Glendon psychologist shares her research with The New York Times

Aside from a population of orangutans at a research centre inside Kutai National Park, the number of great apes in Indonesia – estimated at 600 – has sharply decreased in recent years because of two fires and human encroachment, wrote The New York Times June 14 and the Montreal Gazette June 15, citing researchers and forestry officials.

Widespread illegal logging and deforestation have reduced Indonesia’s overall orangutan population to about 60,000, an estimated 80 per cent reduction in the past decade, said Anne Russon, an orangutan expert in the Department of Psychology at York’s Glendon campus, who has done extensive research on the apes in Indonesia for the past 14 years, including in this park.

“The problem of incursions into national parks is very common in Indonesia,” said Russon, the orangutan expert. “Some are illegal. Others, like the case of Kutai National Park, are sanctioned by local governments.”

Hate in a cocoon of silence

While many might say that they would be quick to condemn and excoriate [racial] hatred, they can often passively condone and fail to expostulate the hater when they see it first-hand, wrote The New York Times June 13 in a story about the octogenarian-hater named James von Brunn, who, officials said, opened fire this week in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, killing a security guard.

That’s the gist of a January study that was written about in Science Daily. It was led by Kerry Kawakami, a psychology professor in the Faculty of Health at York University, and it found that although people predicted “that they would be very upset by a racist act and would take action,” their actual reactions were “much more muted”. Why? Because people are “much less willing to pay the emotional cost” of the confrontation than they thought they would be.

Simmering culture war erupts in Iran

Iran’s presidential election may be over, the protesters subdued, but the cause that brought so many Iranians to the ballot boxes and into the streets endures, wrote The Globe and Mail June 15.

“This was much bigger than just one man against another,” says Iranian Saeed Rahnema, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Arts. “It was a movement – several civil society groups – that decided to make [challenger Mir-Hossein] Mousavi their candidate. They existed before his campaign. They made him a contender and they won’t go away.”

“The regime now has a choice,” said Rahnema. “Either it deals with the issues of concern to these people, or it resorts to more violence.” Such violence might begin with massive arrests, the closing of newspapers and expulsion of students, he said.

Ironically, some analysts suggest, the nuclear issue might be an area where compromise is forthcoming. “It may be,” said Rahnema, “that making a deal with the United States over nuclear weapons is a way this discredited regime gets back some of its credibility.”

  • Rahnema also spoke about the elections in Iran on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” June 12.
  • Hundreds of Iranian-Canadians lined up at the country’s embassy in downtown Ottawa to vote in its presidential election Friday, seemingly almost all hoping to produce a change in Iran’s hardline leadership, wrote Canwest News Service June 13.

The embassy is the only place in Canada where eligible Iranian voters can cast ballots, and busloads of them arrived throughout the morning from Toronto, Montreal and beyond, with up to 300 waiting in line at a time. “It’s true that we are here and we are safe but our family and friends are in Iran and we need to vote for them,” said Fereshteh Sattari, 38, a graduate student in education at York University.

Giant elevator could reach edge of space, York researchers say

If the thinking of three York University scientists has been sound, they just might have the world at the end of a tether, wrote the Toronto Star June 15. Writing recently in science journal Acta Astronautica, Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu have come up with a concept and prototype to create a giant inflatable tower that could carry people to the edge of space.

The three scientists in York’s Space Engineering Program in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, have come up with a plan that could be used to create a 20-kilometre tower using inflatable modules that could house a space elevator and be used for research, tourism and telecommunications.

Space tourism is seen as an area of great potential for this project, wrote the Star. Quine says a 20-kilometre tower could provide an experience close to what astronauts have – with the added bonus of normal gravity. “If we created a 20-kilometre-high tower, from the ground it would take you 40 minutes to ascend to the top of the tower, and if you got up there, the view would be extremely similar to being in space. You would basically have the view that astronauts have, the black of space, the bright rim of the Earth where the sunlight scatters on the atmosphere and the outline of the continents,” he says.

World expert on Marxism, York prof sees a socialist revival

Leo Panitch knew that Marxism was back, brothers, when he was asked by AM640 (“Home of the Leafs”), a sports-mad radio station in Toronto, to talk about the GM deal, wrote columnist Ian Brown in The Globe and Mail June 13. The Canadian people suddenly own a few levers of the means of production, and some of the comrades wanted to know what they’d gotten themselves into.

The financial collapse has been manna for Marxists. Most Canadians don’t realize York’s Professor Panitch of the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts is one of the world’s most prominent Marxist thinkers, a contender for the mantle of E. P. Thompson, the founder of the British New Left and, like Thompson before him, editor of the Socialist Register. This is a huge deal among Marxists, who wear their sense of history the way the rest of us wear underpants.

Marx would be unimpressed with the West’s handling of the biggest calamity since the Depression, Panitch says, because we haven’t been bold enough. “No ambitious vision for enacting change has resulted from the current financial crisis.” Financial-transaction taxes? Taking stakes in outmoded car companies? That’s thinking inside the box.

