Newsmakers

K’naan is the Teflon man, Hillary Clinton’s hair makes waves, and Elmo opens up about that Katy Perry fiasco

A big week for Hillary’s hair
“Oh Hillary, that hairstyle just doesn’t cut it,” carped the U.K.’s Daily Mail, bemoaning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “lanky locks.” “Hillary Clinton wears hair clip to the UN: ‘Do or don’t?” asked the Huffington Post. Hill’s hair, object of fascination throughout Bill’s presidency, had the fashion police on high alert at the UN. Meanwhile, its owner quietly intensified U.S. efforts in the fledgling Mideast peace process.

Not so big in Iran, then
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stirs trouble abroad, it’s a safe bet he faces problems back home. This week, the Iranian president was in full diversionary mode, suggesting the U.S. played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then mocking Western media for spotlighting cases like that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death for adultery. (Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, also faces the death sentence for creating online forums Tehran considered a political threat; a similar campaign is building in his favour.) The uproar over Ashtiani, complained Ahmadinejad, is far greater than that over the plight of Teresa Lewis, a borderline mentally challenged woman executed in Virginia on Thursday. His remarks didn’t stop U.S. media from looking past the bluster to the real story: growing divisions among Iran’s conservatives over the election 15 months ago that gave Ahmadinejad his second term. No wonder he wants to change the channel.

C’aan the man do no wrong?
What does K’naan have to do to be criticized? After organizers of a Vancouver-area charity concert fell short of his $40,000 fee, the Somali-Canadian musician refused to take the stage, leaving fans and the charity in the lurch; Simon Fraser University, where the benefit was being held, reportedly offered to pay the difference, to no avail. Yet event organizers, including charity chief Clement Apaak, fell on their swords, accepting full blame, and offering refunds. The Teflon star’s cred is unblemished by even a summer spent touring for Coke, to whom he sold his hit, Wavin’ Flag, for its World Cup marketing campaign, the corporate giant’s biggest ever.

A homer odyssey
If you hadn’t heard the name Jose Bautista before this fall, don’t feel bad. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger had hit fewer home runs in his three previous seasons combined than he has in 2010, and there was nothing to presage the power surge that this week lifted him into the company of legends like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Having surpassed the Jays’ team record of 47 dingers, Bautista cracked his 51st and 52nd over the weekend, giving rise to inevitable questions about the source of his unaccustomed power. Bautista swatted aside queries like so many hanging curve balls. “I understand because of the [sport’s] history,” he said when asked if he’d used performance-enhancing drugs. “But those days are gone.”

The devil is in the details
With his bald head, sinister black Van Dyke beard and dark sunken eyes, it’s hard to forget that Scott Robb, who’s running for Edmonton’s city council, is a practising Satanist. Still, religious issues aren’t a big part of the message for the founder of the Darkside Collective. Rather, the 31-year-old security guard’s platform focuses on opposing a plan to shutter Edmonton’s City Centre Airport, and proposes to run downtown light-rail transit lines underground. Robb eschews political donations and is spending his own money—$400 so far—on his campaign. Which would mean his name isn’t the only eerie similarity he bears to Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford.

Close Sesame
Elmo loves Katy Perry—but not inappropriately. “We had a good time,” the Sesame Street puppet told Good Morning America. Elmo’s talk-show appearance was meant to help defuse reaction to his onscreen play date with the pop singer, whose low-cut, cleavage-revealing costume irked parents and led the show to cut the segment. “We’ll have another play date,” Elmo told host George Stephanopoulos, who until recently hosted ABC’s Sunday political show This Week, where he interviewed powerful world leaders. In other news Perry- and puppet-related, the pop queen will appear in a special live-action episode of The Simpsons this Christmas. “In the wake of Elmo’s terrible betrayal, the Simpsons puppets wish to announce they stand felt-shoulder-to-shoulder with Katy Perry,” said Simpsons executive producer Al Jean.

How many women does it take to make a cabinet?
With the election of Simonetta Sommaruga to the Swiss cabinet, the conservative country crossed an unlikely threshold: with Sommaruga, a Social Democrat, as transport minister, Switzerland, which until 1971 barred women from voting, now has a majority-female cabinet—three men, four women—what Social Democrat chair Christian Levrat called an “essential, decisive step.”

