Stepping back from the brink
After months of bellicose and irrational behaviour, it appears the North Korean government has finally done something sane: pulling two long-range missiles it planned to test fire off their launching pads. The Kim Jong Un regime has also softened its tone, replacing daily threats of war with preconditions for resuming negotiations. Tensions remain high with U.S. and South Korean forces on standby, but it’s a start—and an indication that the combination of harsh sanctions and tough talk might finally be getting through to Pyongyang.
Search and rescued
The auditor general’s recent report identified big shortfalls in Canada’s search-and-rescue program: there are too few planes and helicopters, and they’re too old. So credit Defence Minister Peter MacKay for looking at a quick stopgap fix—pressing some of the nine ex-U.S. presidential helicopters that Canada bought for spare parts back into service. The move may prove cheaper and faster than the traditionally painful process of purchasing new search-and-rescue Cormorants. And anything that might save lives is worth a try.
Mission to Mars
NASA has set the clock ticking on its plans to put the first human on another planet, vowing to land on Mars by 2030. A group of 20 astronauts will begin training for long-duration flights this year, and Scott Kelly of the U.S. will spend an entire year in space starting in 2015. After that, robot craft will capture an asteroid and put it in orbit around the moon, to test some of the required technology. It all sounds rather cool, but it does raise a big question. Is anyone going to still care about sci-fi when this all becomes sci-fact?
Lazy sun day
Sometimes childhood dreams do come true. Last week, Bob Sampson, principal of Bellingham Christian School in Washington state, cancelled classes due to good weather. There hadn’t been a snow day this past winter, he reasoned, and even teachers remember the sweet thrill of an unanticipated holiday. Being the Pacific Northwest, the “good” bar was set a little low—sunny and at least 17° C. But it was appreciated. Sampson staffed the school in case there were kids who had nowhere else to go. Not one of his 205 students showed up.
Flooded and forlorn
The James Bay Cree communities of Attawapiskat and Kashechewan in northern Ontario sometimes seem like microcosms of the troubles that bedevil Canada’s First Nations—overcrowded houses, unsafe drinking water, suicide, poverty and despair. This spring, severe flooding has again swamped sewage treatment plants and necessitated partial evacuations of the two towns. One tabloid media chain argues that this gives Ottawa a perfect excuse to forcibly relocate residents and then demolish the buildings—which is about as smart as it is subtle. The problems on Canadian reserves are persistent and complex, but they’re not insoluble. What’s required is leadership from all sides, not finger-pointing.
Our mailbox is full
George W. Bush’s new presidential library in Dallas is struggling with the 21st-century problem of what to do with his electronic correspondence: 200 million messages. Each one has to be reviewed and censored before release. But clearing the backlog will take 250 years. Maybe presidents should go back to taping their conversations. At least historians can fast-forward through the boring bits.
Going to extremes
The hard-right U.K. Independence Party emerged as a force in Britain’s local elections, winning almost a quarter of the vote. Now its leader, Nigel Farage, is promising to unleash a political “earthquake” unless the coalition government starts listening to his demands, such as a freeze on immigration, a “divorce” from the EU and a flat tax. Meanwhile, census data show white Britons are fleeing neighbourhoods with growing populations of visible minorities, creating de facto ghettos. Both trends are worrying in a country where social divisions remain close to the surface—as illustrated by widespread rioting in 2011. Will it soon be Not-So-Great Britain?
Canada’s 1,350 unionized foreign-service workers are turning up the heat in their bid for a new contract. Already working to rule, they staged an “information picket” outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington last week, touting signs demanding equal pay for equal work. The next step calls for “creative dress” in the workplace, including sweatpants. Our image abroad may never recover.