On screen, Hugh Grant has always excelled at playing the befuddled. But in real life, he’s awfully sharp. Last week, the long-time victim of Britain’s tabloid press turned the tables in an exposé for the New Statesman. After a chance encounter with a former News of the World journalist, Grant secretly taped a pub conversation where the man revealed that executives at the paper, including Andy Coulson, who went on to become David Cameron’s press secretary, knew all about the rampant hacking of celebrities’ voice mails. So did honchos at News Corp., the paper’s Rupert Murdoch-owned parent company, which subsequently issued a grovelling public apology. But the best part might have been the headline on Grant’s article: “The bugger, bugged.”
He feels for himself
Giving up a dictatorship is apparently not all roses and unicorns. Hosni Mubarak has issued his first, unrelentingly self-pitying statement since being forced from office two months ago. “I have been pained, and am still in pain because of what I have been subjected to,” the deposed Egyptian president begins, “from unjust campaigns and false allegations aimed at hurting my reputation and questioning my integrity, stances and military and political history . . . ” Mubarak, who went on to deny stashing money in foreign countries—a fortune rumoured to be in the billions—taped the five-minute remarks from his weekend home on the Red Sea, where he reportedly suffered a heart attack Tuesday before facing questioning by prosecutors over allegations of corruption and abuse.
Know when to fold ’em
Sometimes a backup goalie just gets bored, and Marty Turco broke up the monotony last week by wagering with a fan seated next to him in Montreal’s Bell Centre, as Turco’s Chicago Blackhawks took on the Canadiens. Season ticketholder Robert Walter says he egged Turco into taking a $5 bet that the Hawks wouldn’t score on the Canadiens. When they did, Walter wrote “Habs Rule” on a fin and dutifully passed it through the glass separating them while a friend photographed the transaction for posterity. Later, in the third, Walter persuaded the Hawks netminder to take 5-1 odds on the Habs winning in overtime and—wouldn’t you know it—the Canadiens came through. Turco reportedly sent several fives back through the barrier, but not before editing the original note to read: “Turco Rules.” Alas, the only “rules” that matter are NHL ones forbidding players from wagering on games. The league is investigating.
Nah, we’ll just keep the cash
Iceland’s PM, Johanna Sigurdardottir, had more bad news for the governments of the U.K. and the Netherlands: her people have again rejected, by referendum, a plan to repay the two nations some four billion euros that were lost by Iceland when it effectively went bust in 2008. Sigurdardottir had warned of the economic uncertainty that might ensue if voters rejected the proposal, but that didn’t stop 60 per cent of Icelanders. See you in court, Reykjavik, British treasury secretary Danny Alexander said on hearing the news. Perhaps worse, Britain’s Independent newspaper said London and Amsterdam may now veto a bid by Iceland—downgraded to “junk” by Fitch Ratings—to join the EU.
That’s a bad trip
She’s got a nice title, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, but the job has its hazards. In New York City last week, a shopping trip with her beautiful daughter Madeleine ended in the emergency room after the queen fell over garbage bags trying to get into her car while avoiding a paparazzo. She injured her foot and her hand. So she picked up an award for her charity work while hobbled by a foot cast and cane. This hasn’t been a good month for the queen’s health. A debilitating flu forced her to cancel several engagements, including an official trip to Botswana. Don’t these things strike in threes?
Let them eat crow
It took just four days of fasting for Anna Hazare to bring the Indian government to its knees. The 71-year-old social activist had set his sights on rampant public sector corruption, launching a hunger strike “to the death” in a Delhi park on April 5. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initially rejected his calls for a people’s ombudsman to tackle graft, but when millions across the country joined in the protests, he quickly gave in. And Hazare already seems to have moved on to his next cause—calling out his fellow citizens for helping to create a “flawed” democracy.
