Newsmakers

Margaret Thatcher beats out Oprah, Ozzy Osbourne’s Neanderthal roots, and a very special seeing-eye dog

NewsmakersIt just isn’t Brett Favre’s year
Despite being hobbled by two fractures in his foot, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback started in his 292nd consecutive NFL game. It was a bittersweet affair for fans, who saw Favre throw a costly interception, draw two penalties and leave the game with an eight-stitch cut to his chin in a loss to the New England Patriots. Then there are his alleged follies off the field: the married QB reportedly sent texts and lewd photos to TV personality Jenn Sterger.

NewsmakersThe Parti is hungry
There are a few constants in life in Quebec: good food, cold winters, and infighting within the Parti Québécois. But knowing this can’t allay the worries of Pauline Marois, who after three years at the helm of the sovereignist party is facing restive ranks. A group of 50 young sovereignists recently signed an open letter criticizing her. That came on the heels of a Radio-Canada interview in which Jacques Parizeau chided Marois and complimented Bloc leader (and one-time PQ leadership hopeful) Gilles Duceppe for his “remarkable clarity” on the sovereignty issue. It seems the party that eats its leaders—Marois is the sixth in 10 years—is licking its chops once again.

Daddy’s part of the problem, kid
A 22-year-old’s arrogance has inflamed China. Chen Xiaofeng, 20, was inline roller skating on the University of Hebei campus when she was struck and killed by a car last month. The driver sped away, only to be stopped by security staff and angry students. The driver, Li Qiming, 22, allegedly impaired, shouted: “Go ahead and sue me! My father is Li Gang!” The elder Li is a senior police official, and his son’s boast outraged the nation. Tearful interviews on state-owned CCTV by Li and his father only reinforced impressions of favouritism and corruption, since CCTV ignored the plight of Chen’s family, who are poor peasants. “My father is Li Gang” is the most-quoted phrase on China’s Internet and is woven into songs and stories. Chen’s family reportedly refused a settlement and wants a trial, in what will be a very public test of Chinese justice.

Feet of clay
Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswany has lashed out at an unauthorized Hebrew translation of his book The Yacoubian Building, describing it as “intellectual theft.” His 2002 bestseller, a scathing look at modern Egypt, was translated into 29 languages but, at his request, not into Hebrew—the Cairo-based literary giant rejects normalized relations with Israel. Al-Aswany is threatening to sue the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. The NGO’s co-CEO Gershon Baskin, an apparent fan, said he translated the book to help Israelis better understand their Arab neighbours. “We would like to meet him in Israeli courts,” said Baskin. “We will treat him like a king, and welcome him to Israel, even if he sues us.” Another cultural icon’s reportedly hateful views are making news, with Hollywood about to bestow an honorary Oscar on Jean-Luc Godard, master of the French New Wave, on Nov. 13. Two recent biographies, however, paint the filmmaker as not just anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian, but profoundly anti-Semitic.

NewsmakersLove is blind
Joey, a year-old Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso cross, has all the skills of a typical seeing-eye dog—he just has an atypical companion. Joey is the guide dog for a blind, five-year-old Shih Tzu named Buddy. The two are inseparable as Joey steers Buddy on a safe course around the Vancouver Island community of Telegraph Cove. Buddy was blinded last year in a cougar attack, and seemed to sink into depression, owners Mary and Tim Borrowman told the Victoria Times Colonist. They decided a new puppy might “get Buddy off his furry little butt,” says Jim. The plan worked. “It’s hard to know if [Joey] knows whether or not Buddy’s blind,” says Mary. “They just truck around together. The puppy’s always with him.”

NewsmakersMadonna of the strong arms
Madonna is finding new ways to make people sweat. The lithe fiftysomething singer is launching a string of high-end health clubs around the world. Her Hard Candy Fitness Centers, named after the Material Girl’s 2008 album, will feature “an environment inspired by Madonna’s high standards,” according to fitness guru Mark Mastrov, her business partner. The first, in Mexico City, will be 30,000 sq. ft. of swank, including a juice bar, “lavish” locker rooms and punching bags emblazoned with pictures of Madonna’s exes. (Just kidding.) Sadly, there are no plans to export Hard Candy to Canada.

