Newsmakers: Dec. 8-15, 2011

Patrick Chan’s secret red dreams, forbidden zoo love and the return of Manuel Noriega


Phil Cole/Getty Images

Rocking for good

An unknown Canadian band is rocketing up the charts with an unfinished track. Pray (For L.J.) by Pardon My Striptease was released on iTunes to support the B.C. band’s frontman, Andrew Putt, whose one-year-old daughter Lilee-Jean is fighting an aggressive brain cancer at the B.C. Children’s Hospital. Pray hit No. 2 on iTunes’ Canadian rock singles chart with surprising speed; only Nickelback’s When We Stand Together stood in its way, prompting Pardon My Striptease to challenge their fellow rockers to match their donation if they overtook Nickelback’s slick, professional single. Take note, haters: Nickelback agreed to the challenge and lost this week, making the hospital’s charitable foundation $50,000 richer.

Domination, Canadian style

There comes a time, in some games, when one team takes on a look of pure physical dominance. So it was at the recent final of the International Rugby Board’s Women’s Sevens Challenge in Dubai. The Canadian team, tournament underdogs, rumbled into the final by beating Australia. Led by Canuck captain Mandy Marchak—who put the game out of reach with a try in the second half—they thoroughly outclassed the heavily favoured English side, winning 26 to 7. The victory was a good omen. Rugby Sevens, a modified version of the better-known game, will be a full-medal sport at the 2016 Olympics.


Mark Zuckerberg was a victim of poetic justice last week, when hackers exploited a security flaw in the social media site’s privacy settings and leaked 14 of the Facebook CEO’s private photos. A bug in the reporting system allowed users to retrieve pictures of the tech wunderkind cooking with his girlfriend and playing with his dog.

Dreams of red?

World figure skating champ Patrick Chan gave a bitter interview to Reuters that was released just ahead of his ISU Grand Prix championship win this week, saying he felt “unappreciated” in hockey-mad Canada, and is “slowly feeling more Chinese.” The Chinese-Canadian skater, a four-time national champion, speculated that “things would have been very different” if his parents hadn’t emigrated, adding that “in an ideal world,” he would love to skate for both China and Canada. Skate Canada said Chan had been “misquoted,” and the 2011 world figure skating champion backtracked; “I love my country,” he insisted. Truly a great leap forward for the 21-year-old.

King of sleaze

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, 65, has been entangled in controversy ever since last year’s damning book noting his penchant for sex parties and an affair his wife was powerless to stop. Add ties to Sweden’s gangster underworld to that sordid list. Anders Lettström, a close friend of the king, was recently caught on tape asking the underling of a well-known gangster to pay the owner of a strip club to retract statements that the king hosted sex parties there; in the recording, Lettström says the king was aware he was asking for the favour. Swedish paper Aftonbladet has called this “the biggest crisis ever” for the monarch; barely 30 per cent of Swedes now support his rule, according to a recent poll.

A Russian spring

As anti-establishment cries rang through Moscow streets this week—in the biggest protests since the U.S.S.R.—Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third-richest man, announced that he would run for president against Vladimir Putin—reeling from his United Russia party’s setback in disputed parliamentary elections. The billionaire precious-metals tycoon and New Jersey Nets owner called it “the most serious decision” of his life. Opposition activists immediately dismissed it as a Kremlin-orchestrated move to placate the burgeoning protest movement. But Prokhorov has harshly criticized Russia’s power brokers, and in September, called the entire party system a “farce.”

An uncommon love

Chang Mao and Chun Zi are in love, that much is obvious. They spend their days together, nuzzling and cooing their affection, no matter what the world thinks. Indeed, the ram and the female deer have been together almost a year, according to Liu Gengcheng, zookeeper at China’s Yunan Wild Animals Park, where the pair are housed. The duo, briefly separated by zoo staff after their romance went public, were recently reunited, after desperate attempts to lick each other through a shared fence.

