Iran gives an inch
When it comes to Iran, “cautious optimism” is the token diplomatic response. But under new President Hassan Rouhani, it’s getting easier to be genuinely optimistic. Political prisoner Hamid Ghassemi-Shall is safely back home in Toronto, freed from a Tehran jail after a hellish five years that nearly ended with his execution. Iran’s foreign minister offered what he described as a “breakthrough” proposal to end a decade-long standoff over his country’s nuclear ambitions. And Rouhani himself called on Iran’s hardline factions to lift restrictions on academic freedom and “trust the universities.” For everyone’s sake, let’s hope Rouhani can be trusted, too.
Could degenerative brain diseases be treated with a pill? A new British study says yes. Using sick mice, researchers found that medication could be used to combat conditions such as Alzheimer’s by halting the death of neurons in the brain. Although an actual pill is still years away, one expert said the research will be remembered as a historic turning point in the field. We certainly hope so. A separate study released this week says Alzheimer’s may be triggered in mid-life, when stress levels—perhaps from divorce or work problems—inflict “severe and long-standing consequences” on the brain.
A growing crop of support
Eighteen months after Ottawa expropriated his land to build a new headquarters for the army’s elite special forces, Frank Meyers hasn’t surrendered quite yet. And for the first time, fellow Canadians have joined his fight. Angered after reading his story in Maclean’s, supporters have launched a Facebook page and started a petition. All the publicity has likely come too late (after all, the feds have already taken the land), but for an 85-year-old man who has vowed to fight for his farm until the day he dies, every bit of support brings a sliver of new hope.
A notorious Somali pirate is behind bars today, thanks to a sting operation straight out of Hollywood. Posing as documentary filmmakers, Belgian authorities lured Mohamed Abdi Hassan to Brussels by convincing him to work as a paid expert adviser on their “movie.” Hassan—a.k.a. “Big Mouth”—now faces big jail time.
He Who Shall Not Be Named
In a politically charged decision, a Malaysian court has outlawed non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” to describe God. The ruling is the latest twist in a ludicrous legal saga that began in 2007, when the government ordered a Catholic newspaper to stop printing “Allah,” even though it’s the standard word for God in the Malay language. The latest judgment upheld the ban on the grounds that Muslims are vulnerable to conversion efforts by other faiths, and that Allah is “not an integral part” of Christianity anyway. Another appeal is already in the works, praise be to Allah.
The tyrant and his tennis racquet
Poor Charles Taylor. The former Liberian president and convicted war criminal spent seven years locked away at The Hague, playing tennis and paying “particular attention to his deportment and appearance,” according to newly released documents. Amid news he would be transferred to a British prison, Taylor objected, arguing his infamy would make him an instant target. “Incarceration in the United Kingdom will likely—and very soon—lead to me being seriously injured or killed,” Taylor said, oblivious to the irony. The bad news (for him, at least) came last week, when the 65-year-old was flown to his new cell.
A new study from the University of British Columbia has confirmed what every person with a mother-in-law or a boss already knows: some people are just born grouchy. Researchers found that a particular gene variant (the ADRA2b deletion variant) causes some to perceive the world more negatively than others. Or, as one researcher said, “through gene-coloured glasses.”
Bad weak for typos
So much for spell-check. The Vatican was forced to stop selling Pope Francis commemorative coins after discovering “Jesus” was misspelled. (They said “Lesus.”) A White House communications official tried to describe something as “a much bigger factor,” but typed “n” instead of “b.” (“Obviously, a horrendous typo in my previous tweet,” he later wrote.) And in Utah, a program that helps families pay their utility bills published the wrong phone number. The reply on the other end? “Welcome to America’s hottest talk line.”