion entitled "Women & Business" on March 7 at 6:30 pm in the McGill Faculty Club Ballroom.

Vera Danyluk, chair of the executive committee of the Montreal Urban Community, Marie Giguère, senior vice-president, chief legal officer and secretary of Molson Inc., and Louise Roy, president and chief executive officer of Telemedia Communications Inc., will share their experiences as scarf-wearing decision makers in a world of striped ties.

The discussion, moderated by human resources development consultant Morna Flood Consedine, is part of a discussion series marking the opening of Royal Victoria College in 1899-1900 and is co-sponsored by the Bank of Nova Scotia and Scotia Cassels Investment Counsel Limited.

Gay positive

PHOTO: GIGI KAESER

The School of Social Work's Project Interaction aims to make the city's social services network — and the school itself — a friendlier place to turn to for Montreal's gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

The project is the brainchild of a group of social work students who wanted to create more fieldwork opportunities for themselves in areas that deal with gay or lesbian issues. There has been a dearth of such opportunities since the school's family clinic closed shop a few years ago.

But as the students did more research on the matter, and as they gained allies in social work professors Shari Brotman and Bill Ryan, the scope of the project became larger.

"We're interested in improving the design and delivery of services to gay people," says student Emily Harris McLeod.

Brotman says Project Interaction isn't interested in "duplicating services that already exist," but instead is looking for areas that could use a bit of strengthening.

For instance, a counselling service for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their family members is in the planning stages. "There is a real lack of affordable counselling in this area, especially in the anglophone community," says Brotman. The school already offers counselling related to family violence and bereavement.

Project Interaction is involved in a gay and lesbian health care task force for Montreal that includes family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. The goal is to determine how well the needs of gays and lesbians are being met.

A new course dealing with gay and lesbian themes in social work is being put together, as is a series of lunch get-togethers for social work researchers interested in gay and lesbian subjects. Students are assessing the needs of the city's gays and lesbians around a range of issues such as violence, living with HIV and parenting. Project Interaction recently hosted a photo exhibition, "Love Makes a Family," that featured images of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people and their families.

Brotman says the plan isn't just for Project Interaction to reach out to gays, lesbians and bisexuals, but also to invite members of those communities to come to McGill to share their views on such topics as aging and how social workers assess families.

The write stuff

So you want to be a writer. You know how to turn a phrase and you want to use that skill to turn a buck. Hélèna Katz wishes you well, but she has words of warning for you.

"I think a lot of people believe that making a living as a writer is as easy as picking up a pen. There's a whole lot more to it than that," says Katz, a freelance writer who has contributed to Chatelaine, Maclean's, CBC Radio and The Gazette.

"There is the writing and researching side, but there's also the selling side. Most people don't tend to think about the selling side."

Katz will be giving a workshop entitled "Words for sale: the nuts and bolts of freelance writing" on March 1.

Scribbling smart-sounding sentences is only part of the equation, says Katz. Freelancers must also be able to market themselves and their story ideas to a wide range of editors in charge of publications with very different interests.

"You can't just think of yourself as a writer. You have to think of yourself as the owner of a small business if you want to succeed.

"One of the ways [freelancers] can make a decent living is by reworking a piece and selling it to a different market," says Katz. "The research for a story is the most labour-intensive part of the process. Once that's done, rewriting a story for another publication isn't that difficult." Katz says she was able to make four sales with a recent story about McGill graduate Twinkle Rudberg's work with troubled and violent youth: to the American News Service, Canadian Living, Today's Parent and McGill News.

"I think it's a good time to be a freelancer," says Katz. "When I started in 1993, the market was pretty bad, but I still managed to make a living. There is definitely more work floating around right now.

"But you're not going to make loads of money as a writer. If that's what you're after, I'd suggest you take up plumbing instead."

Katz's workshop will take place at 3600 McTavish in room 5001 between 3:30 pm and 6:30 pm. It is sponsored by the Career and Placement Service. The cost is $15. For more information, contact michelinep@stuserv.lan.mcgill.ca.

On the move

Mr. Marvin Corber is the new deputy chair of the Board of Governors. Corber will chair meetings of the board and its executive committee if the board's chair is unavailable. He also has an ex officio seat on Senate. A member of the McGill Fund Council and the University's investment committee, Corber is a managing partner of Richter, Usher and Vineberg, Chartered Accountants. He has long been active in community service, serving as a member of the board of directors for the Douglas Hospital and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. As a fundraiser, Corber has played key roles for the Université de Montréal, Sun Youth and Centraide.

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