Police flattery belies bikers’ poor existence, says Beare

The grinding frustrations of life in the underworld are isolation, penury and constant police surveillance, reported Maclean’s magazine April 18. And while many bikers have been involved in the drug trade, convictions show that most toiled in the realm of street-level distribution, among the least profitable parts of the business. These realities may have been lost in the clamour over biker activity, said Margaret Beare, director of the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. In their rush to convince the public that fighting outlaw bikers will require special legislative tools, police have effectively flattered all but a select few of the gangsters, she says. For most, life closely resembles the state of uncivilized man as famously described by Thomas Hobbes: nasty, brutish and – in the case of eight ill-fated men in southern Ontario – short.

Infants develop faster when mothers socialize with them

A study by York University researchers has found that infants between one and three months old develop more rapidly when adults refrain from imitating their noises and facial expressions, and socialize with them instead, reported the online News Medicalnet April 18. “Parents often imitate babies’ cooing and babbling sounds in an attempt to converse on a level infants can understand,” says Maria Legerstee, professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, and the Research Centre for Infancy Studies, who developed the study. “We’re finding out that such mimicking is only effective if adults also tune into their child’s emotions.” Her findings indicate that babies respond with enhanced social awareness when mothers are attuned to their moods. They recognize their mothers more quickly and prefer to interact with them. Legerstee says “baby talk” (characterized by the use of exaggerated facial expressions and high pitch) is a valuable teaching tool – but only as part of this emotional exchange.

Should public get open access to private details of sex offenders?

The shooting of two men who were listed on a sex offender registry in the United States underlines the hazards of giving the public open access to the kind of information that is carefully kept secret in Canada, reported The Globe and Mail April 18. That is common practice in the United States, where all states are required to register sex offenders, and many allow access to information that includes names, criminal record details and sometimes individual street addresses. It’s all designed to protect people from dangerous offenders, US officials say. It’s also part of the preference for punitive penalties in the United States, said Alan Young, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “They’re very much into shaming sanctions,” he said. In Canada, by contrast, sex offender registries have been designed as investigative tools for use by the police, but are not open to the public.

Raphael has new allies in war on poverty

There was nothing new, but maybe something serendipitous, in the observations yesterday on the Star’s letters page by York University Professor Dennis Raphael, wrote columnist Jim Coyle in the Toronto Star April 18. The long-time anti-poverty advocate, responding to a Sunday Star feature that fancifully envisioned Toronto’s future, said “nothing to improve the quality of life will really be accomplished unless the grinding poverty, hunger and homelessness that stalks the city is eliminated.” As it happens, Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, and colleagues Toba Bryant and Marcia Rioux, Chair of the School, will have a book launch on Thursday. In Staying Alive, he once more makes the case that health is often dependent less on medical or lifestyle issues than on government decisions that influence the distribution of income, the degree of social security, and the quality and availability of education, food and housing. In short, he says, poverty makes people sick. Not only that, the gap between rich and poor is probably a bigger threat to public health than the exotic germs and ailments that so fascinate news media and dominate those pages and newscasts not given over to celebrities or conspicuous consumption.

Lately, Raphael has found himself in the decidedly unfamiliar position of having some company in raising issues of poverty and the wealth gap, Coyle wrote. Earlier this month, The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy wrote an article considering the notion of “relative deprivation” and looking at whether thresholds established as “poverty lines” have any real meaning. What matters most, it suggested, is not so much what a person has but their ranking relative to those around them. And what experts concluded – as Raphael has argued for years – was that “relative deprivation” is bad for your health.

Still, it can’t be every day Raphael looks south for support on the anti-poverty front, Coyle said. And in recent weeks there have been several flickers of encouragement from that direction. Last month, according to the New York Times, John Edwards, the former US senator and Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2004 (and potential presidential candidate in 2008), organized a conference on poverty. Edwards has apparently made curbing poverty a theme of his work and political plans. Author Louis Uchitelle blames former US president Bill Clinton for disconnecting the Democratic party from its historic concern for job security, full employment and a compassionate society. It is a critique that might just as easily be made in this country about the Liberal party and its last two leaders. In his book, Uchitelle takes to task all political and community leaders of moderate view who have had so little to say, in the face of conservative and market triumphalism, about lost social security and the economy’s widening – and alarmingly unhealthy – prosperity gap. Not a complaint anyone in this city can make about Dennis Raphael.

Success story worth sharing

Exploring the Heart and Stroke Foundation website, I came across a success story that needs to be shared, wrote a contributor to The Daily Press (Timmins) April 18. The story was on an achievement by Nancy Dubois, instructor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science; she has lost 100 pounds since September 2004. Many people in the Cochrane District have had the pleasure of attending workshops facilitated by Nancy. She is a health-promotion consultant providing service to a number of clients like the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Centre for Health Promotion.

Nancy was very active in younger days, playing competitive volleyball in university. As with many jobs and lifestyles, travel meant poor choices – from restaurants and room service to nightly snacks of potato chips. At 5-foot-4, she was carrying 250 pounds. Motivation came from a number of sources, including illness in her family and close friends. The “tipping point” was when her doctor warned her about elevated blood sugar.

The Web site describes her first step as consulting a dietitian to understand her ideal caloric intake, what to eat, amount and timing. Nancy is following Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. She is very aware that with fad diets, people regain two-thirds of what they lost within two years. She also adopted an exercise regime that started slowly, just 10 to 12 minutes. Her routine includes an hour a day plus 15 minutes of weights and stretching six days a week. She has been able to put exercise into her work day by using an exercise bike while doing work-related reading.

York screenwriting prof Amnon Buchbinder practises what he teaches

The old saying “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” doesn’t apply to Amnon Buchbinder, professor in the Department of Film & Video, Faculty of Fine Arts, reported NOW magazine April 13. He teaches screenwriting, but also shows everyone how it’s done in his refreshing new film, Whole New Thing. Last season he published a book called The Art Of Scriptwriting. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall. What if the film sucks? It doesn’t, which isn’t a surprise. In person, Buchbinder – like his musician sibling David – comes across as completely in control. Whole New Thing is anything but mechanical. It’s an imaginative coming-of-age tale about a precocious home-schooled Nova Scotian kid, Emerson (Aaron Webber), who’s forced to go to public school for math and soon finds himself obsessed with his closeted English teacher, played by co-writer Daniel MacIvor.

Buchbinder says the character of Emerson, who’s penned a massive fantasy novel, is partly based on himself, NOW said. “I was a little know-it-all who irritated people a lot,” he smiles. “I hadn’t written a 1,000-page novel like him, but I did publish a fanzine about horror movies that was read on a bunch of continents.” On the other hand, Buchbinder lacked Emerson’s confidence with grown-ups. Nor did he ever have a crush on a teacher, male or female. While the film isn’t particularly targeted to a young audience, Buchbinder is curious to see how they respond to it. “I think they have a more fluid sense of sexuality than people did in my generation.”

Coach is not employed by York University

Evon Buchanan, 39, who has been charged with sexual assault, does not work for York University, wrote the Toronto Star in a correction notice April 18. In Friday’s paper, the headline over a story about the charge against Buchanan erroneously said he was a coach at the University. The story reported that he worked at the Toronto Track and Field Centre, which is run by the city. The alleged victim reported to police that she was inappropriately touched during a massage therapy session at the man’s house on March 24.