June 12 2006


June 12 2006



U.S. military officials confirmed that a preliminary investigation found evidence that Marines massacred approximately 24 Iraqi civilians last November in the town of Haditha northwest of Baghdad, apparently in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack. Just as details of the Haditha incident were emerging, U.S. troops accidentally killed a pregnant Iraqi woman when the car she was travelling in failed to stop at a checkpoint. She was reportedly being rushed to hospital to give birth.

Good news

Working for change

With a financial crisis in the offing, the Palestinian Authority admitted last week that it is thinking about firing some 11,500 government employees who do not regularly show up for work, and another 5,000 who are past the mandatory retirement age of 60. The Hamas-controlled regime has been under enormous international pressure in recent months. Western nations have cut aid in hopes of convincing the party to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has not budged on Israel, but its administrative reforms are a welcome, if unexpected, turn of events. The PA has been plagued since its inception by corruption and waste. A cleanup effort is a first step toward a stable, viable government. Step two, of course, is renouncing terror and accepting Israel, but from Hamas, all progress is welcome.

Accounting for Ottawa

Senator Hugh Segal last week tabled a bill that would require all government departments to report quarterly financial performance as though they were public companies. The suggestion is especially timely given last week’s testimony from former bureaucrat John Wiersema. He told the public accounts committee that the accounting on $21.8 million in costs related to the gun registry was intentionally fudged because the former Liberal government wanted to conceal its spiralling costs. Such antics tend to be accepted as part of the Canadian political culture; in the real world, they are considered accounting scandals and CEOs serve jail time for them. Senator Segal’s bill offers hope for change. Why did it take this long for someone to suggest it?

Tastes good, too

Chocolate has been proven to possess superpowers. Microbiologists at the University of Birmingham have figured out how to convert candy into electricity. The team fed diluted chocolatefactory waste to bacteria, which consumed the sugar and produced hydrogen, which was then used to power a fuel cell with enough electricity to propel a small fan. In West Virginia, researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University conducted studies which


found that milk chocolate contains stimulants that can boost mental acuity—confirming empirically what women have known intuitively for ages.

Woodcock’s gift

The estate of George Woodcock— the Winnipeg-born poet, essayist and philosopher who died in 1995—donated $1.9 million to the Writers’ Trust of Canada. It is the largest cash donation to writers in Canadian history—a gift made all the more heartwarming coming from a selfmade intellectual who grew up barely above the poverty line.

Bad news

Poisoning children

Health officials say that governments are not doing enough to protect children from toxic environmental chemicals. Recent tests in southern China found traces of cancer-linked dyes in roughly 10 per cent of children’s clothing. Chinese officials are also warning of poisonous baby bottles, believed to have been made from recycled compact discs containing dangerous chemicals that dissolve in heated milk. Closer to home, a Cana-

dian health and environment advocacy group, Environmental Defence, least week released an alarming report that chemicals including flame retardants, lead and PCBs are being found in the bodies of Canadian children as young as 10.

Exploiting children

It was a bad week for the exploitation of children in Europe. First, a judge in Ireland overturned the conviction of a 41year-old man who admitted to having sex with a 12-year-old girl; this came after the country’s Supreme Court ruled the coun-

try’s sexual consent law is unconstitutional. At the same time, pedophiles in the Netherlands announced plans to form a political party dedicated to cutting the age of sexual consent to 12, and eventually eliminating such limits altogether. Fringe groups have been making similar arguments for years, but the fringe is where they belong.

Slighting children

For the first time in 50 years, schoolchildren will not tote orange boxes from house to house this Halloween to collect donations of pocket change for UNICEF. Last week, the organization officially discontinued its annual box collection campaign, which brings in approximately $3 million annually for the children’s charity. According to UNICEF Canada, the process of sorting and counting the coins had become too time-consuming for school administrators. Also, some parents were concerned about children carrying money at night. UNICEF will continue to work with Canadian schools to raise money in the fall. However, each school will now work separately to develop targeted fundraising campaigns for their own communities. So much for national traditions.

