Newsmakers of the week

Judy Blume causes a moral panic, Kiefer Sutherland demands satisfaction, and introducing Dr. Dolly Parton

Four’s companyFour’s company

Speculation over which of his three wives newly elected South African President Jacob Zuma, 67, would bring to his inauguration ceremony was finally put to rest on Saturday when he turned up to the the $10.5-million affair with only his senior wife, Sizakele Khumalo, by his side. Polygamy is still common practice in rural KwaZulu Natal, where Zuma comes from. In fact, South African political analyst Protas Madlala told the BBC that Zuma will very likely bring all three wives on official foreign visits: “It may be to avoid antagonizing some of them he takes them all to state occasions,” he said. “Or he may rotate among them, like the nightly visits.”

Are you there, FBI?

Judy Blume, known for her angst-ridden teen novels like Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret and Forever, inadvertently placed herself at the center of a vicious online right-to-life battle last week. On Wednesday, in honour of Mother’s Day, Blume sent out an email to solicit donations for Planned Parenthood, an organization that offers birth control options and, in some clinics, abortion services and morning-after pills to the public. “No organization that I know of supports motherhood and all that it means more than Planned Parenthood,” she wrote. But the email was obtained by members of pro-life groups who quickly made Blume an object of scorn. Steven Ertelt, editor of the the anti-abortion site Lifenews.com, urged readers to speak out, and soon Blume was inundated with hate mail, even getting death threats. “Letting people know that a children’s author is stumping for donations for a business that kills children is part of our mission,” Ertelt told the Daily Beast. Determined to use the scuffle as an opportunity to rally Planned Parenthood’s own troops, president Cecile Richards sent out an email urging people to support Blume by donating: “Nothing—nothing—would make Judy happier.”

Wrecking ballWrecking ball

Kiefer Sutherland, a.k.a. 24’s Jack Bauer, was charged last week with misdemeanour assault after he allegedly head-butted Proenza Schouler designer Jack McCollough, breaking his nose in three places, at an after-party for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Ball. Sutherland allegedly attacked McCollough after he bumped into actress Brooke Shields and failed to apologize, but the designer said the assault was “vicious, violent and unprovoked.” Also victimized by the incident was Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who presides over the annual ball and was reportedly livid to see it upstaged.

Help me, Wanda

Holding court at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, comedian Wanda Sykes voiced her humble opinion that, back in January, when Rush Limbaugh said he hopes the Obama administration fails, it was no different from saying he wants America to fail. “To me that’s treason,” she told the audience. “He’s not saying anything different from what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to listen to this, sir, because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on OxyContin, he missed his flight.” As the crowd squirmed—some scandalized, some delighted—the President laughed nervously behind her. “Too much?” she asked. “But you’re laughing inside.”

Nano healingNano healing

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel on Monday with a stated intent to heal old wounds and honour the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War. Israeli President Shimon Peres, 86, speaking from his official residence in Jerusalem, proclaimed that “ties of reconciliation and understanding are now being woven between the Holy See and the Jewish people.” He added: “Our door is open to similar efforts with the Muslim world.” Peres also presented the Pope with an unusual gift. Known to be a nanotechnology enthusiast, Peres commissioned local scientists to shrink a copy of the Old Testament to fit onto a pin-sized silicon chip. This so-called “nano Bible” can only be read with the help of a 10,000x magnifying glass, which the Pope, who is 82, will very likely need.

Poetic justice?

Derek Walcott, the 79-year-old West Indian writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992, withdrew his candidacy for Oxford’s professor of poetry after he was targeted by a systematic smear campaign. According to the Cherwell, Oxford’s student newspaper, authors, academics and journalists internationally have received anonymous letters alluding to Walcott’s history of sexual harassment. The accusations refer to incidents while Walcott held professorial posts at Boston and Harvard universities. Between 50 and 100 anonymous envelopes were sent to female fellows and female heads of colleges and departments in Oxford. These contained photocopied pages from The Lecherous Professor, a book that examines incidents of sexual harassment on college campuses, including one involving Walcott. Professor Hermione Lee, a campaigner for Walcott, was disgusted by the campaign and dismissive of its claims, although she did not deny them: “You might ask yourself as a student body whether you wanted Byron or Shelley as a professor of poetry, neither of whom had personal lives free from criticism.”

