Newsmakers of the week

Elizabeth Taylor tweets, Clay Aiken slams Adam Lambert, and a Shatnerquake

Dame trackingDame tracking

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.”

Idol threatIdol threat

Clay Aiken, American Idol’s season two runner-up, landed in hot water for slamming eyeliner-worshipping Adam Lambert, this season’s runner-up, on the subscription-only section of his website, which he charges his fans US$29.95 per year to access. “Now that it’s all over, and for the record,” Aiken wrote, “I couldn’t be happier about the way AI ended this year.” When he saw Lambert performing his rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire earlier in the season, he wrote, he “thought his ears would bleed,” adding that the song was “contrived, awful, and slightly frightening!” Aiken’s post was reproduced on the gossip site Gawker and on message boards: hard-core Lambert fans quickly smelled professional jealousy. Vigorous Clay-bashing ensued. The next day, Aiken posted a lengthy explanation and an apology for his “colourful choice of words.” “I obviously meant it as a colourful statement to imply that I did not enjoy what I heard,” he wrote, adding that it wasn’t intended as “a ‘slam’ on Adam as a person.”

Pipe dreams

Philippe Lucas, a Victoria city councillor, put forth the suggestion last week that the city should distribute free crack pipes to addicts, arguing that the kits could go a long way in reducing the spread of hepatitis C. Lucas, who himself contracted the infectious disease 27 years ago through a blood transfusion, says that roughly 70 per cent of the city’s drug users have it, and that it’s spreading quickly through shared, makeshift pipes. “I hate the idea of anyone at all having to deal with the hepatitis C that I’ve dealt with when the spread is entirely preventable in terms of drug use,” he told his colleagues. Council will debate the matter in June.

Shatner warsShatner wars

Canadian William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain James T. Kirk, is the star of a new book by Jeff Burk called Shatnerquake, a fictional tale about a fan-rigged device that brings all of Shatner’s dramatic alter egos to life—Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Boston Legal’s Denny Crane, Priceline Shatner and even Singing Shatner—and sees them pitted against each other in a bloody battle to the death. In his opening remarks, author Burk praises Shatner for being the “quintessential postmodern man” for making his entire life “an elaborate work of performance art.” He ends with: “P.S. Please don’t sue me.”

No hiding in Canada

In a landmark decision on Friday, Désiré Munyaneza, 42, became the first person to be convicted under Canada’s updated Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, which allows residents to be tried for war crimes committed in other nations. Quebec Judge André Denis found Munyaneza, an ethnic Hutu who came to Canada in 1997, guilty of seven counts related to crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes against Tutsi civilians during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. “Désiré Munyaneza specifically intended to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and in the surrounding communes,” the judge said. “To that end, he intentionally killed Tutsi, seriously wounded others, caused them serious physical and mental harm, sexually assaulted many Tutsi women and generally treated Tutsi inhumanely and degradingly.” Rwandan genocide survivors in Canada, who have paid close attention to the case, expressed great relief. “We have been waiting for this,” César Gashabizi, a survivor, told the CBC. “Nobody comes to Canada to hide.”

Postcards from the edge

Postcards from the edge

South Korea’s former president Roh Moo-hyun, 62, jumped off a 30-m cliff to his death on Saturday, apparently unable to bear the shame of a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal in which he was embroiled. Roh was under investigation for allegedly accepting $6 million in bribes from a businessman while he served as leader of the country between 2003 and 2008. In a note found on his computer, Roh wrote, “What’s left for me for the rest of my life is just to be a burden to others. Don’t be too sad. Aren’t life and death both part of nature? Don’t blame anyone. It’s destiny.” Mourners lined the streets in Seoul to pay their respects to the popular leader, a self-made man from an impoverished background. On the same day, in China, another man, Chen Fuchao, stood on a bridge contemplating suicide after a failed construction project had landed him almost US$300,000 in debt. Chen’s struggle had kept traffic around the Haizhu bridge in the city of Guangzhou snarled for five hours. Police had barricaded the area. A 66-year-old man named Lai Jiansheng made his way through the barricade, approached Chen, shook his hand, and pushed him off the bridge himself. “I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish,” he later said. “They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities’ attention to their appeals.” Lai was apprehended by police and later released on bail. Chen survived the eight-metre fall onto an emergency air cushion and is recovering in hospital.

What was for lunch?

Oprah Winfrey reportedly headlined a top-secret, philanthropy-themed summit of America’s wealthiest citizens held recently in New York, according to the New York Times. In attendance at the appropriately selected venue—Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s Upper East Side—were celebrity billionaires including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Ted Turner. “Essentially, it was a brainstorming session where people who are very charitable talked about charity in today’s economic climate,” said Karen Denne, a spokesperson for philanthropist Eli Broad, who also attended the private meeting. Details of how the event came about were kept tightly under wraps, and for good reason: the estimated net worth of the room was about US$120 billion or, as the Times put it, just shy of the annual budget of New York state.

Queen Elizabeth IIRoyal sting

Brian Sirjusingh, a part-time chauffeur for Britain’s royal family, has been suspended and is under investigation by Buckingham Palace officials after he allegedly brought two undercover reporters on a “tour” of a secure area of the building after they offered him a bribe of about $1,800. The reporters, both employees of the News of the World newspaper, said they were waved through a police checkpoint, without security checks, and were shown the royal garage, where one reporter said he was allowed to sit in a Bentley used to transport Queen Elizabeth II on special occasions. “There have been a number of security breaches at the palace over the years,” said the News of the World’s royal editor Robert Jobson, defending the stunt, “but this is right up there in terms of being a flagrant breach of security . . . It could easily have been a terrorist walking into the palace and planting a bomb in the car.”

He did last a very long timeHe did last a very long time

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Robert Furchgott, whose discovery that nitric oxide could help enlarge blood vessels was a major factor in the invention of Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, died last Tuesday in Seattle. He was 92.

The mysterious affair in Qazvin

A 32-year-old woman identified only as Mahin is being described by Iranian police as the country’s first female serial killer. Mahin reportedly confessed to police to borrowing her modus operandi from the plots of Agatha Christie, whose classic mystery novels are extremely popular in Iran. She is accused of killing at least six people, most of whom were middle-aged and elderly women. She would offer them a ride in her car, give them fruit juice spiked with a drug to render them unconscious, then suffocate them and steal their money and valuables. According to Ali Akbar Hedayati, the police chief of the city of Qazvin, Mahin suffers from a mental disorder that is the result of having been deprived of her mother’s love.