Sharansky defends Israel’s rights record

The Toronto Star and CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” covered a talk Sept. 15 at York University by Israeli cabinet minister and human rights activist Natan Sharansky. The former Soviet political prisoner and dissident was called “the conscience of a generation” by York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, reported the Star Sept. 16. He was in Toronto to address the Jewish student organization Hillel of Greater Toronto on human rights, justice and democracy as part of a week-long tour of North American college campuses. Three plainclothes security officers stood on stage as Sharansky delivered his hour-long talk, which was warmly received, said the Star. Sharansky said peace and security would not be achieved in the Middle East until Arabs become free to exercise their basic human rights. “Commitment to peace comes together with commitment to democracy,” he said. In addition, CBC’s “Here and Now” reported that Sharansky told students the United Nations is becoming anti-Semitic.

Speaking to robots

Computer scientist Hui Jiang, of York University’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, aims to build a spoken dialogue system for robots so human operators can use natural language to instruct machines to perform complex tasks, reported The Calgary Herald Sept. 15. Jiang’s project is being funded by Precarn Inc., a not-for-profit national consortium of corporations, research institutes and government agencies. Precarn is providing more than $400,000 to 14 Canadian researchers in robotics and “intelligent” systems that mimic human actions.

The hidden costs of tax cuts

While tax cuts put more money in the pockets of the rich, other consequences include long waits for health care and everything from crumbling roads to Walkerton’s tainted water, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 13. “Overall, those people who depend upon government services probably have fared less well than those who don’t,” said Bernard Wolf, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. “If you need an MRI and have lots of money, you go to Buffalo. If you don’t have the wherewithal, you wait.”

A study in the art of living well

James Laxer, a professor of political science at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, writes about living at Eglinton and Avenue Road in a “My Toronto” column in the National Post Sept. 13. “For three generations, my family has lived around here, although as a kid I lived at Dupont and Christie, where a zero-tolerance policy would have caused every kid on my block, including me, to be expelled from school. North Toronto, as we still call our area, is for people who are not too cool, and who are unlikely ever to become as rich as they would like. I enjoy the cultural tension that creates. Phooey on the Annex and all those pretentious people down there.”

Love and labour

Patricia Bradshaw, professor of organizational behaviour at York University’s Schulich School of Business, characterized the relationship between boss and subordinate as inherently unequal – a structure that bodes ill for romance, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 13 in a story about office romances. When romance involves a boss and a subordinate, Bradshaw said the ethical thing for both parties to do is to immediately have the structure of whom they report to at work changed. This avoids power inequality, favouritism, jealousy and possible harassment.

Playboy bunnies not as hippy

Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix made mention on Sept. 13 of the much-publicized research on Playboy bunnies by Maryanne Fisher, a PhD candidate in psychology at York University. When Playboy began publishing 50 years ago, bunnies were rounder, according to Fisher’s study. She checked the measurements of centrefolds through Playboy‘s history, available online, to show how the models’ waist to hip ratio, and with it, the ideal of women, has changed.

Getting hired on the outside

Ronald Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at York’s Schulich School of Business, warns that, if treated differently, employees with a criminal record can underperform at work, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 13. Or in the worse-case scenario, they’ll actually engage in criminal behaviour – going back to the behaviour and associates with which they might feel more comfortable. To prevent this, Burke suggested that the employer acknowledge the criminal record. “If you treat the employee differently from others,” he warned, “this can elicit what is considered criminal-like behaviour. For instance, the employee might appear anxious all the time.”

Pan Am bronze is gold for karate ace

York University student Nassim Varasteh has returned home with a bronze medal in women’s karate from the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, reported Metroland papers Aug. 24. The 21-year-old karate enthusiast won her medal in the heavyweight division (over- 58 kg.). The third-year York Faculty of Arts student is the current Canadian women’s karate champion, having won two golds at last March’s national championships in Montreal in the middleweight class (53-60 kg.) and in the team event. Varasteh also placed in the top eight at last November’s world karate championship in Spain, her first appearance at a world championship for her sport.

Mayoral ads rated clumsy, ineffective

Experts in advertising say that, based on what they have seen and heard, Ontario election ads are not terribly effective, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 16. “I give them a failing grade so far. It’s disappointing,” said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “This is a city that’s bigger than all but four provinces of this country. We are looking for somebody to be the chief executive, the chief political executive, and if I listen to all these ads, it is appalling,” he said. “The job is not just to get awareness, but to get awareness in a way that is credible and distinctive.”

On air

  • Rob Bowman, music professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and other guests took a look at the theme songs of the three major parties in the provincial election campaign, in a feature aired on CBC Radio’s “Morning North” in Sudbury, “Ottawa Morning” and “Morningwatch” in Windsor Sept. 15. Bowman called the Tory music “cheesy.”
  • Dr. Joel Lexchin, health policy and management professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, was a guest on TVO’s “Studio 2” Sept. 15. He was asked to comment on a call by The Canadian Journal of Medicine for a ban on medical drug commercials.