This week: Newsmakers

The fatheads who resent the war on fat, plus Quebec announces a new anti-corruption unit

This week: Newsmakers
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty Images

Fatheads resent war on fat

The latest conservative smear campaign against the White House circles around Michelle Obama’s waistline. According to radio host Rush Limbaugh, the first lady could stand to lose a few, particularly since being seen munching on braised short ribs while on vacation in Colorado. Limbaugh, who is no Adonis, suggested Mrs. O is a hypocrite for not following her own dieting advice. “Our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,” he said. Sarah Palin has ridiculed Obama’s anti-obesity efforts, too, arguing she has no business in America’s kitchens. Meanwhile, Andrew Breitbart’s website ran a cartoon depicting a double-chinned first lady hoarding hamburgers while mouthing pro-health slogans.

The simple life of an Amish schemer

Unlike fraudster Bernie Madoff, Monroe L. Beachy lived a simple life among his fellow Amish in the quaint village of Sugarcreek, Ohio. But the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges Monroe, 77, ran a Ponzi-style scheme for 24 years, costing his largely Amish clients millions. It began to unravel after Beachy declared bankruptcy last June. (A horse, buggy and harness are among his personal assets, the Washington Post reports.) By then, less than US$18 million of the original $33 million invested remained. Ironically, some of the loss resulted from the dot-com bust, a shock to his investors, who shun modern technology. Investors don’t want to pursue the claims in court, saying it’s a matter for the church. “Members of the Plain Community love and trust one another in all their relationships,” an Amish creditors group said.

This week: Newsmakers
Win McNamee/Getty Images; Paul Chiasson/CP

Where have we heard that before

Maclean’s took a thrashing last fall for calling Quebec “the most corrupt province” in Canada. While we don’t wish to reignite that debate, it’s refreshing to see the announcement last week of a permanent anti-corruption unit in the province. It will have a $30-million budget and 189 investigators and support staff, said Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil. He called it a better anti-corruption strategy than the public inquiry demanded by the opposition. “We want to have these criminals in jail, not on television,” he said. Stéphane Bergeron, public security critic for the Parti Québécois, conceded the unit “wouldn’t hurt” the corruption fight. It’s “also an admission that the problem is bigger than [the government] has been willing to admit,” he told reporters.

This week: Newsmakers
Paul Chiasson/CP

What would Jack Bauer say?

Kiefer Sutherland is considering a return to TV after his break from eight seasons playing CTU agent Jack Bauer on the hit series 24. The Hollywood Reporter says he’s in talks for the lead role in Touch, by Heroes creator Tim Kring. He’d play the dad of a mute, autistic son who predicts the future. Meantime, the past of his real-life grand­father Tommy Douglas resurfaced in declassified documents, the Canadian Press reports. In one curious item, the former RCMP security service claimed Douglas, then NDP leader, met with actress Jane Fonda in 1970 about efforts to stop the Vietnam War and to bring Vietnamese to Canada for a public inquiry.

And baby makes four

Little Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen has an impressive parentage. “Katherine” honours her father Rufus Wainright’s late mother, singer Kate McGarrigle, and “Wainright” his father, Loudon Wainwright III. The other “proud parents” are “Deputy Dad” Jorn Weisbrodt (Rufus’s romantic partner), and Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen. No pressure to deliver on a dazzling musical career, kid.

Party for one!

Kim Jong Il usually uses his birthday celebration to instill confidence in the North Korean people by giving them at least a day’s worth of rice and corn. This year, though, the Supreme Leader failed to carry out the ritual, since food shortages are crippling the country, with the UN predicting shortfalls of more than 500,000 tonnes of grain. Even senior officials felt the pinch, reportedly receiving knock-off celebratory Rolex watches and Gucci bags in lieu of real ones. But the day wasn’t all for naught: Jong Il went home with presents including a fleet of Mercedes Benz automobiles and a US$16-million yacht. And heir apparent Kim Jong Un was named vice-chairman of the defence commission on the eve of his proud papa’s birthday.

