Friday 30 March 2012

Rebutting (sorry!) Edward Shorter's piece (sorry again!!) on gender roles and "Fifty Shades of Grey"

[We interrupt the regularly scheduled, shameless, and utterly unrelenting promotion of the blog author's book, The Meaning Of Children, for something completely different...and altogether serious, so far as it is possible for her to be serious, of course.]

Okay, I know I must have better things to do--and probably, so do you!!--but I must tell you I practically blew a gasket over today's Glob & Pail article by Edward Shorter, "Who's on top? You'd be surprised."

Edward Shorter (give him enough rope &...)
He starts off ostensibly considering the massive interest of women in the E.L. James’s novel of sadomasochism, Fifty Shades of Grey, "about how much women like subordinating themselves to men in bed...Who knew women had such a longing to be bottoms," he writes.

To quote Rose Castorini, Olympia Dukakis' character in Moonstruck, Dr. Shorter, "what you don't know about women is a lot."

Of course, the article has little to do with the novel; the novel is just a jumping off point for a man who comes across as one of those artful mixers of pop cult & "research," someone impressed with the sound of his own voice. Shorter is, apparement, a professor of the history of medicine and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Among his books is Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire, which is probably the real reason he wrote this article.

A writer myself--a feminist one to boot--I recognize a promotional opportunity when I see one. And I recognize an ahistorical diatribe when it's thrust down my throat, too.

Still, one hardly expects to read sexploitation like this on the oped page of The Globe, Canada's newspaper of record, so cadaverously thin this week I fear the end must be nigh. 

Lest I be taken (dear me, one can hardly stop oneself) for one of those Real Women types, it isn't a discussion of sex or sadomasochism that has me objecting to Shorter's piece (oops). It's the way this man twists the history of feminism--probably the history of anything to do with women--that I take issue with, that offends and infuriates.
If you’ll remember, the feminist message in the ’70s was about sex and power. Sex wasn’t really supposed to be fun and joyous. It was an exercise in power relations between men and women. So the idea of bottoming* for some guy was about as appealing as gouging out an eyeball.
Feminists didn't want people to enjoy penetrative sex, is THAT what you've gleaned from your decades of probing the female psyche, Dr. Shorter**??

As a woman who came of age in the '70s, I'm distressed to say Shorter gravely misconstrues what he calls "the feminist relationship" between sex and power: it was RAPE, feminists vehemently argued, that was about power rather than sex.

What kind of sexual historian thinks of feminists as the ultimate sexual buzz kill?

Shorter sounds like the worst sort of misogynist (as if there's a good sort!!).

It is a...words fail me, but, forgive me, perversion is the only one that fits here--to posit that the feminist ideal of sex is that it be joyless.

I know there were feminists who equated heterosex with rape--there probably still are, but they aren't mainstream now, and they probably weren't then, either, though I'm sure they grabbed a lot of air time.

What Shorter posits about feminism in this article is nothing short of hateful. I suppose there's an outside chance he's trying to be funny...but hateful it is, all the same.

And when he goes on to say turns out that all these independent, high-powered women out there long for this erotic frisson of briefly, and revocably if need be, surrendering control over their own bodies. This really represents the definitive burial of ’70s-style feminism.

And that
For me, as a historian, what’s so interesting is that it’s new. These are not age-old themes in the history of sexuality but recent increments to the sensuality palette. For centuries, sex was about the man-on-top missionary position and rutting in the gloom of the cottage on the straw mattress. It was behaviour that was biologically driven but not necessarily sensual.
all I can say is that I hope he IS joking...he must be joking, though for this hetero feminist, the joke is neither joyful nor fun.

Because the idea that a professor of the history of medicine and the history of psychiatry at the University of Toronto could get up on his hind legs in public and make such hateful, ignorant, and surely--SURELY!!--ahistorical remarks about women, sex, the history of feminism, the history of heterosexuality, and how wonderful it is that we are all 
expanding the sensuality palette dramatically...[coming] home from work, kick[ing] off [our] boots ...and...experimenting with fetish/S&M


I was relieved to discover Shorter has a PhD in history and isn't--thank anything that might still be considered holy in this heartbreaking age of ours--an actual, hands-on-patients psychiatrist...

According to an online biography I found that he probably wrote himself, Shorter "has worked for many years on the history of the family (!) and the history of emotionality (!!) and although he has written widely about medicine’s past, he has remained interested in the ever-evolving social history of sexuality(!!!)"

