The Queen’s YouTube channel, John Hughes’ pen pal, and a religious conversion reality TV show

Newsmakers of the week

Queen Elizabeth IIWhisky business
On Sunday, Queen Elizabeth II, 83, launched her new YouTube channel, where she will broadcast her 50th annual televised Christmas message this December. According to Buckingham Palace, “the Queen always keeps abreast with new ways of communicating with people.” Also available on the Royal Channel will be video clips of garden parties, state visits, and footage of a day in the life of Prince Charles. Some things about the royal family, however, are not for public consumption. According to the Daily Mail, the Norfolk Police has declined a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for details on how many officers receive a bottle of whisky from Her Majesty each year at Christmas time. The police department issued a five-page response defending its secrecy, claiming that in the wrong hands, this information could allow “domestic or foreign terrorists to establish the level of police protection afforded to royal residences.” It would reveal, however, that two of its officers, Chief Insp. Dick Curtis and Sgt. P. Newby, had each receieved Christmas puddings from the Queen, valued at £13.

Hyun Jeong-eunIt worked for Bill
Hyun Jeong-eun, the head of Hyundai Group, one of South Korea’s most powerful conglomerates, ventured to North Korea this week to discuss “current issues” with officials and attempt to secure the release of one of her employees. The man, known only by his family name, Yoo, who was taken prisoner in March in the Northern border town of Kaesong, according to the BBC, allegedly for “undermining the North’s political system.” Hyun’s visit is said to have been prompted by the recent success of former U.S. president Bill Clinton in negotiating the release of two American journalists. Clinton is reported to have raised Yoo’s case during his visit with Kim Jong Il, but so far there is no reason to believe the North Korean dictator has any intention of releasing him.

But be home by 11
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reportedly granted permission to members of his cabinet to attend an upcoming event honouring Brian Mulroney, despite having issued a ban in 2007 on “any dealings” with the former prime minister until the Mulroney-Schreiber probe is complete. According to a report in Ottawa’s Hill Times, the PM determined this party—scheduled for Sept. 18 at Le Windsor in Montreal—to be a special exception because it commemorates an important day in the history of the party: the anniversary of the 1984 ousting of the Liberals. “There’s a distinction between holding a private meeting with Mulroney to discuss government business, say, and attending a celebration like this one,” according to Andrew MacDougall, the PM’s deputy press secretary. Otherwise, the no-fraternizing rule stands.

John HughesDear John, why are boys so mean?
In the mid-’80s, at the age of 15, Alison Byrne Field wrote a fan letter to director John Hughes, who died suddenly last week at the age of 59, to tell him how moved she was by his film The Breakfast Club. She also asked him to be her pen pal, and he actually said yes. “For two years,” she says, “John Hughes and I wrote letters back and forth. He told me—in longhand black felt tip pen on yellow legal paper—about life on a film set and about his family. I told him about boys, my relationship with my parents and things that happened to me in school.” They exchanged 20 to 25 letters in all. In one, Hughes wrote, “I can’t tell you how much I like your comments about my movies. Nor can I tell you how helpful they are to me for future projects. I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you. I make these movies for you. Really. No lie. There’s a difference I think you understand.”

I bet you have cool toys, too
Last week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington-based non-profit group, risked the ire of President Barack Obama by featuring his daughters Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, in its new advertising campaign. In the ads, posted in Washington’s Union Station, Jasmine Messiah, an eight-year-old vegetarian and public school student, muses, “President Obama’s daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don’t I?” The campaign is designed to promote a petition urging lawmakers to increase the number of vegetarian, vegan and nondairy food options in public schools. The ads also point out that the Obama girls’ private school, the elite Sidwell Friends, offers vegetarian chili, roasted vegetable pizza and other healthy options in its cafeteria. Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution Governance Studies program, was one of many observers to doubt the logic of this promotional strategy. “This is not the way to win the heart of the President,” West told Politico. “It’s dangerous to target Obama’s daughters because many people view family members as off-limits for political advocacy.” George Washington University media professor Steven Roberts added, “If I were that group, I would fire my advertising adviser.”

