Friend in high places, Dog tired and Bubba’s other bombshell

Newsmakers of the week

Behind the mask, even more Iron
She’s known as the “Iron Lady,” but new revelations about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher show the extent to which that was true. According to recently released secret files dating back to her time as PM, she told then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter she had personally “handled” the guns currently being used by the Northern Ireland police force, and decided the American-made Ruger pistol was a better shot. Maggie also liked whisky, preferred refugees from Poland or Hungary to ones from Asia, and didn’t like to be bored: in another file, she scolds staff for not organizing a “sufficiently interesting” itinerary for her first U.S. trip.

Nice shot
NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas has done the impossible: he’s trumped Tiger Woods in the athletes-behaving-badly department. A locker-room dispute with Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton over a gambling debt apparently led Arenas to reach for a handgun. Crittenton grabbed a gun, too, the New York Post reported, and a Christmas Eve standoff ensued. (That the team name was changed from the Bullets over concerns about gun violence adds to the sad irony.) No guns were discharged, but Arenas has since laid down covering fire on Twitter. Among the tweets the self-described “goof ball” posted: “I hav 2 change subjects umM what about that TIGER WOODS I heard he dated 2 MIDGETS.”

Bet you think this song is about me
European media reported last week that in an effort to attract a million new members to his People of Freedom party, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi planned to launch a new political campaign, with posters featuring his bloodied and beaten face and the slogan “Love always wins over hate.” The 73-year-old, who spent four days in hospital after being attacked during a rally in Milan last month, received plenty of public sympathy after being struck in the face with a miniature Duomo statue; in one poll, his popularity rose from 45 to 48 per cent. His aides deny any plans to feature the infamous photo, but the party’s campaign song is changing. Roughly translated, the existing anthem includes the line “Thank God that Silvio exists.” It will be replaced by the slightly less megalomaniacal “Thank God we exist.”

Friend in high places
France’s first lady, Carla Bruni, has befriended a homeless man who lives on the street between her home in the 16th arrondissement and her son’s school. In addition to chatting with Denis, 53, about books and music and providing him with a “military-type duvet,” Bruni is said to have given him a signed copy of her latest CD. “My friends from the street told me that as [it] has got her signature, it’s worth a lot of money,” Denis told Closer magazine. “I couldn’t care less, I prefer to keep it; having said that, I lent it to someone two months ago who hasn’t given it back.” The police no longer bother him, Denis said. He isn’t the only beneficiary of Bruni’s do-gooding. Two French nationals, Céline Faye and Sarah Zaknoun, held in a Dominican Republic prison for 18 months on drug trafficking charges, were pardoned on Christmas Eve after Bruni took up their cause. “It’s thanks to her that we are here,” said Faye.

Dog tired
After some 25 years of competitive mushing, William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon, has sold off most of his sled dogs and announced his retirement. The German-born Kleedehn moved to Canada as a young man after reading a newspaper story in 1978 about the 1,850-km Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Kleedehn, 50, never won the Iditarod or the gruelling Yukon Quest, though he did win many mid-distance races. He is hanging on to eight puppies and two adult dogs for recreational mushing, but, he vows, “I won’t let it rule my life again.” At the top of his to-do list are travels to South America and Australia, by more conventional means.

Bill ClintonBubba’s other bombshell
While the focus on Ken Gormley’s soon-to-be-released book, The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr, has mostly been Monica Lewinsky’s claim that Bill Clinton lied under oath about their relationship, one of the book’s most shocking revelations is that the former president was nearly the victim of a 1996 bomb attack organized by Osama bin Laden. On a state visit to Manila, Clinton’s motorcade was diverted at the last minute after secret service officers received a “crackly message” that included the word “wedding,” commonly used by terrorists as code word for assassination. It was later found that a nearby bridge the president would have crossed was rigged with explosives.

Love and rockets
Israeli whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu is in trouble again. Not for spilling the beans on Israel’s nuclear program—he’s already had his knuckles rapped for that, twice—but for having a Norwegian girlfriend. Vanunu was first arrested in 1986, after disclosing information about Israel’s clandestine nuclear program to the Sunday Times. He spent 18 years in jail—then went back to the slammer for six months in 2007 after violating his parole by contacting media again. Now he’s been arrested a third time. The Israeli secret service is worried he’s telling secrets to his girlfriend. (Vanunu is banned from travelling abroad as well as speaking with foreigners.) According to his lawyer, though, the girlfriend “is not interested in nuclear business; she’s interested in Mordechai Vanunu.”

