Monday, May 31, 2010

Off For Memorial Day

"The sea! The sea!"

-Anabasis, Xenophon

Beach weather. be back and well-rested tomorrow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

President Obama's Weakness



If anything, the BP oil disaster has proved once and for all that President Barack Obama has his weaknesses. And those weaknesses go beyond the occasional huff of nicotine. "Barack Obama, who doesn't know much about technology or business, put too much trust in technology and business," said Howard Fineman on Hardball, getting it just about right. Democrat operative James Carville, channeling Treme's Creighton Bernette, went off on the President. He was also largely right -- if obnoxious -- in exposing the President's worst weakness. The President, in fine, put too much trust in BP and in the Establishment, which he reflexively does whenever he is faced with a problem that is beyond is scope (which, we cannot fail to note, is quite large).

Barack Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law, the faculty of the University of Chicago, and the United States Senate is a true believer -- and beneficiary -- of the American Establishment. He has been greatly rewarded for his trust and participation in those institutions. Then again, no one gets to be President unless one is in thick with the Establishment. Herein lies Obama's great weakness, particularly in a populist period in which the public mood is thoroughly disenchanted with that overclass. It creates a weakness that his opponent in 2012 may exploit. Has the President forgotten who it was that got us into this fine mess in the first place? Kevin Phillips, the former author of the Southern Strategy turned Obama voter in 2008, did not when he wrote last year:

Back in early 2008, I published a book entitled Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism ... Politically, it holds Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and the Republicans principally responsible for what went wrong over 25 years of financial greed and complicit Washington regulatory negligence. In party terms, the GOP gets 70 percent of the blame and the Democrats 30 percent. When I finished the new additions in January, however, I was skeptical about whether Obama would be able to bring about the needed changes and reforms in U.S. finance. His team had become too entangled with with the financial sector and its massive political contributions. Besides, too many of his top appointees were recycled senior Democrats from the Clinton administration's own tech mania, deregulation binge and stock bubble and crash of 1997-2000.

...The Obama financial program -- the rest of his agenda, remember, will almost certainly depend on his retooling failed finance -- shows hints of a flawed combination. Its first weakness, in both policy and retention of prior government officials, involves an appearance of extending the mismanagement and pro-Wall Street bias of the 2008 Bush regime bailout. Its second Achilles heel, rather than representing the hopes and demands for change from the Democratic Party's grassroots and net roots, involves re-enlisting and banking on the big names of the Clinton administration's regulatory and bubble-managing failures of the late 1990s, especially former treasury secretary Larry Summers and many proteges of former treasury secretary Bob Rubin.

This where the Democrats' 30 percent responsibility for the abuses of the last quarter century has its crippling 2009 relevance. The GOP's 70-percent blameworthiness, while centered in the 2001-2008 misrule of George W. Bush, also goes back to the George H.W. Bush years and the later Reagan regime. The Democrats' culpability, though, concentrates in the late 1990s go-go years, rife with technology mania, market worship, enthusiastic deregulation, massive financial borrowing and pervasive ethical laxity. The stock market bubble, of course, burst in the Spring of 2000, when Clinton was still president and Summers was treasury secretary. Rubin, in turn, was busy helping guide Citigroup to its contemporary disrepute.

Perhaps Obama doesn't understand this.


Or perhaps President Barack Obama is powerless to change? And though the economy looks to be improving, we are not out of the soup yet, and deficits are massive. This automatic acceptance of the authority of the American Establishment is a weakness which showed itself in his choice of an economic team, Obama's first true test as President. Under the mandate of "Change," Obama could theoretically have placed new voices on his economic team. It would have been to the president's advantage to have done so. In not doing so, in fact, he actually entailed a political risk, one that the new President might alienate his young voters. Obama took that risk, going in for the same old albeit experienced hands. Edward Luce in the Financial Times probes deeper still:

According to Barack Obama’s liberal critics, the US president betrayed the progressive cause before inauguration day by selecting a bunch of Clinton-era advisers to run his economic team. Fearing the 2008 meltdown would derail his presidency before it had even begun, Mr Obama called on the most experienced and market-friendly Democratic economists available – starting with Larry Summers, Bill Clinton’s last Treasury secretary, now head of the National Economic Council.

