Good news/Bad news

May 29 2006

Good news/Bad news

May 29 2006



Last Wednesday, 26-year-old Capt. Nichola Goddard of Calgary was killed in a firefight with Taliban insurgents near Kandahar. She was Canada’s first female combat soldier to be killed in action. The government confirmed on Friday that Goddard’s husband, Jason Beam, would receive Canada’s Memorial Cross, originally created to honour the sacrifices of wives and mothers. Canada has announced it will extend its commitment to Afghanistan until 2009.

Good news

Action, not delusion

For Canadians who believe reality rather than sentiment should guide political decisions, last week was an encouraging one. First, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose had the courage to admit the obvious: this country has no hope of meeting its objectives under the Kyoto Protocol. The previous Liberal government committed us to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Instead, our greenhouse gas emissions have risen by around 30 per cent since 1990, due mainly to our substantial economic growth. The government is now looking for a more effective and realistic strategy to tackle global warming. Next, one day after auditor general Sheila Fraser revealed yet more hidden federal gun registry costs, the Conservative government announced a $ 10-million cut to the registry budget, an amnesty for long-gun owners, and a shift in responsibility to the RCMP. Kyoto and the gun registry are plagued by the same problem: both satisfy public demand for action at enormous expense, yet both are failing utterly to address their stated goals—keeping guns out of the wrong hands and lowering carbon emissions.

He’s your man

After a trying couple of years, things are finally looking up for Leonard Cohen. The poet, now 71, recently won a US$9.5-million lawsuit against Kelley Lynch, his long-time manager, after claiming she stole millions from his savings, leaving him virtually broke. Last week, Book of Longing, his first book in 22 years, shot to No. l on Indigo’s Canadian bestsellers’ list. Indigo president Heather Reisman told the

CBC it was the first time a book of poetry had hit that position. Adding to this grand show of support was Prince Charles, who paid Cohen a lavish compliment in a recent British TV interview. He’s a “wonderful” chap, said the Prince. “He has this incredibly, sort of laid back, gravelly voice. It’s terrific stuff.”

Paying their own way

For those who insist corporate welfare and pricey public incentives are essential to save Cana-

da’s manufacturing industry, we point out last week’s decision by Honda to build a new engine plant northwest of Toronto. The $154-million project will employ 340 people when complete. Best of all, Ontario is only paying up to 10 per cent of the infrastructure costs of preparing the site. The direct costs of the expansion are all being borne by the company. Add that to last week’s billion-dollar expansion by auto parts maker Linamar, in which less than five per cent of the cost is being born by the taxpayer, and it seems the trend toward ever-larger public incentives for manufacturers is on the wane.

Bad news

It’s getting very quiet up here

The strong loonie is sending hordes of Canadian shoppers across the border to U.S. malls, according to Statistics Canada, but the number of Americans making same-day shopping trips to Canada continues to hover at an all-time low. In March, Canadians made a total of 3.3 million same-day trips to the U.S., while Americans made only 1.2 million quick trips north. Should the U.S. press forward with plans to

further restrict border securityrequiring all travellers to present a passport—things will only get worse for retailers in Canada.

Turmoil in the deeps

Ranging from the bizarre to the heartbreaking, it was a bad week for the B.C. mining industry. First, tiny Brookmount Explorations announced its chief financial officer, Jay Jeffery Shapiro, was not who he claimed to be. The company reportedly learned its CFO had faked his identity when the real Shapiro contacted them and said someone was falsely using his name. Then, shares of Vancouver-based Ivan-

hoe Mines plunged after reports that the company may be subject to an onerous windfall tax on profits from its proposed mine in Mongolia. But real tragedy struck on Wednesday, when the bodies of four people, apparently overcome by hydrogen sulphide fumes, were found at a decommissioned mine owned by Teck Comineo in Kimberley, B.C. The incident claimed the lives of two workers and two paramedics who attempted to save them.

Like a Yugo, but not as nice

U.S. market researchers are predicting the number of drivers in India will increase by roughly nine per cent annually over the next five years, thanks to rapid economic growth and rising incomes. Seeking to make cars even more accessible, Indian-based Tata Motors has announced it will produce a five-seat family vehicle priced at $2,400, less than half the price of its competitors’ cheapest models. Asked how his company would pull it off, CEO Ratan Tata told reporters he would use less steel, more plastic, and adhesives in the place of welding. We shudder to think what the air bags will be made of.

