By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
Forget “no-holds-barred,” this will be a staged cage-match
Lance Armstrong’s face-off with Oprah Winfrey this week (airing Thursday and Friday) promises to be the most calculated comeback since Cheap Trick dusted off the Lycra. And not only for the disgraced cyclist, who’s obviously using the manufactured platform to try to beat the odds facing him, just as doping once did. The sit-down between the two formerly invincible halo brands is clearly synergistic: Winfrey needs the ratings boost, and to reclaim her spot as America’s go-to confessor for lapsed celebrities; Armstrong, shunned by former sponsors including Nike, and by his “Say it ain’t so, Lance” apologists, desperately needs to tap into what’s left of the “Oprah effect.”
There’s an innate conundrum here, of course. Halo brands are conferred on institutions and people (Mayo Clinic; Mother Theresa) with a unique ability to inspire and perceive unimpeachable credibility. Armstrong, for a time, held the world in thrall with his seven Tour de France wins (all now stripped), beating cancer and, in 1997, founding “Livestrong,” his once-venerated, now disgraced charity. Winfrey, meanwhile, inspired the masses “to live your best life” wearing a Livestrong bracelet. That shared ability to uplift transformed both into commercial juggernauts; people bought whatever they were selling.
But now those halos are tarnished, Armstrong’s far more than Oprah’s—a calculus that means he has far more to win, she more to lose. Despite his repeated claims of innocence, he was outed as a liar, manipulator and user by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year in a damning, 1,000-page report that accused him of masterminding a long-running, labyrinthine doping scheme. Winfrey’s sway, specifically her hold over the cultural zeitgeist, has also sagged since she stepped down from her daily pulpit in 2011 to run the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Ratings have been poor; the enterprise has been plagued by bad press; the “Oprah effect” never kicked in. There have been no defining moments for which she is famed—Tom Cruise couch-jumping, visiting Michael Jackson in Neverland, Jennifer Hudson forgiving the man who killed members of her family. Now the few people who subscribe to OWN are stuck with interviews like a recent emotional chit-chat with Rihanna who described her former, physically abusive boyfriend Chris Brown as the “love of her life.” (Winfrey didn’t even bother to talk some sense into her.) To top it off, there’s the growing blowback (complete with evidence) that the anointed “experts“ Winfrey unleashed on the world, among them Drs. Phil and Oz, are quacks.
In wrangling Armstrong, Winfrey might have met her nemesis—if only because their fame is derived from the same inspirational, “live-every-day-strong” wellspring. It’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of Winfrey’s 2006 smack down of James Frey for fabricating parts of his memoir. At the time, her lacerating fury was widely celebrated as triggering some sort of national catharsis, a necessarily proactive “truthiness” blood-letting.
This highly anticipated sit-down, however, looks more like a WorldWideWrestling staged cage-match. Billed by OWN as Armstrong’s “first no-holds-barred” interview, it now looks like Winfrey’s been co-opted as the final stop of his week-long Apol-alooza. It was originally scheduled for one night; now allegedly there’s so much material, it has morphed into two 90-minute segments aired over two nights to milk primo ad revenue. Whether they’ll get what they paid for is doubtful. When Winfrey was promoting the show on CBS earlier this week, she coyly hinted that she hadn’t gotten the full goods: “I would say he did not come clean in the manner I had expected,” she said. “It was surprising to me.” Considering that Armstrong was surrounded by lackeys and lawyers choreographing his every move, it would seem entirely predictable.
What Armstrong wants is simple, if not easily obtained. He wants back on his bike to regain his money-making mojo. There’s also a lot to pedal from. He’s facing a mountain of litigation—from his former cycling team, from people who lost libel judgments after daring to suggest he used performance-enhancing drugs. Then there are regulators who want him under oath on the stand. For some reason, they don’t see a chat with the once-Mighty O as the equivalent of a real-world admission. It’ll be fascinating to see how many others agree—and just how transcendent a halo brand can be.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:54 AM - 0 Comments
Citizens in Elliot Lake finally get answers and Lance Armstrong comes clean
It’s a welcome sight to see a country other than the United States taking a lead role in the fight against al-Qaeda. France launched air strikes in Mali to head off armed extremists from expanding their grip on the country and over- taking the capital, Bamako. This week, France took the case for intervention to the UN, paving the way for the deployment of African troops to back up Malian forces. Canada also said this week it would send a military transport plane to support the mission. Without France’s bold intervention, the security of North Africa— and, by extension, Europe—would have been at serious risk.