Pity the poor medical students and residents, suffering through this man's presentations on the "history of the family," "history of emotionality" and the "ever-evolving social history of sexuality." (Like anything isn't "ever-evolving." Has evolution stopped??)

Has no one ever complained about this man? How few goddamn women do they have in the history of medicine and the history of psychiatry at the U of  T, anyway? Surely hundreds have been exposed to this drivel from a man whose ideas about feminism remind me of Philippe Rushton's thoughts on race and intellect.

All I can say is good luck, Dr. Shorter, on your trips to the bank.

You mountebank.

You perverter of scholarship and of history.

And good luck, Globe and Mail...I have read you for a decade and enjoyed it immensely, but you must surely be circling the drain to have included, under some mistaken attempt at being--I dunno, hip, is it?--such an article on the oped page.

God, I miss Edward Greenspon.


*Note to self: pls. research whether heterosexuals generally refer to 'tops' and 'bottoms' or if this is BDSM lexicon?

**An aside: Montreal has a famous ornithologist name of Bird, and there are many whose choice of career appears somehow influenced by their name. Without wishing to attack ad hominem, Shorter, by the way, is an absolute laugher of a monicker that might provide some sort of unconscious explanation for the work he has plunged into, as it were, lo these many least it would in a novel.

Sat., March 31st, ~5:30 pm: Publish or perish?

Bev Akerman justifies her Kindle give-aways...

Does she or doesn't she know what she's doing?

~5:30 PM on CBC Radio One's Cinq à Six

88.5 FM on the Montreal dial.


Live streamed & archived at 

In which your hero attempts to explain 

to the charming, talented Jeanette Kelly 

WHY on earth
she GAVE away 120+ copies of 

the Kindle version of the spectacularly reviewed

The Meaning Of Children 

last Saturday, March 24th,

not to mention why she will do it again!

Jeanette Kelly, host of Cinq a Six

Does she really know what she's doing? Who knows...

One writer, desperate to regain control of her brilliant career, trying to thrive without totally losing it...her shirt, her joie de vivre, etcetera!

Give a listen, I hope it doesn't sound too totally weird. But weird can still be artistic, excellent, AND fun, can it not? Witness the career of Steve Buscemi...

Steve Buscemi

 (There was a teaser this morning, which I did NOT hear...but some of my friends did!)

Updates here...
Goodreads profile.

And a new essay on how she came to write The Meaning Of Children.

Anonymous gay sex, abortion, and GUNS for teenagers...another fine day on Facebook!

Yesterday was a really interesting day, in real life and on my Facebook page...

You can find me here, but I already have 5,000 followers (actually, I'm often over their limit. SHH!). 

But I'd love to "meet" you: please subscribe to my posts and/or follow my book page:

But I--as I am so often wont to do that my friend Sandy Dubya (also on FB--SHH!) sometimes accuses me of having ADD. Oops: so distracted by the subordinate clause (or whatever), I forgot to add "digress."

Started off the day by accompanying hubby at 6:30 am (okay, 6:40, but who's keeping track?!) to the Concordia University PERFORM Centre, their absolutely gorgeous new athletic centre! I was sorely tempted to skim Facebook while I was on the eliptical...but to tell you the truth, it's damn hard to type while moving on those machines (I suppose they should look into, not really!)

Here are a couple of photos of the place, courtesy the University (actually, I just lifted them, but I don't think they'll mind!):

I'm not sure this inside view does it justice...let's just say it reminded me of Montreal's new concert hall...something about the blond Formica. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But it was 6:40 am--I can be forgiven for making strangish associations.

Then it was on to a couple of hours of mundane daily tasks until it was time for the day's notable event: an interview with Jeanette Kelly for CBC Radio's Cinq a six show.

Should air Saturday between, you guessed it, 5 and 6 pm. We talked about my ebook experiment, and I revealed how many copies I gave away in 24 hours last Saturday...bypass the middle man, I say. For

They are some of my most fun--sorry, funnest--posts today:

"Very grateful to the CBC Cinq a Six people for having me in's a photo of my CBC Prize Pack, with some careful product placement, bookwise. First person to name all books & authors pictured gets my Mike Finnerty pinup magnet (must say, Mr. F is looking pretty buff in this photo...)"

