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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"Two of the most influential columnists on foreign affairs are Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Both are centrist middle-aged white men writing for major newspapers. Both also are successful authors, though the Rousseauian Friedman produces optimistic non-fiction works, while the more Hobbesian Ignatius writes dark thrillers about intelligence. Also, I think Friedman tends to be influenced a bit more by diplomats, while Ignatius seems a bit more plugged into the worlds of intelligence and the military. These very similar writers have come to very different conclusions on what President Obama should do in Afghanistan. Friedman says cut your losses, while Ignatius says put in more troops." (ForeignPolicy)



"It’s just as well that the couch I’m sitting on is plump and hospitable or I might have fallen off it: Martin Scorsese tells me that the real inspiration for the tone and voice of Goodfellas was not Scarface or Public Enemy, but Kind Hearts and Coronets. Oh, right: Alec Guinness in drag, Joe Pesci in murderous hysterics, I see. But, when you think about it for a minute, the revelation makes perfect sense. The note of black glee in Ray Liotta’s interior monologues ('As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster') is not that far away from Dennis Price’s cool plan to murder his way into the landed class that presumes to despise him. They share the smirk of superior knowledge, the contempt for the chumps who do things the regular way. Mayhem and chuckling are never far apart in either the British postwar comedies or Scorsese’s opera of mischief. Stick a fedora on Price or Alastair Sim, unclip the accent and they could breeze downtown. The wiseguys in Goodfellas spend even more time laughing than killing. Sometimes the uproar is so unhinged that it looks as if De Niro, Liotta and Pesci will dislocate their jaws, like pythons guffawing as they digest a goat." (FT)



"During the July 4 holiday weekend, the latest in a series of cyberattacks was launched against popular government Web sites in the United States and South Korea, effectively shutting them down for several hours. It is unlikely that the real culprits will ever be identified or caught. Most disturbing, their limited success may embolden future hackers to attack critical infrastructure, such as power generators or air-traffic-control systems, with devastating consequences for the U.S. economy and national security. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote earlier this year in these pages, 'The United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory' in the conflicts of the future. When it comes to cybersecurity, Washington faces an uphill battle. And as a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report put it, "It is a battle we are losing.' There is no form of military combat more irregular than an electronic attack: it is extremely cheap, is very fast, can be carried out anonymously, and can disrupt or deny critical services precisely at the moment of maximum peril. Everything about the subtlety, complexity, and effectiveness of the assaults already inflicted on the United States' electronic defenses indicates that other nations have thought carefully about this form of combat. Disturbingly, they seem to understand the vulnerabilities of the United States' network infrastructure better than many Americans do." (Wesley K. Clark and Peter L. Levin/ ForeignAffairs)



"Last night, Georgina Chapman, Mark Ronson, and so and so were all honored by the Young Patrons of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall. Afterwards, guests and honorees alike headed to Hudson Hotel to celebrate, where Guest of a Guest talked to Mark Ronson. One surefire way to amp up the star power at an event is to invite people with beyond fabulous plus ones, twos and threes. Such was the case last night at the Lincoln Center Masquerade Ball. Mark Ronson was honored for his work in the musical arts and proud mother Ann Dexter Jones was in front row attendance along with his twin sisters Samantha and Charlotte Ronson of designing and Lindsay Lohan dating fame. Half brother Alexander Dexter-Jones rounded out the impossibly chic family reunion ... Marchesa Designer Georgina Champan was at the ball as well with not as high powered as he used to be hubby Harvey Weinstein in tow." (Guestofaguest)



"So the conversations Plouffe recounts in The Audacity to Win, published next week and excerpted in Time magazine this week, are unusually insightful. Especially two decision moments: one about Obama’s veep pick, and one about McCain’s. Obama stunned his closest advisers during discussions about who he’d like as vice president. Plouffe and his partner in politics David Axelrod were taken aback to hear that the candidate was considering Hillary Clinton for the job. 'What surprised me at [our first meeting to discuss the vice presidency] was that Obama was clearly thinking more seriously about picking Hillary Clinton than Ax and I had realized,' wrote Plouffe. 'He said if his central criterion measured who could be the best VP, she had to be included in that list. She was competent, could help in Congress, would have international bona fides and had been through this before, albeit in a different role. He wanted to continue discussing her as we moved forward.' That account does not entirely track with my own reporting in my book Renegade. It sounds entirely logical, as if Plouffe is channeling his Spock-like boss. But it's not entirely convincing. Clinton had to be included on the list, and was considered more seriously than expected. But that isn’t saying much, given that she wasn’t expected to be considered at all. At the same time, Obama had already slotted Clinton into the position of secretary of state. In fact, he had done so in his own mind before the primaries were over. At least, that’s what President Obama would later tell me in the Oval Office. Which puts Obama’s decision-making process in a different perspective. Having already decided what job Clinton should have, Obama proceeded with a full review of his own instincts—a vetting of his own decision. He tests his judgment, and those of his advisers, without really engaging with a fully open mind. That helps explain Obama’s next meeting, a couple of weeks later. Clinton remained on the list, but by this point had a presidential-sized asterisk by her name. 'Barack continued to be intrigued by Hillary,' Plouffe writes. 'I still think Hillary has a lot of what I am looking for in a VP,' he said to us. 'Smarts, discipline, steadfastness. I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the relationship,' Plouffe writes." (TheDailyBeast)



(Richard Johnson, Jean-Marc Houmard, Jim Gold, John Demsey via Caroline Torem Craig)

