Button-up design offered for York’s U50 celebration

For a while it seemed like buttons only came in two options: the yellow smiley face and cannabis leaves, wrote The Globe and Mail March 28 in its Style section. But buttons got a high-design upgrade in 2005, when the Toronto urban-issues magazine Spacing introduced buttons for every subway stop in the city (complete with the corresponding tile motif). Suddenly, buttons were objets d’art. (And in a nod to Toronto’s 175th anniversary this year, Spacing has just released a new series featuring the coats of arms of local towns and municipalities.)

Now York University has jumped on the bandwagon as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration efforts, called U50. It has introduced a set of eight colourful buttons based on banners created for the institution’s original colleges – and at a recession-friendly price of 34 cents each.

Designed between 1963 and 1975, these were no ordinary banners. At the time, York enlisted some of Canada’s leading abstract artists, including Guido Molinari and Painters 11 members Harold Town and Jack Bush.

Each banner is open to interpretation. Vanier College’s, by Bush, is a clean study in blue, green and magenta, while the McLaughlin College banner (created by then-student Don Cole [BA ’70] in 1968-1969) resembles either a coffee bean or a basketball court. Reducing the original banners to button size was done by an in-house team at York.

“We knew that the banners existed but a lot of people didn’t know about them,” says Shelley Town, product consultant for the U50 project and daughter of Harold. (Representing Founders College, his is the 12-pronged design with a blue and white disk at the centre.) “The University was committed to the arts when it was still a new thing in the sixties.”

Town, who formerly owned the Danforth Avenue shop Butterfield 8, says the likeness to the Spacing buttons was intentional. “We sold them in the store and they attracted people who had never come in before. You can put them on a bulletin board; you don’t have to wear them.”

For non-alums, there is nothing to suggest that the buttons are affiliated with the University. They would not, in other words, look out of place at any art gallery store.

The buttons are part of a collection of other commemorative tchotchkes – from mugs to metal key chains – in the University’s palette of red, white and silver and bearing the stylized U50 logo. Cufflinks ($29.99), magnets ($11.99) and snow globes ($14.99) featuring black and white archival images are among the standouts.

As Town says, “I think [York] was looking to the past but also to presenting the [history] in a way that was current and accessible to the graduates of tomorrow.”

The U50 collection is available online at http://www.yorku50.ca/shop and in specially curated sections of the York Bookstore on both the Keele and Glendon campuses.

York research will help astronauts find ‘up’

This week, a York University project was launched that will help scientists learn more about how astronauts get so mixed up, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 28. Six astronauts will test their perception at the International Space Station, trying to figure out how the senses go wrong and how to cope. The first of the six, Michael Barratt, launched Thursday from Russia.

“Astronauts need to perform many detailed tasks where spatial orientation is crucial, but without gravity, the brain has difficulty telling ‘up’ from ‘down’,” said Jim Zacher, a project scientist and system administrator with York’s Centre for Vision Research. “Once we understand how and why this occurs, we can find ways to correct it.”

Barratt and other astronauts – including Canadian Bob Thirsk – will do a series of tests before going into space. They will continue them during the early and late stages of their stay aboard the space station, and upon returning to Earth. Thirsk is scheduled to launch at the end of May.

York’s teams have done previous work testing subjects in a NASA aircraft that climbs steeply and then dives, so that people inside float around for a period of zero gravity. It’s the same aircraft that Tom Hanks used for the realistic space scenes of the movie Apollo 13. The study is funded through the Canadian Space Agency and involves Canadian, American and European astronauts.

Google transfer slows research: York researcher

Google has been “organizing the world’s information” for more than a decade but a group of historians has accused the search-engine giant of making a big mess in its little corner of the globe, wrote the National Post March 30. In the middle of the dispute is a tiny Ottawa-based Internet venture that sold its archive of digitized historical newspapers to Google two years ago.

The content of PaperofRecord.com (POR) has recently become unavailable on the Web, as Google seeks to transfer it to its own properties but the move has stymied the researchers who use it. Karolyn Smardz-Frost, a research associate in York University’s Faculty of Education and course director in the School of Arts & Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, has recommended the site for years to students of her African-Canadian History class because its holdings included the anti-slavery newspaper the Voice of the Fugitive, which was published in Canada before the American Civil War. She herself used POR extensively to research her 2007 book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land, which earned her a Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction in the same year.

“I feel like a slight prima donna for making a fuss over this but there are two stages to research: On the one hand you have to locate the information and then you have to analyze what you find,” she said. “The digitization saves so much time. This has cut off one of my hands.”

