York prof sees similarities between Iran and Egypt protests

There was a moment Friday in the Egyptian capital when the people’s vaunted uprising brought to mind Tehran in 1979: Just when the left-wing secularists thought they had ousted the Shah, the Islamists ousted them, wrote The Globe and Mail July 30.

Hundreds of thousands of ultra-religious Islamists packed [Cairo’s] central Tahrir Square in an unprecedented show of support for the creation of an Islamic republic, rather than the planned unity demonstration in collaboration with secularists. In doing so, they drove a stake through the heart of a united revolutionary movement that had brought together Egyptian Islamists and secularists, Muslims and Christians, and shared the goal of democratic elections and the punishment of the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak.

"This is a lot like Iran," said Saeed Rahnema, a left-wing activist in Tehran in the late 1970s and now professor of political science at York University in Toronto [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. "And it’s only going to get worse. Once the Islamists start in like this, they’re never going to let up."

As strong as the Islamist forces get in Egypt, however, it is unlikely the country will go the way of Iran, at least not in the foreseeable future, Rahnema said. For one thing, Egypt’s Islamists have no central leadership the way Iran’s Islamists had in Ayatollah Khomeini, the exiled Iranian cleric whose return ultimately led to the Shah of Iran’s ouster.

For another, said Rahnema, "the army in Egypt is a separate entity. It’s vital that it stay that way, so the system won’t totally collapse" as it did in Iran. That’s when the Islamists came to the fore.

Cup tennis diversification will mix poetry with pros

For the first time the Rogers Cup, which runs Aug. 6-14 at the Rexall Centre, will feature a poet-in-residence, wrote the Toronto Star July 31.

Every day of the tournament, poet and novelist Priscila Uppal will spend a few hours chatting with fans at a booth and the rest of the day roaming the tournament’s courts, grandstands and walkways, looking for inspiration. The plan is to produce one poem a day, to be published on the Rogers Cup website and draw sheets, as well as daily articles highlighting different tennis-related art projects.

"Tennis is a great sport for poetry because a lot of the language of tennis we use in everyday life. You have to break someone in order to win. You make errors," says Uppal, author of nine poetry collections, including one devoted to winter sports. "And it really represents kinetic beauty. The athletes are so graceful and they have to be really mentally strong because you’re out there by yourself."

The poets-in-residence aren’t unique to the Rogers Cup; Wimbledon employed one earlier this summer. And Uppal herself has played the role in the past.

During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canadian Athletes Now, a charity that funds Canadian amateur athletes, contracted Uppal to hang around the games, gather inspiration and publish daily poems.

Her poem about the gold medal-winning Canadian men’s hockey team, was titled "Canada is the Hockey Ward", and was published in the Vancouver Sun.

Her presence was such a success that Canadian Athletes Now invited her back to write poems during the Summer Olympics next year in London. Until then Uppal, a former competitive tennis player, will keep stoking her interest in sports and looking for ways to merge it with her poetry.

"My first love is art and my second love is sport," says Uppal, a literature and creative writing professor at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. "I’m just trying to find a way to bridge those two worlds." 

NDP grapples with spectre of rudderless ship

Brave words from New Democrats about Jack Layton’s imminent rebound from a new bout of cancer do not mask the fact that the NDP is facing one of the most challenging periods of its history, wrote The Globe and Mail July 30.

James Laxer, a York University professor [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] who ran for the NDP leadership four decades ago – and who has often been critical of the way the party has been run – believes the success enjoyed in Quebec in the past election leaves the NDP on a solid footing. But getting the party to even contemplate moving ahead without the man who orchestrated its success will be impossible in the short term – and difficult even in the long term.

"The assumption I make – and this is the assumption I am going to stick with as long as I can – is that he’s coming back," said Laxer, who taught Layton when the NDP Leader was a graduate student in the early 1970s. "So therefore I am not prepared to consider the world without Jack Layton in it."

The good news: you won’t necessarily die; The bad news: your odds aren’t great

In a philosophical frame of mind, Paul Noble of St. John’s asks, "Is it inevitable that all living things will die?", wrote The Globe and Mail July 30 in its feature Collected Wisdom.

This is a question that comes at a high premium for philosophers, writes Patrick J.J. Phillips, a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at York University in Toronto [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

For instance, if the answer is yes, then we have an indubitable assertion, which could be used against the philosophical skeptic, who claims that all we deem to be knowledge is capable of being doubted. "Moreover, if the answer is yes," he writes, "then weight might be given to the rationalist school of thought," which proposes that knowledge of the world (and in this instance the future) can be known a priori – before we have any experience of it. In other words, "we know all living beings, even those not yet born, and therefore not yet existent, will die in the future prior to any experience of them."