From the rubble
Seven months after their mall caved in, killing two and wounding 20 others, the people of Elliot Lake, Ont., are about to get what they desperately want: answers. Justice Robert Belanger, who will oversee the inquiry into the tragic collapse, announced hearings will begin March 4. The judge also issued an important preliminary ruling, denying a request from the mall’s owner, Bob Nazarian, to keep his finances secret. As Belanger wrote, Nazarian’s bank statements—and how much of that money was spent on main- tenance—are “directly relevant and of significant importance.”
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 12:10 PM - 0 Comments
The break-ups of 2012
Katie Holmes’s divorce from Scientologist Tom Cruise after five years of public captivity was as sudden as the couple’s whirlwind nuptials. The 33-year-old actress’s Houdini-like manoeuvres, more jailbreak than marital meltdown, left her with custody of five-year-old Suri. Soon after, a Vanity Fair story ran about how the Church of Scientology recruited her to screen test as a prospective wife for the actor. Now the former Dawson Creek star is on Broadway. Meanwhile, her 50-year-old, couch-jumping ex has been seen squiring other women about; we can only assume he’s auditioning wife No. 4.
Big O axes little O
Oprah Winfrey lured the former “Queen of Nice,” Rosie O’Donnell, to her ailing TV network, OWN, with high hopes the former talk-show host would draw viewers and buzz. Six months later, after format changes, humiliating ratings and carping from staff, Winfrey yanked the show—to O’Donnell’s chagrin. Now the two former daytime doyennes aren’t talking at all—at least to each other.
Fourteen months after a showy Indian wedding complete with elephants, celebrity exhibitionists Russell Brand, 37, and Katy Perry, 28, announced their joint act was over. The British comedian, once fired from MTV for dressing as Osama bin Laden, filed for divorce from the American singer known for shooting whipped cream from her bra. Future mates have hard acts to follow.
Canada: just not that into Iran
When Canada breaks up with a country, it doesn’t fool around. Last September, the government unilaterally cut diplomatic relations with Iran, shuttering the Tehran embassy and booting Iran’s diplomatic staff from Ottawa. Dangers were too high, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said of the criticized move that showed the ayatollahs who was boss. Continue…
By Scaachi Koul - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 1:58 PM - 0 Comments
Magic Johnson just launched a new network for black families
Magic Johnson made his name on the basketball court, but he plans on making a second fortune in television. Johnson recently launched Aspire, a U.S. television network aimed at the African-American market. He’ll be competing against TV One and BET, the two other major African-American-oriented networks in the U.S. Launching a network is a risky venture: Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, for example, has struggled with poor ratings since it launched a year ago. But unlike OWN, which is built entirely on Winfrey’s brand, Johnson’s network is aimed at what he believes is the untapped market of family programming for African-Americans. It is being carried by the largest cable operator in the U.S., Comcast, and is backed by corporations like Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart. It’s not Johnson’s only new business venture either. The NBA Hall of Famer is also entering the world of the prepaid credit card with his aptly named Mastercard, the “Magic Card.”
By macleans.ca - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 6:08 PM - 0 Comments
The media mogul opens up about her legacy and why she left her hit show
Oprah Winfrey brought her Lifeclass: the Tour, a two-hour live presentation on, well, life, featuring guests like Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra, to Toronto today for the show’s third and final stop. Here she is on the red carpet speaking to CityLine’s Tracy Moore.
For our Maclean’s feature on Oprah’s life classes–and her “super-fans,’ some of whom paid nearly $400 to see her speak–click here.
By Rosemary Counter - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 9:17 AM - 0 Comments
Super-fans pay $395 for ‘emerald seating’—and none are keen to believe her network is flailing
This week, Ottawa lawyer Prasanna Ranganathan has a blind date with two women. Luckily, they have a lot in common. “We’re all huge Oprah fans, so we developed a friendship over Twitter and email,” he says. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Ambassadors—“our unofficial moniker,” he laughs—plan to meet for brunch before heading to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on April 16, where talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey is filming her first-ever Canadian broadcast.
