By Bookmarked and Jen Cutts - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 0 Comments
The what-ifs of life can torture you, if you let them. But what if you could press the restart button as many times as you’d like? Kate Atkinson, the British writer best known for her BBC-adapted series about a P.I. named Jackson Brodie, runs us through the possibility in her latest novel.
Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and then dies moments after. Turn the page and she’s born and lives (the doctor makes it through the snowstorm this time). She makes it to her fifth summer, but drowns on a seaside holiday. Then she doesn’t drown, but falls from a window chasing after a doll. Put that way, it sounds trite, but it isn’t. (Though Atkinson herself plunges head first into time-travel cliché in her opening pages, with a gun pointed at Hitler’s heart.) As a powerful dread nudges Ursula away from harm, her life fills out into longer and longer chapters. Ursula at secretarial college, Ursula as an abused wife, Ursula miserable and alone during the London Blitz, Ursula, friend of Eva Braun. The one constant in Ursula’s life, however, is her increasingly cranky mother; some people just can’t be changed.
With each do-over, we can’t help but entertain the hope that this set of choices will lead to Ursula getting things exactly right, and wonder what that “exactly right” will look like. In a lesser writer’s hands, a novel that revisits its main character’s birth 12 times would likely be tiresome, but each revision is fresh, often funny, and filled with new life in more ways than one. Atkinson tackles a mystical theme in Life After Life, but she is at heart a realist. Though there’s some mystery at play in Ursula’s life, she experiences her triumphs and regrets like the rest of us (perhaps with a slight bit more Britishness): hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, while having a good laugh at it all when you can. What more can life teach us, really, even when you only get one?
By Jen Cutts - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
Some questions are inherently annoying: are we there yet? Is that seat taken? Are…
Some questions are inherently annoying: are we there yet? Is that seat taken? Are women funny? But is it better to ignore or engage with the children/moviegoers/magazine columnists who ask them? Marie Claire’s Kohen could not resist the urge to take on that last one, infamously explored by Christopher Hitchens in a 2007 Vanity Fair essay. Or rather, Kohen lets the women (and their male colleagues) answer.
We Killed, billed as a “very oral history,” stitches together interviews with comedians like Phyllis Diller (among the first funny ladies who wasn’t expected to also sing and dance) and closes with comics like Sarah Silverman (whose pretty-faced dirty talk has inspired a glut of copycats), and documents the highs and lows of the 60-odd years in between. When Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, it created some of the earliest spots for female performers and writers on a sketch comedy program, but was considered an incorrigible boys’ club for decades (Molly Shannon’s armpit-smelling Mary Katherine Gallagher character was the beginning of the end of that). Merrill Markoe was one of the first female head writers on a late-night show, inventing the “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment for David Letterman. After their romantic relationship ended in the friction of working together, she left the show. And so on. Continue…
By Jen Cutts - Monday, November 19, 2012 at 11:48 PM - 0 Comments
A principled maveric
Michael Chong’s guiding political rule is: always pay attention to your constituents. “The least we can do for people who have disagreements with the government is to relay those concerns to Ottawa,” he says. “They want to know that, at the very least, they’re being listened to.”
Perhaps best known for resigning from the Harper cabinet after refusing to support a government motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation, the Tory backbencher remains a hometown hero in Wellington-Halton Hills, the riding in which he grew up, and now represents. This past spring, the self-described “Wellington County boy” took nearly 64 per cent of the vote in his fourth straight electoral win; few of his opponents bothered putting up signs, or showing up for all-candidates’ meetings.
While knocking on doors during the campaign, Chong, the son of a Chinese father and a Dutch mother, says he got an earful about the sorry state of our democratic institutions. That inspired him to renew his crusade for decorum in the House. Last year, Chong tabled a motion seeking improvements to question period-capping answers at 35 seconds, setting schedules that would put the prime minister on the hot seat for 45 minutes every Wednesday, as in the U.K., and allotting days to specific ministries, like Finance Fridays. Chong, who turns 40 this week, is hoping to table the motion, which died on the floor after the election call, as soon as he has the opportunity.
As for his birthday plans, he celebrated early, with his wife Carrie, and three young boys; on the day itself, he’ll be in Ottawa, working for his constituents.
