The Week That Was

The Week That Was

Stephen Leahy December 3 2001
The Week That Was

The Week That Was

Stephen Leahy December 3 2001

The Week That Was

Realty scandal

A former employee of the Ontario Realty Corp., the Crown agency that manages and sells real estate in that province, admitted accepting $90,000 in kickbacks from a contractor. Kent Banting, a marketing co-ordinator, said in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that he took the bribes for aiding the contractor’s bids for cleanup work on government property in 1998 and 1999. Last year, a forensic audit uncovered improprieties involving millions of dollars in provincial real estate sales. Ontario Realty has sued 21 individuals and companies for $41 million in damages over their alleged roles in bid rigging, conspiracy, fraud and bribery.

Milosevic and genocide

The United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague charged former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic with genocide stemming from atrocities committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Milosevic, who led Yugoslavia through four Balkan wars in the 1990s, has already been charged for alleged war crimes in Kosovo and Croatia. The Bosnia indictment-the first to include genocide, the most serious crime in the tribunal’s statutearose from the murders of more than 7,500 Muslims in the UN-declared protected zone of Srebrenica in July, 1995.

Patchy sex

If it works as advertised, preventing pregnancy just became a lot simpler-for Americans. Last week, the

A desperate voyage ends in tragedy

They hoped to reach freedom, but 30 Cubans, including several children, drowned after the boat carrying them on their journey to the United States capsized off the Florida coast. Each of the immigrants paid $10,000 for their place on the 10-m craft, which set off from Cuba on Nov. 16 and was expected to arrive in Florida the following day. But the overcrowded boat apparently capsized in rough seas with waves reaching 4.5 m.When the vessel failed to arrive as planned, anxious relatives in Miami, fearing prosecution on illegal immigration charges, waited 24 hours before contacting authorities. When the U.S. Coast Guard finally reached the scene, they found the overturned boat but no survivors in what is believed to be the single worst smuggling tragedy ever from Cuba.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the marketing of a contraceptive skin patch. Designed to be an alternative to birth control pills, Ortho Evra, made by Johnson & Johnson, is a 4.5-cm-square patch containing the hormones norelgestromin and ethinyl estradiol. Ortho Evra can be worn on the buttocks and must remain on for 28 days. Dangers associated with its use include greater risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke, as with the birth control pill.

Bagging Merrill

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce got a big boost in its financial clout by winning a bidding war for the retail brokerage arm of Merrill Lynch Canada Inc., as well as its mutual fund management unit.The deal could be worth up to $600 million, depending on how many of Merrill’s 1,000 brokers join CIBCWood Gundy, the bank’s brokerage.The deal means Wood Gundy will

Rasmussen gets it right

manage $85 billion in assets, second only to the Royal Bank of Canada at $110 million.

Danish right turn

Danish voters, worried that immigrants are exploiting the country’s generous welfare system, handed the Liberal party-led opposition a victory over the Social Democrats. In their first victory since 1920, the

Liberals and their supporters, including the anti-immigration Danish People’s party, won a majority of 98 seats in the 179-seat legislature. Liberal leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 48, dismissed charges that he is racist, but pledged to crack down on foreigners trying to cheat the system. “Denmark,” he said, “must not be the social security office for the rest of the world.”

Cruising together

One merged giant will produce fuel; the other will use It. U.S. oil firms Conoco Inc. and Phillips Petroleum Co. said they would together form ConocoPhillips, the world’s sixthbiggest energy company, in a $35-billion (U.S.) deal. And London-based P & 0 Princess Cruises joined with Miami’s Royal Caribbean Cruises to create a $2.89-billion “merger of equals” under the working title of RCP Cruise Lines. It will surpass Miamibased Carnival as the world’s biggest cruise ship company.