Here's a better shot of Mr. F, slightly fuzzy, but what can you do (maybe he was unclear on some concept or other when the photo was being taken):
In any event, all are cordially invited to listen to my conversation with Jeanette Kelly, tomorrow (SATURDAY) on Cinq a six! (show is 5 to 6 pm), 88.5 FM or live streamed at 
Sign up on Facebook--I'd love to know you'll be listening! Here's hoping I sound half-way intelligible...

(Here's the link, in case you'd like to forward it to someone:
The event blurb: 
"Listen up, starving authors. The revolution, she is HERE!" In which I (try to) explain to Jeanette Kelly why I GAVE away 120 copies of the Kindle version of The Meaning Of Children last Saturday, March 24th (and will do it again!).
One writer, desperate to control of brilliant career, lol, while living to enjoy the process!

Give a listen, I hope it doesn't sound too totally weird. (But weird can still be fun, can it not? Witness the career of Steve Buscemi...)"

The guns for teenagers advice comes from Canada's answer to Charlton Heston, Gary Breitkreuz, Member of Parliament from Outer Boondocks, Saskatchewan (with apologies to his constituents, I know that's not where YOU live...but I think it's where HE lives. Metaphorically speaking. Or maybe more like outer terms of understanding gun crime in Canada). 

A pithy quote from my piece: 

"Though our Prime Minister may refuse to face it, rifles and shotguns are the firearms used most often to threaten women and children, and the weapons of choice in the murder of police officers."

Okay, so that's guns, the CBC...I am running out of steam here.

Gay sex: my interest was piqued by a Salon piece (sorry!) praising roadside rest stop sex...

Don't forget, possums,  


Ta ta for now...

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Whoops, I did it again...The Meaning Of Children 50% off March 28th

After the phenomenal success last week, giving away the Kindle version of my award winning book, "The Meaning of Children" completely gratis, I've decided to put it on sale for the next few days at 50 per cent off: that's $4.99 (because who can afford to give their work away forever??)

As always, you are welcome to try a free sample or two...

*try a piece a mah "Pie"

*or read the first story of the collection, "Tumbalalaika," originally published in The Antigonish Review, where it won second prize in the 2008 Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest (links to more free stories to the right of this post).

I'm still very proud of the book. And so is my mother, lol! 

Mom & her famous grandkid charm necklace

And let's not forget my Dad, who is also kvelling.

Dad & me!

But don't take our word for the incredible feedback I've received from dozens of readers, reviewers, and other writers, the latest of whom is  

CBC Radio's David Gutnick: "Really liked it...there are all kinds of gems in your stories."

(which makes me think of Sally Field, accepting that Academy Award for Norma Rae, way back in 1980. Before my time, of course ;)

Sally Field, 1980: "You like me!"

Saturday 24 March 2012

March 24th: The Meaning Of Children #10 in the Kindle Store's Top 100 FREE "Best Sellers in Family Relationship"

So how goes the experiment?

Well, as of about 12 hours in, The Meaning Of Children rocketed to #10 in the Kindle Store's Top 100 FREE "Best Sellers in Family Relationship." 

Sounds great to me! And thanks so much... :)

One thing I have discovered is that the book is downloadable around the world--reports from Montreal, Winnipeg, London (UK), that's nice, too.

You can get it here...let me know what you think!

The Meaning Of Children: March 24th FREE on Kindle WORLDWIDE!

Well, dear friends IRL and in cyberspace (does anybody use that word anymore? It looks so 2001 doesn't it?), 

I am thrilled to let you know that the SYSTEM WORKS!

And TODAY is the day  

Available to all you lovely souls with a Kindle...

OR a Kindle app, apparently!!

(Always an opportunity to learn something new...)

Already downloaded in Canada, the USA, and the UK!! (and it's not even 10 AM!!)


Which means, Canada, The Meaning Of Children is available FREE to you, too! 

"Well, only if Laureen wants to read it!")


Q: If you're giving your book away
does that mean it's worthless? 

A: More like priceless, I'd say. 

But don't simply take MY WORD for it!!