Eighteen months later, they argue, the president is a prisoner of the authors of the late 1990s Wall Street deregulation that paved the way for the 2008 crisis. Worse, he is suffering from Stockholm syndrome – a captive who loves his jailers. Far from bringing change to Washington, Washington has changed Mr Obama. As narratives go, it is pretty good. The only flaw is that it overlooks his own, instinctively centrist, beliefs (a misjudgment the left shares with the Tea Party movement on the right).

It also paints Mr Obama as a dupe – again, with little foundation. From extensive interviews with all his economic advisers and other key figures within and outside the White House, it is a fair bet the president would have selected precisely the same people had he come to power in much kinder circumstances. In addition, he sought what one friend described as 'validation' through his appointments. 'Do not underestimate how vulnerable President-elect Obama was to the charge of inexperience.'


If only the President had more intellectually diverse voices in his administration. Those voices, sometimes, reached his ears. But they were not heeded. Even an old Establishmentarian like Paul Volcker brought contrarian ideas into the mix (perhaps because he studied his undergraduate years in at the comparatively bohemian Princeton?). Alas, voices of "Change" were not to be on the Obama economic team when facing the greatest period of financial instability since the Great Depression. From The Promise:

But Summers and (Rahm) Emanuel failed to keep the circle of advice wide enough and the rising chorus of concern about lack of access eventually reached Obama’s ears. One night in April, Summers had to endure a White House dinner with some of the people he had been blocking from the Oval Office. The president wanted to hear what other economists had to say. So Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Alan Blinder (a centrist from the Clinton administration), and Ken Rogoff (a more conservative economist and McCain backer) were invited to dine in the White House family dining room. Volcker’s plane was late, and when he finally arrived at the White House gate, the Secret Service had already taken his name out of the computer and he was delayed even longer. He barely made it for dessert.

The dinner had been so hastily arranged that Stiglitz didn’t even get invited until the morning of the event. Over a lettuce salad from the White House garden and roast beef, the group held a spirited two-hour discussion. Obama grew slightly impatient when the conversation grew too technical or backward looking. He wanted to know what the economists would do if they were in his shoes. The answers from Krugman and Stiglitz—which amounted to taking over Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC) for a brief time before breaking them up—hardly made Obama wish that he had hired these economists rather than Summers, who had considered the same idea but seemed more appropriately dispassionate in his analysis of it.


Tragic? In a New York Times article in 2008 titled "The Vanishing Establishment," Nicholas Confessore wrote, "Among Democrats, the establishment candidate would appear to be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, whose husband remains the Democratic Party’s most influential figure seven years after he left office." Not to sound conspiratorial, we now know that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted Obama to run for President, even hinting, at an earlier date, that he might offer Hillary Clinton his position. “You don’t have the obvious party elders these days,” Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and co-author, with Evan Thomas, of “The Wise Men,” a study of the post-World War II foreign policy establishment, told Confessore in the article.

Really?

With all due respect to Isaacson, that was 2008. Plus ca change. In 2010, we have Larry Summers, the insider's insider and Rahm and Hillary. Wouldn't it have been interesting if Obama had put Kevin Phillips ina senior advisory position. While, yes, he was an old Nixon hand, intellectually he has some quite contrarian and interesting ideas about America and empire and peak oil that go beyond simplistic left-right thinking. Leo Hindery and Michael Lind are also thinkers outside-of-the-box that would have been interesting additions to Obama's administration.

Another weakness of the President -- arguably also a strength -- is his lack of passion. His intellectual neatness. The Senator Hillary Clinton, late in the primary process, realized this and pivoted to her populist right against the Stevensonian Obama. It was too late, but it gave the Obama campaign a harrowing jolt that summer of 2008. From Jonathan Alter's The Promise:

Paul Volcker was among those impressed that nothing ever seemed to bother Obama, though he said that sometimes he wanted to shake the president and say, “Goddamn it! Get excited about this!”