By Jen Cutts - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
One hundred years ago this week, a four-year-old went missing in Louisiana. When he was found eight months later, it marked the beginning of a puzzle that wasn’t solved until 2004. A Case for Solomon tells the story of Bobby Dunbar, who disappeared from the swampy shoreline where his well-off family was camping on Aug. 23, 1912. Eight months and multiple sightings later, Bobby was found in the company of William Walters, a piano tuner who eked out a living roaming from town to town. But Bobby’s reunion with his family was not what you’d imagine. There were questions: why did his mother at first say she didn’t “recognize the light in his eyes”? Where was the scar on Bobby’s left foot from the burn he suffered as a toddler? And, most significantly, why was a poor woman of dubious virtue claiming that Bobby was her own son Bruce? Her claim remained unproven despite an elaborate trial that consumed two U.S. states for two years. Walters was eventually convicted. And the young boy lived the rest of his life as Bobby Dunbar.
The spark for shaping his story into a book was a 2008 documentary that reporter Tal McThenia made for the radio show This American Life. McThenia had worked with Bobby’s granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, whose father had handed her a binder stuffed with news stories, letters and documents about the case in 1999. After the show aired, the pair decided to collaborate on a book. What they unravel is intriguing, and the detail and thoroughness of the authors’ research is evident, if exhausting at times. DNA testing revealed Bobby’s true identity in 2004 (no spoilers here, but it’s hardly a surprise). Much more captivating is the daily newspapers’ role in the outcome of the case, and how their headline-chasing incorporated a level of thuggery and deceit that makes London’s recent phone-hacking scandal look like piffle. It’s a reminder of how the media can shape public opinion, something that hasn’t changed all that much in 100 years.
By Jen Cutts - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry is 65 and retired after 45 years as a sales rep at a brewery (though he doesn’t drink). He and his wife, Maureen, whose temperament matches the way she likes her toast—cold and crisp—live in Kingsbridge, in the south of England. “It wasn’t like living in a house,” says Harold, “but more a question of hovering over the surfaces.” Then, Harold gets a letter from Queenie, a former colleague he hasn’t spoken to in 20 years, who once did him a sizable favour. She’s dying of cancer in a hospice in Berwick on Tweed. Shaken, Harold scribbles down an awkward note and sets out for the mailbox. But instead of dropping the letter in, he keeps walking. When he stops at a gas station on the edge of town, a greasy-haired girl tells him about her aunt who had cancer. “You have to believe a person can get better,” the girl says. “If you have faith, you can do anything.” With that, Harold knows what to do. Against all odds, and in spite of Maureen’s sharp disapproval, he’s going to walk the length of England to Queenie. “I am going to save her,” he tells a nurse at the hospice over the phone. “I will keep walking and she must keep living.”
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is Rachel Joyce’s first novel. It began as a radio play she wrote for her father when he was dying of cancer. Harold’s quietly heroic journey treads a familiar literary theme, but there’s enough freshness to keep the story engaging. Joyce slowly reveals what he has to walk away from, and there are some surprises. His progress is measured in memories as well as miles; memories of parents who didn’t want him, and of the early days of his marriage and his only son David’s childhood. There are a few lapses in the story—events and characters that come along at convenient moments—but Joyce captures Harold’s emotions with a tidiness of words that is at times thrilling. It’s a trip worth taking.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 11:29 AM - 0 Comments
The mayor of Tallinn hopes to make the city ‘the flagship of the green movement in Europe’
Estonians already enjoy free, country-wide WiFi. Now their capital, Tallinn, plans to become the first city in Europe to offer free public transit. Starting next year, the $2 fare for the city’s buses and streetcars will be scrapped. The mayor of the city of 400,000, Edgar Savisaar, is optimistic the free ride will get people out of their cars and help make Tallinn the “flagship of the green movement in Europe.”
Savisaar announced the plan after a March referendum showed 75 per cent support for the idea. But not everyone is sold. Only 20 per cent of Tallinn’s citizens voted in the poll, critics say, and it is unclear how the city will make up for the lost ticket revenue, which represents a third of the transit system’s funding. Even a Green party member is skeptical: “I would love to not pay for the services I consume,” Valdur Lahtvee told the BBC, but he worries the quality of the service will plummet, and send people back to their cars. Other politicians accuse the mayor of trying to build popularity for the Centre party, which he leads.
Perhaps Estonia is simply a giving nation. The world’s first free Skype video chat booth, offering unlimited, worldwide video calls, recently opened in Tallinn’s main airport.
