When you’re mzungu, you get noticed

“It’s not easy being green,” quipped Kermit, a frog puppet and star of his own TV show. Don’t tell me it’s not easy being green, until you are mzungu (non-Kenyan) in Nakuru, wrote York alumnus Jacob Kojfman (LLB/MBA ‘03) in the latest of a series of columns on his experiences during a six-month stay in Africa. If you’re not Kenyan, you get noticed. A lot.

On some levels, it’s flattering, wrote Kojfman. Little children come up to you to say “hello” and want to shake your hand. Handshaking is huge in Kenya. Living here is like one giant networking convention without the exchange of business cards. Replying to these children in Swahili, surprises and impresses them at the same time. Of course, when the only phrases you know in Swahili are “hello”, “I’m fine”, “thank you” and “OK” it puts a damper on any conversation.

To fully experience the “celebrity” effect of being a mzungu in Nakuru, you need only take a walk along the main street, with all of the shopping possibilities. And not just licensed shops, but hawkers and a thriving black market. Such a friendly place it is, with all the “hellos” and “jambos” directed your way from the artisans trying to sell their jua kali, Swahili for “completely useless crap.”

Jacob Kojfman has an LLB/MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business and Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He will spend six months working as a small business adviser for an NGO in Kenya.

Ailing economy hurts homeless: Expert calls for action plan

The double whammy of an ailing economy and approaching winter makes the need for a comprehensive action plan against homelessness even more urgent, says the co-author of new research into homelessness in Windsor and Essex County, in a story in the Windsor Star Nov. 29. “As a community, we need to accept the challenge of addressing the needs of homeless and under-housed people in our community, particularly homeless youth, people who are new to Canada and people at risk of homelessness in rural areas of Essex County,” says Uzo Anucha, professor at York’s Atkinson School of Social Work and the University of Windsor.

Anucha presented findings of three studies at a forum Tuesday designed to come up with solutions to the “growing problem” of homelessness. A study that tracked 120 homeless people in Windsor over a one-year period found that homelessness often starts at a young age. Almost 80 per cent of respondents said they first left home when they were 18 years old or younger. Many of the respondents came from troubled homes and cited problems with alcoholic or abusive parents.

A house in Toronto for a loonie? Well, yes, sort of

It may seem loony but there’s a brand new house in Toronto for sale for a buck, reported the National Post Nov. 29. That’s not a misprint, just a gimmick a Toronto brokerage has come up with to sell a home in a slowing market where supply is increasing rapidly. While listing a house for sale for $1 may sound creative, Moshe Milevsky, professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business, said it could end up backfiring on the seller because it lowers the perception of value. “Christie’s and Sotheby’s never do that and they’ve been studying auctions for years,” said Milevsky about the $1 list price. “If anybody knows auctions, it’s the people selling art.”

Progressive pot views in Conservative’s past

Conservative leader and York alumnus John Tory (LLB ‘78) says he smoked marijuana as a high-school and university student, once favoured lighter sentences for pot traffickers and even drove while “stoned,” reported the Windsor Star Nov. 29. The revelations are in a 30-year-old column Tory wrote as a student for the Osgoode Hall Law School newspaper. His law-student article said it was “absurd” to throw marijuana traffickers in jail. Tory told The Toronto Sun he still believes it is unfair to give someone the stigma of a criminal record for simple possession, but now believes in tougher sentences for traffickers.

Town’s ‘shocking’ accounting practices slammed

A former Canadian banking regulator says something is wrong if the Town of Cobourg can’t produce “prompt” audited financial statements, reported the Cobourg Daily Star Nov. 29. “No well-run business can operate like that,” said Michael Mackenzie, Executive in Residence in the Financial Services Program at York’s Schulich School of Business, during an interview. “To me, it’s sloppiness.” It also raises concerns about the true state of the town’s financial position and its debt load, Mackenzie said.

He was so concerned when he discovered the town’s 2005 audited statements were still unavailable with the end of 2006 just around the corner, he went to see Mayor Peter Delanty, made suggestions to him in writing, and sent a letter to the editor of this newspaper.

The Cobourg resident spent seven years as the superintendent of financial institutions and inspector general of banks, regulating and supervising most banks, insurance companies and trust companies in Canada until he retired in 1994. Since then he has taught at York University and assisted the World Bank with leadership programs related to this experience.

Green party confidence grows

Canada’s political landscape is about to be tinted green, predicts Elizabeth May, an unsuccessful candidate in the recent London, Ont., by-election, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 29. Others aren’t so certain the outcome signals a Green breakthrough. While the party’s vote soared to nearly 26 per cent from around five in the past two general elections, observers said the outcome wasn’t remarkable given that it was a by-election, and most stars were aligned in May’s favour. “This was the best opportunity to win a seat in the next while, but they didn’t do it,” said Robert MacDermid, a political scientist at York University. “I suspect she’s disappointed she didn’t win.”

Saskatchewan loses ‘original thinker’: judge

Saskatchewan’s loss is BC’s gain, wrote The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) Nov. 29. One of Saskatoon’s brightest legal minds, Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (LLB ‘85), is on her way west to become British Columbia’s first provincial representative for children and youth.

“She has the kind of mind that she can not only see the theory of the law and justice, but the practical application of it – and she’s brought that to bear in dealing with youth, particularly, and is very much respected by members of our court for that,” said Judge Brosi Nutting, who was chief justice of the provincial court when Turpel-Lafond was first appointed to the bench in 1998.

“She has some particular qualities that really shone on the court, because she is gifted with a combination of intelligence, wisdom and compassion, all in the right proportions. She’ll be a very great loss to the court and sorely missed by her colleagues, because she’s an original thinker and creative, optimistic and profoundly intelligent, with a very warm, ironic sense of humour which is not commonly known except in our chambers.”

Pitkanen helps bring Handel’s Messiah to Orillia

On the first weekend of December, the Cellar Singers, under the direction of Maestro Albert Greer, are bringing the perennial holiday season favourite, Handel’s Messiah, to Bracebridge and Orillia, wrote the Orillia Packet and Times Nov. 29. Steven Pitkanen (BFA ’93), baritone, will be thrilling us with the air, “The Trumpet Will Sound” towards the end of the performance. Pitkanen last performed with the Cellar Singers in another beautiful work by Handel, Israel in Egypt, in 2001. He is a graduate of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and has sung many different roles, both operatic and oratorio, across Canada.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon campus, spoke about the impact of Parliament’s decision to recognize Québécois as a nation on Radio Canada (Toronto) Nov. 28.
  • Marcel Martel, professor of history in York’s Faculty of Arts, also spoke about the Québécois nation motion, on CBC Radio (Toronto) Nov. 28.
  • Thabit Abdullah, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, took part in a panel discussion about Arab states pursuing nuclear programs, on TVOntario’s “The Agenda” Nov. 28.