Granted, "No Drama Obama" is probably what won him the Presidency first against the messy Clinton campaign and then against the hapless McCain. But as the economy worsens, with unemployment hovering at around 10 percent and staying there, whole industries in the rust belt disintegrating, will Obama's unflappability be a positive or a negative in 2012? It all depends, of course, on who the GOP picks. Obama's natural distaste for populism and populist rhetoric just might be a hindrance in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania and Ohio the next time around, when he will not be running against Bush's management of the economy and our foreign wars, but his own record.
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"U.N. peacekeepers in Chad will begin packing their gear this week, the first step in the U.N.'s phased withdrawal from a politically fragile African country that has grown weary of hosting more than 4,000 foreign peacekeepers on its territory. But the move has alarmed human rights officials and some U.N. officials, who fear that the U.N. drawdown will leave hundreds of thousands of Darfuri refugees exposed to violent attacks from a host of predators, including elements of the very Chadian security forces that are supposed to protect them." (ForeignPolicy)



"Who is Ken Starr? Until Thursday, when the New York money manager grabbed headlines as the alleged center of a $30 million Ponzi scheme, Starr operated in the shadows, despite an A-list client list that included Martin Scorsese, Uma Thurman and Ron Howard. If anything, the flashiest thing about the 66-year-old Starr was his wife, the ex-stripper Dawn Passage. Well, Passage ... and the $7.5 million Manhattan condominium with a 32-foot lap pool that Starr purportedly used his clients' money to buy. Following a long-running investigation by the Internal Revenue Services' criminal investigation division, Starr was arrested at his Upper East Side apartment while hiding in a closet. He is currently charged on three counts -- wire fraud, fraud by an investment advisor and money laundering -- and is being held without bail. In 2008, Starr did turn up on a prospecting trip at the Sun Valley Media Conference -- where mega-moguls like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Eisner mingled with the likes of Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper, Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page and then-William Morris Agency chief Jim Wiatt, reportedly one of the unnamed clients referenced in the criminal case." (TheWrap)



"(Ken) Starr’s current position—in a Manhattan jail cell—is worlds away from the phenomenal success he enjoyed at the beginning of his career. Starr basically built his business on the back of Listerine heiress Bunny Mellon (at 99 years of age, Mellon is having a very bad year: She indirectly helped fund John Edwards’ dalliance and coverup with Rielle Hunter, and is also believed to be one of the clients Starr allegedly bilked). No less an authority than Pete Peterson, the legendary investment banker, co-founder of The Blackstone Group and one of America’s richest men, used to swear by him, according to a source. Much of Starr’s credibility came from Peterson’s endorsement—he would frequently tell prospective clients to 'check me out with Peterson' to put them at ease and get them to open their wallets, this source says. Peterson did not return a call for comment. Starr has also been a regular attendee at Allen & Co.’s annual mogulfest in Sun Valley, though no one is quite sure how. Each year an elite group of around 250 moguls from the worlds of entertainment, technology, and finance—a list that typically includes such notables as Edgar Bronfman Jr., Michael Eisner, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, to name a few—descend on the sleepy Idaho town for a week of schmoozing and dealmaking. Starr has made the cut more than five years in a row, but sources who attend the conference say they aren’t aware of precisely who at Allen & Co. invites him. 'I’m not sure why he’s there,' says one Sun Valley regular who requested anonymity for fear of being banned from the ultra-secretive conference."(Peter Lauria/TheDailyBeast)



"For Jessica Coen, executive editor of Jezebel, the Gawker Media title for women concerning 'celebrity, sex and fashion,' the writing life doesn't preclude living conditions that are comfortable or even chic. For the past year, the 30-year-old Ms. Coen has lived in a rental on the top floor of a tenement-style building near Tompkins Square Park that's neat, color-spangled and, dare we say, attractive. One a recent Friday, we huffed our way up the four flights to see the place for ourselves." (Observer)



(image via Hamish Robertson/VF)

"For a first date, things were going fairly well. We were at Megu, a pricey Japanese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, eating perfectly cooked Kobe beef. My companion, a wealthy finance type, was telling me all about himself and posing questions that suggested he was interested in me. Then, matter-of-factly, he said, 'Whether I met you on the site or at the Standard, you’d cost me at least 10 grand a month.' The site he was referring to was Seeking Arrangement, an online network that pairs people possessing resources ('sugar daddies' and 'sugar mommies') with those, usually much younger, seeking them ('sugar babies'). I had become a member a few weeks earlier, partly as a social experiment and partly out of genuine desperation. I was frustrated with my job, which offered little upward mobility, and was thinking about quitting it to pursue my goal of becoming a full-time freelance writer. Holding me back were my lack of savings and my fear of sacrificing a regular paycheck. If I had a hefty allowance from a generous benefactor, though, I figured that I could take the leap comfortably. The idea of wealthy older people supporting struggling younger ones is nothing revolutionary, after all—look what Peggy Guggenheim did for Jackson Pollock or the Tuohys did for N.F.L. star Michael Oher. So what if I had to tap into my inner geisha to secure a patron?" (VanityFair)



