This week: Good news/Bad news

Plus a week in the life of Hamid Karzai

Desmond TutuFace of the week
Nobel glee: Desmond Tutu laughs during a press conference celebrating U.S. President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win

Hamid KarzaiA week in the life of Hamid Karzai
Based on a final tally, the Afghan president won more than 54 per cent of the popular vote in the country’s August presidential election. However, as many as 1.1 million of those votes may have been fraudulently cast, according to European Union election observers. If those were to be disqualified, Karzai’s support would fall below 50 per cent, triggering a runoff election against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.


Architectural gold
The Vancouver Olympics don’t officially begin until mid-February, but Canada has already won its first gold. The speed skating oval in Richmond, B.C., was awarded first place for engineering excellence by the worldwide Institution of Structural Engineers. Composed of unique beams and wood-wave panels, the building is, according to the ISE, a striking architectural work. It’s also environmentally friendly: Fast + Epp Structural Engineers of Vancouver incorporated wood from trees killed by pine beetles, which would have rotted away on forest floors otherwise. Now all we have to do is win a few real Olympic golds.

Space odyssey
Clown nose and all, Guy Laliberté returned to earth after a 12-day trip in space. The Cirque du Soleil founder is Canada’s first space tourist—he ponied up $35 million for a return flight, plus nine days’ accommodation at the International Space Station. It was a working vacation for Laliberté, who took part in a webcast along with—who else?—Al Gore and U2 to promote One Drop, his foundation for equal access to water. Now that he’s back on earth, it likely won’t be long before Cirque brings us a new zero-gravity-themed extravaganza.

The long goodbye
It’s nice to see Garth Turner finally make a good decision—the former Conservative/Independent/Liberal MP announced that he will not run in the next federal election (whenever that may be). Turner is sometimes called a “maverick” because of his outspokenness, a faux pas in Ottawa, but that suggests a certain fidelity to a cause. You’ll recall that he once criticized former MP David Emerson for crossing the Commons floor—his exact words then were: “Anyone who crosses the floor ultimately should go back to the people for ratification”—then switched his allegiances from the Tories to the Liberals after a spat with Stephen Harper. He later published a memoir of his time in the Conservative caucus. Somehow, we doubt this is the last we’ll hear from Garth.

Unity: the good
The 100-year-old grudge match between Turkey and Armenia may be over—the two countries signed a reconciliation treaty last weekend. There are some significant issues to be ironed out, though: Turkey refuses to term the mass killing of one million Armenians during the First World War a genocide; and Armenia occupies the Nagorno-Karabakh area in Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally. Still, if these two bitter enemies can indeed find common ground, it will offer hope for peace and reconciliation between the Muslim world and the West.


Head(s) of state
Will the real head of state please stand up? Last week in Paris, Governor General Michaëlle Jean twice referred to herself as Canada’s head of state. Problem is, she isn’t—the title officially belongs to Queen Elizabeth II. The Prime Minister’s Office scolded Jean, as did the Monarchist League of Canada. The GG’s office responded that Jean has used the term before, and furthermore, that previous governors general Adrienne Clarkson and Roméo LeBlanc did the same. The incident highlights how outdated our constitutional monarchy system is—to wit: what purpose does the title “head of state” serve when the holder of the title has no real power? Perhaps someone should bring this up when Prince Charles visits Canada next month.

The price of freedom
It turns out Stephen Harper wasn’t completely forthcoming when he claimed Canada paid no ransom for the release of Robert Fowler and Louis Guay. Last week, it came to light that the Canadian diplomats, who were kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Niger in December 2008 and released in April of this year, were traded for four al-Qaeda operatives being held in Mali and, allegedly, several million in ransom payments. Harper might still get by on a technicality—the deal was brokered by the Malian government, which also paid the ransom money. Then again, Canadian aid to the African nation has increased by about $80 million since 2002, so in a roundabout way, we may very well have paid for Fowler and Guay’s freedom.

In bad taste
Last Saturday’s Globe and Mail featured a positive review of Toronto’s Ruby Chinese Restaurant—here’s one snippet: “Almost every item [at Ruby] has snap, crackle and pop to spare.” The article neglected to mention one rather important bit of news about the restaurant: Ruby was shut down last Wednesday—four days before the review was published—after health inspectors traced a salmonella outbreak that put more than 20 people in hospital to the restaurant. Hey, at least we now know to try the “delectable” diced seafood and straw mushroom soup . . . once Ruby reopens.

Unity: the bad
Here’s a reconciliation we aren’t eager to see: Fatah and Hamas. The two Palestinian groups have been bickering since 2006, when Hamas unseated Fatah in parliamentary elections. Fatah has already agreed in principle to a rapprochement plan organized by Egypt, while Hamas has postponed signing the agreement. The prospect for peace in the Middle East can only worsen if these two get back together.

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