“As soon as they announced it, I was on the phone in 20 minutes,” says 31-year-old Ranganathan. Tickets sold out within 24 hours (a second show added later also sold out). Like his two friends, Ranganathan got lucky the first time around, skipping the cheap seats ($49) and securing the coveted “emerald seating” ($395) at Oprah’s feet. The same ticket is now being offered for $1,550 on Kijiji, but Ranganathan won’t be selling his spot. “I feel like Dorothy from Oz headed to the Emerald City,” he says.
Joining the pilgrimage is Liz Toole, a 47-year-old real estate advertiser from Truro, N.S. Toole has watched The Oprah Winfrey Show religiously for 23 years, has seen the show taped twice in Chicago, subscribes to the very successful O Magazine and has read every book club selection. She was even chosen to tour Australia as one of 300 “ultimate viewers” in 2010, but doesn’t consider herself lucky. “I don’t use the word luck,” she says. “Like Oprah, I believe that things are meant to happen.”
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
From Oprah to Glenn Beck: the ones who bowed out, and those who were booted out
SIGNED OFF: OPRAH
Oprah Winfrey, America’s richest-ever female entrepreneur, retired the syndicated afternoon TV talk show that represented the heart of her media empire. For her ﬁnal episode, Winfrey eschewed the usual celebrity guests and gift-giving spectacles, opting for a low-key recital of favourite empowerment messages. “Nobody but you is responsible for your own life,” she told the audience. Her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) is received on cable in 80 million U.S. households and took over the Corus-owned Viva brand in Canada this year.
DUMPED: GLENN BECK
Meanwhile, Oprah’s mirror-image, the conservative historian-polemicist Glenn Beck, departed network TV after just 2½ years. Beck joined Fox News Channel at the start of 2009 and rocketed to the top of the cable totem pole with impassioned monologues and paranoid chalk talks diagramming the leftist inﬁltration of American institutions. But advertisers and his audience abandoned him. Beck claimed, “The show has become a movement . . . it doesn’t belong on television anymore.” He was right about that at least: Fox dropped him.
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 1:09 PM - 14 Comments
One of the inspirations behind Science-ish was the seemingly endless barrage of complaints by friends in medicine regarding the “Oprah effect” on their offices and hospital wards: patients making important decisions about a lifestyle choice or treatment option based on something they had seen on Queen of daytime talk.
Now, the Oprah Winfrey Show is off the air, but the after-effects of her work on childhood vaccination and menopause will surely haunt doctors’ visits for years to come. Of course, other media—before and after Oprah—have a powerful sway over patient decisions. Every day, newspapers dole out advice on how much alcohol and coffee to consume, how best to manage your diabetes, and the benefits of probiotics. New media play a big role in purveying health knowledge, too. In research into YouTube as a source of information on immunization, the investigators found that about half of the videos posted had anti-immunization messages, and the negative videos were more highly rated and viewed more often than those backed by science. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
After her husband was killed in the north tower, Cindy Barkway decided to prove good is better than evil
On the morning of May 2, having just returned from a family cruise along Canada’s east coast, Cindy Barkway waited in the kitchen of her Etobicoke, Ont., home with a piece of momentous news. “They’ve killed Osama bin Laden,” she told her nine-year-old son David as he descended, bleary-eyed, from his upstairs room. She scanned his face for reaction: when he laughs or frowns, the boy can look hauntingly like the father he never knew. This time she got an uncomprehending stare.
“Who?” he asked.
“The guy who killed Daddy,” said David’s older brother Jamie, exasperated, and with that the younger boy brightened. Since they were toddlers, Cindy has been conditioning her sons with early-years style accounts of their father’s death in the north tower of the World Trade Center—how David Sr., a trader with BMO Nesbitt-Burns, had gone to a meeting in New York; how an angry man had sent airplanes to fly into the tall building; how their dad and a lot of other blameless people died in a tragedy that changed the world.
