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Monday, December 13, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The most delicious aspect of the WikiLeaks cables is overhearing Mommy and Daddy gossip about the neighbors: Qaddafi's a nut, Prince Andrew a boor, Sarkozy a megalomaniac, and so on. Of course, we already knew all that -- and the fact that we did has given rise to the dismissive reception of the documents in some parts of the commentariat. In the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg writes that because the cables offer 'no grand revelations of epic lying, deceit, or criminality,' the chief lesson we draw from them is that 'the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face.' That may be broadly true, but the 'public face' of U.S. diplomacy does not include the following, from Sept. 6, 2009: 'President Saleh pledged unfettered access to Yemen's national territory for U.S. counterterrorism operations.' Or this, from a conversation in January between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then-Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus: 'Saleh rejected the General's proposal to have USG personnel armed with direct-feed intelligence present inside the area of CT operations, but agreed to have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory ready to engage AQAP should actionable intelligence become available.' (USG is U.S. government, CT refers to counterterrorism, while AQAP stands for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.) 'Unfettered access' -- that's quite a surrender of the sovereign authority that ex-colonies usually defend with furious passion. The documents show us that Saleh got a good deal for his open-door policy, as U.S. intelligence chief John Brennan, his interlocutor for the September 2009 conversation, arrived with a personal letter from President Barack Obama apparently pledging economic aid as well as an invitation to come to the White House -- 'the prize he has been chasing after for months,' according to the cable, signed by then-U.S. Ambassador Stephen Seche." (James Traub)



"Like the final scene from Fatal Attraction when Glenn Close refuses to die, Diandra Douglas is now looking to take her fight for ex-husband Michael Douglas' 'Wall Street' cash to California. Diandra is now shopping for lawyers in Santa Barbara to represent her in her fight for half the money the Academy Award winner is raking in from reprising the role of financial villain Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. She's planning the move, first reported by The Post, after losing her bid to have the case heard in New York. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Matthew Cooper last month ruled that a New York court was not the proper venue for the suit, and, 'California, not New York, is the proper forum.'" (PageSix)


"Friday noontime Susan and Coleman Burke held their annual Christmas luncheon at 1A East 77th Street. Guests were greeted at the entrance of the building by a man playing Christmas Carols on a tuba. The Burkes have about 70 or 75 for what is strictly a festive pre-holiday lunch. At every place setting is a printed sheet of lyrics to the songs everyone will sing between courses (and before), such as Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer, Jingle Bells, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, with Bob Hardwick on the grand accompanying the group. The Burkes have lots of friends, lots of old friends – ambassadors, bankers, lawyers, CEOs, doctors, etc. It’s kind of nice to see a bunch of adults singing these songs like they did when they were kids a million years ago when the world was quite a different place." (NYSocialDiary)


"Still, the Madoff brothers and Bernie’s brother Peter have faced ever-increasing pressure from criminal prosecutors, the bankruptcy trustee and angry investors. Ruth Madoff has been out of public sight and Bernard Madoff is serving a 150-year-sentence at the federal prison in Butner, N.C. The final tipping point for Mark may have been lawsuits filed recently by bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard, including one in Great Britain that claims the Madoff brothers shared responsibility for a series of phony transactions between New York and London that funneled millions to Madoff family accounts. That case is sealed so far, but in a press release, the trustee’s legal team suggested the case has turned up new evidence of criminal behavior by the Madoff brothers. Talking about the 'money flow' between Madoff offices, John W. Moscow of Baker & Hostetler said: 'The London company’s purpose included acting as a cover to conceal the true nature and source of the monies stolen from BLMIS’s (Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities) customers and returning it to BLMIS’s market-making and proprietary trading businesses, run by Madoff’s sons Mark and Andrew.'" (TheDailyBeast)


"WikiLeaks opens a whole new world of risk for your business. With infoanarchists scrambling to pry loose your secrets and put them on the web — partly just because they can — the danger is mind-boggling. Forget about worrying that some executive's flip e-mail message will fall into the wrong hands. Now there's a real risk that the entire corporate brain could be exposed, just as the diplomatic brain of the U.S. government has been opened for all to explore. This is more than a nightmare for the affected firm's public relations department. It is a risk to business operations and profitability. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs dumped terabytes of information on government investigators looking into the causes of the financial crisis. Bankers who wanted Congress out of their hair cheered the brilliance of Goldman's maneuver — with limited bandwidth and time, it would be impossible for investigators to find what they were looking for in all that data. But what if those terabytes found their way onto WikiLeaks? The casual visitor — like the time-crunched government investigator — would have a tough time turning up much of interest before running out of patience. But competitors would surely invest much more effort. And sophisticated hedge funds that employ armies of programmers to come up with anything that can give them an edge would have a field day searching for signs of strength or weakness or for any talk of upcoming deals. This isn't just a thought experiment: WikiLeaks has promised to perform a dump of similar significance on a large financial institution next year." (HBR)


"Sidney Harman, the 92-year-old stereo-equipment magnate who, during an apparent brainstorm, bought the ailing Newsweek from the Washington Post Company for a dollar (and assumed more than $50 million in liabilities), kindly offered me lunch at his home, a well-lighted, Bauhaus-style place, only a few minutes’ drive from downtown Washington, D.C. I was admiring the modern art in the airy living room when Mr. Harman burst in, like an actor making an entrance. Informally dressed in shirtsleeves, he looked about 20 years younger than he is. 'What do I call you?,' I asked as we shook hands, for among the many roles he plays is Dr. Harman. (He became a doctor of social psychology in his 50s.) Or Professor Harman. (He’s Professor of Polymathy at the University of Southern California.) Thank God for Google! Polymathy: the study and inter-relation of great and varied learning. Cf. Leonardo da Vinci. 'Call me Sidney,' he replied breezily. “Call me friend. To adapt James Baldwin, call me what you like. I know my name!' I put it to a test. Harman the polymath is also the author, Shakespeare lover, and philanthropist who funded the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., home to the distinguished Shakespeare Theatre Company. 'What’s your favorite sonnet?,' I wondered. He didn’t hesitate! His choice was Shakespeare’s meltingly beautiful Sonnet 22, beginning, 'My glass shall not persuade me I am old / So long as youth and thou are of one date.'" (VanityFair)

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