Out of the horse’s mouth
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t believe he has any more power than wartime dictator Benito Mussolini—a comparison his critics might not argue with. Berlusconi was lamenting his powerlessness when he quoted from the Fascist leader’s diary in a speech this week: “They say I have power. It isn’t true. All I can do is say to my horse: go right or left.” This new humility, if that is what it is, could be linked to Berlusconi’s falling popularity. It turns out that while Italians tolerate Berlusconi’s trademark gaffes and ability to dodge criminal trials, they aren’t fond of his new fiscal austerity plan.
Last week, the authorities found financial adviser Kenneth Starr hiding in his closet when they arrested him for allegedly running a US$30-million Ponzi scheme with the funds of his clients, who include Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone. The criminal complaint against Starr (frequently confused in news reports with his Clinton-investigating namesake) includes a reference to a client who noticed US$1 million of her money was missing; as several sources reported, this was Uma Thurman, who confronted Starr with a ferocity usually reserved for her foes in Kill Bill movies.
Ozzy’s sensitive side
Heavy metal singer and reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne has written a song exploring the ethically fraught 1993 killing of Tracy Latimer by her father Robert, a Saskatchewan farmer. The 12-year-old girl suffered from a severe form of cerebral palsy, and the trials triggered debate over euthanasia, eventually leading to a second-degree murder conviction. Latimer is now on day parole. Osbourne, who has six children, wrote Latimer’s Mercy after hearing of the case; it is due for release this month as part of a new album. “Another day and another full seizure / Another pill, you spiral down deeper / Another cut by a surgical butcher / It’s just a way of prolonging the torture,” runs the song’s refrain.
All in the family
Seventeen months after members of the Tingley family of Salisbury, N.B., were accused of being an organized crime group, the authorities stayed charges against three female Tingleys. It had taken years to build a case against the close-knit clan since neighbours “felt intimidated,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Robert Powers, when the family was initially charged with 57 offences. Trials for four Tingley men, including the spouses of the three women, are expected to start in September.
Labour’s love lost
Tony Blair was reluctant to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party in 1994, according to recently published diaries of media guru and party insider Alastair Campbell. Blair believed it would take a huge “psychological step” to dislodge the dour Scotsman as the party’s “main man.” However, after becoming PM, Blair made a fateful decision: he let Campbell announce that Brown “would get the leadership at a later date.” That set up a decade of distrust and backbiting between the PM and Brown, culminating in a brutal struggle for power in 2006. This time, Brown won.
Class on Genghis Khan cancelled
A Georgia teacher learned a tough lesson after she nearly incited a riot while attempting to educate her students on racism in America. Catherine Ariemma instructed her class to make a film featuring students wearing white sheets and cone-shaped party hats—the Ku Klux Klan dress code. The actors walked through the cafeteria, startling other students and teachers. “It was poor judgment on my part in allowing them to film at school,” said Ariemma, who was suspended.
Not exactly a change of heart
He still believes they are “wrong, totally wrong,” and have committed “a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” but Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, has ordered the release of a gay couple who have been in custody since December 2009. Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were freed last weekend, to praise from gay rights groups, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madonna, who mounted a campaign after the two were handed a 14-year sentence in May. It’s not quite a sweet victory, though—the men have apparently been separated, and early reports say Chimbalanga has since gone missing.
Baby’s first smoke ring
If news reports are to be believed, a lit cigarette has become one Indonesian toddler’s soother. Two-year-old Ardi Rizal puffs on 40 smokes a day—a habit he picked up from his dad at just 18 months old. A YouTube video shows the chubby boy sucking on a long cigarette with remarkable ease. He hams it up for a crowd, making faces, blowing smoke rings, and threatening to lick the lit end of the cigarette. Rizal’s mother says, “He cries and throws tantrums when we don’t let him smoke. He’s addicted.” That’s as obvious as his inadvertent role: poster child for tobacco control.
Who’s gangsta now?
