This week: Newsmakers

Kim Campbell schools the U.S. right, Naomi Campbell’s ‘Frost-Nixon moment,’ and Nabokov was right

Charlie Gillis, Chris Sorensen and Nicholas Köhler

A breath of fresh Canadian air
The usual right vs. left political jabber of American talk TV was punctuated this week by a few clear-eyed statements courtesy of Canada’s first female prime minister. On Real Time With Bill Maher, former Progressive Conservative leader Kim Campbell called Republican Jack Kingston‘s views on global warming “absolute rubbish,” pointing out to the Georgia congressman that scientists didn’t set out looking for a non-existent problem just to torture right-leaning politicians. When the conversation shifted toward the evolution vs. creation debate, Campbell asked if Kingston was concerned about the alarming rise of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms in hospitals. He squirmed. “That’s evolution,” she said to applause. Does 132 days as PM preclude Campbell from a future in politics?

Vladimir NabokovLolita’s lepidopterist
In addition to writing great novels, Vladimir Nabokov was a self-taught expert on the evolutionary biology of butterflies—though, like any amateur, the Lolita author faced skepticism from the scientific establishment. Now one of his most audacious theories has been proven right. A paper published by the Royal Society has endorsed Nabokov’s hypothesis that butterflies are not indigenous to North America, but rather arrived in a series of “waves” from Asia. The new research was made possible by gene-sequencing technology Nabokov never had. Said Naomi Pierce, a Harvard expert who co-authored the study: “It’s really quite a marvel.”

Lara GiddingsSingle White Premier seeks less idiotic press
With three female premiers and a female prime minister, Julia Gillard, Australian voters seem fairly accustomed to the idea of women in politics. The media? Not so much. The country’s biggest national newspaper, the Australian, ran a front-page story about Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings‘s first day in office that zeroed in on her comments (in response to a reporter’s question) about the challenges of snaring a husband when you’re a busy politician. The headline read: “Leftist Lara still looking for Mr. Right.” Critics shook their heads. “Why on Earth was this suddenly relevant the day Giddings became Tasmania’s first female premier?” asked one Sydney Morning Herald columnist, noting Giddings was previously an unmarried treasurer and an unmarried attorney general. “It was not as if she had landed from Mars.”

Nelson MandelaHe’s back—phew
South Africans exhaled and international media stood down last week after Nelson Mandela left hospital, having fought back an acute respiratory ailment. The 92-year-old icon had been admitted on Jan. 26, and the country ground to a near-halt: Mandela’s passing promises an outpouring of grief, celebration and reflection like few others in recent history. But this is a man who defines resilience, and sure enough, after two days, officials reported he was recovering nicely, and even teasing his wife and the nurses hovering over him. “Madiba is well,” said South Africa’s deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, using Mandela’s clan name.

Four families and a fortune
The Canadian kids of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho appeared poised last week to scoop up the bulk of his $3.1-billion empire. But the apparent attempt by Daisy, Maisy, Pansy, Josie and Lawrence Ho to have their dad transfer holdings to them has been bogged down in an old-style succession battle. The five were born to Ho’s second wife, who moved to Canada in the 1980s. But Ho has 12 other children from four marriages, some of whom (surprise!) claim a share of his fortune. A lawyer for Ho said the ailing 89-year-old was not aware of what he signed, while Ho’s TV appearance to smooth things over only deepened family differences.

Some experience an asset
As a politician, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has knocked on his share of doors. But in a soon-to-be-aired reality TV episode, he will also be seen cruising the back lanes of his constituents, picking up their trash. The rakish mayor put in two 10- to 12-hour shifts as a garbage collector and as a member of the city’s recycling pickup crew as part of CBC’s series Make the Politician Work. Other pols who will appear on the show are federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, who will put in shifts at a hospital ER, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who will be at a military camp. It’s not necessarily a recipe for votes. Robertson told a local newspaper that, while operating a truck’s front-loader, he nearly crushed a parked car with a steel bin.

Balls of steel
A little-known martial art is said to be causing a sensation in China after a Shaolin monk appeared on a popular variety show and allowed guests to kick him hard in the groin. Yong Hsueh, who responded to the blows by smiling and bowing, is a practitioner of what is loosely being translated as “steel crotch kung fu,” a discipline with a fabulous pedigree. “Steel crotch [kung fu] is an ancient art,” Yong Hsueh is quoted as saying. “It’s a practice to strengthen and protect the male genital organs so there is less chance they are injured or incapacitated in battle.”