However, Phillips says the answer to the question may be no. "David Hume (1711-1776) has infamously posited that all our knowledge of past, present and future is on tenuous ground. All our knowledge of the world (including the life cycles of animals and cells) is based on inductive reasoning," or creating a general law from individual instances…. "If Hume is correct in his skepticism regarding the trustworthiness of our inductive reasoning (the reasoning that forms the central method of the empirical sciences, including biology), then it remains an open question as to whether the death of living things is ‘inevitable’."

General Idea orchestrated its own canny myth

Allow me a moment to state the abundantly obvious: General Idea, the three-man collective founded in 1969 by AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, is the most significant, famous and influential art beast, single or otherwise, to emerge from Toronto, if not Canada, in the last half of the 20th century, wrote Murray Whyte in the Toronto Star July 30, in a story about the new AGO exhibit General Idea: Haute Culture, a 25-year retrospective of the group’s prodigious output.

We’ve had warm-ups in recent years, most recently at York University, where former AGO curator Philip Monk re-created the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion show in 2009.

York’s Elder Lab is developing cameras that behave like the human eye

Long before you can see James Elder‘s York University laboratory, it can see you, wrote the National Post July 30.

A non-descript outdoor camera tracks your movements as you approach his office through a courtyard. You likely do not even know it is there, but as soon as you enter its field of view, the camera beams your movements to an animated humanoid "avatar" mimicking your path across a 3D map of the campus.

Stepping through the front door of the Elder Laboratory, you draw the swivelling gaze of the "attentive widefield visual sensor", a skinny, robotic camera mounted at the back of the room. The device works much like the human eye; a low-resolution lens keeps watch over the entire room and when it sees bright colours or sudden movements, it swivels a high-resolution lens over to take a closer look. In only a few months, says Elder, the Canadian patents for the sensor should be complete. "You can’t find anything like this on the market, but you should – the technology’s quite simple," Elder says.

"Computer vision" is the modus operandi of Elder’s tiny computer sciences laboratory. In a world where cameras can do little more than blindly record their surroundings, Elder’s lab is teaching cameras how to "see". Cameras that can count cars on a highway, cameras that can track the movements of occupants in a building and cameras that can generate 3-D images of a crowd of people simply by looking at them.

The research is all part of a master project known as the "3D Town", a York University collaboration that will one day allow an entire city to be uploaded to cyberspace. "The goal is to allow anybody essentially to see the activity happening in any part of the city," says Elder.

Elder is quick to downplay the somewhat-supervillainous qualities of his lab’s arsenal of seeing machines. For starters, he is adamant about anonymity. Cameras should be configured to automatically convert humans into animated forms so that nobody, not even programmers, can identify unwitting pedestrians. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that, in the wrong hands, the 3D Town technology could quickly be adapted for sinister ends. Totalitarian governments could use it to track the hour-to-hour movements of their citizens. Stalkers could fasten remote leashes on their victims. Of course, stalkers and totalitarian governments had no problem doing that before the Internet, notes Elder, but suspicion remains – even York University has barred the Elder Lab from leaving its outdoor camera on 24 hours a day, citing ethical concerns.

Elder’s philosophy is transparency. Rather than leave smart cameras in the hands of some secretive corporation or government agency, the Elder Lab aims to put its findings on an open-source Google-style platform where all can see. "What’s best is to be open about it," Elder says. "This shouldn’t be a secret we don’t understand."

York prof agrees: Canada could use its own rocket launch site

Whether Canada should have its own space-launch facility is a debate that’s been making the rounds in the scientific and business communities for years without any progress being made, wrote The Canadian Press Aug. 2 in a story about a BC astrophysicist who is trying to drum up support for a facility in that province.

Ian McDade, a York University space scientist, believes launch delays – and the cost of sending up satellites – could be reduced if Canada had its own facility.

He points to one of his own experiments, which involved an instrument that measures wind in the stratosphere.  "We won a competition with the Japanese to go for a free launch on one of their satellites," he recalled. "We were all ready to go, probably spent $8 million just doing the paperwork, then they had their own problems and a couple of failures [and] we got bumped off."

McGuinty campaign runs risks

"There have been very few premiers who have run and won three terms," said York University political scientist Robert Drummond [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], in the National Post Aug. 2, in a story about the provincial Liberals’ campaign strategies. "There is a sense that two terms is a long time for a premier."

