George Vari’s charity reflected in local institutions

George William Vari has monuments to his memory scattered all over the world, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 10 in an obituary of the York benefactor who died Dec. 9 at age 87.

The engineer and accomplished developer built the Tour Montparnasse in Paris, six pavilions at the Montreal Expo ’67 and Moscow’s Hotel Cosmos. He constructed projects in England, Iran, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia.

In Toronto, his charitable gifts are reflected in a number of buildings bearing his name, including The George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre at Ryerson University and the Vari Laboratory at Princess Margaret Hospital.

“His memory will last forever here with the Vari Hall being right in the middle of our [Keele] campus,” said York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, who called Vari “an inspiring person committed to future generations.”

The George and Helen Vari Foundation provides the Variscope Scholarships at Victoria University/OISE at the University of Toronto and entrance scholarships for environmental studies students at York, as well as other bursaries. “They were great philanthropists and supporters of education in general,” said Shoukri.

WikiLeaks cyber war ramps up

Rob Kozinets, who studies technology and marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said attempts to shut down [controversial website] WikiLeaks are doomed to failure, but in the meantime the battle over freedom versus restriction and censorship is playing its way out on the Internet, wrote CBC News online Dec. 10.

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” Kozinets said. “As soon as you whack that mole, it’s not only that another one is popping up, but another one is coming behind you to hit you on the head with a hammer.”

Heady days over for iconic beer brands

It’s enough to make a brewery executive cry in his beer, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 11. For more than two decades, Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue duked it out for the title of Canada’s best-selling beer. Now, they’re not within sipping distance of top spot.

While there’s sometimes an upward bump in sales, the bottles that once dominated every beer fridge in the land, and taps behind saloons and pubs across the country, are disappearing bit by bit. “There’s absolutely the sniff of death about Blue and Canadian,” said Alan Middleton, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “They’re being allowed to slowly starve to death.”

Both brands are suffering from a lack of advertising and a crowded beer market filled with far more choices than drinkers had in the big brews’ heyday, Middleton said.

When a company in any industry, from widget-making to cars to brewing, becomes part of a larger corporate family, the natural inclination is to pare down the number of brands they sell, said Middleton. In some cases, they can go too far. “Companies try to strike a judicious balance between cutting and marketing local brands, which they can use to fill in gaps which could otherwise be filled by competitors. What the beer companies have done, stupidly, is grab the first part of that equation without taking into account the second part,” he said. “I’d argue that those two brands have been mismanaged. Walking away from those brands so totally is questionable,” Middleton added.

While the decline for Blue began a while ago, Middleton believes it has been worse since 2004, when Labatt’s then-Belgian owner, Interbrew, was purchased by Brazil’s Ambev. In 2008, the combined company bought American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, creating a global juggernaut. “They’ve recognized how inefficient and costly their global operations were, and they’ve really done a lot of cutting,” said Middleton.

What new forms will come after record albums, stores shuffle off?

Rob Bowman is a professor of ethnomusicology at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts], wrote The Toronto Star Dec. 11, in a story about the demise of the record album. A five-time Grammy nominee for CD liner notes he has written, he claims the rise of rock culture in the 1960s is inextricably linked with the album. It was through the expanded, multi-song format that the Beatles could move from Love Me Do to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in five years, and it was because of the album – and all the potential for expression that it provided – that rock ascended from a purely commercial teen diversion to an art form. The download age tolls the death knell of an era.

“Of course you can still download albums,” Bowman says. “You’re not just downloading singles. (But) I wonder if we have a greater proliferation of one-hit wonders in this era of the digital download. My guess is we might have.

“And it seems to me we have fewer artists releasing albums that people talk about as albums,” he adds. Among teens he knows, “it’s very common to listen to the first minute and a half or two minutes of a song and then jump to another song on the iPod.”

Why does it matter that young listeners are far more likely just to download those six Beatles songs they like than the entirety of Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road? They’re still listening. But, Bowman suggests, not in the same way.

He takes us back to 1965. The Beatles release Rubber Soul and Help. Dylan releases Highway 61Revisited and Bringing it all Back Home.  “That’s exactly the moment of the shift of the popular entertainer to the rock artist,” Bowman says.

Rock artists replaced pop stars. And now digital downloading has brought the industry full circle: “The Black Eyed Peas make singles,” Bowman says, pulling one example from dozens of contemporary pop stars. “Individually they’re great tracks, but 50 years from now? Are they going to sort of be like Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock?”

Veterans inspired message of hope for Glendon student

I had never known how lonely Christmas could be, wrote columnist and Glendon grad Christopher Hume (BA ’73) in a special personal Christmas story for the Toronto Star Dec. 11. Stuck in my room in [Wood] residence at Glendon College, I felt like the last person on Earth. Except for one other student, the school was quiet and empty, deserted for the holidays. Other than my new best friend – his name was Rod de Vletter – everyone had gone home for Christmas.

Everything was closed, not just classrooms but offices, the library and even the cafeteria. There was nowhere to eat. The only option was Sunnybrook Hospital next door to Glendon. In those days – it was 1972 or ’73 – the subway stopped at Eglinton.

We ended up in a nondescript cafeteria that clearly served as a social hub for workers and the war veterans who I assume lived in Sunnybrook’s K Wing. These were some of the most grievously wounded survivors of various wars.

To be honest, I was shocked by what I saw.  It was hard not to stare; these mangled bodies were impossible to ignore. To my young and callow eyes, they were an affront.

