By Lianne George - Friday, September 11, 2009 - 2 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Second chance, same impression
The good news for Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien is that Crown prosecutors won’t be appealing the recent verdict that acquitted him of influence-peddling charges. But O’Brien has confounded many of his colleagues with a risky new PR strategy at a moment when strong reputation rebuilding is essential. O’Brien has hired Jasmine MacDonnell—the young former aide to Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt who resigned in June following the “Chalk River scandal”—to serve as his new communications director. MacDonnell stepped down last summer after a recording device she accidentally left in a House of Commons washroom was revealed to contain a private conversation with Raitt in which the minister described the medical isotope crisis as a “sexy” issue. Mayor O’Brien told the Edmonton Sun that he had interviewed three candidates for the position, but that MacDonnell was simply the most qualified. “Jasmine comes with excellent credentials and will be able to work closely with the media in both official languages,” he said. But some city councillors were less convinced. “It’s making eyes roll over at city hall,” said Bay councillor Alex Cullen. West Carleton-March councillor Eli El-Chantiry agreed, adding, “I will remind Jasmine we have many washrooms in city hall, so she should be careful.”
Colbert gets truthy
In a rare not-in-character interview, Stephen Colbert, star of the Comedy Network’s The Colbert Report, told Rolling Stone about the important role the Catholic faith and traditions play in his life. At Christmastime, he says, his extended family of 50 people processes through the house singing Christmas carols. “We process from the youngest to the oldest,” he says. “The youngest puts the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve and we sing Silent Night.” Colbert, who is notoriously private, teaches Sunday school to seven-year-olds. “I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I’m moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 3:20 PM - 2 Comments
Shaquille O’Neal, showbiz star, hobbyist cop, the ‘greatest athlete ever formed,’ prepares to leap into his post-NBA career
Over the years, Shaquille O’Neal has deemed his penetrating post-game insights worthy of some of Western civilization’s greatest philosophers, specifically Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzsche. Of course, everything about Shaq—a seven-foot-one, 325-lb. colossus—is hyperbolic. On Twitter, where the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar centre boasts a staggering two million followers, O’Neal regularly tweets inspirational quotes by everyone from Ben Franklin and Bill Gates to a barber from Orlando named Kurt Cooper. But there is no one he likes to quote more than himself. In a promo for his new reality TV show, ABC’s Shaq Vs., in which he faces off against top athletes in their own sport, Shaq spells out to the camera how he plans to get inside the heads of his competitors, who include Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, tennis star Serena Williams and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals: “I study everybody’s game,” he says. “To beat them, you have to become them.” He flashes a half-smile at this impromptu nugget. “Remember that, America. A classic Shaquille O’Neal quote.”
Shaq—a man with a million nicknames: Shaq-Fu, Shaq-a-Claus, Shaqqie Robinson—is often referred to as one of the most gifted basketball players in the history of the NBA (although he prefers the pithier epithet, “the greatest athlete ever formed”—“Look it up,” he says, “Google it”). On the court, he is so tank-like that other players appear to bounce off him like rubber bullets. He has won four NBA championships—three with the L.A. Lakers and another with the Miami Heat—and he’s among the top-paid athletes in America, pulling in US$35 million in salary and endorsements. But more than being just one of the greats of the game, Shaq will go down as having created one of the most endearing personal brands in professional sports—a family man with a humongous heart, a 12-year-old’s sense of fun, and killer comedic timing. Continue…
By Lianne George - Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 9:00 PM - 82 Comments
The latest buzzword in high school sex ed class is ‘pleasure’—not everyone is pleased
Good For Her, a woman-focused sex shop in downtown Toronto, is not your average erotic emporium, if only because it serves tea. Tucked away in a cozy converted Victorian, the store features all of the usual adult fare—vibrators, lubricants, flavoured condoms, X-rated books and DVDs—but what’s notably different is the tone of the place, inspired, it would seem, by someone’s zany, free-spirited aunt. Guided by a philosophy of inclusive, non-threatening, pleasure-focused sex education, Good For Her has become well-known for its great-sex workshops, which it offers in-store, on university campuses, and at bridal showers and private parties. The message is always the same: your body is a gift, people. Explore it. Take care of it. Enjoy it.
About a year and a half ago, Good For Her’s founder, Carlyle Jansen, started getting phone calls from an unlikely market niche: local high school teachers, asking if she would come by their classes and talk to the kids about sex. The fact is, the majority of public school teachers are never explicitly trained to teach sexual education. In many cases, it’s the rookies—perhaps trained in math or gym—who get stuck with it. “Sometimes they’d call because they don’t know enough about it themselves,” Jansen says. “Or they’re uncomfortable.” Teachers can find it unpleasant to make the leap from geometry to sexting. “They feel like they have to then talk to the kids the next day and have an ongoing relationship,” she says, “so it’s easier to bring someone in from outside.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Friday, September 4, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
In a Toronto minute
Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant was charged on Tuesday with criminal negligence causing death after an altercation he was involved in Monday night ended in tragedy. Bryant had allegedly been driving his black convertible Saab in Toronto’s swanky Yorkville neighbourhood around 9:45 p.m. when he collided with a cyclist, 34-year-old Darcy Allen Sheppard, and an argument ensued. Witnesses told police that at one point the cyclist hung onto the driver’s side of the car while the driver swerved into the oncoming lane, sped up, and drove up onto the curb in an effort to shake the cyclist off. Eventually, the cyclist let go after hitting a mailbox. He fell off the car in front of Sephora, the cosmetics emporium, with severe head trauma, and died later that night. Leaving the police department on Tuesday afternoon, Bryant tearfully made a brief public statement: “I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Sheppard,” he said.
