Newsmakers of the week -

Newsmakers of the week

Oct. 5-11, 2012: The war on Big Bird, Silvio Berlusconi discovers a woman can lie, and a female perspective on the oilsands

Lars Hagberg/CP

Feast your eyes

The Prime Minister didn’t sexually harass you just because he was naked in the library. That’s what the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario seems to be saying with its dismissal of a complaint lodged earlier this year after a very cheeky painting of Stephen Harper appeared in a Kingston public library. Entitled Emperor Haute Couture, the painting by Kingston artist Margaret Sutherland portrays Harper in nude repose on a white chaise longue, a pooch at his feet and one of many anonymous minders behind handing him a large Tim Hortons coffee. The sight was too much for Albertan Curtis Stewart. “This is a complete disrespect to our country, our government and to our Prime Minister,” Stewart wrote in his HRTO complaint last spring, adding that the image was “a complete form of sexual harassment to me, my family and to all Canadians.” The HRTO dismissed the complaint, saying it fell beyond its jurisdiction.

The Bird speaks for all of us

Big Bird is the 99 per cent. After Mitt Romney said he would cut funding to PBS, then added “I love Big Bird,” the yellow Sesame Street star has become an instant meme in the U.S. presidential campaign. A Romney rally was protested by a man in a Big Bird costume carrying a sign that said “crack down on Wall Street, not Sesame Street.” Twitter was flooded with slogans like “I stand with Big Bird” and fake accounts from an out-of-work feathered muppet. Barack Obama’s campaign even released an ad portraying Romney as anti-Big Bird, but it didn’t sit well with the Sesame Street’s producers, who called for Obama to take down the ad because “Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization.”

Another reason to love Toronto

Vito Rizzuto, a former Montreal crime boss known as the “Teflon Don,” flew home to Canada last week. Rizzuto was released last Friday from a U.S. prison, where he was serving a sentence in connection with a 1981 killing, and seasoned Mob-watchers have been buzzing about what his next move will be upon returning to Canada. With his power base decimated in Montreal and his home up for sale, speculation is afoot that he may stay in Ontario: “Toronto is where he can find strength and calm,” a Quebec police officer told the Toronto Star. Toronto: where gangsters can make a fresh start.

Who’s the sexist-est of them all?

The Speaker in Australia’s House of Representatives eventually resigned after the emergence of sexist and profane text messages—the c-word was involved. But first, the House was witness to a remarkable display from PM Julia Gillard. After Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, declared that Gillard had failed by selecting Peter Slipper as Speaker, the first female prime minister in Australian history stood in the House and launched a blistering 15-minute attack on Abbott, accusing him and his side of sexism and misogyny. She recounted how he had, among other things, suggested she make “an honest woman of herself” (Gillard is unmarried). If Abbott “wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia,” she said, “he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives—he needs a mirror.” Too bad for Abbott: just last week, his wife, Margie, tried to burnish her husband’s image in a series of media interviews. “Tony Abbott gets women,” she ventured, “and … the women in Tony Abbott’s life certainly get him.”

Tell us more

Who wouldn’t want life advice from a 26-year-old able to net $3.7 million for her first book? That’s what Random House execs were betting as they won a bidding war for Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned. It’s the latest triumph for the indie “It Girl,” known for strip-mining her life in her film Tiny Furniture, her HBO series Girls and her New Yorker essays. The publisher expressed high hopes for the self-help tome inspired by Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 classic Sex and the Single Girl: in a statement, it placed Dunham in the tradition of Gurley Brown, David Sedaris and Nora Ephron and promised “frank and funny advice on everything from sex to eating to travelling to work.”

She also said he was the wisest, most handsome man she’d met

More cringe-worthy news regarding Silvio Berlusconi, currently on trial on charges that he hired an underage prostitute for one of his allegedly sex-drenched “bunga bunga” parties. The prosecution introduced evidence suggesting that Berlusconi thought Karima El Mahroug—known as Ruby the Heart Stealer—was the granddaughter of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. That Mahroug, who was 17 when she met Berlusconi, was a prostitute apparently didn’t deter Berlusconi’s conviction in her story. The former PM even asked Mubarak about the young woman during the latter’s visit to Rome; predictably, Mubarak didn’t have a clue what Berlusconi was talking about. “She told me a load of balls,” a miffed Burlusconi told an adviser, after figuring out Ruby’s subterfuge. The 76-year-old lothario faces a maximum of three years in jail.

Women’s week in Fort McMurray

The woman who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for banning land mines trod onto more explosive territory this week: she kicked off her one-week tour of the proposed Northern Gateway route in Fort McMurray, Alta., U.S. activist Jody Williams is leading an all-female delegation that includes singer Sarah Harmer and climate scientist Marianne Douglas to solicit women’s opinions about pipeline development. In a video released by the tour’s sponsor, Ottawa-based Nobel Women’s Initiative, Williams explains: “In too many situations of crisis around the world, the women and their children are the ones who suffer the most when their environment is destroyed.” But she’ll get some other points of view along the way: one of her meetings was with Melissa Blake, the pro-development mayor of Wood Buffalo, of which Fort McMurray is part.

He’s here, he’s queer—and careful, he can throw a punch

The world of professional sports is not thought of as very gay-friendly, but Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz may change that. The 31-year-old featherweight, ranked fourth in his weight class, announced that he is “a proud gay man,” adding that he went public “knowing that it would have pros and cons, highs and lows in this sport that is so macho.” Cruz is the first pro boxer to come out as during his career, and it puts the sport ahead of a number of other pro sports, such as baseball and football, that have no openly gay athletes.

Good thing he’s not Canadian

Mark Morris started as a dancer in Seattle and is now one of America’s most famous ballet choreographers. But back in his hometown for a show with frequent collaborator Mikhail Baryshnikov, Morris didn’t seem too nostalgic about the place where he grew up, or too sorry to be leaving for New York City. He told the local paper The Stranger that Seattle is a “small pond” where “people resent excellence,” and he scoffed at the city’s overblown pride in its provincial achievements. “Everyone knows that people in Seattle are very proud of Seattle—and that’s not a compliment.”

Some students are more equal

A lawsuit launched by a white high school student against the University of Texas at Austin claiming racial discrimination could upend affirmative-action policies at U.S. universities when it’s heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Abigail Fisher sued in 2008 after she was denied admission, claiming that her academic credentials exceeded those of the admitted minority candidates. Fisher, who since graduated from Louisiana State University, told the New York Times: “I’m hoping that they’ll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want . . . solely based on their merit.” And their ability to afford the sky-high tuition.

Vile—it’s right there in the name

While continuing to maintain his innocence, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison this week after being convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse. In an audio statement released to a Penn State radio station, Sandusky said, “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts,” and blamed a “well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers” for his conviction. Meanwhile, in England, Scotland Yard is investigating the possibility that Sir Jimmy Savile, a BBC presenter and DJ (Top of the Pops), may have abused as many as 25 young girls over 50 years. Eight criminal allegations have been filed in regards to girls aged 13 to 16. Savile died last year, so he cannot serve time, but British PM David Cameron raised the possibility this week of stripping him of his knighthood.

Olympic rowers salute their lakeside leader

It was part tribute, part protest as an Olympic armada massed at Elk Lake near Victoria for a last row with their coach Mike Spracklen, 75. His uncompromising methods produced results, but Rowing Canada ended his contract, angering those who thrived under his leadership. After the outing, Silken Laumann said if rowers had brought their medals, the dock would have sunk.