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Charlotte Rogan
First-time novelist Charlotte Rogan found the inspiration for The Lifeboat in a 19th-century criminal case: two men stranded on a lifeboat were found guilty of murder for killing other passengers to save themselves. It’s a classic moral question, one you might have breezily explored in a high school ethics class: who do you toss out when the boat is sinking fast? Most of us will never have to answer that question (Survivor contestants don’t count). But Rogan’s story—an addictive read that’s over too soon—gets us awfully close.
The book opens with 22-year-old Grace being charged with murder, and her lawyers suggesting she write down her side of things. Five days into a journey back to New York to escape the war breaking out in Europe in 1914, there is an explosion on board the ship. In the panic, Grace and 38 other passengers end up in a lifeboat, though not one that will hold them all for long. As the hours drift into days, and the hardtack and water run out, it isn’t long before, as Grace says, “the bare bones of our nature were showing.”
Loyalties in lifeboat No. 14 divide between one of the ship’s officers, Mr. Hardie, who keeps his charges in the boat and fights off other Empress passengers (wide-eyed, drowning children included) as they distance themselves from the sinking ship, and Mrs. Grant, an older, buttoned-up socialite who gains an air of moral superiority by vaguely suggesting more could have been done to save the others. Grace presents herself as a woman doing the best she can to make the right choices in an impossible situation. But she gives away hints of a ruthlessness of her own, including the details of how she came to secure her rich husband, and her spot on the lifeboat for that matter. After rescue arrives, it’s left to the lawyers to tease out whether anyone can be blamed for the death that brought Grace and two others to trial. When one of her co-defendants asks, “Is the only way we can prove our innocence by drowning?” Grace astutely suggests that perhaps a person cannot be both alive and innocent.
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 4:24 PM - 0 Comments
There’s no real rush. Not much happens in Boring
Try to stay awake for this bit of news: the Scottish hamlet of Dull is teaming up with the town of Boring, Oregon. The potential for amusing road signs got pulses racing.
Talk of twinning the communities began when Emma Burtles, a Dull local, was tipped off about Boring—which bills itself as “the most exciting place to live”—by a friend who’d been cycling through Oregon. Burtles raised the idea at a meeting of the Dull ladies’ book club; their enthusiasm prompted her to reach out to the Boring Community Planning Organization, which was equally keen. A “declaration of sistership” is on the agenda for the planning meeting next month. There’s no real rush. Not much happens in Boring.
“It might seem like a joke, but this could have real benefits for Dull,” says councillor Marjorie Keddie. Not to mention the new signage: “Everyone has been smiling at the prospect,” she says. Dull and Boring join other towns in the taking-it-all-in-stride club. After all, if it’s your lot in life to call Tightwad, Mo., home, what else to do but launch the Tightwad Bank?
Of course, a number of Canadian communities could forge more exciting partnerships than the one that will link Dull with Boring. We’re looking to you, Blow Me Down, Nfld., Climax, Sask., and Saint-Louis de Ha! Ha!, Que.
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 12:13 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Grace McCleen
In this debut novel, Judith is 10, and ready for Armageddon. What child wouldn’t prefer the perfect afterlife the Bible promises, where she’ll be reunited with her mother, to the grey, no-nonsense life she shares with her distant father? When her earthbound days are filled with Necessary Things, such as bitter greens for dinner and preaching door to door in her down-and-out corner of Wales? While she waits, though, Judith is creating a miniature paradise in her room, with brown corduroy fields, mirrors for oceans and acorn caps for soup bowls. After a classmate threatens to drown her in a toilet, Judith uses cotton balls and shaving cream to make it snow in her pretend world. When the real one is covered in snow the next morning and school is closed, Judith believes her faith has enabled her to perform a miracle. But when she decides to use her power to teach her bully a lesson, things begin to look even darker. Her father’s factory goes on strike, and Judith learns there are grown-up bullies, too. And the God-voice inside her head, which at first encouraged her in her divine undertakings, is now mean and taunting, and muddying her understanding of good and evil.
The Land of Decoration arrived with plenty of publishing-world fanfare. The book even has its own “trailer,” which you can watch on the author’s website. There, you’ll also learn McCleen “grew up in a fundamentalist religion and didn’t have much contact with non-believers”—which might explain why McCleen so believably captures her young narrator’s voice, and why you find yourself nearly clapping when a new teacher takes an interest in Judith’s well-being. It might also explain a few lapses into cliché, such as beginning the novel with “In the beginning.” Still, it’s clear McCleen has a talent for creation. May she wield her power wisely.