Lights, cameras,  order, order!
In her bid for “100 per cent physical custody” of her son, Tripp Johnston-Palin, Bristol Palin, the 19-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, had argued that keeping the custody battle private was in Tripp’s best interests. She also claimed Levi Johnston, the one-year-old’s father, only wanted to make the hearing public to promote himself. Johnston recently posed for Playgirl and has been on something of a media campaign since splitting with Bristol last spring. Nonetheless, the proceedings will play out in open court following a court decision last week. Johnston, who is seeking joint custody, must be pleased. He said he did “not feel protected against Sarah Palin in a closed proceeding.”

One for the little folk
The jury is still out on whether Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group, which closed in October, took part in insider trading (he pleaded not guilty), but apparently the Sri Lankan is guilty of pulling some rather peculiar stunts. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rajaratnam once offered $5,000 to any employee who would agree to be tasered (a female trader actually obliged). On another occasion, Rajaratnam introduced a dwarf, whom he said he’d hired to cover small-cap stocks (get it?), to employees. That turned out to be an April Fool’s joke.

New blood on the ice
When Canada’s Olympic hockey roster was an­nounced last week, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of 20-year-old Drew Doughty. Sports commentators across the country talked about a “changing of the guard”—more experienced defencemen, like Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf, were left off the team. It caught even the L.A. Kings defenceman off guard. Doughty slept through the call of a lifetime and only found out he’d been selected after checking his voice mail. Then he woke up his roomie, Kings captain Dustin Brown, who will also be in Vancouver—as leader of Team U.S.A. Brown is already dreading meeting Doughty on the ice. “I’m not too afraid of his bodychecks,” said Brown. “It’s his hip checks.”

Mommie dearest
Can a child have two mothers? Yes, and no. When Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, a lesbian couple living in Vermont, separated in 2003, a judge awarded custody of their child to Miller and visitation rights to Jenkins. That same year, Miller, the biological mother, moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality, and adopted the evangelical Christian faith. She appealed to the supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont to revoke Jenkins’s right to see their daughter Isabella, born via artificial insemination in 2002, on the grounds that a relationship with Jenkins would hamper her new religion. The courts ruled against her, noting custody cases for same-sex couples worked like those for heterosexual couples. Miller still refused to let Jenkins see the child—so the court reversed custody to ensure Jenkins would have access to Isabella. Miller has since disappeared, along with the child.

Bailout, Korean style
In an attempt to bolster the country’s 2018 Winter Olympic bid, South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, pardoned Lee Kun-hee, former chairman of Samsung, who had been convicted of tax evasion and breach of trust. The move allows Lee to try to regain membership in the International Olympic Committee, and take the lead in Pyeongchang County’s bid. Critics say the pardon confirmed the common view that corporate heavyweights are above the law in Korea. “A criminal convict travelling around the world campaigning for South Korea’s Olympic bid,” says Kim Sang-jo, an economist at Hansung University, “will only hurt our national interest and image.”

Good man walking
After 23 years of togetherness—they were never married—Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins have split up. The couple had long been considered tops among Hollywood’s socially conscious crew; they championed anti-globalization and Ralph Nader, while opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 1999, Sarandon was made a UNICEF goodwill ambassador—whatever that means. Apparently the two actually split in the summer but didn’t notify the press until now—hmm, wonder if that has anything to do with Sarandon’s new movie, The Lovely Bones, out now and considered an Oscar contender.

Dog’s best friend
Here’s a heartwarming story: two Montreal women are taking a trip to Vancouver to retrieve a dog they’ve never met for a family they hardly know. After Fred the dog was found in a trailer with his owner, Cyril Roy, three days after Roy’s death, Frank Palumbo, a dog-lover and owner of a freight company, pledged to get the seven-year-old kugsha home. His wife, Mélanie Pellerin, and her friend Christianne Hendershott flew to Vancouver to pick up Fred, then boarded a train for the four-day ride. VIA Rail chipped in with free first-class tickets for them, plus an extra ticket for Fred, who will eventually settle down in Ontario with one of Cyril’s sisters, a dog breeder.