December 19 2005



December 19 2005




Level-headed Jack

Jack Layton’s 2005 campaign platform is more sensible than any in the recent history of the New Democratic Party. There are two dramatic departures from last year’s document: a promise of no new taxes of any kind, and support for the Clarity Act. He’s brought forward a strong package of democratic and ethical reforms. He is also committed to fixing public health care while allowing private care to operate without impediment (and without public money). Even Layton’s call for parliamentary debate on an increased Canadian presence in Afghanistan is welcome—he at least wants to talk about it, unlike his competitors.

Out of the closet

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opened to good reviews. After all the handwringing about the religious subtext, the film is just plain magic, as was the C.S. Lewis book.


While such Canadian icons as the Hudson’s Bay Co. and the Fairmont hotel chain may soon fall into foreign hands, at least one national heavyweight will remain in the family. Last week, shareholders of Canada’s Vincor International, one of the world’s Top 10 wine producers, rejected a US$954-million hostile takeover bid by New York state-based rival Constellation Brands, to the delight of company executives and patriotic wine enthusiasts. Based in Mississauga, Ont., Vincor manages operations in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Its wines include Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs and Sawmill Creek.

Short train running

CN has been ordered to limit the size of its trains on a twisting

stretch of track in the mountains of British Columbia after a recent spate of accidents, derailments, and a serious chemical spill. The maximum length for trains will now be 80 cars, down from as many as 125. The limits come as welcome news to concerned environmentalists—to say nothing of drivers stuck at level railroad crossings.

J.C. superstamp

Canada Post has caught the true spirit of Christmas. For the first time, it is selling both religious and secular holiday stamps. Some will depict nativity scenes, others a snowman. Some 1,350 councils of the Catholic Women’s League had been lobbying Ottawa for a stamp that depicted Jesus’s birth. The post office insists its decision was not taken under pressure. Different people, said a Canada Post spokesman, celebrate “different aspects” of the holiday. “Canada Post is a business,” she added, “and it is smart business to please both camps.”


The Globe spins

To start last week, Toronto’s Globe and Mail betrayed its own political leanings by overselling a blip in the polls with a five-alarm headline—“Liberals Surging in Ontario.” The following day it buried deep on an inside page the remarkable finding that 61 per cent of Canadians find Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin the most

dishonest of our national leaders, and 57 per cent voted him most likely to tell a lie for political advantage. On the front page that day was a piece exploring Stephen Harper’s image problems—seems he doesn’t smile enough. As the National Post would say, it’s not just the story, it’s how you tell it.

Iran’s mush-mouth

The man who once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” is at it again. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the historical reality of the Holocaust and mocked those who insist upon it. He further argued that

Israel should be moved from the Middle East to Europe. To the extent that a Nazi genocide against Jews did occur, he reasoned, it was Europe’s responsibility, so Germany or Austria should play host to the Zionists. Israel, the U.S., Russia and the United Nations responded with immediate condemnations of the Iranian leader. Canada didn’t.

Let it be, already

Atlantic Canada is in danger of being overun by do-gooder celebrities. A bass player for the grunge band Nirvana recently endorsed a P.E.I. plan to institute proportional representation (voters decided against any electoral changes) Paul McCartney has written to Paul Martin to put Canada “on notice” over our seal hunt. And now French actress Brigitte Bardot has remembered that she, too, opposes the hunt. “I will never ease up,” she proclaimed. Our guess is that Atlantic Canadians would prefer proportional representations of Miss Bardot to all this protesting. M


Michaëlle Jean issued a statement on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women last week—but otherwise was in wall-to-wall meetings. Her Excellency and staff are planning how she will get to every territory and province during the first year of her mandate, as she promised. That said, there will be no official visits to other parts of the country during the election. And she’s currently curtailing her appearances on the Hill, so as not to mingle with politicians who are currently campaigning.


It’s big, it's coming

NASA believes that a 390-m-wide asteroid has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. The asteroid was discovered last year and is rated four out of 10 on the Torino scale of impact probability. On an even grander scale, the entire Milky Way galaxy, in which the Earth resides, is moving toward

the Andromeda Nebula, although any collision wouldn’t take place for four billion years.