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Cypriot officials let a Russian ship loaded with ammunition sail on to Syria
A Russian ship’s clandestine cargo has made plain the country’s cosy relationship with Cyprus, says the U.K.’s Guardian. The MS Chariot was carrying 60 tonnes of ammunition bound for Syria when it made an unplanned stop at the Cypriot port of Limassol. Cyprus, a member of the European Union, should have held up the ship; the EU has banned arms sales to the Syrian regime, to hamstring its brutal backlash to its citizens’ calls for change (Russia is unwavering in its support of Syria, a key ally). Instead, Cypriot officials skipped inspections and allowed the Chariot to refuel and set sail, after its captain gave his word he would alter his course and head for Turkey. The ship then fell off radar screens. It docked in Syria on Jan. 12.
It’s all evidence of Cyprus’s “embarrassing subservience” to Russia, says an anonymous columnist in the Cyprus Mail. The Guardian points to the many Russians now living in Limassol, a resort town offering all the comforts of home. There’s also the siren call of Cyprus’s low corporate tax rate for Russian businesses. And, last but not least, there’s the 2.5-billion-euro loan Russia has promised to boost Cyprus’s flagging economy. The second instalment was delivered on Jan. 26.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 8:25 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Francesca Kay
In certain circles, there’s a gaudy fascination with miracles of the Virgin-Mary-on-a-tortilla variety, which might make you hesitate before picking up Kay’s second novel; it begins with a bleeding statue of Christ. But it’s not that kind of story. The incident is mostly forgotten (the question of the miracle’s validity is barely explored), but it sets off a chain of events that ends in a mother’s nightmare.
A church in south London connects the novel’s characters to each other. Simple-minded Mary-Margaret dutifully dusts the church every week. As she gives the statue an extra going-over for Easter, she tumbles from a ladder and believes she has seen His painted blood liquefy. Stella takes care of the church’s flowers, and is the elegant wife of an MP, yearning for her youngest son, away at boarding school. Father Diamond, who is struggling with an eroded faith, tries to contain the fuss over the miracle with the fervour of a man about to be busted by his boss. Fidelma, Mary-Margaret’s mother, doesn’t leave their apartment. She lives in the memory of a brief affair in her native Ireland, and does not see the trouble her daughter is in. The dark climax of the novel comes as Mary-Margaret realizes her mother isn’t technically a widow, and is compelled to wash the sin from their lives with a sacrifice.
Kay won the Orange Award for New Writers for her first novel, An Equal Stillness. Her writing is so rich, you nearly worry for your waistline. But the richness isn’t vanity, and her characters’ daydreams (while cleaning mussels or watching soldiers buying round-trip train tickets) are particularly lovely. Her description of a child’s rugby match nearly breaks your heart. And just as the bleeding statue is never explained, Kay doesn’t try to offer much that’s new on the rationality of faith, its role in grief, and God’s protection (or lack thereof), although she reminds us that, believers or otherwise, we are all united in our longing for answers.
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Former U.K. chief of staff admits what the Russians already knew
It sounds more like an episode of Inspector Gadget than one of international relations, but a former U.K. official has admitted that Britain used a fake rock to spy on Russia. Six years ago, Russia’s security service, the FSB, claimed British agents had been using handheld computers and a transmitter—concealed inside a plastic rock and planted in a Moscow park—to retrieve data planted by Russian double agents. At the time, then-prime minister Tony Blair downplayed the accusations. But Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, said in a BBC documentary that aired on Jan. 19 that Britain had indeed been caught red-handed.
“They had us bang to rights,” Powell confessed. “There’s not much you can say. The spy rock was embarrassing.” Russia was apparently tipped off to the rock’s significance after the device stopped working. Surveillance footage showed several men slowing as they walked by the rock; one stopped to give it a kick (using the favoured technique of DIYers everywhere), another carried it away.
And why has Powell chosen to break the first rule of spying now? It’s certainly a humbling revelation for Britain’s spy service. Not only was the espionage work so bumbling, but the U.K. was violating a post-Cold War agreement not to spy on Russia. (That said, the number of Russian spys in London “has not fallen since Soviet times,” according to MI5’s website.) Nikolai Kovalyov, a Russian politician and former FSB head, told a Russian news agency that Powell’s admission “is a serious signal from London that it is time to improve our relations.” Perhaps a step forward in an often rocky relationship?
