Hugo Chávez plays traffic cop, Naomi Campbell goes to The Hague, and Venus puts the ‘French’ in French Open

Case closed
Prosecutors withdrew criminal charges Tuesday against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant in the very public death in downtown Toronto last Aug. 31 of bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard. There was no prospect of conviction on the charges, which included criminal negligence causing death, said independent prosecutor Richard Peck, who was brought in from Vancouver because of the sensitivity of the case. Experts determined Sheppard, who was intoxicated, was trying to attack Bryant, when he tried to grab the steering wheel of Bryant’s convertible. Bryant sped off and Sheppard, clinging to the car, was slammed into a mailbox and a tree, before falling under the car. Bryant now works for a Toronto law firm.

Bill  Canada

It was a mutual love-in when Bill Clinton addressed 1,400 fans at a Vancouver Board of Trade event Thursday. The former U.S. president credited a tough regulatory system for sparing Canadian institutions the worst of the economic meltdown. He praised Canada’s health care system: “I mean, who in their right mind would pay 17.2 per cent of income (GDP) for health care for 84 per cent of our people when our Canadian neighbour pays 10½ for 100 per cent, and gets better outcomes according to every international study?” And then there was the Olympics. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but you deserved to win the gold in hockey.”

And speaking of Bubba . . .

Ken Starr, the relentless independent counsel who investigated former president Bill Clinton’s Whitewater real estate deals and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is back in the limelight as the new president of Baylor University in Texas. After years of administrative upheaval, the school sees the “gracious” Starr as a healing force, says the Chronicle of Higher Education. Maybe he is softening. He effusively praised Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as “the smartest-kid-on-the-block kind of person.”

‘Waterworld’: the sequel
It’s called “Ocean Therapy,” but despite the flaky name, BP is hoping the device that actor Kevin Costner invented to separate oil from water may help mop up the Gulf of Mexico. The oil company will test six of the machines: giant vacuums and centrifuges designed to retain the oil and spit out 97 per cent clean water. Costner, with the help of his scientist brother Dan Costner, spent 15 years and US$26 million on the project, which had attracted little notice. “I’m just really happy that the light of day has come to this,” the actor said.

Not this girl’s best friend
Tempestuous British supermodel Naomi Camp­bell may be hauled before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague to talk about the alleged gift of a blood diamond from former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Taylor is charged with various crimes against humanity for his role in the 1991-2001 war in neighbouring diamond-rich Sierra Leone. Prosecutors want to force Campbell to testify about the “huge diamond” she allegedly received from his men, according to actress Mia Farrow, who says the model told her about the gift. Taylor has called the claim “total nonsense.” And Campbell recently stormed out of an ABC TV interview when the issue was raised. “I didn’t receive a diamond,” she said, “and I’m not going to speak about that.”

Ma, I’ll be late for dinner

Jordan Romero reached the summit of Mount Everest on Saturday, and like a good son, he phoned his mother. The Californian is, after all, just 13. “He says, ‘Mom, I’m calling you from the top of the world,’ ” said Leigh Anne Drake, his mother. “I just told him to get his butt back home.” Jordan, a veteran climber, is the youngest to top the world’s highest mountain, which was something of a teen hangout last weekend. Arjun Vajpai, a 16-year-old boy from New Delhi, also reached the summit. “I have no words to describe my feelings,” said his mother, Priya Vajpai, after she, too, received the news in a phone call.

Excellent conjugation, madame
French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s skill as a linguist has come back to bite her. Bruni’s appearance in 1996 on the TV show Eurotrash was briefly posted on YouTube this week. In one segment, the 28-year-old model gives an enthusiastic reading from Hot International Love and Sex Guides, a book translating such key erotic phrases as “You get me very hot.” The segment has since been yanked from the Internet.

Well, sportsman of a sort

It’s premature, but oh so tempting for fans of upcoming rugby star Sailen Tudu to label him “Scrumdog Millionaire.” The future is indeed bright for Tudu, 20, who was discovered five years ago playing rugby barefoot on a ragged field in Calcutta. He was spotted by Paul Walsh, a former British diplomat who had formed a team of street children. Soon Tudu was playing for India’s under-19 squad. Then, with the help of former English captain Phil Vickery, he earned a British college scholarship and the prospect of a pro career. He came from one of the poorest tribal villages in India, he told the Guardian. “Now I’m playing alongside some of the finest sportsmen in Europe.”