Kirk DouglasGuess they tracked his package
After a lengthy investigation, Cameron Douglas, the 30-year-old son of Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, was arrested recently at the chic Hotel Gansevoort in New York City for dealing large quantities of methamphetamine over a period of three years. He faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life behind bars. In one deal, according to a criminal complaint made public last Thursday, Douglas was paid US$48,000 by a New York-based client for a pound of crystal meth, which Douglas later shipped to him from Santa Barbara, Calif., via FedEx. In recorded phone calls obtained by authorities, he referred to the drugs as “pastry” and “bath salts.” Douglas is best known for co-starring in a 2003 movie with his father and his grandfather, Kirk Douglas, called It Runs in the Family.

Let him go gentle
Following a recent decision by Britain’s Law Lords that the current law on assisted suicide needs to be clarified, fantasy novelist Sir Terry Pratchett, 61, voiced his support for its legalization. “I live in hope I can jump before I am pushed,” he told London’s Daily Mail. Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. “I believe that if the burden gets too great, those who wish should be allowed to be shown the door,” he said. “In my case, in the fullness of time, I hope it will be in the garden under an English sky. Or, if wet, the library.”

Tim BurtonWho’s the real scaredy cat?
Tim Burton, the director of such macabre films as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and the upcoming Alice in Wonderland, told reporters last week that he’s tired of politically correct parents trying to protect their children from scary stories. A little terror is good for them, he says. “I don’t know why adults keep fighting that,” he said. “They keep fighting the fairy tales that have been told since the beginning of mankind. They’re fighting Pinocchio. They forget what it’s like to be kids. Kids like to be scared. Most great children’s literature is politically incorrect, so I don’t know why they can’t get used to it by now.”

On the scent
Projét Montreal, the five-year old municipal party, scored a public relations coup when it was announced that retired judge John Gomery—who became known nationwide as a defender of political ethics after he headed up the federal sponsorship scandal inquiry—is taking on the role of honorary chairperson of its fundraising campaign. Gomery’s entrance into municipal politics was spurred by his belief that the current administration is not operating above-board. “There is a very bad stench that surrounds the current city administration,” he said at a press conference in Old Montreal, “and I find that my fellow citizens are discouraged and cynical.” Another incentive for his support of Projét Montreal— which focuses on public transit and transparency, the environment, and is widely considered to be a fringe party—is the fact that his daughter, Cym Gomery, is running for a city council seat under its banner. “I have never been so discouraged about Montreal,” Gomery told the Montreal Gazette. “There is no effective leadership. There is no plan to get us out. Projet Montréal seems to have a plan.”

Seyhan “Sisi” SoyluBelieve it! Or not.
A controversial new television show, and the woman behind it, Seyhan “Sisi” Soylu, are the talk of Turkey. In the show, called Penitents Compete, religious dignitaries—including a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk—compete to convert a group of 12 atheists. Among the activities they partake in are one-on-one conversations, group Q&A sessions, and visits to places of worship. If a cleric manages to convert an atheist, the latter wins a trip to the religiously appropriate locale (Mecca, Jerusalem, the Vatican, or Tibet). The show is made all the more controversial because its creator, Soylu, 36, a journalist, former police officer, and the son of a diplomat, underwent a high-profile sex change operation at age 20. Soylu was deeply involved in the campaign to overthrow fundamentalist Turkish PM Necmettin Erbakan in 1997. The show, broadcast on Turkey’s Channel T, has attracted a tremendous amount of scorn, particularly from traditional Muslims. But Soylu, a “devout Muslim with non-dogmatic views” told Der Spiegel, “Where is the problem? We don’t want to incite a religious war. We want to help people find God.”

MaxHe doesn’t look a day over 181
Last Saturday, Max, a terrier-cross from Louisiana, celebrated his 26th birthday with a special party hosted by his owner, Janelle Derouen. Max, who is 182 in canine years, is believed to be the oldest dog in the world (pending confirmation by Guinness World Records, currently verifying his veterinary birth certificate). The key to Max’s longevity and continued good health—except for some mild arthritis and cataracts—is his zen attitude, says Derouen. “He’s a very, very laid-back dog,” she says. “He likes to lie down, relax, nap, sleep a lot and keep life simple. He’ll play with the kids for a bit, but if they bother him too long, he’ll wander off.”