Newsmakers: Aug. 9-16, 2012

Bill Gates’s strange purchase, Peaches versus Putin: the video, and can a Beastie Boy’s will be done?

Newsmakers

Balazs Mohai/EPA

It’s Peaches season

Toronto-born electro-pop artist Peaches became the latest voice in the growing chorus of support for Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk-band-turned-cause-célèbre that faces up to seven years in prison for performing a song in a Russian Orthodox Church that protested Vladimir Putin’s government. Fellow Canadian Martha Wainwright has also been a vocal supporter, as have Björk and Sting. But Peaches, who is based in Berlin, has chimed in, in her own inimitable way. She is shooting a video featuring more than 400 artists and activists to be released on Facebook ahead of the Aug. 17 verdict. It’s called—what else?—Free Pussy Riot.

To write it, you must live it

Stephen Marche probably didn’t expect to evoke quite the level of contempt he did with “The contempt of women,” his column in September’s Esquire. The 36-year-old Canadian writer surveys a few cultural straws in the wind: some meaningful, like the economic rise of women, some ephemeral, like the “pitiable and grotesque” men of the hit TV show Girls, and concludes, “Feminine contempt [for men] is suddenly everywhere.” Certainly it is for him. “Calamitously awful,” “the worst thing you will read all day,” and an “epically impenetrable panic-flop” are just a few of the online retorts. Marche certainly offers, in the grand masculine tradition of the Charge of the Light Brigade, a suicidally target-rich environment for critics. Declining reports of rape in some (unspecified) parts of the U.S., he asserts, means that sexual equality has been achieved there. His tweeted response to his critics: “Women who show their contempt for my piece on the contempt of women prove my point by virtue of their contempt.”

That’s the trouble with elections

Just before Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt in June, the generals who had ruled since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last February, stripped the office of virtually all its power. Any thought that the Muslim Brotherhood politician would quietly accept the neutering of his new role ended this month. On Aug. 5 Morsi fired the intelligence chief after 16 soldiers were killed in a brazen attack in northern Sinai. A week later, the president struck again, dismissing the defence minister, army chief of staff and other prominent generals. As if that wasn’t enough, he also nullified the constitutional amendment that had gutted his presidential power. The generals are being challenged by something they haven’t faced in six decades of power: a president they didn’t mould and make.

Finally hot enough for them

Not everyone is trying to cool off this summer. A team of physicists working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has managed to create the hottest-ever man-made temperature—a subatomic soup believed to exceed five trillion degrees Celsius. Produced by a high-speed collision of lead ions, the quark-gluon plasma closely resembles what the universe felt like right before the Big Bang (i.e. 100,000 times hotter than the sun). Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the matter’s precise temperature. “It’s a very delicate measurement,” said Paolo Giubellino, a spokesman. “Give us a few weeks.”

Show us the money

“Remove the Congress Party and save the nation,” declared flamboyant anti-corruption activist Baba Ramdev on a march to India’s parliament, as he urged his followers not to vote for the ruling party in the next election. Ramdev, a popular yoga guru and TV star, had been on a five-day fast while demanding the return of bribe money allegedly stashed overseas. “It belongs to the nation,” he said. His campaign and the rallies organized last year by fellow campaigner Anna Hazare have severely damaged a government tainted by revelations of endemic corruption, graft and bribery. And with the auditor general, Vinod Rai, searching for more “black money” schemes, Ramdev and followers should be back in the streets soon.

Licence to will

“What’s another word for pirate treasure?” asks a voice in the Beastie Boys track Professor Booty just before MCA, a.k.a. rapper Adam Yauch launches into a searing stream of invective on the seminal Check Your Head album. Booty, in the form of sales generated by ads, is also what Yauch attempted to control in a will he wrote before dying of cancer in May at age 47. Yauch scrawled by hand on the document: “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” A principled stand, but his amateur legal proscription conflates publicity rights—a celebrity’s image—with copyright—ownership of a creative work—which in this case may be shared with bandmates Mike D (Michael Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz). So Yauch’s will may not be done—which would be beastly.

Crime fighting begins at home

After months in custody, Gu Kailai got her day in court—well, eight hours. That’s all it took for the former Chinese lawyer to confess to murdering British businessman Neil Heywood by getting him drunk, then pouring poison down his throat. Gu didn’t contest a court statement that the killing was over a business dispute with Heywood—who reportedly helped her funnel millions out of China—and that he’d “threatened the personal safety of her son.” She’ll be sentenced later. It’s not known if her husband, Bo Xilai, the high-flying party secretary in Chongqing until the scandal destroyed his image as a tough-on-crime politician, will stand trial. Meanwhile, the government’s investigation of Bo continues, sending a warning to other arrogant young powers in China.

Brotherly love

As a teenage quarterback, Peyton Manning was voted the top high school football player in the United States. At the University of Tennessee, he was such a star that one of the roads leading to the stadium now bears his name. And since turning pro (he was drafted first overall, of course) Manning has won four MVP awards, one Super Bowl ring and wide acclaim as the best QB of all time. The only blip on his resumé? His little brother, Eli—never the prodigy, but quite a quarterback himself—just won his second Super Bowl title with the New York Giants—giving him two championship rings, not one. Yet even Eli agrees with the pundits. “I still watch in awe,” he said this week, discussing his older brother’s skills. “He’s still at that top level.”

Now, was that so hard?

Hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since a woman moderated a U.S. presidential debate—the last to do so was ABC News’s Carole Simpson, who put Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot through their paces lo those many years ago. But now the Commission on Presidential Debates has named CNN’s Candy Crowley as one of three journalists who will moderate the debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. So gender-lopsided had been the commission’s previous decisions that three New Jersey high school students felt compelled to launch an online petition to find a woman for the job. The commission found two: Martha Raddatz, of ABC, is the other, and is tapped to moderate the vice-presidential debates.

Fake poop, real problem

In late 2011, the foundation run by Bill and Melinda Gates gave eight engineers more than $3 million to develop toilets that run without electricity and don’t need water or a sewage system. They’ve evidently made progress, because last week the foundation ordered up 20 kg of artificial excrement for testing purposes. The fake poop, created from soybean paste mixed to just the right consistency and moisture content, was showcased, along with the new commodes, at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle this week. The foundation is best-known for malaria prevention efforts, but has started to focus on one of the world’s biggest health hazards—with 2.6 billion people lacking access to clean toilets, poor sanitation kills one child every 15 seconds.

Who serenaded whom?

At 61, folkie Ron Hynes has been a Newfoundland fixture for 40 years. His songs are part of the fabric of his province—and Canada—and have been recorded by the likes of Emmylou Harris. So it’s inconceivable that Hynes, the Man of a Thousand Songs, risks losing that voice, or worse. Throat cancer means he must undergo surgery, but he showed up for a last show before the procedure, at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. His voice diminished, he was helped along by the crowd of 3,000, and when he sang, they rose up behind him. “He had a smile from ear to ear,” his manager, Lynn Horne, said, “and he had tears running down his cheeks at the same time.”

With this prayer bead, I thee wed

Partners for seven years, Yu Ya-ting and Huang Mei-yu got married at a monastery outside Taipei in a same-sex Buddhist ceremony—a first for Taiwan. Their nuptials are expected by some to help pave the way for legalizing gay marriage in the country, but progress comes at a cost: their parents, reluctant to face the media onslaught, reportedly decided at the last minute not to attend.




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