Tears of a clown

Coming from a world of squirting flowers and joy buzzers, Brazilian clown and newly elected congressman Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva would surely be adept at pushing buttons. But last week Silva, a.k.a. Tiririca, generated more groans than laughs when he blew his first congressional vote. He’d pledged to back the government’s austerity measure for a new minimum wage. But he pressed the wrong button on the computerized system and backed an opposition motion for a much higher wage. Tiririca had outpolled all candidates by admitting he knew nothing about politics. But his slogan, “It can’t get any worse,” apparently underestimated his abilities.

This week: Newsmakers
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High art with a very low brow

Fallen women tend to figure in opera—think of Violetta in La Traviata. But most divas haven’t fallen this far. The Royal Opera House in London dressed itself in sequins and hot pink this week for the premiere of Anna Nicole, an opera about Anna Nicole Smith. Richard Thomas’s libretto—called “caustically witty”—follows the life of the late Playboy model who married an 89-year-old billionaire, then died of a drug overdose. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage said people will be “surprised how seriously we’ve taken the subject,” and soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek was hailed as sensational. Not all critics were moved: the Financial Times said the opera “belongs in the same genre as Jerry Springer, strung along a clothesline of lewd ditties and frothy choruses.” But the masses gobbled it up: all six performances sold out.

Ye can’t fight city hall, matey

Rodney McGrath calls his backyard—with its homemade two-storey pirate ship and “Mohawk Mountain,” a sculpture of tires and concrete—an “enchanted kingdom.” But what city inspectors and many of his neighbours on Midwood Avenue see is an unsightly safety hazard. Last week, after a two-year fight, councillors issued a demolition order for both ship and mountain. City engineers say the structures are unstable and aren’t built to code. Pirates, of course, aren’t big on rules and codes. “It’s beautiful,” McGrath says of his land-locked ship. “When the sun comes up in the morning it… reflects on the whole structure,” he told the CBC. “It comes alive.”

This week: Newsmakers
Kevin Winter/Getty Images;

The new Wonder Woman

It wasn’t enough to possess superpowers, fight crime and look impossibly good in satin granny underpants; in a TV remake starring Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights, she also has a power career and work-life balance issues. The new show departs from the old, but apparently Lynda Carter approves.

Home, sweet KABOOM!

Steve Jobs ended a decades-long battle to tear down his own house. In 1984, the Apple CEO purchased a Spanish-style mansion in Woodside, near San Francisco, in the hopes of demolishing it and building a new residence. But Jackling House was the 1920s dream abode of copper industrialist Cowan Jackling, and Jobs faced legal challenges and cries for preservation of the manse. When he finally obtained a demolition permit this week, Jobs’s demo team destroyed the house in a single day, prompting Wired magazine to note the move was consistent with Jobs’ career: “He doesn’t have any doubts about deleting the past to create the future.”

Unlikely queen of queens

At age 15, Phiona Mutesi may be Uganda’s best female chess player. She’s certainly the unlikeliest, living in a Kampala slum, and just learning to read. She was attracted to the game at age nine, after her brother learned it from Robert Katende of the U.S. charity Sports Outreach Institute. Soon she was beating Katende. By 2009 she’d won regional tournaments. Last fall she travelled to Siberia for the Chess Olympiad, where she was beaten by Dina Kagramanov, the Canadian champ, who gave her advice and books on advanced chess. Mutesi continues to improve. “In chess, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said, “only where you put the pieces.”

This week: Newsmakers
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Another day for the Jackal

The French aren’t finished with Carlos the Jackal, one of the world’s most hunted terrorists pre-Osama Bin Laden. The 61-year-old Venezuelan—real name is Ilitch Ramirez Sanchez—goes on trial in Paris in November for a series of bomb attacks that killed 11 people in France from 1982 to 1983. He’s already serving a life sentence for a run of deadly crimes, including an attack and hostage taking at the Vienna headquarters of OPEC in 1975.

It’s all in the mail

A forensic scientist and a student from Simon Fraser University may offer the best hope of solving one of aviation’s great mysteries. Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937 while circumnavigating the world. Donya Yang hopes to collect DNA from the envelope glue of four letters written by Earhart to see if it matches a bone found on the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro. The letters came from a collection held by student Justin Long’s grandfather, Elgen Long, an Earhart scholar. The letters are personal: “One was written by Amelia on airline letterhead while waiting for a flight—so we can be fairly certain that she is the one who sealed the envelopes,” says Long.