Early media prophet McLuhan is now getting his due

Last week events in Europe, Washington and three Canadian cities honoured the centennial of the birth of the man who is now widely credited as the world’s first media theorist, and who introduced ideas like "the medium is the message" and "the global village" into everyday use, wrote The New York Times July 26, in a story about Marshall McLuhan. The festivities have helped renew debate over the meaning of his often dense and cryptic, yet challenging, work.

Instead of being viewed as an academic fraud, McLuhan is now widely celebrated as the man who prophesied both the Internet and its impact on society. "The resurrection of McLuhan has a lot to do with the eerie prescience of what he said," said B. W. Powe, an author and English lecturer at York University in Toronto [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] and one of the organizers of a week-long series of events in that city. "We read the 21st-century media through his eyes."

While Powe, who was a student in the last class McLuhan taught at the University of Toronto, and others never gave up the cause, it was the rise of the Internet during the 1990s that again brought public attention back to McLuhan’s work. His theory that media are essentially interactive – "we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us" – appeared to have been vindicated by the web. When the magazine Wired made its debut in 1993, it declared McLuhan to be its patron saint.

Powe was actively discouraged from taking McLuhan’s class by other members of the English department’s faculty. McLuhan later recommended removing his name from the acknowledgment in a master’s thesis by his former student. Powe did not do this, and spent much of his time defending McLuhan rather than the paper’s contents.

Request for York stadium proposals now due Aug. 30

Infrastructure Ontario, the arms-length provincial agency in charge of construction for the 2015 Pan Am Games, planned to issue a request for proposals for…York University stadium on July 28, wrote the Hamilton Spectator July 27. Their new date is Aug. 30.

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) has several other Pan Am projects on the go and wanted to stagger their progress. Terence Foran, project communications adviser at IO, said the new Aug. 30 deadline was firm. "The initial date mentioned was a proposed date," he said.

York University to expand engineering

York University in the north of Toronto is preparing for a major expansion to its engineering programs, wrote Canadian Consulting Engineer July 26. In June the University and [the] Ontario government announced a $50-million capital investment in a new engineering building which will be "one of the largest expansions in the University’s history."

At present York University’s engineering department is relatively small compared to those of other Canadian universities, agrees Janusz Kozinski, dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering. The Faculty currently runs just three engineering programs: computer engineering, geomatics and the high-profile space engineering program. This fall, however, the Faculty will also offer software engineering for the first time.

Currently the engineering department consists of around 40 professors and around 400 students, both graduates and undergraduates. The goal is to expand these numbers "substantially" Kozinski says, beginning in 2013-2014. They hope eventually to have around 2,000 students in various new programs. Task forces are currently looking at potential programs, including mechanical, electrical, civil, environmental, chemical and biological engineering.

The York Faculty of Science & Engineering occupies seven buildings on the Keele campus, and is currently in the process of moving into an eighth: the $70-million, 160,000 sq. ft. Life Sciences Building. The June capital funding announcement is for a ninth building, specifically for engineering.

Keepers of the grid ward off helter-swelter

The Ontario Power Authority estimated the province saved about 460 megawatts through its Peaksaver and Demand Response programs, which pay home and business owners who sign contracts pledging to turn down their power use when asked, or who get local utilities to install switches on their air-conditioning systems so they can be turned off remotely, wrote The Globe and Mail July 23.

It makes sense from an environmental standpoint as much as an economic and energy-security one, argues York University Professor Mark Winfield [Faculty of Environmental Studies]. As the grid becomes increasingly taxed and provinces draw in power from elsewhere, those last-ditch reserves tend to be from the dirtiest energy sources out there.

"It tends to be fossil fuels because that’s the marginal supply. It’s what you crank up when you have extreme demand," he said. "If companies have an ability to vary their consumption, they actually get paid to do that – all of which makes total sense."

Thanks to social media, the influence of council watchers is growing

Throughout Greater Toronto, self-styled council watchers have had a growing presence in recent years as the proliferation of social media has given them a widening platform to share their views, wrote the National Post July 23. Council watchers attend meetings religiously, file hundreds of dollars’ worth of Freedom of Information requests and appear frequently before council to argue pet issues. Others maintain detailed blogs, where they post lengthy diatribes to convey their views to the general populace.

Their research is often little more than the stuff of conspiracy theories, some observers say, but there is no doubt council watchers can spur genuine change…. "They see themselves as guardians of our democracy, in a way," York University political scientist [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] Robert Drummond says. "Not everyone has the time to be as well informed as they believe people should be, so they are there to serve as kind of surrogates for the rest of us."