NATO and Russia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union, is moving closer to bringing Russia into the 19-member alliance. During talks in Moscow, NATO secretary general Lord Robertson said Russia would play a major role in NATO’s deliberations on terrorism and troop deployment.The plan, which has been endorsed by U.S. President George Bush, could also give Russia a veto over as yet unspecified decisions made by the military alliance.

Does Bill Gates know?

As difficult as it is to fathom, Israeli scientists have built a computer

Paul McCartney broke down in tears as he visited fellow former Beatle George Harrison, 58, who is dying of brain cancer at New York City’s Staten Island University Hospital. “Paul cried," said a family friend. “George is in pretty good spirits. Paul was amazed that George was able to sit up the whole time.” In an attempt to ease his pain, Harrison underwent a procedure known as stereotactic radiosurgery, which attempts to attack tumours with high doses of radiation. But Harrison, whose cancer is “widespread,” is aware he has entered the final stage of his life. “There is no way out,”

from DNA molecules that has the capacity to perform a billion computations each second. The prototype—actually a test tube containing 120 ml of enzyme solution-is a step in the quest to build microscopic “machines” capable of making complex computations faster than any existing silicon-chip-based computer.The research, published in the journal Nature, raises the possibility of ultimately injecting these tiny computers into the bloodstream to hunt down and eliminate disease. DNA, the Israeli researchers note, is made of a sequence of symbols, similar to the information processed in conventional computers.

said a medical source.

In July, Harrison dismissed rumours that he was dying from brain cancer, insisting that he had recovered. Harrison had also previously received treatment for lung and throat cancer. His latest battle came just as he was becoming active as a musician again-on Oct. 1 he recorded a track in the studio at his Switzerland home with British blues pianist Jools Holland. Harrison wrote the song, entitled Horse to the Water, with his son Dhani. It appears on Holland’s album Small World Big Band, released on Nov. 19.

Lake Erie’s small but toxic killers

For the third straight fall, hundreds of dead loons and other waterbirds have been washing up along the Lake Erie shoreline. Jeff Robinson, a field biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada, estimates that between 300 and 500 loon corpses have turned up on Ontario beaches at the eastern end of the lake in the past few weeks. Across the lake, New York state officials have picked up at least 150 loon bodies along that state’s Lake Erie shore. On both sides of the border, large numbers of mergansers, cormorants and gulls have been dying as well.

The cause? Robinson and other scientists point the finger at two invasive species introduced to the Great Lakes from the ballast water of Eastern European ships. Loons and other fish-eating birds, they believe, have been poisoned by eating round gobies infected with botulism. Those small fish have become the most abundant species at the eastern end of the lake since first turning up in large numbers during the 1990s.

Gobies, in turn, feed heavily on another foreign invader, zebra mussels, which do an excellent job of filtering toxins out of water but may be concentrating naturally occurring botulism spores, among other contaminants, in their bodies. “Gobies," says Robinson, “are becoming little poison pills.” New York authorities have devoted resources to the problem, logging 583 dead loons in November and December last year. “Looks like there will be more this year,” says Bill Culligan, a fisheries scientist at the New York department of environmental conservation. But there is still no comprehensive effort to determine the extent of the problem on the Canadian side or in Lake Erie as a

whole. “It’s an unprecedented dieoff," says Steve Timmermans, aquatic surveys scientist with Bird Studies Canada, a non-profit conservation group. “We need a beach survey to find out how many are dying.”

Canada’s loon population has appeared to be stable-“as far as we know,” adds Timmermans. A

1996 Canadian Lakes Loon Survey estimated there were between

250.000 and 500,000 of the birds across Canada, including

97.000 breeding pairs in Ontario. But that was before the Lake Erie problem developed. What makes it especially threatening is that loons that spend their summers across a vast swath of Canada

rest and feed each fall on lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario before heading south in December. They are thinly spread in their summer habitats, often with just one or two pairs on a lake. The Lake Erie die-off could leave cottagers on more Canadian lakes without the haunting call of the loon next spring.

Stephen Leahy