The quiet gunslinger

On Tuesday, Vancouver libel lawyer Barry Gibson (LLB ’74), who represented The Vancouver Sun for more than two decades – as well as more than 100 other media outlets in the province – collapsed in his office and died of a heart attack. He was just 60 years old, wrote David Baines in The Vancouver Sun March 28.

The next day, I walked into the office at Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy where he had worked for the past 34 years. There I found anthropological evidence of the important things in his life…most interestingly a picture of two little boys dressed as bad-guy gunslingers. It was a posture that never suited Barry, even in later years when he had reached a stature where he could, more convincingly, play the role of tough-guy lawyer. He was not in the fight game, he used to tell me – he was in the business of fixing things.

There were, however, many times in his career where things couldn’t be fixed and fights couldn’t be avoided. That’s when the other Barry Gibson appeared, the one with the glint of steel at his side. “He was the most dangerous adversary you could ever have,” said older brother Byran, also a lawyer and Queen’s Counsel (at McCarthy Tétrault in Vancouver). “But he was not one to posture and yell. His delight would be turning his adversaries aside, deftly, economically and gracefully.”

  • Noted BC media lawyer Barry Gibson passed away Tuesday at the age of 60 after suffering a major heart attack, wrote BC’s Maple Ridge News and Burnaby Newsleader March 26.

He advised Black Press newspapers, including The News, as well as dozens of other media outlets across Western Canada. “He was a great friend to us in the media,” said Black Press chief operating officer Rick O’Connor.

Ban corporate campaign donations, MacDermid tells Aurora councillors

Trade unions and corporations should be banned from contributing to candidates in municipal elections, a York University professor says, wrote the Aurora Era-Banner March 27. The move was among a slew of recommendations Robert MacDermid, professor of political science in the Faculty of Arts, presented to Aurora council Tuesday.

MacDermid made headlines earlier this year with the publication of his report on municipal campaign funding and property development in the Greater Toronto Area. It shone a light on the disproportionate number of corporate donations doled out to candidates in municipal elections outside Toronto. The involvement of corporations and unions in elections raises serious concerns, he said. It’s through such entities that some citizens are able to contribute more than others, MacDermid said.

Business owners, for example, are able to contribute to candidates once via their business and again as an individual. That is a luxury other voters simply do not have, he added. Even more significant, according to MacDermid, is how well represented development companies are when it comes to campaign contributions. “The majority of corporate funding comes from the development industry that has both a general and specific financial interest in council decisions,” MacDermid said. “I think many citizens would be deeply troubled by that fact.”

MacDermid also recommended that contributors to a candidate’s campaign reside in the riding or ward in which the candidate is running, that there be a limit on the number of contributions by one contributor and the practice of self-financing a campaign be banned. Aurora councillors were generally in favour of many of MacDermid’s suggestions, however, the notion of a ban on the ability to self-finance a campaign drew criticism. An end to self-financing at the municipal level could make it difficult for someone to run a campaign, deputy mayor Bob McRoberts said.

Self-financing is banned in provincial and federal campaigns, which makes sense, he said, as candidates at those levels have parties on which to rely. But that just isn’t the case locally. “My fear would be if no one would donate, then I wouldn’t have a campaign,” McRoberts said. “The only party I have at the local level is my family.” Councillor Alison Collins-Mrakas said she was impressed with MacDermid’s presentation, however, like McRoberts, she said banning self-financing may be going too far. Councillors referred MacDermid’s presentation to town staff for further review.

Kraft’s Domenic Borrelli: Krafting icons

As VP marketing, grocery at Kraft Canada, Domenic Borrelli (BSc ’93 Comb. Hons.’93, MBA ’97) has a lot on his plate – Miracle Whip, BBQ Sauce, Stove Top Stuffing – 11 brands in total, wrote Strategy in its April 1 edition. But it’s his recent work on two of Kraft’s most iconic brands that’s stirring up attention.

In the past year, Borrelli has gone in new directions with Kraft Dinner and Kraft Peanut Butter – brands that are synonymous with the Kraft name. He’s launched a social networking site for KD and embarked on an unprecedented campaign for Peanut Butter that includes PR and web efforts. So why mess with the classics? Because Borrelli wants them to keep growing and changing with the times: “I hope my legacy will be to leave my businesses with a stronger connectivity and relationship with Canadian consumers.”

Travelling the Americas

It is now spring and migrant songbirds are making their way north to nest in our northern forests. It is a long journey from Central and South America to North America and this trip takes many days, wrote the Orillia Packet and Times March 28. It was previously believed that these songbirds covered about 150 miles a day during migration. But new research by York University Professor Bridget Stutchbury, of the Faculty of Science & Engineering, and her team of student researchers has recently found new information.

