November 28 2005


November 28 2005




Watch that car!

France’s gift to extreme sports, parkour, is growing into a worldwide phenomenon. A bastardization of the French phrase “parcours du combattant”— meaning (more or less) a military steeplechase—parkour involves running, vaulting and climbing in a quick and fluid manner through obstacle-filled streetscapes. Parkour clubs are now popping up around the world, with several in Canada. But one expects France to continue as the mecca, as its streets fill with barricades, burning rubbish heaps and overturned cars.

André the giant

André Boisclair became leader of the Parti Québécois, and the future of the sovereignty movement is now in the hands of a haughty, untested 39-year-old known for his raucous social habits and use of cocaine while a cabinet member in 1997. His radical program for independence (see page 24) has never been to the taste of a provincial majority. There is solace for Canadian federalists in there somewhere.

You’re getting sleepy

A NAFTA panel ordered the United States to drastically cut duties on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Meanwhile, France and Canada were poised to dispute rights to thousands of square kilometres of Atlantic seabed south of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. The simultaneous appearance in headlines of the phrases “Law of the Sea” and “softwood lumber dispute” was good timing. Statistics Canada reports that rampant insomnia is costing the national economy 48 million hours a year in lost productivity.

We sided with the U.S.?

In a rare move, Canada broke

ranks with the UN and sided with the United States in an international dispute. Our delegates to the World Summit on the Information Society helped broker a deal that left the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in full control of the Internet, and relegated the rival Internet Governance Forum to an advisory role. (It was also remarkable that a conference with 10,000 delegates reached any kind of a decision.)

The Kazemi file

An Iranian appeals court ordered a further investigation into the death of Montreal-based photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. She was arrested in 2003 for photographing a Tehran demonstration. Beaten in prison, she fell into a coma and died; an Iranian intelligence agent was charged, tried and acquitted in 2004. Ottawa has argued that his trial was flawed, and the court ruling appears to support that position. Kazemi’s family believes she was targeted for arrest and beaten by a senior prison official.


The sky is falling

The World Health Organization announced that an outbreak of avian flu could assail societies with the impact of a global war, and further proclaimed that global warming is contributing to more than 150,000 deaths and five million illnesses each year. The scientists admit their conclusions are uncertain, in the first instance because avian flu is not yet transmissible human-tohuman, and in the second due

to a lack of reliable data. Still, the best-case scenario here is that the world’s most authoritative health authority has gone panic-happy.

Kim’s inquisition

A U.S. commission reported that Kim Jong Il’s regime in North Korea has been subjecting underground church leaders to snap trials, after which they are either shot or crushed under a steamroller. Meanwhile, the European Union brought a resolution to the United Nations criticizing North Korea’s human rights record. Pyongyang has answered

its critics by ordering European NGOS out of the country.

The waiting game

Jean Reynolds, 73, a Foam Lake, Sask., woman put on a waiting list for urgent hip replacement surgery on Sept. 19, is still waiting. Her doctor has told her it may be as long as six to eight months, even though the website for the Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network maintains the surgery should be available in three to

six weeks. This reminds us that Ottawa has just over a month to deliver on Paul Martin’s year-old promise to set firm guidelines for wait lists by Dec. 31,2005. Word is we’re going to be kept waiting.

Sky h igh £

The operator of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, which already boasts some of the world’s most expensive landing fees, says it may hike them again in 2006.

The fees are charged to airlines and passed along to passengers.

The increase is expected to be seven per cent.


During the finale of Star Académie (Quebec’s version of Canadian Idol) there was a controversial skit involving a finalist dressed as Michäelle Jean (in near-blackface); the GG spoke of continued inequality for women in Canada while handing out awards in commemoration of Persons Day; cited Shania Twain’s rags-to-riches story when presenting the singer and 42 others with the Order of Canada; warned that Canadians must not let modesty overshadow recognition of good works.


No more hot rollers

Paris researchers last week announced they’d found the structural key to what makes curly and straight hair. In people with curly hair, a bulb in the root is hookshaped, and emerging hair retains the shape of the bulb. The discovery could lead to drugs that determine straight or curly hair.

Infecting skeeters

A malaria conference in Cameroon last week heard scientists describe how they’re enlisting African fungi in the battle against the disease. The fungi attack malaria-bearing mosquitoes, shorten their lifespans, and even stop them from biting while they remain alive.

