Battling the cursed earworms is no song and dance

Musicologist, historian and Grammy winner Rob Bowman says people can’t really help catching “earworms”, songs that repeat in your mind, reported The Vancouver Sun Oct. 7. “Your brain stores material, stimulated constantly by sound or visual stimuli, and that material is stored constantly whether you want to or not. Your ears are never shut,” Bowman says from Toronto, where he teaches popular music studies at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. “They’re always open.”

“The things that tend to get stuck in our head tend to be short, repeated patterns,” he says. “The other sorts of things that often get stuck in our head are musical hooks – like da da da dah, Beethoven’s Fifth, or Bump pah du du dah dah dah dah dah, the Rolling Stones. Those are things written 160 or so years apart from each other and they have exactly the same effect.”

Bowman says most people don’t mind getting their favourite song stuck in the brain but when it’s a song they hate, it’s another story. “That’s really irritating but the things are so damn catchy,” he says. “It could simply be that you’ve heard it enough that it got lodged up there.” When he was in Grade 5, he was infested by a formidable tune. “I remember Sugar Sugar from the Archies torturing me when I was in Grade 5. I can picture the day in the park, wondering, ‘Why can’t I get rid of this damn thing?’ ” he says. While earworms are easy to catch, they are difficult to cure. Changing the music is the best medicine, Bowman says. He listens to something he likes as a “cure-all”. “Sing a song that you really like to combat it,” Bowman says. “Flush it out with better music.”

York’s chancellor will hear arguments in Beaverbrook art case

York Chancellor Peter Cory has made a career of tough decisions in stressful situations, be it in battle or on the bench of Canada’s Supreme Court, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal Oct. 7. It is that sensitivity and integrity the feuding parties in the Beaverbrook art squabble were seeking when they selected Cory to oversee the proceedings. The public arbitration hearing between Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery and the London-based Beaverbrook Foundation started Tuesday and is expected to last as long as five weeks. The ownership of 133 paintings, one alone worth $25 million, is in question.

“Peter is known as one of the most gentle, decent and principled people one could meet,” said Frank Iacobucci, a long-time friend, colleague and fellow retired Supreme Court justice. “He’s extremely fair. He has lived his whole life being as fair as he could be. He’s full of integrity and honesty.”

According to Marilyn Pilkington, a faculty member and former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Cory is called on “when there is a great need for someone who has credibility, independence and utter fairness. That’s what he’s known for.” Pilkington wasn’t surprised to hear Cory was chosen in the Beaverbrook dispute. “He’s very much in demand to do this kind of work,” she said. “It’s rather similar to the work he did as a trial judge. He’s a very distinguished jurist, an independent person and a wonderful human being.”

Laxer finds Ignatieff’s belief in empire ‘mind-boggling’

Michael Ignatieff has backed many of the major elements of the Bush policies that are responsible for much of the mess in the world, wrote Haroon Sidiqui in a column in the Toronto Star and the Hamilton Spectator Oct. 8 about Ignatieff’s prospects if he wins the Liberal leadership. “He has apologized for the notion of the American Empire,” said Jim Laxer, York University professor and a leading New Democrat, who has just written a book, Empire. “To have a Canadian prime minister who believes in an empire is mind-boggling, considering we’ve spent our whole history getting out from under the British Empire and then the informal American empire,” Laxer said in an interview.

  • Laxer told CanWest News Service Oct. 7, “Ignatieff, because of his views on foreign policy, is less likely to win votes on the centre left, from NDP voters, than Rae, Kennedy or Dion. And it’s on the centre left that the votes are parked that the Liberals need to win back office.”

Nash hopes Reload reinforces reputation

York student Chris Nash is earning a reputation as one of Canada’s best young filmmakers, wrote the Sault Star Oct. 10. The Desbarats, Ont. native wants to prove the accolades are well deserved with his latest work, the feature-length Reload. “That’s the hope,” the fourth-year film student said. “Now’s the time to do it while there’s still some noise being made about Day of John.” That short, directed and written by the Central Algoma Secondary School graduate, was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005. It’s one of the biggest film festivals in the world. Day of John received an award for best screenplay at the Canadian National Youth Film Festival in April.

From social to serious

If looking at student groups is a good way to gauge student life, universities have made a massive shift over the past four decades away from dances, keggers, drama clubs and drugs, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 10. That university experience died decades ago. After two decades of intense immigration, it should be no surprise that the majority of student groups on GTA campuses are based on ethnicity, culture and religion. What’s more interesting is that the largest of these groups are formed from communities that get a bad rap in the news. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are now well represented on campuses. But the number of evangelical Christian groups has also grown steadily since the 1980s. Out of approximately 200 student groups at York University, about a fifth are religious-based. Most of those are Christian.

