May 6, 2010

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: April 30-May 6, 2010

Cally and Callo put SFU into the news this week.
They are two cellphone robots invented at SFU who can walk, dance, and express emotions.
And two SFU forensic scientists also got a national audience during the week, in a documentary on BC’s famous “floating feet”.
Also in the news: profs talking about the Kash Heed fiasco, the Louisiana oil gush, the future of the False Creek area, the Harmonized Sales Tax, the New York car-bomb, and more.


  • The Discovery Channel was first to move on a story about Cally and Callo, the robotic cellphone siblings from SFU who can walk, dance and express human-like emotions.
    The robots were invented by Ji-Dong Yim and Chris Shaw, scientists in SFU Interactive Arts and Technology. Cally stands roughly 16 cm high, and, by tracking human faces, can help cellphone users make electronic eye contact with the person to whom they are talking. Callo is a little taller and more emotionally sophisticated than his older sister.
    CNet Asia’s technology website also was quick to do a story. Both stemmed from a news release issued by SFU. The Vancouver Sun and CBC Radio also quickly pursued the inventors. So did Surrey Now. And the UK-based science website of ran the SFU release.

  • The Passionate Eye show on CBC-TV ran a national documentary on the “floating feet” that have been found in BC waters. Among the forensic scientists whose work was featured were Gail Anderson and Rolf Mathewes.
    Anderson’s experiment with a pig carcass sunk to the bottom of Saanich Inlet showed, in effect, how human feet could become naturally detached from a sunken corpse and be floated to the surface by their sneakers.
    “In my experiments . . . we’ve certainly seen the foot disarticulating in about two weeks, and if it’s attached to something that’s buoyant, like a running shoe, then it could float away. . . . Anything that's going to be inside something tight, like a tight shoe, is going to be well protected. I've seen remains that have been in the water for over five years; they were in fairly solid condition, there was not much deterioration.”
    Mathewes demonstrated how he processes samples from police, looking for pollen or bits of plant that could help determine where a body has been. The sample he used on the show was scraped from his own shoe:
    “If the police had brought me this as a piece of evidence . . . based on what I have seen here, I would tell them to look for an area with a lot of skunk cabbage, bracken fern, and open and not forested. If that helps, it could certainly narrow their scope down in searching for further evidence.”
    (Six detached feet in sneakers have been found in BC waters and one on the U.S. side of Juan de Fuca Strait. Only one of the BC finds has been identified, a foot from a man in whose death foul play is not suspected.)

  • Criminologist Neil Boyd was in a national Canadian Press story that reported the federal government had reintroduced its tough-on-crime legislation aimed at white-collar criminals. Said Boyd:
    "It's cosmetic, it's not a substantive response. It's a trivial response to the overall problem, which would be better served by substantial resources, improving regulations, and through better investor education."

  • The U.S.-based website noted the suspect in the failed Times Square car-bombing used a prepaid "burner" cellphone. They have often been used for crime. "The Canadian government funded a study on this question back in 2006. A team from Simon Fraser University looked at 24 OECD countries and found that nine of them require mobile operators to collect registration data for prepaid phone users. 'In all cases, the rationale for a prepaid registration requirement was to improve efficiency of law enforcement and national security activities,' said the report."
    (The report was prepared for the federal privacy commissioner by SFU's Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology.)

  • The Canadian Press ran a story suggesting British Columbians not worry too much about the possibility of major earthquakes such as those that that have rattled China, Mexico and Chile in recent weeks. “Simon Fraser University earth sciences professor John Clague says the long-predicted ‘Big One’ could still be decades, if not centuries, away.  Clague says magnitude 8 and 9 mega-thrust earthquakes hit B.C. every 500 to 600 years and the last one was a mere 310 years ago.”
    CTV and the Vancouver edition of Metro were among news outlets running the story.