At the same time, Drummond says, it is important to foster a healthy skepticism of government at all levels. Many of the residents who monitor councils have run for office themselves, and subscribe to the theory that "somebody should be watching" to ensure residents’ interests are taken into account on issues from traffic and tax dollars to the accountability of councils and staff.

Freedom 65 Impact of the boom to crest in 2025

Poverty among seniors in Canada has declined over the past 20 years, wrote the Montreal Gazette July 23. But new data is showing people in their 30s and 40s are increasingly having difficulty making ends meet.

Dennis Raphael, a York University professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, [Faculty of Health], among other authors and researchers, has noted that while the wealth of the top 20 per cent of Canadian wage earners is growing, the wealth of the bottom 60 per cent of Canadian wage earners has stagnated. The resulting "intensification of work" – longer hours of work, less job security and more temporary work – will mean some adult children of baby boomers will have less time and money to assist their aging parents. If this trend continues, baby boomers could find themselves having to help their adult children financially.

Two stars of the American right have friends in Canada

In his column on Sarah Palin, Jonathan Kay took time out to call Internet journalist Andrew Breitbart "an obscene right-wing thug." Whatever one may think of Breitbart for his part in passing on what appears to be a zany conspiracy theory, I don’t think it qualifies him for the label, wrote Glendon Professor Terry Heinrichs in a letter to the National Post July 23.

Breitbart has done much that is unqualifiedly good journalistic work. For one, he was instrumental in illuminating the various scams ACORN had engaged in and also for defunding the organization. He was also almost solely responsible for publicizing the fraudulent claims made by grifters who never farmed but who are scamming the government for monies to be paid out to black farmers who had been discriminated against by the Agriculture Department in the past – the Pigford shakedown.

More than anyone other than the source himself, he was responsible for eliminating from public view that execrable liar known as Anthony Weiner. He was also responsible for questioning the claim that black Congressmen John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver were spat upon and called "n—-rs" by Tea Partyists as they went to vote on Obamacare. He has offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove the events occurred – no one has claimed that money.

Searching for savings; Privatizing military search and rescue seems risky

It is almost unimaginable that the Harper government would actually privatize the search-and-rescue function of the Canadian Forces, wrote the Calgary Herald July 25.

In a nation the size of Canada, the question is whether private enterprise can do any better, or actually save the government any money. York University strategic studies Professor Martin Shadwick [York Centre for International & Security Studies] doubts that there are large savings to be had, but told the Ottawa Citizen he wasn’t opposed to at least looking into whether military SAR should be privatized.

York University diabetes camp enrolment doubles

Attendance has doubled this year at a sports camp for kids with Type 1 diabetes at York University, wrote InsideToronto.com July 25.

The two-week camp, now in its fourth year, has 80 campers between the ages of eight and 16 this year, up from 40 last summer.

Camp director Michael Riddell, a world-renowned diabetes and exercise physiologist and professor in York’s Faculty of Health, pointed to a couple of reasons for the boost in numbers.

For the first time, the Diabetes Hope Foundation is sponsoring 30 children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go to camp. While the foundation has helped fund counsellors’ salaries in the past, this is the first time it is sending youngsters to the University’s camp, Riddell said.

The foundation is also supplying three buses to transport campers daily to and from the Hospital for Sick Children downtown, McMaster Health Centre in Hamilton and the Charles H. Best Diabetes Centre in Whitby.

The reputation of the camp is also growing, Riddell said.

Panhandling: It’s all in the pitch

Urban centres across the country are besieged by such panhandlers in the warmer months, who often resort to soliciting money from strangers out of necessity because of homelessness or other desperate circumstances, wrote CBC News online July 26. But what defines the approaches successful in getting you to part with your money? It’s all in the pitch, according to Ashwin Joshi, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

"In the context of what is one of life’s unfortunate situations, in this case, living on the streets, the underlying principles of marketing are the same. You still need to capture people’s interest and attention in a way that stimulates action, that is the giving of money," says Joshi.

The foremost challenge for any marketer, including panhandlers, is to get people’s attention, he adds. "As citizens, we are distracted, there’s lots going on in our minds, so it’s not easy letting their messages through. The challenge for panhandlers is considerably greater because they have to overcome all these biases against them, and they lack a discernable product or service they are selling."

Creativity goes a long way to overcoming those biases and barriers, with advertisers typically using fear, sex or humour to generate action in consumers, says Joshi. "Panhandlers are likely safest and most successful operating in the third category, because they have to attract your attention in a non-threatening way."