Apparently, not even the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve is safe from identity theft. Last week, ofﬁcials revealed that Ben Bernanke and his wife, Anna, were victims of identity theft last year when Anna’s purse was stolen from a Starbucks in Washington. “Our family was but one of 500 separate instances traced to one crime ring,” Bernanke said. In fact, identity theft has become so rampant that it even happens right under the government’s nose. In Miami, a former government “hacker hunter” stands accused of committing the largest cases of identity theft in U.S. history. Albert Gonzales, 28, is alleged to have stolen more than 170 million credit card and debit card numbers. First arrested for hacking in 2003, Gonzales managed to avoid punishment by agreeing to become a Secret Service informant. For the past five years, he has allegedly divided his time between hacking into the systems of Fortune 500 companies and stealing information, and helping the feds bust other hackers. Gonzales is currently negotiating a plea bargain. “My client is extremely remorseful as to what has happened,” his lawyer told the Associated Press. Continue…
By Lianne George - Friday, August 28, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Atwood nuts, rejoice
Canadian novelist and soothsayer Margaret Atwood has embarked on an international tour to promote her latest book, The Year of the Flood. As part of her campaign, she will be writing a blog to keep fans up to date on her toing and froing. In her inaugural posting, she welcomes her visitors with a photo: “Here is a picture of me in the garden with giant phlox, before starting out. Will I shrink during the tour? Will I survive it?” She also lays out some ground rules for making her tour as green as possible—for instance, placing special emphasis on train travel, local foods and organic, fair-trade coffees. She plans to pack light: “think pink, pack black. It dirts less.” Finally, she says she will take “the VegiVows” for the duration of her tour, “with the exception of non-avian and non-mammalian bioforms once a week.” She will, however, permit eggs, “viewed as a sort of nut.”
Swedish for retaliation
When the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet ran an article accusing Israeli troops of killing Palestinian youths to harvest and sell their organs, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu compared the allegations to medieval “blood libels,” which claimed that Jews used the blood of Christian babies in holy rituals. “Statements in the Swedish press were outrageous,” an official quoted Netanyahu as saying. “We are not expecting an apology—we are expecting a condemnation.” Swedish officials have so far refused to condemn the article. Until they do, Israel is prohibiting any new Swedish journalists from entering the country, which is small comfort to many angry Israelis. Concerned citizens have launched an online petition to go after the Swedes where it hurts—a nationwide boycott of Ikea. Continue…
By Lianne George - Friday, August 21, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
League of their own
The Hastings All-Stars swept five games and outscored their opponents 82-15 to win the Canadian Little League Championships in Val-d’Or, Que., on Saturday. The score, however, belies the backstory of this gritty team from blue-collar East Vancouver. The 11 boys and a girl (Katie Reyes, who homered in the final game) share one overbooked ball diamond with 22 teams. Money is so tight, some players’ fees were covered by KidSport, which helps low-income athletes. Now they’re off to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Their first game will be broadcast on ESPN on Aug. 22.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May is testing the waters, and patience, of party members as she searches the country for a winnable riding. She previously ran unsuccessfully in 2006 in the London North Centre by-election. Then, it was a suicide mission against Tory Peter MacKay in Central Nova. And now, determined to get into the Commons, she has chosen the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. At least that’s what she implied last week, when she told local media it was “definitely tempting” to run there. The more likely spot is the left-coast riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. Local media report she is house hunting in Sidney, B.C. “My heart is here,” she said of the seaside community, “but I just want to make sure.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Friday, August 14, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
On Sunday, Queen Elizabeth II, 83, launched her new YouTube channel, where she will broadcast her 50th annual televised Christmas message this December. According to Buckingham Palace, “the Queen always keeps abreast with new ways of communicating with people.” Also available on the Royal Channel will be video clips of garden parties, state visits, and footage of a day in the life of Prince Charles. Some things about the royal family, however, are not for public consumption. According to the Daily Mail, the Norfolk Police has declined a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for details on how many officers receive a bottle of whisky from Her Majesty each year at Christmas time. The police department issued a ﬁve-page response defending its secrecy, claiming that in the wrong hands, this information could allow “domestic or foreign terrorists to establish the level of police protection afforded to royal residences.” It would reveal, however, that two of its ofﬁcers, Chief Insp. Dick Curtis and Sgt. P. Newby, had each receieved Christmas puddings from the Queen, valued at £13.
