Newsmakers

Carla Bruni’s very tough act, Ahmadinejad vs. Paul the Octopus, and an extreme breed of couch surfer

Silvio Berlusconi’s very bad week
Italy’s PM is on thin ice after a party revolt led by long-time ally Gianfranco Fini, and now come fresh allegations of scandal. “In the bed there was me, two girls from Rome, and Berlusconi,” Maria Teresa De Nicolo, an escort, told prosecutors in a corruption inquiry, according to the daily La Repubblica. Could it end with a snap fall election?

The camera doesn’t lie
France’s stunning first lady should be used to the lure of cameras. And yet, during filming for Woody Allen’s new movie, Midnight in Paris, in which Carla Bruni plays a bit part as a museum curator, the former model and pop songstress couldn’t nail the simplest of scenes. Bruni needed a whopping 35 takes to film a dialogue-free scene that required her to walk in and out of a grocery store, clutching a baguette. In fairness, it had probably been a while since she’d done her own groceries.

Easy, rider
One moment Gregor Robertson was Vancouver’s clean, green mayor; the next he was a scofflaw on wheels. The avid cyclist—he’s pumping $25 million into new bike infrastructure in Vancouver—was caught blowing a red light on his bike on July 22. He didn’t even slow down to check for traffic, bus driver Michele MacDonald told the Vancouver Province, after nearly flattening him. Only a quick, hard stomp on the brakes saved him, she said. “When he looked up and said he was sorry, I thought ‘Oh my God: it’s Mr. Gregor Robertson.’ ” The near miss was a “good lesson—and a reminder to everyone to use caution and follow the rules when out on the road,” said Robertson, whose poster-boy image took an another drubbing earlier this summer when a mike was accidentally left on at a council meeting, revealing a raunchier, more partisan, F-bomb-dropping mayor.

And he knows from silly
Long after the World Cup, the fallout continues. Argentina’s soccer association has dropped superstar Diego Maradona as coach of the national team, after it was sent packing in the quarter finals in a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Germany. Maradona was greeted by cheering fans on his return from South Africa and President Cristina Fernandez urged him to stay on, but the soccer association concluded his best days were behind him. Meantime, Paul the psychic octopus was roasted by Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The eight-legged sea creature (no risk of a hand ball there) is credited with predicting the outcome of all seven German World Cup matches—a silly bit of decadent Western nonsense and superstition, Ahmadinejad thundered in a recent speech in Tehran. “Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection,” he said.

The Mel Gibson of the left?
It’s one thing to blame Adolf Hitler for the Holocaust, Oliver Stone said in an interview last month, but whom do we blame for Hitler? “German industrialists, the Americans and the British,” the film director told the Sunday Times of London. “He had a lot of support. Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people.” Stone went on to lament “the Jewish domination of the media” and the way Israel has distorted U.S. foreign policy “for years.” He did apologize, calling his comments “glib” and “clumsy,” adding “Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry.”

Now comes the tough part
“From strippers to ministers,” blared the Russian headline that propelled Georgia’s new economy minister, Vera Kobalia, to the heart of an international scandal. Russian media—who love a chance to needle Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and seldom let the facts get in the way—based the accusation on a racy Facebook photo of Kobalia in what they call a Vancouver strip club, but turned out to be a nightclub. Kobalia grew up in B.C.; she met Saakashvili at the Vancouver Olympics, is all of 28, and has no political experience. It’s not the only challenge she’ll face in her new job: running an economy that shrank a whopping seven per cent last year.

It’s a black thing, and I understand
In a big week for racial politics in America, Essence, the bible of black fashion, caused a sensation for hiring Ellianna Placas, a white woman, as fashion director. “It’s a dark day,” said former editor Michaela Angela Davis, who noted the industry has long been a tough place for black women. Not everyone objected. “Kudos—for having the?.?.?.?courage to elevate a qualified and talented white woman, in a time of such racial tension,” said Sophia Nelson, a black lawyer. Andrew Breitbart, ever mindful of reverse racism, could perhaps get behind it too. The conservative activist, who posted a video clip edited to make fired black civil servant Shirley Sherrod look like a racist, will “definitely” be sued, Sherrod declared last week. Breitbart reacted to the news saying, “As difficult as it probably was for her, it’s been difficult for me as well.”

