May 15 2006


May 15 2006



The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that social hosts cannot be held liable for intoxicated guests who get into a driving accident and kill or injure someone on their way home. “Short of active implication in the creation or enhancement of the risk,” wrote ChiefJustice Beverley McLachlin, “a host is entitled to respect the autonomy of a guest.” In other words, people who engage in reckless behaviour are ultimately responsible for the consequences of their actions. What a refreshing idea.

Good news

A glimmer in the desert

After cutting food rations for the Darfur region two weeks ago, the United Nations can’t afford another failure in Sudan. Already, civil war has left 180,000 dead and millions homeless and starving in the deserts of Darfur. If the UN can’t achieve peace, this will spell humanitarian disaster, and stand as another sign of the organization’s fading relevance. Fortunately, there is some hope. Last week, UN negotiators, including Canada’s Allan Rock, appeared to be closing in on a real settlement to end the civil war. Sudan’s government was coaxed to offer more concessions to rebel groups, including a timeline for disarming the murderous janjaweed militias that have preyed on refugees for years. Still, diplomats warn the deal is fragile, and if it fails, it is not clear whether the UN Security Council has the will to impose tougher sanctions.

Earth’s sunscreen

Just a week after Brian Mulroney was feted as Canada’s most environmentally progressive prime minister, came news that one of his main achievements is paying big dividends for the earth. Since 1987, 180 nations have signed the “Montreal Protocol” banning ozone-depleting chemicals. Last week, researchers from the U.S. and Denmark reported that the ozone layer (which filters harmful UV rays from the sun) has increased slightly over the past decade, though it’s unlikely to return to pre-1980 levels.

No more goin’ for a soda

The world’s major soft-drink makers, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, will voluntarily stop selling sugary sodas in U.S. schools as part of a deal struck with the

Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Not only is the move likely to help reduce childhood obesity, it makes business sense too. Consumption of sugary pop is in free fall as consumers switch to fruit drinks and bottled water. So, not only does the industry get some positive press, it gets to push its more popular products to kids. Everybody wins.

False Idols

There has been much recent bemoaning of the fact that Americans seem to be more interested


in voting for the latest American Idol than for their own congressmen and president. There’s even a new movie, American Dreamz, based on that premise. But it turns out that all the hand-wringing about the decline of Western democracy was premature. A recent poll shows only about 10 per cent of American adults have lodged a vote on American Idol, whereas turnout for the 2004 election was about 64 per cent. No wonder the movie was a flop.

Bad news

Pump ploys

Desperate politicians and skyrocketing fuel prices are a dangerous combination, at home and abroad. Last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales seized control of the country’s oil and gas industry, sending shock waves around the world. Just three months in office, and already seeing his popularity wane, Morales decreed that government will control all projects operating in the country, will name all senior managers, and government’s take of profits will rise

from roughly 50 to 82 per cent. In South American politics, corporations have become convenient targets, but companies are already pulling away from Bolivia like frightened cats. Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia government has decided to follow New Brunswick and P.E.I. in regulating gasoline prices. Starting in July, retailers will have to hold prices steady for two weeks at a time, and distributors will be guaranteed a minimum pre-tax

profit on every litre—even though, only six months ago, the province commissioned a $170,000 report that showed the new scheme would lead to higher prices for consumers. Lucky for the ruling Conservatives, voters are expected to head to the polls in June, before they get to see this hare-brained scheme in action.

Hungry for answers

New studies indicate that the world is failing children, rich and poor, when it comes to nutrition. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the number of undernourished children has remained virtually unchanged since 1990, despite global efforts to alleviate world hunger. In developing countries, 27 per cent of children under five—or roughly 146 million, half of whom live in South Asia—are suffering from malnourishment. At the same time, a British Medical Journal study published last week found that more than 25 per cent of U.K. schoolchildren are overweight or obese by the age of 11. Those with too much body fat in early childhood, experts reported, were almost guaranteed to have weight problems in later life. Too much or too little, poor nutrition is a global epidemic.

