Health officials need to take flu vaccine to the people, says York prof

When it comes to the next phase in the H1N1 immunization campaign, public health authorities will have to go to the people, says an expert in crisis management, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 7.

In getting the mass of people vaccinated who aren’t in especially vulnerable groups, the public health message that urges everyone to get a shot will come up against a public that expects services to be quick and convenient, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University who has led courses in crisis management.

“The government model is ‘You come to us.’ But we’ve had 40 years of ‘You come to me.’ So we have a clash between authority and the market,” he said.

“You’ve got to say: ‘The risk is substantial for you and your family.’ Not as in: ‘You’ll die.’ But as in ‘You’ll get ill. We’ll make it easy for you.’ The message has to be: ‘Here’s how to get it done conveniently,’” said Middleton, who cites Canadian Blood Services’ strategy of bringing bloodmobiles to workplaces and shopping malls to make donating blood convenient. “There’s a whole bunch of people who won’t queue for three or four hours.”

Like many employers, Middleton’s University had considered holding a vaccination clinic. But the plan, which emerged late last summer, has since disappeared. “I haven’t been jabbed. I’m not on a priority group,” he said. “I’m not going to wait in a queue to get jabbed.”

  • My experience with H1N1 was horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, wrote Jacqueline Harper, a 21-year-old York University student, in the Richmond Hill Liberal Nov. 8.

It started off as a headache and feeling tired. It ended up being one of the worst illnesses I’ve ever had. Several days after Thanksgiving, I started not feeling well. It felt like I was getting a cold or sinus infection, nothing out of the ordinary. After spending the afternoon with a friend, I started to feel worse, with chills and extreme exhaustion.

I took my temperature when I got home and discovered I had a temperature of 102 F. My first thought was, “Great! I’m sick and it’s my reading week (at York).” I got into my pyjamas and lay down on the couch to watch TV, hoping that it wouldn’t get worse. It did.

Exercise, music help mental performance

Music might be another option for improving executive functions, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 7, in a story about new research in neuroscience. Glenn Schellenberg, professor at the University of Toronto, and his colleague, Sylvain Moreno, postdoctoral fellow in the Cognitive Development Laboratory in York’s Faculty of Health, are investigating their hunch that the improvement stems from music’s ability to improve executive functions. They are testing the executive functions of musicians seven to nine years old who have had three years of training and comparing them to students who have not studied music.

Preliminary results suggest that their hypothesis is correct, says Moreno. The young musicians performed better on a test called the Tower of London, in which they have to think ahead to solve a problem in as few moves as possible.

It is easy to see how studying piano or another instrument probably strengthens executive-function skills such as staying focused and ignoring distractions, but Moreno suspects that music also activates the brain and strengthens it indirectly. “We are talking about transferring skills, not direct training. Music trains different areas of the brain that are also involved in memory and language,” he says. “You stimulate one neuron, and this neuron is involved in music but also in other areas.”

Brainstorming for the kids

Alanna Mitchell is wrong in saying there is a “feud” between educators and brain researchers, wrote Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee Howard Goodman in a letter to the Toronto Star Nov. 7 about a series of articles on neuroscience and education.

For example, two years ago TDSB hosted a series of speeches by York University’s Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor in Psychology and Philosophy (whom Mitchell lists as one of seven major players in international brain research). And over the past few years, Shanker and his colleague Jim Stieben, senior research scientist in the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative at York, have given several presentations to enthralled trustees and directors of education at Ontario Public School Boards’ Association conferences.

Many trustees told me that these were the most important and informative lectures they have ever attended. Translating emerging research into effective teaching practices takes time and care, but our schools are paying attention.

UN guards eject York prof after pro-Israel remarks

Guards ejected an accredited Canadian commentator from the United Nations after she denounced a controversial report that focuses heavily on alleged Israeli war crimes, wrote the National Post Nov. 7.

Anne Bayefsky, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, offered the only pro-Israel commentary Thursday night at a microphone outside the General Assembly Hall following remarks by its Libyan president, Ali Treki, and the chief Palestinian official at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour.

Bayefsky said four guards confiscated two UN passes the organization had issued to her as director of the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust at the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, and removed her from the building after questioning her. “I am quite sure that if I had congratulated the United Nations, no one would have said anything,” said Bayefsky, who was unable to get her credentials reinstated after spending more than two hours drafting a request at the UN last night.

Bayefsky had offered her assessment of the resolution, which gives both Israel and the Palestinians three months to launch “independent credible investigations” into alleged war crimes outlined in the Goldstone report.

Part of her focus was on Hamas, which controls Gaza, but which most western countries list as a terrorist organization. “The idea that…a terrorist organization is going to decide for itself whether or not it violates the rule of law is something that, I think, no serious democratic society will take seriously,” she said. “You just have to ask yourselves whether this process has done anything in terms of bolstering the credibility of the United Nations.”

Problems, not pogroms, at York

Linda McQuaig cites an article that I co-wrote regarding recent remarks made by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney concerning York University, wrote Professor Eric Lawee, acting director of the Israel & Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York, in a letter to the Toronto Star Nov. 8 about a column on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies on Israel.