(image via NYSD)

"Last night at Cipriani 42nd Street Latin Society dazzled New York with the El Museo 2010 Gala in which Oscar de la Renta presented a special Lifetime Achievement Award to Placido Domingo. A special Leadership Award also went to Tony Bechara who has been the museum’s long-serving board chairman, shepherding the organization from almost obscurity in the community, to the prominence it has today. The evening was El Museo’s biggest gala, raising more than $1 million for the museum and attended by more than 600 from all over the world. Barbara Walters was supposed to be mistress of ceremonies but had withdrawn for medical reasons (well publicized by now, as it is). Mr. de la Renta who stepped in for her, read a very touching message that she had written, beginning with: 'Dear Placido, Only an injured heart would keep me from being with you tonight ...'" (NYSocialDiary)



"If running a record label were so damn good, would Jimmy Iovine be selling Beats headphones and trying to save sound with HP? Are these celebs truly that out of touch? America’s not that unsophisticated. Hell, just look at the sales chart. Stone Temple Pilots are predicted to move 60,000 copies of their new album next week, if they’re lucky, they may hit 70,000! Isn’t that like raving you’re the king of the minor leagues? That you’re the best BMX rider in a world focused on the NFL and Major League Baseball? You just can’t make it as a label anymore. And maybe if you’ve got a ton of money, you can shove your protege in front of the cameras. But who’s going to buy? Sure, there’s a pinnacle, a GaGaville where people click through for digital singles. But beneath that, it’s a vast wasteland. And GaGa is driving at 110 miles an hour constantly, how long can it last, what’s she gonna do next?" (Lefsetz Letter)



"Mark Leibovich signs a deal with Simon & Schuster for a book about how modern Washington has perfected the culture of self-love and celebrity at a time when the rest of the country is feeling increasingly alienated from the place. Editor is Priscilla Painton, the TIME alumnus who edited Karl Rove’s memoir. No title yet. Out sometime in 2012." (Politico)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Media-Whore d'Oeuvres



"Whether (Treasury Secretary Tim) Geithner can close a deal on the Chinese currency, which for nearly two years has been pegged at a rate of 6.83 yuan to the dollar, remains to be seen. If he fails, it won't be for lack of inside knowledge about the Chinese. Although Geithner spent his childhood in Zimbabwe, India, and Thailand, China has special appeal for him. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in East Asian studies. While an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, he spent two 10-week stints studying Mandarin at Peking University and Beijing Normal University, where he was given a Chinese name, Gao Yiran, an echo of his American name that also carries the meaning elegant or graceful. As he did when he made his first official visit to China in 2009, Geithner, 48, used this trip to showcase a more relaxed side of himself that he seldom, if ever, displays at home—that of a Chinese-proverb-quoting, basketball-playing former exchange student. He shed his dress shoes for a pair of Nike sneakers to play basketball with students at Renmin University High School in Beijing, and he was equally comfortable in some of his official dealings with Chinese leaders. In his opening remarks, Geithner made the case that Europe's woes would have only a small effect on a global recovery led by the U.S., China, and emerging-market nations such as Brazil and India. Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, Geithner's counterpart and a longtime friend of the Treasury Secretary's father, countered that the debt crisis has triggered a chain reaction that put the global recovery at grave risk. The back-and-forth was a thinly veiled debate over whether it's safe for China to roll back crisis-fighting economic stimulus measures that include the yuan peg, along with a little friendly jostling." (BusinessWeek)



