Good News/Bad News

May 8 2006

Good News/Bad News

May 8 2006



After five years of back-and-forth legal battles, Canada and the United States finally reached an agreement to end the softwood lumber trade dispute. Canada gets a refund of US$4 billion in penalties collected by the U.S., gets free access to the American market as long as prices remain high, and agrees to collect an export tax if the market falls. The news was welcomed by the struggling lumber industry, and by all Canadians tired of hearing about the interminable fight.

Good news

Beyond the flag

Ottawa politicians traded cheap shots last week over the Harper government’s refusal to lower the flag on the Peace Tower to halfmast in honour of four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. While it’s sad to see a symbol of solemn mourning demeaned by political bickering, the whole controversy has revealed a deep concern among Canadians for the welfare of our troops in Afghanistan, and a sincere desire to see their sacrifices properly recognized. Our armed forces have been underfunded and underappreciated for far too long.

Death of the Canadian peso

Last week, the Canadian dollar hit the highest level in 28 years, and contrary to the shrill and constant warnings of manufacturers, the world kept turning. The loonie hit a high of 89.45 U.S. cents, driven by booming commodity prices and expectations that the Bank of Canada will continue to raise interest rates. While exporters have seen their profit margins squeezed by the strong currency, Canada’s economy continues to expand, and unemployment is near 32-year lows. More importantly, a few cents higher and it’ll be safe to head back to American outlet malls.

Brangelina slept here

People magazine reportedly shelled out US$700,000 for a series of pictures featuring Brad Pitt, a pregnant Angelina Jolie, and their two children, Maddox and Zahara, reclining in the sand dunes of Namibia. But the actors were not the only ones to benefit from the transaction. Officials of Namibia, a southern African nation not widely noted

for its tourist amenities, say the country has never bef ore experienced this level of international publicity. Hopelong Iipinge, the Namibian ambassador to the United States, says he is keeping his fingers crossed that the Jolie-Pitt baby is born on Namibian soil. The resulting press, he says, would accomplish “what our tourism board budget cannot do in a year.” Unfortunately, most of the resulting visitors so far have been paparazzi, notoriously bad tippers.


Quiet revolution (II)

A new proposal from the Quebec government is calling for the province’s high schools to be more inclusive and “less political” (or anti-Anglophone) in their teaching of Canadian history. Now that Quebec is bringing its education system into the global era, maybe it can turn its attention to the excesses of its language cops. L’lmperatif Français, for example, has filed hundreds of complaints in recent months against “delinquent” companies who failed to include French on websites, video games and home appliances.

Nuclear chicken

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency last week formally confirmed what most of the world already suspected: Iran has enriched uranium and is now in defiance of the UN Security Council. Evidence continues to mount that Iran has no intention of abiding by international demands that it abandon its nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he doesn’t “give a damn” what the world thinks about his atomic

program. If only the UN would be as strong in its response.

Desperate in Darfur

On Friday, while prominent political, religious and Hollywood activists were orchestrating rallies across the U.S. to draw attention to “genocide” in Darfur, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced it will cut its daily rations to the war-torn Sudanese region by 50 per cent due to a critical funding shortage. Beginning in May, over six million people will have to make due with only 1,050 calories per day, half the average

Bad news

minimum required for survival. A WFP spokesperson blamed “donor fatigue” for the cuts, saying the program’s US$746-million operating budget, collected internationally, was cut to total only US$238 million this year. Canada, for example, has reduced its contribution from $20 million last year to just over $5 million—a quarter of the annual expenditures of the office of the Governor General.

Air travel’s last stand

Last Wednesday, the Air Travel Price Index, which measures quarterly passenger fares in the U.S., announced that increased jet-fuel costs have pushed airfare to a five-year high. Meanwhile, Airbus announced it is considering introducing space-saving “standing seats” in the back of its planes for use on short-haul flights—which, we imagine, would provide an experience tantamount to public ground transportation at 300 times the price. U.S. satirist Andy Borowitz suggested an even more economical solution on his website, borow passengers in overhead bins. “Since they’ll be stuffed up there for the duration of the flight,” he points out, “we won’t have to give them peanuts.”

