This Week: Good news/ Bad news

Plus a week in the life of Randy Quaid

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Face of the week
A Thai protester chants anti-government slogans while wielding a photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej

A week in the life of Randy Quaid
Talk about legal trouble. On Friday, the actor filed a lawsuit alleging his former lawyer, Lloyd Braun, improperly used his access to Quaid to obtain photos and information, which he then posted on an Internet gossip site he owns. On Monday, Quaid and his wife, Evi, were arrested for failure to appear in court on charges stemming from an unpaid $10,000 tab at a California guest ranch. They were placed in pink handcuffs—a colour apparently intended to shame suspects.


Clearing the air
The Monday morning quarterbacks are in fine form, decrying last week’s six-day shutdown of European airports resulting from the volcanic ash billowing east from Iceland. The decision might have been overly cautious, but it was hardly ill-advised, as some in the airline industry suggest. Air traffic authorities had no way to fully gauge the risk, given the technology available. And gambling with the lives of hundreds of thousands of passengers (not to mention folks on the ground near busy European airports) was a non-starter. The need for more refined monitoring of volcanic clouds—along with better studies of ash tolerance levels in jet engines—is clear. But the system as it was worked. If the airlines want a better system, they’re welcome to invest in one.

Send in the clowns
The circus returned this week to one of Central Asia’s most downtrodden countries, in a symbolic break with the nation’s surreal, post-Soviet past. Turkmenistan’s new president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is rapidly undoing the work of the crazed demagogue Saparmurat Niyazov, who banished the “alien” spectacle of circuses, along with movies, opera and ballet (he also named the days of the week after his own children). All are back except ballet, whose “scantily clad women” were deemed to offend Turkmen morality. Still, if you’re trying to start a renaissance, a few trained elephants and 1,500 laughing children are a good way to start.

Pest aside
Props to the city of Swift Current, Sask., which appears to have vanquished a rat infestation so acute that townsfolk were being bitten in their beds. When a central nest was discovered at the landfill, the city took action, spreading thousands of kilograms of poison at the dump, while crews fanned out to kill the pests. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked: the rats have not returned this spring, and the councillor who mounted the campaign, Jerrod Schafer, is now mayor. Perhaps Schafer might consider relocating to Toronto, where the mayoral race is in full swing—and where early projections point to a bumper year for raccoons.

Hef saves Hollywood
Hugh Hefner has stepped in to save the famous Hollywood sign from the wrecking ball. The plan had been to sell the 56-hectare site surrounding the landmark to developers unless US$12.5 million could be raised. As the deadline loomed, the group trying to save the sign was about a million short. That’s when the 84-year-old playboy, who describes the sign as “Hollywood’s Eiffel Tower,” chipped in US$900,000. A gift from one aging icon to another.


Deep trouble
The sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe of monumental proportion. Eleven are presumed dead and hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment lost following an explosion on the massive rig, while a 1,600-sq.-km oil slick is now oozing toward the Louisiana shore. The disaster dwarfs the loss of 1,000 dead waterfowl in a Syncrude tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alta.—a case that went to court this week. Both incidents speak to how costly, environmentally hazardous and downright dangerous our search for secure sources of oil is becoming. We need energy alternatives, and we need them fast.

Symbolic surrender
The UN’s decision to pull half of its foreign staff out of Kandahar has sent a chill through Afghanistan, and may further divide the already frayed NATO coalition fighting to secure the country. Hillary Clinton recently called out the Harper government on its plan to withdraw troops, urging Canada to extend its military mission beyond 2011. The U.S. secretary of state suggested Canadian troops could engage in non-combat roles like reconstruction. But if civilians are as unsafe as the UN supposes, it’s hard to see the point of sending anyone to Afghanistan’s benighted south. Anyone, that is, except well-armed soldiers.

Lame gag
Another week, another black eye for free speech in Canada. Newly disclosed court documents suggest last year’s decision to bar British MP George Galloway from the country was guided by the immigration minister’s office—not border guards, as the government has contended. The action now seems a transparent attempt to stop Galloway from spreading his anti-conservative rhetoric on a cross-Canada speaking tour. It stands in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s decision to reverse a six-year travel ban on Oxford scholar Tariq Ramadan, who also gave money to a Hamas-related charity. The U.S. is showing respect for free speech; Canada should watch and learn.

Sorry, Big Ethel
Yes, Archie Comics demonstrated long-overdue cultural awareness by introducing a gay character, Kevin Keller, who debuts this September and will fit right in with other Archie tokens like Chuck Clayton, the one black guy, and Frankie Valdez, the one Latino guy. But Dan Parent, writer-artist of the upcoming story, warns that “traditional Riverdale characters won’t be coming out.” In other words, the preening, overcompensating, Archie-obsessed Reggie will never discover his true self. Pity.