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
For the next year, more than 100 people will be across the mountains of central China in search of the endangered animals
They might be easy to come by on YouTube, but panda sightings in the wild are nearly once in a lifetime—making the bears awfully hard to count. But researchers in China are trying anyway, in the first census of the endangered population in 10 years.
Pandas are shy and solitary by nature. “I’ve been working in these mountains for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a panda in the wild,” Dai Bo, a biologist with China’s forestry ministry, told the Los Angeles Times. So, for the next year, more than 100 people will be scrambling over 32,000 sq. km of mountains in central China, not looking up for the bamboo-munching mammals, but down, for their pale-green droppings.
By analyzing those droppings, scientists can estimate how many pandas are living in an area. In 2000-01, when the animals were last counted, the number stood at around 1,600. Researchers are hoping that when results from the current survey are published in 2013, they will show that conservation efforts, such as a quadrupling of nature reserves and strict anti-poaching laws, have made a difference.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
Nothing could have kept moviegoers in India away from ‘The Adventures of Tintin’
Not even “thundering typhoons”—to borrow a line from Captain Haddock—could have kept moviegoers in India away from The Adventures of Tintin. Steven Spielberg’s 3D revival of the exploits of the boy-reporter-turned-detective earned $1.5 million in its first weekend, the highest-ever opening for an animated movie in India. Tintin opened there fully six weeks ahead of its Dec. 21 North American release date. Spielberg himself made the call. “Tintin is huge in India,” a Sony Pictures (India) spokesperson explains.
Why are Indians so taken with Tintin? Sandip Roy, writing on The Huffington Post, suggests it was his independence and curiosity—traits “never encouraged in our schools, which were all about obedience and memory.” The books were first translated into Bengali in the mid-’70s. The Hindi translation, which began in 2005, was an onerous process, befitting its cultural significance. It took two years to find a translator who “lived, ate, dreamt and breathed Tintin,” according to publisher Ajay Mago. “The litmus test,” he adds, “was how well a translator could translate ‘billions of blue blistering barnacles.’ ”
By Jen Cutts - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:24 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Chong’s guiding political rule is: “always pay attention to your constituents—constantly stay in touch with them”
Michael Chong’s guiding political rule is: always pay attention to your constituents. “The least we can do for people who have disagreements with the government is to relay those concerns to Ottawa,” he tells Maclean’s. “They want to know that, at the very least, they’re being listened to.”
Perhaps best known for resigning from the Harper cabinet after refusing to support a government motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation, the Tory backbencher remains a hometown hero in Wellington-Halton Hills, the riding in which he grew up, and now represents. This past spring, the self-described “Wellington County boy” took nearly 64 per cent of the vote in his fourth straight electoral win; few of his opponents bothered putting up signs, or showing up for all-candidates’ meetings. Continue…
The African National Congress (ANC) suspended the outspoken president of its youth league for five years
South Africa’s ruling party has rid itself of a squeaky wheel. The African National Congress (ANC) suspended the outspoken president of its youth league for five years earlier this month, after finding him guilty of “sowing division” within the party. Julius Malema, 31, says he will appeal, but observers predict he has little chance of success.
Malema is a controversial figure. He’s seen by some as a voice for poor black South Africans, who are frustrated with President Jacob Zuma’s inability to create jobs or deliver basic services. Others criticize Malema’s high-flying lifestyle, suspicious because of the modest pay he receives.
Either way, the last straw was Malema’s criticism of neighbouring Botswana’s government, which goes against ANC policy. Though it was more likely his threat to transfer support from Zuma to another candidate at a crucial party conference next year—putting a second term for the president at risk—that sealed his fate. Malema’s ouster will almost certainly lead to more division in the ANC as the scramble for the leadership intensifies.
Erdogan blasts Germany’s Merkel for her government’s immigration policies
Turkey’s prime minister wasn’t in the mood to make nice. Hours before he would be flashing a thin smile at a photo op with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan dropped by the offices of Germany’s Bild newspaper to boldly criticize her in an interview. Erdogan blasted Merkel for her government’s immigration policies in a well-timed attack: the pair met at a ceremony marking 50 years since 650,000 Turkish “guest workers” arrived in Germany as part of a labour pact. Today, 2.5 million people in Germany have Turkish roots, though barely a third are citizens.