It worked for Bill
Hyun Jeong-eun, the head of Hyundai Group, one of South Korea’s most powerful conglomerates, ventured to North Korea this week to discuss “current issues” with officials and attempt to secure the release of one of her employees. The man, known only by his family name, Yoo, who was taken prisoner in March in the Northern border town of Kaesong, according to the BBC, allegedly for “undermining the North’s political system.” Hyun’s visit is said to have been prompted by the recent success of former U.S. president Bill Clinton in negotiating the release of two American journalists. Clinton is reported to have raised Yoo’s case during his visit with Kim Jong Il, but so far there is no reason to believe the North Korean dictator has any intention of releasing him. Continue…
By Lianne George - Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 1:25 PM - 0 Comments
Since the pop idol’s death, there’s been a big demand for Michael Jackson dance classes
Of course everyone’s a fan now. But Tina Nicolaidis, a choreographer and co-owner of City Dance Corps, a school in downtown Toronto, had already shelled out to see Michael Jackson in concert at London’s O2 Arena when she heard the news of his death. “It was one of my lifelong dreams to see him once before I die,” she says. “His dance style has always influenced my choreography.” In fact, the routine that put her professional dance company on the map was a salsa recreation of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. “When we performed it for the first time at the Canada Salsa Congress four years ago, we got a standing ovation and we started getting invitations to perform that routine at various other events.We’ve now performed it at salsa congresses all over the world.” After Jackson’s death, Nicolaidis wanted some way to pay tribute to her idol. So she came up with the idea for a series of Michael Jackson dance classes—open to students of all levels—beginning in mid-August. Already, it’s full and a long waiting list of would-be toe-popping, cigarette-turning moonwalkers is forming.
“The great thing about a lot of Michael Jackson moves and choreography,” she says, “is that they’re actually pretty simple to do. Anybody can pretty much pick them up. We simplify a lot of the body movements, so we’re not doing 100 per cent of what you see in the music videos. But a lot of it has to do with attitude.” This isn’t City Dance Corps’ first foray into Jackson-themed classes, either. Every October, the school offers a one-day Thriller workshop in time for Halloween. “Everyone loves it,” she says. “When you go to Halloween parties, you know they’re going to play Thriller. People love learning the routine so they can bust it out. Last year, it was so popular we held three different sessions.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Friday, August 7, 2009 at 8:30 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
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.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:30 PM - 3 Comments
From the Summer ’09 Newsmakers family edition
With his long-awaited Star Trek prequel, released in May, director J.J. Abrams managed to do what no man has done before: lend a hint of bona fide sex appeal to the notoriously nerdy franchise. Thanks to a cast of attractive young stars—including Chris Pine as a James Dean-tinged Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as a suitably afflicted Spock—the ﬁlm has already grossed US$375 million worldwide. A sequel to the prequel is already underway.
Mad Men, the ’60s-themed TV series created by Matthew Weiner, is an immaculately curated visual and sartorial delight, but Weiner’s greatest contribution to design may turn out to be his ascot-wearing son Arlo, branded by GQ this year as America’s most stylish eight-year-old. Arlo, whose wardrobe includes bow ties, a pink waistcoat, a cane and a red velvet “Valentine’s Day suit,” says he draws his inspiration from old Hollywood legends like Frank Sinatra, Gene Wilder and Boris Karloff. He is possibly the only boy in the history of the world to have requested a top hat and monocle for his third birthday.
Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi
After the May elections in India, Indian National Congress leader Sonia Gandhi joined other observers in crediting her son, Rahul, 38, and daughter Priyanka, 37, with the party’s revival. Rahul, heir to India’s most powerful political dynasty—and one of the country’s most eligible bachelors—hand-picked candidates from the party’s youth wing, of which he is leader. His mother—the Italian-born wife of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated in 1991—is said to be grooming him to be PM.
Kim Jong Un
Only bits and pieces are known about the youngest son of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, tapped to be the country’s next leader, according to South Korean media reports: that he was born in either 1983 or early 1984, that he is the spitting image of his father, and that he was doted on by his Japanese mother, the late Ko Young Hee, who reportedly called him her “Morning Star King.” Educated in Switzerland, Kim Jong Un is said to enjoy Western popular culture like his old man, particularly NBA basketball. He also likes to ski.
In February, the 19-year-old daughter of pro-life Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Fox News it is “not realistic” for adults to expect abstinence of teens. In May, she was appointed “abstinence ambassador” for the Candies Foundation, an organization devoted to educating girls about “the devastating consequences of teenage pregnancy.” Bristol—who delivered her son, Tripp, last December and announced her breakup with the baby’s father, Levi Johnson, in March—said she was proud to offer herself up as a “living example” of what not to do. Some would say she’s a chip off the old block.
Even after Harold Nicholson, a former CIA operations officer, was imprisoned in 1997 for spying for a Russian intelligence agency, he opted not to retire. Instead, operating from his prison cell, he recruited his son Nathaniel, 24, to pass secrets to Russia and collect US$41,000 in payments owed to him for past activities from Russian agents in Peru, Mexico and Cyprus. In January, both father and son were indicted. According to court documents, Nicholson hinted to Russian contacts that his other son, Jeremiah, an air force sergeant with “a security clearance” and a Russian wife, may also “hold some future value” as a spy.
Princess Di’s niece, 18-year-old Kitty Spencer, catapulted herself to fame in April when she appeared on the cover of the British society magazine Tatler. In doing so she followed in the footsteps of her mother, former model Victoria Lockwood. (Named Tatler’s “girl of the year” 25 years ago, she graced the cover in 1990.) The daughter of Diana’s brother, Charles Earl Spencer, Kitty grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, shielded from the media glare. She dates a surfer named Jasper and spends her free time on the beach or on safari. She says she wouldn’t have enjoyed growing up in England. “Our way of life is so much more relaxed,” she said.
In May, judges of NASA’s National Space Settlement Competition, in which students from around the world compete to design a space colony, chose Canada’s Eric Yam, 17, as the winner. Yam, a student at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, designed a structure called Asten—so named for the Egyptian god of divine and physical law—that would hold 10,000 citizens, all of whom would be subject to a Canadian-style point-based immigration system. Preferential consideration, Yam decreed, would go to well-educated applicants who speak one of Asten’s three official languages: English, Mandarin and Hindi.