Still no HBO

HBO, not yet licensed in Canada, is renowned for its brilliant stand-up comedy specials—and this Saturday should be no exception. Inappropriate Behaviour stars up-and-comer Mike Epps, whose confrontational style has drawn comparisons to Chris Rock. The one-hour show includes bits on celebrities in prison and grown men who are afraid of the boogie man. Sounds like it could be funny, but we’ll have to ask one of our American friends. M


The bumbling Nepali monarch made a humiliating retreat on television by giving in to huge pro-democracy protests that had virtually paralyzed the Himalayan nation. Gyanendra, who dissolved parliament in 2002 and last year assumed absolute power because he said politicians had failed to deal with Maoist insurgents, yielded to popular demands for elections, ending crippling nationwide strikes and often-deadly protests that brought the nation to a standstill.

Alexander didn’t

It turns out that Alexander the Great did not found the Egyptian port city named for him. It had pre-existed for two millennia. Alexandria’s harbour has yielded samples of mud that bear evidence of a telltale signature of


THOUGHTS: New passwords?

human plumbing, fishing and shipbuilding: the presence of lead. The samples show increases in lead levels not only in Alexander’s time, 330 BCE, but between 1000 and 800 BCE and again between 2686 and 2181 BCE.

Potent milk

AGGOl is the name being given to a compound that may prove to be 100 times more effective than penicillin. The potent compound would be a formidable opponent to bacteria, including so-called superbugs, which are antibiotic resistant. And what’s the source of this substance? The milk of wallabies. Biologists found the compound while studying how the young marsupials build resistance to disease.

Think your password

Carleton University researchers have proposed a new kind of computer password that will

make not only typed ones obsolete but also retina and fingerprint scans. Computers would read users’ thoughts to determine whether they should be granted access. Brainwave signatures, or “pass-thoughts,” would be based on the evidence that every person has different electrical patterns, even when thinking the same thoughts.

Junk DNA

Gene mappers have coined the term “junk DNA” to refer to those parts of the human genome that don’t seem to have a use. But last week, scientists wrote in the National Academy of Sciences’ journal that a math technique used to find patterns in vast amounts of business data revealed “motifs” in the DNA. After examining six billion letters in the noncoding regions, they suggested that junk DNA may have an asyet unknown function.

The lower crust

The earth’s crust is up to six kilometres thick and it’s never been pierced by researchers drilling into it to reach the mantle below. But a new attempt, which bored more than a kilometre into the crust, has discovered a new layer. In 2002, geophysicists chose a theoretically thin spot in the crust, beneath the Pacific Ocean west of Costa Rica. Last week they revealed they have a core sample showing not just oceanic

ALEXANDER: Late arrival

crust but a long-elusive layer of “gabbro”: coarse-grained volcanic rock formed when magma below the crust cools. The core sample promises to reveal hitherto unknown information on how the earth’s crust forms.


Big thirst

Although the drought in East Africa has killed thousands of people and thousands more domestic animals, the region’s population of elephants seems to have scraped through. Their numbers have scarcely changed, thanks, wildlife experts say, to their ability to cope with prolonged droughts. Only very young and old elephants succumbed to the arid season. Among them was Stella, a 62year-old pachyderm who struggled to keep up with her family’s trek from Kenya to Tanzania. Wildlife officials have taken up naming 1,400 of the region’s 30,000 elephants to make it easier to keep track of them.

Equal apes

Spain’s leftist PSOE party wants to introduce a bill in parliament that would give simians the same rights as humans. The draft bill argues that, for example, humans share 977 per cent of their genes with gorillas, and states that simians “should have the same moral and legal protection that humans currently enjoy.” The proposal has met with widespread derision, including that of the archbishop of Toledo, who described it as “making oneself look ridiculous in the name of progress.”

Big Mama lived a lie

Uganda’s oldest crocodile, Big Mama, was euthanized on April 21 after failing to recover from an undisclosed illness. The 52-year-

old reptile had lived in Entebbe’s Uganda Wildlife Education Centre since 1957 Surgery last year to correct organ degeneration revealed that Big Mama was actually a male.