READ the AMAZING things 

the critics have said about 

The Meaning Of Children:

This isn’t the invented childhood of imagination and wonderment…[here] children both corrupt and redeem: each other, family relationships and the female body.
Akerman holds up our greatest fears, not to dwell on them, but to marvel at our commitment to life, especially to passing it on to others.
~Anne Chudobiak, The Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, and Regina Leader Post 

Loved your book; read it in one sitting…each [story] is told either by a child, or it’s about a child. And it’s interesting because I think depending on the age of the person reading it, you relate to different ones. But especially to feminists, growing up with it, wrestling with our beliefs, and whether it worked out or not… a lot of women that you see in this book are trapped. We were trapped by what we were brought up to believe. And then we’re trapped by the marriages we find ourselves in, and the children we have… But on the other hand, each story ends with a certain resolve. There’s that sense of okay this is my situation But. And that’s what the meaning of children is. And yet, it’s about hope. It’s about the future…
~Mutsumi Takahashi, Anchor, CTV News Montreal; Interview

A collection of 14 short stories which covers the range of experience from the point of view of children, mums, and also aging parents as well. It’s all there in this lovely little book, short stories about life in a family that might just resemble yours. A wonderful gift for mother’s day, perhaps more long lived than the usual cut flowers.
~Anne Lagacé Dowson, CJAD Radio journalist; Interview 

Akerman engages with dichotomies. Childhood is that safe, magical, carefree time and place — but it’s also risky, threatening, ominous and dangerous — full of impenetrable mystery around things seen and experienced, but beyond understanding. And if it’s not too much of a simplification or stating the obvious, life and the world are not gentle on children simply for being children…If, as Dostoevsky once remarked, and as is quoted on the collection’s frontispiece, “The soul is healed by being with children,” it is the tragedy of adulthood that we become so isolated from childhood — and what children offer us. Artfully, evocatively, Beverly Akerman’s The Meaning of Children reminds us of that.
Beverly’s background as a scientist, MSc and twenty years as a molecular researcher, inevitably spills into the stories…characters, the settings and her style. Intelligent, objective, open-minded but not clinical, her prose is refreshing and unprejudiced. Her characters are frank and genuine...With The Meaning of Children, we get a beautifully written exposé on the meaning of life.
Your book is filled with insight and wisdom and gorgeous moving stories...You are dazzling. (I had read “Pie” long ago. It is just as moving the second time).
~Hal Ackerman (no relation), UCLA Screenwriting Area Co-Chair and author of Stein Stoned and Stein Stung

Counter-intuitive to the title, for me these stories resonate with the sad truth of being a grownup. Life is that damn hard and just-under-the-surface tension saturates our existence. But the kids, they know what's going on. They may not understand all the details but they know the score. Akerman nails that sorrow, highlights it with unexpected humour, credits our resilience and almost never skips a beat. 
~Chris Benjamin, Author of Drive-by Saviours, on Goodreads 

And there are many, MANY more! 
I'd love it if YOU, TOO, would comment on the book at!

REVIEW it and LIKE it HERE or on Facebook!!

And celebrate with a slice a mah "Pie" 


a laugh--at Brian Mulroney's expense--

with my story, 

"The Hardboiled Stress of Being Santa" (NOT in TMOC!

comments on the story welcome here).

And celebrate with a slice of my award winning



a laugh on Brian Mulroney with 

"The Hardboiled Stress of Being Santa" at

Thursday 22 March 2012

Munro savvy, Picoult heart: The Meaning Of Children FREE on Kindle March 24th

(The Meaning Of Children now available on Kindle!)

Well, dear friends, the moral of this story is once a scientist, always a scientist!

I've made a big deal about how I left a 20+ year long career in molecular genetics research for the big time career of the obscure short story writer (please see, for example, interviews here and here), so I guess you might understand why I've decided to conduct an experiment with my career.

People in the writing groups I'm a part of, including, for example, the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the Quebec Writers' Federation, the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick, The Writers Union of Canada, etc., spend a lot of time wondering (or is that worrying?) about copyright, being paid for online rights versus print rights, etc. In fact, PWAC just had a panel discussion on which was a variation on a similar theme. Here are a couple of paragraphs of Olivia Kona's (VP PWAC Quebec & Chapter Ambassador) wonderful report on the discussion:

As for writers, Myles suggested two possible options: 1. Give your writing away for free or 2. Price it exceedingly high and find the right customers for it. Those who really want it will be willing to pay for it. Expect very modest success, though, because he doesn’t think that kind of market exists.

Joel saw the flip side to Myles’ theory. By leveraging his blog as an online portfolio, he has found a wealth of job opportunities and feels that writers who blog for free can do the same. To be successful though, writers must embrace new technologies and should consider them “tools of freedom, not handcuffs”. If a journalist  refuses to have a cellphone, for example, she’s refusing to do her job well.