Scientists in Japan unveiled a new “cybernetic human” in March, a five-foot-two woman who can walk, talk, blink and move like a real person. HRP-4C, who has 30 motors in her body and eight in her face, can use her eyes and mouth to express surprise and anger. Dressed in a black-and-silver space suit, she recently hit the runway in a Tokyo fashion show, but her walk was deemed clunky and inelegant. “People in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, one of the developers. She is nonetheless priced at $287,000.
In June, Aurora, a 20-year-old beluga whale who lives at the Vancouver Aquarium, gave birth to a healthy 1.5-m calf. Staff said Aurora—whose daughter Qila, 13, and granddaughter Tiqa, 1, also live at the aquarium—remained calm throughout the 13-hour birthing process. Visitors and volunteers observed in awe as the baby emerged. “It’s simultaneously one of the most beautiful and grossest things I’ve been able to see,” said one observer.
By Lianne George - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
Kim Jong Ill?
So much mystery attends North Korea, Asia’s only Communist dynasty, and so fraught are the geopolitics of the region, that the merest sign of health trouble for its Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, sets off international alarms. So it was this week when South Korea’s YTN television, citing Korean and Chinese intelligence sources, reported that the 67-year-old has pancreatic cancer and, at best, ﬁve years to live. In his recent appearances, Kim has looked gaunt, with thinning hair, a limp and an asymmetrical bent to his mouth, indications he’s not entirely recovered from a stroke last year. Renewed fear that Kim is not long for this world caused Seoul’s main stock index to plummet, so vexed are the markets by what his death could mean. Though he is said to have named his youngest son, the Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un, as his successor, there’s concern the installation of a weak leader still in his mid-20s will destabilize the regime and the region.
What’s wrong with being sexy?
Shannon Tweed, the Canadian adult-film star, has been denied recognition for such contributions to world cinema as Hard Vice and Indecent Behavior 3. But the acting mayor of Ottawa, Doug Thompson, issued a proclamation that this Wednesday would be “Shannon Tweed Day,” to celebrate the blond bombshell’s visit to the city where she lived in the 1970s. He soon rescinded the proclamation, however, admitting sheepishly that he “spoke to the media before the item had been fully vetted.” Tweed told the Ottawa Citizen that she had “no hard feelings” about the rejection, but bristled at a councilwoman’s suggestion that she is a porn actress: “I’ve done movies with love scenes,” said the star of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, “but I’ve never had real sex on camera.” Oshawa, which recently finished first in an online contest hosted by KISS, doesn’t care either way. Oshawa city councillor Robert Lutczyk, who headed up the spring contest effort, promised a “Shannon Tweed Day” in Oshawa if she and the band come through town this fall. “I’ll be there,” said Tweed. “I’ll be there.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Stampede slams, Meghan McCain’s biopic, and Saddam Hussein’s WMD confession
Everyone loves a stampede
On Saturday, the leaders of Canada’s three major parties turned up in Calgary to take part in Stampede festivities and slip in a little meal-time campaigning. Speaking at a breakfast at the Calgary Zoo, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff blasted the Tories for their latest attack ads, which imply that the Bloc Québécois favours leniency for pedophiles. “I’m in politics to defeat the Bloc Québécois with real arguments,” Ignatieff told the crowd, “rather than slurs and vicious ad hominem personal attacks.” Not far away, at a barbecue in Heritage Park, Prime Minister Stephen Harper slammed the Liberals’ “timid and trendy” foreign policies and the NDP’s ethos of “tax and spend.” “Let the opposition parties threaten to get together to defeat us and replace us,” he said. “Canadians have been clear that they do not want another election.” Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton, invited by Calgary Herald reporter Don Braid to a barbecue at the Ranchmen’s Club, a well-known Conservative hangout, played nice, worked the room and, according to Braid, had “friendly chats with several people I wasn’t sure would talk to him at all.” He even braved a prairie oyster. “Not bad,” Layton said. “I think I’ll have another one.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 11:40 AM - 21 Comments
‘Tall expert’ Arianne Cohen on why tall people are smarter, healthier, richer and more attractive—and why we always vote for them
When Brooklyn journalist Arianne Cohen was a five-foot-three eight-year-old, her classmates nicknamed her Amazon Ari. Her pediatrician told her she was going to be “taller than the president,” who at the time was not every little girl’s role model: a six-foot-one Ronald Reagan. Now 28, Cohen stands proudly at six foot three. Her new book The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life from on High is the definitive guide to the tall experience: the unexpected trials and benefits that come with height, and why tall people have higher salaries, IQs and life expectancies than the rest of us.
Q: How do you define tall? I’m five seven. I thought I was tall.
A: Height is relative. Generally, you’re considered tall if you’re in the top 20 per cent, but functionally, if you’re towering over the people around you, you are tall.
Q: You say this is the book you always wanted to read growing up. What do you mean?
A: Height has really defined every aspect of my life, from which sports I participated in to who I dated to what I wore—because I couldn’t wear most clothes—to even what profession I ended up in. There’s been tons of research done on height and tall people but it was all tucked away in different corners of the world. I really wanted to create a bible for tall people—one book of foundational knowledge to really paint a picture of tall culture, because there really is a culture but it has never been written about.
