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Newsmakers

Barack Obama: the musical, Kim Jong Il’s cook, and the unexpected panda pregnancy

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Royal-watching

Prince Edward, 44, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, arrived in Canada last week to present the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award—honouring academic performance and volunteerism—to 100 youths ages 14 to 25. On Monday, the province of Manitoba honoured him by naming two of its lakes after his children, Lady Louise Windsor, 4, and James, Viscount Severn, five months. On Sunday, the prince’s wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, attended a service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton as royal watchers crowded in and looked on excitedly. One parishioner, Richard Baird, told the CBC, “I’m a royalist and I think those that aren’t royalists should contemplate what they would replace it with.” 

Kim Jong IlCooking with Kim

For 20 years, Kenji Fujimoto, 56, served as head sushi chef to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. In his new book, I was Kim Jong Il’s Cook, Fujimoto reveals some strange facts about the Dear Leader’s culinary tendencies. Says Fujimoto, “He particularly enjoyed raw fish so fresh that he could start eating as its mouth is still gasping and the tail is still thrashing.” He also said that the dictator hosted “pleasure parties” during which he would order women to dance naked to American dance music. Fujimoto recently fled the Communist state, and is now in hiding in Japan.

Healing deep wounds

Last Tuesday, for the first time in over 70 years, two Orthodox rabbis—Zsolt Balla, 30, and Avraham Radbill, 25—were ordained in Germany. The rabbis, believed by many to represent the true return of Judaism to the country, are the first in recent history to complete their studies at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, a 146-year-old school that was shut down by the Nazis in 1938 and reopened in 2005. 

Michelle ObamaObama, the musical!

In Germany, the public’s appetite for Barack Obama-related merchandise—everything from “Obama Fingers” frozen fried chicken to a toy version of Bo the First Dog—continues to grow. Last week, a German production company announced its plans for an Obama-themed musical, called Hope—Yes We Can, set to debut in Frankfurt this fall. The musical will recount Obama’s personal journey to the White House, against the backdrop of a Chicago housing community. The audience will be invited to drum on their chairs, according to a spokesman from the production company, to reproduce “the euphoric atmosphere that developed in the U.S. during the election campaign.” But not everyone in Europe is raging with Obama fever. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is said to have been annoyed by how little time Obama spent with him during his two-night D-Day commemoration visit last week, choosing instead to take in the sights with his family and dine with friends. Obama cut his trip short on Sunday, leaving Michelle Obama and their two daughters to stay on alone for lunch with Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni. Similarly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was recently put off by Obama’s “apparent froideur,” according to the London Times, when he stayed away from Berlin during his visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Roger FedererHats off

Roger Federer’s French Open win in Paris on Sunday was triumphant for reasons other than his game. The Swiss champion, 27, was leading 2-1 in his second set against Robin Soderling when a man barged through a row of photographers, jumped onto the court and startled the crowd and Federer by trying to put a red hat on his head. Federer fended off the man, who proceeded to dance in front of him and wave a Barcelona soccer team flag at the crowd. When security guards came after him, the man jumped over the net, but he was tackled by a guard on the other side of the court, carried off, and arrested. Still, Federer managed to shake off the intrusion and proceed to win his 14th Grand Slam title, which he called “probably his greatest victory.” His opponent, Soderling, graciously concurred. “Roger was too good for me today, he played much better,” he said. “He is a worthy winner and for me he is the best player in history.” 

Get in line

Evan Dando, lead singer of the ’90s band the Lemonheads, is reportedly suing General Motors for using one of his songs, It’s a Shame About Ray, in a 2008 ad campaign without his permission. He is seeking damages and a portion of the campaign’s profits from the company, which recently sought federal protection from bankruptcy.

Rubina AliGirl, interrupted

In July, Slumdog Millionaire child star Rubina Ali, all of nine, is set to publish her memoirs. Rubina, who was plucked from the slums of Mumbai to star in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning film, will tell the story of her life growing up in poverty and her rise to international stardom. She will split the royalties from the book with the French charitable organization Médecins du Monde. Three weeks ago, neighbours alleged that Rubina’s father Rafiq Qureshi was taken to the hospital after a fight broke out over the destruction of the slum in which the family lived. Earlier this year, Qureshi was accused of trying to “sell” Rubina to a wealthy family in Dubai.

