City hall panels unanimously support York subway

A 6.2-kilometre subway extension from Downsview station to York University won unanimous support from two city hall committees, who called on provincial and federal governments to pay two-thirds of the $1.4 billion cost, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 1. But there’s little chance the project will start any time soon. “Let’s put this in perspective This is a $1.4 billion project and we have no money to build it,” said Councillor Howard Moscoe, Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission. With federal budget surpluses in mind, Councillor Case Ootes (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) moved that the city request $10 billion for subway expansion from Ottawa. His motion to make the request passed unanimously and will go to next week’s city council meeting.

Reading, writing and digital games?

Gaming systems like Microsoft’s Xbox are not merely entertaining, but represent a new kind of literacy that should be used in schools, says a York professor, reported The Globe and Mail Online Nov. 30. Heather Lotherington, who teaches in York’s Faculty of Education, made the observation in a paper she wrote based on discussions with Toronto elementary school students about their use of pop culture tech toys, including the Xbox, instant messaging and cellphones. In it, she concludes that kids are developing the complex, digital “metaliteracies” predicted some years ago by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, but schools haven’t caught on yet, and none of the children’s digital gaming or on-line skills are actually valued in school. “Today’s children really learn in 3D,” she says. “This whole linear concept of learning — that you pick up a book that’s a narrative, and it’s static — it’s limiting to children who were brought up in the information era.” Lotherington is currently in charge of a project in a Toronto elementary school to enable children’s literacy skills via software that allows them to create digital fairy tales. Her report — called Emergent Metaliteracies: What the Xbox has to Offer the EQAO — was published in the journal Linguistics and Education.

Defining sexual harassment

Nothing is more effective at drawing attention to a social issue than dramatic, scary research findings. But when studies offer up findings that are more drama than context, they breed cynicism, began an Ottawa Citizen editorial Dec. 1 about York psychologist Jennifer Connolly’s research findings that three-quarters of high school students have been sexually harassed. Connolly says she defines sexual harassment as “unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviours that interfere with someone’s life.” But the survey just asked students about specific jokes, pictures or comments. It’s unclear where the line is between boorishness and harassment. Sexual harassment is a serious problem, but we still don’t know how serious. Without the context that makes it meaningful, a little information can be more damaging than none at all, concluded the Citizen.

Past depression may help heart attack recovery

The presence of depressive symptoms when patients are hospitalized for a heart attack seems to reduce survival in the next five years, say Canadian researchers, reported Reuters Health news service in a story published online Nov. 29 by Yahoo! News. However, a long-standing history of depression appears to have little effect on survival and may even be associated with an increase in the survival rate. Sherry L. Grace, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, and her associates recruited 750 patients who had a heart attack or angina between 1997 and 1999. According to the investigators’ report in Nov. 1 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, there were 115 deaths during five years of follow-up.

The death rate was highest among those with no history of depression but with a current depression test score of at least 10 to 24 percent. Grace told Reuters Health: “Physicians need to screen patients for depression and refer them on for treatment, because depression can predict mortality up to five years later.” The death rate was lowest among those with a history of depression but with no current symptoms – six percent. These findings are the opposite of what her team had hypothesized, Grace noted. “They suggest that people with a history of depression had learned how to overcome the depression on their own,” she said, “so when they had this life-threatening event they were better at coping with the heart attack and hospital experience itself.”

Program started by law students helps families stay warm

Share The Warmth has launched its second year in Grey-Bruce, reported Owen Sound Sun Times Dec. 1. Share the Warmth helps families facing a desperate sign of financial trouble – a power disconnection notice. Founder and executive director Edward de Gale (LLB ’98) said a power disconnection notice is like a canary in a coal mine, an indication that a family is in dire financial trouble before that family moves onto the street.  Share The Warmth does not give out cash, but works with utilities to service debts and makes arrangements to keep the power on and the payment process under control. The organization was established 10 years ago by students at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and has helped more than 30,000 families – 587 of them in the Grey Bruce area – since its inception.

York economist an important Canadian public intellectual

Some intellectuals influence public policy on the margins; others influence outcomes. Charles McMillan belongs to the second category, suggested a National Post opinion piece reprinted Dec. 1 in The Guardian in Charlottetown. The profile is part of the Post’s search to find Canada’s most important public intellectual. McMillan, a professor of international business at York’s Schulich School of Business and author of The Japanese Industrial System, served as senior policy adviser to Brian Mulroney from 1983 to 1987, shaping the sweeping economic reform agenda of Canada’s last Conservative government. From privatization to free trade, there was no aspect of the Mulroney agenda that was not substantially influenced by Charley McMillan, wrote the profile’s author, L. Ian MacDonald, editor of Policy Options and former chief speechwriter for Mulroney.