One X-centric time capsule

Autographed boxes of Kraft Dinner, a Polaroid photo of Terry Fox’s artificial leg, the first draft of the Generation X manuscript: these were a few of West Vancouver author/artist Douglas Coupland’s favourite things. They’re now the property of the University of British Columbia’s library. “I hope that within them, people in the future will find patterns and constellations that can’t be apparent to me or to anyone simply because they are there, and we are here,” said Coupland, who receives an undisclosed tax credit for the donation.

Food for thought. Very pure thought.
Nicolas Cage’s latest pro­nouncement would make for quite the recipe book. He only eats animals that have “dignified” sex, he said. “I think fish are very dignified with sex. So are birds. But pigs, not so much, so I won’t eat pig meat or things like that,” he said. “I love all animals,” he added. But in a dignified way.

Just when you thought your mugging was going well
Three men in Sydney, Australia, picked the wrong alley to rob a German medical student. To the rescue came four black-clad ninjas from a nearby martial arts studio. “I think they’re still running,” ninja sensei Kaylan Soto said of the thieves.

Never pass a socialist on the right
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is no fan of the U.S., but he has other pet peeves, too. “There’s madness on the highways,” he thundered Sunday in his weekly broadcast. Chávez said he recently played traffic cop after he was tailgated by a young man, who blasted his horn at him and swept past on the shoulder. The president gave chase, presumably with his motorcade in hot pursuit, and pulled over the surprised driver. Instead of a ticket the man received a tongue-lashing—a fate several American presidents have also endured.

Lessons from the master?

Nikki Haley, a leading candidate in the race for governor of South Carolina, is either the latest Republican in or near that office to stray from her marriage vows or be the victim of a drive-by sliming by a political blogger. The allegation came from Will Folks, who cryptically blogged he had “an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki.” Haley denies the claim. “I have been 100 per cent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage,” she said. Just a year ago, current Gov. Mark Sanford tearfully confessed, after initial denials, to an affair with an Argentinian woman. Muddying the waters further, Folks is Sanford’s former press secretary.

A new Olympic legacy
New Zealand short-track speed skater Blake Skjellerup credits the Vancouver Olympics with inspiring him to come out of the closet. Skjellerup visited Whistler’s Pride House during the Games and found the welcoming atmosphere there for gay athletes gave him the courage to go public. “I looked at my boyfriend and said, if they can do it, why can’t we?” he told Vancouver’s Xtra newspaper. Skjellerup, 24, said he didn’t come out earlier for fear of losing sponsors and his place on the team. “As time goes on and more people come out, the younger athletes will have an easier time accepting their sexuality,” he said.

Friends in need
John Baxter, a British former prisoner of war in Japan, is putting the finishing touches on the story of his harrowing experiences. What sets apart Missing, Believed Killed, is a remarkable side story of compassion by one of his guards. Baxter, now 91, befriended guard Hayato Hi­rano, who took extra­ordinary risks to smuggle food to him and other POWs. At the war’s end in 1945, Baxter returned the favour, delivering air-dropped food to Hirano’s home. The two struck up a correspondence that continued until Hirano’s death last year. “He would always ask after our health and hoped that there were no hard feelings between us,” Baxter told the Japan Times.

Keep your eyes on the ball

Venus Williams was at a fashion show Sunday, and a tennis match broke out. Or was it the other way ’round? More words were spilled about her self-designed outfit than her performance at the French Open. Reminiscent of a “19th-century chorus line,” said the New York Daily News of her “micro-mini black lace dress,” to say nothing of her flesh-hued “unmentionables.” Noted the AP: “Whistles and whispers circulated through the stands.” Williams said her outfit was “about illusion . . . a lot of my motif this year.” Ranked No. 2, just behind sister Serena, she handily beat Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder to advance to the next round. There’s nothing illusory about her game.

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