Prof draws connection between global economics and riots in Tunisia

Popular upheavals always carry a distinct sonic resonance, wrote David McNally, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a blog for PM Press and New York City’s The Indypendent Jan. 18. The cascading chants that reverberate through the streets, the roar of the crowd as it drives back the riot police and seizes the city square – all this and more produces an unmistakable acoustic effect. The rhythm of revolt pulsates through society, freedom music fills the air.

“The street has spoken,” is how one Tunisian protestor puts it. Indeed it has, wrote McNally. And it shows no sign that it is about to stop its raucous agitation…. What’s more, the voices of the street are growing louder, echoing across Algeria, Jordan and beyond in a wave of popular protest directly linked to the world economic crisis.

It is vital to insist on this last aspect of events – their connection to the global slump. Not only is this link especially ominous for the powerful and privileged of the world, foreshadowing revolts to come; it is also critical to countering the narrative running through the western press that Tunisia’s revolt is a product of corruption unique to politics in the Arab world.

The claim is a convenient mystification. For the Tunisian revolt grows out of the dialectic of the local and the global.

There are indeed reasons specific to the region and the regimes involved that make these states particularly susceptible to rapid outbreaks of mass opposition. But in the West, this has given rise to a colonialist discourse that attributes all ills to the demonstrable brutality of corrupt regimes. This conveniently ignores the direct role of states like the US and France in propping up and supporting Ben Ali’s dictatorship for more than two decades. It also ignores the way in which these are local expressions of revolt linked to global economic issues.

In my last blog I wrote that I would soon take up the question of resistance to the politics of austerity that characterize this period of global slump, wrote McNally. But the insurgents of Tunisia and beyond have beaten me to it. They are showing far better than any blogger what can be accomplished by spirited mass insurgency and revived working class activism.

Kinesiology prof supports ‘video exergaming’ trend

Personal training will be big as more students major in kinesiology and savvy clients demand their trainers be properly certified, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Jan. 19 in a story about current trends in fitness training.

Fitness will go viral, wrote the Citizen. Roni Jamnik, professor in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, supports what she calls “video exergaming” and counts Nintendo’s Wii as a great way to get people moving. Cool fitness apps for mobile phones will continue to inspire. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook will be a hot spot for online motivational support.

Jamnik predicts time-starved Canadians will move to shorter workouts that are more intense to better fit into their busy schedules. She hopes more offices will encourage employees to move around during their day – whether that’s standing when on the phone or going for group walks instead of sitting in stuffy meeting rooms. She calls it non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), or spontaneous movement to get the blood pumping.

Schulich marketing prof explains the appeal of ‘vitamin water’

Controversy surrounding a popular and highly-profitable vitamin fortified beverage ramped up yesterday as UK ad regulators told Coca-Cola they could no longer advertise their product Vitaminwater as nutritious, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 19.

Despite the grey area over the legitimacy of calling the drink nutritious, it’s unlikely the Canadian government would follow in the footsteps of UK ad regulators, said Alan Middleton. “Not this government,” said Middleton, a marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “But I do expect maybe in the next couple of years to see new food and drug labelling regulations.”

Consumers’ taste for vitamin water and sports drinks has grown out of the desire for bottled water that’s developed over the past six years, as well as a movement away from high-sugar soft drinks, Middleton said. But bottled water on its own eventually wasn’t enough for consumers.

Middle-aged women have latched on to vitamin water because they believe it’s a healthy, more interesting alternative to bottled water, while young people drink it because it’s a fad and it tastes good, he said. “(Companies asked): Can I add something to water to make it stand out? Differentiation is the game here. If I’m going to spend money on buying something in the bottle, it better do something more than fill my stomach,” Middleton said.

The bright colours of the different Vitaminwater flavours and the snappy writing on their labels don’t hurt either, he said.

Cooperating with other drug testers must not compromise safety, says Lexchin

The official name for such cooperation is “harmonization” and it’s one of the many areas Health Canada is discussing with Rx&D and others, including physician Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health.

“The take-away message for the public is that there’s nothing wrong with trying to cooperate with other agencies to share information,” said Lexchin, who also works in an emergency department at a teaching hospital in Toronto and is, by his own admission, one of Health Canada’s fiercest critics. “But it has to be done in a way that doesn’t compromise safety,” he said.