How not to apologize

The public apology is not a distinguished art; rarely, if ever, are politicians or celebrities less direct than when they are trying to be contrite. But even by those loose standards, the apology offered this week by Peter Goldring left a lot to be desired. The Tory backbencher was charged with failing to provide a breath sample after leaving a party in his East Edmonton riding. Goldring has long opposed random Breathalyzer tests, which he considers an unreasonable restriction on individual rights. But if the long-time MP refused the test on civil rights grounds, he hasn’t said so. His only comments came in an unrecorded phone call to a local radio station in which Goldring, who has since resigned from the Conservative caucus, offered “his overall apologies to the people of his riding”—without saying whether or not he’d been drinking. The kerfuffle came, ironically enough, as the Alberta government adopts strict new anti-drunk-driving legislation for the province. Goldring, no surprise, opposes that too.

Nerd legend

Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo designer behind Super Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and other nerd-pleasing, hour-eating franchises, is the Steve Jobs of video gaming. So when Miyamoto muses about his future, the gaming world takes note. As does his employer. In a recent interview with Wired, Miyamoto suggested he may soon step down from his high-profile role at Nintendo to get back to hands-on design work. When the interview hit the Internet, Nintendo’s stock lurched, and the company scrambled to counter the claims. Miyamoto, Nintendo now says, isn’t going anywhere. As long as Mario keeps punching bricks, Miyamoto, it now appears, will be fronting the company he made a staple of the pixilated world.

Free the Falklands!

A bill before Argentina’s National Congress would require the motto “The Falklands Are Argentine” on Argentine uniforms at the London Olympics this summer. The bill was introduced by Rosana Bertone, a member of President Cristina Kirchner’s Front for Victory, but is said to enjoy wide support from all parties. Bertone says the gesture is a “peaceful way of defending our rights” to the long-disputed British territory, which Argentina invaded unsuccessfully in 1982. Kirchner’s chest-beating over the Falklands has grown more pronounced as she begins a second four-year term in office, facing severe inflation and capital flight.

Major bhummer

A U.S. citizen was handed a 30-month prison sentence in Bangkok for insulting Thailand’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The country’s already harsh application of a law against criticizing the Thai monarch has—contrary to expectations—only grown more intense under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. American Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand, had apparently posted an unauthorized biography of the king while living in Colorado years ago, and was caught returning to Thailand as a medical tourist. He got off easier, however, than Thais typically do for the same “crimes”—a truck driver was sentenced to 20 years last month for sending “offensive” text messages about Bhumibol, who succeeded to the throne in 1946 after his brother’s mysterious gunshot death.

Back to Panama

Remember Manuel Noriega—the dictator-cum-drug lord bundled out of Panama by U.S. troops in 1989? He spent most of the next 20 years in a Miami prison on drug trafficking charges. Now he’s back. France, where Noriega was sent after completing his U.S. term, agreed to return the one-time strongman to his homeland, where he is expected to face charges tied to his bloody five-year reign. At 77, Noriega will likely spend his remaining years under house arrest. Dying at home seems a mighty fine fate for a man accused of Noriega’s crimes.

Beating the Chief

In August 2008, Stephen Harper was in the small Arctic town of Inuvik to christen a new seafaring icebreaker, marking the occasion with a chest-thumping speech about Canadian sovereignty. He named the ship after John Diefenbaker, the Tory prime minister who presided for five years and 305 days. On Dec. 9, Harper’s time in the big chair surpassed that of his partisan forebear, making him the ninth-longest-serving PM in Canadian history. Maybe 50 years down the line, another Conservative prime minister will name an Arctic ship after Stephen Harper. By then, of course, it won’t have to break through any ice.

Mr. President: Santa’s elves

The Obamas, Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha, helped foster some festive cheer at the annual “Christmas in Washington” reception on Dec. 11. They sang carols alongside celebrity performers Jennifer Hudson, Cee Lo Green, Justin Bieber and Conan O’Brien.

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