Lord forgives, doesn’t forget
In 2001, Conrad Black renounced his Canadian citizenship after former prime minister Jean Chrétien intervened in an attempt to block Black’s nomination to the British House of Lords. But this week, Black—also known as Lord Black of Crossharbour—told Bloomberg he didn’t begrudge Chrétien the Order of Merit, recently awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth. “It is not for me to dispute that his services to Canadian federalism over nearly 40 years entitle him to it,” he wrote in an email from the Florida prison where he is currently serving 6½ years for fraud and obstruction of justice. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he’s forgotten. “I think even he would acknowledge that his treatment of me was not his ﬁnest hour, but that is water under the dam,” he wrote. “I will request my citizenship back when this nonsense in the U.S. is over, as I said I would when I renounced it.”
It’s curtains for Too Close to the Sun, a universally panned “unlikely musical” about the final days of Ernest Hemingway, playing in London’s West End. After sitting through the show, London Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer said he couldn’t help wondering “whether a sickening premonition of this terrible show was what finally persuaded [Hemingway] to put the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger.” Meanwhile, in New York, Jude Law is set to commence his turn as Hamlet on Broadway in September. Although his performance in this production has earned him rave reviews in London, his acting was overshadowed last week by the news that he impregnated a 24-year-old model named Samantha Burke. Burke’s mother told the London Evening Standard, “This was no way planned. Hell no.”
Pope Benedict XVI is the latest artist to sign with Geffen Records. On his first album, called Alma Mater, His Holiness will sing a Marian prayer and speak Lauretian litanies in four languages, accompanied by original pieces of classical music. Ricardo Fernandez of Geffen told the Guardian that while it may seem like a gimmick, “I think the beauty of the album will surprise a lot of people.” Alma Mater drops on Nov. 30, just in time for Christmas.
On Aug. 4, President Barack Obama turned 48. Last week, Politico asked his Washington colleagues what they planned to give him, and it turned out the President could expect a range of mediocre gifts. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah selected the ShamWow, “so he can help clean up this financial mess.” Vice-president Joe Biden, who evidently hadn’t gone shopping yet, settled on “It’s a surprise!” Obama does have one treat to look forward to. On Friday, the New York Times reported that the President’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, 38, was relocating from Hawaii to Washington temporarily while her husband, professor Konrad Ng, serves as scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Program. Obama and Soetoro-Ng, who share the same mother, are said to be close. In interviews, Soetoro-Ng has said that growing up, Obama taught her about music, literature and politics, and gave her dating advice. “He’s someone who really enlarged my perspective,” she told CTV last fall.
For as long as Susan Finden, 65, of Devon, England, can remember, her 12-year-old cat Casper has disappeared in the late morning for hours at a time. “I called him Casper because he had a habit of vanishing like a ghost,” she told the London Telegraph. It turns out Casper prefers to spend his days touring the city on public transit. Every morning at 10:55, Casper boards the No. 3 bus outside his home and travels the entire 11-mile route—passing a historic dockyard, a naval base, several suburbs, and the city’s red-light district—before disembarking back at home. According to Rob Stonehouse, one of the route’s drivers, “he usually just curls up at the back of the bus. Sometimes he nips between people’s legs but he never causes any trouble.” When Finden figured out his routine, she couldn’t believe it. “But it explains a lot,” she said.
Fishing for a fight
William Shatner—actor, musician, and avid sports fisherman—sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week, advocating for the removal of salmon farms from wild-salmon migration routes off the northern coast of Vancouver Island. According to Shatner’s letter, which was also forwarded to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, salmon farms are spreading sea lice and endangering “one of Earth’s most precious assets, the wild salmon and steelhead of B.C.” Responding to the letter, an outraged Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said, “Mr. Shatner is well known for his career as Capt. James T. Kirk of the starship USS Enterprise and most recently in the TV series Boston Legal. Mr. Shatner’s acting credentials are solid—his understanding of fisheries research, less stellar.”
