Good news, bad news: May. 17-24, 2012

Good news

Good news, bad news

Petros Giannakouris/AP

Nuclear breakthrough

A decade-long effort to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions appears to be finally gaining traction after Tehran tentatively agreed to allow weapons inspectors back into the country. Although some details still need to be ironed out, the pact with the UN’s nuclear watchdog raises hopes of a turning point in the West’s relationship with Iran. And if nothing else, the negotiations are light years ahead of the situation in the world’s other nuclear hot spot, North Korea, which this week vowed to “bolster its nuclear deterrent as long as the United States was continuing with its hostile policies.”

A spray of truth

It may only be a temporary triumph of science over sentiment, but an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature rejected a sweeping ban on cosmetic pesticides established as safe by federal regulators. “The scientific evidence does not warrant preventing British Columbians from buying and using approved domestic-class pesticides,” said committee chair Bill Bennett. He acknowledged that “chemo-phobia in society” made banning lawn chemicals an attractive political proposition (Premier Christy Clark promised such a ban during her leadership campaign). But the seeds of common sense ultimately prevailed.

New-age saving

The Conservative government’s plan to raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 will save taxpayers $10.8 billion a year by 2030, according to a new estimate. Next on the penny-pinching agenda: Employment Insurance reform. Upcoming changes are likely to force applicants to travel further and accept slightly lower-paying jobs before collecting benefits. But as unpopular as they may sound, the new rules would represent only modest shifts aimed at boosting labour mobility and making Canada’s generous social safety net more efficient.

Talk about big research

Scientists in Europe are hoping that genetic testing will prove, once and for all, whether Bigfoot actually exists. The researchers plan to examine hair samples and other evidence collected by sasquatch hunters over the decades. Will the truth finally emerge? “It’s unlikely,” said one team member. “But on the other hand, if we don’t examine it we won’t know.”

Bad news

Good news, bad news

Giorgio Benvenuti/Reuters

Bubble trouble

The OECD’s latest outlook contained plenty of warnings about the potential impact of a spiralling eurozone crisis on the global economy’s shaky recovery. Equally alarming were the pointed words for Canada, a country lauded for its astute handling of the 2008 crash. The report cited the risks of keeping interest rates too low for too long—namely a housing bubble—and called for Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney to hike interest rates sooner rather than later. Carney ignored similar calls from the OECD last year, opting instead to warn Canadians about the risks of taking on too much debt. With home prices still dangerously out of touch with reality, he might want to rethink his stance this time around.

Al-Qaeda’s new frontier

A Yemeni soldier betrayed his own this week, detonating a powerful suicide bomb that killed nearly 100 troops and injured hundreds more. The attack, orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, occurred during a parade rehearsal that was supposed to mark Unification Day in the region’s poorest nation. For Americans, it was yet another indication that Yemen is the new ground zero in the war on terror—and that the battle is only beginning.

Deaths to disco

It was a difficult week for fans of late 1970s dance music. First, Donna Summer, the undisputed queen of polyester pop, died at 63 of a cancer she reportedly blamed on the fumes that surrounded her Manhattan home in the aftermath of 9/11. Then Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, whose falsetto warblings gave the world Saturday Night Fever, succumbed to liver cancer at 62. The public mourning didn’t quite reach Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston levels, but the citizens of Funkytown were sad all the same.

Bloody disgusting

A 1920s New York Yankees jersey worn by the great Babe Ruth was sold for more than US$4.4 million—a record for sports memorabilia. In other auction news, history buffs can also place a bid on a vial of Ronald Reagan’s blood, the same sample that was supposedly taken after he was shot and hospitalized in 1981. At press time, the highest offer was US$11,000—a record for presidential plasma.