Cindy was six months pregnant on Sept. 11, 2001, with the boy she’d name after her late husband. She had joined David Sr. on his fateful trip to New York to do a bit of shopping, so she bore witness to the smoke billowing from the towers before she knew what caused it (a drugstore clerk told her that the buildings had been struck by hijacked airliners). This cascade of misfortune would bring uninvited celebrity: as the loved one of a Canadian victim who was actually in New York at the time, she became the focus of intense interest to her own country’s media. She also counted among the so-called “9/11 moms” featured on Oprah Winfrey and Primetime with Diane Sawyer.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 1 Comment
Book by Sarah Ferguson
Last year, in one of the most scandalous “gotcha” stories ever produced by the now-defunct News of the World, the tabloid’s reporters pulled off an audacious sting aimed at Sarah Ferguson. Fergie agreed to “open doors” for a “fake sheik” by selling access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, duke of York, who is also Britain’s trade envoy. The price was $800,000. Sarah’s life, already in a debt-laden spiral, crashed after the tabloid released a video recording of the sordid encounter. “‘Look after me,” she said, “and he [Andrew] will look after you.”
Though Sarah was advised to lay low for a year, she didn’t. Instead, she cut a deal with Oprah Winfrey to go on a journey of self-discovery, with a camera crew capturing her every moment. The result is a miniseries and this book, which lays bare some of her most painful memories and feelings, especially her realization of how much she’d hurt her fiercely loyal daughters Beatrice and Eugenie. “How could they possibly love Fergie for behaving in such a way,” she wrote. “I feel I have let so many down. My self-hatred and self-punishment is rampant. I cannot forgive myself. I need healing.”
While chunks of the book are filled with the usual celebrity self-help encounters with spiritual advisers (even the obligatory shaman), as well as stays in personal transformation retreats, it’s the sections chronicling her turbulent life—her mother abandoned her young daughters for an Argentine polo player—that reveal why Sarah, now 51, changes directions like an overeager puppy and lurches from crisis to crisis. Though she often tries to justify her actions, it’s left to Dr. Phil to deliver the hard truth: “You need to realize: ‘It’s not anyone else’s fault that I am the way I am. I have the power to choose who I am going to be and how I am going to live my life.’ ” The next move is up to Sarah.
By Jaime Weinman - Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 9:19 AM - 5 Comments
A show that takes a stand against bullying might have given bullies some ideas
One month, two very different stories about Glee and bullies. Entertainment Weekly recently praised the hit show for its stand against gay-bashing and “the daily high school realities of bullying, discrimination and ignorance.” Soon after, Toronto newspapers reported that students at a Toronto school were not only shouting anti-gay slurs at people but “slushing” them—throwing colourful ice drinks at them and trying to soak them or stain them, or just hit them with the ice. This happens to be a technique popularized, and maybe even invented, by the bad guys on Glee. Enza Anderson, a Toronto transgender political activist who has organized a public meeting to discuss the attacks, told Maclean’s that “it was definitely copied from the show. In my 20 years of living in this community, I’ve never seen this done until that show started.” If anti-war movies like Saving Private Ryan have been accused of making war seem exciting, then Glee could be the anti-bullying show that gives bullies ideas.
The throwing of slushies, or Slurpees, or whatever they’re called, is one of the most iconic running gags on the show. It tends to be done by the members of the football team, the representatives of evil, as a quick and easy way to humiliate the characters on the good-guy glee club: everyone from the annoying Rachel (Lea Michele) to saintly Kurt (Chris Colfer) has randomly been splashed.
Even people who don’t watch Glee regularly might have seen the drink-throwing somewhere else, thanks to advertising. Before the current season started, the cast promoted the show with an ad where they all threw multi-coloured drinks at the camera. Oprah Winfrey even invited Michele to help demonstrate the proper splattering technique on her show, introducing the show’s property master as he practised covering a dummy named “Bob” with red dye: “Not bad,” he mused. “I would have preferred a little more texture.” Along with singing and incomprehensible plots, slushing may be the thing Glee most wants to be known for.
By Sarah Weinman - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
2009 was a bumper crop for fall fiction. This year, the big names are in short supply.