  • In a National Post blog, Herb Grubel, economics prof emeritus and a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, wrote that if the incomes of public sector workers matched those in the private sector, the fiscal deficits of governments would be lowered by at least $19 billion.
    (The blog drew a letter to the editor from another economist: “I would like Grubel to disclose his lifetime earnings as an SFU professor, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, and Reform MP, including handsome pensions. I guarantee that he has earned more over his lifetime than all civil servants, except perhaps for a tiny handful of deputy ministers.”)

  • A U.S.-based law-reports website reported on an appeal in Alaska by a 16-year-old male who had been sentenced for first-degree assault. “Dr. Ronald Roesch, a forensic psychologist and professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, testified that adolescents who commit violent acts generally do not continue to commit acts of violence when they grow to adulthood.”


  • Public policy prof Doug McArthur was in demand by media on the on-off-on-off stint of Kash Heed as BC’s solicitor general. McArthur did interviews with CTV, CBC Radio News, Sing Tao, Omni-TV and the On the Coast show on CBC Radio.
    Among questions McArthur raised on the On the Coast show was: “Why did Mr. Campbell and Mr. Heed rush so quickly yesterday to bring Mr. Heed back into cabinet? You know, I think the logical thing to do, and the sensible thing to do, would be to take some time and wait and see what happens with this investigation.  . . . This sort of rush to get back was very surprising.”
    In conclusion, McArthur said: “There’s no question that the findings (by the now-departed special prosecutor) are tainted. There’s just no question about that. I’m not saying it means, then, that Mr. Heed has to be prosecuted. I’m just saying these findings are tainted, and tainted findings within the system of justice that we respect need to be reviewed. They shouldn’t stand.”

  • Public policy prof Kennedy Stewart was in a CBC News story on the political fiasco. “Kennedy Stewart, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University and a former federal NDP candidate, said Heed is likely done as solicitor general, whatever the outcome of any new investigation. ‘I think it will be pretty hard for him to recover from even if they do find no wrongdoing,’ he said. ‘I do think that there for ever is going to be a cloud hanging around this.’"

  • That Heed’s campaign staff aimed illegal anti-NDP campaign material at the dominant Chinese-Canadian community in Vancouver-Fraserview was no surprise to political scientist Shinder Purewal of the SFU Institute of Governance Studies. He said on GlobalTV: “If you have a high-profile candidate, well known, like Gabriel Yu—he was a formidable opponent—you would probably want to target him.”


  • Gordon Price, director of the SFU City Program and a former Vancouver councillor, was live on GlobalTV as the dome covering BC Place stadium was deflated.
    “This building . . .  marks the transformative age from the opening of Expo to the opening of the Olympics. History will judge whether that's a golden age, but, boy, it was a momentous one. I think we'll all have memories related to that stadium and that roof.
    “I'm looking out there to a lot of asphalt, and I'm going to see a lot of green, a lot of parks, a new seawall, more people, more things to do. That's been the story of Vancouver. That's been the story of False Creek going back to the '70s. I think this is just another piece of it. It continues the direction, you know; like Canada, an experiment.”

  • Earlier, Price was quoted in the Kelowna Daily Courier as praising elements of Kelowna's downtown high-rise plan. "Kelowna has this amazing opportunity to create this edge of high-rises up against the green of the parks and the blue of Okanagan Lake. It's urban and natural, popular and powerful.”

  • BC Business magazine carried an interview with SFU’s incoming president, Andrew Petter. Among his quotes: “I also have a strong interest in helping the university better connect with the community. SFU has a graduate school of business downtown with strong connections with the business community, and now the Woodward’s project has the same kind of potential with the arts community and with the Downtown Eastside. And the mayor of Surrey is working to turn the Whalley area into a new centre, and I don’t think that would have happened without a strong presence from SFU. Connecting it even more strongly with all the diverse segments of the community will be a central preoccupation for me in this job.”

