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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"It's no secret that the Middle East is a dangerous neighborhood. And if the bushels of money that rulers of the Gulf states are throwing at their militaries is any indication, it's not getting any safer. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies report Military Balance 2010, Saudi Arabia's defense budget grew from $24.9 billion in 2001 to $41.2 billion in 2009, a 65 percent increase. The budget of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) grew a whopping 700 percent, from $1.9 billion to $15.47 billion, in the same time period. Kuwait and Bahrain also dramatically expanded the dollars devoted to security over the last decade; their defense budgets increased 35 percent and 80 percent, respectively." (ForeignPolicy)



"Over at the Pavillion Ledoyen, meanwhile, Spike Jonze screened one of his newest shorts for Jefferson Hack's Dazed & Confused party. With so many obligations, much of the fashion flock got there on the late side, effectively forfeiting their moments with the filmmaker and the English publisher (they disappeared early, never to be seen again!). Not that this did anything to discourage lingering: 'I'm going to have a cocktail,' Leigh Lezark said. 'We're off the clock now.' She was right: With all the models, editors, DJs, and other fashion professionals done for the season, not to mention the rest of Parisian youth up for a good night, the Dazed party was loud and it was good: In fact, it ended at a sunrise-scary 5 a.m. 'See you next season!' Lou Doillon, who had hustled a group into her caravan, cried out into the Paris night." (Style)



"World Wrestling Entertainment raked in $475.2 million last year and in the four years leading into the recession, revenue jumped 44 percent. Expansion at home means looking for younger fans, and its push to conform to a more PG tone is yielding blue-chip corporate partners like 7-Eleven and Pepsi Max, as well as a multiyear partnership with Mattel. But WWE’s fastest growth has been abroad: Between 2000 and 2009, the public company, founded in 1982 by chairman Vince McMahon, increased its revenues outside North America from $9 million to $127 million. International income now accounts for nearly 27 percent of WWE’s total revenue, and it is televised in 145 countries, in 30 languages. If WWE’s global domination has mostly consisted of exporting Americana, it has also tried to create a global village of its own with Superstars— they don’t call them wrestlers—from all over the world, even if some of them, like Canadian-cum-Russian-cum- Italian Santino Marella seem to change nationalities at the drop of a hat." (WSJ Magazine)



"The crisis in US-Israeli relations took a sharp turn for the worse Friday night, March 12, with a phone call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warning Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the relationship was at risk unless Israel toed the administration's line in renewed talks with the Palestinians. Israel must take immediate steps to demonstrate it was interested in renewing efforts for a Middle East agreement, he was told - a reference to sweeping concessions, including halting construction in Jerusalem ... debkafile: The administration is clearly taking advantage of the weakness Netanyahu projected during the Biden visit to swallow its Iran policy, over which Israel feels it has been jilted, as well as its Palestinian policy ... The fallout from the US Vice President Joe Biden's 48 hours in Israel undid a year of effort by the Netanyahu government to build a foreign policy and an understanding with Washington as the bedrock of a coordinated proactive policy on Iran, debkafile's exclusive sources report." (DEBKA)



"The line of movie geeks eager to celebrate Friday’s opening night of Austin’s SXSW film festival coiled around the grand Paramount theater. The draw was the world premiere of Kick-Ass (in theaters April 16), Matthew Vaughn’s cheeky take on the superhero movie genre. Based on Mark Millar’s popular comic book series, the film follows a forgettable high school student (played by the endearing relative newcomer Aaron Johnson) who, with the help of a mail-order costume, attempts to transform himself into a real-life superhero. The very sight of Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s name in the opening credits was enough to elicit calls of 'McLovin’! from the audience. But he in fact sheds some of that exaggerated doofus-cool here, playing an interesting, isolated son of a villainous mobster. Without knowledge of the comic book, you might think going in that you’re sitting down to a genial movie about high school boys. But the very best of the film belongs to Nicolas Cage, a heroic vigilante out to bring down a mobster, and his highly trained, knife-wielding, wig-wearing 11-year-old daughter." (Popwatch)



