Newsmakers: Feb. 17-23, 2011 -

Newsmakers: Feb. 17-23, 2011

Putin’s photo-op flop, McCartney’s pot pledge, and Jean-Marie Le Pen gets his due



A fine balance

American high-wire artist Nik Wallenda has the green light to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope, proving, in his words, that “persistence pays off.” So does having sympathetic ears in high places. Sources tell Maclean’s that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was dismayed by the Niagara Parks Commission’s earlier refusal to hear Wallenda’s proposal, which promised to draw worldwide interest to an economically battered part of the province. The 12-member parks commission, which controls access to the gorge on the Canadian side, ruled in November that such an event would be the first step down a slippery slope of crass commercialism. But after a gentle nudge from Tourism Minister Michael Chan, the provincially appointed commission reconsidered, voting unanimously last week to allow the spectacle to go ahead.

Happy days, indeed

Jamie Oliver has worked hard to carve out a career as a celebrity chef. But he must have horseshoes hidden somewhere. Last week, crews converting a Manchester bank building into a restaurant for Oliver found master tapes recorded by New Order, the seminal 1980s British new wave band. The tapes were in an abandoned safety deposit box—as were some masters for the band Joy Division and about $1 million worth of jewellery and valuables. Bank of England officials say they couldn’t reach the rightful owners, but evidently didn’t try very hard. A few years ago, bassist Peter Hook publicly blamed some low-quality New Order reissues on a lack of proper masters.

Plus ça change

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, no stranger to scandals, is dealing with another round of tawdry accusations surrounding his sex life. The one-time French presidential favourite, whose career as IMF chief was derailed by a sexual assault accusation from a hotel maid, was detained for questioning this week. French police are trying to figure out whether a construction firm used corporate funds to pay for orgies and prostitutes at sex parties he attended. DSK is using the old, how-could-I-have-known-they-were-hookers? excuse: “As you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed,” said his lawyer, Henri Leclerc, “and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman.”

Backsliding boss

Vladimir Putin—famed for appearing shirtless while fly-fishing or riding horses—learned this week that macho photo-ops can backfire. The Russian prime minister reportedly brushed aside warnings that he lacked the proper training to try bobsledding at Paramonovo, site of an upcoming World Cup race, and climbed in behind famed Russian sledder Aleksei Shadeyev. Alas, the pair lacked the momentum after push-off to make it up a small incline on the course, and slid pathetically back toward the starting area. When asked afterward what he thought of bobsledding, the unamused PM snapped: “I liked it.”

Can’t-do nation?

John Glenn, marking the 50th anniversary last week of his historic flight as the first American to orbit Earth, voiced his fears for the future of space travel. He criticized the George W. Bush administration for cancelling the space shuttle program—“a big mistake”—and for cutting funding for Mars travel; NASA, he noted, is forced to rely on Russia to transport U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Glenn, whom Tom Wolfe once called the last American hero, gave the U.S. the idea Washington could, in fact, overtake its space-race rivals in Moscow.

Damn the torpedoes

It only took 50 years, but Paul McCartney has sworn off marijuana, saying he feels too responsible toward his eight-year-old daughter Beatrice to keep on toking. It’s a banner moment for anti-pot advocates, many of whom trace the worldwide explosion in cannabis use to the Beatles taking it up in the 1960s. But one wonders whether Sir Paul can hold out. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he admits: “I did a lot.” And at 69 he’s getting to the age when marijuana’s pain-relieving properties might just come in handy.

The Super Bowl’s worst ad

She’s got a good start, but aspiring actor Lisa Chan may spend a long time living down a notorious campaign ad run by Michigan state Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra. Chan apologized for her part in the ad, in which she plays a stereotypical Chinese woman riding a bicycle through rice paddies while mocking the supposed profligacy of Hoekstra’s opponent, Debbie Stabenow. “Your economy get very weak,” the woman says. “Ours get very good.” The spot went viral after running in Michigan during the Super Bowl, provoking such a backlash among Asian-Americans that Chan went into full grovel mode. “As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice,” she wrote on her Facebook page, “this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven.”

Not forgotten

Seldom does one see posthumous tributes flowing four years after a person’s death. But fans of the Degrassi television franchise poured out their grief this week after news broke that Neil Hope—who appeared in every incarnation of the series, primarily as the character “Wheels”—died in November 2007. Degrassi’s producers learned only a few days earlier that Hope had been found dead in a rooming house in Hamilton of undisclosed natural causes. His life after the show sounds almost as troubled as that of his character, Derek Wheeler: he wound up selling furniture and working in a Money Mart, according to ex-girlfriend Christina Boulard. And while he stayed out of the public eye, he never minded when someone recognized him. “He loved being known as Wheels,” said Boulard.

Something old, something new

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss another intriguing addition to the U.S political landscape. No sooner had Joe Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, confirmed he will run for Congress, than Sarah Palin mused about plunging back into the Republican nomination race. “I have got the fire in my belly to try to help,” Palin told Fox Business, “and if that involves running for public office at some point in the future, I’m game for that.” Palin said she would only be interested if no clear winner had emerged by this summer’s Republican national convention. As for Kennedy, it remains to be seen whether the 31-year-old has the campaign chops of his crusading grandfather. But with his shock of Irish red hair and unmistakable jawline, half his work is done.


Jennifer Botterill, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, has been immortalized as no other hockey player has, after computer programmers at the University of Manitoba named a skating, shooting robot after her. The 58-cm humanoid isn’t quite as nifty on ice as its namesake, who retired last year after 13 years at the international level. But it does get around. And Botterill, a Winnipegger, was chuffed by the tribute. “So honoured by this,” she told her Facebook followers. “Wow!”

Foul language

France’s ultra-strict laws against hate speech have finally caught up to far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. The former Front National leader saw his conviction of “contesting crimes against humanity” upheld by an appeal court, after he’d claimed in 2005 that the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War was “not particularly inhumane.” Not, perhaps, if you weren’t among the 70,000 deported to concentration camps. But the aging Le Pen—whose daughter Marine is running for the Front National in France’s presidential race—must have expected retribution. His country’s laws against Holocaust denial are among the toughest in the world. He now faces a three-month suspended jail sentence, plus a 10,000-euro fine.

Speaking of hacks

Billionaire mining magnates are people too. But if Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman, intended to show her soft side by penning a few lines of verse, she failed woefully. Rinehart has written what critics are calling “the universe’s worst poem,” in a bid to honour the mining industry while excoriating her country’s government. Entitled Our Future, the ode rhymes “political hacks” with “rampant tax,” and that’s about the least of its aesthetic crimes. “The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate,” it concludes. “Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.” One literature professor declared that Rinehart was about “as good at poetry as I am at mining.” Yet the tycoon remained unfazed. She had Our Future engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on a boulder outside her mansion.

I wear my sunglasses at night

Rising fashionistas Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made a splash at New York Fashion Week’s J. Mendel show. The twin billionaires—designers, now, not actresses—were clad in matching, all-black outfits and giant shades. They chatted throughout, ignoring reporters’ questions, flashing wan half-smiles.

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