7 DAYS

March 13 2006

7 DAYS

March 13 2006

7 DAYS

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF RALPH KLEIN

The Alberta premier single-handedly commanded the debate on health care with his “Third Way” proposal to mix private and public health care. It was greeted coolly by Stephen Harper, who was perhaps annoyed that Klein had mistakenly told reporters Harper would hold Senate elections in the fall. Klein, meanwhile was anything but cool. When a young page delivered a Liberal policy booklet to his desk in the Alberta legislature, Klein threw it at her, shouting, “I don’t need this crap.” He apologized.

DISCOVERY

Help for non-readers

Microsoft’s Indian subsidiary is developing a touch-screen program to help illiterate Indians find work. The system uses pictures, videos and voice commands to help women connect with employers looking for domestic help. Because illiterate women participating in a company study said they navigated to addresses by using local landmarks, the system uses interactive maps and verbal directions.

Video game therapy

Researchers are adapting video games to help patients with cerebral palsy increase control over their limbs, particularly their hands. Existing research shows that repetitive (and expensive) physiotherapy can achieve this. But video games, coupled with game-playing simulator gloves, show promise as a cost-effective way of helping patients achieve similar improvements in hand movements.

Pompeii of the East

An expedition on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa has unearthed evidence of an entire town that was buried by a catastrophic volcano explosion in 1815. As many as 100,000 may have died as a result of Mount Tambora erupting. “All the people, their houses and culture, are still encapsulated there as they were in 1815,” says professor Haraldur Sigurdsson

of the University of Rhode Island. “Tambora could be the Pompeii of the East.”

Doubting the king

A new interpretation of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils suggests that the mighty predator may actually have been an ungainly scavenger. For one thing, says Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., T. Rex’s jaws and teeth were appropriate for crushing bones, which is what scavengers do. Elite predators didn’t need to crush bones, he says, because they ate the flesh and left. For another, T. Rex fossils are common, whereas top-offood-chain predators are rarer.

WILD KINGDOM

Deadly stowaway

The Canadian Border Services Agency disclosed last week that one of its inspectors encountered a highly venomous snake in a container of watermelon seeds that had arrived in Halifax from Israel. The inspector, not knowing it was a deadly Palestine viper, picked it up by the tail and put it in a water jug. A warning has been issued to all inspectors to be wary of any serpent they find.

Tall and fertile

Shavit, the most fertile giraffe at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, has been injected with birth control hormones. In recent years the zoo’s population of giraffes has tripled to nine, straining the park’s resources. The five-year-old mother received the hormones through an injection delivered by a dart.

Bad cat karma

Dalai, an Edinburgh cat so named because it was once blessed by the visiting Dalai Lama, has gone missing. Owner Tracie Knight said last week she’s afraid that little Dalai’s disappearance might be a karma-like result of her failure to keep a vow to give up smoking.

Feral chickens

Bermuda is overrun with 100,000 feral chickens—more wild birds than people. Although the island’s government has grappled for decades with the problem of mess-making chickens, it has now ordered that traps be set and the pesky fowl destroyed. Says exterminator David Burrows: “One time I caught 40 in one hour.”

MORTALITY

Cushion of fat

Moderately overweight men have a higher chance of surviving the impact of a car crash than very obese and very thin men. Researchers believe a moderate amount of fat serves as padding during impact. Very obese men have the lowest chance of survival, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin say.

Side effects

Is the drug gatifloxacin worse than the diseases it sets out to cure? A new study of elderly Ontario patients conducted by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found that the commonly prescribed antibiotic can cause

dangerous hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. The study showed that patients treated at hospitals for low blood sugar were four times as likely to have been treated recendy with gatifloxacin while patients treated for high blood sugar were 17 times as likely.

Broken-heart clinic

Although not directly fatal, a broken heart can lead to physical complications and even suicide. Now, a clinic in Munich has opened to treat people, especially teenagers, who have recently been jilted. Says Dr. Birgit Delisle of the Schwabing Hospital, “Having your heart broken can lead from sudden weight loss to unbelievable pain that drives many people to take drastic measures.”

POLL WATCH

ID-theft upset

A surprising U.S. poll reveals that most identity-theft data isn’t taken from the Internet, but from stolen credit cards, cheques and wallets. The average value of out-of-pocket losses for consumers has fallen from US$657 last year to US$422. And the most common

THE WEEK AHEAD: ORIGAMI AND THE BAY

Microsoft unveils “Origami,” believed to be a paperback-sized PC for consumers who want ultra-portability. Meanwhile, with the Hudson’s Bay Co. now in his hands, U.S. investor Jerry Zucker will be examining the firm’s year-end results when they come out this week, including crucial Christmas sales data.

targets for ID thieves are not the elderly, but 25-to-34-year-olds. And who is doing it? Half of all cases of ID fraud are committed by someone the victim knows.

Driving amendment

Americans have an easier time identifying members of TV’s Simpson family than they do freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. consitution’s First Amendment. Almost twice as many Americans can identify at least two members of the cartoon family as can identify more than one of the fundamental freedoms granted by the amendment. And many have peculiar and erroneous ideas about the constitution. Significant numbers believe they are guaranteed the right to drive a car and to own pets.

MONEY

Bargain help

How much does it cost to influence a U.S. congressman or governor? Almost a quarter of Americans believe it takes as little as US$1,000. Half of all respondents to a recent survey said it takes at least US$50,000.

Caviar and doughnuts

Affluent Londoners with latenight cravings for ostrich filets and Chinese herbs can now rely on a convenience store being opened by the high-end department store Harrods. Staying open until 11 p.m., “Harrods 102” will purvey caviar and “well-being” services such as an oxygen bar and foot massages, as well as the usual doughnuts, rubber gloves and margarine.

High-end driver ed

Ferrari owners can enroll in their own driving school later this year when the factory-authorized Ferrari Driving Experience comes to North America for the first time. Hosted at Le Circuit MontTremblant racetrack in Quebec,

the school will teach them how to improve their Ferrari-handling skills. Offering an all-inclusive hotel stay and transportation to and from Montreal, the two-day school costs about $9,300.

Multiple kitchens

A new survey of U.S. residential architecture firms reveals that expenditures on kitchen renovations continue to rise. And not only are domestic kitchens getting more elaborate, but U.S. homes are getting more of them. A quarter of respondents say they are adding additional “cooking facilities” throughout the house and even into the yard.

IN PASSING

Dennis Weaver, 81, actor. Best known for his supporting role as deputy Chester Goode on the long-running U.S. television series Gunsmoke, Weaver later starred in his own series, McCloud. He qualified for the 1948 U.S. Olympic trials in decathlon, although he fell short of getting a berth on the team.

Owen Chamberlain, 85, physicist. In 1955, while working on proton-scattering experiments, Chamberlain and three collaborators discovered the antiproton, a fundamental subatomic particle. Their research garnered a Nobel Prize for physics.