Still no HBO

Next week HBO premieres a handful of new shows including Dane Cook’s Tourgasm, a docucomedy series following four stand-up comedians as they tour across the U.S. from California to Boston, entertaining crowds and fighting amongst themselves. Think Spinal Tap meets Comedian. Critics have been enthusiastic, but as usual, we’ll have to wait for the DVD, since HBO still isn’t available in Canada. M


The 48-year-old bachelor prince has long been rumoured to be gay, but any lingering suspicions died last week when the son of Grace Kelly fessed up to fathering a second child, Jazmin (left), the 14-year-old by-product of a tryst with a then-married California waitress who once holidayed in the Côte d’Azur enclave. Last year he admitted to siring a boy with Nicole Coste, a Togoleseborn stewardess, in 2003. Neither child will be able to lay claim to the Grimaldi throne.


Bigger and nastier

Poison ivy just loves global warming. Not only is it increasing in numbers but the virulence of its allergens is going up. When there’s more carbon dioxide in the air, says Jacqueline Mohan, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., “Poison ivy grows not only faster and bigger but also more poisonous.” She notes that higher atmospheric CO2 in an intact forest ecosystem increases photosynthesis, resulting in more production of noxious leaves.

The fifth dimension

The general theory of relativity states there are four dimensions: three spatial ones plus time. But physicists are exploring another model that questions whether other dimensions could exist: does our universe float inside a larger universe with a fourth spatial dimension? The idea stems from attempts to unify relativity with quantum mechanics through the possibility that small black holes, the mass of minor asteroids, exist in the cosmos. The key is to detect the holes. Next year, NASA will launch a space telescope capable of detecting high-energy gamma rays that may show the presence of the holes and, just possibly, other dimensions.

Red-eye and age

The technology behind digital cameras’ ability to correct the “red-eye” effect caused by camera flashes could be applied to determining people’s ages in mug shots. As humans age, the ability of their pupils to expand in dim light diminishes. A digital camera that corrects the red reflected off a person’s retina in a camera flash could also measure the width of pupils to estimate their age.

Frogs get a grip

Moving around is a delicate balance for tree frogs: they can strongly grip slippery surfaces even when their feet are wet, but they can easily jump when the need arises. Scientists have learned that the toe pads of frogs are covered with fine hexagonal cells with channels between them. Each cell in turn is covered with microscopic bumps. Over the cells there is a micro-thin layer of mucous barely stickier than water. The bumpy cells enable frogs to grip, the mucous allows them to jump. The findings could have applications in designing better anti-slip surfaces, such as for auto tires.


Garden leopard

Many people keep cats in their homes without bothering neighbours, much less the authorities, but when Todd Dalton received word from a local London council that he had to get rid of his feline, he fought back. Last week, local magistrates overruled the local council and said Dalton

could keep his pet, a leopard, in his backyard.

The lost world

A genuine lost world has been found beneath Israel: scientists have found eight new species of creatures inside a cave that was uncovered during quarry digging. The ecosystem, said to date back five million years, was completely cut off from the outside world. Scientists found crustaceans and other invertebrates, all of them blind, indicating they’d lost their sight through evolution inside the lightless cave.


C-section hazards

The more Caesarean sections a woman has, the greater the possibility of serious complications, reports the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. A study of 30,000 women who underwent C-sections without labour found that as women had more of the birth procedures, the number of alarming complications arose, including urinary or bowel

injury, placental problems, the need for blood transfusions of four or more units, ICU admission and use of ventilators. Among the women, more than 6,300 were having their third Csections, 1,450 their fourth, 258 a fifth, and 89 were undergoing their sixth or higher procedure.

Eating out of fear

Obesity among lower-income women may be a result of “food insecurity”: women’s fear that they are unable to get meals on the table for their families. The study of more than 10,000 people found that low-income women concerned about getting balanced meals to their families were 58 to 76 per cent more likely to be obese. A theory stemming from the findings is that, when food is less scarce, people overeat, especially cheap but high-calorie food.