They came from Canada
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? C.L. “Butch” Otter, the oddly named governor of Idaho. It seems that he and other lawmakers in the state fear there are now far too many of the animals—which were reintroduced from Canadian populations to the northern Rockies in 1995. Blaming them for attacks on livestock and a declining elk population, Otter is trying to declare a “wolf disaster,” enabling him to dispatch state troopers to hunt them down. Interspecies warfare.
Senior citizen vs. Internet
Copper-scavenging granny Hayastan Shakarian made headlines by single-handedly cutting off the Internet across Armenia. The impoverished 75-year-old had hacked into a fibre-optic line connecting Armenia and Georgia, “with a view to stealing it,” says Georgian interior ministry spokesman Zura Gvenetadae. Shakarian, who faces up to three years in jail if convicted, caused a 12-hour Net blackout across her country, and outages in Georgia and Azerbaijian; Gvenetadae, however, says prosecutors will not “push for a strict punishment.” Most confusing for Shakarian was the catastrophic consequence of her action: “I have no idea what the Internet is,” she told AFP.
They may not face persecution or war back home, but a Filipino family of five has been spared deportation for a more mundane reason: two of Noly Mercado’s three children—Nathaniel, 6, and Nicolas, 5—have a life-threatening nut allergy, and can’t access the necessary medication in the Philippines. The Mercados, who’ve been in Canada since 2004, had their applications for refugee status rejected, but a court has halted their deportation, allowing them to remain in Toronto as their case is reviewed on compassionate grounds.
Birther wingnut Jack Cashill has unveiled yet another “whopper” in his crusade to prove Barack Obama is a fraud. Cashill has been making the rounds with an edited version of a widely circulated shot of Obama as a twentysomething student with his grandparents. In his version—which he claims is the original—Obama is gone. The photo of the trio, Cashill claims, is a PhotoShop job. Trouble is, as the Media Matters blog points out, he forgot to remove Obama’s leg from “the original.” “What was Barack Obama’s knee doing in New York, while the rest of him was in Pakistan, and Indonesia?” Alex Pareene of Salon demands. “Dealing drugs? Why are mainstream journalists afraid to ask tough questions about the president’s detachable knee?”
A ‘false’ state’s very real president
A politically unknown 35-year-old female cop has snagged Kosovo’s presidency, ending weeks of political turmoil. With the election of Atifete Jahjaga, its deputy chief of police, Kosovo closes the book on a six-week scandal that saw controversial tycoon Behgjet Pacolli elected president, then forced out by a constitutional court; Jahjaga was appointed in a bid to avoid another round of elections, mere months after the last one. Among her chief priorities: restoring ties to Serbia, which does not recognize its breakaway province—it still calls Kosovo a “false state.” “We have a shared past” with Serbia, she said in her maiden speech—“we are forced to share the future.”
Bad cop, worse cop
A Texas cop identified only as Officer Davis pepper-sprayed a baby squirrel on a Mesquite playground this week—to the horror of the 10-year-olds surrounding him. “Don’t tase it!” and “Nooooo! I’m gonna cry!” they beg, in footage caught on a cellphone camera. The tiny animal, which the officer apparently believed might be rabid, was cleaned and released. Meanwhile in Montana, a retired police officer, Robert E. Lee, who is scheduled to become the judge of his county’s new DUI court this fall, was arrested for driving with methadone in his system.
Payback, after a fashion
Imelda Marcos, once the reigning queen of dictators’ wives—none was more charming, ruthless or excessive—has been ordered, by a Filipino court, to repay US$280,000 that her husband, former president Ferdinand Marcos, pocketed from the country’s food agency in 1983. The victory is purely symbolic—the Marcoses and their associates are thought to have run off with over $10 billion during Ferdinand’s reign. Bizarrely, many Filipinos still deeply revere the Marcoses—massive human rights abuses, economic stagnation, and global infamy be damned. Imelda, still elegant at 81, captured a seat in congress last year, and her son Ferdinand Jr., a senator, is rumoured to be mounting a bid for the presidency in 2016.
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