Good News/Bad News

May 22 2006

Good News/Bad News

May 22 2006



Environment Canada has some bad news for allergy sufferers, farmers and those without air conditioners: it’s going to be a long, hot, dry summer. In their most recent long-range forecast, Environment Canada climatologists have predicted a three-month spell of low precipitation and higher than normal temperatures. After an unusually mild spring, the outlook is especially poor for allergy sufferers, now faced with a surging pollen count in some parts of the country.

Good news

One glass at a time

Haiti’s first census in 24 years presents a portrait of a nation in crisis, faced with “staggering” unemployment, poor education, and a dismal HIV infection rate. Perhaps most startling, over five million people have no access to clean water. One Alberta engineer has offered a smart, simple contribution: an inexpensive water filter, helping to save the lives of children across Haiti. The technology, created by David Manz in the ’90s, was donated to help give families in developing countries the ability to purify water in their own homes. Built of readily available materials— including sand and gravel, which eliminate sediments, pathogens and other impurities—the BioSand filter costs $6 to purchase. According to the Canadian-based organization Clean Water for Haiti, one in eight children in that country dies before the age of five, and the majority of those deaths are caused by water-borne diseases.

Loving the loonie

Looks like Canadian CEOs are starting to warm to the soaring loonie. The dollar broke above US91 cents last week, hitting its highest point since December 1977, and Robert Hattin, president of Edson Packaging Machinery in Hamilton, Ont., said it’s time to stop worrying. “The real damage to the Canadian currency happened two years ago, when it went from 65 cents to 85 cents,” he said. After surviving a rise of that magnitude, the climb above US90 cents has been a cinch. A few days later, auto parts maker Linamar Corp. seconded that sentiment, with a $ 1.1-billion expansion expected to create 3,000 jobs in Ontario. Maybe there’s life at par after all.

Cheers to your mental health

The Senate social affairs committee released a report last week recommending that government add a five cent tax on alcoholic beverages to fund its $5.4-billion plan to transform the mental health system. The report, entided “Out of the Shadows at Last,” is the result of a three-year study on mental health and addiction. We support the idea, although we don’t think it’s necessary to tax everybody’s drinks. Just the Senate’s should do it.


The dog days of flying

As of mid-September, pets will no longer be welcome in Air Canada passenger cabins. The Canadian allergy and immunology society called for the ban last year after a passenger complained that she was tormented by a cat radiating dander on a flight to Saskatchewan. People often fear their pets will be traumatized travelling in cargo holds. But ultimately, Air Canada agreed an asthma attack in an enclosed space is worse. Now if only they can do something about wailing babies and people who travel with tuna.

Bad news

Lapse of judgment

Tory MP Maurice Vellacott resigned as chair of the Aboriginal affairs committee last week, yielding to political foes outraged at his ill-advised comments about the Supreme Court. Vellacott foolishly misquoted Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and made specious claims about the court taking on “God-like powers.” The furor that followed was just as painful as Vellacott’s initial ramblings. The Canadian Bar Association led the way by accusing Vellacott of an attack on judicial independence, and claiming that he had inflicted “serious damage on the institution of the Supreme Court of Canada and the reputation of our chief justice.” Vellacott and the Canadian Bar Association deserve to be stuck in an elevator together. Come to think of it, Liberal Leader Bill Graham too, for suggesting Stephen Harper owed an apology to “all the members of all the courts of our country.”

Tastes a little off

Things are askew in the world of condiments. Heinz Co. has announced that, as of March 2007, it will no longer manufacture HP Sauce, a favorite of the royal family, in the U.K. The company intends to shut its Birmingham HP Sauce plant, which currently employs 125 people. To the horror of many Anglophiles, the prized “brown sauce” will be produced in the Netherlands instead. A similar heresy has occurred with mustard. The Dijon variety, named for the regional capital of the French province of Burgundy, where it originated, is now made predominantly with mustard seeds imported from Saskatchewan.