"WHAT: Book signing party for Indochine's 25th anniversary book, Indochine: Stories, Shaken And Stirred. WHERE: Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave. WHEN: Thursday, October 29, 2009. WHO: Jean-Marc Houmard, Narciso Rodriguez, Jim Gold, Linda Fargo, Veronica Webb, Carmen D'alessio, Helen Schifter, Belinda Becker, Frederique van der Wal, Richard Johnson. OVERHEARD: When PAPER asked Richard Johnson what he thought about 'everything' he said: 'Everything is on the upswing! It's all better!' From another guest: 'I used to love to come to the Indochine canteen and eat with the New York City Ballet dancers. They would order all the fried foods and never gain any weight! Dancing all the calories off was the answer!'" (Papermag)



"ZAC GOLDSMITH, millionaire playboy, eco-warrior and quixotic Conservative candidate for Parliament, is trying to explain why his bid for political power should be seen as more than a rich kid’s flight of environmental fancy. 'I mean, what is so radical about pushing for a clean car fleet in five years or environmental taxes,' he said, as he drove his banged-up Prius through the dark streets of Richmond, the affluent London suburb in which he is waging his campaign. The nub of a hand-rolled cigarette — at least his 20th of the day — is clenched in his teeth, but it does little to slow the rat-a-tat-tat of his aristocratic patter. 'Our green manifesto is the greenest in the history of the Conservative Party,' he continued, but said it would be a challenge, as he praised the environmental bona fides of the Conservative Party chief David Cameron, whom he had introduced at a political event earlier that evening. 'You know I don’t really have faith in politicians — this is quite a sleazy business. But there is no law which says that all politicians will turn out to be scumbags.'" (NYTimes)



"The Obama administration did a Friday afternoon news dump of the names of 500 visitors to the White House spanning the time period from January 20 to July 31, 2009. And almost no one from Hollywood showed up to meet the president or his family or his aides. Weird, especially since so much of Hollywood was supporting the Obama campaign. But the list is not comprehensive, just a response to specific disclosure requests. So who stopped by? George Clooney who once visited Vice President Joe Biden; Denzel Washington, twice, as part of a group tour; and Oprah who came by twice -- once for a reception, and once to conduct an interview with Michelle Obama. Also, Jeff Immelt, chairman of GE which owns NBC/Universal, 4 times. And a guy named Michael Moore who visited 8 times and isn't the Hollywood documentary maker." (DeadlineHollywoodDaily)



"Huge local crowds, a little bit of chaos and international stars turned out Thursday night for the official opening of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. The I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art served as the very impressive backdrop for the festival’s opening night pre-reception and screening of Mira Nair’s 'Amelia.' Three-thousand locals along with international guests turned up on the museum’s expansive grounds along the coast, with director Martin Scorsese, Mira Nair, Oscar-nominated actress Patricia Clarkson and others joining the Tribeca Film Festival’s Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff and Geoff Gilmore for the event. The Americans joined other regional celebs and members of the Qatari royal family in an upstairs VIP area prior to the screening, while other invitees socialized outside in the museum’s beautiful courtyard. While some watched the screening inside, other invitees joined the locals at an outdoor screening that quickly ran out of seats, prompting some guests to simply give up and head out." (IndieWIRE)



"According to a a Thailand-based human rights group, the Myanmar junta arrested up to 50 people this week including journalists, political activists and university students. This is the second security crackdown this month in the biggest city of the nation formerly known as Burma ... President Obama has called for the release of Myanmar's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi. 'Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention, isolation and show trial, based on spurious charges, cast serious doubt on the Burmese regime's willingness to be a responsible member of the international community,' the President said in May. 'This is an important opportunity for the government in Burma to demonstrate that it respects its own laws and its own people.' Myanmar was--along with the Sudan and Iran--indifferent to the previous administration's "stick-or-stick approach," but is facing serious international pressure, including economic sanctions from both the EU and the United States, to ease its repressive policies and release political prisoners. The European Union in particular has tried various punitive sanctions for years, including travel bans, sanctions and sanctions extensions but none of them have worked." (RonMwangaguhunga/AirAmerica)



"Iraqis prefer checkpoints manned by Iraqis—as I observed time and again, they have learned how to navigate them. They often appear to know one of the security men—perhaps a distant relation or a friend of a friend. They know how to butter up the checkpoint guards with a kind word or humorous turn of phrase, and get past them even if they lack official permission. By contrast, they find American (or Peruvian) checkpoints, with their large signs in hortatory English and poorly rendered Arabic, bewildering, arbitrary, and humiliating. Over the years, many an altercation has occurred in these places owing to misunderstandings, impatience, or simply ill will. Conversely, many Americans dislike, distrust, and resent Iraqi checkpoints. In a recent incident reported by Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post, Iraqi soldiers allegedly beat four American DynCorps contractors who refused to follow their orders at one of the entrances to the Green Zone[1] —a reminder that the tables are turning. I had flashed only two pieces of ID on my first visit to the Green Zone. But on my second day, Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint one encounters when entering the Green Zone from the 14th of July Bridge insisted that I also produce an official bahtch or, failing that, procure a US Department of Defense escort, since I had told them I was on my way to meet General Raymond Odierno, who has succeeded David Petraeus as the US commanding officer in Iraq. An American soldier lingering nearby, with no apparent mission other than to monitor the Iraqi soldiers, sauntered up to find out why I was being denied access to the Green Zone. After listening to my explanation that the Iraqis, now joined by an officer, required that I have an escort, he launched a verbal offensive that was as deeply insulting to the Iraqis' national self-esteem ('This is why we were able to defeat them in two days') as it was disrespectful and crude ('We could easily kill them all')." (NYRB)

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