  • Meanwhile, the business website of carried a "company report" on SFU as seen by President Michael Stevenson. Looking ahead, Stevenson noted SFU plans to introduce a new degree program in energy systems engineering that integrates alternative and renewable energy. “We’re also interested in a clinical program in medicine which will focus on primary and community and preventive care."

  • SFU historian André Gerolymatos, oft pursued by media as an expert on terrorism, was on GlobalTV, talking about the failed car-bombing in New York City’s Times Square:
    “A car bomb is very difficult to detect. . .  There are devices that can detect explosives but they are very expensive and you need thousands, millions, of them to protect every city in North America. So I think the authorities have done the best they could under the circumstances, and New Yorkers are very lucky. Had that bomb gone off, it would have made significant damage and killed a lot of people.”

  • The Vancouver Sun ran more stories in its investigation of municipal election-campaign funds.
    One story said a poll commissioned by public policy prof Kennedy Stewart showed an overwhelming majority of British Columbians support limits on campaign spending and donations during municipal elections. Stewart said he hopes the poll and the Sun stories bring about change. “The trust in politicians around the world is in the toilet. It has never been lower.”
    And another Sun story said in part: “Simon Fraser University political science professor Patrick Smith said there was never more proof about the power of money in municipal politics than in Vancouver in the 1990s, when the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) spent three times more money than its rival COPE and always dominated council. ‘So it is possible to buy a local election, to the extent that money matters,’ Smith said.”
    The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times picked up some of the stories.

  • Radio Canada looked at the City of New Westminster’s move to legislate a “living wage” for employees of contractors. The network quoted SFU economist Steeve Mongrain as noting the minimum wage has not increased for 10 years in BC, so the question is whether an employer would actually be willing to hire someone for $18 an hour.

  • The Georgia Straight ran a story on students and former students in the sex trade. It said research by SFU graduate student Tamara O’Doherty found 90 per cent of respondents to a survey of sex workers had some postsecondary education, and “35 per cent had earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree.”

  • Also in the Georgia Straight was a guest column from SFU's John Calvert, saying the BC government's Clean Air Act should be called “An Act to Take B.C. Citizens to the Cleaners”.
    "The government intends to charge ahead with its misguided private power policies. The impact on B.C. Hydro will be profound. It will be used—or rather misused—as the vehicle for shifting the benefits of B.C.’s electricity system into private hands at the expense of ratepayers, the environment, and the broader public interest."
    Calvert’s article also ran on, and he was interviewed on the BCIT student radio station. He is an associate prof in SFU Health Sciences and author of the 2007 book Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia.

  • And one more in the Georgia Straight: It quoted Communication prof Richard Smith in a story about “augmented-reality applications”—which involve a live view of the real world overlaid with computer-generated information or imagery. He said augmented-reality apps are limited now.
    “Nevertheless, he predicts that users will one day be able to simply point a smartphone’s camera at nearly any building or object to view overlaid data about it. ‘Whoever does this, probably Google, once you start building up images and data, it builds on itself and it just gets better and better,’ Smith said. ‘Just the way that their crawling of the Web got better.’”


  • Dan Esler, SFU Biology research associate, was on CBC-TVs national news, saying the Louisiana oilrig disaster brings back memories of the Exxon Valdez oil-tanker spill in Alaska in 1989: “The pandemonium and the uncertainty about how to proceed.”
    But Esler’s main point was that there is still damage happening to wildlife in Alaska 21 years later. “The conventional wisdom at the time was that, you know, oil-spill effects are measured in months or to single-digit years. I don’t think anyone really appreciated how long the oil would stay in the environment of Prince Williams Sound nor how long animals would be exposed to that.”

  • The Wall Street Journal also quoted Esler: "Everyone assumes all the bad stuff happens immediately after a spill and that things get progressively better. There are long-term consequences."