Small brewers bitter with Beer Store

Independent brewers are asking the province to step in after The Beer Store walked away from negotiations for a new contract aimed at improving the way the retailer sells craft beer, wrote the Toronto Star July 25.

It’s no coincidence that The Beer Store — and its owners — are fighting to keep the system as is, according to York University marketing Professor Alan Middleton [Schulich School of Business]. “This is one of the most profitable markets in the world for the breweries, because of minimum pricing and because of the distribution channels,” said Middleton. “What possible interest could they have in wanting to change things?”

BlackBerry maker can afford to trim sales staff, analyst says

As stock markets digested news of Research in Motion’s job cuts and details of its latest BlackBerry leaked out ahead of an official announcement, analysts said it’s no sure bet whether shedding 2,000 employees will help the high-tech giant in the long run, wrote the Toronto Star July 27.

York University Professor Fred Lazar [Schulich School of Business at York University] said what happens next will be telling. "The key here is if in six to 10 months there’s another major announcement of job cuts, then chances are they’re more in a death spiral than recovery mode."

Companies looking to trim jobs have to maintain a very delicate balance, particularly when it comes to managing reactions from the stock market, Lazar added. "If the cut’s too big, then people say, ‘I guess the problem was bigger than we thought it was.’ If it’s too small, then they say, ‘The company’s not doing enough to cut costs,’"

A sustainable watershed: can we get there from here?

This year’s 11th annual Grand River Watershed Water Forum will tackle a question more complex than the health of humanity’s most precious resource, but is on the minds of politicians, planners, scientists and increasingly the general public, wrote The Brantford Expositor July 27.

The question in the day-long event at the GRCA’s headquarters in Cambridge is in the forum’s theme: A sustainable watershed: can we get there from here?

A lineup of speakers will attempt to address those questions. They include…Peter Victor, professor of environmental studies at York University and author of Managing Without Growth: Slow by Design, Not Disaster.

The forum has become a premier environmental event in Ontario, regularly attracting more than 300 professionals, municipal staff and politicians, farmers and business owners.

Professor injured elbow in cycling incident

As the bicycle veered toward the curb, his feet firmly clipped to the pedals, Alfred Pietrowski could do little else but brace for impact, wrote Metro July 26, in a story about the professor in York’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Science & Engineering.

"You have to twist your ankle to get out of the clip to release it," he recalled. "But this was…it was so sudden. The wheel just hit the curb, and then I went over. No time to think about getting my foot out or anything like that."

As the bike struck the curb, Pietrowski landed on his side, bearing down on his right elbow. "I wasn’t in really great pain – just discomfort," Pietrowski recalled earlier, sitting inside at his table. "I thought: ‘Well, I’ll sleep it off, and in the morning, it will probably feel better…. Didn’t feel better in the morning," he added, with a laugh.

A check-up revealed Pietrowski had damaged the radial head in the elbow joint of his right arm. Within the week, the York University professor had surgery to remove bone shards and have the radial head replaced. "I have a bionic arm now," the affable academic said, laughing.

Life is a picnic

Picnics are more than just lunch for author Tina Powell [BAS ’89], wrote the Mississauga News July 22. In her latest book, Picnic in Pisticci, the author reflects on her love of the summer and the memorable moments she’s enjoyed while picnicking.

Powell, who moved to Vancouver four years ago after living in Mississauga for 34 years, is well-known for her children’s books that include Fernando’s Fun-tastic Friends.

In the recent years, Powell, who earned a business degree from York University and an English degree from McMaster, went on to start her own company, Big Fat Pen Publishing.

‘It’s time for a new career’

Peter Kormos [BA ’75, LLB ’78] has always had a passion for doing the right thing and helping hardworking people, wrote The Welland Tribune July 25.

The 58-year-old, who has presented Welland and area in the Ontario legislature for the 23 years as a member of provincial parliament, announced his retirement in early June and won’t be running for re-election in October.

Though the Welland native is stepping out of the limelight, his gregarious vigor won’t be forgotten any time soon. "It’s been an honour and a privilege, but I want to pursue yet one more career before my working days are over."

Kormos said he will continue to do his job the best he can until the Oct. 6 provincial election and then he’s going to start looking for another job.

Luckily Kormos, who left home at 16, had mentors who helped him get on his feet and back into school at Niagara College. He then went on to York University and received a bachelor of arts and earned his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School.