“German politicians do not give enough recognition to the integration” of these Turks, Erdogan told Bild, pointing to Germany’s resistance to dual citizenship, and saying it is failing to recognize Turks’ contributions. “The guest workers of yesterday are slowly becoming employers, academics, artists,” he said. This despite the fact that Turks, who make up the largest German minority, come last in measures of literacy, education and employment.
Erdogan also criticized Germany for giving only lukewarm support to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. With Turkey’s surging economy and Erdogan’s own growing influence, he can perhaps afford to ruffle a few feathers.
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
Russian authorities found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms
Fish tanks, sofa beds, wood panelling—not quite what you’d expect from a Russian jail cell. So when authorities dropped by prison number 12 unannounced earlier this month, and found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms, the prison’s governor was quickly out of a job.
The head of the facility in the Volgograd region had allegedly been collecting rubles for allowing the luxurious cells, and for providing comforts like plasma TVs, imported liquor and Internet access. Framed photographs of notorious Russian criminals were hung on the wall, and a collection of handmade knives was also found. The region’s prison service tried to quiet the scandal with a statement claiming the rooms were for counselling, and that the alcohol discovered was in fact nothing but aftershave.
But Russians have heard it all before. A similar scandal played out in April, when photos were posted online of toga-wearing prisoners celebrating a fellow convict’s birthday with caviar and McDonald’s. For prisoners without connections on the outside, Russia’s penal system—recently likened to Stalin’s gulags by the country’s justice minister—is much tougher to endure. The fact that Russia is second only to the U.S. in how many of its citizens are jailed likely isn’t helping.
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Brazil’s new president is cleaning out corruption
Dilma Rousseff is on a roll. After just nine months in office, Brazil’s president has parlayed a string of corruption scandals into a boost in popularity (87 per cent of Brazilians say she is doing an average, good or excellent job). She is quickly shaking off the expectation that she would quietly serve as a placeholder for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a man described by Barack Obama as “the most popular politician on Earth” (but prevented by law from seeking a third consecutive term in office). And when the UN General Assembly opened last week, Rousseff delivered the opening address, the first woman ever to do so.
For most heads of state, losing four ministers and dozens of officials to accusations of corruption in under a year would spell trouble. But Rousseff is making it work for her, appearing to Brazilians to be shaking bad apples from government. The latest is Pedro Novais, 81, who resigned on Sept. 14 as tourism minister after a São Paolo newspaper ran a story alleging he used public money to hire a maid and chauffeur for his wife. In August, more than 30 officials from his ministry resigned over similar accusations. Rousseff has also pushed out her chief of staff and transport and agriculture ministers, all over allegations of graft.
The press in Brazil has tried to paint a picture of a president who is “only putting on a show of cleaning house,” says Matthew Taylor, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo, “without engaging the deeper problems of corruption.” But that image isn’t sticking. “It seems she’s managed to convince the public that she had nothing to do with the worst of the problems,” says Taylor, by “discreetly pointing to the fact that she ‘inherited’ much of her cabinet” from Lula, who took more of a wait-and-see approach to releasing scandal-stained ministers.
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
South Africa’s newest chief justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, is a controversial pastor with some very divisive views
In a notably headstrong move, South African President Jacob Zuma two weeks ago chose a controversial pastor to lead his nation’s highest court for the next 10 years. Mogoeng Mogoeng, 50, a judge who belongs to a church that claims homosexuality is a “deviation” curable by prayer, told an interview panel that he’d been chosen by God to serve as chief justice of the country’s Constitutional Court.
Opposition parties, legal associations, and women’s and gay rights groups objected to his candidacy, citing past rulings they called homophobic and insensitive to violence against women (in a country with shockingly high rates of sexual assault). In one example, in 2007 Mogoeng suspended the sentence of a man who had tried to rape his estranged wife, arguing he had used “minimum force” and had been “aroused” by the victim, who was “clad in panties and a nightdress.” The judge countered that other, harsher rulings by him had been deliberately overlooked.
Mogoeng, who will also head the commission that recommends further judicial appointees, was the only nominee for the position. At least one rights group, AfriForum, has said it is looking into launching a legal challenge of the selection process.
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 0 Comments
Will Domino’s really be delivering lunar pizza?
Some might call it a pie-in-the-sky idea, but Domino’s says it plans to build a pizzeria on the moon. The company’s Japanese arm outlined its cosmic ambition on a website, moon.dominos.jp, with an artist’s renderings of a two-storey concrete dome containing a kitchen, eat-in space and plantation (staff living quarters and a “play room” with zero-gravity bowling lanes are below the surface). The project, envisioned with the help of well-known Japanese construction firm Maeda Corp., would cost roughly $21 billion—about 240 times Domino’s profits in 2010 (though costs would be offset by using the moon’s mineral deposits to mix the concrete).
