Hockey hardwired into Toronto’s psyche

They wouldn’t dream of doing it in Philadelphia. It gives Montrealers a reason to laugh scornfully at their arch rival, Toronto. Still, don’t expect it to stop, reported the Toronto Star April 26. “It,” of course, is Toronto fans’ penchant for racing into the streets – decked in blue and white, hanging out of and jumping on cars, blaring horns, braying “Leafs rule!” at the top of their lungs, and sometimes burning artifacts of their vanquished foes – in celebration of victory. Fandom “guides you deeper into cynicism about the human condition.” said Greg Malszecki, a sports sociologist at York University. People need connections, and to belong. But at a time when real wages are stagnant or falling, they’re cheering for players who make far more in a season than they’ll make in an entire lifetime of work. Why, “is a real mystery,” said Malszecki. “I like seeing people happy under any conditions.” For a “culture in crisis,” he suggested, “this is a chance to go out and have a good time.” The street parties might be a way for people in a diverse, multicultural city to feel they fit in – or, as Malszecki puts it, to “latch on to the Canadian experience” – although it’s generally young, second-generation immigrants who join the fun, rather than their parents. Leafs fans display a certain innocence, a small-town attitude, Malszecki said. “In some senses, it’s charming, it’s endearing. It may be parochial in some ways.”

Sugar and spice? Try mean and nasty girl culture

As a wave of new films focusing on female bitchery hits screens, experts are wondering if the trend is doing more to teach aggression than prevent it, reported the Edmonton Journal in a CanWest News Service story April 24. “On one hand, mass media put girl aggression on the table and enables all of us to discuss it,” said Debra Pepler, a professor of psychology at York University’s Faculty of Arts. “But on the other hand, unless it leads to very specific support for high-risk youth, it may create more problems than it’s solving.” Pepler is one of three principal investigators in York’s LaMarsh Centre for Research’s Teen Relationship Project, a study of the abuse of power in youth relationships. She has found girls, in particular, are experts at disguising their aggression and that the worst offenders are teens who were once victims themselves. “Sometimes we think about these things and say, ‘Girls will be girls,’ ” Pepler said. “But truly, these patterns are very hurtful because girls learn that one of the most effective ways of getting what they want is to be aggressive and to put other people down to raise themselves up.”

Law deans support open parliamentary review of court appointments

Prime Minister Paul Martin’s suggestion that there should be prior parliamentary review of appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada is surely right, wrote Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Patrick J. Monahan and former dean Peter W. Hogg in a National Post commentary April 24. Given the enormous power wielded by members of the Supreme Court in the Charter era, the current appointment process – which essentially vests unreviewable power in the hands of a single individual, the prime minister – is inconsistent with basic democratic norms, they wrote.

The more difficult question is how to design an appointment process that will involve MPs in a meaningful way without compromising the independence of the Court or diminishing the high quality of appointments, they continued. They named the central principles that, in their opinion, ought to form the basis of a reformed appointment process. “First, we agree with the Prime Minister that the ultimate power of selection must remain in the hands of the cabinet, on recommendation of the prime minister. Second, the objective of reform should be to ensure that the process whereby the prime minister and cabinet make their selection is made more transparent and accountable. This suggests to us that any role for MPs in the process must be limited to an advisory rather than a decision-making one,” they wrote.

Outsourcing complaint is bad economics, says Wolf

Every weeknight at 6 o’clock, Lou Dobbs, a business commentator on CNN, hosts a show in which he rails against American companies that are outsourcing jobs to countries where labour is cheap, wrote columnist Carol Goar in the Toronto Star April 26. It drives Bernie Wolf nuts. The York University business professor considers it bad economics and worse journalism. “He’s just egging people on,” Wolf said. “This beggar-thy-neighbour approach really disturbs me.” But there’s one thing Wolf can’t deny. The message is hitting home. Outsourcing has become a highly charged issue in the United States. In the short term, Canada risks being sideswiped by the wave of protectionist sentiment building in the US. In the longer term, Canadian employers will be forced to transfer labour-intensive operations to India, China and other emerging markets to stay competitive. “I don’t think anyone should panic,” Wolf said. “A dynamic economy has to change. I am sympathetic to the people who will lose their jobs, but we can’t stand still. If we tried to keep these jobs, Canadian goods and services would become less competitive and our economy would stagnate.” What Canadians should be discussing, he said, are ways to make the adjustment as painless as possible.