Nothing kills a revolutionary’s cred quite like news that she was nibbling truffle-flavoured french fries at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel while cooing things like, “I want to be an outsider.” And that was hardly the most scathing detail in Lynn Hirschberg’s New York Times Magazine profile of singer Maya Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A. The singer, who flirts with guerrilla imagery, turns out to make her home in the unrevolutionary L.A. neighbourhood of Brentwood. She hit back on Twitter, where she released Hirschberg’s phone number. Hirschberg told the New York Observer the gambit was “unethical” but unsurprising. Most of the calls were from men wanting to hook up with M.I.A., she added. Now M.I.A. has posted clips of the interview, and a song, I’m a Singer, which has some choice words for journalists.
Shill, baby, shill
In aspiring to new-media savvy, Tony Clement is pretty much alone in cabinet. In a recent tweet, for instance, the industry minister gushed about M.I.A.’s Born Free. So the damage from his cameo in a corporate video that recently surfaced was more stylistic than ethical. Opposition MPs howled that even though he didn’t have a stake in the cleaning products company he endorsed, a minister should never shill. Even worse, this particular video—strictly a cornball, do-it-yourself production—dealt a serious blow to Clement’s claim to cool.
On with the show—this is it?
Ottawa animator Jessica Borutski, hired by Warner Bros. to revamp its 1940s-vintage Looney Tunes characters—including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd—has been called a “maroon,” to use a Bugs-ism, by cartoon fans critical of her updates. Borutski spent nearly two years redesigning the characters for The Looney Tunes Show, a series that debuts this fall. “I knew I’d piss people off by making Bugs mauve and giving Daffy purple outlines,” she wrote on her blog. “A purple rabbit . . . why not?”
Apple determined to fall far from tree
Saif Gadhafi, widely considered Moammar’s heir as dictator of Libya, evidently sees escape from his father’s long shadow as linked to freeing Libya from pariah status. He has tapped a New York PR firm to improve the country’s image and, at 37, turned to young voters to shore up support (70 per cent of Libya is under 30). Speaking last week at the London School of Economics, where he earned a doctorate, he stressed reform, and Libya’s resources and wealth, downplaying controversy over Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber whose release from a Scottish prison he helped negotiate. His brothers, Saif’s chief rivals, are taking a more traditional route. They find their support in the military.
Mark Twain’s next big hit?
Beloved author and curmudgeon Mark Twain spent decades writing a massive, multi-volume autobiography, and told an interviewer it should come out 100 years after his death. Twain died in 1910, and sure enough, it was announced last week the University of California at Berkeley will publish the million-word manuscript, which has only appeared in excerpts. The book contains juicy gossip about Twain’s affair with his secretary Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, along with details about his friendships and political opinions.
It’s been a decade since South Korean Shin-Soo Choo, a star outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, joined major league baseball in the sport’s heartland. But he’s never become a U.S. citizen. It’s likely never mattered, until now. South Korea is requiring males between 18 and 30 to serve in its military for two years. Choo, who turns 28 this summer, isn’t sure what to do. Becoming an American will expose him to a backlash in his native country. Not doing so might send him back to Seoul, earning the ire of his team.
Cash is his reward
The Room, the self-financed film by writer-director-actor Tommy Wiseau, is now the most legendary bad movie of our time, with sold-out midnight screenings where fans laugh at lines like “Leave your stupid problems in your pocket!” Wiseau didn’t intend it to be funny, but he’s embracing the chance to make money off the world’s mockery; he announced plans for a “national tour” and began by appearing as the special guest at a New York screening, where he sang Happy Birthday to two audience members.
Megan Fox’s very busy month
Megan Fox couldn’t play the part of tabloid muse better. First, she confessed in Allure magazine to not using public washrooms or restaurant silverware because of her OCD. Then came rumours she’ll “soon” be engaged to boyfriend Brian Austin Green, and claims she refused to star in the upcoming Transformers 3 because director Michael Bay verbally abused her. Anonymous sources argued Fox was actually sacked because she was too thin for the buxom role. (She was replaced by a British model who’s never acted.) TMZ.com defended Fox as only it could, arguing the “movie must not have had any bikini scenes in it” because it had photos of her looking “hot” on a Maui beach.