A heavy dose of reality

CBC TV’s laudable efforts to heighten the appeal of its entertainment shows will include a new division devoted to “factual entertainment”—a toffee-nosed euphemism for reality TV. We’re all for our national broadcaster expanding its competencies, but we’re puzzled by its citing a British series called Wife Swap as an example of worthy television. And speaking of reality TV, we join the millions of viewers angry and dumbfounded at the expulsion of our favourite American Idol candidate, the hunky baldheaded rocker Chris Daughtry. He was easily the most polished and consistent performer in the competition. So much for the “wisdom of crowds” theory.

...And still no HBO

David Milch, creator of the dark and brilliant western series Deadwood, is developing a new surfing-themed series for the network, tentatively called John from Cincinnati. It’s an intriguing premise but we’ll never know if it works because HBO still isn’t licensed in Canada.


The rape trial that transfixed South Africans ended with the nation’s former deputy president being acquitted. But with its sensational testimony of how a politician, so associated with the government’s handling of the AIDS crisis, had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, the proceedings may have damaged Zuma’s ambitions to succeed current President Thabo Mbeki in 2009. “I’m not an angel. I live in this world,” Zuma said. “You make mistakes, you move forward.”


Guns and hormones

What really gets a guy’s testosterone levels up? Researchers at Knox College in Galesburg, 111., asked 30 male students to handle either a popular board game or a handgun. Psychologists then tested their saliva, and found the males who handled the gun had markedly higher levels of the male hormone. And in an experiment in which they were to taste a sample of water dosed with hot sauce and then prepare a similar dosage for others to drink, researchers found the gun handlers used three times more hot sauce.

The big cube

The largest scientific instrument ever created is under construction at the South Pole. Known as IceCube, the neutrino telescope will encompass one cubic kilometre. Its purpose is to measure cosmic neutrinos as they pass through the earth. Neutrinos are created by violent events in space such as black holes. After boring holes in the ice, scientists are dropping in strings of sensors. Why the elaborate device? Although they are common, neutrinos are extremely difficult to detect.

Following a lunch

Dabbawallahs, a mostly illiterate army of 5,000 lunch deliverers who ferry 170,000 meals between workers’ homes and offices in Mumbai, India, have an error rate of just one in six million deliveries. A local business school is studying them as an example of giving impeccable service without complex technology. Each lunch changes hands up to four times. The dabbawallahs use complex systems of colours and marks to tell runners which building, floor and office to deliver the meals to.


Sniffing DVDs

Describing the results as “amazing,” British authorities have assigned Labrador retrievers to sniff out counterfeit movies for the first time. Usually dogs are used to detect the telltale smells of explosives or drugs, but with the movie industry losing US$6.1 billion to counterfeiters annually, British customers have put the Labs, Lucky and Flo, on the job.

Unique monkey

Last year’s discovery of a new species of monkey, known in its Tanzanian habitat as kipunji, became even more remarkable last week when zoologists said the animal belongs in its own genus (in taxonomy, species are grouped into a genus). It is the first time in 83 years that scientists have identified a new mon-

key genus. The grey-brown animal with a shock of erect hair on its head will belong to a genus called rungwecebus, derived from its home mountain.

Smoked Kipper

A brawling catfish is thought to be responsible for a fire that heavily damaged a British woman’s home. Apparently Kpper, a 20-cm pet catfish, took to fighting with a rival inside an aquarium in the home of Sharron Killahena. Water splashed out of the tank, slopped onto an electric plug, which caused a power surge in the aquarium’s light cable. The cable heated a plastic lid that melted and dripped onto a leather chesterfield, which caught fire, as did the entire room. Fortunately, Killahena and her two children escaped. Kipper was not so lucky.


Killer forests

What killed off the woolly mammoth? The prevailing notion is that humans hunted them to extinction. Now, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks’ Dale Guthrie says that 20 years of study of 600 large mammal bones shows that the mammoth died from climate change at the end of the Ice Age. Advancing forests with their woodier food sources deprived the mammoth of ground-level plants it depended on for food.

Pure ozone

What’s a good way to clean the air inside a room? Get an ionic air purifier. What’s a good way to fill that room with poisonous ozone? Get an ionic air purifier. Some of the popular devices, which remove dust, pollen and other particulates by charging their particles electrically and attracting them to electrodes, also emit ozone in the process. A study by the University of California at Irvine found that in poorly ventilated, small rooms, ozone levels can rise to potentially unhealthy levels. Ground-level ozone can damage lungs, irritate the throat and exacerbate asthma.


