Subway expansion gets a strong ‘yes’ vote

More than 83 per cent of voters supported a candidate who favours subway expansion, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 27 in an analysis of municipal election results in Toronto.

That result is a sharp reversal of the 2006 election, when Mayor David Miller ran on his plan to build a dedicated streetcar network (Transit City) and handily defeated Jane Pitfield, who was promising a massive subway construction program.

Some transit experts welcome the shift in public opinion…. But Roger Keil, director of the City Institute at York University, says Miller deserves credit for pushing Torontonians to recognize the role transit plays in connecting neighbourhoods as well as moving people around efficiently. “That’s what good metropolitan regions do: They make these two things happen at once.”

How the subway debate plays out from here, however, is hardly clear. Keil points out that provincial politics will ultimately determine whether Torontonians get the multibillion-dollar subways they seem to crave.

In the name of a legend

While musicians around the world follow Oscar Peterson’s lead informally, some budding players are fortunate enough to pursue the legendary pianist’s example of music excellence officially, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 27.

In 2007, the province gave $5 million to York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts to establish the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, a full-time tenure track position, and annual scholarships for financially strapped music students.

Former Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra trombonist Ron Westray, now in his second year as the inaugural Chair, helmed the committee that selected Aurora native Eric Miller to receive the first Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship, valued at $40,000 over four years.

Miller, 21, completed a year of music studies at Humber College before deferring a year to work and travel. Then, a mishap threatened to derail him altogether from playing the tenor sax he’d become enthralled with in Grade 7.

He returned to such form, however, that he aced his audition before York prof and Juno-winning saxophonist Mike Murley. “He stood out,” said Murley of the 100 students he vetted, across all instruments, in the university’s general auditions last spring. “He’d obviously put some time in and was comparable to some of the best players we already had. He did a transcription of a Chris Potter solo that technically is very difficult, and he nailed it. That speaks to his work ethic and commitment as well.”

Miller isn’t necessarily destined to become a professional musician. “I don’t want to say no, but I don’t want to say yes either,” he says. “The job I have in the summer, it works with youth and does a lot of therapy-based work in the woods; it’s a lot of teaching and helping young adults. I’d be interested in using a medium like music to do that.”

But he’s chuffed at the opportunity to study in the name of Peterson, who served as an adjunct professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and University chancellor.

Reading, writing and revelation

Science is starting to prove what readers and writers have long known: Words can help us repair and revitalize our bodies as well as our minds, wrote Ode Magazine Oct. 27. As a result, bibliotherapy – reading specific texts in response to particular situations or conditions – is becoming more and more popular among psychologists, physicians, librarians and teachers.

Reading an inappropriate or unhelpful text – whether it was chosen by your doctor, your librarian, your therapist or you – can also make things worse. After all, not all stories have happy endings, just as not all of life’s problems are happily resolved. “Experiences with the morals of stories may not always represent what we would consider self-improvement,” cautions Raymond Mar, a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health. “Readers may choose to model morally murkier aspects of narratives as well.” Self-help manuals can also do more harm than good, if they’re administered without proper instruction or guidance.

Graduate student studies kids’ suggestive dance routines

A furor is raging in dance studios – and online – about when it’s appropriate for young dancers to perform sexually-charged dance routines, wrote CTV News online Oct. 27.

Toronto mom Lisa Sandlos, a dance instructor herself, says she’s been in dance her whole life but has recently noticed a shift in the choreography at dance competitions, with young girls now regularly doing some fairly shocking moves in their routines.

While preschool dancers still favour tutus and pirouettes, it’s not uncommon to now see serious hip shaking, strutting, and pelvis thrusting in dancers who are in Grade 1. “It is amazing how it’s in most dance competitions. It’s in the majority of dance recitals. There’s an element of over-sexuality in dance groups of young girls, as young as six and seven,” Sandlos told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday.

Sandlos is now writing her dance PhD thesis at York University, and is hoping to better explore the role of mothers in the dance world.

She has interviewed the girls involved in what she feels is sexually charged dancing at dance competitions, and says the girls themselves don’t seem to know what the fuss is about. “I do not believe they understand the implications of what they’re doing,” Sandlos says. “They’re just doing what they’re taught. They’re mimicking what they see in media or from their instructors.”

Off-label drug use raises safety concerns

Drug safety expert Joel Lexchin, professor in York University’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, says all drugs carry risks that have to be weighed against the benefits, wrote CanWest News Service Oct. 26.

With epilepsy, the risks of not controlling seizures “could be pretty high,” he says. “You have a seizure while you’re crossing the road or when you’re going down stairs. Those things can result in significant harm. “You figure, okay, the drug does have side effects, but overall, people (with epilepsy) are better off using it than not.”

But the same may not hold for something like nerve pain. “The equation could be quite different,” he says. “Off-label prescribing means that, really, the data that you’re using is just not that good a lot of times, in terms of knowing whether or not what you’re prescribing is the most appropriate medication, or whether the doses are right,” Lexchin says. “Often it’s really a shot in the dark, and the patient(s) may be the guinea pigs.”

Romancing the customer

“There has been a definite shift from the hard sell to trying to help,” says Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, wrote the Financial Post Oct. 26 in a story about the importance of customer service. “We talked for ages of the move into the service economy but this notion that providing good service might actually attract and keep customers hasn’t really taken until recently.”

Middleton attributes the shift in part to the slow growth of many markets. He points to cellphones and the huge market penetration they have achieved in the past decade. “Now that 70 per cent of people have some sort of wireless device, you are not going to make much more money working on that last 30 per cent What you have to do is get your existing users to use you more often with richer media. That means looking after your current customer and providing better service,” he says. “You try to give them a good experience. For an existing customer to buy more you romance more.”

At the same time markets have hit critical mass and growth is slowing, a second trend has also taken root. “The difference between brands in terms of what they actually do is lessening,” Middleton says. “You can reverse-engineer almost everything and services can be copied within 24 hours. The way a person stays with one brand or moves to another is very much how they feel about that brand and that comes down to how they are treated and what you can provide above and beyond the actual product or service.”