Guy Laliberté’s space concert, Sarah Palin’s revenge, and a tribute for the Man in Black

Newsmakers of the week

Guy LalibertéJust add water
His Cirque du Soleil shows are a staple in Las Vegas, one of the planet’s most profligate users of water, but space tourist and Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté is on a self-described “poetic social mission” to raise awareness of the need for access to clean drinking water. The Montreal-based Laliberté, who spent more than US$35 million for a 12-day visit to the International Space Station, donned a red foam clown’s nose as he arrived at the station last Friday, but his trip isn’t all fun and games. On Oct. 9, the Cirque founder hosts an all-star webcast at as the station orbits the planet. The two-hour “poetic tale,” written by novelist Yann Martel, brings together personalities from 14 world cities. Among them: former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, U2, Peter Gabriel, Shakira, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, environmentalist David Suzuki and Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman. Laliberté says he hopes the event will raise awareness for One Drop’s aim of “water for all, all for water.”

Paradise doesn’t come easy
Kurtis Coombs, a 19-year-old political science major at Memorial University, had a first-hand lesson last week in the dark art of politics. For almost two days, he was the elected mayor of Paradise, Nfld., where he lives with his parents while commuting to school in St. John’s. But Canada’s youngest mayor found his victory short-lived. A recount shaved his razor-thin three-vote victory into a tie with incumbent Ralph Wiseman. The draw was settled by putting both names in a recycling bin and picking the winner. With that, Wiseman returned to office and Coombs is back in class. A Facebook page has been set up to assist Coombs “in keeping the job that was stolen from him.” On Tuesday, a judge ordered a second recount.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadHis roots aren’t showing
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who has repeatedly called for the elimination of Israel and denied that six million Jews were murdered during the Second World War—may have Jewish ancestry. The Daily Telegraph says an examination of his identity card shows his previous family name was Sabourjian, a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver. The paper says the family changed its name to Ahmadinejad after converting to Islam after his birth. Rumours of his ancestry have circulated before. During the presidential election a reformist candidate challenged Ahmadinejad in a TV debate to reveal his full name. And in July, an Iranian blogger who had questioned Ahmadinejad’s ancestry was arrested.

As seen on TV
Rukhsana Kauser, an 18-year-old farmer’s daughter from a remote village in the Jammu region of Indian-controlled Kashmir, is being hailed as a heroine after she and her brother rescued their family from a band of armed Pakistani militants. Three militants, led by commander Abu Osama, forced their way into the family home, while another four waited outside. The BBC reported Osama had plans to take Kauser as his wife. They began beating Kauser’s parents when their demands were refused. Kauser emerged from under the bed where she was hiding, grabbed an axe and smacked Osama, who was kicking her father. She then killed him with his own AK-47. “I fired endlessly,” she said. “The militant commander got 12 shots on his body.” Her brother, Eijaz, 19, grabbed another of the militant’s guns, wounding an attacker before they fled. “I had never touched a rifle before this, let alone fired one,” Rukhsana said, “but I had seen heroes firing in films on TV and I tried the same way.” The family has since been moved for fear the terrorists will retaliate.

Elizabeth SmartGrace under pressure
It is more than seven years since 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knife-point from her bed in her family home in Salt Lake City, Utah. At a hearing last Thursday, Smart, now a poised and attractive 21-year-old, talked about the nine horrific months she was held captive, allegedly by a self-proclaimed prophet, Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She said she was forced that night on a five-kilometre hike into a canyon behind her home. “He performed a ceremony to marry me to him, and after that he proceeded to rape me,” she testified in a calm, measured tone. She said she was fed alcohol and drugs and shown pornography. Asked to describe her captor, she said: “Evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious and not close to God.” She was rescued in March 2003 when she and her abductors were recognized on the street in Sandy, Utah. The hearing will determine if Mitchell is now competent to stand trial. Smart leaves soon on an overseas mission for the Mormon church. Her father Ed said he is “incredibly proud” of her courage. He admitted that until her testimony he had “no idea of the scope” of his daughter’s ordeal.

