Madonna fiddles while Joni burns, Close encounters you might not want, and In his brother’s footsteps

Madonna fiddles while Joni burns
Canadian singer Joni Mitchell rarely gives interviews—a good thing for Bob Dylan and Madonna. Mitchell unloaded on her fellow folkie, the former Bobby Zimmerman, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Bob is not authentic at all,” she said. “He’s a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.” As for Madonna, Mitchell linked her to America’s decline into the “stupid and shallow.” Madonna, she said, “is like Nero, she marks the turning point.” Madonna also inspired the wrath of supermodel Paulina Porizkova, in an online essay on the abuse of cosmetic procedures. She’s a Botoxed blond “who cannot frown,” Porizkova writes, while the much enhanced reality star Heidi Montag is “a cheap, plastic pool float.”

Close encounters you might not want

Don’t make nice with space aliens, warns Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist. The odds favour other life in the universe, Hawking, 68, said in a report in London’s Sunday Times. There are a billion galaxies, each holding hundreds of millions of stars, he says in Stephen Hawking’s Universe, a series for Britain’s Discovery Channel. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” But they may be organisms living under the ice, or evolved resource-hungry travellers who’ve ruined their home planet. “We only have to look at ourselves,” he said, “to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

In his brother’s footsteps
As children, they played together in the rubble of postwar Warsaw. As politicians, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his near identical twin Lech helped shape modern Poland. Now Jaroslaw says he’ll stand for election June 20, in an attempt to replace his late brother as president. Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and members of the military and political elite, were killed April 10 when their plane crashed while attempting to land in Russia. Jaroslaw, a former prime minister and current head of the opposition Law and Justice party, was talking to his brother by phone only moments before the crash. “We have to complete the mission,” he said in a statement. “We owe them that. We owe it to our fatherland.”

Tarnished gold
The curling world is in shock after Jim Armstrong, the burly, genial skip of Canada’s gold medal Paralympic curling team, was arrested in Blaine, Wash., allegedly while collecting a package of 3,000 counterfeit Viagra and Cialis tablets from a post office box. Armstrong was hailed a national hero after leading the Canadians to gold at the Vancouver Paralympic Games. He was charged with trafficking in counterfeit drugs less than a month later. He told a U.S. FDA agent the pills, used to treat male sexual dysfunction, were sold by his son at Vancouver bars, court documents say. His next court appearance is April 30.

So France and Islam agree on something
France’s war on the niqab, the facial veil that covers all but a woman’s eyes, has veered into dangerous territory. Police ticketed Anne Habbadj last week for wearing the veil while driving. Now it emerges that her Algerian-born husband, Lies, may have four wives claiming single-parent benefits for 12 children. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux threatened to revoke Lies’s citizenship if the polygamous marriages are registered in France. Habbadj has fought back. Mistresses are not forbidden, he says, “neither in France, nor in Islam.” “If we are stripped of nationality for having mistresses,” he told reporters in Nantes, “there would be a lot of French people stripped of nationality.”

Lust conquers wall
The much-vaunted great Internet firewall of China is being breached by thousands of Internet-savvy Chinese eager for the latest musings of Japanese porn star Aoi Sola. Sola, star of such flicks as Summer Break and Man, Woman and the Wall, opened a Twitter account last month, but it was censored by sophisticated Chinese software. It didn’t take long for lovestruck fans to circulate clandestine instructions for jumping the firewall. “I know that there are some Aoi fans in Asia,” she tweeted to her Chinese fans, “but when I directly faced the figures on Twitter, I could hardly hide my surprise.”

This round’s winner: Nick Who?
The British election on May 6 is a three-way race thanks to the telegenic charms of Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg. Several polls put the upstart as the winner in last Thursday’s leaders’ debate. His personal popularity also ranked ahead of Conservative Leader David Cameron, the perceived front-runner, and embattled Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Tories, after years in the political wilderness, now fret they may lose a majority and face a “hung parliament,” not unlike Canada. No surprise, then, that Clegg’s opponents dusted off a 2002 essay in which he said loutish British tourists in Germany had “delusions of grandeur” over winning the war. Clegg laughed off the attempt to label him a “Nazi.”

