March 20 2006


March 20 2006



Every day should bring a little happiness. Last week, Brison confessed to having sent a CIBC banker an email last autumn telling him, “you will be happier very soon,” just one day before the Liberal government had announced it wouldn’t tax income trusts. Brison spoke up after CIBC gave an email with Brison’s name on it to Mounties investigating the issue. He insisted that he had no advance knowledge of the decision. “That was something I certainly wouldn’t send again.” Happiness—so fleeting.


Lunar pollution

Beach pollution levels seem to rise and fall with the phases of the moon. A study of 60 California beaches has found that levels of the bacteria enterococci in coastal seawater rise during tides associated with new and full moons. Researchers found that in

the absence of other sources for changes in bacteria levels, such as effluents from drainpipes, tides associated with lunar phases are affecting bacteria densities.

All-time high

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have created the highest temperatures ever made by humans: two billion kelvins. By comparison, thermonuclear explosions only achieve temperatures in the tens to hundreds of millions. The temperatures were achieved using a “Z machine,” which involves the release of 20 million amps of electricity onto an array of steel wires. The wires dissolve into a gas that collapses, producing the energy which, as in nuclear reactions, is greater than the energy used.


Alzheimer’s reversal

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine may have found a drug that could significantly improve the treatment of brain-

wasting Alzheimer’s disease. When tested on mice engineered to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the compound reversed cognitive decay and reduced two forms of brain damage associated with the disease. Known as AF267B, the compound seems to enhance brain receptors for the neurotransmitter chemical acetylcholine, which in turn boosts the level of enzymes that prevents damage to the brain. A trial using humans will be required before AF267B’s efficacy can be verified.

Mice you can wash

With their many channels and cavities, computer keyboards are harbours for dirt and germs, and they’re not exactly something you can wash. A British electronics maker has created washable keyboards and now, washable mice. With sealed bodies, they can be immersed in antibacterial solutions or under running water, and are of particular value in health care offices.

Tourists overboard

An industry study has found that between 2003 and 2005,24 people disappeared from cruise ships: 12 were declared to be suicides, one was accidental, but 11 were for unknown reasons, including Mr. and Mrs. Hue, a VietnameseAmerican couple who disappeared from a Caribbean cruise last year.

They had once fled Vietnam in a boat, surviving for days with little food or water. But their disappearance from the cruise ship has never been solved. Although disturbing, the number of unexplained disappearances is tiny compared to the 31 million people who take cruises annually.


Internet superstition

A Chinese legislator, Xu Xiuyu, has warned that his nation’s youth are being misled and distracted by Internet-based horoscopes and fortune-telling. Although a recent survey of middle-school students found that 88 per cent scoffed at traditional superstitions, nearly half were apt to believe “high-tech forecasts” on the Internet. Never comfortable with the Internet, the Chinese government warns that students are losing interest in their studies and are becoming “intoxicated” by online fortune tellers.

Left, right, left

The Veena Vadini school in rural Madhya Pradesh has been teaching pupils to write with both hands. Students between four and eight years old can not only use both hands to write, but they can write with each hand at the same time, often on completely different subjects and, claims the school’s principal, Virangat Shar-

ma, they can do so in two languages. Sharma says he started the curriculum as an experiment.


Declining health

More than half of Canadian employers plan to slash the benefits they provide to retired employees. Citing expensive new prescription drugs and the downloading of certain costs from provincial health plans to private concerns, employers say that health benefit costs for both current and retired employees have been rising by 15 per cent for several years. At the Ford Motor Co.

of Canada alone, health benefit costs now account for eight per cent of payroll expenses.

Sliver of Sydney

Australia’s largest city, comparable in population to Montreal or Toronto, recently set a municipal record for the most expensive property. A tiny 120-sq. m vacant lot—one-fifth the size of an average residential lot—sold for $3 million, more than double the reserve bid for the ultra-exclusive Bondi Beach property.

At that rate, an entire block of ;


The Tokyo Anime Center opens on Wednesday in Tokyo—the world’s first cultural centre devoted to the Japanese genre of animation. Italy’s former central bank governor, Antonio Fazio, faces questions from prosecutors in a probe into market rigging. It will examine whether he favoured an Italian bank over a Dutch one during a takeover bid. The Liberal party national executive will meet this weekend in Ottawa to determine the date of the next leadership convention.