Pamela AndersonBusted but not broke
Pamela Anderson has denied reports she is facing bankruptcy. The former Baywatch star and pride of Ladysmith, B.C., said a string of unpaid bills is the result of a dispute with contractors renovating her Malibu house. “This is because after paying millions of dollars to build the house, I continue to get bills from the contractors,” she said in a statement. “My lawyers are reviewing the work done to see if the bills are fair. If they are, they’ll be paid.” Meanwhile, Anderson, 42, and her two sons, Brandon, 13, and Dylan, 11, live in a mobile home at a nearby trailer park. Otherwise, if she is broke, she isn’t acting the part. She was reportedly eyeing property in New Zealand last week while there to promote A*Muse, a casual wear clothing line “inspired” by Anderson and created by New York designer Richie Rich. And this summer she signalled plans are going ahead for a $50-million condo project on land near her childhood home in Ladysmith. She is developing the project with former NHL hockey player Geoff Courtnall. “She is quite adamant that we have to take advantage of the Olympics,” Courtnall told the Times Colonist. “And the economy seems to be settling down. We’re going to move forward.”

Jacques ChiracNo more fighting for Sumo
Former French president Jacques Chirac has banished Sumo, his Maltese terrier, to a farm after it bit him a third time. His wife, Bernadette, said the dog—a shin-high, psychotic ball of white fluff—was treated for depression. It can’t come to terms with living in the couple’s Paris apartment after the luxury of the Elysée Palace, where it used to roam the gardens, she says. Chirac was hospitalized in January after a previous bite. This time, Sumo leapt up and bit his stomach. “I was very scared because there was blood. It’s terrible,” Bernadette said. “He was going wild.”

Getting rich is the best revenge
There’s little doubt now why Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska in July: she had bigger fish to fry. The former vice-presidential candidate has rushed into print her version of the Republicans’ disastrous campaign for the White House. Pre-orders for her memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, have already driven the book to the top of’s top 100, more than a month before its Nov. 17 release. The interest must come as a relief to publisher HarperCollins, which reportedly paid her a US$7-million advance. That advance may explain why Palin’s husband, Todd, resigned last month as an oil field worker on Alaska’s North Slope. Palin’s book promises to tell her side of the uneasy, unhappy and ultimately unsuccessful partnership with presidential nominee John McCain—a campaign marred by miscues and bickering. “It’s all there,” the publishers promise, “in full and fascinating detail.”

Rosanne CashThis one’s for the Man in Black
Rosanne Cash has carved out a fine career as a singer of her own beautifully crafted songs, without trading on her pedigree as the daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash. But her 14th album, The List, is an unabashed tribute to dear old dad. The name comes from a yellow sheet of lined paper that Cash gave her in 1973 when she was an 18-year-old travelling on his tour bus. He was alarmed that the eldest daughter of his first marriage knew so little about country music. “I was steeped in southern California pop and rock,” Rosanne says. “I was president of my Beatles fan club when I was 11 and living in Ventura.” Picking up a pen, Cash wrote his list of “100 essential country songs.” Her new album covers 12 of those songs, featuring duets with Bruce Springsteen (Sea of Heartbreak), Rufus Wainwright (Silver Wings) and Elvis Costello (Heartaches by the Number). Cash put one of his own songs on his list, but Rosanne isn’t saying which one. She’s saving that, she hinted, in case there’s a List II.

David LettermanUh, one last thing . . .
CBS Late Night talk show host David Letterman apologized on air Monday to his wife, Regina Lasko, something he neglected to do Thursday when he revealed the details of an alleged blackmail attempt against him over his sexual relationships with female staff members. Letterman admitted to the relationships during his monologue, saying someone who knew of the affairs tried to extort US$2 million to keep the information secret. Police have arrested CBS producer Robert Halderman, who dated Stephanie Birkitt, a former assistant to Letterman and one of the women he had a relationship with. Letterman had said that Thursday’s comments would be his last word on the subject for a long time, but it’s clear the issue won’t soon blow over. Halderman’s lawyer warned that Letterman faces further embarrassment if the case goes to trial. And Letterman admitted Monday his wife is “horribly hurt.” As for mending that relationship, he said, “I’ve got my work cut out for me.” After years of skewering wayward politicians, he joked he could be “the first talk show host impeached.”