Israel’s future uncertain without Sharon

Political scientist David Dewitt, director of the York Centre for International and Security Studies, said the sudden end of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political career due to a massive stroke “creates some uncertainty, but doesn’t necessarily create an enormous political vacuum,” reported Canadian Press in a story published Jan. 6 in The Star Phoenix in Saskatoon.

Jewish historian Martin Lockshin, a professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, reflected on Sharon’s political legacy on CTV Newsnet Jan. 5.

Ethics issue is working for Tories

The Opposition is trying to taint the Liberals with the problems of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, even though the Gomery inquiry found Prime Minister Paul Martin played no role in awarding lucrative contracts to Liberal-friendly ad firms, says political scientist David Shugarman, director of York’s Centre for Practical Ethics, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 6. It’s working, he added. “The Liberals have been failing [in the polls] and this latest issue [the RCMP probe] hasn’t helped them. There’s been a lot of talk about accountability, corruption, failure and ethical conduct.”

A York program opens future for pregnant teens

Studies indicate that girls who cannot see a future for themselves, are sexually abused or living in poverty are more likely to see pregnancy as a way out, stated Vancouver Sun editorial deploring popular pimp and ‘gangsta’ culture Jan. 6. Education of these girls is key, says Andrea O’Reilly, a women’s studies professor at York, which borders on the infamous Jane-Finch corridor. One program at York helps pregnant teen moms finish high school, while focusing on teaching them self-esteem, and – if they obtain a B average – gives them automatic entrance to York. “Many of the women in our class are poor marginalized women and university becomes something in their reach. Every university should offer these programs.”

Harper’s plan would swell prison population, says Young

One of the first acts of a Conservative government would be to enact a sweeping law-and-order package to increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, require youths 14 and older to be tried as adults for serious crimes, and end a program under which prisoners are released after serving two-thirds of their sentences, Stephen Harper said Thursday, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 6. Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the overall impact of Harper’s proposals would likely be to boost the prison population. Young called the stiffer gun sentences an incremental boost unlikely to have much impact on anything. “It almost looks like just pulling numbers out of a hat arbitrarily,” he said. There is “absolutely no evidence” that there is a need to tighten rules governing parole, Young added. “It’s a myth that parolees are getting out and committing serious crimes” except in exceptional circumstances, he said.

In a related Globe story, Young said the reverse-onus change would have only a marginal impact on the rights of the accused, because it would just make it a little harder for those facing gun-related charges to get bail.

A tough lesson on governance

“I knew I should have spoken up. I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. But I didn’t. And because of my silence and that of my fellow classmates, more than a dozen people died. Theoretically, at least,” wrote York MBA student and former business reporter Richard Bloom about a class exercise at York’s Schulich School of Business in his lessons-learned column in The Globe and Mail Jan. 6. The exercise took place during the final lecture of the core management class. “This week’s topic was governance – an issue that has made headlines ever since energy trader Enron Corp. imploded a few years back,” wrote Bloom. “According to my professor, the key to effective governance is ‘loyal opposition’.” In the class role-playing exercise, Bloom took the part of an official of a company sponsoring a canoe trip for teens, and intent on media exposure. But he never asked hard questions of the trip leader about canoes that appeared too big and safety measures that appeared inadequate. The kicker came from his professor: “Just so you know,” she said, “this case was based on a real trip in the 1970s. On that trip, two boats capsized, killing 13 people – 12 of them teenagers.” Bloom concluded: “Often, business decisions are about listening to your gut to tell you what’s right and wrong – and knowing when to not just listen, but speak up.”

BMW won’t win battle over the letter M

BMW’s Canadian unit is taking Nissan Canada Inc. to court for stealing what it believes is a trademark on the letter “M,” which its rival is using to market the “allegedly inferior and more modestly priced” Infiniti brand cars, reported the National Post Jan. 6. Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York’s Schulich School of Business, cast doubt on the likelihood of BMW prevailing at trial. BMW “is going to have a really difficult time proving harm to their trademark on that basis,” Middleton said. “The key element in trademark protection is that you can’t just say this might be confusing [to customers], you’ve got to prove actual harm. Even if BMW sales were going down, they’d have to prove it was because of Infiniti’s use of the letter ‘M’.”

A salute to Mr. Decent

As he departed the national scene, The Globe and Mail selected the former NDP leader and retiring member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, as 2005’s Nation Builder of the Year – a man who stood up for principled civility in the face of the politics of contempt, wrote the Globe’s Jan Wong. In a year that saw civility, decency and mutual respect hit a new low in Parliament, this was the year in which the former York political science professor: declared that he would abstain from a no-confidence vote so that a Tory MP would not have to drag himself to Ottawa following bladder-cancer surgery; declined to take credit for the gesture, suggesting that it was his party’s decision rather than his own; focused his energies on the cause of electoral reform; and quit his seat to care for his ailing wife, Lucille.