How gay is gay enough?
Three bisexual men filed a discrimination suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week because their team was disqualified from the Gay Softball World Series two years ago. Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles and Jon Russ, players on the D2s, a San Francisco-area team, say they were discriminated against. Their team initially finished second in the tournament, sponsored by the Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which organizes 680 teams in the U.S. and Canada. But the men allege they were subsequently asked “personal and intrusive questions” about their sexual desires, before a tribunal ruled they were “non-gay.” They’re asking for $75,000 each for “emotional distress,” a reversal of the ruling on their sexual orientation and reinstatement of their second-place finish.

The decider-in-chief reminisces
Ex-president George W. Bush has finished the first draft of his book, Decision Points. A source at Crown Publishers tells the Associated Press the book isn’t a traditional memoir, but a recounting of key decisions. This may free the one-time wild child from reliving the dodgy bits of his past. Still, the book will offer “gripping, never-before-heard detail” on the 2000 election campaign, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his relationship with his family and his decision to quit drinking—not necessarily in that order. The book is due out in November. His wife, Laura Bush, gets the first word: her memoir comes out May 4.

Run, princess, run
What has 34 heads, 68 legs and a royal title? That would be Princess Beatrice—daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York—and Team Caterpillar. Beatrice, 21, her American boyfriend Dave Clark, and 32 caterpillar friends clad in green tutus finished the London Marathon Sunday, in a time of 5:13:04 while tied together with bungee cords. Her team raised money for Sarah’s charity, Children in Crisis, and set the record for the largest number of runners to finish a marathon tied together, for what that’s worth. Along with a field of celebrities and costumed crazies, there were real athletes among the 37,000 competitors. Josh Cassidy of Oakville, Ont., won the men’s wheelchair category in 1:35:21.

It’s only logical
It was a Spock-tacular week for Star Trek fans. Momentum builds for a lighthearted Facebook campaign to install actor William (Capt. Kirk) Shatner as the next governor general of Canada. (“Would they accept me if I campaign for salmon rights?” Shatner tweeted.) Shatner has the endorsement of his go-to starship-mate Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock. “He needs something to do,” Nimoy said of “Billy.” Nimoy, 79, was receiving an honour of his own in Vulcan, Alta., Friday. Most of the town’s 1,900 residents turned out for a parade and the unveiling of Spock’s bronze bust. Nimoy announced his retirement last week. Once you’ve visited Vulcan, what’s left to accomplish?

A little nudity in the name of science
There were 47 earthquakes Monday—no different from many days on this unstable planet. That’s even though Monday marked Boobquake, an experiment where tens of thousands of women tested the hypothesis of the Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi. Sedighi claimed immodestly dressed women lead men to lustful thoughts, “which increases earthquakes.” Purdue University student Jen McCreight, a self-described atheist, feminist and science blogger, proposed women test the theory by showing skin. The idea went viral, possibly due to the lustful thoughts of men. Result: cleavage doesn’t cause quakes. Granted, the experiment was flawed, she blogs: “We didn’t have a control planet where women were only wearing burkas.”

Eun-sun also rises
A weeping Oh Eun-sun made history Tuesday by crawling to the 8,091-m summit of Annapurna in the Himalayas. The South Korean mountaineer became the first woman to climb the world’s 14 highest mountains, a 13-year-long project. The ascent was broadcast live by South Korean television, a wise bit of insurance, since rival Spanish climber, Edurne Pasaban, who has reached 13 of 14 summits, disputes that Oh reached the peak of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. Oh says she did, and Ang Tshering, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, backs her claim. At Annapurna’s summit, Oh pulled out a Korean flag and shouted “Victory!”

But that trick never works!
The reviews are in and Orlando Figes, British historian and Sovietologist, is a cad. For years he posted anonymous online book reviews trashing his academic rivals. They were traced to a less-than-clever user name: “orlando-birkbeck.” Last weekend the Birkbeck (oops!) College professor was forced to admit he was the author. He’d initially blamed his wife for the posts.

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