Campbell proves pure play has future in business world

Acco Brands’ emergence as a spinoff public company in office products has two fundamental quirks, wrote the Chicago Sun-Times Oct. 10. York alumnus David Campbell (MBA ‘76), longtime head of Acco and the key architect of its spinoff, described it this way the other day: First, for only the fifth time in business history, the Acco move was accomplished through a “reverse Morris Trust.” That arcane ploy takes place when the parent company, in this case Fortune, received stock in the new Acco on a totally tax-free basis with no cash involved and ended up in full control of Acco. Second, simultaneously, another major Chicago company with a compatible product line, General Binding, was merged into Acco, $1 billion of new debt was raised, and then paid to Fortune as an exit dividend. Is this de-conglomeratization good for the nation and good for shareholders?

“Emphatically yes,” says Campbell, 56, a Canadian native and MBA grad from York University. “It’s a very healthy trend. In business life, experience has shown us that success comes most often from concentration of brainpower and assets, with minimal dilution of effort.”

Students, start your spreadsheets

Ask a team of MBA students to create a fund and anything can happen, wrote the National Post Oct. 10. The Post has invited students to do just that with its second annual MBA Portfolio Management Competition, which pits 12 business schools from across Canada in a stock-picking slug-fest that runs until the end of March. The prize? Bragging rights. York’s Schulich School of Business team includes: Saheem Malik, Wilson Wen, Shabab Mirza, Richard Cheng, Michael Missaghie, Ankit Agrawal, Jason Body and Adam Fenech. Team Schulich has eschewed exchange-traded funds in favour of individual stocks – 25 of them, most of which are blue-chip members of the S&P/TSX 60 index. As a result, they’ve constructed a portfolio that gives them exposure to all the major sectors, from telecom and financials (their biggest weighting), to health care, energy and consumer staples. For income, they’ve also included four income trusts.

Jerome award a ‘surreal’ deal

Since she was a young girl growing up in Rexdale, York alumna Terri-Lynne Devonish (BA ‘92, LLB ‘95) wanted to be a lawyer, wrote The Toronto Sun Oct. 8. After graduating from York’s Glendon campus with a degree in political science, she applied to Osgoode Hall Law School hoping to fulfil her lifelong dream. Devonish, one of three sisters who grew up in a family of modest means, considered not going to law school because the money just wasn’t there. The turning point came when she was awarded a $2,000 Harry Jerome scholarship.

Devonish was one of about 500 people at the 2006 Harry Jerome scholarship choirfest, Oct. 7, at the McVety Conference Centre on Gervais Dr., a fundraiser for this year’s scholarship – which will be awarded later this month to 35 recipients who best exemplify Harry Jerome, the first black Canadian Olympian. Devonish is now general counsel for Primus telecommunications and considers herself a success. “I wake up sometimes and I think about how far I’ve come and it’s absolutely surreal,” said Devonish, who is also a trustee of the Harry Jerome scholarship fund.

Taking history personally

Former York student Nancy Cameron is looking out of her living room window at Dalhousie Avenue, trying to think of how Port Dalhousie has changed since she was a girl, wrote the St. Catharines Standard Oct. 7. It’s bigger, she offers. There are some departed old buildings she misses. She thinks some more. And looks some more. And then raises her hand to wave at a familiar face passing by on the sidewalk. She smiles. “It really was a magical place,” says the 49-year-old local historian and researcher. “It still is. Just not in the same way.” Cameron, moved back to Port Dalhousie seven years ago after living in and tasting the history of towns and cities all across the country.

On air

  • Donald Rickerd, associate director of Asian Business & Management Programs in the York Centre for Asian Research, spoke about North Korea’s underground nuclear test on CBC Radio’s “The World this Hour” Oct. 9.

  • Seth Feldman, film professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the “guilty pleasure” of watching the Trailer Park Boys and how that may translate into their new movie, on CBC-TV’s “The National” Oct. 6.  “I’m a great fan of bad taste, so I watch it all the time, ” said Feldman. “Watching it in the theatre is going to be a little different than watching on television, because you have all these other fans around you and you don’t feel like you’re at home and enjoying this guilty pleasure.”

  • Laurie Foley, a York student who listens to Prof. Diane Zorn’s modes of reasoning lectures on an Apple iPod, was featured on Good Morning Canada Oct. 7.