They get around
Utah’s predominantly Mormon Brigham Young University has added a new prohibition to its long list: no motorized couches. Students Nick Homer and Stewart Clyde spent months combining an old couch with a motorized wheelchair as a comfy means of transportation around campus. It was a sensation, until administrators instituted a law banning couch-based transportation systems. When campus police pulled them over, Homer says, they “basically congratulated us on being awesome.” Yes, if awesomeness is a crime, Neil Rideout of New Waterford, N.S., must also plead guilty. He was stopped by cops last week while driving his motorized drink cooler to a convenience store. He was fined $222 for driving on the sidewalk after police said the street was off-limits. The cooler, in addition to being cool, has jacks for an MP3 player, a 5.5 hp motor, a radio and, naturally, cup holders.

Spoken like a Lady
When you’re Lady Gaga, it must be hell deciding what to wear. So, for her cover shoot for September’s Vanity Fair, she threw in the towel, and every other bit of clothing, save for a floral tattoo and a tasteful choker necklace. Art is a cruel taskmaster, she said in an interview; she’s perpetually lonely, even in relationships. Of course that may also have something to do with celibacy. “I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they’re going to take my creativity from me through my vagina.” She credits her mom and grandmother with getting her mostly free of drugs, but for the occasional toot of cocaine. If the Lady is overexposed now, wait until the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 12. She has a record-breaking 13 nominations. God put her on Earth for three reasons, she says: “To make loud music, gay videos, and cause a damn raucous [sic].”

Careful what you wish for
It’s gotten so one almost feels sorry for Tony Hayward, the ousted CEO of BP—almost. It’s now clear that Hayward, recently replaced by Bob Dudley, failed miserably at containing the public-relations fallout from BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—smug and indifferent before Congress, appearing at a yacht race in England and telling reporters he “wanted his life back”—but he may have done as well as could be expected when it came to stopping the leak from the Deepwater Horizon rig. “I understand that people find it easier to vilify an individual more than a company,” the career oilman recently told the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps. But CEOs are paid big bucks to take responsibility during times of crisis and expected to know when they’re in over their heads. Or at least when to hire image consultants.

Spreading the good word
Asked how he’ll protect constituents from the Muslim “threat,” Tennessee gubernatorial hopeful Ron Ramsey questioned whether religious freedoms should even apply to Islam. It’s arguable, he told a Chattanooga crowd, if the world’s second-largest religion is actually a religion—or “a nationality, a way of life, cult.” In nearby Florida, pastor Terry Jones announced plans for “International Burn a Quran Day,” on the anniversary of Sept. 11. His church, the Dove World Outreach Center, will host.

It’s what Uncle Earl would want
A man peddling Ansel Adams photos purchased at a Fresno, Calif., garage sale may in fact be selling pictures taken by 87-year-old Oakland resident Miriam Walton’s Uncle Earl. When Richard Norsigian announced experts had authenticated the negatives he bought for $45 and valued them at US$200 million, Walton recognized a photo of the famous Jeffrey Pine at Yosemite National Park from the news footage. “I keep thinking that perhaps that box of negatives belongs to Uncle Earl,” she told a local TV station. Undeterred, Norsigian is selling copies at a hefty markup: $7,500 for darkroom prints, $1,500 for digital reproductions.

A bit too N-Sync
Rumours dogged punk singer Plastic Bertrand for decades that the voice on his 1977 hit Ça plane pour moi isn’t his, but producer Lou Deprijck’s. Late last month, the singer (real name Roger Jouret) admitted the ruse to a newspaper after a linguistics expert told a Belgian court the vocals are indeed Deprijck’s. Plastic says he was promised a small share of the rights to the song if he agreed to “keep his mouth shut.” According to Deprijck, the reasoning for the Milli Vanilli-esque bait-and-switch was simple marketing. “I was even prepared to shave my moustache,” he told the Guardian, “but the record label preferred this guy with his punk look.”

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