Postsecondary schools could help city with budget solutions

Universities, colleges and other postsecondary institutions work well with the City of Toronto to find solutions for one issue or another, wrote InsideToronto.com July 29 in an editorial about the recent study of Toronto’s core services by accounting firm KPMG. We believe, however, the city and the schools are missing out on an incredible community-building opportunity for inexpensive problem solving, community engagement among young people and world recognition.

We propose the city and postsecondary institutions create a formal program to help solve some of the city’s issues. Ryerson has many fine business specialties that should appeal to Mayor Rob Ford’s sense of running the city like a business.

Could the…Schulich School of Business at York University not have provided the city with valuable cost-cutting ideas?

It’s a three-way win. The city gets the benefit of the expertise. The school gets the recognition as community builders and providing tangible skills. And the students get the real-world experience.

Homework Club helps students in Jane and Finch area

The Homework Club is part of Reaching Up, an educational ministry aiming to improve the quality of life for children in low-income families in the Jane and Finch community, wrote the North York Mirror July 29.

After putting up posters in the community advertising the program, 12 children enrolled, but the numbers started to dwindle, said [Cecile Huxtable]. That changed when Huxtable got in touch with York University and asked if they could send students doing their teaching placement to help with the Homework Club.

"They sent 10 people," she said. "Then we had 22 kids. I also got in touch with Seneca College because they have a social service worker program and they sent 20 people."

Now running at a capacity of 45 students, the Homework Club operates five days a week from September to June, 3:30 to 6pm.

Quite the grind!

Ivin Wadgymar [BES Spec. Hons. ’10] quite literally pedals his wares at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market each Saturday, wrote MyKawartha.com July 29.

An employee with Chocosol, Wadgymar sells authentic Mexican chocolate and tortillas from his market booth. And by the way, he makes the homemade products using a bicycle. Wadgymar and his business partner Michael Sacco, Chocosol’s founder, have developed a bicycle grinder to ground cacao beans for chocolate and corn for tortillas.

The York University graduate student, who is staying at Trent University as a visiting scholar this summer, handles the tortilla side of the business…. Wadgymar also uses a bicycle to transport his wares and grilling trailer to the market. There, he grills the tortillas on the spot to make fresh quesadillas.

From boo-boos to trauma – trying to heal 60,000 hurts

At a table in Gallery Connexion’s Rick Burns Gallery, Andrew McPhail [BFA Spec. Hons. ’84, MFA ’87] works hunched-over, head-down in silence listening to Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal July 30. The gallery staff – his "minions", he jokes – have ripped open hundreds of Band-Aids to fill the large clear bowl next to him. He will empty the bowl over the day, quickly peeling off the little white strips to construct a new addition to his signature art-work All My Little Failures – a quilt of 60,000-plus Band-Aids.

The stuffed, almost-overflowing garbage bag of Band-Aid debris stands next to him as a testament to the hours the Hamilton-based artist has put into the project since coming to Fredericton as the gallery’s summer artist-in-residence on July 5. He estimates he’s added about 10,000 Band-Aids to All My Little Failures while in residence.

McPhail has performed variations of this piece all the way from Hamilton and Calgary to Cuba and London, England. The thing is, McPhail isn’t a performance artist or sculptor by nature. He’s a drawer and was trained at York University as a painter. His work was always laborious and obsessive – particularly his large drawings of strings of lights with coloured pencil on Mylar.

McPhail has found success working with the fact he is HIV-positive. Although he’s known about his health situation since 1993, he never wanted to be known as an HIV-artist. He still doesn’t.

Woman of the Week: York grad Dina Pugliese

For Dina Pugliese [BA Hons. ’97], playing the role of host has always been in her nature, wrote the Women’s Post Aug. 1 in a profile story of the host of Citytv’s “Breakfast Television” (BT). Even as a youngster she displayed an interest in the art of broadcasting: “I was involved in theatre as a kid, but I rarely wanted to act, I much preferred taking on the narrative voice.” As she grew older Pugliese decided to put her skills and passion to the test and embark on a career in broadcast journalism. After studying at York University and Humber College, Pugliese spent six years behind the scenes, learning and interning before she landed a job with “Star! Daily” and later “BT”.

Dear Mayor Rob Ford and Doug Ford…

York student Rachelann Pisani wrote the following letter to the Toronto Star Aug. 1:

Public neighbourhood libraries are vital; please let me tell you why…. I am a fifth-year student at York University. I was born and raised in Etobicoke South, Mimico and Lakeshore.

