Bruce Cockburn’s rocket launcher, Knut’s girlfriend, and the new Osama

Newsmakers of the week

Steve NashDr. Nash’s hero
Wheelchair basketball lifted Terry Fox out of the funk of losing a leg to cancer. So it’s fitting that Fox’s Marathon of Hope inspired fellow British Columbian Steve Nash, Canada’s greatest basketball player. Nash interviewed Fox’s family, visited his grave in Port Coquitlam and has produced a heartfelt documentary on his childhood hero, to be aired on ESPN next spring. Fox’s foundation has raised hundreds of millions for cancer research. Nash’s own foundation helps “underserved” children in Canada, Arizona and Paraguay. The Phoenix Suns point guard is back in B.C. this weekend to receive an honorary law degree from the University of Victoria, and to host a charity soccer match in Vancouver.

White-collar crooks
Both the federal and Quebec governments promised tougher measures this week to hunt down and jail white-collar fraudsters, and none too soon in the view of jilted investors. Jury selection began on Monday for the criminal trial of Vincent Lacroix, the former CEO of Norbourg Asset Management. He is accused of stealing $115 million from thousands of Quebec investors. He was previously found guilty of securities violations and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. That was reduced on appeal, and he is now on parole after serving just 40 months. Also free in Montreal, money manager Earl Jones faces criminal charges for allegedly scamming 150 investors, including friends and family, of $50 million. Bailiffs seized his condominium last Friday as police kept a watchful eye on a scrum of angry investors waiting outside. Jones had wisely already vacated, leaving behind junk food on the counter and an open book on the sofa. Proceeds from the condo’s sale will go to investors. In Calgary on Monday, police charged two Alberta men with allegedly running an international Ponzi scheme that raised more than $100 million from investors. One of the men is still at large.

Serena WilliamsChildish behaviour
The U.S. Open in New York left the tennis world with two lasting but contrasting images. In a touching moment on Sunday, Belgian star Kim Clijsters cradled the championship trophy in one hand and her curly-haired and well-behaved 18-month-old daughter Jada in the other. Contrast that with the tantrum thrown a day earlier by Serena Williams, who was caught screaming, cursing, shaking a ball at a line judge and threatening to “shove it down” her throat. Williams had been assessed a foot fault during match point against Clijsters in the semifinals. After literally stepping on the line, she figuratively went way over it, in the judge’s view, and was penalized a point for unsportsmanlike conduct, costing her the game. Two days, and a $10,000 fine later, an apologetic Williams said she wishes she could give the line judge “a big ol’ hug.” Meantime, Clijsters, 26, moved to the finals, where she defeated Caroline Wozniacki. It was a remarkable comeback for the former world No. 1: Clijsters rejoined the tour last month, after a two-year break during which she married and started a family. “We tried to plan her nap time a little bit later today,” Clijsters said. “So she could be here today.” Better than the day before, when Jada would have had an earful.

Bruce CockburnFinally, his very own rocket launcher
Bruce Cockburn, the minstrel of humanitarian causes, arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, bearing gifts for his little brother and a message of support for Canadian troops. Cockburn, 64, gave his 57-year-old brother John, a soldier and doctor at the NATO hospital base, some goodies not found in the base canteen: special bread, organic nuts and, no shock here, granola. More surprising was the peace-loving troubadour’s support for extending Canada’s mission there beyond the stated pullout date of 2011. They believe they are helping the Afghan population, he told the Canwest News Service. “I’m full of admiration for these kids.” Included in Cockburn’s performances was his raging anti-war song If I had a Rocket Launcher. At his last show, Canadian Forces commander Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance gave him his wish, during a mock presentation. “I was kind of hoping he would let me keep it,” Cockburn joked later.

KnutChillin’ in Berlin
Knut the polar bear rose to fame at the Berlin Zoo as a cute, white ball of fluff, and the first polar bear born there in 30 years. But that was almost three years ago and, let’s be frank, a growing bear will soon have certain needs. Zookeepers, wishing to keep their star attraction happy, have imported a young female polar bear from the frigid tundra of, er, a Munich zoo. Gianna—named after Italian singer Gianna Nannini—arrived this week. Initially, the two will be separated by a fence. Knut, who was hand-reared by a keeper after his mother rejected him, will have to learn the bear facts of life on his own if the relationship is to heat up.