But that quickly changed. It would be an exaggeration to say we became friends, but after several visits we did become friendly. The veterans were as curious about us as we were about them. By the time Christmas was over and regular life resumed, I felt we were a small part of their community, however temporarily.

Eventually, I would graduate, get married and have kids – two daughters – of my own. After that, my Christmases were spent at home – this time, my home.

York grad is new director of Regina gallery

Curtis Collins (BA Spec. Hons. ’85) has been hired as the new director of the Dunlop Art Gallery, wrote Regina, Sask.’s The Leader-Post Dec. 11.

Collins, who has an extensive background in aboriginal, Canadian and modern art, has worked previously at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB, and the Art Gallery of Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie.

The rich get rich, and the poor get sick

Professor Dennis Raphael spoke first, wrote columnist Joe Fiorito in the Toronto Star Dec. 13 in a story about his visit to a lecture on diabetes. He is the one I’d come to hear. He is a health policy guy from York University[‘s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health]. He pinned health and wealth together, or rather, he pinned illness directly on poverty:

The death rate for the poorest people has risen from 17 to 25 people per 100,000 since the mid-1980s.

He said social injustice is killing us on a grand scale, and it wasn’t just him saying this, it was the World Health Organization.

He did a diabetes study a while back that found a relationship between Type 2 diabetes and income. If you make less than $30,000 a year, your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes are double those of people making $80,000 a year.

But – and this is an outrage – the people in Raphael’s study who developed the disease said they could not afford the diet they were supposed to follow. He said our rate of poverty is double that of the Scandinavian countries, but poor people have better benefits – and are in better health – there.

His observation? “Our economy is greater than it was in the 1970s, but the distribution of income is worse.”

His answer? “We have to up the benefit levels, up the minimum wage, develop a national housing strategy, and close the gap between rich and poor.”

Acquisitions – finally something to cheer about?

Decades of research, scarily consistently, shows that most acquisitions destroy value, and only cost the acquirer money, wrote columnist Freek Vermeulen in Forbes Magazine online Dec. 13. There is really no denying it – all “ifs” and “buts” have been raised, examined and rebutted – about 70 per cent of acquisitions fail.

Slightly to my surprise though – although not unwelcome – over the past years a few studies have emerged that managed to identify categories of acquisitions which on average do create surplus value. Jung-Chin Shen, professor in York University’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and Professor Laurence Capron from INSEAD managed to obtain data on a large number of private deals and, guess what, in contrast to the public deals they examined, these did create some value! Where the take-over of a public target made the share price of the average acquirer fall by about 1 percent; the acquisition of a private target raised it by an average of 4 percent. That may not seem overly impressive to you but it’s really quite a bit of peanuts if you calculate its monetary equivalent – certainly in comparison to the abysmal take-over track record of public deals.

But how come these private take-overs do appear to create some value? Well, that’s a bit of speculation, but Laurence and Jung-Chin had an informed suspicion: information asymmetry. Because, by definition, information about private firms is usually not publicly available, there would also be much fewer buyers aware of the juicy take-over target, and that it was possibly available at a bargain. Consequently, there were fewer bidders and more opportunity for value creation for the eventual acquirer.

Consequently, private deals usually do better than public ones. They might be a bit murkier, hidden and not as glamorous, but hey, they actually make you some money!

Rabbi welcomes York assurances

Rabbi Aaron Hoch met privately last week with York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and the school’s Vice-Present Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan, after a clash over the rabbi’s characterization of Shoukri in a mass e-mail sent last month, wrote Postmedia News Dec. 10.

Rabbi Hoch, of the Dan Family Village Shul, said in [his] latest mailing that he was nevertheless “greeted very warmly” by the University administrators, who made it clear that the school “genuinely does not believe that its recent silence [about controversial speaker and former British MP George Galloway] could reasonably construed as tolerance of anti-Semitism.”

The rabbi lauded the University for the various measures it has taken over the years to tackle discrimination and hate on campus, but proposed that York go further by taking a “leadership role” in setting up a task force that could “examine specifically the question of what universities should do to ensure that academic freedom and free speech remain pillars of the university, but are not abused in a way that creates hostility on campus against identifiable groups.”

Thoughts are with researcher’s family, says York spokesperson

A York University researcher named as one of seven GTA men charged in an international child porn image swap network has taken his own life, wrote The Toronto Star, Dec. 10. Richard Dyde, 47, who held a PhD in cognitive neuroscience and was doing research into the effects of zero gravity space travel on astronauts, was found dead Thursday.

Colleagues contacted at York University’s Centre for Vision Research Friday referred calls to the school’s media relations office. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations. He said Dyde and former York University residence don Toby Stimpson, 24, who faces charges of possession of child pornography and four counts of making child pornography available, had been put on leave to “concentrate on their defence.”

  • The Canadian Press reported Dyde’s death in stories carried across the country Dec. 10.

On air

  • Thabit Abullah, history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion about Iraq and its current levels of security and quality of life, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Dec. 10.
  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, took part in CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” phone-in hour on the law surrounding wills and estates on Dec. 10.
  • Chris D’Souza, course director in York’s Faculty of Education, spoke about the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board’s Faith Development Day, on CBC TV Windsor Dec. 10.
  • The four tunnelling machines that will clear an underground path for the Spadina subway extension through York University’s Keele campus to Vaughan, have been named “Holy”, “Moley”, “Yorkie” and “Torquey”, reported CBC TV Dec. 10.