A real guitar hero
Vancouver’s Don Alder entered the sixth annual Guitar Superstar competition on a whim—the top 10 finalists, he’d heard, get a nod in Guitar Player magazine, the enthusiast’s bible. Not only did the 54-year-old win, he earned the night’s only standing ovation. Judges deemed his performance “flawless” and “transcendental,” with one adding: “The world needs to hear you.” Alder took up the guitar at the urging of Rick Hansen, a childhood friend (they were together when Hansen was injured after being thrown from the back of a pickup). They were out fishing eight years ago when Hansen said, “Why don’t you get back to your music?” Alder told the Vancouver Sun. “He told me failure is not trying—ever since it’s taken me down this amazing journey.”

Do as he draws, not as he does
What began as a campaign against plagiarism ended as a lesson in irony. Taiwan’s “Protect Copyright” contest launched last year, soliciting entries for a poster campaign. Judges were particularly fond of Wu Chih-wei’s dramatic entry, “Work—Shattered,” featuring a plunging paper plane, words trailing its wings like smoke. The entry earned him a medal and a cash prize, and his poster went up all over Taiwan. Only problem: he’d ripped off Dutch artist Dennis Sibeijn. Wu was stripped of his prize and faced up to three years in jail, but Sibeijn declined to press charges. He would like an apology, though.

Aafia got her gun
Aafia Siddiqui is a 38-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist with degrees from MIT and Brandeis University. Arrested in Afghanistan in 2008, she was found to carry bomb-making recipes and a list of American tourist attractions. When U.S. officials visited her for questioning in jail, Siddiqui grabbed a discarded rifle and began shooting, saying in exquisite English: “I want to kill Americans.” The FBI called her a terrorist. Yet during her trial Siddiqui’s lawyer argued she’s mentally ill. Siddiqui disagreed. So did the judge, who gave her 86 years in prison. That led to riotous protests in Pakistan, where PM Yousaf Raza Gilani called her a “daughter of the nation.”

He hasn’t got a wife to spare
Maybe Ndumiso Mamba figured a man with 14 wives would take a philosophical view of infidelity. But Mamba lost his job as justice minister of Swaziland this week after he was found under a hotel room bed with his king’s 12th wife. Rumours of an affair between Mamba and Nothando Dube, a former Miss Teen Swaziland, had run rampant in the royal court for weeks. Dube reportedly disguised herself as a soldier to sneak out for their trysts, but officials loyal to King Mswati III cottoned on and set up a sting operation to catch the pair. Some predicted Mamba would be allowed to flee. But a long prison term seems more likely. “Mamba knows too much,” said one expert. “If he flees into exile with the royal secrets, that would be a major problem.”

Too mad for Mad Men?
He’s still a contender for Hollywood’s greatest train wreck, but things are looking up for Mel Gibson. News that he’s in danger of losing his house—and his church—to unpaid construction bills didn’t stop Jodie Foster from rising to his defence. “When you love a friend, you don’t abandon them,” she said. Her vote of confidence came as details of Gibson’s ugly split with wife Oksana Grigorieva trickled out: he was apparently willing to cough up $1 million for tapes of his foul-mouthed tirades. But some were buzzing about a comeback. Last week’s hot rumour from Liz Smith had him signing on for a role in the hit series Mad Men, though she retracted after producers demurred.

Catch and release
Captains of Chinese fishing trawlers don’t often trigger diplomatic crises. But that’s what 41-year-old Zhan Qixiong did when, on Sept. 8, while poking around islands claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo, he allegedly rammed Japanese coast guard cutters—twice. Arrested and jailed in Okinawa, he sparked the most serious standoff between China and Japan in recent memory, a dispute closely watched by a world concerned about a rising China. The incident sparked nationalist fervour in both countries, with some in Japan complaining after Qixiong was released on Saturday. Japanese PM Naoto Kan maintained that Tokyo would issue no apologies.

Buck stops here
Last week, Linda Buck, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist who studies how the brain processes odour, retracted two journal articles because they don’t pass the smell test. That makes three times Buck has disavowed papers co-authored with her one-time post-doc Zhihua Zou (who conducted the experiments), because she couldn’t duplicate the findings. Zou, who has reportedly returned to his native China, agreed to the first retraction, but not to last week’s.

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