Newsmakers: August 25-31, 2011

Gail Asper steps up, Steve Jobs steps down, and Beyoncé is with child

Newsmaker

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Just call her ‘G’

Winnipeg philanthropist Gail Asper, 51, is inspiring admiration and horror in her hometown with a surprise contribution to the genre of “older white folks rapping.” Asper is among prominent locals asked to contribute short videos to the University of Manitoba’s VoteAnyWay youth-voter drive; Asper’s supposedly self-penned number, delivered on the steps of the legislature building, reminds viewers: “Even if you’ve got smallpox / you can still go tick that box,” as the media heiress improvises gang signs and grabs her derrière. Local rapper Patrick “Pip Skid” Skene told the Winnipeg Sun her intentions were “honourable” but admitted “the rap is pretty wack.”

Brother of the year?

Gaelan Edwards said he learned his craft from “medical books” and TV. But as an amateur doctor, his record is pretty solid nonetheless. The 12-year-old delivered his own baby brother after his mom went into labour at their home in Campbell River, B.C. Gaelan, the eldest of five, pulled his brother out by his shoulders, helped his mother push out the placenta, then clamped and cut the umbilical cord. Baby Caynan was born a healthy 7 lb., 9 oz. Lucky for mom, Gaelan was up late watching a movie about showgirls when her sudden labour kicked in. He is now said to be considering a more formal medical career.

A Mensa man, he is not

Rick Perry knows politics. He won 10 straight elections en route to becoming a favourite for the Republican nomination in 2012. But one question about the governor remains: is he dumb? Politico, an online magazine, ran a cover story asking the question recently, sparked by a series of arguably none-too-bright statements by Perry. In just two weeks as an official presidential candidate, the governor derided evolution as “just a theory” and accused climate scientists of rigging research results for cash. The Texas governor is just like George W. Bush, “only without the brains,” according to a joke now making Republican rounds. Luckily for Perry, his gaffes can seem bush-league compared to those of his rivals. As hurricane Irene swept up the U.S. coast, Michelle Bachmann was arguing the disaster was a message from God about government spending (the congresswoman now insists she was joking). Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, accused his own party of being “anti-science.”

Hollywood heroes

Kate Winslet says she’s no hero. But billionaire adventurer Richard Branson insists she saved the life of his 90-year-old mother. Branson’s “Great House” on Necker Island in the Caribbean—part of the British Virgin Islands chain, naturally—was destroyed by lightning from Hurricane Irene. Twenty guests escaped, with Winslet carrying Eve to safety. The most painful loss for Sir Richard, who owns Necker Island, may have been the text and notes of his nearly completed autobiography. In other celeb superhero news, Canuck Ryan Gosling was caught on video using his star power to cool off an ugly street brawl in New York’s East Village.

Blade runner blazes a trail

Two South African athletes are pushing the boundaries of inclusion in the world of sport. This week, Oscar Pistorius made it to the semifinals of the 400-m race at the world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea—making him the first-ever amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the highest level. “I have challenged a lot of people in the way they think about disability,” said the 24-year-old Paralympic champion, who runs on carbon-fibre blades. This week, Caster Semenya, who was forced to undergo gender testing after decimating the competition at the women’s 800-m at the worlds in 2008, will mark her triumphant return to high-level competition at Daegu.

No real mystery

The struggle to succeed Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe grew complicated with the death of Gen. Solomon Mujuru, a dominant figure in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Mujuru, whose wife Joice is the country’s vice-president—and a likely Mugabe successor—died in a fire at the pair’s farmhouse. Joice has professed suspicion. How, she wondered, could Solomon not have escaped through windows so large and low that “you don’t have to jump out, you just lift your leg”?

Sayonara!

This was not a good week for the famous in Japan. First, the country’s most ubiquitous and popular TV host, Shinsuke Shimada—Japan’s Jay Leno—quit after admitting to having ties to the Yakuza, Japan’s organized crime network. Then, prime minister Naoto Kan, whose popularity plummeted over his handling of the tsunami crisis, resigned after just 15 months in office, handing the job to the country’s finance minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who becomes Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. Finally, star rugby player Ryohei Yamanaka was yanked from September’s World Cup after testing positive for steroids. Yamanaka blamed the failed test on a cream to help him grow a moustache. He has vowed to return to the game—bare upper lip or not.

Regrets (I have none)

Dick Cheney’s well-known enthusiasm for waterboarding and the invasion of Iraq has not dimmed. But in a new memoir he reveals that he was also eager to bomb Syria. In 2007, the former VP writes, he urged then-president George W. Bush to drop bombs on a potential Syrian nuclear reactor. But he was the “lone voice” pushing for the intervention. Bush and his entourage were none too confident in the intelligence on Syria—especially in light of that whole “weapons of mass destruction” thing.

Y not?

Victoria’s Marjorie Celona first published her short story “Y” in a small U.S. journal in 2006. More than five years later, an expanded version of the piece is set to be one of the Canadian publishing events of 2012. Celona, who studied at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, sold national and international rights to the novel-length Y. In Canada, the book, Celona’s first, was scooped up by Hamish Hamilton, the Penguin Canada imprint home to Giller Prize winners Johanna Skibsrud and Joseph Boyden. Celona isn’t the only westerner making a splash in the arts. Saskatchewan-raised director Troy Nixey made his feature film debut with the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark—which, for a movie starring Katie Holmes, was surprisingly well reviewed. Nixey, for his part, says he’s “just a guy from Saskatoon.”

Beyoncé’s baby

When Beyoncé Knowles revealed the bump in her belly to millions of gawking revellers at last week’s MTV Video Awards, Twitter blew up with messages of congratulation and shock. Users fired off a record-breaking 8,868 tweets per second—almost twice as many as when Osama bin Laden was assassinated. Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z, the oft-cited best rapper of all time, will be expected to produce a baby that will grow up to claim its rightful place in the pantheon of music superstardom. So tweet on eager music fans, tweet on.

The titan of tech bids farewell

Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of the tech colossus after eight months of medical leave. In a note to the board and the “Apple community,” Jobs observed, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” A new photo of the revered innovator revealed him to be gaunt, pale and unsteady looking; he is known to be battling a slow-developing version of pancreatic cancer and received a new liver in 2009. Jobs remains chairman of the company and is succeeded as CEO by understudy Tim Cook.

La bella vita

Oscar-winning director Sofia Coppola married Thomas Mars, the lead singer of French rock band Phoenix, in southern Italy last week. Her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, hosted the event at his 19th-century palace, which he converted to a five-star resort for the occasion, with 10 suites, a luxury pool and a movie theatre for guests including Johnny Depp, George Lucas and Nicolas Cage. But that was nothing compared to Petra Ecclestone’s multi-million-dollar extravaganza. The 22-year-old daughter of Formula 1 baron Bernie Ecclestone wed her long-time boyfriend in an extravagant, $8-million affair in a castle near Rome. White roses were flown in from France. Guests included duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and socialite Paris Hilton. Eric Clapton and the Black Eyed Peas provided the tunes, and a $160,000 fireworks display rounded out the night. “I’ve been to hundreds of weddings,” one worker told Britain’s Independent, “but I’ve never seen one as over the top as this.”

From perp walk to walk in the park

When his passport was returned this week, France’s chattering classes began wondering aloud what Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s return to France might bring. With 80 per cent of French people saying they don’t want him to run for the presidency, a political comeback for the ex-IMF chief seems unlikely.

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