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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"This past April, I was at a conference at Miami University in Ohio where Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the fantastically brave, inspiring, and completely maddening feminist opponent of Islam, was the keynote speaker. The security in the auditorium was airport-like, with metal detectors and swarms of stern men in headsets, because, as the world’s most outspoken Muslim apostate, Hirsi Ali lives under constant threat of assassination. Onstage, despite the ever-present danger, she didn’t seem at all anxious or intimidated. She was funny, erudite, a little self-mocking, and transfixing as she spoke, seemingly extemporaneously, about her childhood in Somalia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya; the daring flight from forced marriage that brought her to Holland; and her slow, painful shedding of her Muslim religion. Her sangfroid was particularly striking during the question-and-answer session, when several outraged young Muslim men lined up to challenge her, some of them barking Koranic verses at her in Arabic, which she coolly translated for the audience and then elaborated on. She stuck relentlessly to her message: Islam oppresses women. Secularism must be protected at all costs. Every person–particularly, every woman–must be the absolute master of her own life, body, and conscience, freed from the dictates of religion, family, or clan. She probably used the phrase 'reproductive rights' a half-dozen times. Watching her, it was easy to think that American liberals and feminists had made a serious error in letting this charismatic dissident be co-opted by the American right. Hirsi Ali is, after all, a champion of a great many cherished liberal values, yet she’s now a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Her new book, Nomad, is dedicated to Chris DeMuth, AEI’s former president. It’s been truly dispiriting to see where she’s ended up." (Democracy)



"Fresh off a raw personal story about a wrestler, director Darren Aronofsky has put his shoulder behind a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet. 'Black Swan,' which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday night, has set off all manner of Oscar buzz with its emotional early screenings. Why? Natalie Portman, in the first role in years where she shows real range of acting depth, plays Nina, a dancer at a New York City Ballet-style company where she yearns for and wins the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. But she is plagued by jealousy around her in dancers both younger (Mila Kunic) and older (Winona Ryder). Vincent Cassel brilliantly plays a manipulative artistic director a la George Ballanchine, while Portman seeks to defend her turf even as she struggles to unleash the emotions that will allow her to dance the black swan to Cassel’s satisfaction. Aronofsky succeeds in making you feel every tense breath, every jangling nerve; his gift for intensifying emotion through music and camera positioning seems to improve with every film. Critics will probably recall Hitchcock in ‘Black Swan’s’ claustrophobic interiors and faux thrills, careering just behind real ones. Meanwhile, the lovely Portman credibly dances in the film, while Cassel seduces and rejects, seduces and rejects in a classic power game with his dancers. There was a thunderous standing ovation." (Sharon Waxman)



"Like an emotionally distant lover, the less Goldman Sachs gives us, the more we want. In today's New York Times, a Goldman spokesman declined to comment on the process by which the firm annually selects its partners, leading the Times to describe the process as 'secretive' and driving us wild with curiosity. What kinds of sick things do they make potential partners do, for the firm to decline to speak about it entirely? What secrets lurk in the hearts of the hordes streaming in and out of the building on West Street? We asked a former Goldman Sachs partner to describe how this mysterious ritual works." (NYMag)



"It's an unusual year with lots of first class lead performances from women, including Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, Diane Lane, Tilda Swinton, Lesley Manville, Michelle Williams, Noomi Rapace, Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, and Anne Hathaway. I think there is none better than Nicole Kidman making a major artistic comeback after a string of disappointments that include Australia, Nine, Margot At The Wedding, The Invasion, Fur, and Human Stain. She turns in a brilliant performance in Rabbit Hole, which had its gala world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival Monday night. (I saw it at a private screening in L.A. a few weeks ago.) As a mother dealing with the sudden death of her 4-year-old son, Kidman gets it all heartbreakingly right. She is matched by costars Aaron Eckhart as her husband and Dianne Wiest as her mother. This is easily her best work since winning an Oscar for 2002’s The Hours, and probably her most assured screen work, even though I confess to being a major To Die For groupie." (Deadline)