"When money needs to talk in London, it’s the lord mayor who speaks. Nick Anstee, the 682nd mayor of the U.K. capital’s financial district, is battling politicians from all parties who blame the bankers and brokers he represents for wrecking the country’s economy. Taxpayers assumed more than 800 billion pounds ($1.2 trillion) of liabilities to bail out financial firms, and an election must be held by June. 'The taxpayer doesn’t understand how critical the financial services industry is to them,' Anstee, 51, said in an interview at his 252-year-old Mansion House residence opposite the Bank of England. 'This absolutely overwhelming tide of negative attitudes has been brought about in taxpayers’ minds.' City of London chiefs have championed trade and challenged politicians for centuries. They befriended William the Conqueror, helped overthrow King Charles I and one backed U.S. founding father George Washington. Yet the top lobbyist for Britain’s financial services industry isn’t well-known in the square mile he presides over and where 6,000 companies operate. The lord mayor is an 'invisible power' who Britons don’t recognize as the representative of the banks they bailed out, said London Metropolitan University politics lecturer Maurice Glasman . He’s campaigning to merge Anstee’s government with that of Greater London Authority Mayor Boris Johnson , which was started in 2000 to represent the capital’s 7.5 million people. 'The bailout made the invisibles visible in a really disturbing way,' said Glasman, 49, walking in front of the City’s six century-old Guildhall a few streets away from Mansion House. 'This is the invisible heart of an invisible City that protects invisible earnings.'" (Bloomberg)



"A judge's decision not to order the county Department of Public Health to require porn actors to use condoms will be appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation announced Thursday. AHF's lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, sought a court order to force the Department of Public Health to take steps to limit sexually transmitted diseases from being spread during the production of hardcore pornography in Los Angeles County. The suit was dismissed on Dec. 22 by Judge David Yaffe, who said the county has broad discretion in how it oversees public health. AHF officials said they filed the lawsuit after exhausting all other methods to compel the county to fulfill its obligation to protect the public's health in the wake of the revelation last June that an actress working in the adult film business had tested positive for HIV." (NBCLosAngeles)



"It's always fun to see new girls work the runway, but one of the fabulous trends of Paris Fashion Week was the appearance of some of our veterans of past seasons on the catwalk. Malgosia at Givenchy, Erin Wasson at Chanel, Carmen Kass and Sasha at Balmain, Liya at Balenciaga and Ana Beatriz at Lagerfeld are still superstars even if their dominance on the runway has been eclipsed by the next generation of model stars. Frankly their personality and experience make them pop on runways that are often populated by generic Central European teens. Never one for half-measures, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton cast a parade of women more known as Victoria's Secret models then size two runway fixtures: Letitia Casta opened and Elle Macpherson closed the show with Karolina Kurkova, Alessandra Ambrosia, Bar Refaeli in all their full-breasted glory." (Papermag)



"Dick Fuld may be 'grossly negligent' in his role in Lehman Brothers’ historic implosion, but he and other top Lehman executives probably won’t go to jail, according to a long-awaited autopsy released late Thursday. Fuld’s negligence is the opinion of Lehman’s bankruptcy-court examiner, Anton Valukas, who issued a lengthy, far from unbiased report into the root causes of the biggest bankruptcy in modern history, in dollar terms and certainly in impact, given the financial upheaval it unleashed." (Charlie Gasparino/TheDailyBeast)



"ON a brisk Saturday morning this month, a dedicated crew of about 90 women, most in their 30s or thereabouts, arrived at a waterfront hotel here, prepared for a daylong conference that offered to school them in the latest must-have skill set for the minivan crowd. Teaching your baby to read? Please. How to hide vegetables in your children’s food? Oh, that’s so 2008. The topics on that day’s agenda included search-engine optimization, building a 'comment tribe' and how to create an effective media kit. There would be much talk of defining your 'brand' and driving up page views. You know. For your blog. Yes, they had come to Bloggy Boot Camp, the sold-out first stop on a five-city tour. It is the brainchild of Tiffany Romero and Heather Blair, the founders of the Secret Is in the Sauce, a community of 5,000 female bloggers. Boot Camp is at once a networking and social event, bringing together virtual friends for some real-time girly bonding, and an educational seminar designed to help the participants — about 90 percent of them mothers — to take their blogs up a notch, whether in hopes of generating ad revenue and sponsorships, attracting attention to a cause or branching out into paid journalism or marketing." (NYTimesStyle)