We want HBO

Last week on HBO’s Costas NOW, Bob Costas learned that baseball legend Willie Mays doesn’t hold his godson, Barry Bonds, in very high regard. Asked if he considered Bonds his equal, Mays scoffed. “No,” he said. “Barry couldn’t throw with me. He might not have been able to run with me [either].” That’s a harsh assessment from your own godfather. Too bad HBO isn’t licensed in Canada—we had to read about it in the Los Angeles Times. M


As his trial in the Enron scandal drew near a close, the jury heard from an expert witness for the defence, who said the former CEO’s financial portfolio showed how he’d believed so much in the failed energy trader that it was his only stock: “He had an extreme lack of diversity.” Earlier, the Lay trial’s judge advised the jury that other witnesses were unavailable that day. The weary panellists, who have been on the seemingly endless job since late January, moaned as one: “Awwww.”


Vanishing trick

Cloaking devices, a fictional technology used on Star Trek to make spaceships invisible and undetectable, could in fact work. Two mathematicians, Nicolae Nicorovici and Graeme Milton, have proposed a device they call a “superlens” that could make vehicles appear to vanish. By using a phenomenon called “anomalous localized resonance,” a cloaking effect would exploit light waves much in the way that a humming tuning fork placed next to a wine glass can make the glass hum. Resonance could cancel the light waves bouncing off a vehicle, rendering it invisible. While the two claim to have worked out the mathematics, they admit that practical construction is a long way off.

Water runs uphill

With computer chips so compact, electrons moving through them can generate enough heat to damage them. But scientists are now taking the phenomenon of water drops dancing randomly on the dry surface of an overheated pot, and learning whether it could be applied to directing coolants across computer chips. Last week, writing in Physical

Review Letters, researchers described how they’d made water droplets travel uphill in a desired direction, thanks to a specially designed sawtooth surface. The physicists, led by Dr. Heiner Linke, said the experiment, which saw droplets crawl up a l2-degree slope, could lead to new ways of cooling computer chips.

Re-dating history

An olive branch buried for centuries in volcanic ash on the Greek island of Thera has recently been discovered, helping researchers pinpoint the moment when a titanic volcanic explosion devas-

tated the region. Although some scientists believed the eruption, and the subsequent decline of the nearby Minoan civilization, took place in 1500 BCE, the olive branch, subjected to carbon dating, suggests it was more than a century earlier. The results could

force a revision of historical timelines for civilizations in the Bronze Age, as well as some longstanding assumptions. The new date means that Greece could not have traded with Egypt’s New Kingdom, because the latter didn’t exist in 1600 BCE.


Panda steps out

The first captive-bred panda ever to be released into the wild left his cage on April 28. The fouryear-old, 80-kg son of an artificially inseminated mother left China’s Wolong Giant Panda Research Center fitted out with a tracking collar. Xiang Xiang’s release was timed to coincide with the growth of new bamboo shoots, pandas’ staple food. He is expected to be able to forage for his own meals, build his own den and, scientists hope, find himself a girlfriend.

Dolphin disaster

What killed 700 dolphins in the waters around Zanzibar last week? The carcasses of the dolphins turned up on beaches and in mangroves around the Tanzanian island. Scientists speculated that a series of recent earthquakes in Tanzania and Madagascar may have caused “megasounds” that confused and disoriented the dolphins, causing off-course migration patterns.


Crucial distance

Being able to walk 0.4 km is a sign that you will live at least another six years, says the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Not a panacea for illness, the distance is more of an indicator of overall health in seniors, says professor Anne Newman. The faster seniors can make the walk, the longer they may

live. Newman says a study of 2,700 Americans in their 70s showed the measurement to be a “powerful predictor of health outcomes. In fact, we found that the people who could not complete the walk were at an extremely high risk of later disability and death.”

