Corruption ‘just accepted’ in political culture

In the Feb. 23 issue of Time magazine’s Canadian Edition, columnist Stephen Handelman consulted experts, such as York University political science Professor Ian Greene, from across the nation to seek an answer to whether the sponsorship scandal will be the undoing of the Liberal tenure in Ottawa. The scandal is just one example of a cynical political culture in which money fuels loyalty and access, said Greene, co-author of Honest Politics, a 1997 book examining recent Canadian ethics scandals. It was easier, added Greene, for former prime minister Jean Chrétien to go along rather than try to change behaviour legitimized by long practice. “It was just accepted, that’s how politics works.”

In the Montreal Gazette Feb. 16, Wesley Cragg, an ethics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, said the sponsorship scandal will have “a very high cost” for all of us. In an interview with CanWest News Service, Cragg, president of the corruption watchdog Transparency International Canada, said the damage would likely show itself in measurable terms when the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index comes out next summer or fall. Since 2000, Canada has been on the skids in the index that “ranks countries in terms of the degree of corruption that is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians.” In fact, said Cragg in the Gazette, the fact that Canada has slipped from fifth best in the world in 2000 to 11th in 2003, earned a mention as a “noteworthy example of worsening [perceptions of corruption]” and put Canada in the questionable company of Belarus and Zimbabwe. After this week’s events in Ottawa, Cragg declared: “I think Canada is still sliding. We’re much further down the scale now.”  Foreigners doing business with Canadians and their government will more and more “assume corruption is in place”, he said.

Broken hearts mend slowly

York University researchers have discovered that jumping from short-term romance to short-term romance teaches girls life-long lessons about relationships, reported the Calgary Herald Feb. 16 and the Toronto Sun Feb. 15. Positive dating experiences, for instance, teach teen girls about what constitutes a good relationship, according to Jennifer Connolly, York psychology professor and director of the University’s LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution. But parents, take note. Connolly says that while most teen girls recover rapidly from breakups, some girls (about 20 per cent) can’t heal their broken hearts quite so quickly. The end of a romance, therefore, may lead to extreme emotional trauma and self-esteem issues. Some girls may experience depression; others may attempt suicide, says Connolly, who is part-way through the 18-month study of how teenage girls in Grades 7-12 behave after breaking up. Results of the study will help further understanding of the emotional dynamics behind young love, as well as how to promote healthy relationships between teens. “We want to find out how we can promote healthy relationships to avoid those situations in the first place,” Connolly said.

Canada not a hotbed of terrorism, says prof

Margaret Beare, the director of the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime & Corruption at York University, says there is no evidence to suggest newcomers to Canada are more prone to crime, reported CanWest News Service in the Regina Leader-Post Feb. 16. She was responding to a recent US Library of Congress report that claims Canada’s immigration laws and social programs have helped make the country a hotbed for terrorists and organized criminals. Refugees and illegal immigrants are the least likely to engage in criminal activity because they don’t want to risk deportation, she said. “The year before last the RCMP told the United Nations our No. 1 problem is bikers,” said Beare, referring to a 2002 report done by the UN Centre for International Crime Prevention. There is only one reference to domestic motorcycle gangs in the US report, but two pages are devoted to ethnic groups such as British Columbia’s Chinese Big Circle Boys and the Lotus group, as well as organized criminals from Eastern Europe. Beare also called the research behind the report “infuriating,” saying that the report’s quotes from speeches given by Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Ward Elcock in 1999 don’t offer an accurate picture of Canada today. “They’re quoting people who have an agenda,” she said.

Phoenix team follows the water on Mars

Despite the recent headlines and spectacular colour photos regarding the detection of water on Mars, experts say answers to four crucial questions remain – how much, where, what quality and how difficult to tap – will determine if astronauts can ever really explore Mars, rather than just make a fleeting touch-and-go visit, reported the Toronto Star’s Peter Calamai Feb. 15. “When we know more about clouds made up of ice crystals, we’ll be able to follow the water better and get a handle on the whole cycle,” says Diane Michelangeli, a professor of atmospheric science in York University’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, where much of the team for NASA’s Phoenix mission in 2007 is concentrated. The Canadian-designed meteorological package aboard the Phoenix mission will try to unravel a key part of the puzzle with a laser radar device that measures the size and concentration of dust and ice crystals in the lower part of the atmosphere.

Decades have not dulled the pain of apartheid

Rebuilding begins on a storied Cape Town community that was destroyed by South Africa’s apartheid government, but some former residents – such as Clifford Jansen – don’t share the joy of those who hope to reclaim long-lost homes and heritage, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 15. Jansen, a York University sociology professor, was born in District Six. Classified as coloured under apartheid, Jansen left in 1958 and did not see his home again until 1991. And when he did see it, what he found was nothing like what he remembered. Hiking through grassy fields where the only remaining structures are occasional churches and mosques spared by the bulldozers, Jansen retraced his past. “I tried to guess where I was born by counting off the paces between a Catholic church and an Apostolic church,” he said. “I was more or less able to find it, to stand on the spot.” The decades have not dulled the pain, Jansen said. “When I finally did go back, some friends of mine said ‘We had no idea you hated the place so much.’ If, as a child, I had told my parents that I wanted to be a university professor, they would have taken me to a psychiatrist. I had an inferiority complex for some time.”

York fire probed

Toronto firefighters were called out to battle a two-alarm fire at York University Feb. 15, reported the Toronto Sun Feb. 16. The fire, which occurred around 7:45am, caused smoke and water damage to a second-floor classroom at Winter’s College. Authorities were investigating the cause. City-tv, Global TV and CFTO-TV also mentioned the fire on news programs Feb. 15.

Track meet delayed for runner’s funeral

The 15th Annual Team Challenge in Windsor was delayed for a few hours so teammates could attend the funeral Saturday of Heather Swift, the University of Windsor runner who died after being hit by a pickup truck last week on Highway 401, reported the Windsor Star Feb. 16. “It’s the least we could do,” said York kinesiology student Kristy DeVries, whose team brought condolence cards to hang on a memorial outside the track at the St. Denis Centre. “We all stick together in times like these. We are all affected by this.” The story featured a photo of York high jumper and political science student Olga Mankovskaya looking at a makeshift memorial set up in memory of Swift.

Ancient Egypt ‘could teach us a lot’

In his Feb. 15 column, the Toronto Star’s Tom Harpur questioned York University philosophy Professor David M. Johnson’s thesis, contained in his new book, How History Made The Mind, that there is a huge difference between how moderns ever since Homer think and the way earlier peoples such as the Egyptians thought. The crucial difference, Johnson says, is “objectivity.” Johnson argues that the Greeks initiated the skill of “looking at things as they were.” The ancient Egyptians, apparently, were incapable of doing so. According to Harpur, Johnson’s major thesis that culture or “history” formed the way our minds are today may be correct. “His estimate of the true abilities and state of the human mind before the Greeks is in my view seriously flawed. All of the major classical Greek philosophers were themselves deeply indebted to Egyptian wisdom and learning. The ancient Egyptians could teach us a lot,” said Harpur.

On air

  • Rob Bowman, musicology professor and graduate director in the Music Department of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, talked about popular love songs on CBC Radio’s “Voyage North”, Thunder Bay, Feb. 13.
  • David Wiesenthal, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed an Alberta review of traffic safety on CBC TV’s “Canada Now”, Edmonton, Feb. 13.