Good news, bad news: Sept. 22-29

Saudi Arabia grants women the right to vote, U.S.-Pakistani relations deteriorate further

Good news

Good news

No longer for scholars' eyes only, the Dead Sea Scrolls are posted online. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Steps in the right direction

The king of Saudi Arabia has granted women the right to vote, acknowledging they can make “correct opinions.” This in a place where females can’t travel without a male’s permission, and where one woman who drove, despite a ban, was sentenced to 10 lashes. King Abdullah’s decision also permits females to run for Shura Council. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has approved draft regulations allowing women’s shelters to remain independent from government, and receive donations without state intermediation.

Weird science

It was an exciting week in space news: NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, deployed by the space shuttle in 1991, fell from orbit. A troublemaker on Twitter, armed with some Orson Welles quotes, managed to spread rumours worldwide that UARS had fallen near Okotoks, Alta. Fortunately, it appears the satellite crashed harmlessly somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A few days earlier, space geeks were titillated with another report: physicists think they saw neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, which, if confirmed, would disprove Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Tough love

Finally, the NHL has a disciplinarian who is taking the job seriously. Brendan Shanahan, who succeeds the controversial Colin Campbell, has already suspended five players for cheap shots—and the season hasn’t even officially begun. Even better, his suspensions come with video explanations of why the action was dirty. As debate about player safety continues to ratchet up, Shanahan’s debut is a good start to the new season.

The air up here

Canada’s air quality is the third best in the world, according to the World Health Organization, after Estonia and Mauritius. Australia and the U.S. rounded out the top five. The WHO also looked at 1,100 cities, and 21 of the top 25 were Canadian: Whitehorse has the best air quality and Sarnia has the worst in Canada. Canadians had one other reason to breathe easy last week: Air Canada reached a deal with its union, preventing a strike that would have disrupted travel nationwide.

Bad news

Bad news

Surprising no one, Russia's Putin (bottom) announces his presidency bid. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Money woes

The Canadian dollar plunged against the U.S. dollar last week, to a near 52-week low as commodity prices tumbled. Precious-metal prices were hit particularly hard as traders, anticipating Greek sovereign-debt default and the possible shattering of the European monetary union, bolted toward the safety of cash. While news of a potential eurozone bailout lifted the loonie somewhat early this week, the see-sawing left little doubt that Europe’s economic troubles are Canada’s, too.

Ransom or rumour?

A diplomatic cable in a data dump from WikiLeaks appears to confirm suspicions that Canada arranged a ransom to free Robert Fowler and Louis Guay. The Canadian representatives in Africa were captured in Niger in 2008 by al-Qaeda. The U.S.Embassy in Mali sent a cable to the State Department shortly after Guay and Fowler were released in April 2009; their alleged kidnapper had showed up in a Malian village on the date of a local election, the Americans said, and left the place awash in cash. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has denied that Canada paid for the pair’s freedom, but it appears other countries don’t believe it.

Duplicitous relations

The famously troubled relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan continues to deteriorate as the Muslim state refused to attack Haqqani insurgents living along the Afghan-Pakistani border. The Pentagon suspects Pakistani agents are behind Haqqani, which controls Taliban soldiers, including those who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Kabul this month, killing 22 people. There are also new reports that the Pakistani army took part in a raid that killed four U.S. soldiers in 2007.

Safe ways

Of all the health concerns facing people these days, how to safely smoke drugs or politely call someone fat would seem low on the list. But not according to new research. A U.S. study reveals that parents prefer doctors refer to hefty kids as having an “unhealthy weight” rather than as “fat” or “obese.” And Canadian scientists are publishing guidelines on “lower-risk cannabis use,” warning against toking while pregnant, or driving within four hours of smoking up.

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