Our groceries can silence songbirds

Although a consumer may not be able to tell the difference, a striking red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China – the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead, wrote Bridget Stutchbury, professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, in an article that appeared in the New York Times March 30 and the Hamilton Spectator April 3.

In the same way, a plump red tomato from Florida or Leamington, Ont., is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in Canada or the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides, wrote Stutchbury.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of non-traditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Bridget Stutchbury is a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, noted the Times, and author of Silence of the Songbirds.  

No boring Bard for Calgary students

Shakespeare is still widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. His stories are familiar yet his clever Elizabethan-speak and triple entendres are lost on many of us. Enter York alumnus Brian Martell (BFA ’85), your actor, to whom all the classroom’s a stage and all the students merely players, wrote the Calgary Herald April 3.

Classically trained and passionate about the Bard, Martell unpacks Shakespeare’s works in a captivating one-man show that explains where England’s greatest writer was coming from.

"It’s time to take Shakespeare off the pedestal that snooty academics put him on and put him down on the ground," the 46-year-old Calgary native tells the students, who move their desks into a semi-circle around him. "Shakespeare was written for actors to speak and not to be read. Without an actor, his works are just dead, dusty words on a page."

Martell’s Actor’s Approach to Shakespeare performances have been making the senior high school circuit in Calgary for 20 years. After four years at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and a year at London’s Academy for Music and Dramatic Arts, Martell returned to Calgary in the mid-1980s as a fresh young actor eager to break into the local stage scene. Vowing he would never support himself by driving a cab or waiting on tables while waiting for his big break, he devised his one-man show with help from Calgary drama critic, Louis B. Hobson, and charges a fee for his services.

Law firm committed to the principles of workplace diversity

When Shashu Clacken (BA ’03, LLB ’06), a recent recruit at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, talks about how it felt to be asked to join a top law firm known for promoting diversity, she is quick to point out the reputation was the reason she chose it, wrote the Toronto Star April 3.

When Clacken was evaluating potential employers in Toronto, she questioned how committed they were to promoting and providing support for women of all backgrounds. "Blakes provided the most satisfactory answer," says the 25-year-old native of Jamaica. "On a personal level, it’s really important to feel comfortable and valued in your skin."

Clacken came to Toronto in 2000 to attend York University on a student visa. Following that, she studied law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. She joined the firm as a summer student in 2004, articled there in 2006 and 2007 and became an associate later that year.

Numbers show little jump in five years

Innisfil, Ont., resident Kristin Taylor is one of thousands from that town who make their way to the GTA every business day, wrote the Barrie Examiner April 3, in a story about commuting trends in the Barrie area. And, while she’d love to be able to work locally, her career won’t allow that.

Taylor, communications coordinator for York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, says she couldn’t stand taking Hwy. 400 everyday, so she rides the GO train.

"Now, instead of being stuck in traffic or worried if I’m going to be part of one of the many accidents that occur on our roads everyday, I get to sit back and read a book or simply relax," she said. "It might be quicker to drive some days, but I’d much rather take the train and not have to worry about the wear and tear on my vehicle," she said, adding there is another green reason for riding the rails instead of the 400.

"I feel good about taking the train, not only because I am eliminating my own stress, but also because I’m doing something good for the environment. It’s great to know that I’m helping to reduce emissions and de-clog the highways. It’s an ideal alternative for anyone who commutes," she said.

Life without transport by oil is closer than we think

The planet, posits a new book by two Canadian academics, is on the cusp of a revolution in transportation that will steer people away from petroleum-fuelled vehicles and into ones that are either battery-powered or connected to electrical grids, wrote columnist Barbara Yaffe in The Vancouver Sun April 3.

Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil, by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, is one of the most thought-provoking books to cross my desk in a long while. Gilbert is an urban issues consultant and former York University professor and municipal politician in Toronto. Their book is an eyebrow-raiser, portraying a future that’s around the corner as oil production is projected to hit a peak and start declining around 2012.

Student recounts her battle with depression

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, almost three million Canadians will experience serious depression throughout their lives, wrote York student Sarah Millar in a column about her personal battle with the illness, published in the Ottawa Citizen April 3. Less than one-third of those affected seek help.

It is not uncommon for university students to experience depression, especially during their first year. Beyond the normal stress of school, it is the first time for many people being on their own. Looking back now, I believe that was what sparked my depression [as a student at Ottawa’s Carleton University] in 2001. I was five hours away from home, away from my friends, my family and my boyfriend. I didn’t really know anyone in Ottawa. After my breakdown, I swore I would never again return to university or go back to Ottawa. In my own mind, it was those things that had made me sick.

Despite my fears, I returned to university in Toronto in 2005. After making it past my dropout date in January, I started to realize I was a different person than I was back then.

Millar, a copy editor at the National Post, will be graduating from York University with a degree in film theory this summer, noted the Citizen.

On air

  • Roger Keil, director of the City Institute at York University, spoke about the latest StatsCan figures on commuters’ increasing use of transit, on Toronto’s 680 News Radio April 2.