When I was growing up, my area was not a desirable area. There were shootings, drug busts, hate crimes and generally disconcerting goings-on. There were more bars than restaurants and, I suppose, more libraries than coffee shops. The Mimico Public Library leaves much to be desired. It is not pretty like the Runnymede Library nor well stocked like the Richview Library. It doesn’t have an encyclopedia and most of the books are probably from the ’80s. But growing up the library was everything to me.

I cannot stress enough how my time spent in the library changed me for the better; my love of books and learning began there. I now work in a bookstore, am a research assistant and am applying to graduate school this fall, and I attribute all of these accomplishments to the time I spent reading with my parents and friends in the public library.

As with any move from the public to the private, it is the poor and marginalized that will suffer the most. The loss of a library can be the loss of a childhood. Please, consider the future of the children whose lives will be affected by this decision.

York prof writes on the history of Republicans as the ‘Freedom Party’

Republicans began the Civil War as the party of Union, not the party of Freedom, wrote Marc Egnal, history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in an article for the New York Times “Opinionator” blog. They did not become the celebrated destroyers of slavery until almost two years into the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued Jan. 1, 1863. But during the summer of 1861 the direction of change was unmistakable, as Republicans took the first, crucial steps in a mounting attack on the South’s “peculiar institution”. Long-held beliefs about the immorality of slavery combined with the challenges posed by an escalating conflict, explain the evolving outlook of the Republicans.

Had the Civil War been brief, the Republicans’ reverence for property rights – rather than their profound antislavery convictions – would have prevailed, and Southern institutions would likely have emerged unscathed…. But as the clash continued, new circumstances gradually led the Republicans to rethink their cautious policies.

Only when changing circumstances are combined with the beliefs of a party that had long condemned (in Abraham Lincoln’s words) the “vast moral evil” of slavery does the march toward freedom become understandable.

Marc Egnal is a professor of history at York University, Toronto, and author of Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War, noted the Times.

York grad eyes council seat in Mississauga by-election

Barbara Hazel Tabuno [BA Spec. Hons. ’10] believes her youth will be an asset for the people of Ward 5, wrote The Mississauga News Aug. 2, in a story about the York grad’s candidacy in a Sept. 19 by-election to fill the vacant Ward 5 City Council seat.

"I really feel being 24 and the youngest person running," is working in my favour, said Tabuno, a graduate of York University who’s continuing her education while working part-time at Toronto General Hospital. "I’ll bring bold, brave and practical ideas to Council.

"I want to shake up City Hall and bring it into a new era of open confidence and good governance," she continued.

Tabuno served as chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee for one year and said during that time she increased the number of youth members from 40 to 160. She organized the Mississauga Youth Achievement Awards, which were presented in July, and the Mississauga’s Got Talent contest, slated for September.  She currently serves as a member of the City’s Mississauga Celebration Square, Healthy City Stewardship Centre and Living Green Master Plan committees.

Slippery and slimy creatures invade Ajax library

Daniel Edwards, an employee at Mister Pet and a biology student at York University, brought along salamanders, frogs, turtles and a fighting fish from the pet store for the kids to check out, wrote the Ajax News Advertiser Aug. 2, in a story about a hands-on learning experience at the Ajax Public Library.

Edwards explained that native creatures cannot be sold at pet stores, so he brought along examples of animals that were available and also showed the kids a slide show of photos he had taken at a biological station on Opinicon Lake in eastern Ontario earlier this year.

‘Daily Planet’ returns for season 17 with York grad as co-host

The world’s first and only nightly science and tech series returns to Discovery Channel weeknights at 7pm beginning Monday, Aug. 29. Biologist and all-around curious guy, Dan Riskin [MSc ’00] joins Ziya Tong as new co-host, exploring and sharing wonderful, weird and totally water-cooler worthy stories from around the world.

Riskin is delighted to return home to Canada as co-host of Discovery Channel’s flagship series. A bona fide “batman” (yes, that’s right – we said “batman”), the Edmonton-native’s passion for science was sparked by a book about bats that he read when he was a high school student. The award-winning evolutionary biologist has completed a BSc in Zoology (University of Alberta), a master’s degree in biology (York University [Faculty of Science & Engineering]), a PhD in Zoology (Cornell University) and post-doctorate studies (Brown University) – and throughout, Riskin hasn’t strayed far from his love of the winged creatures.  Outside of academic circles, Riskin is best known as the host of “Monsters Inside Me” on Discovery Science and for his numerous entertaining appearances on late night talk shows.

Chartattack announces it’s suspending publication

Over the weekend, rumours began circulating over the social network that longtime Canadian music publication Chartattack.com would be ceasing operations. But have the rumours of Chartattack’s demise been greatly exaggerated?  wrote exclaim.ca Aug. 2.

