Good news, bad news: Oct. 27-Nov. 3, 2011

The world welcomes a seven billionth person, while smokers in Winnipeg hospitals take extreme risks to get their fix

Good news

Good news

Four days after Turkey's earthquake, a boy is rescued from the rubble. (Reuters)

Say cheese!

Smartphone vigilantes, take a bow. The first charges in Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot have been lodged, thanks mainly to those who posted photos of the vandals in action on social media sites. It is a Canadian first of sorts, and while some critics bemoan authorities making informants of the general public, they should remember that the same method helped identify Toronto police officers who overstepped their authority during last year’s G20 summit. Besides which, evidence is evidence: if it stands up in court, it will send a message to those who would destroy property for their own mindless enjoyment in the future.

The more, the merrier

The birth of the world’s seven billionth person reminds us of the challenges facing humanity, but also of our capacity to meet them. Yes, too many people remain in poverty. Yet every birth represents growth in human intellectual capital that is creating ways for us to ease human suffering, while slowing population growth in problem areas. The U.K.’s Commonwealth Development Corporation set an example this week by pumping $50 million into poor Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, one of the world’s most densely populated places. As sure as we’re growing, we’re getting better at taking care of each other.

Tropical getaway

They say whales are a lot like people, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised by a study that found Antarctic orcas migrate to tropical waters each year for the equivalent of “spa” treatments—warming their blood and exfoliating skin covered with algae. The rationale will come in handy this winter for certain mammalian cousins of the whales heading to resorts in Jamaica and Cuba: we’re just doing what comes naturally.

Puppet regime

Sesame Street, which has taught generations of North American kids the value of tolerance, debuts this month in Pakistan—bankrolled by a $20-million U.S. government grant aimed at fighting Islamic radicalism. Big Bird, Grover and Oscar won’t be crossing the cultural divide. But Pakistani kids will learn the joys of tickling Elmo’s furry, red belly. Now that’s soft power.

Bad news

Bad news

An early snowstorm in the northeastern U.S. caused at least 20 deaths (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Danger zone

Just as Canada shifts its Afghan mission to the safer environs of Kabul, the insurgents seem to be doing the same. On Friday, a bomb went off in the capital, killing a Canadian soldier, Master Cpl. Byron Greff. It’s the fourth high-profile attack in the city in the past four months, including the daring assault in September on the U.S. Embassy. If the Karzai government and the Afghan army want reconstruction assistance from countries like Canada, they need to do a better job of securing their own backyard.

A long way, baby

Whatever happened to “do no harm?” A study of smoking at hospitals in Winnipeg and Edmonton finds patients are taking ever greater risks to get their nic-fix, making hospital a paradoxically dangerous place for them to be. IV lines freeze in the winter; crutches skid on the ice; smokers in wheelchairs get locked out of buildings—all because the health-care community is pushing smokers into ever more isolated reaches of hospital grounds in their zeal to stamp out tobacco use. They could save a lot of grief by toning down the moralism, while providing access to nicotine patches and gum.

Law of the letter

The Anglo Society of New Brunswick is playing an irresponsible game by portraying the new sign bylaw in Dieppe, N.B., as some sort of imposition on English language rights. Unlike Quebec’s sign laws, which require the pre-eminence of French, this one aims to make a predominantly francophone community more inclusive by requiring both official languages on its commercial signs. The rule reflects the reality of one city in a uniquely bilingual province. To spin it otherwise is retrograde, and needlessly divisive.

Childhood really is a blur

Statistics show that children get outside less than they used to, and now comes a Cambridge University study suggesting that those stuck indoors are prone to nearsightedness. It’s hard to blame the youngsters for hanging out inside, since we’ve wiped their playgrounds clean of joyful menaces like merry-go-rounds and monkey bars. As ever, it’s the adults, not the kids, who have a real vision problem: we can’t see the forest for the trees.

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