Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS December 2 1996

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS December 2 1996

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS

Run for the money

About 100 members of the media turned out last week for a news conference heralding the much-anticipated race between track stars Donovan Bailey of Canada and American Michael Johnson. But while the organizer, Ottawa-based Magellan Entertainment Group Inc., brought the two Olympic gold medallists together for a session of contrived animosity befitting TV wrestling, the company had little else to say. Yes, Bailey, the 100-m world-record holder, and Johnson, the 200-m world-record holder, would someday run a 150-m race to determine who was the world’s fastest man— but everyone in the room already knew that. The promoters would not confirm when or

where the race would take place. Magellan president Giselle Briden admitted she had no firm TV deal and had not hired an event management company to handle the ontrack details. Briden would not even name the financial backers of the newly formed Magellan. Even with those uncertainties, Bailey and Johnson had a strong incentive to stay interested—the promise of $670,000 each in appearance fees and a $1.35-million, winner-take-all purse. Both runners said they hoped their showdown would help promote track and field around the world, but Johnson admitted his motives were largely financial. “Donovan and I have devoted years of our lives to training,” he said. “ So it has to be about money—this is what we do for a living.”

A judgment call

It was one of those well-known secrets that titillate Washington from time to time: former senator Bob Dole once had an extramarital affair while he was still married to his first wife, Phyllis. The tabloid National Enquirer went public with the story in late October, when it already seemed clear that Dole would lose the presidential campaign to incumbent Bill Clinton. However, several mainstream news organizations that began digging into the story in August did not print it until after the Nov. 5 election. Some held back as they agonized over the relevance of an affair that happened 28 years ago. But at The Washington Post, some newsroom staff had their own theory about why the Dole story did not run before the election: executive editor Leonard Downie was influenced by his own separation from his wife. As a result, the thinking went, Downie was overly sympathetic to a man who had gone through a similar experience. On Oct. 29, the Post’s gossip column, The Reliable Source, even carried an item that Downie and his wife, Gerry Rebach, had separated after 25 years of marriage. “And that,” it read, “perhaps, is enough said about the boss.” While it is highly unusual for a paper to carry such an item, Downie apparently authorized it because of the rumblings in the newsroom.

The Montreal bounce

Atrip to the hospital in an ambulance is never the most pleasant experience, but in Montreal it can be particularly jarring. And the rough ride is not just because of the city’s notoriously pothole-filled streets. Ambulances with suspension and vibration problems are compounding the situation. According to Urgences-santé, the agency that operates the ambulances, the box-type cabins where patients are transported have

turned out to be too light for the truck frames that support them. As a result, the vehicles tend to exaggerate the bumps. Dominique Drouin, spokeswoman for Urgences-santé, acknowledged that there have been complaints about the rocky rides. “It’s less comfortable for some of the patients,” Drouin added. She notes that patients are safely strapped down and, even if they are uncomfortable, are not at risk. Urgences-santé has asked engineers for help in solving the suspension and vibration problems. Until then, Montreal ambulances will continue to shake, rattle and roll.

Smoke in the air

Health reports issued last week offered three points of view on smoking. Some highlights:

• Smokers are smarter than nonsmokers, according to Jaime Pineda, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego. Smokers performed a word memory test more accurately and faster, he reported to the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington.

• Parents who smoke in homes with young children are practising child abuse, says the Ontario Medical Association. “Parental tobacco use in the home, resulting in the inhalation of known carcinogens and asthmagens by children, is a form of physical abuse,” reads an OMA report.

• People are preoccupied with relatively insignificant environmental carcinogens and are ignoring the major risks, the Harvard School of Public Health reports. It estimates, for instance, that 30 per cent of cancer deaths can be blamed on smoking.

Last week’s contribution to civil discourse:

In the Nova Scotia legislature, the opposition Conservatives and NDP ripped into the blended sales tax like hungry terriers. For days after the legislature’s fall session opened last Monday, speaker after speaker lambasted the planned combination of the GST and PST into a single 15-per-cent levy. By Thursday, Premier John Savage had clearly had enough, and he treated the opposition to a retort not often heard in a parliamentary chamber: a loud raspberry. Yes, it was childish, he later acknowledged to reporters, but he had a time-honored explanation: they did it, too. “The leader of the opposition [Tory Leader John Hamm] gave me a couple,” said Savage.

On his own course

Quebec Liberal MP Patrick Gagnon (Bonaventure/Iles-de-la-Madeleine) raised eyebrows last summer when he announced that the official languages committee, of which he was a co-chairman, would look into what he saw as a disturbing lack of French on public signs in the nation’s capital. Outraged, then-party whip Don Boudria, who is responsible for parliamentary discipline, removed Gagnon, 34, from his high-profile platform and shifted him to a far less glamorous agriculture committee. But Gagnon is clearly unrepentant: he just recently spoke out again in favor of bilingual signs in Ottawa, and ignored his new duties. He was removed from the agriculture committee last week after he did not attend one of its 17 meetings since September.