Good news, bad news: Jan. 23-Feb. 3, 2011

Calgary speed skater Christine Nesbitt sets new women's world record, while Syria's civil war continues to cause carnage

Good news

Good news, bad news

A boy with cystic fibrosis is made an honorary firefighter in Indiana. (The Indianapolis Star/AP)

The virtue of clarity

Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party unveiled the question it intends to put before voters in its 2014 referendum on independence. Scotland’s voters will be asked for a straightforward yes or no answer to: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent nation?” Supporters of unity complained that the SNP had given itself the psychologically easier task of defending the “Yes” side. Salmond has obviously learned from Canada’s successful experience fighting secessionism. His referendum question contains no mention of “sovereignty association” or “partnerships.”

We’re No. 10

Canada regained its hemisphere-leading place in the Reporters Without Borders global press-freedom rankings. The French-based NGO had Canada behind the U.S.A. in 2010’s league table, but Canada’s “almost totally” non-violent handling of 2011’s Occupy protests moved us into a 10th-place tie with Denmark. The U.S. plunged to 47th. According to RWB, Finland and Norway remain leading “engines of press freedom,” while North Korea and Eritrea bring up the rear.

Fuelled by rage

Speed skater Christine Nesbitt set a new women’s world record for the 1,000-m distance at the 2012 World Championships, held on her home ice in Calgary. Nesbitt slipped in the first corner of the morning’s 500-m race, finishing eighth. “I kind of got a little bit angry,” she said later, “and I race well when I’m angry.” Paired with fast-starting Dutch rival Annette Gerritsen for the 1,000-m afternoon race, Nesbitt completed the kilometre in 72.68 seconds, breaking compatriot Cindy Klassen’s six-year-old record of 73.11.

In Britain’s time of need

On June 22, 1893, two of the Royal Navy’s best battleships collided off Lebanon after a careless order from Sir George Tryon. Tryon’s doomed ship, HMS Victoria, contained a shrine to British naval deity Horatio Nelson. Mark Ellyatt, a diver exploring the wreck, believes he has found Nelson’s sword, which he hid within the wreck while he awaits instructions from Britain’s defence ministry. “There seem to be a lot of things [in Tryon’s cabin] which are older than the ship itself,” said Ellyatt, suggesting that other Nelsonian treasures await in the deep.

Bad news

Good news, bad news

Searching the rubble of a collapsed building in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Victor R. Caivano/AP)

Arab Spring becomes winter

The UN Security Council remains paralyzed by division as Syria’s civil war, already responsible for an estimated 5,400 deaths, grows hotter outside Damascus. Human rights observers describe scenes of random carnage as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad uses air and armour advantages to batter rebel-controlled towns. The Arab League and the U.S. want Assad, whose family took power in 1970, to resign as a prelude to peace talks. But Russia and China, both uncomfortable in general with the “Arab Spring,” are standing by Assad.

An unwelcome break

Just seven months after the Royal Canadian Mint announced that the research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen would appear on Canada’s new $50 bills, the ship has been knocked out by engine problems. A routine inspection found cracked blocks in four of the ship’s six engines. Arctic researchers scrambled to rearrange data-gathering schedules. But they’ll have plenty of time to plan. The Amundsen, Canada’s only vessel dedicated to circumpolar science, will not return to the Arctic until spring 2013.

No rematch, hopefully

Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, the former British Army chief of staff, warned in the Sunday Telegraph that the U.K. could not now retake the Falkland Islands from an Argentinian invasion as it did in 1982. The islands are garrisoned better and have a proper airfield, noted Jackson, but Britain could probably not recover from a successful surprise attack; the Royal Navy is currently without aircraft carriers, and the seaborne Harrier jets that starred in the 1982 war have been sold to the U.S. Marines. “Let us hope we do not live to regret that,” he added.

Dehumanizing fun

A Windsor, Ont., strip club held a “dwarf tossing” event, ignoring worldwide criticism. Novelty dwarf tosses are banned in many places, but controversy intensified after this year’s Golden Globes, where four-foot-five Peter Dinklage gave a shout-out to Martin Henderson, a British actor who suffered injuries in October when a pub patron prankishly picked him up and threw him. The management of Leopard’s Lounge defended their dwarf toss, noting that four-foot-eight adult entertainer Bradley Kalbefleisch was “plying his trade.”

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