  • Then Esler did another interview with CBC News: "In the case of Exxon Valdez, the vast majority of oil was not recovered. So, it either sinks, evaporates, or ends up on the beach where, in some cases, it's not able to be cleaned up. There was a huge effort in cleaning up the Exxon Valdez but, really, the battle is lost once the oil hits the water. It's really impossible to recover the majority of the oil that spills. . . . The problem in the Gulf of Mexico, I think, is the environment there. If it gets into the marshes, it will be very difficult to clean up."

  • Global TV’s weekend national news didn’t name Esler, but told viewers:  “We heard an interesting thing today from a researcher at Simon Fraser University who pointed out after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska they were still seeing negative effects on wildlife there as long as 20 years after.”

  • Also without naming Esler, CBC News Now said: ”An international team from Simon Fraser University in B.C. measured prolonged exposure to the oil in the wildlife (in Prince William Sound). The team focused on harlequin ducks, marine ducks living in shallow tidal areas and found the ducks were exposed to residual oil up to 2009.”

  • The Financial Post Business Magazine in National Post quoted energy prof Mark Jaccard in a column on our dependence on oil.
    “(Jaccard) believes the world will switch to clean energy, but so gradually that many won't notice either the difference or the extra cost as cheap oil is replaced in our energy mix. . . . For thinkers like Jaccard, the inconvenient truth is that oil, and all fossil fuels by extension, are necessary because they are the most cost-effective energy sources available. And, with the right set of policies, oil can be a sustainable fuel for decades—if not centuries.”

  • The Post Carbon Institute listed Anthony Perl, director of SFU Urban Studies, as an expert for media on a future without oil. It noted he co-authored a 2008 book, Transport Revolutions: “The authors conclude that transport in the first half of the 21st century will feature at least two revolutions. One will involve the use of electric drives rather than internal combustion engines. The other will involve powering these drives directly from the electric grid rather than from on-board fuel. The authors also address revolutions in marine transport and aviation and analyze the politics and business of transport and how these will undergo profound change in the decades ahead.”


  • Burnaby Now carried pro-and-con interviews on the issue of the new Harmonized Sales Tax. Arguing for the tax was Jon Kesselman, economist and public policy prof.
    “In brief, the HST is superior (to the old provincial sales tax, PST) for economic efficiency because it removes distorting taxes from productive businesses that cause them to under-invest in capital and to bias their modes of production and distribution; the HST will lead to a more efficient economy with more and better paying jobs in the long run.
    “The HST is superior in equity because it provides a more balanced tax treatment of a wider range of goods and services than the current system; individuals at low and modest incomes will be compensated for their additional living costs by the provision of new B.C. HST refundable tax credits. The HST satisfies the simplicity criterion by eliminating the need for operating two sales tax systems simultaneously. This reduces complexity for business and relieves them of $150 million in annual compliance costs, while it saves the provincial treasury $80 million annually in administration and vendor compensation costs—funds that can be better used to maintain valued public services."

  • Meanwhile, Kamloops mayor Mel Rothenberger wrote a column in the Kamloops Daily News in which he said he puts a lot of stock in experts’ opinions on the HST. “Guys like economist Jon Kesselman, who . . . holds the Canada research chair in public finance with the graduate public policy program at Simon Fraser University.
    “He argues the HST is way better than the alternative—retaining the PST, which he calls antiquated. Keeping it would be a drag on the B.C. economy, he says. ‘Sales tax harmonization fulfils all the standard economic criteria for good tax policy with flying colours,’ he wrote. ‘However, harmonization has been woefully deficient in B.C. with respect to another, non-economic, criterion: public acceptability. . . .
    “‘Retaining the PST will continue to impose large but hidden tax burdens not only on the poor but on all consumers. . . . Before casting their stones against the impending HST, critics should take a closer look at the decrepit and crumbling structure called the retail sales tax—the tax that they are implicitly supporting.’”