I’m telling mom
India’s wealthiest residents, billionaire brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, are caught in a bitter corporate rivalry that’s leaving millions in New Delhi without enough power to run fans in 45-degree summer heat. The dispute started after the death of their father, Dhirubhai, ﬁve years ago, resulting in the split of his privately held power utility company, the ironically named Reliance Group. Currently, Anil’s company, Reliance Natural Resources, and Mukesh’s company, Reliance Industries, are locked in a legal battle over gas supply that has stalled the production of an important power plant, due to be built by Anil outside New Delhi to alleviate the frequent blackouts. Anil blames his brother for failing to honour a deal that fixed the price and quantity of gas supply to the plant, according to South Africa’s Business Report. “It is unfortunate,” he said at a shareholders’ meeting last week, “that Reliance Industries has tried every trick in the book and apparently several outside the book to back out of its solemn, legal and contractual obligations.” The brothers, collectively worth US$35 billion, share a home with their mom.
Invading the mother ship
Janis Sharp, the mother of 43-year-old Gary McKinnon, a British citizen whom the U.S. has accused of committing the biggest military computer hack in history, begged President Obama not to extradite her son. McKinnon has Asperger’s syndrome. He admits to hacking into 97 government computers in 2001-02, including those belonging to NASA and the U.S. Navy, but he insists his sole intention was to find classified documents on UFOs, which he believed the U.S. was concealing. “Obama wouldn’t have this,” said Sharp, after a court refused to overturn the extradition order. “He doesn’t want the first guy extradited for computer misuse to be a guy with Asperger’s, a UFO guy.” Forty British MPs have signed a letter asking Obama to end this “shameful episode.”
In September, Madonna, 50, is scheduled to perform two concerts in Tel Aviv as part of her “Sticky & Sweet” tour. To reintroduce herself to Israel—where she hasn’t performed since 1993—the pop star wrote a column last Friday in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest daily paper. The subject of her column, published both in English and in Hebrew, was her discovery of Kabbalah, a school of Jewish mysticism, at a dinner party in Los Angeles while she was pregnant with her daughter Lourdes, now 12. After attending her first class, she said, “life no longer seemed like a series of random events.” She added, “I also began to see that being rich and famous wasn’t going to bring me lasting fulfillment and that it was not the end of the journey.” Later this month, Madonna’s tour will take her to Poland, where she has reportedly arranged to take her four children on a tour of Auschwitz.
Shorting the system
Mohd Abdullah, 48, a computer science lecturer at Thompson River University in Kamloops, B.C., and a yoga and Pilates instructor, is locked in a heated battle with city officials over the shorts he wears to work out at the Tournament Capital Centre, the city’s largest recreational complex. They’re too short, officials say, and people are complaining. But Abdullah, who has six to eight pairs of the offending shorts, refuses to buy new ones. “I think it is discriminating and at the same time, I think it’s a double standard,” he told B.C.’s the Province. “Here you have women that are wearing shorts that are half my size and with, excuse my lingo, the boobs half falling [out]—and that’s acceptable.” Abdullah says he has the backing of his wife and his colleagues on this issue.
Spanish tennis coach “Uncle Toni” Nadal , the uncle of champion Rafael Nadal, delighted fans early this week by announcing on Spanish radio that his nephew is planning to be in Montreal in mid-August to defend his Rogers Cup title after a two-month hiatus spent recovering from tendinitis in both knees. “Rafa will play in Montreal. That’s good news for us,” Toni told Radio Marca. But he added that his No. 2-ranked nephew “won’t be at his best.” Nadal’s focus, he said, is on preparing for the U.S. Open in September, the only major title he has not yet claimed.
Eighty-year-old joke: worth the wait?
Last week, a researcher in Wimbledon, England, discovered a joke handwritten by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw almost 80 years ago. The joke was written about writer and fellow socialist campaigner William Morris to celebrate the opening of the Hall at William Morris House in 1930. Written under a photograph of himself, it reads: “William Morris and I preached the gospel of Labour together on many occasions. Many respectable persons thought we deserved hanging. I am proud to hang in a hall dedicated to him.”