The tradition in publishing is that serious fiction and the fall season go together like horses and carriages. Want to promote the latest thriller? Save it for the summer. Have a debut novel to push? Try the spring, so the big guns won’t crowd it out. But at a time when publishing tropes are vanishing faster than you can say e-book, holding back the most prestigious titles for the window between Labour Day and Christmas may be on the way out.
Granted, very few fall seasonal crops could be as bountiful as last year’s, which featured new books by awards regulars such as Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Jonathan Lethem and John Irving. By comparison, this year’s slate seems a bit thin. There’s another by Philip Roth (who produces novels at an annual rate these days), and new fiction from Salman Rushdie, Sara Gruen and Michael Cunningham. But the BookExpo America trade show emphasized potential summer hits—and newspaper preview stories are concentrating on 2011 non-fiction. What happened to fall fiction?
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
J.P. Morgan’s summer reading list has come to be know as the billionaires’ book club
When billionaire talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey affixes her coveted initial to the cover of a book, it’s a guarantee of huge sales. But what are the über-rich really reading? For that, consider J.P. Morgan’s summer reading list, which after 11 straight years has come to be known as the billionaires’ book club.
By Claire Ward - Monday, April 26, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Channelling the comfort of a Snuggie and the look of a jean, it’s pyjamas you’ll wear to work
Shlumpadinkas. They’re everywhere—in your supermarket, at the mall, in your kid’s elementary school parking lot. You’ve seen them. They’re the ladies in sweats, the pyjama mamas, the “flannel jammy faction” (as one Twitter post called them)—and the latest demographic targeted by the Vermont-based PajamaGram company with its new product, PajamaJeans, a snuggly garment billed as “pajamas you live in, jeans you sleep in.”
“We were noticing that people were wearing their pyjamas on airplanes and in grocery stores. But a lot of people have mixed feelings about it because they think it’s inappropriate and sloppy,” Stacey Buonanno, PajamaGram’s merchandising manager, told the blog Style List. “We thought, why don’t we develop something you’re comfortable hanging around the house in or sleeping in, but that looks acceptable when you go out?”
Washed in a deep indigo, the stretchy, boot-cut trouser is made of a mixture of cotton and spandex—a proprietary blend called Dormisoft—that apparently doesn’t stretch out with wear, unlike the knees and seat of your favourite jeans. The PajamaJean has a soft, jersey lining, complete with bright-yellow topstitch seams, pockets and rivets, an ambitious design intended to deceive the eye. The New York Daily News calls it the “fashion must-have for any woman looking to indulge her inner couch potato.”
By Anne Kingston - Friday, March 12, 2010 at 4:19 PM - 42 Comments
Gabourey Sidibe isn’t exactly on the road to becoming an “American Cinderella”
Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he’s also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won’t. So it was this week when the Sirius shock jock unleashed a tirade against the future prospects for Gabourey Sidibe, the Best Actress nominee for her role in Precious. “There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” Stern proclaimed the day after the Academy Awards. He went on to slam Oprah Winfrey’s tribute to Sidibe during the telecast in which she called the actress “a true American Cinderella on the threshold of a brilliant new career.” Stern was having none of it: “Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business and she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”
Stern was pilloried for being racist. He was also attacked for getting his facts wrong: Sidibe has been cast in the new Showtime comedy The C Word and the upcoming movie Yelling To The Sky, though neither are leading roles. The C Word stars Laura Linney; in Yelling to the Sky Sidibe plays a bully, which is safe to say not a role Halle Barry turned down.
On Wednesday, Stern defended his comments, taking on the role of compassionate health crusader. He compared Sidibe to his co-star Artie Lange, who recently attempted to commit suicide: “Like, I kind of don’t see a difference between what our Artie did—Artie tried to kill himself. And I feel this girl, in a slower way…she’s gonna kill herself.”
Stern being Stern, he couldn’t leave it there. He went on to deride the newcomer’s acting ability, calling her a “prop” in Precious, which suggests he didn’t see the movie or slept through it. His sidekick Robin Quivers chimed in with another inaccuracy: “You don’t have to be unhealthy to do that part,” she said. But any actress playing Precious, a 16-year-old girl monstrously abused by her parents, did have to be seriously overweight. The character’s only comfort comes from scarfing down tubs of fried chicken. Her excess flesh is not only a salient class indicator but also protective armour.