"If Papa Hemingway was around he’d describe today’s Riviera as a place that has been bad longer than it was good. Forty years of building ugly houses along her coast has made the south of France into a Las Vegas sur-mer. Hence where better for Naomi Campbell’s fortieth birthday party at the Hotel du Cap, once frequented by Scott Fitzgerald, the Murphys, Errol Flynn, and a young Taki, now bursting at the seams with Hollywood types, Russian oligarchs, and their hookers. After giving DNA samples, finger prints, and our passports, we sauntered into the hotel grounds where Naomi’s billionaire boyfriend, Vlad—the impaler—Doronin, had reputedly spent five million Euros in her honor. An enormous tent below the tennis courts where I had spent my youth hitting endless backhands had been erected, and after taking a picture of the 400 guests we all sauntered in for an incredible evening of entertainment with Grace Jones and the Black Eyed Peas. Stone panther statues covered with Swarovski crystals (black panther, get it?) were everywhere, the top table which rotated and stood two feet higher than the rest of us slobs—being in the middle with Jonathan Livingstone seagulls circulating above it. Debonnaire Bismarck had all of Pug’s invited so I shall be kind. I saw 'old friends' like Mark Rich, Philip Green, Richard Caring, and other such old Etonians, but despite them I had a very good time getting back on Bushido at 6.30 a.m. (The mother of my children refused to attend once she heard what the party was costing.) Ladies of tempestuous—or was it professional libido—abounded, yet what the blast lacked in dignity, it made up with magnificent narcissism." (Takimag)



"The pope is capable of showing equal clarity when dealing with scandalous violations of the rules that govern priestly conduct. For years, accusations of abusing teenage boys swirled around Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ and a special favorite of John Paul II. His privileged position, and wads of cash, kept him safe. In 2004, however, the then Cardinal Ratzinger reopened an investigation of Maciel and ordered a Vatican official to interview Legionaries and alleged victims of abuse worldwide. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 'asked' Maciel 'to retire to a private life of penance and prayer, giving up any form of public ministry.' (In late March, the Legionaries of Christ acknowledged in an unusual public statement that Father Maciel 'had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts.') Under pressure in recent weeks, the Pope has confessed in general that the church made grave errors, and should 'do penance' to address its 'sins.' He has also clarified the procedures for reporting accused sexual abusers to the police authorities. On April 17, he travelled to Malta to meet with alleged victims of abuse, and was reportedly tearful in this private encounter, experiencing 'shame and sorrow' over what 'the victims and their families suffered,' according to a Vatican statement. Those who want more—who want emotional public scenes of reconciliation with former victims, and a clear, detailed accounting—are not likely to find satisfaction. The Pope seems to have seen priestly abuse of children, for a long time, as an American problem, rather than the general one it clearly is." (NYRB)



"The departure of Patrick McCarthy from W magazine, and the arrival of Stefano Tonchi as editor-in-chief, also marks the end of Countess Louise J. Esterhazy, the nom de plume of John Fairchild, 83, whose father created Women's Wear Daily and a stable of other trade journals. Reclusive Fairchild, who stepped down as publisher when he turned 70, continued writing his scathing observations on the death of high society on the last page of W each month. The magazine has a compendium of Louise's wit and widsom in the June issue, including, 'To me, [Nicole Kidman] looks like an overdressed kangaroo' (2004). And, 'I say, let's have happy clothes. You could reply that's frivolous in this troubled world, but do you really think dressing like an existential nun with suicidal thoughts is going to solve Bosnia?' (1996). And, 'If I made clothes, I'd be embarrassed if the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Sharon Stone or Prince wore them' (1995)." (PageSix)



(image via nysd)

"Michael’s big Wednesday lunch was full up. Susan Silver with MediaBistro’s Diane Clehane; T&C’s Pamela Fiori; Felicia Taylor, Deborah Norville, Becca Thrash; Bob Benton with Joan Jakobson; HarperCollins’ Jonathan Burnham with Ed Victor; Kate White of Cosmo with Dave Zinczenko of Men’s Health; Gerry Byrne, Lisa Belzberg, TV’s Judy Licht lunching with TV’s Penny Crone and Lynn White; Tommy Tune with Francine LeFrak; Frederique van Derwaal, Tamara Mellon, Joe Armstrong. And I was with Dr. David Shafer, a plastic surgeon who looks like a kid but already has an illustrious career behind him ... I mentioned that last fact to the doctor. He said that people would come in with pictures of Jennifer Aniston’s nose and want the same one. He kindly explains that it’s only good on her face and doesn’t necessarily work for another. In other words he’ll talk you out of it – make sense – if you want to know." (NYSocialDiary)



