News

The world as we see it

A roundup of victories, tragedies, thrills, and disappointments
Skiers and snowboarders dressed as Santa participate in a charity run down a slope at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine December 7, 2014. Organizers say 250 skiing Santas raised $2700 for charity at the event. CREDIT: Brian Snyder/Reuters
What, no reindeer? 250 Santas hit the slopes in Newry, Maine, for the 15th Annual Santa Sunday, raising money for local charities Brian Snyder/Reuters
What, no reindeer? 250 Santas hit the slopes in Newry, Maine, for the 15th Annual Santa Sunday, raising money for local charities
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Friendly fire power

With minimal fanfare, NATO-led troops in Afghanistan officially held a “colours casing ceremony” and closed their joint command in Kabul, putting the allied war effort on a path to the Jan. 1 official start of a “support and training” role. U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told the multinational army, “You’ve done your job so well that you’ve worked yourself out of a job.” But Afghanistan won’t be abandoned. Some foreign soldiers will stay behind to fend off a resurgence of the Taliban: Through 2015, the number remaining is expected to be as high as 13,000, with some in “combat enabler” roles.

Unfounded fears

The vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) has the potential to eliminate most cervical cancers. But when schools began to implement HPV vaccination programs for teenage female students some years ago, critics raised concerns. Overconfident girls, they argued, might become more promiscuous and have unplanned pregnancies or spread other venereal diseases. That argument has now been crushed by a McGill University-led team of epidemiologists, who tracked indicators of sexual behaviour for 260,493 Ontario girls—about half vaccinated, half not. Long story (readable in the Canadian Medical Association Journal) short: no observable differences.

A genius idea

Princeton University has created an open-access website for the complete collected letters, papers and other writings of Albert Einstein. The editing and translation of Einstein’s works has only made it up to the year 1923 (his 45th), but the scholarship marches on, as everyone now gets a chance to delve into the genius’s most fruitful years (and his endless financial difficulties and domestic foibles, as well). Countless letters to Einstein from major contemporaries and colleagues are included, giving an unprecedented documentary overview of the golden age of physics.

The Force awakens!

The first teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’s new Star Wars series hit theatres, delighting fans with glimpses of droids, X-Wings and the good old Millennium Falcon. Episode VII is set for release on Dec. 18, 2015. In other cinema news that will excite a slightly smaller group of geeks, the Japanese film studio Toho, makers of the original 1954 Godzilla, announced plans to reclaim the iconic monster from Hollywood with a 2016 version.

Face of destruction: A battered war memorial near Donetsk, Ukraine, a Russian separatist stronghold; a new attempt at a ceasefire began this week Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Face of destruction: A battered war memorial near Donetsk, Ukraine, a Russian separatist stronghold; a new attempt at a ceasefire began this week
Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Homegrown jihadist

Islamic State released a propaganda video made by jihadist John Maguire from Kemptville, Ont., now known as Abu Anwar al-Canadi (“the Canadian”). In the video, Maguire reflects on his Canadian upbringing as a hockey-loving kid, but praises recent terrorist attacks in Ottawa and Quebec, warning that “you have absolutely no right to live in a state of safety and security when your country is carrying out atrocities on our people.” Maguire vanished last year after dropping out of the University of Ottawa and reportedly buying a one-way ticket to the conflict zone.

The eye of the storm

Filipinos emerged to survey the damage after the eye of typhoon Hagupit, a cyclone that briefly reached the highest-intensity category before making landfall, passed over their island nation. Like last year’s devastating typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit slammed first into the Samar and Eastern Visayas regions of the Philippines. At least the country was better prepared this time and, so far, Hagupit is known to have taken only 27 lives. An estimated 130,000 families had been evacuated in advance of the storm.

Truther false

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP and Green party Leader Elizabeth May startled the country by presenting a 9/11 “truther” petition in the House of Commons, pressing constituents’ demand for a parliamentary investigation into “omissions and inconsistencies” in the U.S. government’s official report on the attacks. When challenged, May said she disagreed with the petition but claimed, “It is an obligation of an MP to present every petition submitted to them.” This, unfortunately for pranksters and the Internet’s Anonymous, is not so.

Unbearable change

University of Alberta researchers using climate and zoological population models have bad news for polar bears: Some bear experts had hoped that as Arctic ice shrinks under “business-as-usual” UN climate forecasts, the High Arctic might serve as an ultimate refuge for surviving populations. But a new study published in the online journal PLOS One suggests that 3.5° C of net planetary warming could cause “starvation and reproductive failure across the entire archipelago by the year 2100.” With mainland-dwelling polar bears already in decline, the researchers are calling for better monitoring of poorly studied High Arctic bear populations.