Tamil refugee boat is afloat on our conscience

A small wooden boat is sitting at anchor off the coast of Indonesia, wrote columnist Joe Fiorito in the Toronto Star March 12. It has been there for five months. On board are some 240 people who cannot come ashore for fear of arrest and deportation. They are Tamils.

A woman from Toronto went to see the boat recently. Jessica Chandrashekar is a PhD student at York University. She is 26 years old and she is a member of a small non-governmental organization, Canadian HART. The acronym is short for the Humanitarian Appeal for the Relief of Tamils.

Jessica told her story at a small, almost impromptu meeting recently. She said, “We didn’t get to see the boat for very long. We were there for five minutes. The police detained us. They interrogated us for 11 hours the first day. They took our passports. The second day they interrogated us for seven hours. They asked us who we were and who sent us, and they asked if we have family on the boat.”

I could have told them who she is, wrote Fiorito. She is a student at York.

“The third day, they took us to the airport and deported us.” Was she afraid? “I was concerned. We could have been arrested. After hearing the stories of the people on the boat….”

Wait a minute. If she was detained, and if the men and women on the boat can’t come ashore, how was she able to hear their stories?

“They have a laptop and a camera, and they have Skype. They send pictures…. There are 31 children on board. The youngest is one year old and learned to walk on the ship."

Jessica said, “We’re afraid of what might happen if they try to come off the boat. They will be beaten, detained – Indonesia hasn’t signed on to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” What now? “We’re trying to negotiate guarantees…for freedom of movement, for medical care.”

I asked Jessica again if she had been afraid. She said, “When I look back, maybe I’ll think, ‘Oh, my God.’ But really, I was only at risk of being deported back to Canada, where I live comfortably, I eat well, I go to school. If the people on board were deported, it would be different.”

If there were more like her, it would be different, and better, wrote Fiorito.

York grad sets the hottest scene for pro athletes visiting Toronto

When York grad Mona Halem (BA ‘01) was growing up in Aurora, she studied mathematics and computer science and planned on a career at IBM as a programmer, wrote The Globe and Mail March 12.

She never made it to IBM.

Instead, Halem became Lady Luck, and she now organizes exclusive VIP parties around Toronto packed with celebrities such as basketball stars Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Steve Nash, movie star Matt Damon and singer Mary J. Blige.

Her reputation as a party host for professional athletes has become so widespread that her company was featured in The Wall Street Journal this week under the headline "Why Pro Athletes Love Toronto". “I don’t look at them as clients or customers,” Halem said yesterday. “I look at them as family or friends.”

Halem’s Web site refers to her as “Princess Mona” and it’s loaded with pictures from past parties, many featuring star athletes dancing with gorgeous women. One Toronto Raptor said Halem was “notorious” throughout the sports world for inviting attractive guests and feting every team that comes to town.

Halem insists she provides superstars with a fun, hassle-free environment, not a place to pick up women. “It’s not about that at all,” she said. “It’s just basically whether you’re a player or a businesswoman or businessman or student or whoever you are, you are going to enjoy it because of the atmosphere, the music, the friendly environment, the service.”

When asked if she is running an escort service, Halem replied: “Wow, no, definitely not! There are four or five other top promoter and event coordinators in the city and they are all men and none of them get asked that question.”

At 31, Halem said she is slowing down, but hopes to keep growing her business. “I’m getting older and I can’t be in a club environment too much longer,” she said.

Schulich prof’s book refutes mainstream financial rules

Calling Moshe Milevsky’s views on personal finances unconventional is an understatement, wrote USA Today March 11 in a review of Your Money Milestones, the latest book by the professor of finance in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Before you dismiss Milevsky’s views as nutty, think about this: How well did following the conventional wisdom work for you in 2008 and early 2009?

Milevsky confesses that mainstream financial planning rules caused half of his family’s net worth to disappear between November 2007 and mid-March 2009. He bought and held onto an ultra-low-cost, globally diversified portfolio that included stocks of solid companies. “I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing everything exactly right,” he says.

The experience caused Milevsky to rethink everything about money.

In the past, he thought about markets as a kind of roulette wheel. With enough data about historical behaviour and outcomes, the argument went, you could predict the odds of success and make money with reasonable confidence.

Today, he takes the nuclear approach. You can’t predict a nuclear accident using history or statistics, and you can’t predict the next market meltdown. What you should do, Milevsky says, is concede that the future is unpredictable and then manage your most important financial decisions with clear-headed math.

  • You’ve probably never read a personal finance book like this one, unless it was Moshe Milevsky’s earlier book, Are You a Stock or a Bond? Milevsky challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about money, and even when he concurs with mainstream advice, he tends to do so for reasons that are different than you might expect, wrote MSN Money March 11.

Some background: Milevsky is a finance professor in Toronto’s Schulich School of Business at York University and a bit of a rock star in financial-planning circles for his work on annuities, risk management and retirement planning.

This book is like a brisk walk for your brain. You may not agree with all of his conclusions, but you’ll consider some new concepts, and you certainly won’t be bored by yet another rehash of the same old advice.

Back to owning the podium, selling the stadium

Our federal government has long shielded strategic sectors [of the economy], for good reason, wrote the Toronto Star March 12 in a story about the federal government’s intention to throw open the doors of foreign ownership in three strategic, previously protected, sectors: telecommunications, satellites and uranium. James Gillies, former dean of the Schulich School of Business at York University – and a former Conservative cabinet minister – explains it well:

“We need to assure that firms considered strategic to the development of our economy are not taken over. The markets alone will not provide the optimal solution. If we relied on markets alone to determine our economic destiny, this country would not exist.”

