Technology, high gas prices give boost to telework

If you have caught on to just one technology fad over the last two decades, chances are you have teleworked in some way, be it to check business e-mails from your personal laptop, schedule an interview over your BlackBerry or send that very important presentation via your iPhone, wrote March 26.

According to Julia Richardson, professor of organizational behaviour in the School of Administrative Studies and the School of Human Resource Management at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], telework, or telecommuting, is increasing dramatically in many countries as organizations seek to reduce costs and individuals look to be more flexible in their working arrangements.

However, while there are many benefits ranging from greater flexibility for employees and improved performance for employers, Richardson also pointed out several concerns associated with telework, including isolation, blurring of boundaries between home and work, and loss of control over employees.

While telework isn’t a new phenomenon, thanks to the rapid rise of computer networking, it’s one trend that’s being watched closely, said Souha Ezzedeen, professor in the School of Human Resource Management at York University. "And the trend is here to stay," she said, adding there’s a drive to get more out of workers by not having them commute to work.

"If you look at the best places to work on the Fortune 100 list, most of them offer some kind of flexibility," Ezzedeen said. "It’s a reflection of the changing nature of our social values and norms. It challenges our notion of what does it take to produce good work? Is this the end of the job as we know it?"

Best Buy may be lauded for its revolutionary "results-only work environment", which measures performance on output instead of hours spent at the office, but managing a virtual team comes with numerous implications and challenges, including dealing with conflict, managing performance and issues of measurement, Ezzedeen said.

Springtime for Marx?

With the West suffering from the after-effects of the financial crisis and revolution in the air in parts of the world, could it possibly be springtime for Marx? wrote The Globe and Mail March 26.

"I’m optimistic about the explosion that’s happened in Wisconsin," says Leo Panitch, a political science professor at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. "For the first time in a long time, the Canadian left is looking south, rather than the other way."

But he’s loath to make too many claims for a new dawn rising: "The craziness and mindlessness of so much of what is going on in the American right may – and I’m very cautious about this – it may lead to the same kind of sensibilities that produced a radical new left in the sixties."

Says Panitch, "It’s much more complicated now. It’s not easy to organize these days when you don’t have masses of workers brought together in a big factory and they aren’t living in the same part of the city. A lot of people now who are exploited and poorly paid are working in funky areas like producing software or advertising."

Two years ago, he wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine titled “Thoroughly Modern Marx” about how the post-crash world might possibly (though by no means inevitably) see a rebirth in radical thinking. That, of course, has not happened – in fact, the political left has suffered setbacks and since 2008, centre-right parties have gained power in Europe.

Earth Hour is a marketer’s dream

A marketer might call Earth Hour a roaring success: An estimated 10 million Canadians will join a billion others around the world in dousing their lights for an hour on Saturday. Equally, it could be called a marketing disaster, wrote the Toronto Star March 26, in a story that noted the little-known fact that the event was started by the World Wildlife Federation.

The WWF’s low-key approach to Earth Hour is probably one of the reasons it’s so broadly attractive, said Alan Middleton, a marketing expert with York University’s Schulich School of Business. "The more it (an event) gets defined with an organization, you’ll get a negative response by some," Middleton said.

He also noted that Earth Hour’s founders, the Australian chapter of the WWF, chose to hold the event on Saturday evening, when few businesses are likely to be disrupted by a power shutdown. "Business would get very upset if anyone talked seriously about enforcing it," he said. "But as long as it’s quiet, as a gentle nudge, it’s not a big issue."

The problem with Africans and Arabs

The way the term Arab is being thrown around these days is enough to give a person reason to pause while celebrating the victories of the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, wrote Elleni Centime Zeleke, adjunct lecturer in African Studies at York University and a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Social & Political Thought, in the pan-African Pambazuka News March 26. After all, in the present context of social revolt in North Africa there has been a deliberate effort to erase the fact that Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are all continental African countries.

Moreover, to call one’s self black or African or Arab is to use identity markers that are not indigenous to Africans or even the vast majority of people we now call Arab. The question then is: who uses these identities and when? No doubt, mobilizing these identities can be useful for making certain kinds of political claims that advance the needs of African and Arab peoples. But still, we need to always ask for whom is this mobilisation happening.

I would suggest that we probably should not turn to the use of cultural categories such as Arab or Islam to explain the rise of a notion of "Arab" that is distinct from "African". Instead we want to link these identities back to political-economy. But for now we also need to take seriously the kernel of protest and truth that the Afro-centric folks speak about and build on it. Race does lie at the heart of many of these so-called Arab revolutions in very complicated ways. Let’s not sweep this under the carpet in the name of self-righteous indignation or else we will add one more substantive reason for why these revolutions might come to naught.

Stem cell drive fuelled by tragic absence

For organizers of the National Chinese Stem Cell Drive, it was a wholly unexpected success. But for 24-year-old Steven Pho, a smiling poster boy for the 2010 event, it would prove too little, too late, wrote the Toronto Star March 26.

Pho, a York University student who fought leukemia for four years during a fruitless search for a matching donor, recently lost his battle with the disease – an ailment that stem cell transplants can readily cure.

But the drive he helped promote almost doubled the number of Chinese Canadians in this country’s stem cell registry. And Saturday, Pho’s tragic absence will help fuel the 2011 drive, which adds Calgary to its Toronto and Vancouver stable of cities.

