Good News/Bad News

July 1 2006

Good News/Bad News

July 1 2006



Madrid. London. Toronto. Now Miami, where police last week arrested seven Muslim radicals who allegedly planned an attack “just as good or greater than 9/11.” Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney general, described the suspects as “homegrown terrorists,” men “who for whatever reason came to view their home country as the enemy.” Thankfully, Western authorities seem to be one step ahead of their al-Qaeda citizens. Too bad Osama bin Laden doesn’t live in Florida.

Good news

Librarian invasions

A crime surge in New Orleans spurred Gov. Kathleen Blanco to call in the National Guard last week. Heavily armed soldiers are now patrolling city neighbourhoods in an effort to restore order, but the uptick in mayhem hasn’t dissuaded the American Library Association from holding its annual conference in the Big Easy. More than 18,000 professional bookworms are letting their hair down during the city’s first big post-Katrina convention. The street punks better keep thenvoices down.

Pacific slim

A new health study out of the Pacific Northwest gave British Columbia top marks for its walkable cities, and found that its residents are half as fat and live 2.3 years longer than their American counterparts. This good news was offset somewhat by a report from a panel of Vancouver health experts warning that the province’s children are dangerously overweight. One nutritionist labelled the fare in school vending machines “toxic.” But North Vancouver is already taking action and will stock its school snack dispensers with healthier alternatives. Something for the rest of us to chew on.

Convenient truth

Cooler heads prevailed this week in the debate over global warming. First, the Liberals helped defeat a snap NDP motion demanding the resignation of Conservative Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. On the previous day, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an arms-length federal agency, announced that Canada can slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent over the next 45 years

through the use of existing technology, without damaging the economy. Things are already improving, the agency says. Between 1990 and 2003, while Canada’s industrial sector enjoyed 24 per cent economic growth, its greenhouse gas emissions increased by only 1.3 per cent.

Sponsored by...

Last week, convicted fraudster Chuck Guité was sentenced to 42 months behind bars—the harshest punishment yet in con-


nection with the scandal-plagued sponsorship program. Though welcome news on its own, Guité’s stiff sentence was accompanied by an even more encouraging promise from Crown prosecutor Jacques Dagenais. “This story isn’t over,” he said, referring to the RCMP’s continuing investigation. “They are digging. They are finding bits and pieces and they’re trying to reconstitute the whole skeleton. But it’s not easy. It will take some time.” We are more than willing to wait, if it means the political masterminds behind Guité’s antics are finally called to account.

Bad news

Chinese charade

Three months ago, to the applause of human rights groups, Chinese authorities declared they were withdrawing the criminal case against Zhao Yan, a New York Times researcher accused of spilling state secrets. Turns out the announcement was nothing but a ruse to smooth U.S.China relations in advance of President Hu Jintao’s April visit to Washington. On June 16, the 44-year-old journalist was escorted into a closed-door Bei-

jing courtroom for a “trial” that lasted all of one day. A verdict is expected in the coming days. What are the odds on “guilty”?


Guité aside, it was not a good week to be a Crown attorney. First, a judicial inquiry found that prosecutors in Newfoundland and Labrador have a severe case of “tunnel vision,” contributing to at least three wrongful convictions. Then, the Ontario Court of Appeal heard that top federal justice officials never bothered to reveal that their own medical experts debunked key physical

evidence used to convict Steven Truscott 50 years ago. In the U.S, meanwhile, a county prosecutor in Ohio has some serious grovelling to do after he showed up 45 minutes late for a rape trial. The judge was so perturbed by his tardiness that she dismissed the case. The state is appealing.

Get your passport

A bare-knuckled congressional battle over illegal immigration from Mexico has tripped up efforts to postpone new rules that will require passports or special cards for all travellers across the U.S. border by Jan. 1, 2008—a deadline that is widely considered unworkable. An 18-month delay for the passport policy was incorporated into a sprawling immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate. But the House leadership, outraged that the bill would allow undocumented workers to become citizens, has called summertime hearings that could slow the bill enough to kill it with the November elections.