That creepy feeling

A new report in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology is one of the first to focus attention on a little-known, gruesome disease, the existence of which many medical experts refuse to acknowledge. Patients with “Morgellons disease” report the sensation of insects or parasites roaming under their skin and open lesions oozing fibres as thick as spaghetti. Most patients also cite a “brain fog.” What little research has been done on the illness shows that the “fibres” are not items such as household lint. Still, many experts dismiss the illness as “delusions of parasitosis.”


Your kids know

Parents say it’s not the case, but a new study of whether U.S. kids know where guns are hidden in the house says that 39 per cent of respondents know exactly


The World Cup opens, but in Italy, newly appointed national soccer commissioner Guido Rossi will begin investigating a spreading corruption scandal that has seen allegations of fiddling with referee assignments, illegal betting and even rigging of games. In China, 9.5 million students will take college entrance exams. With only 2.6 million undergraduate positions open, some universities will jam cellphone signals to reduce the possibility of cheating.

where the firepower is. And 22 per cent say they’ve even handled the guns despite parents’ belief to the contrary. The study of 201 children found that five-yearolds were just as likely to handle the guns as 14-year-olds. An earlier study revealed that 1.7 million American children live in homes with unlocked and loaded guns.

Uniform respect

Who has more respect for police and other officials in uniform: young people or their babyboomer parents? A new British survey shows that it’s teens and young adults who respect the Man more. A quarter of 16to 24-year-olds claim to respect uniformed personnel, while only 13 per cent of people 55 to 64 share that opinion.


The price of brats

Bringing up children is expensive. Bringing up badly behaved children is even more expensive. British psychiatrists have calculated the annual cost at about $12,200 extra for kids with very

anti-social behaviour. Included are about $65 a year in home repairs and $160 in lost work time spent dealing with the brats. But the biggest expense is about $9,300 for extra housework in cleaning up after a bad kid. Meanwhile, only about $20 per person is spent on mental health treatments for minors.

Paradise at a price

The average price for a vacation home in Canada is now greater than the average cost for a principal residence. A real estate brokerage has found the average price to be $380,507 for a waterfront cottage, compared to $340,956 for the standard twostorey home. Chalets tend to be even pricier. In some areas, such as Alberta’s Sylvan Lake, the price has risen to an average of $900,000 and as high as $2 million. Demand in Alberta has seen prices jump by 30 to 60 per cent.


Drunk on the job

One in six workers in Britain admit to having been under the influence of alcohol while on the job, either drinking at work or recovering from hangovers. The findings are part of a poll of 1,500 people by an insurance firm, and back up other studies showing up to a quarter of workplace accidents result from boozing.

Divine intervention

Weary of widespread corruption, a majority ofjamaicans have embraced a call by their new prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, to install church pastors on public boards to combat graft and skimming. A poll published in the Kingston Gleaner found that 58 per cent of Jamaicans have endorsed Miller’s proposal, first outlined in an April speech in which she declared, “Every board

must have a pastor, either as chairman or as a member of the board to ensure probity.”


Calf compact

Victor Gardner has a history of burglaries, but nothing like what he was arrested for last week in Ogdensburg, N.Y.: he rustled

seven calves from an area farm, then made his getaway with an accomplice in the passenger seat and the seven animals either in the back seat or in the trunk of a 2000 Dodge Neon. Only two of the stolen calves have been recovered.

Eating their words

Notorious for their brawling, Taiwan’s parliamentarians last week again broke into fisticuffs over the opposition’s proposal to end a half-century ban on direct transportation links with the Chinese mainland. The fight was distinguished by Wang Shuihui, an outraged female mem-

ber of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, who joined a rush by fellow party members to the podium to prevent the proposal from being heard. Wang then snatched the proposal and tried to eat it. The opposition tried to get her to cough up the legislation by pulling her hair. Wang later spat the document out and tore it up.


Shohei Imamura, 79, filmmaker. A two-time Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes festival, he was a pioneer in japan’s new wave. His films included Black Rain, about the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Jacques Bouchard, 75, ad executive. A pioneer of advertising in Quebec, he started out flogging consumer goods but became equally adept at marketing people, including the Pope’s 1984 visit to Quebec, and is said to have been the architect behind “Trudeaumania.” M