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 1 Comment
Perez Hilton gets punched, Carla Bruni’s biggest fan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s interesting statue
Arnold’s extra pair
In the spirit of partisan pranks-manship, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently sent a metal sculpture in the shape of bull testicles to California Senate President Darrell Steinberg—a metaphorical reminder of the bold budgetary decisions required by the state’s lawmakers in the face of a US$24.3-billion budget shortfall. Unfortunately, the joke fell flat. Steinberg, who is a Democrat, returned the sculpture to its sender, along with a note stressing the seriousness of the situation. In fairness to the governor, sources told MSNBC.com that the testicles were sent in response to a gag gift Steinberg sent to him—a package of mushrooms—after Schwarzenegger called the Democrat’s budget proposals “hallucinatory.” But the sculpture was apparently too much coming from a man who once called Democrats “girlie men.” When asked why so serious, Steinberg’s spokesperson told reporters, “We’ve got more important things on our plate right now than to waste any more time on such trivial matters.”
Too much information
On Monday, Canada’s Information Commissioner Robert Marleau resigned unexpectedly, only two years into an ostensible seven-year tenure. He was in the process of reforming the country’s access to information laws, which have come to be routinely subverted by secretive government officials. Only one day earlier, Marleau was quoted in a Toronto Star article decrying the whole system. When the Access to Information Act was introduced in 1983, he told the reporter, “we were amongst the leaders in the world.” Since then, he said, “It’s been the same song and dance, no effort by any government to have this legislation or these processes keep pace with time, change and technology.” The reasons for his hasty departure only 24 hours later, he told media, are “entirely personal and private.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 11:40 AM - 1 Comment
One President needs a footstool, another President writes a note, and will someone please rescue Amanda Lindhout?
Phelps gets smoked
At the Santa Clara Grand Prix in California last Sunday, Vancouver’s Brent Hayden finished the men’s 100-freestyle race in 48.44 seconds, a meet record, beating eight-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps by a full half-second. “I was really excited,” Hayden told the Canadian Press. “Michael is such a great competitor and every time I get up and race him, it’s such an honour.” Phelps—newly mustachioed, and recently back after a three-month suspension by USA Swimming for getting caught smoking marijuana on film—won two of his four races at the meet. “I’m ready to go home and sleep in my own bed,” he said.
Here’s your visa, Mr. Rae. You’re not welcome.
Last week, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae was turned away at a Sri Lankan airport, allegedly for being a Tamil Tigers supporter and a “security risk”—and an Ontario resident may be to blame. According to the Toronto Star, Irangani de Silva, a Sri Lankan expat who lives in London, Ont., wrote an opinion piece in the June 8 issue of The Island, a major Sri Lankan newspaper, in which she counselled Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona to revoke the visa that had been issued to Rae for a three-day visit. She also denounced Rae for having suggested in the Commons recently that Canada ought to look into human rights violations committed by Sri Lankan officials over the course of the bloody 25-year civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. “We are sure that [Rae] will return with a damning report on the government of Sri Lanka and push for war crimes investigations, publish media reports that there is discrimination, etc.,” de Silva wrote. Granting a visa to Rae, she said, was an “act of foolishness.” In Sri Lanka’s state-owned Daily News, the anti-Rae vitriol continued after his departure. One columnist argued that Rae is pandering to the large faction of Tamil expats he represents in Canada “who are not just vocal but openly violent in their support for the cause of terrorism in Sri Lanka.” In his statement, Rae called the charges made against him “absurd” and “a lie, pure and simple.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Barack Obama: the musical, Kim Jong Il’s cook, and the unexpected panda pregnancy
Prince Edward, 44, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, arrived in Canada last week to present the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award—honouring academic performance and volunteerism—to 100 youths ages 14 to 25. On Monday, the province of Manitoba honoured him by naming two of its lakes after his children, Lady Louise Windsor, 4, and James, Viscount Severn, five months. On Sunday, the prince’s wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, attended a service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton as royal watchers crowded in and looked on excitedly. One parishioner, Richard Baird, told the CBC, “I’m a royalist and I think those that aren’t royalists should contemplate what they would replace it with.”
Cooking with Kim
For 20 years, Kenji Fujimoto, 56, served as head sushi chef to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. In his new book, I was Kim Jong Il’s Cook, Fujimoto reveals some strange facts about the Dear Leader’s culinary tendencies. Says Fujimoto, “He particularly enjoyed raw fish so fresh that he could start eating as its mouth is still gasping and the tail is still thrashing.” He also said that the dictator hosted “pleasure parties” during which he would order women to dance naked to American dance music. Fujimoto recently fled the Communist state, and is now in hiding in Japan. Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10:00 AM - 3 Comments
She once had parents, pants, and a real name. But she’s Lady Gaga now, a weirdo diva who wants to save pop from ruin.
“Stardate 2009: Lady Gaga has been sent to earth to infiltrate human culture one sequin at a time. Activate camera probe.” So begins every kitschy, pulsating episode of Transmission Gagavision, the online video log of Lady Gaga, the planet’s newest pop sensation, who could well be described as Ziggy Stardust’s overindulged Gen Y spawn. Ever since last fall, when she launched her debut album, The Fame, Gaga’s chart-topping dance singles Poker Face, Just Dance and Love Game have been perpetually in the ether. While other pop stars are blogging about feelings, erroneous tabloid rumours, and half-baked political views, Lady Gaga’s “transmissions” are a multimedia orgy of fashion, performance, and free-floating commentary about how thoroughly she plans to astound the public with her art. “I don’t like blogging,” she said recently in an interview. “I think it ruins the mystery of the artist. I don’t really want people to care too much what I think about anything other than art and fashion and music.”