The price of revelry

Keeping an eye on rowdy Oilers fans during the Stanley Cup playoffs cost Edmonton’s police force $2.2 million—nearly double the original estimate. Even worse, city taxpayers don’t get to pay for a victory parade. That’s Carolina’s problem.

Still no HBO...

Everyone is excited about the new Superman movie hitting theatres this week. But no one more so than the programmers at HBO, who are running the special Superman Returns: HBO First Look seven times in five days. Number of times Canadians will get to see this behind-the-scenes show? Zero. HBO is still not available in Canada. M


A few days before the Colorado Avalanche goalie was to pick up his three-month-old daughter, Romi, who had been in hospital since birth, he popped up in Toronto, where he was photographed at the MuchMusic Video Awards with Paris Hilton. Afterward, according to witnesses, he was seen at several nightspots, holding hands with the heiress. The news didn’t play well with Romi’s mother, Stéphanie Cloutier, who promptly threw Théodore out of their Montreal home.


The anti-camera

An invention that “blinds” many digital cameras may defeat snooping photographers and video pirates. The prototype device searches for an intruding digital still or video camera’s image sensor, which by its nature shines light back at the object it’s recording. Once in its sights, the device floods the intruding camera with a blinding white light, bleaching out anything it tries to record. This anti-camera could find use in cinemas to prevent film piracy, and in government buildings where photography is prohibited. However, it doesn’t guard against conventional film cameras and digital SLRs.

Robo flesh

Thanks to “nanosheets,” robots are about to shed their image as metal men. Nanosheets are newly created materials than can cover a robot’s sensing surface, giving it the same sensitivity as human touch. Formed by microscopic particles, the super-thin skin enables a robotic device to detect even slight changes in pressure on its surface. Its developers say the new material dramatically increases robotic sense of touch.

Bubble protection

Giant gas bubbles, 1,000 km wide, are popping near the earth and they’re protecting us. Researchers say that the superheated gas bub-

bles, known as “density holes,” appear at the outer edge of the earth’s magnetic field, where they burst. They seem to boost the magnetic field’s ability to push aside strong solar-energy particles that could otherwise harm humans and electrical systems.

Falling sea levels

In the last 14 years, the earth’s oceans have been rising an average of 3-2 mm a year. But a new interpretation of data from a decade of satellite radar altimetry has uncovered an astounding anomaly: sea levels in the Arctic have been falling an average 2 mm a year. Although scientists know that the oceans do not have a uniform height, the AngloDutch team that found the anomaly has no explanation why Arctic sea levels are getting lower while others are rising. Seymour Laxon of University College London says, “The Arctic Ocean is the least understood body of water out there.”


Rear guard

Killer whales love herring and will slap their mighty tails in the water to disorient their prey, but the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources has found that herring have their own tail-driven defence: clouds of bubbly flatulence that mask their escape. According to the institute’s researcher, Malene Simon, when herring are in schools, a mass discharge of air from anal ducts could defeat whales’ écholocation ability, allowing herring to escape. Says Simon in a new study: “Farting may save their lives.”

Speed kills

As with all high-speed chases there are often casualties. For cheetahs, which sprint after prey at up to 100 km/h, the injury is

often to themselves. Animal researchers are learning that collateral damage during hunts is more frequent than previously believed, including fatal lacerations to stomachs and injuries to eyes from fallen branches, thorns and spikes. And because increasing numbers of cheetahs are being taken from their habitat on grasslands and barracked in bushy game preserves, the injury frequency is rising.

Hero beagle

When Kevin Weaver of Ocoee, Fla., succumbed to a diabetic seizure, his pet beagle, Belle, saved his life. She had been trained to assess a potentially fatal attack by licking and sniffing Weaver’s nose (with their super-sensitive sense of smell, dogs can actually detect blood-sugar levels in exhaled air). Then, even more remarkably, Belle seized Weaver’s cellphone and bit on the number nine on the keypad. The phone had been programmed to dial 911 when the digit is entered. Emergency workers heard Belle

bark and sent help. Last week, Belle received an award for saving Weaver’s life.


