Good news, bad news

From the headlines of Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2012

Good news

Plowing ahead

North Korea is reportedly making significant reforms to collective agriculture. Foreigners cannot visit rural areas in the cloistered republic, but defectors say co-operative farms are being subdivided into smaller units, and farmers are being allowed to keep more of their crops for consumption or sale. Agriculture is always a bellwether in centrally planned economies, and the changes might signal a reformist appetite in the circle of Western-educated Kim Jong Un. But they’re good news in themselves, either way.

Listen up!

New rules requiring TV commercials to be no louder than the surrounding programming came into effect Sept. 1, one year after being promulgated by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Former chairman Konrad von Finckenstein’s 2011 call for comments was met by a deluge of support from viewers tired of “ear-splitting” ads. The new rules require broadcasters to abide by international ad-loudness standards, which are also being adopted by the U.S. this year.

McVeggie? Holy cow

McDonald’s announced plans to open its first-ever all-vegetarian outlets as it continues to seek a toehold in India, where cows are widely considered sacred. Two no-meat McDonald’s will open next year; one in Amritsar, capital of Sikhism, and one in Katra, a crossroads for Hindu pilgrimages. The chain has just 271 locations in India; existing restaurants there feature items such as McAloo Tikki and McSpicy Paneer. Spokesman Rajesh Kumar Maini expects the new restaurants to expand menus with more such “indigenized” veggie items.

There auto be a law

California’s legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill allowing for driverless automobiles to be regulated and operated in the state. Google’s fleet of self-driving hybrids recently passed the 480,000-km mark, and Nevada became the first state to license one of the tech giant’s autonomous Priuses in May. California’s bill requires someone to sit in the driver’s seat in the event of software failure, but lawmakers who have tried the Googlemobile expressed enthusiasm. “It’s a better driver than I am,” noted state senator Alan Lowenthal.

Bad news

Good news, bad news: Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2012

Sigit Pamungkas/Reuters

Time for a recount

The death toll from legionnaires’ disease in Quebec City rose to 11, though new cases finally began to taper off, according to the province’s public health board. In all, 169 Quebecers have fallen ill from the aquatic bacterium, which thrives in warm water. The outbreak seems to have been halted by a program of disinfection for buildings with rooftop cooling towers. A report following a 1997 outbreak recommended that Quebec register all tower-cooled buildings, but the list was never compiled and inspectors fighting this outbreak lost precious time making a visual survey.

Stormy waters

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is trying to calm the South China Sea, where China is quarrelling with neighbours. In July, Vietnam declared that the Paracel and Spratly Islands are in its waters. China, which controls the islands, responded by officially turning them into a new “city” called Sansha. In April, there was a standoff between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. Clinton’s unenviable task: repairing a split in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where aid-dependent nations like Cambodia are backing their big pal against the little guys.

Les miss-érables

Maple syrup producers are working to estimate the size of a shocking theft from their 10-million-lb. “global strategic reserve” in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. The burglary was discovered during an inventory check of the reserve, which exists to assure a steady supply as production levels bounce up and down. A police spokesman said the loss was very large, certainly in the millions of dollars. Quebec typically produces more than 70 per cent of the world’s supply of maple syrup.

Call LaPolice!

This might not count as bad news in Regina, Calgary or Edmonton, but Winnipeg is up in arms over the disastrous performance of its Blue Bombers. The CFL team fired coach Paul LaPolice after a 2-6 start. Then the Bombers were pounded 52-0 by their Saskatchewan archrivals in the Labour Day Banjo Bowl. Peg fans are taking their frustrations out on general manager Joe Mack, who perhaps wisely skipped out on a planned post-game press conference.

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