The Cannes Film Festival opens. On the program is a new biopic, Marie-Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst prescribing the eating of cake, while a drama based on the documentary Fast Food Nation plumps for fries. Mittal Steel Co., the world’s largest steelmaker, expects to make its revised US$29billion takeover offer for rival steelmaker Arcelor SA, which in turn owns Hamilton steel company Dofasco. If Mittal wins, Dofasco (like Marie-Antoinette) may go on the block.

Exercise in the sun

The benefits of exercise are well known, but one unexpected bonus is that it may help reduce the risk of skin cancer. Experiments with mice revealed that those who had access to running wheels while exposed to ultraviolet light had 32 per cent fewer tumours. It’s believed that exercise intensifies “UVB-induced apoptosis,” in which cancerous cells die off rather than surviving and spreading.

Second-hand death

Eliminating exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke could dramatically reduce heart diseaserelated deaths. Researchers have calculated that if all passive exposure had stopped last year, 580,600 deaths from heart disease in the United States alone would be avoided by 2030. And more people encounter smoke than they may realize. Scientists reported last week that between 29 and 43 per cent of Americans are exposed to smoke annually.


Skateboard school

Long the bane of sidewalk strollers, skateboarding is coming to school gyms. A Colorado school is among the first to introduce boarding as a gym option. This fall may see its arrival in schools across the United States. The emergence of skateboarding in gym class is part of an evolution away from rigid fitness programs toward realworld recreation, such as aerobics and wall-climbing.

Well-bred bullies

Today’s schoolyard bullies terrorizing British children are not just the familiar species of miniature oafs. Educators are increasingly seeing cosseted children from middle-class homes. Michele Elliott of Kidscape, an anti-bullying charity, says the new bullies are not thugs, but “little Miss Sunshine or little Mr. Wonderful.” Elliott says this new breed, nicknamed “brat bullies,” comes from overindulgent parents.


Fact or fiction

One in four people in France believe that the blockbuster novel The DaVinci Code is based on fact. The magazine Science et Vie polled 1,006 people over 15 years old and found 24 per cent believe it is “inspired by real facts.” Another seven per cent believe it is a mixture of facts and literary sources. Meanwhile, in Singapore, government authorities last week forbade anyone under the age of 16 from viewing the movie version of the book for fear that they may confuse the story with reality.


Underwater museum

The world’s oldest water survey device is destined to disappear beneath the rising reservoir waters of China’s immense Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. For centuries, observers compared water markers at Baiheliang to 1,200 years of readings carved into stone to predict harvest levels. The site was so revered that poems were also carved into the surrounding rocks, totalling some 30,000 Chinese characters. With the waters of the reservoir soon to engulf the historic site forever, the Chinese Academy of Sciences is building an underwater museum on the site featuring an elliptical transparent shield, where visitors will be able to see the water-survey markers, the data and the poetry.

Impaired mowing

Dondi Bowles is in trouble again. Last week, police in Vermilion, Ohio, arrested him for driving a lawn mower while intoxicated. Police said he was driving the mower back home from a trip to a store when they stopped him. They found Bowles had a blood alcohol level of 0.144 per cent, over the limit of 0.08. It was Bowles’ third arrest for drunk driving in six months.


Pietro Garinei, 87, playwright and composer who worked with partner Sandro Giovannini, creating postwar Italian musical comedies and bringing attention to actors Anna Magnani and Marcello Mastroianni. He was best known outside Italy for the song Arrivederci Roma.

A.M. Rosenthal, 84, newspaper editor. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.-born Rosenthal was for many years at the helm of the New York Times, and in 1971 was instrumental in publishing the “Pentagon Papers,” the U.S. government’s secret history of the Vietnam War. It revealed how Washington hoodwinked the public on the size of the war.

Floyd Patterson, 71, boxer. The world heavyweight champion was known as a gentle incorruptible in a bad sport. He scored a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics with five knockouts in five matches. In 20 years of professional fighting he lost eight matches, won 55 and fought to a draw in one.