Newsmakers: July 14-21

Hugo Chávez looks to Castro for care, J-Lo and Marc Anthony call it quits, and Shaq gets a new job
Nancy MacDonald, Cigdem Iltan, Emma Teitel, Alex Ballingall and Richard Foot
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 25: (NO BOOK PUBLISHING) Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez (L) and singer Marc Anthony perform onstage during Fox’s "American Idol 2011" finale results show held at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 25, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/American Idol 2011/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter/American Idol

He speeds for good deeds

When you imagine the record-holder for the fastest bicycle trip across Canada, you’re probably not picturing somebody’s grandpa. But as of this week, the title belongs to Winnipeg’s Arvid Loewen, proud grandfather of three. The 54-year-old, who has raised more than $1.5 million for Kenyan orphans by cycling, pedalled close to 500 km per day. After 13 days, six hours and 13 minutes, Loewen rolled into downtown Halifax, beating the previous record by more than three hours. In other speeding news this week, David Weber’s attempt to save his unborn baby was rewarded with a huge ticket and a licence suspension. The 32-year-old was driving in rural Manitoba with his wife Genevieve when she went into labour. Complications during her first birth meant natural labour could endanger future babies. Panicked, David hit speeds of up to 170 km/h to get to a hospital. But the RCMP pulled him over twice, earning him $1,000 in fines. “What would have happened if something happened to my wife, or my baby?” David told the Winnipeg Free Press. “It’s like there’s no compassion anymore.” Baby Anabela was born healthy via emergency C-section.

Shaq to work

It was a good week for retired athletes embroiled in controversy. Shaquille O’Neal was absolved of involvement in a titillating story about a group of gangsters who allegedly kidnapped, pistol-whipped and robbed a man claiming to be in possession of a Shaq sex tape. Court officials deemed the big man wasn’t involved in the incident. Shaq also inked a multi-year deal with broadcaster TNT. He’ll join Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnston on the network’s Inside the NBA program. Then there’s former baseball star Roger Clemens. After being charged with lying to Congress about steroid use, the former Yankee had his trial thrown out after the prosecution submitted evidence that violated a pretrial agreement. Judge Reggie Watson said afterwards a “first-year law student” wouldn’t have made the same mistake. Talk about dodging a knock-down pitch.

Religious exceptionalism?

After a three-year battle, an Austrian atheist has won the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver’s licence photo. Niko Alm, a self-professed “pastafarian,” says the sieve is a requirement of his religion: the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He applied for the licence after reading that headgear was allowed in licence photos for religious reasons. “I consider privileges due to religious or any type of belief as anti-democratic,” Alm told the Washington Post. “So I wanted to apply the same exception to my headgear.” Authorities required Alm to get a doctor’s note certifying that he was “psychologically fit” before processing the application.

True blood

Haka Neziri’s Kosovar family hasn’t left home in 17 months, due to a blood feud with a neighbouring clan. The Neziris fear that any one of them—including the children—could be shot by the rival Veseli family. In 2010, Brahim Veseli, 40, was killed; four Neziri brothers are on trial for his murder. The kanun, the ancient Albanian tradition of the blood feud, requires that murders be avenged: any of the killer’s male relatives can be targeted. For now, the entire Neziri family has barricaded themselves inside their homes. Shyqeri, the eldest brother, told Agence France-Presse this week they’ve started selling off cattle and furniture piece by piece to “earn a living.”

Scandalously dumb

Scandal erupted last week, after Michelle Obama was photographed by the Washington Post indulging in a burger, fries and milkshake, at Shake Shake, a city diner. Apparently this puts the U.S. first lady in violation of her healthy eating and anti-childhood obesity campaign. Beltway media pounced on “Burgergate.” Some call the backlash thinly veiled racism. Others, however, call it a slow summer news day in the capital.

Even Chávez won’t use the hospitals

Although the type of cancer afflicting Hugo Chávez remains a state secret, Venezuela’s president did reveal this week that doctors extracted a tumour the size of “a baseball” from his pelvic region. Chávez, 56, may need chemo but it won’t stop him from running for re-election next year. “My colon and stomach aren’t destroyed like the opposition is saying,” he told state TV. “Today, cancer isn’t death.” Rather than eliciting sympathy, however, his treatment in a top-notch Cuban facility is instead serving to remind Venezuelans of the scandalous state of health care in their country.


Ted Danson is joining the cast of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, one of television’s most popular dramas. The former Cheers star will replace actor Laurence Fishburne, who is leaving after two seasons. Danson, who is enjoying a late-career TV renaissance on Bored to Death and Damages, is set to play the crime unit’s new supervisor—forced to work the graveyard shift.

Of generosity, and love

“Money can’t buy happiness and it can’t buy your health,” said Violet Large. Those prescient words became painfully true on Saturday when Violet, 79, died following a long battle with ovarian cancer. Last July, she and her husband, Allen, became global heroes after winning $11.3 million in the lottery, then giving it all away. The retired couple from the small village of Lower Truro, N.S., quietly parcelled out their windfall to family members and to dozens of local charities: the hospitals and clinics that cared for Violet during her illness, community churches, the Red Cross, the neighbourhood fire brigade and so on, until it was all gone, except a tiny sum they kept for running their home. They stayed in their small, rural farmhouse and kept driving their old car. “We haven’t bought one thing,” said Violet in a television interview last year. “There’s not one new thing in this house since we got that money.” Their story inspired headlines, but it was more a love story than anything else. “We have each other,” said Allen. “What more could a person want?”

Do as he says, not as he does

Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, made a public appeal to his male subjects this week, but it may prove a tough sell. Mswati, standing beside four of his 13 wives, called on all males in the landlocked kingdom to get circumcised. Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV infection rate; new research shows that circumcised men are 60 per cent less likely to contract HIV. It’s unclear whether the king himself will go under the knife. But Regional Administrator Prince Masitsela has already demonstrated his support. Last year, he missed high-profile talks while recovering from “circumcision wounds.”

Getting away with murder

Last week, a Colombian colonel admitted to killing civilians, then dressing them up as rebel soldiers. Col. Luis Fernando Borja had his sentence halved, from 42 to 21 years, for accepting responsibility for the crime. Borja admitted his unit murdered 57 civilians, then dressed them in uniform, to claim they were rebels killed in combat; rebel kills brought promotions and prestige. Some, he said, were lured to their deaths with promises of work.

Mad about Harry—truly, deeply

A B.C. woman slept on the streets of London for eight days so to be first in line at the world premiere of the final instalment of the Harry Potter films. Nicole Beaudet, her brother and three friends only left their spot in Trafalgar Square to use the washroom at a nearby McDonald’s. Beaudet, who fainted twice from excitement while meeting author J.K. Rowling and the film’s stars as they entered on the red carpet, didn’t shower or remove her Harry Potter scarf during her entire week in London. The 22-year-old walked away with Rowling’s autograph on her hip, while her brother showed off her signature on his arm; both had Rowling’s signature tattooed permanently the next day. “It was a huge deal,” Beaudet told the Vancouver Sun. “It made my life.” Within hours of returning home, she was back in her sleeping bag—this time, in line in Langley, B.C., for a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Partners in business—life, no more

They’re filing for divorce, and so angry they can barely speak yet, somehow, “the show goes on!” a spokesman for Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s forthcoming reality TV series, Q’Viva! The Chosen announced this week. The celebrity duo is also sticking with plans for a pair of clothing lines at Kohl’s.