Good news, bad news: Apr. 26-May. 4, 2011

Ottawa’ s hanging on to its embassies’ artwork and al-Qaeda’s taste for porn uncovered

Good news

Good news, bad news

Lex Van Lieshout/AFP/Getty Images

Back at the table

U.S.-Iran relations are enjoying a welcome thaw this spring, as the threat of further sanctions appears to have renewed Tehran’s interest in diplomacy. The two sides met recently in Istanbul and have agreed to more talks next month in Baghdad, with senior clerics in Iran voicing support. Two short months ago, the prospect of Israel bombing installations in Iran looked real, as Tehran remained defiant about continuing its nuclear program. Ending the stalemate will require Iran to stop making weapons-grade nuclear fuel while agreeing to a new inspection regime. Still, this is a good start—and far preferable to the alternative.

Back in Black

After Stephen Harper’s government initially refused to give special consideration to a residency application by Conrad Black, Citizenship and Immigration Canada granted the former media baron a one-year temporary resident permit, allowing him to live here after his release from prison. The backlash was immediate, and expected, with critics accusing the government of a double standard, but Black’s crimes were not violent, he behaved well in prison, and it served no purpose to prevent him from returning home.

Avant-garde for thee

It turns out Ottawa is not selling off the classic Canadian artworks hanging in the country’s embassies after all. Foreign Minister John Baird said it was never more than an idea—which strains credulity, given the detailed plans revealed in government documents. But it’s pleasing, nonetheless. These works of beauty and intellectual daring belie stereotypes of Canada as cautious and colourless. Where better to show them than our missions abroad?

Signs of life on the desert

Just as the Phoenix Coyotes make a surprise run in the NHL playoffs comes word the franchise might have a local buyer. Quebec City, which hoped to nab the team, will weep. But an end to the soap opera would come as relief, while post-season buzz appears to be turning Arizonans into real hockey fans. Finally, let’s not forget that Glendale taxpayers shelled out $25 million to the NHL last year just to keep the ’Yotes in place. They’ve earned whatever joy this ill-starred team can bring them.

Bad news

Good news, bad news

Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Asian delicacy

Washington found itself in the middle of a diplomatic dilemma this week, after Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng threw himself on the mercy of U.S. officials in Beijing. He’s the second high-profile person to do so since February, when Wang Lijun, the police chief in the Bo Xilai case, turned up at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. There’s no good outcome here for the White House: extend Chen refuge, and they put hard-won gains with China at risk. Give him back, and they forsake fundamental values like free speech. A compromise would be nice, but don’t bet on it: the Americans gave Wang back, and he hasn’t been heard from since.

The dirt on al-Qaeda

Newly discovered intelligence revealed this week that al-Qaeda planned three years ago to hijack cruise ships and videotape themselves executing passengers. More surprising, though, was the group’s means of internal communication: sharing porn discs embedded with encrypted files—about the last items you’d think a puritanical Islamist would carry across international borders. We assume operatives averted their eyes while decrypting the files.

Time to twin

The head-on crash that killed seven people on a snowy stretch of highway in Northern Alberta was terrible enough. That it happened on a vital but underdeveloped road linking Edmonton to Fort McMurray, the province’s economic engine, makes the accident even more tragic. That’s because it might have been avoided. In 2006 the province vowed to twin Hwy 63, a two-lane road notorious for collisions, but only a small stretch has been fixed. With its vast oil wealth, Alberta should just get down to business and improve the road. It’s not worth the risk to wait.

Tasty invaders

Researchers say Asian “cannibal” tiger shrimp are taking over Gulf Coast waters, eating other species of shrimp and raising the spectre of an eco-crisis like the one caused by the Asian carp in the Ohio River. Unlike the carp, however, these creatures make for good eating. And they grow as long as 30 cm, which is the size of a decent lobster. So strap on your bibs, folks: it’s time to do your part for biodiversity.

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