Joint fears

A mosquito-borne virus is spreading across populations around the Indian Ocean, causing severe pain and even death. Known as chikungunya, it causes fever, headaches, nausea, rash, and severe joint pain, giving rise to the nickname “knuckle fever.” It usually lasts a few days, but can linger for months. A third of the residents on the island of Réunion have contracted the illness, and the first-ever death associated with it has been recorded.


Britain’s embattled Prime Minister Tony Blair’s troubles may spill over to Labour candidates in this week’s local elections. Meanwhile, B.C.’s lieutenant-governor visits the native community of Hartley Bay to present an award from the Governor General for villagers’ rescue of passengers when the ferry Queen of the North sank in March. And a computer hard-drive maker ships the world’s first 750-gigabyte disk—unprecedented capacity, enough to store the contents of 10,000 CDs.


High-fat TV

One consequence of children’s television watching is increased caloric intake. American researchers have found that for every hour of TV that children watched, they ate the equivalent of a bag of chips. A 20-month

study of 548 children with a mean age of 11.7 found they hoovered 167 more calories of food for every hour of TV they watched each day.


The cost of children

In 2004, it took $166,700 to raise a child in Canada from birth to age 18, according to a report by the Canadian Council on Social Development. A third of that amount gets spent on child care. In addition, the cost of education-related materials that parents have to pay for directly has been rising. In 2002, two-parent families spent an average of $1,464 on materials, a rise of 23 per cent since 1999-

Travel pitfall

Don’t get drunk, fall off a highrise building and expect your travel insurance to cover you. It didn’t for 25-year-old Cape Bretoner Jason Campbell, who plunged seven storeys from his Puerto Vallaría hotel balcony while intoxicated. He broke his pelvis, both legs, and suffered internal injuries and brain swelling. Mexican doctors declined to treat him after his travel insurance provider refused to cover treatment of injuries sustained while drinking.


Sin of envy

The Zogby polling organization recently asked Americans if they’d ever envied a neighbour or friend for owning something they didn’t. Among respondents under the age of 30,55 per cent said yes, while among those over 65, 15 per cent had property envy. And people who identified as liberals were more likely to be envious than conservatives: 45 per cent vs. 32 per cent.



A Croatian postal worker has demolished 33 cars in 23 years. “The first car I crashed was my father’s Audi when I was 16,” says Franjo Pozgaj. “I once totally wrote off a new Renault just 20 minutes after I bought it. I just seem to have bad luck with cars.” Pozgaj is hoping to end his smashing run of bad luck by learning to ride a bicycle.

Pastry shell

A Welsh pub was evacuated last week after it was discovered that the owner’s mother liked to roll out her pastry dough using an artillery shell from the Second World War kept on the premises. “I never dreamed they could be dangerous,” said pub owner Cyril Davies, who said his father had kept the ordnance as a souvenir. Bombs experts examined the shell and judged it harmless.

Sealed-off beach

Residents in San Diego are experiencing their own dispute over baby seals. The animals leave feces, bacteria and debris at a well-known kiddies’ bathing cove. Since arriving in the late 1990s, about 200 harbour seals have turned the beach into a pupping ground, prompting the federal government and city council to close the area to humans between January and May. Beach-loving residents such as Don Perry make protest visits every day, despite warnings to stay away because humans cause skittish seal mothers to abandon their cuddly young. “These animals are not the delicate creatures they are made out to be,” he says.


Steve Stavro, 78, businessman and sports club owner. The Macedonian-born grocer built a small

Toronto store into a large regional chain, which enabled him to buy the Toronto Maples Leafs from Molson’s in 1991. He added to his sports empire, which included a racehorse stable, by gaining control of the Toronto Raptors NBA team as well as the Air Canada Centre arena. In 2003, unable to meet creditor demands, he sold his share in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Jane Jacobs, 89, urban activist. The transplanted New Yorker made Toronto her home, helping to guide local urban plan-

ning along more humane lines. She was most famous for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Bonnie Owens, 76, country singer. The daughter of sharecroppers, she is credited with helping foster the “Bakersfield Sound,” a twanging version of country that originated in the inland California city. She met and married Buck Owens in 1948, but the marriage failed after a few years and she later married another country superstar, Merle Haggard, who praised her unique voice. “Once you hear her talk,” he said, “You’d know her in the dark 300 years from now.”M