Tibet has a certain air

The air surrounding the Tibetan plateau has ozone concentration levels equal to that of the world’s major polluted cities. University of Toronto researchers say that although high atmospheric ozone filters ultraviolet light, it can also affect the health of climbers on Mount Everest and K2, inducing coughing, chest pains and damage to the lungs. Because Tibet is at such high altitude, weather disturbances can cause the ozone to dip down from the stratosphere and create a kind of halo.

Ai tima, heai thyself

A Japanese automaker has developed “self-healing” resin paint, which automatically repairs minor scratches, the most common of which are caused by car washes. The clear rubbery paint, which Nissan calls “Scratch Guard Coat,” bounces back from such abrasion and lasts for three years.

Sounds like Sudbury

The Huygens probe of Saturn’s Titan moon reports that rivers of noxious chemicals have sculpted channels through continents of ice. Pictures show gravel-sized pieces of ice resembling riverbed stones. The characteristics are akin to Earth’s but are skewed by the viscosity of the chemicals and Titan’s lower gravity.


Oi, monkey!

Like humans, monkeys have “regional” accents in their speech. Researchers analyzed two groups of Japanese Yakushima macaques that had been separated for about 40 years and found one had voice tones about 110 hertz higher than the other. This may have evolved, researchers say, because the highpitched monkeys live among tall trees that muffle lower voices.

Follow the yapping

Japan is undergoing a frenzy of Chihuahua-napping. Thieves are breaking into homes and stealing little more than the dog and its carrier. The nation has been crazy for the shivering Mexicans since a TV commercial for a consumer-finance company used them back in 2002.

A very cool cat

An Oklahoma City cat that had been mistakenly left in a refrigerator for a month emerged alive last week. Tyce Honer, four years old, put “Louis” in a fridge in his family’s barn to keep him safe. With good reason. When Louis couldn’t be found, the family assumed he’d been eaten by area coyotes. Louis, when he was discovered, weighed just 1.3 kg.


Male ways of shopping

Among Canadian men, 19 per cent do no Christmas shopping for their households. But another

21 per cent consider themselves shopaholics and say they are apt to buy extravagantly, often the first items they see.

Monsieur Scrooge

Quebecers are among Canada’s cheapskates when it comes to Christmas spending. They fork out $730 on presents compared to Albertans, who spend $967. They also tend to start shopping later in the season. However, they are more apt to be generous with taking time off for themselves: 13 days, compared to a national average of only nine.

Parties and bosses

A third of Canadians expect their employers to take responsibility for workers’ behaviour at out-ofcontrol Christmas parties, including getting drunk, falling off tables, being punched by bouncers and other liability-suit-friendly hijinks. Despite this, 87 per cent of Canadian senior executives say they love holding office parties. One reason may be that 16 per cent of Canadians admit to making fools of themselves.


identifying a killer

The streptococcus bacterium normally causes severely sore throats. But it can also become a killer through toxic shock syndrome, blood poisoning and flesh-eating

disease. Worse, drug-resistant strains of the bug are more common now than a decade ago. But researchers in England have isolated an enzyme thought responsible for unleashing the killers. The discovery could lead to more effective drugs.

Painkillers and livers

Acetaminophen is a major cause of liver failure, according to researchers who studied 662 patients with acute liver failure. Since 1998, the proportion of liver failures attributable to the painkiller (sold under a variety of commercial brands including Tylenol) rose from 28 per cent to 51 per cent. Although the maximum recommended dosage for the popular analgesic is eight tablets per day, as few as 20 may cause liver failure.

Hope for little guys

Short boys may find help from a drug used to treat breast cancer. Tamoxifen may improve height potential in pubertal boys, by slowing the rate of skeletal maturation. Maximum height is achieved when the skeleton reaches maturity.

Stripping for Jesus

After a German evangelical group produced a nude calendar of Biblical scenes such as Adam, Eve and the apple and the dance of Salome, a spokesman for a local


The Songhua River toxic spill in Manchuria is expected to reach the Russian frontier. The Chinese have been planning to build a dam to contain the massive benzene effluent and have apologized to Moscow. Meanwhile, the McGuinty government is introducing the City of Toronto Act in the Ontario legislature, aimed at giving the metropolis more control over its affairs. And world trade talks open in Hong Kong, intended to break a deadlock over agricultural subsidies.

Catholic archdiocese declared last week: “The right way to approach the Holy Scriptures is not by pulling your pants down.”