Super-thin conductor

Researchers reported last week that graphite (a carbon mineral) sliced one atom thick can continue to serve as an excellent conductor of electricity. The finding may point to new uses in microelectronics.

Land, lots of land

Analysis of the rare element hafnium, found in zircon crystals, led scientists at Australian National University last week to suggest that the early Earth had continents almost from the beginning of its existence, challenging the conventional wisdom that the young planet evolved continents over a long period of time.

Nine ways to die

Of seven million worldwide deaths from cancer in 2001, 2.43 million were caused by nine preventable risk factors, according to The Lancet last week. The causes are: smoking, low fruit-andvegetable intake, obesity, inactivity, alcohol, unsafe sex, air pollution, indoor smoke from household use of coal, and contaminated injections.


The ducks are scared

Game-park keepers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, are trying to find a mate for Modesto, a lonely fiveyear-old giraffe, after he repeatedly tried to mate with a tree, a fence and a garden shed. A virgin, Modesto’s only other animal company is a flock of ducks. Said the park’s director, Juan Aragonés, “He’s driving us crazy.”

Cat-and-gecko game

Jody Howard’s pet gecko was lazing beneath a heat lamp in the terrarium in Howard’s Charlottetown flat last Wednesday when her cat ambushed it. The attack toppled the lamp onto a pile of laundry, creating a blaze that almost cost Howard her life. Awoken by the smoke detector, she evacuated the cat, leaving firefighters to douse the flames. She later found her gecko unsinged.

Approach carefully

A golden eagle belonging to renowned eagle expert Daniel Johnson of Carcross, Yukon, went missing last week. Although Johnson has appealed for leads on the young bird known as Smokey, he warned people not to grab her: Smokey has razor-sharp talons.

Exotic buffet

After Kenyan officials agreed to export 137 animals to a new zoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, animal lovers in both countries were horrified last week to learn what’s

going to be served on a special buffet menu for humans at the zoo. Turns out the park’s director, Plodprasop Suraswadi, is planning to serve imported giraffe, zebra and crocodiles.


Granny’s hangover

Sleeping pills may do more harm than good for the elderly, according to studies by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It found that pills lengthened sleep by an average of 25 minutes and quality of sleep improved by 14 per cent. However, “adverse cognitive effects” such as dizziness or inattentiveness increased 4.78 times.

The key to avian flu?

Chinese researchers suggested last week that avian flu is so deadly in humans because it incites inordinately high production of cytokines in the lungs. Cytokines, part of the human body’s immune system, cause inflammation, making it difficult to breathe.

Ketchup and cancer

There is slight evidence tomatoes reduce the risk of prostate cancer, says the U.S. Food and Drug administration. But that shred was enough for processed-tomato giant H.J. Heinz—it plans to trumpet tomato products such as its own pasta sauce as a cancer-risk reducer. The FDA also determined that tomatoes have questionable value in reducing the risk of ovarian, pancreatic and other cancers.

My burger’s flashing

Reports of glow-in-the-dark meat have Australians scared, but authorities say the phosphorescence is actually a result of a harmless Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria, always present in meat. But because they grow rapidly when meat is stored at a temperature outside normal refrigeration, it could be a coincidental indication that the meat is going off.

A quick thump

Findings presented last week at an American Heart Association meeting suggest that a 20-minute CPR course is just as effective as a full four-hour course.


Don’t be late

Cable, satellite and wireless companies may be charging illegal late fees. Companies may calculate a compounded late-fee rate of two per cent a month. However, because they charge even if a customer is late by one week, that can mean an effective annualized interest rate above the maximum allowed by the Criminal Code: 60 per cent.

Yield to temptation

Soaring commodity prices have led to a rash of highway sign thefts in Cape Breton. Police recently charged a man who stole 700 kg of signs, cut them into one-footsquare pieces and sold them for $800. A single sign can fetch $4.

Microsoft will introduce the newest version of its Xbox gaming console this week, and expects to sell three million units within 90 days. China’s State Reserve Bureau will sell 20,000 tonnes of copper to ease domestic shortages but may have to buy it back to cover a rogue short sale of20,000 tonnes last week by a state employee betting on a price drop. Premier Ralph Klein will visit Ottawa, Quebec City to explain how oil-rich Alberta is pulling its weight in Confederation.