While it is true there have been no “pogroms” at York, wrote Lawee, my article, entitled “York has problems, but not pogroms,” does speak of “genuinely troubling and unacceptable events” that have occurred on campus. It also notes the existence at York of a “vocal and well-organized gang of anti-Israel extremists” who form part of a “larger international movement that seeks to demonize, uniquely, the Jewish state.” It is against these extremists that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet have taken a laudably strong stand, restoring great lustre to Canada’s role in international affairs. For this reason, the article expressed gratitude to Kenney for his “unstinting personal support” of Israel and for the government’s “strong and consistent support” of the Jewish state.

Toronto’s Middle East proxy war

If the 46-year-old diplomat’s choice needed any vindication, the last year has provided it, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 7, in a story about Amir Gissin, former director of public affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and now Israel’s consul general for Toronto, bent on rebranding the country’s image.

One day last winter, eight Jewish women…occupied his offices, protesting the war in Gaza. At York University, a political cauldron, Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves from angry members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Every month, it seemed, Torontonians were bumping into a new dimension of the conflict.

So has Mr. Gissin succeeded in changing the discourse? Yes and no, he says, relaxing one recent afternoon in his Bloor Street office.

In his regular rounds of public diplomacy with business and community leaders, his core message about Israel – a dynamic and secular society, however flawed – has met a positive reception.

On the other hand, he concedes, certain quadrants remain a tougher sell, notably college campuses and cultural groups. There, it’s the image of Israel as the epicentre of conflict that remains dominant.

Canada adopting green way of life

When it comes to treating the environment with kid gloves, an increasing number of Canadians are walking the talk, wrote the Calgary Herald Nov. 7. In fact, they’re getting downright militant, says David Bell, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

A national survey by Bosch Home Appliances says 70 per cent of Canadians consider it a “social faux pas” to do things that are environmentally irresponsible. “Our eco-culture is growing in leaps and bounds…and soon people who blatantly disregard the environment will be treated as outcasts,” says Bell.

Obviously, Bell’s not one to beat around the bush – especially when he has the numbers to back it up. “We’re seeing changing sensibilities and sustainability, just as our society experienced a major culture shift on smoking not so long ago,” says Bell.

Bell suggests that the environmental mood of consumers might well mean that in 25 years, only the most efficient, technologically savvy appliances and procedures will survive. “Canadians are starting to close the gap between their ecobeliefs and their actions, and while we have a ways to go, I see this country at the cusp of great social change,” says Bell.

So, when you take this societal change of thinking and combine it with government legislation, public policy incentives and disincentives, demonstrated leadership from government and schools, and increased education and awareness, you have a recipe for dramatic change.

Bell says that because all of these elements are lining up there will be “fundamental shifts” in Canada’s eco-culture – not in 25 years, but within five years.

War artist captured the ‘life-energy’ used in combat

Nobody knows where Jack Nichols’ desire to make art came from, but the urge was powerful, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 7 in an obituary.

Unlike most war artists, he concentrated not on armaments, ships or planes, but on human experience, the fear of death, the sanctity of human life, the religiosity of sacrifice. Instead of panoramas, he focused on individuals – both combatants and refugees – and the intensity of their personal responses to the apocalyptic horror of modern warfare.

Between 1941 and 1968, he had nearly 20 one-person shows and participated in many national and international group exhibitions. But something went awry in the late 1960s. Nichols, who lived above his crammed studio in a former butcher shop on Sackville Street in Toronto, became reclusive and suspicious and had wrangles with art dealers and galleries.

“He had a poetry and pathos about his depiction of humanity that nobody else could touch,” said York University art historian Anna Hudson, but “he couldn’t deal with the marketplace.”

‘Boot camp’ for single moms desperate for cash

This program succeeds where a barrage of government initiatives have failed, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 7, in a story about a program called Women Moving Forward. The women thoroughly rebuild themselves – learning to breathe deeply when anxious, to take notes while listening to their caseworker, to understand the difference between a city councillor and federal MP. They learn to trust one another. They learn their strengths.

Five months later, they transition to educational programs – everything from security guard training to the Women’s Studies Bridging Program at York University where, if they get a B grade, they gain full-time admittance.

About that mansion that burned down last week

In the 1980s, David and Paul Fingold spearheaded the development of two posh condominium buildings in the backyard of their ancestral home on Chedington Place, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 7, in a story about the historic home that burned down on Oct. 30. The house is beside York University’s Glendon College, whose students unsuccessfully appealed the proposal. A 1994 piece in the student newspaper [Pro Tem] appeared under the headline “The Chedington Nightmare On Bayview.”

University of Toronto teachers reach tentative deal

A strike by contract faculty at the University of Toronto that had been set for Monday has been averted after a tentative agreement was reached Sunday, wrote The Canadian Press Nov. 8. One key issue was wages. “People teaching courses at U of T are still making significantly less than people teaching courses at York (University),” said union spokesperson Leslie Jermyn.