If Health Canada depends on reviewers from other agencies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, it could lead to it conducting less independent analysis based on the work of its own scientists, Lexchin said.

A second language gives toddlers an edge

Toddlers who learn a second language from infancy have an edge over their unilingual peers, according to a new study from York University and Concordia University in Canada, and the Université de Provence in France, wrote Metro, Science News Daily, and several other online news sites Jan. 20. As reported in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the research team tested the understanding of English and French words among 24-month-olds to see if bilingual toddlers had acquired comparable vocabulary in each language.

As part of the investigation, 63 toddlers were divided into groups of unilingual and bilingual infants. To assess levels of bilingualism, parents completed a language exposure interview and vocabulary checklists, while children completed five basic language and cognitive tests.

Court would strike down attempts to reinstate death penalty, says Osgoode prof

Legal experts said the Supreme Court took a strong position against capital punishment in a 2002 ruling in a case involving the extradition of two people who faced the death penalty in the United States, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 20 in a story about recent comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the subject. In a unanimous ruling, the court condemned the death penalty as an irreversible punishment, and said the two Vancouver men could be extradited only if Canada obtained a guarantee that they would not face execution.

“Even though [that case] was about extradition and not the constitutionality of the death penalty in Canada, any attempt to reinstitute the death penalty would raise serious constitutional questions,” said Jamie Cameron, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “In my opinion, the odds are that it would be found unconstitutional.”

Schulich MBA grad offers her town an economic analysis

Low growth and high taxes are posing a dual threat to the quality of life for residents of Perth, town councillors were told in a meeting Jan. 11, wrote Perth EMC Jan. 20.

At a meeting of council’s committee of the whole, Perth & District Chamber of Commerce board member and York grad Laurel Smith (MBA ’93) offered an analysis of current “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” and a set of recommendations for a local economic development strategy. “The status quo is not acceptable,” she said.

Noting that council candidates made a strong commitment during the 2010 election campaign to make economic development a top priority, Smith said, “the time appears ripe for the development of a new economic development strategy for the town.” Her key recommendations included creating an economic development and tourism manager position at Town Hall, either by redeploying current resources or securing grants; and developing an economic development strategy.

Smith, who is artistic producer of the Classic Theatre Festival, said she volunteered to prepare the report for the chamber of commerce because of her extensive background in marketing. Having earned an MBA degree at the Schulich School of Business at York University, she said she “felt comfortable doing that kind of work.” The report, she said, is not comprehensive, but “it does hit the salient points.”

Naomi Diamond taught English literature at York

Naomi June Diamond had such an expansive mind that every class she taught became an adventure of discovery, wrote York grads Nancy Dow (BA ‘74) and Jane Tasker (BA Spec. Hons. ‘78, MA ‘00) in a Lives Lived column in The Globe and Mail Jan. 19, about their former professor who died of pancreatic cancer at age 84 on Aug. 27, 2010.

As one of her students remarked, “I’d keep taking Naomi’s courses even if she decided to teach the phone book.”

Naomi was curious and passionate about every aspect of life, wrote Dow and Tasker. She could laugh heartily, rage mightily and address sorrow with heartfelt restraint. Naomi lost her mother Pauline early in her childhood and carried a lifelong admiration for her father, Dr. Jack Diamond, with whom she shared a deep love of the arts.

While she lectured frequently on music, Naomi’s chosen field was literature. She enjoyed trying on different human characters through imaginatively entering the life of another. As a young doctoral student, she explored the web of human connectedness in the novels of George Eliot for her PhD thesis.

Naomi taught at York University [1971-1972] and Ryerson University, and in the United States at the University of Washington, Brandeis University, Ohio State University, the University of Rochester and Wellesley College.

On air

  • Robert Kozinets, professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the planned openings of four new stand-alone Joe Fresh stores this year, on Toronto’s 680News Radio Jan. 19.
  • Stuart Henderson, post-doctoral fellow in history in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the history of censorship, on CBC Radio’s “Radio Active” Jan. 19.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the significance of a meeting between US President Barack Obama and the president of China, on CTV News Jan. 19.