Airline expert lauds new equity cap proposal

Airline industry players applauded news that Ottawa may be prepared to lift strict foreign ownership limits and cut the amount airports pay in rent, saying these measures are long overdue, reported the National Post April 24. The measures are to apply to all carriers, but the intent is to help insolvent Air Canada in its desperate search for a new investor. “I am glad to see the government starting to move on these issues,” said Fred Lazar, an economics professor at York University who recently wrote a biting critique of Canada’s air transportation policy. Lazar said increasing the foreign ownership limits on airlines – from 25 per cent to as high as 49 per cent  –  is the best way to help Air Canada because the other airlines also stand to benefit. Lazar said in the worst-case scenario, in which Air Canada gets liquidated,  increased foreign ownership rules may attract investors to Canada in order to start up a brand new network carrier.

Anti-Semitism like canary in coal mine, says Abella

Irving Abella, a professor of Canadian Jewish history at York University in Toronto, is in the midst of analysing data from a survey on anti-Jewish attitudes held by Canadians, reported the Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) April 24. Preliminary observations show that “compared to most other countries, anti-Semitism in Canada has not increased measurably,” Abella said in an interview. “That’s the good news. The bad news is . . . it still indicates there are a number of Canadians who still hold very strong anti-Semitic views.” Abella compares anti-Jewish acts and attitudes to the canary in the coal mine, which signals with its death that a hazardous gas is in the air. The recent series of anti-Jewish attacks “tells us that there is something wrong with society,” he said. “It’s sending out danger signals.”

Art auction trades art for volunteer time

York graduate student Anil Patel is the poster child of volunteerism, reported the Toronto Star April 24. For the past year and a half, the 29-year-old has spent more of his time on pro-bono work than on anything else, including eating, sleeping and seeing friends. Now, he wants others of his television-watching, stereotypically disengaged generation to follow suit. “I don’t think they’re apathetic. People just don’t know,” he says from the small, cluttered office that has become his volunteer headquarters over the past few months. “They’re time-impoverished. If they do find the time, they have to work through upwards of 10,000 charities and NGOs in the city. And if they do find one they like, they’re not always guaranteed an opportunity relevant to them. Those are the barriers.”

To confront those barriers, Patel has formed the Framework Foundation, and devised a novel plan a volunteer fair with a twist. Tonight [April 24], he’s expecting about 400 young professionals to arrive at the CBC building on Front Street, for an art auction. But, instead of bidding for the paintings and photographs by local emerging artists with money, he’s asking people to pay with the most valuable thing they have their time. More than 50 local charities – from environmental groups to battered women shelters – will be on hand, looking to collect on the pledges, signing volunteers. Along the way, Patel has learned how to incorporate a business and follow his real passion. He quit his job as a business analyst at Molson, and enrolled at York University in September to pursue a master’s degree in environmental studies.

Students get a peek at social justice law

For law students committed to social justice, the third annual Public Interest Day: Planning Your Career in Public Interest Law, a joint initiative of the law schools at the University of Toronto and York University, provided an opportunity to learn about how to serve the public with a law degree, reported the Toronto Star April 24. Students from all six Ontario law schools were invited and the event drew more than 300 law students. Chantal Morton, director of career services for York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and one of the event’s organizers, said Public Interest Day challenged the stereotype of the self-interested lawyer. The event “confirms that there are lawyers, students and members willing to offer their time, energy and advice to ensure social justice remains on our political, economic and legal agendas. This event provides our students with guidance on how to work toward this goal, and our communities with the reassurance that the next generation of students is committed to such a task.”