But the Marxists see encouraging signs. “The failure of my generation,” Panitch says, “has been that we haven’t been able to produce parties or social movements that go beyond social-democratic parties. If you’re not speaking to people through the mass media, you’re not speaking to people.”

“The point of still being a Marxist today,” Panitch says, is to think ambitiously, “to recover the spirit of the revolution.”

Calls for Goodyear’s head raise suspicions, says York prof

The call for Gary Goodyear’s resignation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is a bit rich, wrote Eric Lawee, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the National Post June 13.

CAUT decries the suggestion from the minister of state (science & technology) that the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada conduct a further assessment of its funding of a conference on Israel/Palestine to be held at York University later this month, on the grounds that it constitutes an “attack on academic freedom.” Yet a few years back, when academic associations worldwide, including the American Association of University Professors, vigorously defended academic freedom by denouncing a proposed British boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions, CAUT remained silent, declining to speak out.

Though scholars must be very wary of political interference in the academic enterprise, serious questions about this conference’s academic integrity have been raised. Its lineup contains a who’s who of Israel-bashers, some of whom lack any academic credentials and one of whom is a leader in the movement to boycott Israeli academics. CAUT’s defence of these speakers’ academic freedom and failure to speak up on behalf of the academic freedom of their Israeli counterparts raises the disturbing suspicion that CAUT’s call for Goodyear’s head is itself more a matter of politics than academic principle.

Substandard operating procedure

Sarah Kramer, the now deposed eHealth chief executive officer, also came under fire for untendered contracts to suppliers, some with links to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s inner circle and to top eHealth officials, wrote the Toronto Star June 13 in a story about the lack of regulations governing the consulting industry.

“Crony capitalism is alive and well,” says Ronald Burke, professor emeritus in York University’s Schulich School of Business, insisting Kramer’s actions are not unusual.

Agreement is an attack on goal of containing urban sprawl, says York professor

The Star is far too gentle in its critique of the settlement agreement the government of Ontario has entered into with the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, Simcoe County and developers regarding the development of a large swath of “employment lands” on farmland in the Highway 400/County Road 88 area between Bradford and Bond Head, wrote Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in the Toronto Star June 13 in response to a Star editorial.

As the Star notes, the agreement undermines the public consultations on the government’s planning proposals in south Simcoe County released last week. More fundamentally, it is an attack on the core goal of containing urban sprawl that the province stated it was trying to achieve when it adopted its greenbelt and growth plans for the Golden Horseshoe region. In light of these considerations, serious questions need to be asked about how the settlement agreement came to be.

York nursing grad says ‘no’ to foreign jobs

The offers don’t stop coming. Christina Di Mario (BScN Spec. Hons. ’07) always says no, but the offers from the United States and Australia keep arriving, wrote the Welland Tribune June 13. “They do offer some pretty good packages,” the 27-year-old registered nurse says. “Some of them are tempting.”

Tempting, but never enough to sway Di Mario. The Canadian public health system is just something that bonuses and perks can’t replace. “I think it makes a big difference to live in a country where, when you have to go to a hospital you don’t have to stress about how much it costs. I just think that is better for the patients,” she says.

Di Mario recently joined the Niagara Health System after graduating from York University’s Faculty of Health. She’s always wanted to come home to Welland and establish her career in the local area. “This is my home. This is where I am from and where the people I love are,” she says. “Why would I not want to work here to help them when they need it?”

York grad wants to shake up Sault’s art gallery

When the Art Gallery of Algoma put out the call for a new director, Curtis Collins (BA Spec. Hons. ’85) thought it was pretty clear the Sault Ste. Marie institution was looking for someone to shake things up, wrote The Sault Star June 13.

Cue Collins, a 40-something with an irreverent attitude, the requisite art credentials and a penchant for tossing around a Frisbee. Collins has had the job a month-and-a-half now and, while he was quick to make his mark, he said he and the gallery board have in mind some big changes, both physically and philosophically.

“As a person who has sort of parachuted into a lot of communities and been a catalyst for change, (having a board eager to push forward) is something that I look forward to,” said Collins, 46, who grew up in Cornwall and has been either curator or director at galleries in North Bay; Montreal, Que.; Fredericton, NB; Peterborough and Lethbridge, Alta.

Symphony celebrates 30 years with York grad’s work

The Timmins Symphony Orchestra has its sights on staging the most ambitious project in its 30-year history: a musical about Timmins, wrote the Timmins Daily Press June 13.

The librettist is Laureen Kuhl (BA Spec. Hons. ’97) who should already be a familiar to the Timmins audience. She adapted The Pirates of Penzance for a musical theatre production that was performed in Timmins in 2008.

For this production, Kuhl said this will “be an original work and the world premier of the original work. It’s about individuals, through the Great Fire of 1911, finding each other and community within that. And also it will be a tribute to the men and the women and the industries that built our city."

Kuhl’s resumé includes four years of formal training in the theatre program in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, where she learned fundamentals in playwriting and screenwriting.

Banks are being cautious

Gordon Roberts, CIBC professor of financial services at the Schulich School of Business at York University, said that while the Toronto Stock Exchange has been doing “amazingly well” and interest rates at which banks borrow from one another are improving, financial institutions are still risk averse, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal June 13.