Another thing Lady Gaga doesn’t much care for: pants. Even those who have never heard her music—futuristic, disco-influenced dance tracks—may have come across media reports about her aversion to pants. More often than not, she’d rather appear at red carpet events, on TV interviews and on stage in lavishly adorned PVC bodysuits. “I think no pants is sexy,” she told MSN. “I love the naked human body.” Earlier this year in Chicago, she was stopped by police after venturing out in what could fairly be called underwear. “It was really funny,” she later said, “because all you saw was this half-naked girl on the street yelling at some cop, ‘It’s fashion! I’m an artist!’ It was fun.” More recently, being photographed outside St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, she was mistaken for a prostitute by Russian cops and shooed away. “It’s very strange, to be completely honest. There are a lot of pop stars that don’t wear pants,” she told TheStyleSpy.com, adding, “It’s very ’70s and it’s very freeing. Here’s the thing. For me, it’s not stage clothes and then outside clothes. I have always been this way.” On June 21, when she appears in Toronto at the MuchMusic Video Awards, Canada can expect enormous crowds and scant pants.
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 4 Comments
The GG raw food rivalry, Veronica finally wins Archie, and Kanye West is a “non-reader”
Seal of approval
Inuit leaders are delighted by the positive publicity that Governor General Michaëlle Jean has attracted to the seal hunt ever since she appeared on camera last week snacking on a freshly slaughtered pup. During a visit to Nunavut, Jean partook in the skinning of a seal with a traditional ulu blade, and sampled a piece of its heart, calling it “fresh” and “delicious.” (According to Jean, this delicacy has the texture of sushi, but with a meatier taste.) One restaurant in Montreal told the CBC that sales of its seal appetizer have doubled since the video emerged. Adrienne Clarkson—in Nunavut last week, like Jean, for a symposium hosted by her husband John Raulston Saul—doesn’t see what the big deal is. She’s been eating raw food in the region for almost 40 years, and it never made headline news. “It’s nothing new to me, okay?” she told reporters. “I have a lovely sealskin coat . . . I’ve eaten raw food since 1971—and there you are.”
She said she wanted a revolution
For the first time since Sara Jane Moore, 77, was imprisoned for attempting to assassinate president Gerald Ford in 1975, she admitted last week that her actions were “a serious error.” Back in the mid-’70s, Moore, then a 45-year-old single mother, says she became caught up in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement in California. “I became immersed in it,” she told Matt Lauer, the host of NBC’s Today Show. “We were saying the country needed change. I genuinely thought that [shooting Ford] might trigger that new revolution in this country.” It was on Sept. 22, 1975, that Moore fired on Ford as he greeted a crowd in San Francisco. She missed his head by mere feet. After serving 32 years in jail, six of which she spent in solitary confinement, Moore was released on parole in 2007. Over time, she said, she “began to realize that I had let myself be used.” When host Lauer asked her why she was speaking out now, she said, “I think that one gets tired of being thought of as a kook, a monster, an alien.”
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 15 Comments
A Danish tech firm harnesses the power of the autistic brain
For the first two years of his life, Lars Sonne appeared to develop normally, a happy boy, much like his older brothers. But at the age of two, roughly 10 years ago, Lars started to retreat into himself. “At kindergarten, he wouldn’t play with others,” says his father Thorkil Sonne, a Danish software executive, speaking from his office in Copenhagen. “He would only be on his own, sit on a swing for hours.” For several months, psychologists observed the boy closely, and ultimately delivered a devastating diagnosis. “We were told that our son has a lifelong disability called childhood autism,” says Sonne. “It was scary to realize how many doors would be closed to him.”
As time progressed, Sonne noted something remarkable about Lars. He had few friends—he was far too easy to bully—but he had intense, deeply cerebral interests, like astronomy, railroad systems and math. “When he starts focusing on something, he is so clever,” he says. “He can learn so much; it’s quite extraordinary.” Once, when Lars was seven, Sonne found him creating an elaborate doodle, made up of dozens of stacked boxes, numbers and acronyms. Only later, when Sonne happened to crack open an atlas on his bookshelf, did he realize that what his son had drawn was a replica, from memory, of an intricate road map of western Europe, reproduced without a single error.
By Lianne George - Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 2 Comments
Elizabeth Taylor tweets, Clay Aiken slams Adam Lambert, and a Shatnerquake
Elizabeth Taylor, 77, who was in the hospital last week for a routine visit, has “fallen in love” with Twitter according to her spokesman Dick Guttman. From her bed, using the moniker Dame Elizabeth, Taylor told her followers (22,500 and counting) that she was “counting the days” until the opening of Michael Jackson’s concert series in London, that she recently enjoyed “delicious tomatoes” grown in her garden, and that she watched the movie Twilight on DVD and “wants more!” On Friday, in a personal tweet to her good friend, former Sports Illustrated model Kathy Ireland, she thanked her for the beautiful flowers and the prayers, and requested that Ireland find a way to sneak her puppy past hospital security. “It’s not true that I love animals more than people,” she wrote earlier that day of her famous love of animals. “They are a very close second.”