However, in an e-mail exchange with Exclaim!, co-founder and publisher Edward Skira [BA Hons. ’88] said, "The site’s not done." At press time, Skira had yet to respond to follow-up e-mails requesting further details. But whatever the case, it seems certain that at least one chapter in Chartattack’s long run has ended.

Started by York University students Skira and Nada Laskovski [BA Hons. ’90], Chartattack began life as campus radio tip-sheet the National Chart, a publication of the National Campus Radio Association. It branched off into a paid national music magazine in the early ’90s, and Chartattack.com began as the digital offshoot of Chart Magazine, which ceased publication in January 2009 due to dwindling advertising revenues. The site soldiered on, continuing to compile weekly campus radio charts, as well as offering up a selection of reviews, features and daily music news.

The Twitter hash-tag #ripchart emerged over the weekend, revealing the staggering number of Canadian music journalists and writers in general who wrote for the mag.

Ontario establishes Auto Insurance Anti-Fraud Task Force

Ontario’s newly created Auto Insurance Anti-Fraud Task Force will be examining the scope of auto insurance fraud in Ontario and is expected to make final recommendations to the government in Fall 2012, wrote canadianunderwriter.ca Aug 2, 2011.

The government announced the mandate and composition of the task force steering committee on July 29 and members of the steering committee include:

Fred Gorbet (chair), CIT Chair in Financial Services and associate director of the financial services program at the Schulich School of Business at York University. From 1968 to 1992, Gorbet served in the federal government in a number of positions, including associate secretary to the cabinet and deputy minister of finance.

Margaret Beare, professor of law & sociology at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. She is a former director of the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption at Osgoode. She served 11 years with the department of the Solicitor General of Canada, including two years as director of police policy and research.

James Daw [BA ’72 Glendon], a business journalist writing in the field of personal finance, pensions, tax, insurance, business and the economy. Daw is a former Toronto Star personal finance columnist who has written extensively about the auto insurance system in Ontario.

At 21, York student is youngest president of Atkinson Housing board

Just sitting next to Domanique Grant is motivational, wrote the Toronto Star July 30.

The dynamic 21-year-old, fourth-year York University student, with a double major in theatre and international development, is talking about her approach to life and how she manages to juggle her courses, her duties as fine arts director with the York Federation of Students along with being the youngest-ever president of the board of directors for Atkinson Housing Co-op, near Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West.

Grant is also a vice-president and the youngest member sitting on the board of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto, which represents more than 45,000 people who live in non-profit housing co-ops, like Atkinson, in Toronto and York region.

She feels her youth hasn’t been a hindrance in her work as president of the board. "I haven’t had anyone try to tell me I’m not up to it," she says.

Money manager later led Guardian Capital to new heights

He left the ivory tower of academia to parlay a struggling money manager into one of Bay Street’s most successful investment firms, wrote The Globe and Mail July 30 in an obituary of former York instructor John Christodoulou, who died at the age of 79 after a brief illness. Christodoulou taught at York for the 1968 to 1969 academic year.

While he piloted Guardian Capital to become a diversified wealth management firm with over $16 billion in assets under management, and has been praised by peers for his investment acumen, Christodoulou didn’t have an auspicious start in this industry. After getting his MBA, he got a summer job in 1963 at Toronto brokerage firm Burns Bros. & Denton, but didn’t get hired full time because he failed a psychological screening test.

"The screening company reported to management that he was not suitable for the investment business," chuckles long-time friend Donald K. Johnson, who met Christodoulou that summer, and is now a member of the advisory board at Bank of Montreal’s BMO Capital Markets division. "I suspect his strong Greek accent had something to do with it."

On air

  • Tyler Shipley, a graduate student at York and a native of Winnipeg, spoke about the new Winnipeg Jets logo on AM640 Radio, July 29.
  • Martin Shadwick, defence analyst in the York Centre for International & Security Studies, spoke about the search for economies in operating Canada’s search & rescue missions, on CBC Radio St. John, Nfld. July 29.
  • Myriam Mongrain, research psychologist in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about her study on the effects of compassionate behaviour, on Radio Canada International July 30.
  • Allan Hutchinson, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about a recent court decision against including the federal government as defendants in lawsuits against “big tobacco” on CBC TV’s “The National” July 29.
  • Danyka Nadeau, a York music student who won a Much Music contest, was interviewed on Riviere-du-loup’s CIMT-TV Aug. 1.
  • Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Canada’s real estate market, on BNN-TV’s “The Close” Aug. 2.