Fear of unemployment feeds frenzy for digital multi-tasking

On the highways, multi-tasking kills. But it is also causing psychological and physical stress as “personal space” shrinks and working hours expand, reported the Toronto Star June 4. “In Muskoka in the summer, you have your cellphone and e-mail,” says Noreen Pupo, sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. “People know they can always reach you. If you turn those devices off, you’re questioned for it, even if it’s your day off.” Pupo, director of the Centre for Research on Work and Society at York University, studies the new economy, which is strongly linked to electronic devices. “In a society where people are worried about hanging on to a good job – as they do in Canada, where unemployment is chronically high – they’re afraid of losing it by being out of touch,” Pupo says. “But people who have low-paying jobs and are just getting by need to be connected too. They’re even more worried about losing a couple of hours of work because they weren’t available when they were called.”

Monuments or monstrosities?

The National Post concluded its coverage of the 75th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at York University in its “Oh, The humanities” series June 3 with the story excerpted here.

When Tonya Davidson set off on her first road trip after arriving in Alberta, she imagined an epic western journey along flat highway slicing through open prairie. She got that. But every once in a while, in between the long unbroken stretches, that maiden road trip took her past things she had never imagined. A six-tonne kielbassa. A giant pyrogy with an equally large fork in it. An enormous Ukrainian Easter egg, or pysanka. Really big things, unnatural things, looming large at the side of the highway. As someone doing a PhD on historic monuments and the Canadian imagination, however, Terry Davidson saw these oversized sculptures as a new approach to monumentality, a way of “celebrating the local and the mundane in a gigantic form of revelry…. In a culture characterized by increased speed, these oversized monuments perhaps act as ideal aesthetic enticements punctuating an otherwise bland highway landscape.” Her exploration of the topic, called “Big Things on the Side of the Road,” was delivered in a session at the country’s largest academic gathering.

  • EpiSims, a computer simulation that models population responses to a health disaster, has been described as the SimCity video game on steroids, reported the Toronto Star June 4. By modelling the daily activities of every individual in a virtual city and then releasing a virtual pathogen into the population, its creators say it can predict how an epidemic might spread and, ultimately, how it can be stopped. Computer scientist Chris Barrett, director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and his team developed EpiSims. We interviewed Barrett last week while he was in Toronto for the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at York University.

Gilbert takes a break from playoffs to congratulate spelling bee finalist

She may not have brought home the top prize, but Finola Hackett has won the hearts of people across Canada, reported Canadian Press June 5. Finola, 14, of Tofield, Alta., finished second and collected US$12,000 in prize money in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. She slipped on the first letter of weltschmerz – a German word which means sadness at the evils of the world. Since then, congratulatory messages have been pouring in from across Canada and the United States for the 14-year-old girl. “I was pleased for her and felt good that a Canadian could go so far in this kind of competition,” said Michael Gilbert, a philosophy professor at York University. “I was flipping back and forth between the Buffalo-Hurricanes hockey game and the spelling bee and I don’t know which one was more exciting.” Gilbert left a message for Finola on a message board at Canada.com expressing his congratulations.

Milevsky has reservations about life insurance investment idea

In Canada, life insurance can provide significant tax benefits to properly drawn-up estate plans, reported the National Post June 5. Any investment gains within exempt life insurance policies are passed tax-free to the beneficiaries. After-tax returns can be even higher if you add leverage to the equation. These facts are at the core of several innovative estate planning strategies coming from Canada’s insurance agents, brokers and financial planning boutiques.

Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says the twist is “life insurance is being purchased to give you some psychological comfort in knowing you will get your money back, at death. The tax-favoured status of the inside buildup makes the after-tax expected return higher.” However, such strategies can entail risk, he warns. “You are implicitly telling an 85-year-old to leverage into the stock market. Personally, I would want to see some sort of risk analysis about the probabilities over time.”

Cabbagetown has it all: dream gardens, pearly gates and dance lessons

In a big city you can borrow neighbourhoods that you don’t live in, wrote author and York alumna Katherine Govier (MA ‘72) in the Toronto Star June 4. You can pretend to be local, blend in and feel at home. That’s what I do in Cabbagetown, said Govier. Right now, my favourite street is Winchester. The street is home to the building that was once Gerrard Street Methodist Church and now it houses the school and rehearsal space of the Toronto Dance Theatre. This particular church is incredibly grotty inside. I doubt the women’s change rooms have changed in 30 years. But I love it because on Tuesdays and Saturdays there is a dance class taught by the amazing Wendy Chiles (BA ‘72). Wendy and I were in dance class together at York University in 1972. On Tuesday nights and Saturdays in the hot bare second-floor room with the dusty floor and the door open to the metal fire escape, I join with other dancers of various ages. We do our contractions and our battements and our leaps in a diagonal line from the corner, and Wendy says things like, “Don’t let your stuffing hang out!”

Investors can influence executive pay plans, says Osgoode professor

It’s no surprise the issue of executive compensation is coming under increasing scrutiny, reported the Toronto Star June 4. According to the 2006 Global Institutional Survey, it’s considered one of the top three governance issues in Canada, the United States, Britain and continental Europe. The sheer amount CEOs are paid is coming under fire. Regulators are unlikely to ever consider capping the amount CEOs make – either as an absolute dollar amount or a proportion of what the company or employees earn. “Their role is about disclosure versus about whether (companies) should do this or that,” says Poonam Puri, law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Even when caps are put in place by a company, they don’t always produce the intended effect. The issue of how much an executive is paid is ultimately up to the company, says Puri, but investors can have an influence.

York coach is one of the Canadians who qualified for World Cup in ‘86

As the greatest sports show on Earth gets set to unfold – soccer’s World Cup tournament – it’s a time of eager anticipation for 32 teams and their devout fans on the fields and in the stadiums of Germany. Aficionados of Canadian soccer will have to be satisfied with a stroll along memory lane. After failing to qualify for the 2006 global spectacle, Canada’s claim to fame on soccer’s international stage remains a berth in the 1986 World Cup tournament in Mexico. It was this country’s first, and only, appearance in the quadrennial tournament. Memories of those heady days of Canadian soccer are still remarkably vivid on the 20th anniversary of the historic achievement. Coach Tony Waiters’ 22-man roster included midfielder Paul James, now head coach of the York Lions mens’s and women’s soccer teams.

Food, not protests, keep York student busy

Two or three times a week, a group of 10 to 20 anti-poverty activists crowd into Melissa Addison Webster’s main-floor apartment at the north end of George Street, reported The Peterborough Examiner June 3. They are not there to debate issues or develop strategy. They are there to cook. Addison Webster’s kitchen is the operations base for Food Not Bombs, a small but committed volunteer organization dedicated to providing free food for low-income earners and homeless people in Peterborough. This fall, she heads off to Toronto for a one-year program in critical disability studies in York University’s Faculty of Health. The program, the only one of its kind in Canada, examines “the systemic social, political, legal and economic barriers to the full societal inclusion of persons with disabilities,” according to the York University Web site. When she’s finished at York, Addison Webster plans to return to Peterborough to continue her activist work.

Separate health rules for Quebec would be offensive, says Monahan

In a decision that surprised many observers, the Supreme Court last June struck down a Quebec government ban on private health insurance for services already covered under medicare, reported the Toronto Star June 3. Some experts argue that although the top court’s ruling concerns Quebec alone – the court ruled that banning private health-care options was a violation of the Quebec Charter – it could have implications for other provinces. “I don’t think it would be tolerable to contemplate one kind of rule in Quebec and another for the rest of Canada. I can’t imagine anything that would be more offensive,” said Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.