A full plate and a discerning eye

Felix Chee [MBA ’79] has made a career out of finding winning combinations, wrote The Globe and Mail March 26, in a profile of the Canadian chief representative of China Investment Corp. Ever since he and his wife Margaret immigrated to Canada from Singapore in 1974 with two suitcases and $5,000 in their pockets, the 64-year-old businessman has shown a talent for marrying foreign knowledge and money with local institutions.

Chee’s background makes him uniquely suited to help nurture stronger business ties between China and Canada. A descendant of educated, middle-class Chinese from the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou (his grandmother had bound feet), he was born and raised in Singapore and educated in Britain.

His upbringing gave him the advantage of seeing China through an international lens. And his successful career in Canada has earned him credibility with local bankers and directors who have little experience with Chinese investors.

York music instructor is nominated for a Juno Award

If you doubt the vitality of the Hamilton music scene, chew on this – four Hamilton-bred keyboard players are nominated in five different categories at this weekend’s Juno awards in Toronto, wrote the Hamilton Spectator March 26. And three of them are graduates from the same youth jazz orchestra.

Dan Snaith, David Braid and Adrean Farrugia…may not be household names, but in Canadian music circles these players are highly respected. Interestingly, all are graduates of the Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band.

Farrugia, now [an instructor with] the faculties of music at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts] and Mohawk College, is son of Hamilton drummer Bruno Farrugia. Adrean is pianist for the Matt Dusk band, Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra and has worked with Indo-jazz fusion band Tasa. He also performed on the Brandi Disterheft CD Debut, which won a Juno in 2008 for best traditional jazz recording. This year Farrugia is nominated for his second solo project, Ricochet, in the contemporary jazz category.

What health minister’s reversal teaches us

I think that the discussion about competition in health care is important. In Shaun Francis’s discussion of Jill Anzarut’s case, he misses two important competition-related questions, on both the buyer and seller’s side, wrote Chris Irwin, negotiations instructor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in a letter to the National Post March 26, responding to an earlier article by the chair and CEO of Medcan criticizing Ontario’s health insurance policy on covering the cost of expensive drugs.

Buyer question: Couldn’t Anzarut use her mobilizing abilities in social media to raise the money? Much of the power of online communities is in the volume; $40,000 can be much less daunting if thousands of "friends" and "followers" chip in.

Seller question: Is the $40,000 price tag negotiable? Pharmaceutical companies contribute a great deal of essential research and they need to make money to sustain the business. Would some competition on the seller side bring more value to the system?

I hope that the right people (e.g. buyers, sellers, users and providers) can continue to look at this issue, and reach some sustainable solutions.

A-list celebrities help comedian spoof herself

After years of experience, plenty of hard work and a healthy helping of self-deprecation, downtown Toronto resident Melissa DiMarco [BFA Spec. Hons. ’93] has crafted one of Canada’s longest-running comedy shows, wrote March 27.

The veteran entertainer is the creator, producer, co-writer and star of the aptly-named “Out There with Melissa DiMarco”, a pseudo-real entertainment program that follows the misadventures of the star and her often hapless crew as they rub elbows with the Hollywood elite.

The show has attracted no end of A-list celebrities, all of whom are in on the joke and happy to join in the fun. Her list of celebrity guests includes George Clooney, Robert De Niro, James Caan, Gene Simmons, Justin Bieber and countless others. "The idea is not to make fun of the stars," DiMarco said. "It’s making fun of my life and everyone in the cast and crew, and the stars understand that."

A graduate of Etobicoke’s Don Bosco Secondary School and later York University, she moved to downtown Toronto when her work on “Out There” and a regular turn as principal Daphne Hatzilakos on “Degrassi: the Next Generation” became too hectic.

York staffer heads RIMS committee

Steve Pottle, manager of insurance & risk management at York University in Toronto, now heads up the communications and external affairs committee, wrote Canadian Underwriter March 25, in a story about the Risk & Insurance Management Council Inc., Canada Council.

The Cinnamon Peeler – Michael Ondaatje

Philip Michael Ondaatje, born Sept. 12, 1943, is a Sri Lankan-born novelist and poet of Colombo Chetty and Burgher origin, wrote Sri Lanka’s Lanka March 27 in an online story that includes a video of him reading his poem “The Cinnamon Peeler”. He is perhaps best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film.

Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, (then Ceylon) and moved to England with his mother in 1954. He attended Dulwich College – alma mater of literary luminaries such as P. G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. He studied for a time at Bishop`s College School and Bishop`s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto, where he received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen`s University, Kingston, Ontario. He then began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1970, he settled in Toronto and, from 1971 to 1988, taught English literature there at York University and Glendon College.

Obama visits El Salvador and faces ghosts of past US foreign policies

US President Barack Obama arrived in El Salvador to talk about drug violence, but he also tried to make peace with history, visiting the tomb of Oscar Romero, a popular archbishop gunned down by a US-linked death squad in 1980, wrote Al-Jazeera March 23.

Despite cutting his visit short to deal with the situation in Libya, Obama still made time to visit the tomb, showcasing its symbolic importance.

"Obama is sending a message, taking a moderate approach to the region and getting big points for going to Romero’s grave," says Carlos Velazquez, a Salvadorian political researcher at York University in Canada. "It is an emotional thing for Salvadorians."

Casino Rama honours outstanding Aboriginal students

For the past 12 years, Casino Rama has awarded scholarships to postsecondary students of First Nations ancestry, wrote The Orillia Packet & Times March 26. This year, a total of $22,000 in awards has been disbursed to eight recipients hailing from all parts of Ontario and studying in widely divergent fields.

The undergraduate recipients ($2,000 each) [include] Janine Manning (Chippewas of Nawash) – attending York University for environmental studies.