Drive targets Chinese stem-cell donors

Jason Cheung was really hoping to tell his story, wrote the Toronto Star March 12.

The 23-year-old York University physics student was going to explain to a news conference Friday morning how his search for a matching stem-cell donor had so far proven fruitless, and how acute myeloid leukemia, which a marrow transplant could have cured, had brought him to the brink of death.

But Cheung won’t be there. His blood cancer, eminently treatable with the stem cells replete in healthy donor marrow, has put him in the intensive care unit of a Toronto hospital, where his search may well be over.

But Susan Go hopes that Cheung’s missing narrative will still be heard.

And Go, co-chair of the National Chinese Stem Cell Drive, hopes it will help prompt thousands of Chinese Canadians to enter this country’s stem-cell database, so that avoidable tragedies like Cheung’s won’t be repeated.

Steven Pho, also 23 and also a York University student, joins Cheung on a poster to advertise the drive. He also joins Cheung as a young man whose chance for finding a match may soon run its course.

Diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, Pho has undergone years of chemotherapy yet is now running out of time too, Go says.

Canadian laws’ effect on sex workers explored in panel

Do Canada’s laws make sex-trade workers’ lives more dangerous? That question will be the central topic of a panel discussion, Sex Work is Real Work, taking place tonight at Market Square in St. Catharines, wrote Niagara This Week March 11.

Another topic of discussion will be the current constitutional challenge case that has been brought forward by Alan Young, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Young argues that Canadian Criminal Code provisions relating to sex work constitute a form of gender-based discrimination.

GO route cuts sound like joke, but aren’t funny

It’s hard to follow the logic offered by the province’s inter-regional public transit system for scuttling the Newmarket B GO Bus (Route 62), which carries passengers down Yonge Street to York Mills Road in Toronto, and the Newmarket- York University GO Bus (Route 64), which goes straight to the University, wrote the Aurora Banner March 11 in an editorial .

GO Transit says it is nixing these routes as they overlap with services already provided by regional transit counterparts, namely York Region Transit and Viva’s Blue and Purple buses.

Last time we checked, all GO routes overlap to one degree or another with local transit.

Voting gone to the dogs?

According to Professor Henry Kim of the Schulich School of Business at York University, the likelihood of hackers gaining access to a voters’ list or voting results is extremely low because the electors’ list database is securely protected and kept off-line from the Internet, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun March 11 in a story about a city council debate on online voting.

He said more questions need to be asked about unknowns of the mail system and not so much on Internet threats.

Rising dollar may hurt Ontario’s film sector

Toronto, long a movie stand-in for New York City, has led Ontario to an impressive rebound in the cutthroat film and television sector, but a strong Canadian dollar could dull the region’s competitive edge, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 12.

Incentives for moviemakers in Toronto include a new waterfront studio, one of the biggest production complexes in North America, operated by Britain’s Pinewood Studios, which sets Ontario apart from jurisdictions, such as Louisiana, that also offer tax incentives.

“I think we’re way ahead of the game in terms of places that have tried to attract filmmakers,” said Seth Feldman, a professor of film studies in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. "Given the costs of film today and given the production is half the cost and publicity is the other half of the cost, tax credits while they lure people, I don’t think keep people.”

Feldman said the Toronto International Film Festival has also helped attract Hollywood types who have got used to doing business – and spending their downtime – in the city.

“It’s become a film town for them,” he added.

Here’s how to go beyond the eco basics

It’s no secret that green living has taken on momentum and that Canadians are starting to make environmentally driven choices around their homes , wrote the National Post March 12. They’re doing so in overwhelming numbers: A recent survey by Bosch Home Appliances showed that 95 per cent of Canadians have done something to try to live in a more eco-friendly way.

Making those environmental decisions around the home, no matter the reason, not only gets the ball rolling in your own house – as one green choice leads to another – but also sends out silent messages to the others around you. David Bell, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, who worked with Bosch on its survey – equates making environmental decisions around the home now to the non-smoking movement of years ago. Just as it became the socially acceptable thing not to light up in other people’s homes, he expects that it will be just as widespread a social norm to make your home as environmentally sustainable as possible. “I think we’re on the cusp of significant change,” he says. “And I think it’s going to be at a household level.”

The queens rule in Wonderland

Alison Halsall, adjunct professor of children’s literature & film adaptations in the English Department of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion of the film Alice in Wonderland in the National Post March 12. Her view:

Alice was everything I expected of a Burton film: quirky, creepy and fantastical. I thought the visuals were breathtaking (especially in 3-D IMAX – I had to do it!), and I really enjoyed that Burton transformed essentially a plotless couple of novels into a very firmly plot-driven film. I loved the development of the characters. Transforming the Red Queen and the White Queen into actual characters with very specific motivations was a very smart idea.

On air

  • Priscila Uppal, an English professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about her work as poet-in-residence at the Olympic and Paralympic games, on CBC Radio in Whitehorse March 11.
  • Barbro Ciakudia, a Glendon international studies student and organizer of the “How Much Do You Know About the DR Congo?” conference held at York’s Keele campus, was interviewed on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Metro Morning” March 11.