  • Columnist Don Cayo in The Vancouver Sun also cited Kesselman. “I've been struck by how much (opponents of HST) say against this tax plan and how little they say about how the B.C. government ought to raise revenue instead.  I didn't need much persuading, but a thoughtful piece by Jonathan Kesselman, a clear-eyed and even-handed tax guru at Simon Fraser University, convinced me that the status quo—the current PST—isn't worth fighting to retain.”

  • The Clearwater (BC) Times ran a news release from SFU on Kesselman’s major paper supporting the HST, published last week by the Business Council of BC.

  • And the Kootenay News Advertiser told readers: “Independent economists like Jon Kesselman of Simon Fraser University have clearly and definitively slammed the PST as inefficient, not equitable, and complicated.


  • Three Clan football players were drafted by Canadian Football league teams: receiver Spencer Watt was selected 18th overall (third round) by the Toronto Argonauts, defensive player Brian Ridgeway was selected 39th overall (fifth round) by the Montreal Alouettes, and receiver Matt Chapdelaine was selected 42nd overall (sixth round) by the BC Lions.
    SFU holds the record for most players selected in the CFL draft (189) since 1965. SFU also holds the record for most first round selections (31) and first overall selections (five). Eight SFU alumni played in the CFL during the 2009 season. In 2009, Clan players Anthony DesLauriers and Ray Wladichuk were selected in the draft, but both returned to play for the Clan last season.
    (Chapdelaine, son of Jacques Chapdelaine, BC Lions offensive coordinator and SFU alum, transferred to SFU in 2009 after playing for the University of Alberta. A stress fracture in his foot during camp kept him out the entire 2009 season, and so Chapdelaine has the distinction of being the first CFL pick from SFU to have never played a down of football at Simon Fraser.)

  • Clan sophomore Helen Crofts took the overall 800m title at 2010 Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, hosted by Stanford University.  She posted the fastest 800m time of the meet, 2:05.15. SFU teammate Jessica Smith finished third in the same 800m section in 2:06.05, the fourth fastest overall time at the meet.

  • The Clan (NAIA) softball team split a doubleheader against the (NCAA) Seattle University RedHawks, falling 5-2 in the first game but winning the second 10-4.  There’s a video recap at The Clan’s record went to 17-12. The team now is in Texas for the 2010 Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) championship, hosted by the University of Houston-Victoria.

  • Clan shortstop Leah Riske was named A.I.I. softball player of the year. In only her second season with the Clan, Riske leads SFU with six home runs and 31 RBI.

  • The Vancouver Sun told readers: “The one thing Nick Kiniski outlawed last Sunday at his father's farewell was crying. ‘No tears,’ he told a gathering in excess of 1,200 saying goodbye to legendary wrestler Gene Kiniski, who died at 81, a victim of cancer. Nick and his brother Kelly, both former collegiate and pro wrestlers, are in the process of establishing a Gene Kiniski Wrestling Scholarship Fund at SFU.”

  • The Bend (OR) Bulletin reported the U of Oregon Ducks won the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League Division I championship with a 14-8 victory over SFU’s lacrosse club.

  • The Brandon (MB) Sun reported Gil Cheung is Brandon University's new head coach of men's basketball. “Cheung spent two years as an assistant with the Simon Fraser Clan under Scott Clark and has spent the past two seasons coaching the Douglas Royals of the British Columbia Colleges Athletic Association.”


  • The website told visitors: "The next time you watch a 21st century Hollywood film about traumatic global events such as the genocide in Rwanda or the U.S. invasion of Iraq, think about how they’re shaping your ethics, says Neil Narine. A Simon Fraser University doctoral student in the School of Communication, Narine has just defended a thesis in which he concludes today’s American trauma flicks encourage ethical selfishness rather than global sensitivity.”
    The story was an SFU news release.