Of course, since I'd like to make my living as a writer, I don't, in principle, want to give my work away...but if it's for a higher purpose, if by giving it away I can generate more interest in my work and, ultimately, a paying readership, I can accept it would be useful to give my work (in a limited way) to those who would appreciate it.

I've heard Mitch Joel riff on Seth Godin. For people like them, giving their writing (or ideas) away really works because that's not their main...product is a loaded word, but there it is. They make their money by having people hire them because they've convinced us all they're just so brilliant, that they  know how to make your product/brand/whatever go viral.

Well, this month's incredible Kony 2012 video convinced me that I've got to think outside the box. After all, if no one reads my book, I'm not earning any money from it, either.

In my case, my writing IS my product. I'm not trying to sell you advertizing or any of my other brilliant expertise (though maybe I should just shave my head and do that, try to be as ballsy as these guys. Though I am, of course, missing some of the basic equipment).

However, I digress...

The point of this post is to invite to you to download the Kindle version of my award-winning book of short stories, The Meaning Of Children, absolutely FREE!

That's right: FREE! No money down, no 20 installments at $19.95 plus shipping and handling, etc.

There is no catch...okay, maybe there IS a catch. Three, in fact.

1.  You must be in the USA (NOPE--works worldwide!)

2.  You must have a Kindle (Or Kindle app)

3.  The Meaning Of Children ebook will be available FREE only on March 24th. 

That's in two--count them, one, two--days!

If you download it and like it, I would be very grateful if you'd post a comment to the effect--even a mini- or maxi-review--on the page for the ebook.

But wait, there's more!!

No, I'm not trying to sell you Ginsu knives or something that beats as it sweeps as it chops. I'd just like to offer you a free sample of the book, my short story "Pie." Perfect for anyone who's been a mother, loved a mother, had a mother.

And did I mention that Mother's Day is coming up--May 13th!!--and that The Meaning Of Children has been called an 

"antidote to the commercialized side of Mother's Day."

Listen to all the other wonderful things radio personality Anne Lagacé Dowson had to say about the book here:

So that's it. I'm trying an experiment with my book. If it works, lots of people will read it (or, at least, download it). And I know it's a great book, so I know it'll generate tons of positive feedback among American readers.

I've already received a lot of that from my Canadian readers (I thank you very kindly for that, by the way).

And here's some of it:

From the CBC-Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers’ Choice Contest:

Johanna from Kelowna: "As a social worker in child protection I really appreciated the focus and the insights into the lives of children demonstrated in the work The Meaning of Children by Beverly Akerman. Our children are our future and deserve more attention, love and nurturing. Beverly's book is a method to that purpose; she touched my heart to its core."

Kathe from Montreal: "I have been savouring the stories one by one. I don't want this book to end. She writes so simply but powerfully, and her characters stay with you."

B Maurene from Montreal: "If the reality of Akerman's skilful weaving of tales that can be all too true of the way parents, families, and cultures place their hopes and dreams on children hits home to contemporary child bearers, she could be building a better world. Few who embark on the journey of parenting ever realize how great the responsibilities are or how to meet the individual needs of children, particularly those with difficulties. A should read for college and university students, and a must read, among the hundreds of pregnancy and child rearing how-to manuals, for parents attending pre-natal classes."

Marla of Thunder Bay: "Beverly Akerman is an extraordinary writer and I believe she deserves it."

Suzan of Ottawa: "It was an absolute joy to read. I laughed out loud at some stories and wept shamelessly at others, all the while savouring every skilfully handpicked word. One cannot read The Meaning of Children and not be moved in some way by the stories therein. It is a beautiful quilt, made of exquisitely crafted pieces which when taken as a whole is so much more than a sum of its parts."

Eva from Maple Ridge: "The Meaning of Children should win because it is important for the reader to view situation from the child's perspective."

Lynn from Belle River: "Beverly Akerman would be a good candidate. Enlightening and refreshing."

 Paula from Cornwall: "In her book The Meaning of Children, Beverly Akerman gives us a snap shot of the reality of childhood in diverse family situations. As and educator, I understand too clearly that the reality that childhood is not always a "Norman Rockwell" moment, but rather is a reflection of the very complex perception of an individual child, whether pleasant or challenging, the question remains, is the individual child free to be themselves or are they encouraged to put on a mask to face their personal circumstances?"