Still no HBO

On Thursday evening, the network will premiere Favela Rising, a documentary film about a reformed Brazilian drug trafficker who uses music and dance to help break the cycle of systemic violence and police corruption in his community in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. To date, Favela Rising has won 25 international and national film festival honours. Critics have raved about it. But in Canada, where HBO is still not licensed, we’ll have to take their word for it. M



The Australian prime minister arrived at a private dinner at 24 Sussex Drive, welcomed by the Harper children who’d scrawled greetings in pink chalk on the driveway. It was a personal welcome for a man whose electoral successes acted as tutorials for Stephen Harper’s recent campaign. Howard had a few other lessons to impart: that Washington is a force of good for the world, that terrorism must be confronted head-on, and that the lack of Canadian interest in cricket is weird.


Suitable for life

Astronomers have found three planets orbiting the distant sun HD69830 that theoretically could sustain life. The outermost of the three planets is located at a distance from its sun where temperatures are moderate enough

to permit water to remain liquid. It has a solid core of rock and ice and is shrouded in gas. However, because the planet is the size of our solar system’s Neptune and thus many times larger than the earth, any possible life there would have to contend with heavy gravity. The system is 41 light years from the earth.

The big root

The lowly but vital cassava plant has been supersized. The starchy tuber is a staple for 600 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Reporting in Plant Biotechnology Journal, Richard Sayre of Ohio State University says that genetically modified versions of cassava created by

researchers have resulted in a root that is 2.5 times larger than conventional cassavas. The issue now is getting the modified plants to farmers in the developing world at nominal or no charge.

The final gene

The last part of the puzzle, Chromosome 1, has been sequenced,

bringing to an end the 16-year Human Genome Project, which decoded the entire human genetic code. Chromosome l carries 3,141 genes, including those linked to ailments such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Death to superbugs

So-called superbugs are about to get a smackdown from a new superhero: antibiotics derived from ordinary soil bacteria. Streptomyces platensis, a benign soil bacterium found in Africa, has been used to create Platensimycin, which can stop lethal superbugs found in hospitals, such as methicillin-resistant MRSA. It does so by interfering with superbugs’ ability to make vital fatty acids.


Bear vs. monkey

Animals are often grouped together in common habitats at zoos and they live peacefully side by side. But last week, something went terribly awry in the Netherlands, when several sloth bears drove a panicked Barbary macaque into an electric fence, stunning it. One of the bears then killed the monkey within sight of horrified spectators. A statement from the Beekse Bergen Safari Park declared, “Habitats here in the safari park are arranged in such a way that one animal almost never kills another, but they are and remain wild animals.” The macaques will be relocated to another part of the park.

Small census

They are among the smallest animals on earth, but in their position as the foundation for both the marine food chain and what is known as the carbon cycle, zooplankton are of crucial importance. Only now are these little understood creatures being comprehensively catalogued. As part of the international Census of Marine Life, collections are being made of the diverse category. A recent deep-sea troll in the Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea revealed 500 species, including tiny swimming worms, microscopic shrimp-like creatures and micro-jellyfish. Besides acting as food for higher forms of animals, zooplankton are vital in a process that sees carbon dioxide, dissolved from the atmosphere in sea water, deposited deep in the ocean floor where it can reside, stable, for millennia.

Distinct blues

An important new colony of blue whales, the biggest animals ever to have lived, has been dis-

covered off the coast of Chile. The colony of 65 blue whales may inhabit the largest single feeding and breeding ground in the southern hemisphere for the nearly extinct titans. Scientists are anxious to learn more about the habitat because blue whale numbers remain very low after a century of hunting. Estimates of the number of blue whales in the southern hemisphere range from 400 to 1,400.


Wine for your ear

It’s been touted as being good for the heart and a boost to the immune system. Now science says that red wine may delay agerelated deafness. Sensitive hairs in the inner ear responsible for hearing acuity become damaged over the years by oxygen-free radicals, produced by cellular activity. Resveratrol, which gives red wine antioxidant properties, neutralizes free radicals, protecting the ear. Scientists say that Aspirin or green tea can have similar effects because they also contain resveratrol.

