Newsmakers: Jan. 23 – Feb. 3, 2012

Garth Brooks resurfaces, Jonathan Franzen’s new snit, and Christine Sinclair sends Canada to London


Alex Ellinghausen/The Sydney Morning Herald/Getty Images

A model union

The union movement just got a whole lot more photogenic. Sara Ziff, a waifish 29-year-old model from Manhattan, is the industry’s first labour leader. Launching in February, Ziff’s Model Alliance hopes to enforce financial transparency laws, as well as sexual harassment and health care issues for U.S. catwalkers. Contrary to the glossy fantasy, Ziff says, modelling is a bruising, exploitation-prone industry that chews up and spits out the vast majority of those who try to make a go of it. Ziff, who quit the industry at 25 after an A-list career modelling the likes of Calvin Klein and Stella McCartney, says Model Alliance isn’t a union per se, but a regulatory agency that will police the industry.

Julia’s very bad week

Pity Julia Gillard. The Australian prime minister had to be dragged to safety by bodyguards after Aboriginal protesters crashed an awards ceremony on Australia Day. What’s worse, the protesters were actually targeting opposition leader Tony Abbott, who earlier in the day had criticized an Aborigine occupation of the grounds outside Parliament House. It was the second time in as many weeks Gillard had to retreat. She recently said a gift she’d received from the Queen was paid for by Aussie taxpayers. Gillard was incorrect, and the Queen was not amused.

Remember them?

Decades ago, they somehow made birth control, crucifixion and dead parrots funny. Now, the rather bonkers British comedy troupe Monty Python is regrouping for its first feature film since 1983. The five surviving members (Graham Chapman died in 1989) will produce Absolutely Anything, a so-called “sci-fi farce” in which a group of aliens invade Earth and give humans powers to do, yes, absolutely anything. Sound less than riotous? Just remember, these guys made the Grim Reaper a knee-slapper.

What a boob

Police arrested Jean-Claude Mas, founder of the Poly Implant Prothèse company, following an investigation into the former travelling salesman’s use of industrial grade silicone in his company’s breast implants. Upwards of 500,000 women in 65 countries availed themselves of Mas’s wares. French authorities advised some 30,000 women to have the implants removed due to increased risk of rupture. Mas, whose company was once one of the world’s largest silicone manufacturers, remained unrepentant following his arrest. “I knew that the gel wasn’t approved, but I did it knowingly, because the PIP gel was cheaper and of much better quality,” he reportedly told investigators.

Like father—not like daughter

You’d think anyone related to Venezuelan socialist revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez would be above the bling. Yet there was Rosinés Chávez, Hugo’s 14-year-old daughter, posing behind a thick fan of hated American greenbacks. The candid self-portrait, which quickly spread across the free world courtesy of her smartphone, was even more verboten given that Venezuelan workers are severely restricted in the amount of U.S. dollars they can possess. This isn’t Rosinés’s first brush with Western decadence. Last year, she posed with Justin Bieber before the Canadian superstar took to a Caracas stage.

The cat came back

Perhaps taking a cue from Saturday Night Live’s Toonces the Driving Cat, a Canadian feline recently dove into the cockpit of an Air Canada plane just as it was set to take off from the Halifax airport. Ripples, a 10-year-old tabby, bolted from his cage on the Toronto-bound flight and dove through a wiring panel in the cockpit. Maintenance crews had to disassemble part of the plane’s dash to get access to Ripples, causing a four-hour delay. Thankfully, Ripples was found unscathed, though a little peeved.

All that glitters…

It’s actually harder than you’d think to get rid of the world’s largest emerald. Regan Reaney found out as much recently when “Teodora,” an 11.5-kg Brazilian-mined precious stone he co-owns, went up for auction in Kelowna, B.C. The murky green rock was about to go on the block when police arrested Reaney on multiple outstanding fraud charges. A shame for him: there were reportedly several interested buyers (or tire-kickers, at the very least) for the 57,500-carat rock valued at more than $1 million. Honky-tonk blues Many moons ago, Garth Brooks took on the scourge of used CD stores, saying the sale of his pre-loved recordings were cutting into his bottom line. Having stayed relatively quiet during the file-sharing decade, Brooks has surfaced again, this time suing an Oklahoma hospital after it failed to use his $500,000 donation to build a women’s centre named after his mother Colleen. A jury ruled that hospital administration broke a verbal agreement with Brooks, and awarded the country star $1 million. Doesn’t sound like your typical country song, does it?

E is for ‘evil’

Author Jonathan Franzen, whose Bible-thick tomes are the source of zeitgeist-y revelations, has a new target: the dreaded eBook reader. Franzen fears that the popular devices, peddled by Amazon and Sony among others, will quicken the death of literature by cheapening the printed word. At a recent book festival in Colombia, the Illinois-born writer waxed philosophic about the fleeting nature of the digital age, suggesting eBook readers are indicative of a “combination of technology and capitalism” that “has given us a world that feels really out of control.” Guess we’ll wait for the paperback, then.

THAT Robert Lepage?

Critical darling Robert Lepage isn’t used to tepid reviews. But the Canadian director is getting just that for his production of Richard Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung at the Metropolitan Opera. Lepage spent six years and $16 million on the last movement of the German composer’s epic four-part opera; the production was the most expensive launched on the Met stage, and has as its centrepiece a 45-ton machine that undulates 24 huge planks up and down. Apparently audiences were less than thrilled. While they enthusiastically applauded the performers following the six-hour spectacle, Lepage and his production team were roundly booed.


David Cooper/Toronto Star

One small step for Lego . . .

Most kids content themselves with model airplanes, or volcanoes made from vinegar and baking soda. But Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad took their science jones further—much further. The 17-year-old Torontonians built a box, outfitted it with four cameras, a GPS and a Lego man holding a Canadian flag, and ballooned it into the heavens. The jerry-rigged science project travelled 24 km upwards before floating back down to Earth on a homemade parachute. The resulting images, many with Mr. Lego smiling away in the foreground, were as breathtaking as the feat itself. Lego my banner Meanwhile in the Siberian town of Barnaul, police tried to arrest a group of protesting Lego people, along with several South Park dolls and teddy bears. Unknown protesters set up the offending display, in which the democracy-loving toys hold signs like: “A thief should sit in jail, not the Kremlin.” Demonstrations featuring actual humans were broken up by police. “In our opinion, this is still an unsanctioned public event,” deputy Barnaul police chief Andrei Mulintsev told a press conference. Toys of the world, unite!

Cash mob

Jim Black didn’t expect much when he sent an email to 40 friends urging them to spend $20 at the local hardware store on Jan. 21. But the Chagrin Falls, Ohio, resident’s missive—“Let’s show our support for one of our local businesses”—struck a chord in the village of 4,000 outside Cleveland, home to the family-owned Chagrin Hardware. Black’s email was forwarded over and over, the store was packed by early afternoon and its phone lines jammed with people calling in orders from out of town. The windfall was something of a miracle for the Shutt family, who have owned the store for 72 years: both the recession and today’s big-box reality have taken their toll. For the first time, the Chagrin Hardware credit card machine broke down from overuse.

Queen of the pitch

Christine Sinclair, perhaps the greatest player in women’s soccer, scored twice in Canada’s win over the favoured Mexican side at the qualifying tournament last week, earning the country a spot at this summer’s Olympics. Sinclair may well have cemented another coveted spot: flag-bearer for Canada’s Olympic team.

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