Rusti of Stony Plain: "This collection of short stories was stunning, captivating, wrenching and hopeful. I wanted more when I finished the book."

Ken from Saskatoon: "The author's insight into the minds of children and the lives touched by those around them allow the reader to truly appreciate how impressionable these young minds are, and how the events in our lives can effect how children perceive, and register them. It also reminds me of how important my son is to me, as when I face conflict or stress in my life, all of the problems dissapear intantly when I see him smile at me."

Kayla from Timmins: "This author should make it to this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize because she writes books on life's reality which is a subject that may teach kids like adults about some of life's matters."

Rocio from Mississauga: "I think Beverly Akerman, with The Meaning of Children, should be considered, because throughout her book she shows how children can change our world, with their hearts, dreams and tenderness. They do not even know how much this world changes for the best just because they are part of it, and that is really touching and marvellous."

Pauline from Montreal: "Beverly Akerman's The Meaning of Children takes an eyes-wide-open look at real families. No sentimentality here yet there's a ring of truth to the often quirky situations people find themselves in that made me smile with recognition. A wry smile at times, but Akerman writes pitch-perfect prose. This is Canadian story-telling at its best."

Felicia from Boisseavain: "The book touches on a lot of the biggest parental 'what ifs.' Kidnapping. Hate crime. Death by drowning. Suicide. Even so, it would make a good gift for a new mother. Akerman holds up our greatest fears, not to dwell on them, but to marvel at our commitment to life, especially to passing it on to others. Says one character, looking back, 'Life had been perfect ' but I'd been too busy to notice."

Valerie from Toronto: "As an early childhood educator I feel it really conveys the voices of children and parents in our society."

Frances from Port Coquitlam: "An in depth look at the inner turmoil of a child’s life and/or those who care for them and how life experiences can have such an impact on our stories and journeys through life. An interesting study on this subject."

Kimberly from Shawnigan Lake: "I believe Beverly Akerman's, The Meaning of Children has amazing insight with its many stories. I loved them all. Life is what happens in the meantime. Great read and would highly recommend."

Mona from ND Ile Perrot: "I'd like to suggest Beverly Akerman. Her book, The Meaning of Children is written with a refreshing sincerity. Loved it!"

Carrie from Spruce Grove: "I think that it takes a special kind of skill to coordinate short stories into a piece that is well written and thought provoking- without losing one's initial objectives."

Crystal from Nanaimo: "The Meaning of Children is my submission as it is told through the voices of children. What can be better than to hear 14 different stories of growing up and dealing with important issues? Each child tells their stories so vividly and honestly, you feel sorry for them, as if you know them. This book is extremely well written and gripping."

Catherine from Whitby: "Well written, captivating perspectives on life's stages."

Rajini from Canada: "I think that Beverly Akerman should make the long list. Akerman's The Meaning of Children is a dark, thought-provoking read that is certainly worthy of the 2011 Giller Prize."


If you'd like to read feedback from reviewers and others, please see this blog post. 

So stay tuned...let's get this experiment started! 


Monday 19 March 2012

RESPs: a great way to save for higher education

Working with undergraduates years ago, Murray Baker was struck by how many of the students were force to juggle part time jobs with their course work. “They were terribly concerned about the level of debt they would have at graduation,” he says. Financial advice books addressed baby boomers, investments, and RRSPs, but “there was nothing specifically for students.” The result is Mr. Baker’s bestselling The Debt-Free Graduate, now in its 7th printing.

Mr. Baker’s number one recommendation for students and their families: it’s never too early to start a Registered Education Savings Plan. “There are even ‘airmiles-type’ plans that can be set up prior to the child’s birth,” he notes. And if your child is only five or six years away from finishing high school? “Better late than never,” he advises.

The RESP allows the earnings on deposits to accumulate on a tax-deferred basis. As the student withdraws funds from the plan, the earnings are considered the student’s income “and taxed at a much lower rate, because students generally aren’t earning all that much,” Mr. Baker says. The federal government kicks in an additional 20 per cent of the first $2,500 in annual RESP contributions in the form of the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG); for lower income families, this benefit jumps to 40 per cent for the first $500.

Recent enhancements to the RESP and associated programs include:

  • raising the maximum amount Ottawa will pay into an RESP annually through the CESG from $400 to $500
  • Eliminating the $4,000 annual contribution limit
  • raising the lifetime limit to $50,000 from  $42,000
  • allowing students taking part-time studies to draw from their RESPs.