Preemie caffeine

Can caffeine boost premature babies’ abilitiy to breathe? University of Toronto researchers gave caffeine to half of 2,000 premature babies in a study. They found that half the babies who didn’t receive caffeine had a risk of lung-tissue scarring, stemming from the pressure of air on their lungs from mechanical ventilators. Among the infants given caffeine, only a third were found at risk. That was because, researchers believe, the caffeinated kids could be taken off mechanical ventilators sooner.

Planes and clots

Air passengers concerned about getting blood clots from sitting


Condoleezza Rice has expressed support for a bill to be voted on in a U.S. Senate committee this week that would help curb the spread of shoulder-fired missiles around the world. The U.S. State Department estimates thousands of the weapons are in the hands of “non-state actors,” such as terrorists. Meanwhile, MasterCard will fire off an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, hoping to raise US$2.6 billion for the credit card association.

in cramped seats on long-haul flights can take ambivalent comfort from new findings that show it’s the sitting, not the flying at high altitude, that causes deepvein thrombosis (DVT). Researchers at the University of Leicester in Britain have found that so-called “economy-class syndrome” can happen wherever movement is restricted by a lack of leg room, such as in the back seats of automobiles or on trains. Tests in rooms simulating airliner cabin pressure and reduced oxygen found no increase in DVT.


Snack dealers

Just at a time when schools are trying to wean kids off junk food by banning it from cafeterias and

vending machines, a surprising schoolyard black market is springing up in Britain. Underage entrepreneurs bring chips, chocolate bars and soft drinks to sell to other pupils. The undercover vendors buy the junk food in bulk and then hawk it in the style of hovering drug dealers. And the young peddlers have

even shown competitive smarts by undercutting the prices of snacks sold in convenience stores.

TV illness

More than 300 schoolchildren in Portugal have come down with Strawberries with Sugar virus, reporting to doctors with rashes, difficulty breathing and dizziness. The trouble became so widespread that a few schools briefly closed. The root of the “illness” is a soap opera for teens that airs on Portuguese television called Strawberries with Sugar. Recently the characters on the series came down with a disease, and doctors say young viewers have interpreted their own allergies or wheeziness as the fictitious disease. They also noted that the outbreak coincided with term-end exams.


Printer crimes

Office printers make Canadians feel a little guilty. A recent poll by Ipsos-Reid found that 28 per cent of respondents snoop through material left on the printer, while 67 per cent admit to using the printer for per-

sonal business: 39 per cent print driving instructions, 34 per cent resumés and 18 per cent photos. When a printer malfunctions, three-quarters of respondents claim they try to fix the problem themselves, while only six per cent contact the IT department. Three per cent simply leave the area quietly.

Crime of the heart

In Taiwan, where adultery is punishable with up to a year in prison, a whopping 89 per cent of respondents to a survey believe that philandering should remain a crime. Despite the draconian sentencing, few Taiwanese convicted of adultery actually do time. Most are allowed to pay US$28 for each day they’ve been sentenced.

Fat extremes

Nearly half of respondents to an online survey said they’d sacrifice a year of their lives to avoid being fat. The survey, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, also reported that 4,000 respondents would end their marriages, give up the possibility of having children, even succumb to alcoholism rather than be fat. Five per cent said they’d rather lose a limb than be fat, and four per cent preferred blindness to being obese.


Clear instructions

To ensure there is no confusion about her wishes when the time comes, former nurse Mary Wohlford, 80, recently had the words “Do not resuscitate” tattooed on her sternum. Wohlford, of Dyersville, Iowa, got inked after last year’s Terri Schiavo controversy. She worried that family members might misplace her living will. She says that at

first, employees at Gary’s Professional Tattooing Studio refused to do the job, unsure if it was ethical. She eventually convinced the owner and even negotiated a senior’s discount.


Marion Andre, 86, theatre director. The Polish-born founding artist at Montreal’s Saidye Bronfman Centre and Toronto’s Theatre Plus brought experience in Polish underground theatre to

Canada, pioneering provocative and controversial political modern theatre productions.

George Bain, 86, newspaper columnist and educator. As the Globe and Mail’s first Ottawabased columnist, he formulated toxic opinions about the Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the point that he once stormed out of an interview with Trudeau—in the middle of a prime ministerial limousine ride. M