Life after centre ice
Ex-Jet Thomas Steen scored a seat on Winnipeg City Council last week. Winnipeg’s former captain, a Swedish import, was adored for his work ethic, modesty and obvious affection for his adopted home, whose team is often derided as hockey’s version of the Siberian salt mines. “I’m as honoured as when they raised my jersey in the arena,” the new councillor said on election night. Another blast from the NHL’s past, Andy Van Hellemond, was elected to city council in Guelph, Ont. But Van Hellemond, a former referee and director of officiating, is less fondly remembered. He resigned from the league in 2004 under a cloud, with several refs expressing concerns the NHL’s top official was struggling with gambling debts and seeking loans from fellow refs, with potential for currying favour. There’s “no truth” to those allegations, Van Hellemond told the Guelph Mercury ahead of the vote. “Absolutely no truth at all.”

NewsmakersThat iron’s still hot
At 85, she’s still as tough as iron. Former British PM Margaret Thatcher recently left hospital after a nasty bout of influenza and returned home to good news: she remains the most influential female role model in Britain. Despite having been out of government for two decades, Thatcher beat out the likes of Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and even Oprah Winfrey as the woman most British women consider a role model. She was a divisive figure throughout her 25-year political career, but the Iron Lady’s reputation has undergone a renaissance as of late—particularly among politicians struggling to curb debt and stagnation, as she did in her time in office.

About time for an about-face
It took a Victoria mother’s news conference last week to shame the Department of National Defence into expressing regret over its handling of Cpl. Stuart Langridge’s suicide. Langridge, 28, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Bosnia and Afghanistan. His mother, Sheila Fynes, blames the military for failing to provide the help he needed, and for its treatment of the family afterwards: they lost his will, organized a funeral without consulting the family and kept his suicide note from them for 14 months. In September, DND sent Fynes a letter forbidding further contact with the department. But within hours of the press conference, organized by Victoria NDP MP Denise Savoie, Fynes had a “partial apology” from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk and a meeting with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Never too old
The streets of Pensa­cola, Fla., are apparently safer now that Ola Mae Agee is behind bars. The 87-year-old was sentenced last week to a stretch in state prison for selling a US$20 rock of crack cocaine to an undercover deputy. Surveillance video showed Agee leading the deputy inside her home, where she fished the crack from the cushions of a couch. Agee had two previous drug convictions, way back when she was in her late 70s. Judge Jan Shackelford let her off with 18 months in jail. Even that is a potential life sentence. “Eighteen months at that age is a lot worse,” Escambia County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ted Roy told the Pensacola News Journal.

It doesn’t add up
Manitoba academics are rallying around a popular young math prof who was suspended for three months after taking legal action to overturn the University of Manitoba’s decision to award a Ph.D. to a student who hadn’t met all the requirements. (The student is said to suffer “extreme exam anxiety”; the dean waived the exam requirement.) “The shadow of suspicion that the present case casts on all other, hard-working students who did fulfill their requirements bothers me,” Gabor Lukacs told the Winnipeg Free Press. The 27-year-old prof entered university at 12, received his master’s degree at 16, and earned his Ph.D. at 20.

NewsmakersThe Keith Richards gene
That hard-living rocker Ozzy Osbourne is alive at 61 has as much to do with good genes as good luck. Ozzy is one of the first people in the world to have his full genetic code sequenced. It reveals (duh) a probability of alcohol dependency six times that of the average person, but also a variant that may explain his ability to ingest massive quantities of booze without expiring. The self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness was delighted to learn he has Neanderthal ancestry, as does George Church, the Harvard professor and co-founder of Knome Inc., which did the sequencing. “All this is big news for blokes everywhere,” Osbourne said. “I think: if the Neanderthals could get laid, there’s hope for us all.”

Guess who isn’t really our future
A graduating class at the University of Ottawa got more than the usual “go forth and excel” message from speaker Robert Fowler. The former Canadian ambassador to the UN, who spent 120 days as a hostage of an al-Qaeda cell in Africa, delivered an attack on student complacency. Young Canadians have forfeited their “bitching rights” over how they’re governed, he said, after receiving an honorary degree. “Your age group’s involvement in the political process at all levels of government stretches any reasonable definition of apathy,” he said. “You seem to be enthusiastically disqualifying yourselves from any right to demand good government in your country and effective Canadian engagement abroad.”

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