Moving on up
Given the adage about the American economy sneezing and ours catching a cold, Canadians should rejoice at the impressive economic data coming out of the United States this week. Home prices were up nearly 11 per cent in March, while the Conference Board said U.S. consumer confidence in May hit its highest level in five years. Not that we need the encouragement these days. Canada was ranked this week as the third-happiest OECD country to live and work in, behind only Australia and Sweden.
Badge of openness
After years of debate, the Boy Scouts of America voted last week to lift its 103-year-old ban on openly gay youths. (However, the country’s largest youth organization continues to be criticized for its ban on gay Scout leaders.) Meanwhile, the Canadian Blood Services received permission from Health Canada to lift its own controversial ban on gay men giving blood, but with restrictions for those who have been sexually active within the past five years. Not full equality in either case, but important, if judicious, steps in the right direction.
With the corruption scandal engulfing SNC-Lavalin showing no signs of going away, the engineering giant has wisely instituted an amnesty program for whistle-blowing workers. Non-executive employees who come forward within the next three months with information about potential wrongdoing won’t be fired or sued for damages. It’s about time SNC-Lavalin, whose former CEO and a former senior executive are already facing fraud charges, took bold steps to regain the trust of investors and the public.
No hockey heresy
Hockey Canada’s vote to ban bodychecking at the peewee level has basis in both fact and common sense. Too many ugly incidents of late have arisen from hitting in peewee hockey—parents squabbling, players brawling. Moreover, a five-year study by the University of Calgary showed that allowing 11- and 12-year-olds to check makes them no less prone to injury once they graduate to bantam. In other words, the notion we’re teaching peewees to “protect themselves” by introducing hitting at such a young age is little more than a myth.
The European Union decided this week to lift its embargo on arms sales to Syria in a bid to further support the rebel opposition. But the move appears to have only upped the ante in a civil war that has already killed 80,000 people. Russia, the biggest supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s government, said it would deliver air-defence missiles to Syria to deter what one diplomat called “hotheads” who back foreign intervention. When what is most needed is a little diplomacy, more fuel is being tossed on the fire.
Shut up and drive!
After Alberta banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, a University of Alberta researcher set out to study whether using hands-free devices is safer. Turns out, they’re not. Study participants in a driving simulator were guilty of speeding, changing lanes without signalling and other dangerous habits, committing significantly more errors than when driving with no distractions. Another recent driving study, from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, found that voice apps have no real safety advantage over manual texting, either.
The easy way up
Scaling Mount Everest could get a lot easier under a proposal being floated to build a ladder up the Hillary Step, a treacherous and technical section of the climb near the summit. The aim is to ease congestion: Climber traffic jams have been blamed for numerous deaths on the mountain, as hundreds of people try to reach the peak each year during a small window of good weather. A better idea might be to offer permits to only a select group of experienced climbers each year. This isn’t Disneyland, after all. It’s the world’s greatest challenge.
Nothing to smile at
A new Australian study found that 65 per cent of boys in Grades 5 and 6 were more likely to choose junk-food products that were endorsed by male celebrity sports stars. Troubling news, especially in light of new research in the journal General Dentistry that says drinking pop could be as bad for teeth as methamphetamine or crack. It reported that a woman who drank two litres of diet soda every day for three to five years had teeth as damaged as a 29-year-old meth addict and a 51-year-old crack addict.