  • The Vancouver Sun reviewed the new bookIn the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, by SFU History prof emeritus Michael Fellman. (Yale University Press, 272 pages, $32.95.)
    “Terrorism did not begin on 9/11. Nor was it America's first encounter with a terrorist act. In his provocative and thoroughly researched book . . . Fellman finds that extreme political violence, or terrorism, has "never lain far beneath the surface of American life."
    And the review added: “Michael Fellman provides us with a series of templates for understanding 9/11 and the clandestine prisons and waterboarding that followed. This connection is made explicit throughout the book, which can be read as a post-9/11 reflection on the roots of political violence in U.S. history. . . .  In the Name of God and Country is essential reading for anyone interested in the roots of terrorist violence.

  • The Similkameen (BC) Spotlight covered a visit to schools in Princeton BC by two touring authors who have been nominated for BC Book Prizes. One was SFU criminologist Ehor Boyanowsky, author of Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In the wild with Ted Hughes. He told Grade 8 and 9 students: “Rivers are the lifeblood of British Columbia."


  • Burnaby Now told readers: “SFU has launched a new award program that helps pay travel expenses for students doing humanitarian work overseas. The global travel award is a partnership between SFU and C.A.R.E. Society, a Vancouver group that uses donated Asia Miles for its disaster relief and family reunification programs.”

  • Donald Gutstein, adjunct prof in SFU Communication (although he wasn’t identified as such) wrote a lengthy piece in the Georgia Straight that declared: “The Fraser Institute’s school report-card program is merely the opening salvo in a campaign to strip public education of its funding and direct the resources to the private and non-profit sectors.”

  • The Dawson Creek Daily News reported that Northern Lights College, in a bid to cut costs, is seeking to "restructure" the operating agreement for the Alaska Highway Consortium on Teacher Education (AHCOTE) teacher-training program. AHCOTE is a partnership of NLC, SFU, and the area’s school districts and teachers' union.

  • Pakistan’s The International News carried a story onthe two-day International Education Expo 2010, held in Islamabad, which drew “a large number” of students.  The Canadian universities represented were SFU and Manitoba.


  • The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, South Coast Today in Massachusetts, and the Daily World in Opelousas, Louisiana, picked up an Associated Press story from last week on the growing plague of lionfish—“the Western Hemisphere's worst oceanic menace.” Stephanie Green, a doctoral candidate in SFU Biological Sciences, told AP about the voracious lionfish: “It really is quite extraordinary how far these fish will potentially be able to spread, in terms of temperature tolerance. All the way down to Brazil and South America could potentially be lionfish territory."

  • The Nanaimo Daily News and Kamloops Daily News ran a feature from last week by Canwest News Service, on how the internet is losing its efficacy to spread “meaningful protest” and generate meaningful support for causes. “‘We're seeing a proliferation of initiatives and sites that promise connection to a social issue but are ultimately benign,’ says Martin Laba, director of the School of Communication at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University. ‘Without a doubt, it's making the efforts of activism ever more daunting.’”

  • The Prince George Citizen picked up from last week’s Vancouver Sun a column by Vaughn Palmer on economist Jon Kesselman’s paper on the BC economy, presented to an economic conference hosted by the BC NDP. “The groundbreaking part of the paper, at least in terms of the priorities articulated by the New Democrats over the last decade or so, is McArthur's emphasis on the need to promote wealth creation in order to pay for government programs."

  • The Epoch Times, Chinese-language edition, caught up to last week's story that the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics, bringing researchers together from SFU and UBC, in collaboration with industry partners, was launched with a $1.25-million investment from the Boeing Co. The paper quoted Fred Popowich, director of the new institute and associate dean of SFU Applied Sciences.

ALSO in the NEWS

  • Media outlets reported the appointment of Nancy McKinstry, an Order of Canada recipient and one of Canada's 100 most powerful women in 2005, as chair of the Insurance Corp. of BC.  McKinstry is a past chair of the SFU Board of Governors, and was given an honorary doctor of laws degree from SFU in 2004.


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