"Like most of you, I’m a huge consumer of polls. I rely on survey data, because they represent one of the few quantitative measures of candidate strength. Or do they? For years, I have complained about national and local news anchors who don’t seem to understand what polls mean and what a margin of error is. But increasingly, for me at least, it’s the proliferation of polls — and polls of questionable value — that are the problem. Some observers assume the worst offenders are campaign pollsters, who presumably cook their numbers to show whatever they want to show. Not true. When I’m presented with two polls, one conducted by a well-regarded Republican or Democratic pollster and the other by a 'nonpartisan' pollster or state media outlet, I often place greater weight on the partisan pollster’s numbers, especially if I regard the pollster highly. Obviously, not all 'nonpartisan' pollsters are equal (any more than all partisan pollsters are), and some of them regularly deliver what appear to be reasonable data. But I’m increasingly suspicious of many polls. Gallup is a first-class polling organization that has been around for years and seeks to maintain a certain level of methodological rigor. I have worked with Gallup’s editor in chief, Frank Newport, who has a doctorate in sociology from the University of Michigan, and I can testify that he knows more about quantitative methods than I could ever know. And yet, despite my high regard for the people at Gallup, I have to shake my head in disbelief at how Gallup’s generic ballot has jumped around recently. And it isn’t just the most recent wild bounce." (Stuart Rothenberg)



(image via NYSD)

"By quarter to seven it had let up. The air was cool and redolent with the scent of the foliage. the flora and the fresh damp pavement. It was a beautiful night in New York. About that time I went up to the Museum of the City of New York where Judy Price’s National Jewelry Institute hosted a preview of its exhibition of Notable and Notorious; 20th Century Women of Style, which opens today at the Museum (103rd Street and Fifth Avenue). I made a point of going because Mrs. Price is a friend (and former employer) of mine. I’ve been to a number of exhibits of both costume and jewels over the years. Some are memorable (the Nan Kempner at the Met; the Jackie Onassis auction). Others were good. The ones that impress me are those that lend a sense of a time. Or an attitude that came before the now." (NYSocialDiary)



"With Marc Jacobs’ once-famed afterparty just a shadow of its former star-studded self, what’s a Fash-Week party-hopper to do on Monday night? Luckily, V Magazine and the Standard stepped in to fill the space once held by Mr. Jacobs with a celebration of their latest issue, appropriately covered by both Marc and Lady Gaga. After his petite after-party at his new West Village Book Marc store, Jacobs popped by the fete, although the only Gaga presence was in the slews of impersonators mingling among the crowds ('They did that of their own volition!' laughed Cecilia Dean, insisting that there was no dress code for the evening). Leighton Meester, Prabal Gurung, Alexander Wang, Brian Wolk and Claude Morais, Rachel Zoe, Richard Chai, and Rachel Bilson were just a few fashionettes positively bursting from the space formerly known as the Boom Boom Room, where champagne flowed, Gaga-likes ran wild, and many attendees sported the foam Statue of Liberty headband that served as the event’s invitation." (Fashionweekdaily)



"Reports of a Saudi diplomat seeking asylum in the United States because his government learned that he was gay and had a relationship with a Jewish woman highlights the vast cultural gap and the uneasy partnership that exists between Washington and Riyadh. Since the onset of the Cold War, and, more recently, in the seemingly endless war on terrorism (or whatever euphemism is employed for the conflict with Islamic extremists), the United States has consistently given higher priority to its national security and economic interests than to the human rights and freedoms that it holds dear. This policy, which, with a few periodic exceptions, has been bipartisan for over a half century, invariably outrages those on the Left, who in any event have little sympathy for U.S. security or economic policies ... For Saudi Arabia is not at all unique in legislating against homosexuality. Ali Ahmad Asseri, first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, certainly must have been aware that his liaisons not only would terminate his career, but could cost him his life. Yet Saudi Arabia is not the only state that punishes homosexuality with death; six others do as well, including not only Muslim partners involved in the conflict against Islamic extremists, such as Yemen, Mauretania and the United Arab Emirates, but also Nigeria, with its almost evenly mixed Muslim-Christian population. Moreover, it was not until 1872 that South Carolina became the last state of the Union to abolish the death penalty for sodomy, and sodomy laws remained on the books of many states until 2002." (ForeignPolicy)

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