December 12 2005



December 12 2005





Give peace a chance

One of the most famous feuds in TV land is over. It apparently began 16 years ago when an appearance by Oprah Winfrey on David Letterman’s show degenerated into a discussion of black people in restaurants and Satanic sacrifices. Last week’s grand reconciliation produced not a single laugh, but it did provide encouragement to organizers of a movement to nominate Winfrey for the Nobel Peace Prize. They have 6,000 of100,000 signatures they want for the nomination.

Try the Legion

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found that the Knights of Columbus were within their rights to deny a banquet hall to two lesbians for their wedding reception. The Knights are a Roman Catholic service organization. The Church objects to homosexual practice and gay marriage. Lawyers for the Knights argued that refusing to rent the hall was consistent with constitutional protections for religious freedom. The finding should assuage the fears of religious groups that their freedoms could be diminished by the extension of gay rights, as Tory Leader Stephen Harper argued in the last campaign.

Happy hoodlums

Prior to reforms in 2003, Canada’s justice system jailed a higher proportion of young offenders than just about any Western nation. A new StatsCan report finds that the youth cohort has since dropped almost by half, thanks largely to new sentencing guidelines. Does leniency toward hoodlums have anything to do with the rash of homicides this year? In fact, another report in July reported a four per cent decline in youth crime, including the rate of violent crime.

Now thatßs insight

Enthusiasm for tax cuts gripped both major parties, as the Liberals touted income tax breaks and the Tories vowed to take a chunk out of the GST. This as the research firm Global Insight reports that the Liberals’ habit of producing large surpluses—taking billions from the economy in excess of its needs—has been a drag on growth. Global Insight has

credibility on this file: it has helped produce federal budget forecasts.

Maybe just a wall?

Washington’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative would require Canadians and Americans to show passports at the border. In October, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton joined the chorus saying this “ludicrous” proposal would be economically “devastating” while doing nothing to prevent terrorism. Last week it was reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now talking with Ottawa about easier, lower-cost alternatives.


On the other hand

The same B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that found the Knights of Columbus were within their rights to deny a lesbian couple access to their banquet hall nonetheless fined the service organization for not handling the whole affair with more sensitivity. Even the complainants seemed bewildered that the tribunal saw fit to pass judgments on manners as well as

rights. It is also interesting that the tribunal excused the gay couple for not anticipating any problem in renting a banquet hall not only run by a famous Catholic service group, but decorated with a crucifix, a picture of the Virgin Mary, and a likeness of the Pope.

Très difficile

It’s now official: there are few more dangerous places on earth than Quebec hospitals. Last week, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported on their “strikingly high” level of infection and the attributable mortality rate. In just 2lh months in

2004, a staggering 1,703 patients in 12 provincial hospitals were infected with the deadly bacteria C. difficile. Within a month, 422 patients were dead. Among the Journal’s recommendations for prevention was a hand-washing regimen for the hospitals.

All the news

Controlling interest in Bell Globemedia, owner of the Globe and

Mail and CTV television network, has finally been sold. The Thomson family becomes the largest shareholder, with a 40 per cent stake. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Torstar Corp., owner of the Toronto Star newspaper, each take 20 per cent, as does BCE Inc., down from 68.5 per cent. If approved, the deal puts two of the biggest papers in the southern Ontario market in bed together, along with the biggest private television network. That meaningless buzzword “convergence” may finally be dead, but consolidation in the media business continues.


Michaëlle Jean dissolved Parliament, issued the election writ and began decorating Rideau Hall with what a GG spokesman referred to as “holiday trees.” That same day, a more senior aide made the correction to Christmas trees, citing Jean as saying, “From my earliest memories it was always a Christmas tree. Keep it simple.” Yet, in the first issue of Sway, a glossy magazine that celebrates the power and influence of Canada’s black community, cover girl Jean said, “My deepest concern is about exclusion.”


Foaming at the beak

In what is being billed as an engineering first, scientists reported that the lightness and strength of the toucan’s immense beak is due to its rigid, foam-like inner core. Noting how a plant burr led to Velcro’s invention, the researchers said their work could result in synthetic foams for use in ultralight planes and vehicles.