Agatha ChristieThe case of the messy notebooks

John Curran, a Dublin city councillor and self-described “arch-fan” of Agatha Christie, took a sabbatical from his day job to apply his sleuthing skills to the beloved mystery writer’s archives. Teaching himself to read Christie’s “bloody awful handwriting,” Curran poured over 72 of her notebooks, long held in storage at her country home in Devon, which chronicled her work from the ’20s until her death in 1976. In his new book, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making, Curran reveals his findings—most significantly, two never-published short stories starring the beloved Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

I know you are, but what am I?

A heated email exchange between N.B. Education Minister Kelly Lamrock and Brandon Pike, a middle-schooler with a bone to pick, was made public last week after it turned up on Facebook and was later published on the CBC’s website. The clash began after Pike emailed Lamrock to denounce his cuts to school libraries and support workers. “Cutting the funding to the library is a very childish thought,” he wrote, ending the letter with this rhetorical flourish: “You’ve took [sic] early French immersion, but you will not take this from us, our dreams.” Lamrock, apparently not charmed, responded that he had attempted to negotiate alternatives with the unions, but they had refused to compromise. Pike then scolded Lamrock for blaming the teachers, and reiterated his position that getting rid of libraries is “just plain dumb.” Provoked now, Lamrock replied, “C’mon Brandon, do some research instead of trying to come up with clever personal attacks,” and reiterated his position in great detail. Pike refused to back down and challenged Lamrock to “Stop hiding behind [his] statistics.” But Lamrock got the final word: “I will leave you to make arguments unburdened by facts or conflicting opinions,” he wrote. Conservative MLA and opposition education critic Claude Landry later criticized Lamrock of doing a lousy job of engaging the student’s concerns. Lamrock admitted he tends to get riled up in a debate. “It’s a personal flaw of mine,” he said. “I get carried away. I’m sure I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I try and do better but God isn’t finished with me yet.”

Lin HuiNot just retaining water

Officials at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand were surprised and delighted recently when a rare panda they had been trying to breed for years gave birth unexpectedly. Zoo employees did not even know that Lin Hui, 7, was pregnant. “The panda experts from China said the baby is in good health and strong,” said one official. They had tried just about everything to get Lin Hui and her male companion, Chuang Chuang—both on loan from China—to mate: a mock wedding, separation, even “porn” videos of pandas mating. Finally, in mid-February, they resorted to artificial insemination, but Lin Hui’s ultrasound in May was inconclusive. According to the official, Lin Hui is “very fond of her baby”: “She cuddles, licks and holds the baby very carefully all the time. She knows how to be a mother even though she’s never been one before.”

Feed the sinner

When a masked man carrying a bat tried to rob Mohammad Sohail’s convenience store in Suffolk County, N.Y., Sohail took out his rifle and ordered the man to the floor—but he soon found himself overcome by compassion for the robber, who explained that hard times had made him desperate. “He started crying,” said Sohail. “He was saying, ‘I have no money. I have no food. I have to take care of my family.’ ” Sohail gave the robber a loaf of bread and $40 in cash, and asked him never to commit a robbery again. The man fled while Sohail went to get him some milk. Police are looking for the man, who was captured on a surveillance video and could face a first-degree felony charge. But Sohail says he hopes police don’t charge him. “I hope he learned something,” he said.

Sir Ian McKellenIt’s a dame shame

Speaking with The Stage magazine, the legendary British actor Sir Ian McKellen, 70, criticized contemporary playwrights for their prudishness and relentless focus on young people, and for not generating enough interesting and sexually charged roles for older female actresses. Dame Judi Dench, he said, has virtually run out of Shakespearean parts to play. “Plays about old age are perhaps going to be more popular than they used to be and that should help playwrights think, well, we can find some fabulous parts for the fabulous actresses there are around,” he said. “If Shakespeare hadn’t been interested in older people and people in their prime, we would not have had Antony and Cleopatra, and many other characters.”