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July 13, 2006

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Face it -- 'reading' people's features is a mug's game
Globe and Mail, July 8, 2006
A Vancouver man teaches workshops on how to define someone's character, intelligence and values by his or her visage. But Barry Beyerstein, a psychology professor at SFU, says the person is just giving ancient superstition a New Age spin. He says face reading falls under the rubric of "sympathetic magic," which also includes astrology, handwriting analysis, palmistry and homeopathy. "That's the belief that begets like. So if you have a piggish face, you are a slovenly, brutish person," Beyerstein says. "If you have forward-slanting writing, you're a forward-thinking person. It's all based on superstition, and it simply doesn't work." Beyerstein allows that peddlers of "New Age balderdash" genuinely have faith in their magic. "In my experience, these charlatans are sincere - they're true believers." He says they're in the sway of the "Barnum effect" - named for legendary huckster P.T. Barnum - which causes people to see themselves reflected in generalizations, if they have been told a reading is tailored to them. "These people aren't stupid, or gullible," says Beyerstein, a frequent debunker of shame sciences. "The Barnum effect works on everyone."

Pros and cons to granting executives stock options
Vancouver Sun, June 29, 2006
Lindsey Meredith, SFU faculty of business professor believes stock options and bonuses force executives to focus on short-term goals rather than the company's long-term performance. "The part that disturbs me as a business prof is I get very worried about the corporate decision-making horizon because I see it shortening up markedly and that's dangerous as hell," Meredith said. He believes executives should be focusing on long-term goals like customer loyalty, not how the company did on the stock exchange. "As long as you concentrate on maximizing shareholder value, which is the mantra of the finance world, you're putting your head on the railroad track and there are enough international competitors who are happily going to come in here and take it off for you," he said. Meredith believes that some executive earn their salaries, but some don't. "Right now the performance coming out of B.C. corporations is pretty much nothing less than stellar. When you're looking that strong it's hard for any board of directors to say you ain't worth your bucks." Where it gets nasty is when executives vote themselves huge bonuses when companies lose money, he said.

UN report says potent pot is no soft drug
Vancouver Sun, June 27, 2006
The increasing potency of marijuana - spurred on by hydroponic growers in places such as B.C. - means the world should no longer consider pot a "soft" drug, according to a report recently released by the United Nations. The report argues that marijuana is by far the most popular drug in the world, with about 162 million users every year compared to just 16 million for opiates and 13 million for cocaine. Neil Boyd, an SFU criminologist, said while marijuana can have negative effects on its users, it is less harmful than many other substances - both legal and illegal. "When you place it alongside alcohol, tobacco, cocaine and heroin - I think those drugs are more dangerous," he said. And Boyd questioned whether the increased THC content of pot is really cause for concern. One of the biggest health risks of marijuana use, he said, is the inhaling of smoke from joints - which can cause lung problems similar to those experienced by cigarette smokers. The more THC in a joint, Boyd said, the less the user needs to smoke to get the same effect - making them more healthy, not less. The UN report states that Canada produces an estimated 900 to 2,400 metric tonnes of marijuana year - and supplies about 12 per cent of all the marijuana in the U.S.

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