Protein’s all you need

Scientists in Pavia, Italy, have identified the protein responsible for the symptoms of romantic love. During the first flush of romance, levels of nerve growth factors skyrocket. Within the first year of a relationship, though, they drop off, along with that feeling of euphoria. The fading emotions turn into something called “companionate love.” This kind, thankfully, lasts longer.

World’s tiniest hole

A strand of human hair can be as small as 50 microns in diameter. Engineers at CardiffUniversity in Wales have used electro-discharge machining to drill holes less than half that size. The holes they’ve drilled are quite possibly the smallest in the world. Lasers can make small holes, the researchers say, but of lesser quality. They expect their technology could yield major benefits for medical engineering and electronics design.

Breastfeeding fix

Breastfeeding may help reduce stress in new mothers. Researchers in Montreal gathered 50 women who were nursing or bottle-feeding and assigned them potentially stressful tasks, such as giving a speech or solving a math problem. The nursing moms had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.


Birds do it, bees do it

A bioengineering professor at Caltech has uncovered the physics of bee flight, solving a mystery that has long eluded scientists. One expert in the 1930s claimed bee flight was technically impossible. The Caltech team used highspeed photography and a robotic model to find the exotic forces at work: short strokes, a quick rotation of the wing as it changes direction, and a very fast wingbeat frequency. They’ve proved conclusively that the flying motion observed in bees is, in fact, flying.

Panda’s debut

The latest giant panda to be bom in a zoo and survive greeted visitors (including Nicole Kidman and tons of journalists) for the first time at his Washington home. Five-month-old Tai Shan is already practising adult panda moves such as slouching back endearingly and gripping bamboo stalks in his paws. At 19-2 lb., he’s a little heavy for his age.

TAI SHAN: five-month-old Washington debutante

Pony ride from hell

Two harnessed ponies bolted from the Santa Claus parade in Petaluma, Calif., taking a sevenyear-old girl with them. They threw her grandmother from the carriage and ran over her legs before crashing into a pole. A police officer jumped into the carriage and extricated the child before chasing the ponies down on his motorcycle.

Bird with dino toes

A small 150-million-year-old bird fossil uncovered in Bavaria, Germany, appears to have feet like those of theropods, bolstering the theory that birds came from these dinosaurs. The specimen is a well-preserved archaeopteryx, the first known bird. Researchers say it could extend its second toe like the deinonychosauria (a variety of theropod). Their findings also suggest that archaeopteryx is less like modern birds than scientists had thought.

Bulletproof orange

Deer-hunting season is under way in Pennsylvania, and a farmer in the town of Loganton has hit upon a novel way to protect his livestock from accidental bullets. He’s painting his cows, horses, goats and even his dog orange. A few years ago, a neighbour’s horse was hit by a stray bullet. Friz Konieczka can be sure his animals won’t be mistaken for a deer, or anything else.


Blame it on mom

Two U.S. studies found that women who gain an inordinate amount of weight during pregnancy run a higher risk of having obese children. Caloric moderation, not starvation, seems to be the key, however, with researchers noting that women who gain less than the recommended weight run a greater risk for problems, including premature births.

Don’t eat the bats

An international team of scientists has found evidence of Ebola infection in fruit bats, suggesting the creatures may be a natural incubator for the Ebola virus. The virus was discovered in 1976, but scientists have only now found a possible reservoir. The bats did not show symptoms. Fruit bats are eaten in some parts of Africa.


High price of air

A pair of developers in New York City have set a record for “air rights,” purchasing unused airspace from two buildings at Park Avenue and East 60th Street. The Zeckendorf brothers are paying their future neighbours, a church and a graphic-arts society, US$37 million, or a record US$430 per square foot. In return, the brothers get permission to build their tower, which aims to be taller than zoning laws allow.

Made-up moneybags

The aim of the Forbes Fictional 15, its authors say, is to present a financial ranking of the rich that turns caricatures into flesh and blood for a change, rather than the other way around. The list of the wealthy ranges from Daddy Warbucks to Jed Clampett to Cruella De Vil. The man who tops the list is a popular figure this season: Santa Claus.