Ian Ferguson wins Leacock award

York theatre grad Ian Ferguson (MFA ’98) has won the Stephen Leacock award for humorous writing, two years after he was nominated but came up short, reported the Globe and Mail April 21. Ferguson won the prize for his fictional memoir, Village of the Small House: a Memoir of Sorts, published by Douglas and McIntyre. Ferguson will be awarded $10,000 and a commemorative medal at a ceremony in the Ontario community of Orillia, where Stephen Leacock spent many summers. The association praised his book as “a clever blend of fact and fiction which is neither novel nor autobiography.”

As well as being an author, Ferguson is a playwright, theatre director and an acting instructor. He created and directed improv shows in Toronto (SIN CITY) and Edmonton (DIE-NASTY) and has produced, written for and performed on radio and television. In 2002, he was short-listed for the Leacock award for How to be a Canadian, which he co-wrote with his brother Will, who graduated with a BFA from York in 1990 in film & video studies.

Student boards icebreaker to tackle mystery of climate change

The parka hood of Canada’s Arctic scientific explorer today may still be rimmed by frosty fur but the face inside will often be a young woman researcher instead of the male veterans whose ranks are fast thinning, reported the Toronto Star April 26. That’s the case for 16 of the 40-plus researchers using Canada’s first science icebreaker as a base for tackling the mysteries of Arctic ecology. One example of this new generation is Teresa Fisico, a 23-year-old York University atmospheric science graduate who earned her B.Sc. degree in 2003, on her first Arctic expedition. Fisico’s main job is research to improve a specialized computer model for polar weather forecasting, a need that can only grow if projected climate change brings an ice-free Northwest Passage by mid-century. The story also featured a photo of Fisico.

Eclectic percussion defines Rick Lazar

Rick Lazar is a percussionist for all seasons, a devotee of rhythm, a seeker after a special sound, wrote Toronto Star music critic Geoff Chapman April 22 of the York part-time music faculty member. “You have to be busy, it keeps you fast,” Lazar said in an interview. That night he would show off all the things he could do with a huge array of musical instruments when his band Montuno Police released its fourth album Nomads at Lula Lounge. Lazar, 55, grew up in Thunder Bay, co-led a high school band with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer and has worked with Loreena McKennit, Bruce Cockburn, Brian Hughes, Moe Koffman, Lee Pui Ming and Barry White.

Dance grad opens Africa-themed show

In an April 22 story about the ninth edition of Dance Immersion at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, the Toronto Star’s Susan Walker listed York grad Zelma Badu among the artists of African descent who would perform in the opening show. Now Zelma Badu-Younge (MFA ’92), she is based in West Virginia with her partner, the drummer Paschal Yao Younge. Their company, Azaguno, performs music and traditional dance from Ghana and makes contemporary works blending West and South African dance with African-American step dancing and music from the Caribbean, Latin America and Senegal. The troupe comprises 25 dancers and musicians.

York one of three to offer Sikhism courses

Manjit Singh, a founding director of the Canadian Sikh Council, told the Montreal Gazette in a April 25 profile: “We have convinced three Canadian universities to start offering courses on Sikhism. McGill was the first. Last year was the University of Calgary. And in January 2005, York University in Toronto will also offer the courses.”

OSC pushes for white-collar crime force

The Ontario Securities Commission will soon start work to bring together the country’s patchwork of white-collar crime enforcement agencies to create a unified force to combat the problem, its chairman said at York University April 23, reported the National Post the following day. “I’m hoping that we can co-ordinate it and that we can turn them into quite an effective force harmonized across the country,” David Brown said of the RCMP, the provincial attorneys general and the country’s other police forces tasked with fighting white-collar crime. “We know that there have been discussions between the RCMP and the federal government and the provincial attorneys general and we will join those as well very shortly,” Brown said following a speech on enforcement he gave at York.