Off the screen, the 26-year-old is also creating buzz for showing no indication of signing up for a celebrity weight-loss reality show. On Oprah, she revealed she has battled her weight all of her life; it wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she finally became comfortable in her own skin, she said. That was evident on the Oscar red carpet where she was joy to watch—exuberant, confident, loving every second, very much in the character of Precious who sustained herself with fantasies of being a celebrity. The actress ordered a camera to pan back to get her entire cobalt blue Marchesa gown in the frame and told Ryan Seacrest: “If fashion was porn, this dress would be the money shot.”
Watching, one couldn’t help wish for Sidibe to luxuriate in every second because deep-down we know Stern is right: Precious was a unique role; the odds of her transitioning into an American Cinderella—at least the Cinderella created by Disney who is slender and white—are nil in today’s Hollywood where women are valued for their youth, beauty and willingness to aspire to invisibility size-wise. “Plus-sized” or “full-figured” actresses (read: anyone over size six) have a tough enough time of it. Consider Nikki Blonsky who received high praise for her performance in Hairspray but hasn’t been heard from since. The verdict remains out on Jennifer Hudson, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls; she just dropped 60 pounds to play Winnie Mandela in a bio-pic.
The double-standard is so ingrained, it’s tedious: when Renée Zellweger gained 20 pounds to play Bridget Jones it was a major news story (and one suspects part of the reason she won an Oscar). Yet when Jeff Bridges packed on 25 pounds for his Oscar-winning role as washed-up country singer Bad Blake, no one asked for his weight-loss secrets. Male actors can get soft and paunchy and age and still get work—and the girl. Jack Black is allowed to play romantic lead against Kate Winslet. And nobody’s complaining that Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t buff.
But Sidibe isn’t just “full-figured,” she’s obese—which, as Stern points out, is a hot-button topic in the U.S. and also a serious health risk. In Hollywood, morbid obesity is cheap-laugh fodder—slap a fat suit on Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) or Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor/Norbit) and let the pathetic yucks begin. The 500-pound Darlene Cates who starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 is an exception: she went on a few other roles, all of which hinged on her weight.
People went overboard rooting for Sidibe, Stern argues, “because she’s a big fat lady.” Maybe he’s right again. Consider it the Susan Boyle effect—the righteous pleasure of being so broad-minded to see that talent can come in different-sized packages. But the craving for change, evidenced in the first U.S. Black president, is deeper than that. Hollywood is taking tiny steps: Kathryn Bigelow broke through the male Best Director Oscar barrier. Meryl Streep is hotter at age 60 than she’s ever been. Helen Mirren is an inspiration. And non-stick figure Queen Latifah is playing a romantic lead in the upcoming movie Just Wright.
Fat, however, is more impenetrable, reflected in Stern mocking Sidibe’s for saying “I’m going to hit a Chick-fil-A,” a L.A. fast-food chain, after the awards. “That’s so sad,” he said. Of course, when the slender Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock expressed similar sentiment, it was heralded as a sign of how down to earth she is: “I just want to eat!” Bullock told the press room. “I just want to sit down and take my shoes off, and take my dress off, and eat a burger—and not worry that my dress is going to bust open.” Nobody, even Howard Stern, sees anything wrong with that picture.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
‘Oprah effect’ kicks in
The Bay’s $10 red Olympic mittens—already the most popular item of its 2010 Olympic clothing line—officially catapulted into “iconic” status when Oprah Winfrey gave them a shout-out on today’s program starring U.S. snowboarder and gold medal winner Shaun White. Within seconds of the show’s airing, one New York Post journalist working at the Olympic media compound was fielding calls from relatives demanding he stock up on the woolly memorabilia, much to his distress. “Now that the ‘Oprah effect’ has kicked in, they’ll be impossible to get,” he moaned.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 12:51 PM - 83 Comments
Maybe it’s true: you can put a Republican in a Democratic cabinet, but you can’t stop him from trashing science. On Friday the Highway Loss Data Institute issued a paper complaining that their insurance-claims information offered no significant indication that cellular bans in California, New York, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia had done a lick of good. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took to the web in a state of high dudgeon, complaining that the study “irresponsibly suggests that laws banning cell phone use while driving have zero effect on the number of crashes on our nation’s roadways.”