Fox on the run
Actress Megan Fox is “dumb-as-a-rock” and not very nice, claims an angry open letter by three crew members working on her latest Transformers film. The slagging match started when Fox said film director Michael Bay “wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.” She called him “a nightmare to work for.” But off the set, “I kind of really enjoy his personality because he’s so awkward, so hopelessly awkward.” The unnamed crew members posted a smoking rebuttal on the director’s website, noting Bay picked her from “total obscurity” and made her a star. They called her “thankless, classless, graceless,” though they concede “Megan has great eyes [and] a tight stomach we spray with glycerin.” For all that, the working conditions aren’t great: “We’ve had the unbearable time of watching her try to act, and yes, it’s very cringe-able.” Besides, they added, “we actually don’t think she knows who Hitler is.” Bay took down the letter saying he didn’t condone the crew comments or “Megan’s outlandish quotes.” He said such quips “are part of her crazy charm.”

Hugh HefnerHefner busts out
It was a busy week for aged stick man and Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. He pulled the plug on his marriage to ex-Playmate Kimberly Conrad some 11 years after they were estranged. Hefner explained they stayed married for the sake of their two sons, though it’s likely the final straw was Conrad’s decision to sue for $5 million over the sale of her house beside the Playboy mansion. Meantime, 83-year-old Hefner arrived in Toronto last weekend supported, almost literally, by three buxom girlfriends, including a pair of 19-year-old twins. Hefner was at the Toronto International Film Festival for the premier of Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel. The documentary, by Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman, profiles his battles against censorship, racial discrimination, McCarthyism and antiquated sex laws. Hef says it explores his deeper side. You know, serious, like those Playboy interviews all the young lads used to read.

Margaret ThatcherGood fences
Her buddy U.S. president Ronald Reagan wanted Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, but then-British PM Margaret Thatcher was having none of it. “We do not want a united Germany,” she told Gorbachev during a meeting in September 1989, two months before the wall was ripped down, according to leaked Russian government documents. She feared one Germany would destabilize eastern Europe. In the end, there was little either leader could do to stop the momentum. Baroness Thatcher, who is in failing health, has not commented on the documents. Her daughter Carol revealed last year she has dementia. She also hasn’t fully recovered from fracturing her shoulder in a fall in June.

Cooking up trouble
Shucks, it was just bad shellfish that did in British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, not a rumoured rival’s sabotage plot. More than 500 patrons at his top-ranked Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, west of London, fell mysteriously ill with vomiting and diarrhea last February. An investigation by the national Health Protection Agency pinned the blame last week on contaminated oysters. But British foodies are a forgiving lot. Blumenthal, whose quirky menus have included lending guests iPods loaded with sea sounds to accompany a fish dish, has again bested rival Gordon Ramsay for top restaurant in the influential Good Food Guide. Ramsay scored nine points to Blumenthal’s 10.

Sheik Abu Yahya al-LibiThe new Osama
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden continues to bedevil the U.S., warning in an audiotape released on Monday that U.S. President Barack Obama is “powerless” to stop the war in Afghanistan. But while bin Laden remains the most wanted terrorist on the planet, behind him stands a possible successor who some consider an even a greater threat. Sheik Abu Yahya al-Libi, director of al-Qaeda’s jurisprudence committee, “seems to have made al-Qaeda ‘cool’ for a younger generation,” writes Jarret Brachman in Foreign Policy magazine. Brachman, a U.S. academic and former research director at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, says Abu Yahya is young, personable, media-savvy and every bit as savage and ideologically extreme as the current leadership. Terrorism is just one element of his larger plan to capture the imagination of Muslims worldwide, Brachman says. Abu Yahya already established his credentials as a warrior. He spent almost three years in an American-guarded prison in Afghanistan before masterminding a daring escape in 2005. He later called his American captors “cowardly” and “lost and alienated.”