“The plan’s a lot more flexible now. For example, if your child ends up not using the RESP, you can contribute the principle and part of the interest to your RRSP,” Mr. Baker says. But plans vary: look carefully at their associated administrative fees and the risk level of the investments.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

McGillLeaks: No more "Dear Old McGill"

Hail, Alma Mater, we sing to thy praise;
Loud in thy Honour, our voices we raise.
Full to thy fortune, our glasses we fill.
Life and Prosperity, Dear Old McGill.
~McGill University Song Book

It started at McGill on March 3rd, 2012. A site reminiscent of Wikileaks went up, called, unoriginally, McGillLeaks. And it sounded pretty ominous for the university.

We are McGillLeaks. From sources whose anonymity will be protected, we have received hundreds of University documents, many marked confidential or strictly confidential, pertaining to McGill’s corporate fundraising efforts. Over the coming three weeks, beginning today, we will release these documents to the public. The documents contain strategy briefs, lists of individual and corporate targets, donor profiles, travel information, memoranda, and more. We have verified the authenticity of the documents, and their content has not been altered in any way…

The first set of leaks contained confidential documents from McGill’s Development and Alumni Relations department. Files replete with donor information, some of it personal, as well as profiles of donors and potential donors, including hoped for amounts the “prospects” or “suspects” could be induced to unload on "Dear Old McGill."

The site sat, ticking like an old fashioned time bomb until, several days later, it was mentioned in The McGill Daily.

According to The Montreal Gazette, “Prominent alumni were on a list that gave new campaign expectation amounts, with the top candidate being targeted for $25 million and eight others targeted for $10 million, while a host of others were targeted for $1 million and more.”

Reaction was sharp and swift, of the take-no-prisoners variety. The links to the downloads were removed after the university told the server a crime had been committed. “A crime against the university,” according to Olivier Marcil, McGill’s vice-principal of external relations. A little strong, perhaps, but at least he didn’t call it a crime against humanity.

The McGill Daily, after taking legal counsel, was also induced to take down its links to the information. According to The Daily, McGillLeaks also had files on “industrial partnerships – notably a Memorandum of Understanding between McGill and Canadian pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Inc.”

McGill has apologized to its donors and a police investigation is under way.

Clearly, somebody has it in for “Dear Old McGill.”

Though it wasn’t long ago that the university launched Media@McGill, mandated to function as “a hub of research, scholarship and public outreach on issues and controversies in media, technology and culture,” it’ll probably be a cold day in hell before we’ll see this organization, based in McGill’s Department of Art History and Communication Studies, analyzing the significance of the week’s humiliating McGillLeaks event.

Which leaves us to do the dirty.

Let me practice full disclosure here, even though McGillLeaks—while paying lipservice to transparency--did not: I have a BSc and MSc from “Dear Old McGill,” and worked in McGill affiliated research labs for a good two decades.

But I am not a mindless McGill booster—in fact, the meagre donations I’m capable of I send along to McGill’s School of Social Work, on the off chance that they will actually do some true short-term good with it, rather than spending it on some amorphous future payoff of genetic research.

But—as I am unfortunately wont to do—I digress.

So let’s look at what McGillLeaks intended to do, and take a stab at figuring out whether they accomplished their brief.

Their intentions, as stated on their now empty website (, were threefold:

Provide “a clear account of a corporate universitys inner workings, including how the university goes about acquiring capital and expanding its reputation”; supply “accurate information on the universitys relationship with the private sector” and; create “transparency within the university.”


I wasted a good chunk of my life lamenting having missed coming of age during the incredible effervescence the 1960s represented: Woodstock, the Vietnam War, “the whole world’s watching!”, the burning of bras and draft notices, the civil rights movement, “Black is beautiful,” “Vive le Quebec libre,” “maitres chez nous”…arriving at McGill in 1979, it felt like I’d missed all the action.

But nostalgia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Many of Quebec’s current CEGEP and university students, currently voting on striking over increases in tuition fees—guys, a strike means withdrawing services that OTHERS depend on!—are clearly suffering from the identical adolescent need to rattle the cages of their elders (“squares” in ‘60s parlance), not to mention hoping for a little respite from mid-term cramming.