Of swastikas and good parenting
A couple in Winnipeg who drew international attention after their young daughter turned up at school last year with white supremacist symbols, including Nazi swastikas, drawn on her body, began their legal battle for custody of their children this week. The couple, who can’t be named under provincial law, will argue that Manitoba Child and Family Services had no right to seize their daughter and son from their home. “I believe there is no legal basis for the children having been apprehended,” the boy’s father (and the girl’s stepfather) wrote in an affidavit. But the government agency is seeking guardianship of the siblings, alleging that the girl told authorities that her mother had taught her that “black people just need to die because this is a white world,” and that if she ever made any non-white friends, her mother would disown her. Social workers also allege that the couple abuse drugs and alcohol and are physically abusive toward the children. But the father insists he and his wife are model guardians and that the seizure of his kids over the swastika incident is a violation of his freedom of conscience, belief and association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “In my opinion,” he wrote, “both [their mother] and I were excellent parents.”
By Lianne George - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 3:40 PM - 3 Comments
John McCain’s mom talks back, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy criticizes the pope, and Woody Allen sues American Apparel
Senator John McCain’s mother, the feisty Roberta McCain, 97, won’t tolerate bullies on her team. Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last Wednesday, she dismissed Republican pundit Rush Limbaugh as a glorified “entertainer.” “What he represents of the Republican party has nothing to do with my side of it,” she said. “I don’t know what the man means, I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Limbaugh was one of her son’s harshest critics during the 2008 presidential election. More recently, Limbaugh suggested that her granddaughter, Meghan McCain, who sees herself as the fresh new face of the GOP, should take a hike.
B.C. may get its Citizen of the Year back
Twenty years ago, Frank Hertel, 72, a charismatic Victoria businessman who pledged to turn Vancouver Island into a high-tech mecca, fled Canada to avoid tax evasion charges. On May 9, Interpol arrested him at Heathrow Airport in London, where he is now in jail, awaiting an extradition hearing. In 1984, Hertel founded a company called International Electronics Corp., which specialized in oil and thermal power, with the help of a federal program allowing for scientific tax credits. The Victoria Chamber of Commerce named him “Citizen of the Year,” but in 1985, Revenue Canada reported that he owed $30 million in back taxes and began seizing assets. In 1986, after being slapped with tax evasion charges, he fled Victoria for Venezuela, where he is said to have lived for a time in a large house in Caracas. “He knew everybody in Venezuela,” his former lawyer George Jones told the Victoria Times Colonist. “It was remarkable.” His bail was set at $900,000.
Guests: call first
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, leader of the Burmese pro-democracy party NLD, is on trial for breaching the conditions of her house arrest after she allowed a strange American man to stay in her home for two days. John Yettaw, a 53-year-old Vietnam war veteran, allegedly swam up to her home—uninvited and for unknown reasons—using homemade flippers. Suu Kyi alleges she told Yettaw to leave, but that he refused, saying that he was exhausted. Suu Kyi has been detained for most of the last two decades, and was due to be released after serving a six-year sentence on May 27. Critics say Burma’s military government is using these charges as an opportunity to silence Suu Kyi for another three to five years. Members of her legal defence team met with her this week at the Rangoon prison where she is being held. She told them: “Don’t worry about me. I will face whatever happens.” Her chief lawyer, Kyi Win, however, blames Yettaw for the whole mess, calling him “a fool.”
Bruni’s secular life
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is now on record as the only first lady of France—a predominantly Catholic nation—to have ever criticized the Pope. Speaking with the French women’s magazine Femme Actuelle, Bruni-Sarkozy called Pope Benedict XVI’s refusal to support the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa “damaging.” “I was born Catholic, I was baptized, but in my life I feel profoundly secular,” she says. Last week, as though offering up an Exhibit A, a Paris auction house announced its intention to auction off a nude drawing of Bruni-Sarkozy as part of a collection called “Pin-up.” Also featured in the collection are photos of the burlesque star Dita von Teese, dressed as a nurse and as a dominatrix.
Old man Caulfield
J.D. Salinger, the notoriously reclusive American fiction writer, swore off publishing new works decades ago. For a Swedish-American writer named John David California, however, Salinger’s silence is an open invitation. California’s debut novel, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, is an unauthorized sequel to Salinger’s classic coming-of-age story Catcher in the Rye. In 60 Years Later, Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, now 76 and known as “Mr. C,” flees a nursing home (it was a prep school in the original) to search, once again, for answers to life’s great questions in the streets of New York. “He’s still Holden Caulfield and has a particular view on things,” California, 33, told the Guardian. “He can be tired, and he’s disappointed in the goddamn world. He’s older and wiser in a sense, but in another sense he doesn’t have all the answers.” California dedicated his book to Salinger. “Maybe he will get upset,” he admits. Critics argue that the prospect of this book is so horrific, it can only be a hoax.
By Lianne George - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
Berlusconi lands in the doghouse again, Barbie gets inked, Steven Page is off the hook
For six months, former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page passed random drug tests, underwent therapy, and generally kept his nose clean—as per the conditions laid out for him by New York Judge Thomas Miller following Page’s arrest last summer for drug possession. At a hearing last Friday, Judge Miller dismissed all charges against Page, as well as those against his girlfriend Christine Benedicto, and her roommate Stephanie Ford. “I talked to Steven 20 minutes ago, and he’s elated,” Page’s loquatious attorney Mark J. Mahoney told the Buffalo News. A drug conviction would not have boded well for the musician’s new solo career, he said—he would have been banned from entering the United States for years. When asked how his client has been occupying himself, Mahoney volunteered, “He’s been writing songs, working on a book, and scouting out the possibility of performing in some kind of Broadway show.”
