Media Bytes

Oct 03, 2002

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Direct democracy a budgetary nightmare
Southam News, Sept. 27

In November, Arnold Schwarzenegger will dare California voters to approve a $400 million annual after-school program for children in kindergarten to Grade 9. In California, people vote on about a dozen ballot questions every two-year election cycle. The idea that citizens should be able to initiate laws by gathering signatures on a petition and put the motion to a popular vote was embraced in parts of Canada and the U.S. around the turn of the 19th century. In Canada, farmers and labourers felt they were not well represented by either of the established parties. “They saw citizen's initiatives as a way to get around what was then the entrenched two-party system,” says David Laycock, an SFU political science professor. “Once farmers' movements generated their own political parties and started doing well, they stopped thinking nearly as much about direct democracy.”

West Nile expected in B.C.
National Post, Sept. 26

Within two years, the West Nile virus, which has been spreading across the U.S. and into eastern Canada, will have made its way to B.C., according to Carl Lowenberger, a Canada research chair in the biology of disease vectors at SFU. “It'll be here,” says Lowenberger. “I predict it will probably arrive by the end of 2004 - if not sooner.” Lowenberger says the virus is carried by birds and that it is inevitable that it will make its way to B.C. Crows and migratory birds are common carriers. Caused by bites from mosquitoes carried by the birds, it is probably much more widespread than is thought because most people only get mildly sick from it. Lowenberger cautions the probability of individuals contracting West Nile is low and only people with low immune systems are likely to become seriously ill.

Fat boys have all the fun
Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 26

What do shows such as The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and The Drew Carey Show have in common? Big boys. Fat guys on TV aren't exactly new, but have there ever been so many all at once? The list of new fall programs suggest that trend is growing. Are fat men funnier than skinny men? And is there a degree of complicity between the entertainment industry and audience members? SFU English professor Paul Budra, a popular culture expert, makes a distinction between film and television. Despite the success of a few notable examples, like Eddy Murphy in the Nutty Professor, Hollywood doesn't seem ready for a flood of big men on the big screen. “It's hard to imagine a complicity between Hollywood and the increasingly overweight population of America,” says Budra.

Net marks 20 years of the Smiley
Vancouver Province, Sept. 20

It was 20 years ago that a U.S. computer science professor punched three keystrokes that changed the Net. Carnegie Mellon University researcher Scott Fahlman didn't introduce domain names or invent the World Wide Web. He created what has become known as the Smiley. Its rough translation is ‘hey, just kidding,' but it has become an icon for the Internet's often inarticulate keyboard culture. “The Smiley was just a way to push some emotion through a very narrow channel,” says Richard Smith, director of SFU's centre for policy research on science and technology. “The thing that's really interesting about the Smiley is that it persists even after we have such high speed Internet connectivity. Even people who chat on web pages use a graphical version of Smileys. There's an imaginary component through the Smiley that lets you see the person smiling.”

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