The perils of boys

When doctors at the Copenhagen Fertility Clinic noticed they were treating an inordinate number of women who’d suffered recurrent miscarriages following an earlier birth of a boy, they did


On Saturday, for the first time since 1917, the Russian ruble becomes a fully convertible currency, a symbol of the nation’s emergence as a major energy exporter. To bolster the much maligned currency’s reputation, parliament has passed a bill imposing fines on officials who speak in terms of dollars and euros. Meanwhile, at the annual NBA draft, Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Italian player Andrea Bargnani will be among the favourites for the Toronto Raptors’ first pick.

some tabulating of 305 women who visited the clinic between 1986 and 2005. The results showed that in some women, giving birth to a boy causes a reaction that increases the risk of subsequent pregnancies ending in miscarriages. Researchers believe that women with multiple miscarriages after the birth of a boy may be experiencing extreme immune reactions to DNA in the male Y chromosome.

Migraine pulse

A magnetic-pulse device originally developed to treat depression is being adapted for migraine therapy. Researchers say it holds the promise to stop migraines before they fully form. A one millisecond magnetic pulse delivered to the brains of sufferers during the earliest phase of classic migraines (the “aural stage,” characterized by flashing jagged lights) was shown in a small study to provide immediate relief, reducing the magnitude of the headaches while producing no side effects.

Pegrowing hearing

Tiny hairs that detect vibrations in the inner ear are crucial for hearing. But through damage or illness, the cells that host the hairs can die off, never to be replaced. Now, scientists at California’s

House Ear Institute are probing a genetic switch in mice to see if they can make previously irreversible hearing loss a thing of the past. They found that in mice, hearing-hair cells stopped dividing as the animals matured, leading to the discovery of a gene governing hair-cell division. If

scientists can find a way to switch hair-cell division back on, it may be possible to repair permanent hearing loss.


Candy gloss

A cosmetic firm has teamed up with a food-brand company, Masterfoods, to produce a line of cosmetics. The Smackers Starburst Shower Collection is intended to appeal to teens and preteens familiar with the Starbust line of soft candies. The collaborators hope to use that brand recognition to further stoke already growing interest in preteen cosmetics. Masterfoods previously scored with a line of lip glosses flavoured with M&Ms.

Video beats trees

Will the next generation lose interest in the natural environment? A recent study that looks into the 25 per cent decline in U.S. national park visits since

1987 suggests they may, and the reason is what the study calls “videophilia,” a passion for computer games, the Internet and other screen-based diversions. Says Steve McCormick, president of the Nature Conservancy, which sponsored the study, “When children choose TVs over

trees, they lose touch with the physical world outside.”

Petty theft

A quarter of Australian parents “borrow” money from their children’s piggy banks to buy anything from bread to luxury holidays. Mothers are twice as likely to raid their kids’ savings as fathers. Twenty per cent of those who take money from piggy banks use it to pay utility bills,

while 16 per cent put the funds toward holidays and even new cars. Yet nine out of 10 parents polled say they believe they are good examples of household financial management.


Green squirrels

Persistent rumours of Newfoundland paintball enthusiasts using squirrels for target practice goaded the volatile mayor of St. John’s, Andy Wells, into action last week, demanding an investigation by the city’s humane services. A resident claimed to have discovered brightly coloured dead rodents. There is no paintball range in St. John’s, but Wells’s action has brought complaints from Tom Davis, manager of Frontline Paintball in nearby Mount Pearl. Davis says there is no truth in the rumours and wants an apology from Wells.

Mother’s here

Michelle Wetzell, who was adopted, recently went looking for her biological mother. The Davenport, Iowa, beautician wanted to send the mystery lady a complimentary manicure coupon as a friendly gesture. An application to officials returned the name Cathy Henzen, and the revelation came as a shock: Henzen had once worked with her at the very same hair salon. “There she was the whole time,” Wetzell said of her mother, who had served as the salon’s receptionist.


Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, 99, pioneer of the Israel kibbutz movement. A self-proclaimed “radical socialist” and former MP, he often drew fire for his controversial opinions, including the view that the country had room “for the Arab masses.” M