Newsmakers of the week

Perez Hilton gets punched, Carla Bruni’s biggest fan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s interesting statue

Arnold’s extra pairArnold’s extra pair
In the spirit of partisan pranks-manship, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently sent a metal sculpture in the shape of bull testicles to California Senate President Darrell Steinberg—a metaphorical reminder of the bold budgetary decisions required by the state’s lawmakers in the face of a US$24.3-billion budget shortfall. Unfortunately, the joke fell flat. Steinberg, who is a Democrat, returned the sculpture to its sender, along with a note stressing the seriousness of the situation. In fairness to the governor, sources told that the testicles were sent in response to a gag gift Steinberg sent to him—a package of mushrooms—after Schwarzenegger called the Democrat’s budget proposals “hallucinatory.” But the sculpture was apparently too much coming from a man who once called Democrats “girlie men.” When asked why so serious, Steinberg’s spokesperson told reporters, “We’ve got more important things on our plate right now than to waste any more time on such trivial matters.”

Too much information
On Monday, Canada’s Information Commissioner Robert Marleau resigned unexpectedly, only two years into an ostensible seven-year tenure. He was in the process of reforming the country’s access to information laws, which have come to be routinely subverted by secretive government officials. Only one day earlier, Marleau was quoted in a Toronto Star article decrying the whole system. When the Access to Information Act was introduced in 1983, he told the reporter, “we were amongst the leaders in the world.” Since then, he said, “It’s been the same song and dance, no effort by any government to have this legislation or these processes keep pace with time, change and technology.” The reasons for his hasty departure only 24 hours later, he told media, are “entirely personal and private.”

Way to go, EinsteinWay to go, Einstein
An iconic 1951 photograph of Albert Einstein—in which he is shown at his 72nd birthday party, wide-eyed, hair askew, sticking out his tongue at the camera—sold at auction in New Hampshire last week for US$74,324, a record for a photo of the great physicist. The print, one of an original nine Einstein had made, features an inscription in German to his friend, the journalist Howard K. Smith: “This gesture you will like, because it is aimed at all of humanity. A civilian can afford to do what no diplomat would dare. Your loyal and grateful listener, A. Einstein. ’53.”

Family resemblance
When Irene Prusik died in 2003 at the age of 73, her son, Thomas Prusik-Parkin, 49, kept her memory alive in an unusual manner. First, he gave her funeral director false information so that her death would go officially unre corded. Then he bought himself a wig, women’s clothes and heavy makeup, and for six years, he impersonated his mother in banks and even in court in order to collect her social security benefits and rent subsidies totalling US$115,000. Brooklyn police, responding to a tip, recently arrested Prusik-Parkin and charged him with theft, forgery and conspiracy. “I held my mother when she was dying and breathed in her last breath,” he told police upon his arrest, “so I am my mother.”

Let her eat cakeLet her eat cake
Imprisoned Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—on trial for violating the conditions of her house arrest—celebrated her 64th birthday last week by inviting her doctors and her prison guards to a party. “[She] will celebrate her birthday by treating the people around her to rice and chocolate cake,” said lawyer Nyan Win, who brought birthday supplies to the prison in Yangon, including the chocolate cake, an apple cake, bouquets of orchids, and Indian-style biryani rice. Meanwhile, Suu Kyi’s supporters staged protests around the world calling for her release, and online, a high-profile campaign to free Suu Kyi is quickly gaining momentum. Among its illustrious signatories are fellow Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu. And Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker.

Burden of proof
Adil Charkaoui, a Morocco-born Montreal resident, began a Canada-wide speaking tour last week to draw attention to the “nightmare” he endured after he was detained by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service six years ago for allegedly being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent. Charkaoui says after 9/11, CSIS agents—who believed he was associating with Muslims in Montreal with ties to extremists in North Africa—entered the pizzeria he owned and asked him “Where is Osama bin Laden hiding?” Not taking the query seriously, he said, “I told them he was in the basement, having a siesta.” Soon after, Charkaoui says they began interfering with his business. In 2003, he was detained under a security certificate law, and denied access to the evidence against him. After spending 21 months in prison, a Quebec judge released him on $50,000 bail on the condition that he agree to electronic surveillance. “This law is a medieval law,” he told a Toronto crowd last Thursday. “In a country like Canada, it is shameful.”