Leaving aside whether it can be “irresponsible” for a study to report disappointing or unexpected data—although, why, yes, now that you mention it, that’s something the definition of scientific responsibility positively requires!—LaHood isn’t even speaking accurately about what the HLDI found. According to the Institute’s interpretation of the trendlines, New York and Connecticut experienced statistically significant increases in claims relative to other states when cell-phone bans were introduced. The effect of the ban wasn’t zero: it was worse than zero.
The HLDI doesn’t really believe that cell-phone bans make the roads more dangerous, and you probably shouldn’t either. The charts in the study offer a nice check on the credibility of the findings, and the one from New York actually appears to provide decent prima facie evidence that the cell-phone ban did work there:
The reason the statistical model used in the paper reported a negative effect in NY (and CT) is that those states were already enjoying long-term trends of increasing relative safety before the ban—trends which slowed, but, as you can see for yourself, did not stop. Interpretively, this seems like pretty sharp dealing. On the other hand, the unimpressive early results for California, the most populous state, have to be pretty disappointing for advocates of a cell-phone ban.
One way or another, there can be no excuse for LaHood to resort to the argument from anecdote in an attack on the world’s most important highway-safety authority.
Not explaining likely reasons for the surprising data encourages people to wrongly conclude that talking on cell phones while driving is not dangerous! Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask Jennifer Smith and the founding board members of FocusDriven, who all lost loved ones in crashes caused by cell phone drivers. Ask Shelli Ralls, who lost her son Chance Wayne Wilcox on March 22, 2008. Ask any one of the hundreds of people who have poured out their stories of loss on Oprah, on websites, in blogs and newspapers around the country.
You heard right: go ask Oprah, says the man 13th in the line of succession to the nuclear football. I for one would be more comfortable right now if that number were a little higher.
I thought another part of LaHood’s horrified screed was particularly amusing:
Look, a University of Utah study shows that using a cell phone while driving can be just as dangerous and deadly as driving drunk.
The part he left out, in describing that 2006 study, is that motorists were put in a driving simulator and tested four times: once while sober and undistracted, once while using a handheld cell, once while using a hands-free set, and once while at a blood-alcohol level of exactly 0.08%—the legal limit in many North American jurisdictions. What the researchers actually found is that driving “drunk” by this definition isn’t all that dangerous!
“Neither accident rates, nor reaction times to vehicles braking in front of the participant, nor recovery of lost speed following braking differed significantly” from undistracted drivers, the researchers write. …Drews says the lack of accidents among the study’s drunken drivers was surprising. He and Strayer speculate that because simulated drives were conducted during mornings, participants who got drunk were well-rested and in the “up” phase of intoxication.
Whoa, there’s an “up” phase!?
Look, we all know it’s better to drive without distractions and without a bellyful of Wild Turkey. But learning to take drunk driving seriously has been an important achievement of Western civilization in recent times, and that achievement is undermined when politicians make gibbering, hysterical comparisons of cell-phone-using drivers to drunken ones. The case for cell-phone bans has to stand on its own two feet. And, ideally, on a solid empirical foundation of the sort that has not yet been supplied.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
Mo’Nique creates one of the most ferocious female villains ever to grace the screen
Sometimes a movie becomes more than a movie; it turns into a movement. That’s what has happened to Precious. It began in January, when its director, Lee Daniels, took a cellphone call from Oprah Winfrey as he was getting up to accept the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Oprah told him his movie “split her open” and offered to throw her weight behind it. Precious went on to win the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and is generating massive Oscar buzz. It’s this year’s Slumdog Millionaire, another underdog drama of an abused ghetto child with showbiz dreams trying to overcome enormous odds. But Precious, the harrowing tale of a 350-lb. Harlem teen who’s impregnated for the second time by her father, makes Slumdog look like a Disney movie. No movie heroine has ever grappled with more issues at once: she’s black, poor, obese, abused, illiterate, unloved, pregnant and HIV positive.
Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Precious is fiction. But as the movie morphs into a cause, its inspirational message has become inseparable from the real-life personalities behind it, who have embraced the film as a healing touchstone to their own childhood horrors of sexual or physical abuse. That includes Sapphire, Daniels—and the two iconic moguls who signed on to the film after its premiere, Winfrey and Tyler Perry. But no one incarnates the horror of abuse more vividly than Mo’Nique, the 41-year-old powerhouse who portrays the monstrous mother of the film’s teenage heroine. The actress says she drew directly on her own experience of suffering four years of abuse from her brother, starting at age seven. The director told her to “be a monster,” she told the New York Times. “And my brother was that monster to me. That’s who I became.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 1 Comment
The famous singer is behind a Toronto jewellery maker’s fairy-tale success story
Gisèle Theriault’s life reads like a fairy tale: a barber’s daughter from Cape Breton takes a talismanic necklace of gold and rubies to a glittering ball attended by superstars and a former U.S. president. There’s even a fairy godmother—Alicia Keys. Theriault was operating a modest solo business out of her Toronto home, handcrafting silver jewellery engraved with inspirational messages, when she met Keys backstage at a concert last year. The pop diva took the jeweller under her wing, and since then Oprah Winfrey has been wearing her work. Theriault now has ﬁve employees and shares a New York publicist with Keys and the late Michael Jackson. This month Keys launched an enterprise called AK Worldwide, making her protege’s jewellery line its pilot project. And last week at the Black Ball—a star-studded Manhattan gala to raise money for children with AIDS—Theriault saw a necklace that she created auctioned off for US$40,000. She had hoped it would go for more, but had a big consolation. The buyer was Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry.
A few days before the Black Ball, Theriault sat in the sun-splashed kitchen of her home—a three-storey semi that doubles as the headquarters for her company, the Barber’s Daughter—and served a slice of vegan pumpkin pie and ﬂowering tea. As a jasmine bloom opened like a sea anemone in a glass teapot, she confessed that, after working until 4:30 a.m. to ﬁnish the necklace for the ball, she had a dream that it sold for $100,000. “I govern myself by dreams,” she says, and her subconscious appraisal wasn’t so far-fetched. For last year’s Black Ball, she made a silver necklace that sold for US$25,000. This one is far more lavish, and made of 18-karat gold. Continue…
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 macleans.ca - Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
Judy Blume causes a moral panic, Kiefer Sutherland demands satisfaction, and introducing Dr. Dolly Parton
Speculation over which of his three wives newly elected South African President Jacob Zuma, 67, would bring to his inauguration ceremony was finally put to rest on Saturday when he turned up to the the $10.5-million affair with only his senior wife, Sizakele Khumalo, by his side. Polygamy is still common practice in rural KwaZulu Natal, where Zuma comes from. In fact, South African political analyst Protas Madlala told the BBC that Zuma will very likely bring all three wives on official foreign visits: “It may be to avoid antagonizing some of them he takes them all to state occasions,” he said. “Or he may rotate among them, like the nightly visits.”
Are you there, FBI?
Judy Blume, known for her angst-ridden teen novels like Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret and Forever, inadvertently placed herself at the center of a vicious online right-to-life battle last week. On Wednesday, in honour of Mother’s Day, Blume sent out an email to solicit donations for Planned Parenthood, an organization that offers birth control options and, in some clinics, abortion services and morning-after pills to the public. “No organization that I know of supports motherhood and all that it means more than Planned Parenthood,” she wrote. But the email was obtained by members of pro-life groups who quickly made Blume an object of scorn. Steven Ertelt, editor of the the anti-abortion site Lifenews.com, urged readers to speak out, and soon Blume was inundated with hate mail, even getting death threats. “Letting people know that a children’s author is stumping for donations for a business that kills children is part of our mission,” Ertelt told the Daily Beast. Determined to use the scuffle as an opportunity to rally Planned Parenthood’s own troops, president Cecile Richards sent out an email urging people to support Blume by donating: “Nothing—nothing—would make Judy happier.”