In light of that shortfall, and NASA’s recent shutdown of the space shuttle program, the plan is likely nothing more than an elaborate publicity ploy. Domino’s Japan is known for cheeky stunts—last year, it had a flood of applicants for a one-hour pizza delivery job that paid $32,000. But, in a video on the website, Domino’s Japan president Scott K. Oelkers (in a space suit, naturally) assures “fellow earthlings” of his company’s sincerity, saying, “Perhaps you think we’re foolish to take on such a challenge, but we have a dream to deliver our pizza on the moon.”
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Born into a mining family, it wasn’t long before he followed in his father’s footsteps. Safety was one of his main concerns.
Jason Richard Chenier was born in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., on Aug. 17, 1975, to Richard, a miner, and Barbara. With “poker-straight” blond hair and big blue eyes, he was an outgoing kid, says his uncle, George Staszak. While younger sister Jennifer was the artistic one (once winning the family a trip to Ottawa with a drawing she entered in a Maclean’s contest, says George), Jason was the sporty one; often, the entire family would travel to cheer him on at out-of-town hockey games. When summer came, it was baseball, or fishing with George. If Jason didn’t like what Barbara was serving for dinner, says George, he’d “run two streets over to Granny’s house, and get fed whatever he liked there.”
In high school, Jason took summer jobs at the mine where Richard worked. He also inherited his dad’s habit of teasing people he liked, says Tracy Racine, who didn’t mind the attention. Though she was just 13 and three years behind Jason in the small English high school they attended, she couldn’t help developing a crush on the “loud” boy who was friends with her older brother, and prayed that she would one day marry him. But too soon, Jason left Quebec for Sudbury, Ont., to live with his grandmother (who’d moved) and attend Grade 13.
In 1994, Jay, as his friends had begun calling him, enrolled in Cambrian College’s mining engineering technician program. He shared an apartment with Rob Des Rivieres, who had the pleasure of being subjected to Jay’s practical jokes. One night, after drinking more than he’d planned at a keg party, Rob decided to sleep it off in his car. He awoke to find Jay had stuffed it to the roof with things from the neighbours’ yards: “Firewood, recycle boxes, garden gnomes. It was never just a low-end prank with Jay.” After they’d been in school for two years, nickel prices were surging and local mine Inco was paying for students to take the “common core” course that would certify them to work underground, says Bill Bennett, who also got to know Jay at Cambrian. Though Bill and others moved right from the course to jobs at Inco, Jay stuck with school and finished the last year of his program. By the time he graduated, the nickel market had turned down, and Jay wasn’t able to get on with Inco. He returned to Rouyn-Noranda, and worked a few short-term contracts at different mines in the area.
She had the rare gift of being able to bring people out of their shells
Alysa Naomi Rotstein was born in Hamilton on Jan. 30, 1981, the first-born for Simone, an elementary schoolteacher, and Ed, a psychiatrist. At eight months, Simone and Ed noticed that Alysa would topple over when trying to sit, and favoured her left arm; doctors later diagnosed cerebral palsy, though “a mild right-sided weakness is what we called it,” says Ed. Brother Joshua was born two years later, and Simone remembers teaching them to climb the stairs at the same time. Brother Ben came along in 1985.
Alysa was a curly-haired and imaginative child, spending hours in the yard inventing adventures with neighbourhood kids. Summers were spent at a left-leaning Jewish camp, where Alysa pushed herself to “pull her own weight” with camp duties, says Simone, and where she formed a passion for “changing the world.” At 14, Alysa, who loved writing, won a city-wide contest for her poem about a homeless man, displaying early on an empathy that would shape her work and friendships.
After high school, Alysa spent a year in Israel, working on a kibbutz and volunteering. On her return, she began a bachelor’s in social work at McGill. Inspired by the Shabbat dinners she’d enjoyed at the home of a Montreal family, Alysa began hosting her own Shabbat potlucks. “Alysa loved to sit around a table and share food,” says friend Jenny Cohen. Everyone and all faiths were welcome, and Alysa would preside over the sharing of “highlights and lowlights” of the past week. With her warmth and signature laugh (like “staccato hiccups,” says Jenny), Alysa brought people together and made friends effortlessly.