Because he’s worth itBecause he’s worth it

After a series of challenges from her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, 86-year-old Liliane Bettencourt, the principal shareholder in cosmetics giant L’Oreal, has agreed to submit to psychiatric testing to prove she hasn’t lost her mind. Bettencourt, a philanthropist and avid art collector, is said to have lavished a younger male friend, 61-year-old Parisian photographer François-Marie Banier, with gifts worth up to $1.6 billion. Françoise brought a legal complaint against her mother, arguing, in effect, that no woman of sound mind could be that generous. In an interview with the French media, Liliane said that her daughter was just “jealous,” and should respect the fact that she is a “free woman.”

Lovesick

A Kenyan man is suing the organizers of an activist group that urged women to boycott sex with their husbands for a week to protest rivalries among political leaders, deemed harmful to the greater good. At a courthouse in Nairobi, James Kimondo told reporters that his wife’s participation in the boycott had caused him “mental anguish, stress, backaches, lack of concentration.” Kimondo is seeking “general damages” from the leaders of the Women’s Development Organisation on the grounds that their campaign “interfered with his happy marriage.”

PluckedPlucked

Last week, Oprah Winfrey teamed up with KFC to offer financially strapped Americans a free lunch in honour of KFC’s new healthier grilled chicken. But what sounded like it might be too good to be true—two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit for every person who printed out the coupon—indeed turned out that way. Instead of the marketing triumph KFC was expecting, Advertising Age called the promotion “an unmitigated disaster when the company was unable to execute and actually had to rescind the offer.” By Wednesday, blogs were set alight with posts of “riots” at KFCs in Manhattan. Angry consumers, turned away in cities all over the U.S., were complaining on local newscasts. On Friday, NPR called KFC “the James Frey of fast food.”

Independence Day

Dr. Brian Day, a controversial former president of the Canadian Medical Association and champion of privatized health care, is starring in a new advertising campaign sponsored by the U.S. group Conservatives for Patient Rights. In the ads, Day, who runs a private surgery clinic in B.C., warns Americans not to allow President Obama to remake the U.S. health care system in Canada’s image. “Patients are languishing and suffering on wait lists,” he says. “Our own Supreme Court of Canada has stated patients are actually dying waiting for care.” Universal health care advocates have called Day’s comments outrageous and misleading. Indeed, private care may not be the solution. Only two weeks ago, the Quebec College of Physicians said it had launched an investigation into the death of Jean-Jacques Sauvageau, 77, who allegedly walked into a private clinic in Montreal in early 2008 with severe symptoms, was told to take a seat, and died in the chair as onlookers urged staff to do something.

Doctor who?Doctor who?

Dressed in an orange and white mini-dress, Dolly Parton appeared before an eager audience at a University of Tennessee graduation ceremony last week to give a commencement speech and receive an honorary doctorate for her philanthropic work. In 1996, Parton founded the Imagination Library, which provides children a book a month from birth to five years of age in Sevier County, Tenn. “Just think: I am Dr. Dolly!” she later told reporters. “When people say something about ‘double-D,’ they will be thinking of something entirely different.” Also receiving an honorary doctorate last week was new Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, 34. The Saturday Night Live alumnus accepted his degree at the College of Saint Rose commencement in Albany, N.Y., nearly 20 years after he dropped out of college to pursue a career in comedy. “It only took me 17 years to get this,” he said. “Thank goodness that I was not trying to be a real doctor.”

Midwife crisis averted

Margaret Jones, a 90-year-old former midwife from Wiltshire, U.K., heroically stepped in to deliver her own great-granddaughter when the midwife assigned to her got held up. Jones’s granddaughter, Kathy Shah, 32, who lives just down the street, called in a panic to ask for help, even though Jones had not delivered a baby in over 50 years. “I did not think I would get down because I have two artificial hips,” she said. But when push came to shove, Jones delivered the baby girl—seven pounds, seven ounces—without a hitch. “When I got home after,” she told the BBC, “I had a strong cup of tea and put some whisky in it.”

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