“No one knows for sure when the financial crisis is going to be over but all indications we have right now suggest that across Canada, that last fall and in the last year and first part of this year, it was definitely hard for all kinds of companies to get financing,” Roberts said.

The academic, whose research explores bank loans, said that financial institutions are placing additional restrictions on companies – including the size of dividends paid out, executive compensation, total debt and a host of other conditions. “Sometimes you can get financing but you’re not too happy with the terms,” Roberts said.

“Loan guarantees are nothing new. Banks often ask small businesspeople to guarantee the loan by putting up the house,” Roberts said. “It reduces the risk to the bank.”

Church to coach women’s U18 team

Dan Church of Toronto was named head coach of Canada’s national women’s under-18 hockey team Friday, wrote The Canadian Press June 12 and Canwest News Service June 13.

Church, who has been the head coach of the women’s hockey team at York University for the past five seasons, was the head coach of Canadian national women’s under-22 team in the 2007-2008 season, leading it to a 7-0 record – the first perfect season in the history of the U22 program – and a gold medal at the 2008 Air Canada Cup in Ravensburg, Germany. The U18 team selection camp will be held in Calgary from July 23 to 30.

That ‘piece of paper’ is very valuable to kids

The growing acceptance and prevalence of shacking up is not just some benign hippy-dippy sentiment, it’s an extremely costly reality, not only for Canada’s coffers but, more importantly, for the health and safety of Canada’s children, wrote the Calgary Herald June 13 in a column about a new report entitled “Private Choices, Public Costs: How Failing Families Cost Us All”, by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emerita of sociology in York’s Faculty of Arts, who has conducted many studies in the same vein, states that according to a US study, boys raised without a father are twice as likely to be jailed, though boys raised in step-parent families are at an even greater risk of turning to criminality.

On hearing the first ticks of your biological clock

With a 27th birthday looming, the need [to have a baby] has only intensified , wrote Sarah Millar in the National Post June 13. It was enough to make one wonder if there is such a thing as a biological clock, beyond the fact that women only have so long to reproduce. Was this simply something every woman goes through, or was I the odd woman out?

“I don’t think a woman wakes up one day and says, ‘Oh my God, I have to have a baby.’ I think she’s always wanted a child, it’s always been there in her mind,” Andrea O’Reilly, professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York University, explains over the phone.

O’Reilly, who is currently working on an encyclopedia of motherhood, says the talk of biological clocks is directly connected to the rise of the career woman. “Women aren’t even settled in their careers until their mid-to-late 30s, so it’s economics that’s driving the biological clock; excessive preparation for careers that’s driving the biological clock,” she says. “And I think it’s a heightened concern and awareness over decreasing fertility.”

In her research, O’Reilly says that one thing has come across loud and clear: Women didn’t have kids because it was the right time and properly planned. They did it because it was the right time for them. “I think having children is a very irrational thing anyway. There’s no real good reason to have a kid when you think about it…. I think this art of children is a very irrational decision.”

Professor honoured by home country

The Portuguese archipelago of the Azores has recognized York grad Carlos Teixeira (PhD ’93) with its highest honour, wrote BC’s Okanagan Sunday June 14.

Teixeira, professor of geography at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, travelled to Toronto for Day of the Azores in May, where he received the Insignias do Governo Regional dos Açores – Medal for Professional Merit. It’s one of the most distinguished honours given by the government of the autonomous region of Azores.

Teixeira left the Azores for Canada in 1978 to study geography at the Université du Québec à Montréal and later York University in Toronto, where he completed his PhD in urban social geography. He came to the Okanagan in early 2004, and he has been researching the Portuguese in the southern reaches of the Valley – Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos. “I feel honoured by this award,” said Teixeira. “It is an incentive to continue working hard.”

Violist a symphony of information on history of Jews in Quebec City

Want to know about a cross-dressing 18th-century sailor who was booted out of New France for being Jewish? Ask a viola player, wrote the Montreal Gazette June 15 in a column about Jewish geneaology .

Well, not just any viola player. Simon Jacobs (BFA Spec. Hons. ’86) is your man.

The 48-year-old expatriate Briton and former string player in the Orchestre symphonique de Québec speaks tonight at a meeting of the Montreal Jewish Genealogical Society. Jacobs has interesting stories to tell about the Jews of Quebec City. “I love history,” Jacobs says. “And I’m living in a great town for it.”

For the last four years, Jacobs has worked on Exposition Shalom Québec, an exhibition mounted for the city’s 400th birthday and housed at Quebec City’s train station during the 2008 festivities. It is currently on display in Nicolet.

On air

  • Cory Sheffield, postdoctoral fellow in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about threats to the bee population on CBC Radio (Halifax) June 12.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of astronomy & physics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the impending launch of the Space Shuttle on CTV News Channel June 12.
  • Michael Jenkin, professor of computer science in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about his testing of an amphibious robot developed at a research station in Bermuda on Discovery TV’s "Daily Planet" June 12.