The gift of plastic

To elbow in on Canada’s $2.4-billion gift-card market, Visa has introduced prepaid Visa cards with available values from $25 to $500. The cards are tied to specific retailers, such as West Edmonton Mall, Michelin and others.

Roll out the barrel

Calgary liquor store operator Wayne Henuset has spent $100,000 to be the first North American to buy a rare personalized cask of 1974 Glenfiddich single malt whisky. The cask will yield 220 bottles, which Henuset will sell for $600 apiece. Fortyeight sold in the first week. A similar vintage was sold in 2001 on board British Airways Concordes.


Big? Bad? Let’s eat.

Moviegoers are willing to eat 34 per cent more stale popcorn when it’s served in a large bucket, compared with how much they’ll down from a smaller one, leading researchers to posit that people will eat even unappealing food if it’s available in a larger portion.

Not so smooth

The Velvet Revolution of 1989 has been rough on 40 per cent of Slovaks. They complained in a poll last week that the event, which saw the end of Communism and led to the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, has resulted in a deterioration of their personal lives.

Probate heaven

Fewer than 45 per cent of Canadians have prepared the most fundamental element of estate planning: a legal will, according to a new poll by Ipsos-Reid. Among adults 18 to 34 years old, only 18 per cent have wills.


Peter Drucker, 96, management guru and author of 39 books, including The Practice of Management, who was skeptical of macroeconomics and opposed the prospect of senior management being compensated more than 20 times the rate of their lowest-paid workers.

Bob Tisch, 79, co-owner of the New York Giants football team, who died within three weeks of his business partner, Wellington Mara. A former U.S. postmaster general, Tisch also raised millions of dollars for New York high school athletic facilities.

Dorothy McDonald-Hyde, 59,

who became one of Canada’s first female elected chiefs, as head of Alberta’s Fort McKay First Nation in 198O.


Rising from the dead

Two months after Hurricane Katrina, authorities in Plaquemines Parish, La., are still trying to sort out debris in 15 area

cemeteries. Many graves were opened by water and winds, and headstones were strewn around. The disorder is so great that cemetery officials have found coffins in trees and even area living rooms. In one case, winds carried a 1,360-kg crypt from one side of the Mississippi River to the other.

Lust in Aisle 6

In a move to ban office romances, Wal-Mart in Germany introduced a 28-page code of ethics for its 10,500 employees, which explicitly barred, among other things, “lustful glances,” as well as more loving exchanges. But last week a regional industrial tribunal in Düsseldorf ruled the ethics code in breach of German law.

Toying with trains

A giant penguin toy, lying on German railway tracks, brought service to a halt last week when a train engineer mistook the huge item for a man in a tuxedo. “We’re at a loss to explain the presence of this large penguin,” a police spokesman said. “You would think you would notice if you lost something like this.”

Junk food and the law

Police in South Carolina were looking for Rodney Dane Higginbotham last week after he became upset that his wife hadn’t cooked any food and allegedly squirted squeezable cheese into her hair. Meanwhile,

in Louisiana, Sharita Williams became so upset that the onion rings she’d been served at the Malt-N-Burger were cold that she dialed 911. She was charged with wasting police time.


The makers of the word game Scrabble published a version for Welsh speakers. The game includes special tiles for “LL” and “RH” letter combinations, but no X, Q or Z, which don’t appear in Welsh. More than 100 million copies of Scrabble have been sold in 29 languages.

Musical reward

Japan’s toilet maker Toto Corp. has created the Apricot N5A, which plays lullabies when sat on. Created from response to consumer surveys, the Apricot also interconnects with a home stereo system (mercifully only in one direction).

Black tie bout

Guests at a formal dinner in Derby, England, found the topic of the evening infectious: boxing. Police were called after a brawl broke out at the Heritage Hotel. Four people suffered minor injuries; one man was taken to hospital after being hit on the head with a champagne bottle.

Half-baked plan

A former employee of the Speedway Restaurant in Fergus Falls, Minn., allegedly attempted to burgle the diner last week. But when he tripped an alarm he attempted to hide in the drop ceiling and fell out. Police found him hiding in the oven.

Too sick to get help

With two out of five adults unable to work because of illness, the Welsh village of Croeserw was found in a 2001 census to be Britain’s sickest place. But last week the village’s only medical clinic closed for underuse. M