Vacuum billions

Proving that old-fashioned lone inventors can still make a fortune, James Dyson has done just that. Forbes magazine has named him to its global list of billionaires. A former art student, Dyson is the creator of the humble bagless vacuum cleaner. Forbes' list this year has expanded by 102 more billionaires, thanks to rising stock markets. The swelling ranks prompted list editor Luisa Kroll to quip: “A billion is just not what it used to be.”

Organic acceptance

The U.S. organic food sector has been growing at a rate of 20 per cent a year since 1990. Although it still accounts for only 1.9 per cent of the American grocery market, the sector carries a handsome premium over other foods, something that is attracting margin-starved food companies. One indicator of organics’ marketplace acceptance is that Wal-Mart will announce later this month that it is doubling the number of pesticide-free products it sells ; in its stores.


Dakota split

Although South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill into law last week that bans most abortions, the state’s residents remain evenly divided on the legislation. The bill is seen as a trip switch for a nationwide debate on abortion because of an inevitable court challenge. Forty-five per cent of South Dakotans opposed the abortion bill and an equal percentage support it; 44 per cent feel an abortion is too easy to attain, while only 25 per cent said it’s too difficult.

Shredding intent

With a quarter of Canadians reporting that they have either been the victims of, or know a victim of, identity theft, 28 per cent of respondents to a survey published last week said if they don’t already have a paper shredder, they are either “very likely” or “quite likely” to buy one.

Like old times

It’s hardly an outright return to the days of the Soviet Union, but 66 per cent of Russians polled in a recent survey say they would favour a union between Russia and its western neighbour, Belarus, which until the Soviet Union’s collapse had been one of the constituent republics. Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his support to economic unification of the two countries, including a shared currency. Belarus will hold presidential elections next week.


Blond lobsters

The depths of the oceans continue to reveal extraordinary discoveries about sea creatures. Divers in the South Pacific have returned with evidence of a crustacean that resembles a lobster but is covered

with what looks like silky, blond fur. It is so unusual that scientists have created a new genus for it. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, an expedition that travelled to levels so deep that no sunlight ever reaches there have discovered the previously unknown mating habits of the denizens of this so-called “midnight zone.” Species such as the anglerfish and gruesome viper fish appear to gather en masse to spawn along seamounts studded with previously unknown coral gardens two kilometres deep. Scientists believe that such mass spawning and the subsequent dispersal of the participants suggest these species have sophisticated homing abilities.

One busy ram

Never mind high prices for race horses—sperm from a sheep called Tophill Joe has fetched $1 million for his owners. The threeyear-old Texel sheep was sold as a lamb in 200 3 for a then-record $280,00 to a consortium of Scottish farmers. Tophill Joe’s value has been his fecundity: he has fathered 1,000 lambs by artificial insemination. All have sold for at least $600 and one sold for as high as $105,000. The buyers expect the ram to earn them $2 million over his lifetime.

Jubilee for fish

North Carolina wildlife officials are baffled by a recent, temporary mass beaching of flounder, spot and pin fish on its coast.

Unlike whales, which usually die when they beach, the fish stayed alive and calm for a while, then departed again, a phenomenon known in Alabama as “jubilee.” The reason could lie in a coincidental oddity: the level of oxygen in the water fluctuated between extremely low when the fish beached and became so docile humans could touch them, and then very high when the fish came back to life and swam back out to sea 2V2 hours later.


Kirby Puckett, 45, baseball player. Puckett played his entire career, which lasted from 1984 to 1995, as a centre fielder for the Minnesota Twins and played in two World Series victories. He was also the Twins’ all-time leader in hits, runs, doubles and total bases, ending his career with a .318 batting average. He died following a massive stroke.

Ali Farka Touré, 66 or 67, musician. Known as the “Bluesman of Africa,” Touré won two Grammy Awards, including one for Talking Timbuktu, recorded with American guitarist Ry Cooder. Touré argued that American Delta blues actually descended from the music of his native Mali. His death sparked national mourning in the Saharan nation.

Richard Kuklinski, 70, Mafia assassin. Known as the “Iceman” for his purported trademark disposal method of freezing the body of a victim to disguise the time of death, Kuklinski claimed to have murdered more than 100 people. His methods ranged from administering a cyanide solution in a nasal spray bottle to dumping a victim in a barrel of quick-drying cement. In one apocryphal tale he froze a victim in a Mister Softee ice cream truck. Kuklinski died in custody. M