Can Mubarak be far behind?
It had the potential to be “a 21st-century Frost-Nixon moment,” according to the Guardian, but in the end, supermodel Naomi Campbell‘s interview with Russian PM Vladimir Putin, published in a recent issue of British GQ, steered well clear of anything remotely hard-hitting. Campbell explored such issues as Putin’s workout routine (“I go to the gym, I swim daily”), how he stacks up against Harley-Davidson riders (“I’m not the tough guy, those guys are”) and his thoughts on a group of female university students who posed for a racy calendar for his 58th birthday (“I like the girls a lot, they’re beautiful”). Mind you, this is the same interviewer who asked Hugo Chávez if he knew the Spice Girls.

Sum Ying FungHow to outlive your brain surgeon
When they discovered she had a brain tumour in 1989, Vancouver resident Sum Ying Fung was on the cusp of 90, and few doctors entertained the prospect of recovery. Only Dr. Donald Griesdale thought surgery worthwhile. Fung’s recovery was so complete, she later managed a tour of China. Last year, Griesdale was a guest of honour at Fung’s 111th birthday celebration; she has since outlived him. Indeed, at 112, she is likely the oldest resident in Canada. “Eat anything—eat everything,” said Fung as she juggled a newspaper interview, her daily Skype chat, via iPhone, with her grandson, and uncontrollable bouts of sleep. “I don’t know when to die,’ she told the Vancouver Sun.

Carla BruniCarla Bruni’s switcheroo
France’s bobo chanteuse first lady famously backed husband Nicolas Sarkozy’s rival in the 2007 elections, but she’s having second thoughts about her political leanings. “I no longer feel left wing,” she said this week, saying she’d been influenced by time spent with a group of artists. Now she’s presumably influenced by time spent with the anti-immigration, Roma-oppressing Sarko—and perhaps the shadow of a looming 2012 election.

Avert your gays?
Fans of Elton John and his Canadian husband, David Furnish, were appalled to learn a U.S. supermarket had censored covers of Us Weekly, which featured the couple with their new baby, Zachary. Harps grocery store in Mountain Home, Ark., put the so-called “family shields” in place after receiving complaints from shoppers who object to same-sex marriage and parenting. When the media got wind of it, the parent company intervened, ordering the shields (normally used for pornographic material) removed. “Both our employees and our customers come in all shapes and sizes, beliefs and preferences,” said CEO Roger Collins. “Harps has never and would never discriminate.”

Last and yes, least
When the NHL took a page from the schoolyard and had captains pick the teams for the 2011 All-Star game, Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs found himself alone on stage—an unaccustomed spot for one of the game’s fastest players. Some analysts treated the snub as a comment on the Leafs. A sniggering Alexander Ovechkin, the third player picked, snapped pictures of Kessel with his cellphone. But the smooth-skating forward took it in stride. “When I was a kid,” he said, “I never dreamed of being [at an All-Star game].”

Kim KardashianMom knows best
When Kim Kardashian graced the cover of W magazine last October, naked save for three strips of headline, she appeared to own the image, as well as shots inside featuring her dressed in a coat of silver paint. But a recent episode of Kourtney & Kim Take New York, which stars Kim and her sister, revealed that Kardashian felt betrayed by W, which she says promised an artier approach. “I’m more naked than I was in Playboy,” a tearful Kardashian cried. Only a conversation with her mother, Kris Jenner, who advised her to embrace the photographs, resolved things. What a relief.

First movement for burning piano
Artists have long relied on juxtaposing incongruous objects to create an impact, and Nicholas Harrington, 16, is no different. The aspiring art school student torched his grandma’s baby grand—an old movie prop—during a New Year’s Eve party, then, with the help of his brother and some friends, loaded it onto a 22-foot boat and deposited it on a sandbar off the coast of Miami, all along snapping photographs for his college application. This was one work he wanted to leave unsigned, but fascination with the mysterious piano attracted imposters all too ready to claim credit. “I don’t like it to be considered as a prank,” says Harrington. “It’s more of a movement.”