Army daze: A new show explores allure and ennui of army life

Among the graduation exhibitions to check out this spring is one by York University fine arts student Scott Waters, a former military man turned artist, reported the National Post April 24. His master’s thesis, titled “The Hero Book,” includes more than 20 autobiographical paintings that illustrate his conflict with the masculine allure of military culture and the realities of serving. Waters’ paintings are highly illustrative and are mostly of off-duty soldiers drinking, fighting, shooting at one another and drinking some more. According to Waters, that’s pretty much how he spent his post-Cold War years as a private. “The Hero Book” runs until May 1 at Birganart, 241 King St. E.

Tribute celebrates 20 years

Tribute Communities recently built its 20,000th house and celebrated 20 years in business, reported the National Post April 24. The development co-owner Howard Sokolowski is most excited about is at York University, where three-storey houses are going up 100 metres from the campus. Sokolowski negotiated the use of amenities at the university, such as the library and athletic centre, for residents. “We’ve sold 200 homes in three months. The clients are professors, students and people in the area who want to upgrade their living space.”

Lenders like Ford cause for concern, central banker says

Bank of Canada governor David Dodge says the trend toward unregulated companies providing more financial services, such as auto makers that make loans, means “the potential for disaster may build up,” reported the Toronto Star April 24. Dodge made the comments during a discussion with delegates attending a conference on financial services and public policy at York University Thursday night. Ford, the second-biggest US auto maker, said this week that it expects to make more money this year from its finance arm, which lends money to customers and dealers, than from selling cars.

How Almonte got its name

Even by Hollywood standards, it seems a stretch to connect Almonte with The Alamo, reported the Ottawa Citizen April 24. One’s a tidy town about an hour from Ottawa, and the other is a big-budget movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. But a diplomat named Almonte – or, in Spanish, al-MON-tay – has a small role in the movie, and a big part to play in the town’s history. “I don’t know of any other community in Canada that is named after a Mexican,” said Frank Cosentino, an academic and former Canadian Football League star. Cosentino is the author of Almonte (Silent Praise, $12.95), a biography of Juan Nepomuceno Almonte – a man whose life has more dramatic sweep than the folk-hero exploits of Davy Crockett, the American icon played by Thornton in the movie. “The Battle of the Alamo lasted about nine minutes, but it has become a huge glorification in the States,” said Cosentino, a professor emeritus of physical education at York University who now lives in Eganville.

The story explains that Almonte was aide-de-camp to Santa Ana, who led 4,000 Mexican troops against about 250 settlers holed up in the Alamo. It was Almonte who was sent to parley with the rebelsm but was rebuffed. Later, the town of Waterford had to change its name, because it was one of two in Ontario. At the time, there was significant support for Mexico in Ontario. US military incursions in Mexico during the 1840s were widely seen as a land grab. Almonte had travelled widely in the US, and his articles championing Mexico’s cause were printed in many newspapers. Given the tenor of the times, the loyal British citizens of the town chose the new name of Almonte in honour of the Mexican general. Almonte, writes Cosentino, “stood up for his country at a time when Canada, as well as Mexico, was well aware of the predatory American doctrine of manifest destiny.”  

Wake-up call for GIC investors

A new study published recently by the Schulich School of Business at York University lends weight to the argument against investing in bonds and GICs, reported the London Free Press April 26. Researchers at York University examined the historical interest rates earned on GICs over the last 30 years and computed the after-inflation, after-tax returns for the 1974 to 2003 period. They found that when income taxes and inflation are properly accounted for, the real after-tax returns have actually been negative for Ontario investors in the top marginal tax rate for nearly 30 years. The authors of the study, professors Amin Mawani, Moshe Milevsky and researcher Joshua Landzberg, wrote: “We concluded by arguing that for many Canadians, the strategy of rolling over so-called risk-free GICs outside of a tax shelter is a sure way to destroy long-term wealth.”