McGillLeaks may have sprung from there, or from one or more of the disgruntled employees we saw during the recent MUNACA strike (and, as a former McGill non-unionized employee who stupidly accrued zero pension benefits despite nearly two decades in molecular genetics research, I salute MUNACA’s having stuck to their guns).

Which brings us to the leaks themselves.

Does anyone really need to know McGill donors’ birthdates? Or that a locally-born billionaire has never given McGill one red…er, martlet, cent? Or the history of a Montreal magnate’s “frequent clashes in business as well as in his personal life”?

The affairs of the rich and infamous are often paraded as “news” for the amusement of the hoi polloi. McGillLeaks at least makes a switch—momentary though it may be--from the discussion of the undies of starlets (or lack thereof), not to mention the state of Angelina Jolie’s forearms.

No doubt, it is grossly embarrassing to the university to have the personal information of major donors—or, even worse, potential big fish—revealed for general consumption. But in the Vikileaks era, does anyone really believe in privacy anymore?

For me, among the most interesting tidbits a brief scan revealed was that noted genetic researcher Lap-Chee Tsui has become Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Hong Kong. I also learned about Hong Kong’s Order of the Bauhinia Star, created to replace the British honours system following the reversion of sovereignty to the People's Republic of China.

But this kind of trivia is also available on Wikipedia.

Creepier are the dossiers about more ordinary people, donors of little-to-nothing, evaluated via “research” as potential big kahunas. The entries include notes about the value of the homes in the areas in which they live. Eww.

What the documents reveal foremost is the tremendous undertaking that is major modern fundraising. But is it a surprise that an enterprise like McGill, which raises hundreds of millions of dollars, would do so in an organized, systematic manner?

Could we expect any less?

Do the people at The McGill Daily or McGillLeaks really think this kind of money is raised over a couple of beers at Gert’s? Would they rather even more of our tax dollars replace the money patiently gleaned from the wealthy and corporations?

Despite some ruffled feathers, McGill will survive, and so will its donors. Hopefully, the adolescent need to humiliate their elders will pass with this generation.

But frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Immigrants share stories of violence

Concordia Oral History project relates 500 stories of human rights violations

We Are Here, the final exhibition of the project Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide, and Other Human Rights Violations, opens March 8, 2012. The project, based at Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, is presented in collaboration with the Centre d’histoire de Montréal, which is hosting the display.

Five years in the making, We Are Here represents an extraordinary university-community research alliance to record the personal stories of 500 Montrealers. According to Steven High, Concordia Canada Research Chair in Public History and the project’s principal investigator, more than 300 academic researchers, community members, students, artists and interns participated in creating the work.

“Many of these project creators are persons displaced by violence, while others are the children of persons displaced by violence,” High says. “Almost all of them live here in Montreal.”

Project team members interviewed their parents and grandparents, as well as members of their own or other communities. Drawings, toys and other significant artifacts were gathered. The recordings were posted online and then used for short films, websites, blogs, theatre pieces and artistic performances, educational programs for students of all levels, conferences, publications, and exhibitions.

“We hope that sharing these life stories will catalyze critical thought and dialogue,” High says. “The stories collected are our stories.”

The Concordia Oral History Research Laboratory combines digital media and oral history to open up new, non-linear ways to access, analyze and communicate life stories. The Concordia Digital History Lab uses new media to share the task of historical research and interpretation with online audiences worldwide, which includes researchers, students, as well as the general public.

For Eve-Lyne Cayouette Ashby, project coordinator and the exhibition’s curator, Montreal Life Stories is more than a research project.  It has been a way “to put a face on history with a capital H,” she says. “To understand that today’s Montreal is inhabited by people of diverse origins, whose roots extend throughout the globe; to understand that each person’s story is that of all of us.”

The mission of the Centre d’histoire de Montréal as a municipal museum is “to transmit a better understanding of Montreal and of its cultural diversity … through its participative approach.” The museum collects stories and objects to convey how the city has been created and defined by its citizens. 

“The exhibition could not find a more appropriate place than our museum and our programs,” says Jean-François Leclerc, director of the Centre d’histoire de Montréal.
“For us, this exhibition is another way of sending these words of welcome to old and new Montrealers: ‘You are part of history!’”

We Are Here runs from March 8 to April 14, 2012, at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal (335 Place D’Youville, near the Square-Victoria metro station) in Old Montreal.

Related links:

•    Concordia University Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling
•    Read more about other related events     
•    Centre d’histoire de Montreal

Originally published on Concordia NOW.