This week: Good news/bad news

Plus a week in the life of Angela Merkel

Theoren FleuryFace of the week
Flameout: Theoren Fleury’s brief comeback attempt—after six years away from the rink—ends with a hug from his wife, Jennifer.

A week in the life of Angela MerkelA week in the life of Angela Merkel
The German chancellor triumphed in national elections, overcoming a weak economy as voters opted for a conservative coalition in the Bundestag. On Monday, Merkel’s Christian Democrats began formal negotiations with the business-friendly Free Democrats about the shape and direction of the new government. “I want to be the chancellor of all Germans,” she told a packed news conference. “I am not going to change totally just because the coalition has changed.”


‘Toronto 18’ truth
Three years ago, when anti-terror cops thwarted a bomb plot on Canadian soil, they described the Muslim suspects as “adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaeda.” Since then, the men’s supporters have tried to sell the public a much different storyline: that the accused are innocent victims of an “Islamophobic” conspiracy. But as we learned this week, the websites and the protest rallies—and the baseless allegations of bigotry—are no match for the truth. Two more members of the “Toronto 18,” Ali Dirie and Saad Gaya, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, bringing to four the total number of convictions. In this age of security certificates and Guantánamo Bay, it is refreshing to see that authorities were so right. A trial for the remaining suspects is scheduled for early next year, but don’t be surprised if more guilty pleas come first.

Want your child to be the standout of the class? Follow this simple three-part plan. One: spare the rod. A new study says children who are never spanked have higher IQs than those who are. Two: keep mom away from pollution. Another study found that pregnant women who breathe in high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons give birth to kids who score up to five points lower on IQ tests. Three: pray that your son or daughter is left-handed. British researchers found that southpaws enjoy school and get along with their teachers more than their right-handed classmates.

Long live Wal-Mart
Sorry Wal-Mart bashers, but not everyone despises the big bad box store. In Canada, the company celebrated its 15th anniversary by rewarding shoppers (discounts totaling $100 million) and environmentalists (the launch of a high-efficiency outlet that uses 30 per cent less energy). South of the border, meanwhile, a new poll found that nearly half of Americans consider Wal-Mart the institution “that best symbolizes” their country. (Full disclosure: according to the same survey, five per cent of Americans believe the best way to battle obesity is to put scales in every fast-food restaurant.)

Lighter sentence
A Scottish brewery that makes the U.K.’s strongest beer—18.2 per cent—has unveiled a much lighter alternative in the hopes of appeasing teetotalling critics. The new beer, Nanny State, is only 1.1 per cent alcohol. It’s just too bad the ale wasn’t on tap when Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a Malaysian woman, was caught downing a pint by the country’s Islamic enforcement officers. Her punishment—six whacks with a cane—may have been lighter, too.


Above the law
Polygamy has been illegal in Canada since the 1950s. Yet it exists, and no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for the crime. This week, a B.C. judge threw out charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, the leaders of rival polygamous cults in Bountiful. Legal experts feared the law would not survive a planned Charter challenge, and the judge ruled the province couldn’t keep indefinitely “shopping” for a prosecutor willing to take on the case. It’s now time for Ottawa to put up or shut up. Either we enforce the statute, or abandon it altogether.

Deadly debris
In downtown Calgary, construction materials are falling from the skies with shocking regularity. In August, three-year-old Michelle Krsek was walking with her family when wind dislodged bundles of steel 18 floors above, killing her instantly. The tragedy prompted a probe of Calgary construction sites, and charges were laid this week, but gravity continues to work on the city’s ramshackle, half-made towers. Within weeks of the accident, two panes of glass fell 18 storeys from a nearby work site, and on Saturday—a block from where Michelle died—scaffolding plummeted 19 storeys, hurtling into the ground below. Sheer luck has prevented further injury. Calgarians would prefer to count on more than that.

Virtual sniffles
Rest assured, fellow citizens. If swine flu does cripple the country this winter, one federal agency is ready for the absolute worst: Export Development Canada. The Crown corporation, which helps finance billions of dollars worth of deals for Canadian businesses, staged a mock outbreak this week, with almost half of its 1,200 employees ordered to stay home (i.e. sick with swine flu, quarantined, or caring for an ill relative). Turns out the office ran as smoothly as ever. Maybe when the swine scare is over, Ottawa should see if other departments could survive with fewer bureaucrats—permanently.

Simply taxing
Can you really blame taxpayers for being so skeptical? In B.C., the provincial Liberals forked over $138,000 to build a civil servant playroom, complete with a pool table, Ping-Pong paddles and a Nintendo Wii. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives spent five times as much money trumpeting their economic action plan than warning Canadians about H1N1. And in Ontario, prison officials were ordered to pay $6,000 to Gregory McMaster—a quadruple murderer serving a life sentence—because the warden was too slow to buy him new running shoes when his old pair wore out.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.