Taxes are the basis of civilization

“I like paying taxes,” wrote Neil Brooks, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in an op-ed piece in the Winnipeg Free Press Dec. 23. “Taxes allow us to pursue our aspirations collectively and thus they greatly enrich the quality of life for the average Canadian family. Taxes have brought us high quality public schools that remain our democratic treasure, low tuition at world-class universities, freedom from fear of crippling health bills and excellent medical services, public parks and libraries, safe streets and livable cities.” After listing other benefits, Brooks had this bit of advice for voting Canadians: “In spite of the fact that they enable us to collectively provide our most valuable goods and services, no one likes paying taxes. Promises of tax cuts, therefore, are often a potent political ploy. However, before being seduced by the promise of lower taxes, Canadians ought to think seriously about the implications of a smaller public sector.”

Martin and Harper shift Quebec positions

The angry exchange of insults between Paul Martin and Stephen Harper before Christmas, with each one accusing the other of helping separatists, was a reminder that the fundamental fault line of Canadian unity that has run through domestic politics for most of the last half-century is still a significant factor in this election, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 24. Both men reverted to one of the traditions of their respective parties, traditions they both once challenged. Kenneth McRoberts, who has specialized in Quebec-Ottawa relations as a political scientist and is now principal of York’s Glendon College, was struck by Martin’s change in position. “It seemed to me when Martin became prime minister, there was an attempt to pursue a more accommodating approach to Quebec,” he said citing Jean Lapierre’s appointment as Martin’s Quebec lieutenant, and the signing of a separate annex with Quebec at the time of the health-care deal. “It seemed to me that it was a coherent strategy that harked back to the Pearson years. Now, they are reverting to the standard Liberal strategy for the last 20 years under Trudeau and Chretien.”

Video-game proficiency is a new kind of literacy

As Heather Lotherington watched her 13-year-old daughter play a snowboarding video game with her friends, she knew the teenagers were learning something important, reported the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 22. As they made their characters perform stunts and jumps, anxiously trying to advance to the next level, Lotherington saw a group of young people using problem-solving skills as they worked together. They were developing their research abilities as they scoured the Internet looking for tricks. Lotherington, a professor in York’s Faculty of Education, knew teachers had been trying to get students to learn these valuable skills in the classroom and all too often had failed. “The minute I saw 13-year-olds using the manual to look for information, I knew we were onto something.

“There aren’t any kids looking up stuff in manuals in schools,” said Lotherington, who teaches and studies multilingual education and recently wrote a paper, “Emergent Metaliteracies: What the Xbox has to Offer the EQAO (Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office)”. While the title was meant to catch the attention of educators, Lotherington’s research does not just focus on Microsoft’s video games, but instead on the broader issues of how these devices can be used for educational purposes.

A new measure of decency

It might not transform Canada into a top sex tourism destination, but a Supreme Court ruling Dec. 21 to legalize swingers clubs – including orgies and partner swapping – has broad implications for sexual culture and rights, experts say, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 22. Alan Young, who teaches at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the decision raises questions about the potential decriminalization of prostitution. “What makes it wrong to exchange money to buy the sex?” He said the ruling will likely have no impact on definitions of obscenity used by courts or on child pornography laws.

In a related story Dec. 22, Young told The Globe and Mail: “The court is tired of trying to draw lines in the sand in relation to sexual liberty. It doesn’t seem to be a judicial task that they want to adopt, and I can’t blame them.” Essentially, the court has ruled “when you close the door and only have invited guests who know exactly what’s going on in the premises, then the law does not extend behind that closed door,” Young said.

The new Jewish studies

When a group of graduate students and young professors gathered for a workshop on “pushing the boundaries” of Jewish studies in mid-December, they broke up into small groups to consider questions like: “How would you describe your work without using the words ‘Jew,’ ‘Jewish,’ or ‘Judaism?’” That’s not the kind of question that would have been asked at a Jewish studies meeting a decade ago, reported Inside Higher Ed, a Washington D.C.-based online publication about higher education, Dec. 21. But even if this session was not entirely typical of those at this year’s annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, held in Washington, it reflects the reality that this discipline is experiencing significant growth — in numbers and in focus. “There’s been a real change of culture,” said Sara Horowitz, program chair for the meeting and director of York’s Centre for Jewish Studies. She noted numerous sessions on issues of gender, for example, as well as sessions on topics that were largely ignored at previous meetings. For example, art and art history have never had much of a presence, she said. Jewish history is filled with migration, she noted, “so there wasn’t a lot of time for big buildings with frescoes,” and Jews were seen as focused on texts. But art — and more broadly, imagery — are being widely discussed now.

On air

  • Susan Swan, a York humanities professor, reflected on the late poet and former York professor Irving Layton and his mythic contribution to Canadian literature, on CBC Radio’s “Here And Now” Jan. 5. Layton’s legacy was also discussed in a news feature on CKUA-AM in Edmonton the same day.
  • Bob Hanke, who teaches communications in the Faculty of Arts, discussed the importance of pollsters in elections and the nature of strategic voting, on CBC Newsworld’s “The Hour” Jan. 5.