Guests at the Nobel Peace Prize show this weekend may wonder if they’ve wandered into the Billboard Music Awards. The affair to fete Mohamed ElBaradei will be hosted byjulianne Moore and Salma Hayek and stars Duran Duran and Sugababes. (No cameos from Nobel legends of yore at Tuesday’s Billboard Awards.) Monday’s Turner Prize show in London could also be exuberant. In 2003 the winner, potter Garyson Perry, appeared as his alter-ego, Claire, in a purple frock.


But who works more?

Public-sector employees in Quebec are paid 15 per cent less, on average, than people with comparable jobs in the private sector. Factoring in benefits and vacations, the spread is 11.8 per cent, except in comparison with unionized private-sector workers, where government employees make 20.5 per cent less. That’s according to a yearly review by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, published last week. In 1988, when ISQ started keeping records, public-sector employees were ahead on every count.

Plus, parking’s free

In an AOL poll of more than 6,239 shoppers, 49 per cent said it’s becoming too expensive to drive to shops, leading them to buy online. The annual survey found that shoppers are willing to spend, on average, as much as US$1,040 on a single item; one in three said they’ve bought luxury items online. Men spend more than women, and the city ranked No. 1 for Internet shopping? Tampa.


Stan Berenstain, 82, illustrator and the co-creator, with his wife, Jan, of the beloved Berenstain Bears. The couple wrote more than 250 books in the series, which they initially developed with Theodor Geisel—Dr. Seuss.

Fanny McConnell Ellison, 93,

theatre director and civil-rights activist. She married Ralph Ellison, whom she met through Langston Hughes, and helped edit his iconic book, Invisible Man.

Tony Meehan, 62, original drummer of the influential British instrumental pop band the Shadows. They started their career backing singer Cliff Richard.


Extreme facelift

French surgeons have performed the world’s first partial face transplant, and so far it’s a success. The subject is a woman who was left disfigured after a dog attack last spring. Her injuries made it difficult for her to talk or chew. She received a triangular graft, consisting of the chin, lips and nose of an anonymous brain-dead donor, whose family consented to the operation.

Get Mayor McCheese

A Wendy’s employee named Ronald MacDonald has been charged with stealing from a safe at the restaurant where he worked. The 22-year-old MacDonald had a co-conspirator, the more prosaically named Steve Lemay. Both were caught by the store manager at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 28.

May cause quakes

The world’s tallest building can now lay claim to another distinction: it may have caused two recent earthquakes and turned a very stable area around Taiwan’s capital into a disaster-prone zone.

TAIPEI 101: scraping the sky, disturbing the ground

The Taipei 101 skyscraper is a 1,667-foot-high concrete-andsteel structure whose sheer hulking weight (700,000 tons) might be placing great stress on the ground below. Some experts have risen to the building’s defence, saying it takes more to cause a deep quake.

Wanted: hot men

A severe shortage of male models in Calcutta is creating opportunities for handsome men from other parts of the country. Judges at a regional Mr. India contest reported dejectedly that few local men aspire to become models. Only seven candidates on their short list of 30 were from the city, and some of these were weak on comportment or in the swimsuit round. Some believe pay equity could alleviate the shortfall—female models earn significantly more than their counterparts.

Shhh...we’re voting

Radio-Canada has pulled a sixhour bio-pic of René Lévesque that was slated to run in early January, during the ratings period. It says it does not want to interfere with the election. Similarly, the CBC has postponed a series on Tommy Douglas until after the vote. Blame it on cen-

tral Canada, then? Or perhaps it’s a favour extended to current campaigning politicians, who might compare unfavourably with the two.

Still going

Worldwide sales ofJ.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books now exceed 300 million copies. The six titles have been translated into 63 languages, most recently Farsi, though the author’s agent announced that a third of the books were sold in the United States.

Is my brain fat?

Researchers at University College in London have identified the region of the brain responsible for body image. The way we see our bodies is governed by a region of the parietal cortex. A problem with this area could explain disorders such as anorexia. Manipulating the region could also, researchers hope, help treat them.


For Elizabeth Brooks’ 12th birthday, her father, a New York tycoon who made his fortune in bulletproof vests, threw a $13million coming-of-age party for his friends (and hers) at the Rainbow Room. David Brooks flew in Tom Petty and 50 Cent for the evening. Members of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac also performed. The loot bags, filled with digital cameras and video iPods, may have offset the worst effects of seeing Papa Brooks leap on stage in a metal-studded leather suit to join Aerosmith. M