Two Toronto-area caregivers are alleging that Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, 35, and her family hired them illegally and mistreated them, seizing their passports, and forcing them to shine shoes, wash cars, and clean a cousin’s apartment and Dhalla’s brother Neil’s chiropractic clinics. According to Magdalene Gordo, 31, and Richelyn Tongson, 37, who spoke to the Toronto Star, Dhalla hired them to care for her mother Tavinder Dhalla in early 2008. But instead of doing caregiving work, they say they spent 12 to 16 hours a day, five days a week, doing manual labour for $250 a week. “Her mother had me out shovelling snow at midnight,” Gordo said. “She wanted a slave, not a caregiver.” They also claim their passports were taken from them and that their work permits, as per Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program, were not in order. Dhalla, who is the Liberal critic for youth and multiculturalism, denies the allegations and says she is “shocked and appalled.” “Anyone who has ever worked in our home has been treated with a lot of love, with a lot of care and compassion,” she told the Star, “and money has never, ever been withheld from anyone.”
By Lianne George - Friday, May 1, 2009 at 2:40 PM - 1 Comment
B.C. public safety minister caught speeding, Pitt does the falls, Sarkozy pimps his ride
Sarah Obama, the 87-year-old step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, suddenly found herself at the centre of a religious tug-of-war last week in her native Kenya. Obama, a Muslim, accepted an invitation to attend a Seventh Day Adventist Church event, allegedy as an honorary guest. But local Muslim leaders protested, alleging that the event was part of a plot to convert Obama to Christianity now that she is a local celebrity. “Mama Sarah should not be forced by anybody to join Christianity since she is a Muslim,” said Sheik Mohamed Khalifa, of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya. “Muslims will not sit and watch one of their own being coerced by some religious leaders to convert to Christianity.” Obama ultimately did not attend, but according to her son, Saidi Obama—the U.S. President’s uncle—this was not because of any attempted conversion. “She was to attend as a VIP,” he told the Telegraph, “but in the end she had other commitments.”
Safety minister’s safety lesson
British Columbia’s Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety John van Dongen resigned on Monday after being taken to task for unsafe driving. Last week, van Dongen was alerted by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles—an agency for which he was responsible—that he is prohibited from driving for four months due to two recent incidents of excessive speeding. “I’m not proud of my driving record that triggered this prohibition,” van Dongen told CBC Radio. “I take responsibility for it.” B.C.’s NDP Leader Carole James called on him to resign early on, but Premier Gordon Campbell praised him for owning up to his mistakes. The premier has had his own dangerous driving misadventures. While on vacation in Maui in 2003, Campbell was arrested for impaired driving, and fined US$913. Van Dongen still plans to run as a Liberal candidate in the May 12 election.
By Lianne George - Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Bill Clinton’s prize role, Bo Obama’s first book, Elisha Cuthbert’s Jack Bauer moves
Friends of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have devised a number of creative solutions to help her pay off the remaining US$2.3 million she owes in campaign debts. Her former campaign manager James Carville sent out an email to supporters asking them to contribute $5 in exchange for an opportunity to win great prizes, including tickets to the American Idol finale or a day in New York with Bill Clinton. Later, during the taping of an online radio show sponsored by Go Daddy—a Web-hosting company known for its racy commercials—Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons told Carville he would contribute US$1 million to help Clinton if the secretary of state would appear as a “Go Daddy Girl” in one of his ads. “Look, I’d be all for it, but I wouldn’t write the check just yet,” Carville replied, noting that lawyers in the State Department tend to “piss on every fire.”
Thirty-two years after Vladimir Nabokov’s death, the Lolita author’s final novel, locked in a Swiss bank vault since 1977, will see the light of day. The Original of Laura was written on a series of 138 index cards. Nabokov had instructed that the incomplete work be destroyed upon his death. His son Dmitri, who’d kept it for all these years, opted to sell the rights to Penguin Classics for an undisclosed six-figure sum. “It was quite emotional for Dmitri because it was a big decision to publish, which took him decades,” Alexis Kirschbaum, editor at Penguin Classics, told the BBC. The novel, due this fall, is the story of a man obsessed with his promiscuous wife. “[It’s] not necessarily extremely polished,” she said, “but you can still see kernels of genius in everything he wrote.”
By Lianne George - Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 2:40 PM - 4 Comments
Legendary in China, Norman Bethune is all but forgotten at home
On March 31, 1938, Mao Zedong, a young Communist revolutionary destined to bring about generations of social trauma, invited Dr. Norman Bethune to visit him in his quarters in Yan’an, China, for a conversation that lasted until early morning. In the weeks leading up to this visit—now forever enshrined in Chinese lore—Bethune, a brilliant and intrepid Canadian surgeon, traveled great distances, often on foot and under attack, helping Mao’s Communists fight fascism by tending to wounded soldiers and civilians, the only foreign doctor among 13 million Chinese.
After Bethune’s death a year later (he cut his finger on a patient’s bone shard and the wound became infected), Mao eulogized Bethune in a lengthy letter that schoolchildren would be required to memorize, word for word, for decades. In her new biography, Extraordinary Canadians: Norman Bethune, Adrienne Clarkson, Canada’s former governor general and a veteran journalist, revisits the story of the man a billion and a half Chinese came to know as Pai-Chu-En—White One Sent.