Is the commute the best part of your day?

Roger Keil loves his commute, reported the Toronto Star online Nov. 7. It’s a time the York University professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies has to himself to read, work and think as he travels from his home in the Beach to York’s Keele campus. “I’m on the TTC every day. I love that time,” he said this morning. “It’s the time that belongs to me.”

Keil is not alone. A new study by Statistics Canada suggests more of us like travelling to work than don’t. It found that 38 per cent of workers feel good about their commute as opposed to 30 per cent who feel bad about it. In fact, one out of six people said they like commuting a great deal, while about 3 per cent said it’s their favourite activity.

Keil, who is director of the City Institute at York University, said motorists’ enjoyment of their time on the road is probably linked to a sense of freedom. “It affords you a moment of privacy that most people don’t have in their houses and most people don’t have in their workplace,” he said. They also enjoy the feeling of status and liberty that the auto industry promises, he said. “Even if they’re in a traffic jam, they are still in their wonderful shiny cars that they put a lot of money down to own,” he said.

Ignorance of geometry stifles ingenuity, says York mathematician

Through his lifelong work as geometry’s apostle, Donald Coxeter, who died in 2003 at 96, became known around the world as “the man who saved geometry” from near extinction in a mathematical era characterized by all things algebraic, abstract and austere, wrote the National Post Nov. 8. The preference for mathematical rationality and rigour current at the time held that the subjective and fallible visual sense was easily led astray, falling victim to impressionistic reasoning.

As a result, mathematical and scientific investigation nearly suffered from what Walter Whiteley, director of applied mathematics in York’s Faculty of Arts, calls the “geometry gap”. Whiteley holds that an ignorance of visual and geometric tools brings about a lack of ingenuity in mathematics and science, creating stumbling blocks to solving problems and making discoveries. Coxeter tipped the balance a little more in favour of the visual geometric approach.

Passion for the environment leads to ‘best job in the country’

York geography alumnus Jose Etcheverry (BA ‘96) is talking about a revolution and it has nothing to do with politics in his native Chile, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 8. As the climate change research and policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, Etcheverry is adamant that the only way the globe can grapple with mounting greenhouse gases is to fundamentally change the way we live. “Changing behaviour is more profound,” he says, pointing to a small sticker on his computer that reminds the user to turn it off when not in use. It’s a simple message, but one that flies in the face of the complex technological solutions.

“If we perfect the fuel-cell car that emits only water, we’ll make it OK for everyone to drive everywhere – but is that the answer? We’ll have to pave over everything – using oil – to accommodate all these vehicles and we’ll be no further ahead.”

Instead of chasing grand technological dreams, Etcheverry reasons, the world would be better off producing energy locally rather than expending energy carrying it over long distances. Ten per cent of electricity, for example, is lost in transmission lines. “The real solutions, the desirable ones, bring environmental, social, economic and health benefits to local communities,” he says. How to do that?

Etcheverry helped write and lobby for a new policy that will pay homeowners to generate electricity and sell it back to the grid for a fixed rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, or 42 cents if the owner has invested in solar equipment. No other jurisdiction in North America has crafted such a striking policy that allows anyone to invest in sustainable energy equipment at home, such as a small wind generator or solar collectors. “If you’re a farmer, you will have a new crop: wind,” he says.

Has it been 15 years already?

It was the summer of 1991, and having graduated from York University with a degree in political science a year earlier, I decided to enter the race for school trustee on the then Dufferin-Peel Roman Catholic Separate School Board, wrote alumnus Arthur Peters (BA ‘90) in the Brampton Guardian Nov. 8. After Nov. 12, 1991, I found myself as one of two elected officials serving Brampton East, at that time with only 11 schools, four of which I had attended as a student. I am very thankful I have been given the opportunity to serve our community in Catholic education. To be chosen by the electorate and my fellow trustees for these positions are honours I will always remember. (Arthur Peters is about to be a former trustee and Chair of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.)

Catalogue indicates art donated by Beaverbrook was a gift, not loan: York expert

A 57-year-old catalogue from a prestigious New Brunswick art gallery indicates works donated by the late Lord Beaverbrook were gifts, not loans, an art expert testified Tuesday, reported The Telegram (St. John’s) Nov. 8. “The bottom line is, this is a catalogue of Beaverbrook Art Gallery paintings,” said Joyce Zemans, professor emerita in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and director of Arts & Media Administration, Schulich School of Business.

Zemans, a witness for the gallery, was asked to examine the official gallery catalogue from 1959, the year it was established by Lord Beaverbrook in downtown Fredericton. She said the numbers for the Beaverbrook items in the catalogue did not contain the letter ‘L’, which would have indicated they were on loan. Former Supreme Court justice and York Chancellor Peter Cory is the arbitrator in the case. The British Beaverbrook Foundation, headed by Beaverbrook’s grandson, Max Aitken, is claiming 133 artworks housed at the Fredericton gallery are on loan.

PM still mum on money for Spadina subway

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly indicated to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in a private meeting Nov. 6, that a major new federal infrastructure program is forthcoming that will be weighted in favour of Ontario, wrote columnist Ian Urquhart in the Toronto Star Nov. 8. The money will be to help with improvements at border crossings, especially Windsor-Detroit. Harper had little to say, however, on the proposed extension of the Spadina subway to York University, for which Ontario is seeking federal support, Urquhart wrote.

York student helps make wishes come true

Elliott Gordon got his wish of meeting Robin Williams, wrote the Richmond Hill Liberal Nov. 6. The 19-year-old Thornhill resident spent several hours in 2001 chatting with the famed actor/comedian in San Francisco over lunch after the Starlight, Starbright Children’s Foundation granted his request. Gordon met Williams, star of such movies as Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs. Doubtfire, after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a child. He has since volunteered with the foundation, helping other sick children realize their dreams. “I found it very fulfilling and I know I’m helping families,” the York University student said. “It’s fulfilling because you know you’re giving them a moment away from the illness.”

Your job doesn’t just have to be about work

Employers such as Amex frequently find themselves on the list of top employers by providing incentives that contribute to low turnover, reported the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner Nov. 4. But benefits extend beyond just the personal health of Amex employees as a number of features, aimed at the financial well-being of staff. Included on that list are RRSP contribution matching, up to five paid days for community involvement and enrolment at the company’s ‘Distinguished Leadership University’. The eight-month leadership program, now in its fourth year, is a joint venture with nearby York University.

On air

  • James Laxer, professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, spoke about his new book on the history of Canadians, on radio station CFQM-FM (Moncton) Nov. 7.

  • Thomas Gallant, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts who spoke at the Canadian Club Nov. 6 about the 1918 Greek riots in Toronto, was featured on CNBN-TV (North Bay) Nov. 7.