Thunder down under

“There maybe technology to deal with emissions from the industrial and energy sectors, but we have not yet found ways to stop cows and sheep from doing what comes naturally,” said David Parker, New Zealand’s minister responsible for climate change issues, at last week’s climate-change conference in Montreal.


Bar-code brat

A Colorado teen created bar codes on his home computer and stuck them on pricey electronics in stores, buying an iPod audio system that cost US$149 for just $4.99 Jonathan Baldino, 19, was arrested in a Target discount store last week and later self-penned a police statement begging to be released: “I’m only a kid,” he wrote, “help me out.” Baldino, according to police, didn’t even buy the computer program that produced the bar codes.


Stem-cell bank

For about $2,500 a European organization offers to store babies’ umbilical-cord stem cells for up to a quarter of a century. The cells could be used to treat a variety

of illnesses, depending on future scientific breakthroughs. Smart Cells International, which has stored 4,000 samples, is offering to sell parents in Europe and Asia stem cell gift certificates.

Divorce is forever

Many men have encountered vindictive wives in divorce court, but few have felt the sting that one Iranian man did last week when a Tehran court agreed to his wife’s demand for US$15 million, to be paid monthly for 10,333 years.


Pure naked greed

The Bank of Nova Scotia announced last week it was expanding its presence in Latin America. But two people it didn’t expect to come into its El Salvador branch were a couple of tunnellers intent on breaking in and robbing the place. They were foiled when the tunnel collapsed and they emerged buck naked. They’d disrobed because of the heat underground.

That wasn’t a puck

A Canada-Russia hockey game in Regina was nearly called off recently because of animal urine and bits of manure left over from a rodeo held in the Brandt Centre, operated by the Regina Exhibition Association. Brent Parker, whose team hosted the event last week, criticized the facility as a “pigsty.”

Not in the spirit

Three people were wounded in Norco, Calif., last week when gunfire broke out between rival motorcycle gangs at the “Spark of Love” annual Christmas toy drive. The shooting frenzy took place in a local saloon where bikers had gathered for the event. Among the wounded was a firefighter there to collect presents for needy children. Said a demoralized organizer: “It’ll be a cold day in hell before we ever get a firetruck to show up again.”

Stealing the show

When a Chilean robber entered a school play rehearsal and demanded money last week, everyone present assumed he was part of the show and laughed at him. He finally convinced people he was a real bandit and stole school registration money, then tried to escape. But his route was toward a local police station, where alerted cops were coming for him.

Gone> not forgotten

The statue of a 19th century journalist has been fenced off in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris after signs of excessive polishing on the bronze statue’s large groin area. The grave is popular with female visitors fascinated by the statue, which commemorates a legendary romantic known as Victor Noir. In addition to the fence, a new sign at the grave warns against “indecent rubbing.”

Weaving with Santa

If you’re going to drive a vintage Corvette in your local Santa Claus parade, as Van Michael Johnson did last week in Gastonia, N.C., don’t drive it while you’re completely drunk. And don’t drive over a parade watcher’s foot Johnson, a retired fire captain, was charged with impaired driving.

A certifiable hubby

When a Romanian man identified only as Petru M. proposed to his

girlfriend, she rejected him. Offended, Petru petitioned a local consumer-protection bureau to supply him with a certificate to guarantee he is good husband material. He demanded to take a quality test and said that his girlfriend had rebuffed him for no good reason. Unfortunately for Petru, the consumer bureau has rejected him as well.


Peter Haas, 86, and Frits Philips,

100, industrial scions. Haas was chiefly credited with building the jeans-manufacturing company founded by his great uncle, Levi Strauss, into a global brand. Philips similarly built his father’s Dutch electronics firm into an international colossus that commercialized the audio cassette and integrated circuits. Both men were known for their humanitarian work. Haas required that any factory located in the U.S. South had to provide blacks with equal status to whites. Philips worked to delay the deportation of Jews employed in his factory during the Second World War.

Liu Binyan, 80, Chinese dissident. In the lenient years leading up to the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, Liu was a fearless and outspoken critic of rampant official corruption within the Chinese Communist party, and his writings gained a wide national following. In a crackdown, he was expelled from the party ranks in 1987 but continued to write critically about it from exile in the United States. M