Good news ... bad news

Blacklists, short-haul flights, pay gaps and animals in the Gospels

Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

Justice and common sense

In a rare show of compassion, a Pakistani court ended the prosecution of a Christian teen charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning a textbook used to teach the Quran. Rimsha Masih, an impoverished sweeper with Down syndrome, may have been the victim of dubious accusations instigated by a local cleric, the court found. High Court Justice Iqbal Hameed Ur Rahman urged caution in prosecutions under the country’s controversial blasphemy law and condemned those who make false accusations, sometimes used as a vendetta against non-Muslims. An association of Muslim clerics welcomed the ruling as “a milestone in the history of Pakistan.”

It’ll make one heck of a movie

The Hollywood Reporter laid bare its role in the Communist blacklist that ruined lives and careers in the 1950s. The Reporter’s late founder, Billy Wilkerson, branded actors, writers and directors as Commies in a “maniacal quest to annihilate the studio owners” who thwarted his own dreams of movie production, writes his son, W.R. Wilkerson III, who offered “sincerest apologies and deepest regrets to those who were victimized by this unfortunate incident.” Better late than never.

Bring on the price war

The sky-high price of domestic short-haul flights may nosedive next year as WestJet’s new Encore regional carrier squares off against rival Air Canada Express. WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky predicts price drops of up to 50 per cent on some routes under 500 km. The service, he said, will “liberate Canadians from the high cost of air travel in smaller communities.” He’s also considering removing back-of-seat video screens as a saving, and beaming entertainment to passengers’ tablet devices. You might want to spend those savings on an iPad.

Back on their paws

Researchers at Cambridge University made a major leap forward in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

They injected 23 pet dogs, which had suffered injuries preventing them from using their hind legs, with cells grown from the animals’ nose linings. Many were then able to walk again, with support from a harness. Scientists are confident the technique will help human patients, too.

Bad News

Iron ceilings

A new study by the Council of Canadian Academies shows females still face pay gaps and fewer opportunities than men in their academic careers, despite outnumbering men at universities. “The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women,” it concluded. A new RCMP audit, meanwhile, confirms there is “clean, unassailable” bias against promoting women in the top ranks of the police force, says commissioner Bob Paulson. In the U.K., the Church of England voted not to allow female bishops. Are we sure this is the 21st century?

It paid how much?

It could be one of the most egregious business blunders of all time: Hewlett-Packard announced it had to write off $8.8 billion of its $10-billion purchase of Autonomy, a company specializing in data analysis. HP claims it uncovered serious financial discrepancies (accounting for $5 billion of the writedown) and blamed the decision to buy Autonomy on two departed executives. HP is calling for an investigation by regulators, but it might want to turn the spotlight on its own due diligence—or lack thereof.

Island mirage

The Earth has one fewer tropical island this week. Sandy Island—according to most charts, scientific maps and even Google Earth—was located in the Coral Sea off the Australian coast. Yet when the crew of a research vessel recently sailed past the location they found ocean instead of palm trees. It turns out Sandy Island never existed in the first place. Scientists are calling its presence on maps an error “propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made.”

The Pope rewrites Christmas

As you dust off the cattle, asses and wise men in your nativity scene and crank up your carols, you should know that Pope Benedict XVI considers both a little bogus. “There is no mention of animals in the Gospels,” he writes of the Nativity in the last volume of his biography of Jesus Christ. The story of the three wise men is more of a “theological idea” than historical event, says the pontiff, who also doubts that the herald angels sang, though they certainly harked. Likely they expressed joy in speech not song, he believes. As for Mary’s virgin birth? Historical truth, he says.

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