There’s something about CarlaThere’s something about Carla
Carla Bruni, 41, vowed she would put her singing career on hiatus throughout her husband’s tenure as the president of France, but next month, she will make an exception. Bruni has agreed to perform a duet with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to honour Nelson Mandela on his 91st birthday. If director Woody Allen, 73, gets his way, Bruni will make another exception for him. In Paris last week to promote his latest film, Whatever Works, Allen was asked by the London Telegraph who he would rather cast in a film, Queen Elizabeth or the Dalai Lama. “Without question, Carla Bruni,” he replied. “I’m sure she would be wonderful. She has charisma, and she performs, so she’s not a stranger to an audience, and I would cast her in many different ways.” Allen’s agenda in Paris included a visit to the presidential palace to meet with Nicolas Sarkozy and Bruni. “I don’t have a story at the moment,” he said, “but you know, maybe even I’ll ask her, if she’s interested.”

That’s not cricket!
Sir Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire and cricket enthusiast, was indicted last Friday on fraud charges in connection with a $7-billion Ponzi scheme in which he allegedly advised clients to buy bogus certificates of deposit from the Stan ford International Bank, based in Antigua, and bribed local bank officials to turn a blind eye. He is accused of using client funds to support his own opulent lifestyle. The FBI sought him out at his girlfriend’s home in Fredericksburg, Va. Seeing the agents parked outside, Stanford ventured out to ask if they had a warrant. Unhappily for him, they did.

Mollycoddled princeMollycoddled prince
Prince William celebrated his 27th birthday last Sunday. As a gift, his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, booked them into a private home near a medieval town in Cornwall under the pseudonyms Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The couple was later joined by a group of friends, including Prince Harry, for birthday festivities. Currently, the princes are living together in Shropshire, England, where they are both undergoing Royal Air Force training. William is learning to be a search and rescue pilot and Harry is training to fly army helicopters. William told reporters last week that he would like to go to war like his younger bro ther, who completed a 10-week tour of Afghanistan in early 2008. “In my eyes, if Harry can do it then I can do it,” he said. “I didn’t join the forces to be mollycoddled or treated any differently.” In fact, at home in their bachelor pad, Harry is the one who is mollycoddled, William joked. “I do a fair bit of tidying up after him,” he said. “He snores a lot too. He keeps me up all night long.” To which Harry replied, “Oh God, now they will think we are sharing a bed!”

When gossip hurtsWhen gossip hurts
In the wee hours following the MuchMusic Video Awards last Sunday, an unlikely fight broke out between self-dubbed “gossip gangster” Perez Hilton and Will of the Black Eyed Peas. It ended with Hilton being pun ched in the eye and the Toronto police getting inundated with calls from his fans who were alerted to the incident via Twitter. On Monday, both Hilton and Will released online videos describing very different versions of the altercation. According to a tearful Hilton, it began with a war of words over Hilton’s treatment of Fergie, the lone female member of the Black Eyed Peas, on his website. Will allegedly deman ded that Hil ton stop writing negative things about the band and later, along with his entourage, followed Hilton out back where the Peas’ manager, Polo Molina, punched Hilton repeatedly. According to Will, it was a Peas fan who roughed Hilton up. The real story inevitably will come out now that Ryan Seacrest is on the case: he has invited both parties onto his show to get to the bottom of this harrowing incident.

Maternal instinctsMaternal instincts
Maureen Lee and her daughter Maya, 3, were walking their dog along a wooded trail in Brackendale, B.C., when a cougar spied them and attacked the little girl. “All of a sudden it just flew on her, rolled her a couple of times and grabbed her,” Lee told the CBC. “She was on her back and [the cougar] had his paws on her head, and I just knew I had to react quick. So I jumped in there and wedged myself between the cougar and her on the ground. I just got up and threw it off my back and grabbed Maya and ran,” she said. Miraculously, Maya suffered only puncture wounds on her head and left arm.

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