They were amazed when they…found that the songbirds could fly in excess of 500 kilometres a day, three times the distance previously estimated. They also found that during spring migration the birds covered more ground each day than in fall migration. One purple martin took 43 days to reach Brazil in fall migration but returned to its breeding colony in Pennsylvania in only 13 days.

This research is so important to understand why songbird populations have declined so rapidly in recent years, wrote the Packet. Wood thrush populations have declined by 30 per cent since 1966, so it is important for overall conservation to preserve the forests in these areas.

Stutchbury feels that tracking these species-at-risk songbirds to their wintering locations is important for predicting the impact of tropical habitat loss and climate change. Before they would just disappear in the fall, but not return in the spring. Now this new technology can provide researchers with some of the answers in why they fail to return.

Time for a green bottom line

While the economic crisis is grim news for investors, ecological economists like…Peter Victor, economics professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, sees it as a teaching moment for a world hooked on unsustainable growth, wrote The Vancouver Sun March 28.

Ecological economists argue that mainstream economics excludes the true environmental costs of economic activity. The failure to account for such consequences points up the failings of traditional economics, suggests Victor, author of Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster. “The real economy lives in the environment,” he says.

Worried about hockey injuries, dads set up a new league

A study this month in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine says traumatic brain injury is “of particular concern” in contact children’s hockey and notes that hockey-related fatality and injury rates are more than twice as high as in football, wrote The Globe and Mail March 28 in a story about a parent who has started a non-contact hockey league.

A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that more than eight in 10 injuries in minor hockey are related directly to bodychecking. “The evidence clearly suggests that bodychecking shouldn’t be introduced until later,” says Alison Macpherson, professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health.

Today’s mortgages are about what makes sense not cents

“If you were buying a house 10 years ago, fixed versus variable was the biggest decision you made,’’ said Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University and executive director of The Individual Finance and Insurance Decisions Centre, wrote Canwest News Service March 30. “But now there are more important things in place. Equity prices are falling, housing prices are falling. I think there are three or four things more important than fixed versus variable now.’’

“The last time I looked at it, a year ago, the same strategy was holding up. Roughly…85 per cent of the time, you were better off going with variable rates, rather than fixed rates,” said Milevsky.

But saving a few dollars should no longer be the determining factor in the fixed-variable dilemma. “Too much emphasis has been based on this study,’’ said Milevsky. “It’s the most-downloaded item on our Web site. But if you look at interest rates right now, you’re debating over a per cent. When fixed rates were nine per cent and variable rates were five, that’s a big difference. That’s another issue.’’

“Renewing is not just a day at the bank, it’s a major event in the life of your house,’’ said Milevsky, adding low rates make other considerations more important in the fixed-variable debate.

“Risk management is a collection of issues. The problem, especially in the US, was wanting to get everybody in a house. But there might be certain people who might be better off renting,’’ said Milevsky.

PhD in India, security guard here, made right move

A university professor from India, Vijay Bhosekar never thought he would don a security guard uniform and walk his beat in malls and condo buildings in Toronto, wrote the Toronto Star March 28 in a regular feature titled Why I Came Here. But that’s what the gregarious 49-year-old agricultural scientist has been doing since he arrived here in April 2005. The pay, just above $10 an hour, is meagre but Bhosekar is taking it in stride while enrolled in courses to upgrade his skills and acquire credentials to be a certified environmental practitioner and earn a professional designation in agrology.

Bhosekar and his wife, Vaishali, an elementary school teacher, came to Canada so their only daughter, Meghana Bhosekar, 19, could get the best education. She now majors in environmental studies at York University.

Trading her hard hat for a second chance

In some cases, including Janice Rennick’s, parents are returning to school while their own kids are in postsecondary education, wrote the Toronto Star March 26 in a story about the Second Career program, a three-year, $355-million provincial retraining fund created especially for laid-off workers. Her daughter attends York University and her son is training to be a plumber.

Northview student offers look Behind the Screen

A student at Northview Heights Secondary School has gained provincial recognition for her interpretation of how media and technology are affecting today’s youth, wrote the North York Mirror March 27. For her award-winning entry to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Student Achievement Awards, which asked students to create artwork reflecting the theme of Beyond the Screen, Grade 12 student Abeer Qa’aty created a surrealist photograph of a youth staring into a mirror only to be met by a blank-faced reflection. “Youth these days see all these images, like photos of celebrities on the front of magazines, and they have no idea they’ve been retouched,” she said. “They struggle to attain this totally unrealistic ideal.”

Currently interning for Rogers TV, Qa’aty hopes to attend York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in September for film production. “I want to make a difference,” she said. “I’ve realized that if you want to make a difference you have to reach out to people, and the best way is through television and film.”

On air

  • James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, spoke about recent comments that the border between Canada and the US may no longer be as open as it has been on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” March 27.