York prof helps unmask Halloween traditions

Halloween book cover

Halloween is really a witch’s cauldron of traditions that includes a good measure of 19th-century Irish and Scottish celebrations, Christian interpretations of All Souls Day and thoroughly modern American commercialism, says Nicholas Rogers, a cultural historian at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], and author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, wrote QMI Agency Oct. 27.

“A lot of the rituals and traditions associated with those early modern festivals have been amended but continue to persist,” he says. Trick-or-treating, for example, resembles the late medieval practice of ‘threshold encounters’, when poor folk went to the homes of rich people on All Souls Day asking for food and drink in return for prayers for the dead.

Irish and Scottish immigrants brought Halloween to North America. “It became a kind of ethnic holiday in the middle of the 19th century but was a continental holiday by the end of the 19th century,” says Rogers. He never celebrated Halloween while growing up in England but became interested in it after immigrating to Canada and taking his children trick-or-treating.

By the 1920s, Halloween was becoming commercialized, with parties for young adults, conduct books, and decorations in banks and offices. Hallmark also issued its first Halloween cards in the 1920s. “It became a kids’ festival in suburban North American following the Second World War with trick or treating, which in many ways tried to take the scary bits out of Halloween,” says Rogers.

“Today, it’s all treating and no trickery but there was a period when Halloween was quite rough and there was a lot of vandalism that could get pretty vigorous,” he say. He points to a riot in Toronto in the mid-1940s that ended after police hosed down rowdy celebrants.

After the revolution, Libya’s challenges

Libya’s educational institutions need work, too, wrote CBC News online Oct. 26, in an analysis of the country’s post-revolution future.

“We don’t even have a real library here,” says Mustafa Taghdi, pointing across the sprawling campus of Tripoli University. “Until the revolution, this school taught mainly propaganda for the government.”

Taghdi is one of many Libyans who had been living abroad but who have now come back to help rebuild their homeland. In his case, he had been living in Mississauga and was teaching engineering at York University in Toronto [Faculty of Science & Engineering]. His daughters remain in Canada, where they study.

“They get a much better education there,” he said. But his goal is to try to change that, so the Libyan students here will have the same advantages as those studying abroad.

What did they do with their cash?

When inflation outstrips the best rates on guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), Canada Savings Bonds (CSBs) and high-interest savings accounts, money in the bank means certain losses and unexpected stress, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 27.

Moshe Milevsky of York University’s Schulich School of Business thinks it would be unrealistic to ask Ottawa to raise the CSB rates, because it would distort the bond market. “If we want to help savers, we could raise consumption taxes and lower income taxes,” he says, acknowledging that would also be hard for politicians who are addicted to stimulus in an attempt to ward off recession.

“If you want safe relative to the stock market, yes, put it in the bank. If you want safe relative to inflation and taxes, avoid the bank. Inflation of 2.5 per cent will erode a GIC paying 60 basis points year after year [a basis point is 1/100th of 1 per cent]. If you want safe from long-term inflation, you have gold and commodities, but if you want safe relative to the fluctuations on a daily basis, those are the worst things.”

Wheat Board sues Ottawa over plan to end monopoly

The battle over the future of the Canadian Wheat Board is shifting to the Federal Court, where a judge is being asked to rule on whether the Harper government can unilaterally end the institution’s monopoly over Western grain sales, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 27.

Patrick Monahan, legal scholar and vice-president academic & provost of York University, couldn’t predict whether the wheat board challenge would succeed or fail. But, he said, ultimately Parliament is considered to have the power to amend its own laws. “Generally, the courts have confirmed that Parliament can amend any statute that it has previously enacted, even statutes that require some form of consultation prior to amendment.”

New owner hopes to revive firm’s name with auction of 50-carat diamond

If you’ve been hunting for the right ring to propose to that princess you’ve been dating, Kashif Khan has just the thing – a rare, round 50-carat diamond worth an estimated $10 million, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 27, in a story about the gem’s upcoming auction at the Royal Ontario Museum next month by the newly revived Ritchies Auctioneers.

Khan believes there’s still value to the Ritchies name and hopes customers will remember the good days.

There’s an inherent risk in buying a brand whose last public mention was in conjunction with angry creditors, says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. Still, Middleton says turning the image around isn’t impossible. “They’ve got the built-in advantage of being in a small industry, so they’ll be able to get word around quickly that it’s a new group of people. But they’ve got the built-in disadvantage of people not knowing them, and trust is a big thing in auctions, especially at the high end,” said Middleton.

Franz Hartmann: I want to change the world

When I went to university, I had no idea what career I wanted to pursue, wrote Franz Hartmann [MA ’91, PhD ’99], executive director, Toronto Environmental Alliance, in NOW Magazine Oct. 26. I did know I wanted to be involved in working with people to build a more environmentally sustainable and better world.

Right after I finished my undergrad degree, I took a year off before graduate school. That year (1989), David Suzuki had a radio series on CBC called “It’s A Matter Of Survival”. I listened every Saturday and began to realize how dangerous the situation was becoming, especially around global warming.

I wanted to do something. That was the beginning of my getting involved, not just by studying but through volunteering for environmental groups and being active.

TEA focuses on what happens in City Hall, so having understanding of how politics works and the relationship between politics and the economy – things I studied in university – has given me very useful insights.

  • I’m an IT security architect, working freelance for all kinds of clients in the public and private sector, wrote Darrin Nowakowski [BA Spec. Hons. ’93], president, Star Circle Security, in NOW Oct. 26. Think about large complex computer systems. An architect figures out how it’s all going to work together, how data is going to be structured so it’s usable and findable. It’s a cross between design and engineering.

I couldn’t do what I do now without an engineering background, but I also wouldn’t be successful without an arts background. Half my job is the engineering part and the other half reading, writing, presenting information. The stereotype that engineers don’t have presentation skills is not terribly far from the truth. Exercising both sides of my brain is absolutely essential.

I am one of the architects who figured out how to measure wait times in the health care system. The positive outcome from gathering that information is that you can use it to improve people’s situations.

Fine Arts grad penned funny bits for Vancouver Olympics ceremony

Will Ferguson [BFA Spec. Hons. ’90] is a familiar name to Canadians, wrote CottageCountryNow.ca Oct. 26, in a story about an upcoming appearance at an authors festival. He is an award-winning novelist and travel writer, and is the author of more than a dozen books ranging from budget travel guides to works of literary fiction.

He is a three-time winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour and now lives in Calgary, in the foothills of the Rockies, with his wife Terumi and their two young sons.

A graduate of the York University Film School [Faculty of Fine Arts], he studied screen writing and film production.

York FES grad named CRC at BC’s University of the Fraser Valley

Lenore Newman [MES ’99, PhD ’04] was appointed Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley recently, where she joins the UFV geography department, wrote BC’s Abbotsford Times Oct. 27.

Newman holds both a PhD and a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University Faculty of Environmental Studies], and a BSc (honours) in physics and astronomy from the University of BC.