Those colic blues J

Mothers suffering from posto partum depression are twice as o likely to have colicky babies. One ° in three women with inconT solable infants acknowledged < feeling depressed, researchers at 5 Brown Medical School report, g “We can’t say that inconsolability ° causes depression or that depression causes inconsolability,” ^ says professor of pediatrics Pamela -High, the study’s leader. “How¡1 ever, we did find a link between d the two. And this won’t surprise t anyone who knows a mother ^ coping with a fussy baby.” °


Underage bender $

How big is the issue of underage | drinking in the United States? A ^ pediatric journal has pegged the d


Defence ministers from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations gather in Malaysia to discuss the creation of an ASEAN security community, and perhaps even a Southeast Asian peacekeeping force. Officials insist the proposal would not lead to a military bloc. In Toronto, candy experts descend on the Sweets Expo to educate Canadians on desserts, chocolates and other sweets. Can the dentists’ convention be far behind?

price spent on booze for underage drinkers at US$23 billion, or 175 per cent of all money spent on alcohol in that country. The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine says alcohol abuse and alcoholism has an economic impact greater than obesity.

Lost generation

Every four years the National Geographic Society surveys Americans aged 18 to 24 on their “geographic literacy.” The 2006 findings are not good. Only four in 10 of them can find Iraq on a map. And half couldn’t find New

York state on a map, although, surprisingly, 92 per cent could find Canada. The study found that students who regularly use the Internet scored 65 per higher than those who don’t.


Precious books

China has banned books decorated with gold and silver foils, not because of any controversial content, but because it fears they could be used as covert means of bribery. Beijing made the move after an entrepreneur in the city of Guangzhou bought 15 such books, allegedly to give to government officials. The books, decorated with the precious metals, are each worth up to US$2,500.

A mother’s worth

Compensation analysts have compared the salaries of daycare workers, housekeepers, cooks, janitors, drivers and other support staff and come up with a figure that American stay-athome women should theoretically be earning for raising a family. It found that women should be getting US$134,121 for full-time care of their families. This is based on an average 91.6 hours of work a week.


Fussy drivers

Six out of 10 Canadian drivers say they are more relaxed and courteous to other drivers when they get behind the wheel once the weather turns warmer. However, only 10 per cent say that other drivers show the same characteristic. In addition, 26 per cent of Canadian motorists say they are back-seat drivers when someone else is driving, and a third complain that their spouses or partners act as back-seat drivers.

Other back-seat drivers include parents at 11 per cent, and children at seven per cent.

Chile relations

More than half of respondents in a Peruvian opinion poll say they consider neighbouring Chileans to be their “natural enemies.” The recent sounding of

residents reflected simmering tensions over legislation passed in Peru last year concerning its maritime borders. Chile describes the legislation as incompatible with international treaties governing coastal waters.


Love lost...

Scott Buetow hired an Illinois marriage counsellor, Dan Blair, to improve his flagging 10-year marriage. But a lawsuit filed by Buetow alleges that when he and his wife began seeing Blair, the counsellor began having an affair with her. The lawsuit charges that Blair began an “unethical and illicit personal relationship” with his wife, and Buetow is seeking US$200,000. Blair and Buetow’s former wife are said to be planning to marry.

...love found

Muhamad Noor Che Musa of Malaysia must like older women. The dashing 33-year-old former soldier last week married Wook Kundor, who is 104Muhamad said that Wook provides him with a sense of peace that he was in need of. “Before meeting Wook, I never stayed in one place

for long.” Wook clearly must have her appeal: 20 other men have already married her.


Louis Rukeyser, 73, financial journalist. The host of Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser on American public television for 32 years, he helped make business journalism comprehensible and even folksy for ordinary viewers, attracting a huge audience.

Earl Woods, 74, father of Tiger Woods. A former baseball player and Green Beret, his true calling became mentoring his golf pro son. A cerebral and disciplined personal coach, he taught his son (nicknamed for a Vietnamese soldier Earl had fought alongside) mental resolve and calm amid competitive pressure.