OPENING NOTES

September 28 1992

OPENING NOTES

September 28 1992

OPENING NOTES

Telephone follies, shoplifting in Moscow and a heady new trend

Hitting Below The Belt

Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello will soon have to prove that he is a master in the art of self-defence. Accused last month by a special congressional committee of using his office for personal profit, the beleaguered 43-year-old leader is fending off attempts to impeach him. And the pugnacious Collor knows a thing or two about fighting.

After all, he holds a black belt in karate.

Or does he? While federal investigators say that they have linked the president to a complex scheme of influence peddling and kickbacks, Brazilian karate officials, in an effort to dissociate Collor from their martial ait—which stresses a strict code of honor—are questioning Collor’s claim to the black sash of high proficiency. According to Nélson Dâvila Guimaràes, a re gional director of the National Karate Confederation in the southern city of Porto Alegre, Collor’s black belt is not registered with the national body or its leading le cal affiliates. Guimaràes, himself the holder of a fourthdegree black belt, says that the president is officially registered as having only a purple belt—two levels below black. And even if Collor’s black belt turns out to be legitimate, Guimaràes claims that the president has committed several “sins” against the code set by Japanese karate masters, including arrogance, deception and greed. Said Guimaràes: “If Collor were in Japan, he would have to commit hara-kiri.”

PAGING MR. NOBEL

Contributing Editor Ann Dowsett Johnston, who is coordinating Maclean’s upcoming issue on Canadian universities, called the University of Toronto last week to speak with John Polanyi, one of Canada’s best-known scientists. A professor at U of T’s department of chemistry, Polanyi received a Nobel Prize in 1986 for his research into infrared chemilumines-

cence. Dowsett Johnston phoned the university’s general switchboard, asking for Polanyi’s number. An excerpt of her conversation with the switchboard operator:

Operator. ‘Who?”

Dowsett Johnston: “John Polanyi.” Operator: “Who’s he?”

Dowsett Johnston: “A Nobel Prize winner in your chemistry department.”

Operator: “Sorry. I got nothing under Nobel.”

Hostile

Takeovers

Since the fall of Soviet communism almost two years ago, hundreds of makeshift food and clothing stores have sprung up on the broad sidewalks of Moscow’s main roads, housed in room-size cargo containers and former newspaper kiosks. Now, however, Moscow’s small-scale capitalists are being hit by shoplifting—in its most literal form. Working in the dead of night and sometimes using cranes, thieves have stolen entire stores and their contents, after which they set up shop in other parts of the city. Two container stores and 128 kiosks have disappeared overnight from municipally licensed locations in the past six months. Said Vladimir Novikov, director of the Russian interior ministry’s larceny squad: “Sometimes they will repaint the outside, and they usually give the store a new name before reopening for business on the other side of Moscow.” With Russian police having solved only half the total 2.1 million criminal cases of 1991, many would-be entrepreneurs clearly believe that shoplifting, Moscow-style, is an easy way to get into the retail trade.

Tarnished Glamor

Long the bane of the Olympics, performance-enhancing drugs now appear to have tarnished the tinsel at the annual Miss America Pageant. A contestant at last week’s swimsuit-and-glamor contest in Atlantic City, N.J., told reporters that at least two of her rivals tried to acquire diuretics—chemicals that cause weight loss by stimulating urination—to help them achieve a more perfect form. Carrie Lee Davis, a physician who was competing as Miss South Carolina, claimed that two pageant entrants—she declined to name them—had asked her to provide the drugs. Added the curvaceous doctor: “I said, ‘No, those things are terrible for you.’ ” Contest officials refused to comment on the incident last week—except to say that “it didn’t happen the way it was reported.” But Davis’s allegations raise a troubling issue: if organizers of the Miss America contest introduce screening for drug use, can gender testing be far behind?

DETAILS AT 9?

The CBC’s announcement last month that it was revamping its 10 p.m. nightly news-and-current-affairs package into a single hourlong program at 9 p.m. set off widespread speculation about the format of the new show. But with only about a month to go before the program debuts on Oct.

26, CBC executives still have not worked out the details.

Last week, Tony Burman,

■''hief news editor at The National, sent a memo to all CBC news staff to solicit their advice. In the memo, Burman lists several “working assumptions,” including the plan that the “9 p.m. ‘Hour’ will be rooted in TODAY, but in the broadest sense,” and then finishes with a plea: “So if you have any thoughts about how the new 9 p.m. should be organized—or what kind of program it

should be, and what kind of treatment and priorities it should emphasize—please message [foreign bureau chief] John Owen directly this week with your ideas. . . . He’s open to any and all contributions.” According to a high-ranking network insider, CBC executives are considering focusing the 9 p.m. program on current affairs, leaving traditional coverage of news events to the Newsworld channel, which is available only to cable subscribers. Another staffer involved

in the decision-making told Maclean’s: “The final plan is far from complete. There are still camps fighting for their vision of the program.” And at week’s end, CBC vice-president of news Tim Kotcheff weighed in with another memo to staff. “Let me put one nonsensical rumor to rest right off the top,” Kotcheff wrote. “The news will continue to 1 live and thrive at 9. It □ is, after all, our meat £ and potatoes.”

SUDS FOR THE SEXES

At first glance, the advertisement for Molson Canadian seems designed to appeal to beer-guzzling males. One in a series linked to the Summer Olympics, the ad features “The Canadian Synchronized Team,” two curvy, hip, identical models poised to pour beer in tandem. The print ad’s text, however, is clearly aimed at another audience. “The general feeling expressed by most women,” it says, “is that men just can’t get their act together.” Another Molson ad, to air on television next spring, will also be geared towards the female market. Although Molson officials say that they have been targeting both sexes for years, analysts contend that beer ads aimed strictly at women are part of a new trend. Brewers have been hit by a decline in consumption: Canadians drank the equivalent of 5.6 billion bottles of domestic beer in 1991, down from 5.8 billion in 1987. “The industry is facing a shrinking market,” says Michael Palmer, an analyst at Sanwa McCarthy Securities Ltd. “They’re looking to attract women, and they’re trying to get away from the old T&A routine.”

THE MIDDLEMAN

For the Ontario Medical Association, it was a case of good timing. In July, 1990, the organization, which represents more than 22,000 Ontario doctors, hired Brian Harling, treasurer of the then-opposition provincial NDP and a senior campaign official, as a full-time adviser and lobbyist. Two months later, Harling’s party unexpectedly won a majority government. Since then, the OMA staffer has found himself caught in political crossfire. Some NDP stalwarts claim that Harling, who remains as party treasurer, is selling his political influence to the OMA. Some doctors, on the other hand, say that their association has been co-opted by the NDP, largely through Harling’s presence. Harling says that relations between the OMA and the government are much cozier than under Ontario’s previous administration, but he denies that he is in conflict. “I am a senior party person, and some would assume that means that I know what’s going on inside the government,” /.aid Harling. “It couldn’t be further from the truth. I find out what the government is doing by watching the news every night.”