Passion for sport drives volunteer

Michael Rollings has a passion for lacrosse and spends most of his spare time sharing it with the community, wrote the Newmarket Era July 25 in a story about the York student.

Since the lacrosse season started in March, Rollings has been coaching three different Newmarket Redbirds teams five days a week.

All three teams are different age groups, challenging him to teach different skills to different levels. But once a player masters a skill he has been practising all season, it gives him a sense of accomplishment.

"Watching a young one finally catch or throw the ball is so gratifying," he said. "It makes it all worth while."

In his second year of a four-year kinesiology program at York University, Rollings plans to pursue a teaching career. "It doesn’t matter if it’s physical education, French, elementary or high school," he said. "I just want to teach."

Osgoode grad wins Tory nod in Mississauga South

Port Credit’s Geoff Janoscik [LLB ’07], who was first to enter the race to become the Progressive Conservative candidate in Mississauga South in this fall’s provincial election, won the right to represent the party last night at a well-attended nomination meeting, wrote The Mississauga News July 25.

The Toronto lawyer defeated former Ward 2 Peel District School Board trustee Don Stephens and Global TV broadcaster Daryl Konynenbelt.

Janoscik first announced his candidacy in January 2010. He is a graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

York student runs for Halton seat in legislature

Nik Spohr of the New Democratic Party, is a declared candidate in the provincial riding of Halton, wrote The Hamilton Spectator July 23. He was the party’s local youth representative and is pursuing a master’s in environmental studies at York University.

Layton comes from long line of politicians

Jack Layton has inhaled politics from the moment he was born July 18, 1950, wrote QMI Agency July 26, in a biography of NDP leader Jack Layton [MA ’72, PhD ’83], who announced Monday he was taking a leave of absence for cancer treatment.

With a political science degree from McGill University and a PhD in foreign investment and public policy from York University, the passionate and driven Layton  fought the most recent federal campaign on a bum hip a year after being treated for prostate cancer.

  • The Canadian Press also circulated a fact sheet about Layton July 26, noting his York education.

Preparing to save the world

If you were to ask 30 different law students why they were pursuing careers in law, you’d likely get 30 different answers, wrote Osgoode student Lauren Berdock in Canadian Lawyer Magazine’s online blog “4Students” July 25 in her first column for the publication. This of course, despite the fact all of our personal statements said we wanted to “save the world.”

Yes, some, including myself, do naively hope to leave a lasting impact on the lives of our future clients. Others want to revolutionize business, constitutional, employment and even tax law! And some among us are pursuing legal careers for the sole purpose of ensuring personal financial security. Regardless of what brings students into the law library for late night study sessions, there is one piece of advice I feel applies to all and that is to cherish and soak up every opportunity for growth and learning.

Canadian Lawyer 4Students noted Berdock will be entering her second year at [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School in the fall and is currently vice-chairwoman of events of the Criminal Law Society. She is the author of the blog “Educating Lauren” at advocatedaily.com.

York students thank school board for prayer accommodation

Standing at the back of the crowds, far from the megaphone-wielding speakers, York University students Mariam Hamaoui and Sarah Zubair had their own signs espousing their right to pray in school, wrote Hyderabad, India’s The Siasat Daily July 26, in a story about a protest of accommodations made to Muslim students at Valley Park Middle School in Toronto that was also published by QMI Agency.

Hamaoui, 18, said she had to go to the basement to pray when she attended Etobicoke Collegiate Institute because “there was no other place…. I think people should be open-minded. I don’t see the problem to go pray. Praying is helping everybody,” she told reporters and the protesters who aggressively confronted her.

“It’s our constitutional right,” said Zubaira, who wore a hijab for the first time on Monday.

BlackCreek feeling birth pangs

In announcing the cancellation of last Saturday’s Truth and Soul gospel concert at the Rexall Centre, the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival has given its patrons a candid message on its website about the trouble it has faced during its inaugural season, wrote the Toronto Star July 27.

"In our first year, we have attempted to appeal to audiences with a mix of diverse genres ranging from classical, jazz, country, gospel, Broadway and opera," says the online message. "While we have been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the Rexall Centre as a fantastic venue for musical performances, some concerts did not sell well to a wide enough audience to allow those shows to be financially viable at this early stage.

Launched in June with much fanfare and a budget of more than $15 million in an outdoor stadium on the York University campus designed for Tennis Canada, BlackCreek faced some daunting challenges, such as having to sell both a new festival and a new venue in just months.

After a break to accommodate Tennis Canada, the BlackCreek season is scheduled to resume in late August with three more concerts besides the Aug. 31 event on hold.