This Week: Good news/Bad news

Plus a week in the life of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi

Guy LalibertéFace of the week
Space guy: Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté trains for his trip to the International Space Station in September

A week in the life of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi
The Libyan intelligence agent, convicted of the December 1998 bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270, retuned home to Tripoli after his release from jail on compassionate grounds. Al-Megrahi, who is near death from cancer, was greeted by a jubilant crowd at the airport, including Moammar Gadhafi’s son Saif. But international protests have rocked governments in Edinburgh and London. And a planned Libyan visit by Prince Andrew has been scrapped.


Catching a break
After a summer of hellish weather—extreme heat that turned B.C. into a tinder box, early droughts that wiped out Prairie crops, cold and wet everywhere else, and tornadoes that killed one teenager and destroyed dozens of homes in Ontario—finally some luck. Hurricane Bill turned out to be a windy nothing by the time it hit Canada’s East Coast last week. Lots of rain, some local flooding and power outages, but none of the heavy damage that was feared and forecasted. For once, the approach of Labour Day won’t seem so depressing. Bring on the fall, and let’s put this aestas horribilis behind us.

Coming clean
The release of another “top-secret” U.S. Justice Department report on the interrogation tactics employed by the CIA after 9/11 confirms what everyone already knows—the Bush administration crossed a lot of lines in its war on terror. Threatening to kill detainees’ children, or rape their mothers, doesn’t make the world a safer place. Ditto with simulated drownings. Barack Obama’s response—creating an elite multi-agency team to oversee interrogations, and opening a special criminal investigation into the behaviour of CIA agents and sub-contractors, is a start. But the U.S. still refuses to broaden its probe to include those who authorized the tactics, and to stop “rendering” terror suspects to countries where torture is routine. It’s time to reclaim the full moral high ground.

Closer to a cure
Researchers in the U.K. are hailing a major breakthrough in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. University of Bristol scientists looking at mice and human brain tissue have identified a neuropeptide called galanin that appears to be resistant to MS-like diseases. Mice with high levels of the nerve cell protein simply didn’t develop any signs of the illness. The researchers caution that it will probably be a decade before their discovery can be turned into a pharmaceutical. But anything that offers hope of a new way to manage MS—the most common neurological disease among young Canadian adults, affecting an estimated 75,000—is welcome news.

Web 3.0
The Internet still sucks, but two new developments should make it saner. Google’s decision to comply with a New York court order and unmask the anonymous author of a vitriol-filled blog attack on a Canadian fashion model is progress. (Let’s hope the blogger’s threatened U.S. $15-million “invasion of privacy” lawsuit gets tossed.) So too with Wikipedia’s decision to review changes to articles about living people. It’s time for the Web to grow up.


U.S. military commanders have told President Obama that the 57,000 troops they currently have on the ground in Afghanistan are “insufficient” to beat back the resurgent Taliban. This summer has been the bloodiest in the grinding eight-year war. More than 170 coalition troops, including nine Canadians, have died since the beginning of June, and three major offensives have failed to significantly dent the Taliban’s strength. Meanwhile, the country descends further into political chaos with accusations of fraud flying over last week’s weakly supported presidential election, while the Taliban are busy cutting off the indelible ink-stained fingers of voters. Anybody seen Osama bin Laden?

Little Iran
Hamas is busy enforcing its strict brand of Islam in the Gaza Strip. This week, the group issued a decree mandating that all returning schoolgirls wear head scarves and full-body robes. As well, schools will be segregated by sex, with no women allowed to teach boys, or men to teach girls. For months, there have been reports of Iranian-style modesty patrols roaming the territory, forcing women to cover up, especially at Gaza’s beaches. Authorities have also apparently been inspecting cars parked in quiet spots, in a bid to prevent unmarried couples from stealing some alone time. Maybe the peacemakers need to start thinking about a three-state solution.

Duffer’s revenge
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has found a new target: golf. In one of his regular TV broadcasts last month, Chávez railed against the “bourgeois sport,” mocked golf as “lazy,” pointing to the use of carts, and suggested the land could be better used for the poor. Since then government officials have taken him at his word, moving to shut down two of the country’s best-known courses. If the closings go forward, that will bring the total number of links closed in the last three years to nine. But what will the doctors do on Wednesdays?

General floaters
Forget soap operas: if you like twists and turns, try GM’s sale of its European Opel division. The recently bankrupt automaker assured the German government this week that it does intend to get rid of the company, probably in the next month. But the delays are bad news for Canadian auto parts maker Magna, which thought it had the winning bid. No one will say what the hitch is, but it seems GM is concerned its technology will end up in the hands of competitors via Magna’s Russian partners. All sales are final.