"Henry Kissinger, the former United States secretary of state, was hospitalized here because of stomach pains on Saturday. But his condition has quickly improved, said a spokesman for Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital in Seoul. 'There is nothing serious about his condition,' Lee Seong-man, the hospital spokesman, said during a telephone interview. 'His condition is continuing to improve, and in a case like this, we expect him to leave hospital tomorrow.'" (NYTimes)



"I sit beneath a print by Bruce Nauman, my companion has a huge Picasso hanging behind him and the far side of the restaurant is dominated by a deathly black Richard Serra. Chez Donati in Basel is the perfect place to have lunch with Jacques Herzog, 59, the more vocal partner in the Swiss architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron. The partnership’s works embrace the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, centrepiece of the 2008 Olympics, and the world’s most-visited museum of modern art, London’s Tate Modern; the de Young Museum in San Francisco; and the almost eye-wateringly perfect Goetz Collection in Munich. Chez Donati, a comfortably bourgeois blend of dark wood panelling, bordeaux-coloured curtains, silver trolleys and modern art, is a couple of hundred yards from Herzog’s office, along the same bank of the Rhine. The opposite bank is dominated by Basel’s less picturesque face, big pharma. The massive plants of both Roche and Novartis are visible and Herzog is planning buildings for both. I meet him in his office and we stroll to the restaurant together. He looks every inch the global architect: dark suit, dark T-shirt, sleekly shaven head. He is at home at Chez Donati – greeted in German, but as 'Monsieur ’erzog'. The waiter thanks us for our order in Italian and we conduct the interview in Herzog’s precise English." (FT)



"(SNL head writer Seth) Meyers has to navigate through roughly 50 different sketches each week to determine which will make the final cut. His selection process, he said, is eased by rehearsals that, based on the laughter or lack thereof, make the decisions easier on him. At a certain point, he added, there’s just no more room to fight for the nobility of the piece. Both Meyers and Michaels were entirely upfront about the process they go through to put the show on the air. Michaels says that his show requires a certain precision and camera timing to put together that doesn’t allow for improvising, despite the comedians’ proficiencies and wishes. However, when Michaels was asked about the way NBC handled the Leno-Conan handover, he quickly silenced himself. It showed how disciplined Michaels is, and prefers his show to be. The best performers can do the most with the opportunities they are given. Michaels points to Dana Carvey who he says did a better George H.W. Bush than Bush himself. Michaels frequently mentioned past cast members like Carvey as examples, showing that even after all these years none of them have ever truly left him. He says that’s the great thing about the show – each separate cast means something to viewers." (Mediaite)



"Sir, If voiced in a graduate seminar at the LSE, the notion of Japan aligning itself with China would provoke ridicule for its misreading of Japanese policy ('Why Japan is edging closer to China', Gideon Rachman March 9). Strategically, Japan cannot 'choose' between China and the US for as long as it needs to remain under the American nuclear umbrella. Abandoning the US alliance would force Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons to create an effective deterrence against North Korea and China, but this would be political suicide in the only country ever to suffer a nuclear attack. Prime minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan, much closer to the post-war Japanese pacifist movement than the Liberal Democratic Party, knows this well. In the economic sphere, Japanese decision-makers are fully aware that the Chinese government uses the size of the Chinese market as carrot and the reimposition of trade barriers as stick – unlike the Europeans who are falling over themselves to please China to help sell their aircraft, trains and cars. Instead, we should see the DPJ’s search for a better relationship with China as an initiative that is long overdue. Perhaps it is no Ostpolitik or Asian equivalent to the Helsinki Charter (yet), but contrasted with the visits to the Yasukuni shrine by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the bumbling policies of his three LDP successors, the new policy finally tries to contribute to stability in east Asia." (Dr Mark S. Manger/FT)

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