"As Disney scrambles to close a deal with one of two remaining bidders for its arthouse studio Miramax, more details emerged about the collapse of the nearly-done deal earlier this week between the studio and billionaire Ron Burkle and his partners Harvey and Bob Weinstein. WaxWord has learned that after weeks of due diligence with dozens of lawyers, Burkle cut his $625 million offer on Thursday to $565 million, claiming that Disney’s documentation of Miramax revenues did not support the agreed-upon price. According to one individual with knowledge of the negotiation, Burkle’s lawyers called Disney executives on Thursday to deliver the harsh news. Update: But another individual involved in the negotiation denied that Burkle cut the price, and said that the deal collapsed because of what they called an 'inability to close.' Disney had been seeking $700 million. And six weeks ago, as negotiations with three bidders climbed to a fever pitch, the bidding inched up from $600 to $625 million -- and in the case of bidder David Bergstein, it went as high as $650 million." (Sharon Waxman/TheWrap)



"The biggest interview on television last week, with the Senate candidate Rand Paul, happened at 9 p.m. But regrettably for CNN’s Larry King, who used to rule that time slot by wooing newsmakers, the interview was booked by his higher-rated competitor, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Although still the linchpin of CNN’s lineup, he has come to embody an enormous problem facing the cable news channel. How can he and CNN compete in prime time when viewers seem to crave partisan political programs and when prominent guests — the lifeblood of Mr. King’s show — would rather burnish their images on other channels? So far, CNN cannot compete." (NYTimes)




"Tommy Mottola left a mess. And Clive Davis did too. They no longer believed in the soul of classic rock, they no longer wanted to give the artists that much control, they wanted to bring in the usual suspects, create safe salable music. And then we had the faux divas. The Mariah Careys. The melisma multitude. To the point where young people today think that's talent. To trill up and down the scale and blow the house down. But it's not. Talent can be about a great voice, but that's at best part of the package. Great art comes from deep inside, from personal experience, from the soul. It's not made by hacks on holiday, but people who've slaved for 10,000 hours, because they truly cannot do anything else. Alanis (Morissette) was the only artist who hit every note, who sang with power, who delivered her classic song. Yes, Carrie Underwood sang pretty well, but if you think she's an artist, I want to buy you a dictionary. Yes, the National is better than anything on 'American Idol'. The Hold Steady too. They're speaking their truth. But once upon a time, the best and the brightest were vying to tell their truth in song, to the point where the acme was stratospheric, the quality of material was staggering, we couldn't help but bow at the altar, we needed to own the music and go to the show." (Lefsetz Letter)



"Her single greatest gift is her ability, in the heat of the moment, to find the funny line. My recent favorite example also highlights the rarefied world in which Rivers sometimes travels. Not long ago she was invited to dinner at Lily Safra’s home at 820 Fifth Avenue. Safra owns the most expensive residence in the world, the $500 million Villa Leopolda in the south of France. Rivers was seated next to Carroll Petrie, a rich society lady who is deaf as a post, and the two of them were marveling over, oh, I don’t know, the dozens of FabergĂ© clocks in Safra’s house. Petrie said, too loud, 'Doesn’t it just make you feel poor?' To which Rivers replied, 'Carroll, name me one other person in this room who is playing Cleveland this weekend.' One of the most consistently subversive things about Rivers is her level of commitment to a spur-of-the-moment prank. I have seen her pull off dozens of them over the years. Once, coming out of Pat Wexler’s office, where she goes for her Botox and filler, she crawled on her hands and knees into a waiting room full of socialites and models and, screwing up her face to resemble a stroke victim, moaned out of one side of her mouth, 'Look what she did to me!'" (NYMag)



"The violence unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 persists, but Americans, from Barack Obama on down, are eager to declare the Iraq War at an end. Apart from a few diehard neoconservatives still keen to use Mesopotamia as a springboard for the pursuit of imperial fantasies, Americans can’t wait to shake the dust of Iraq from their feet and be done with the place. Yet even as we leave, we should not forget. Common decency demands that we honor the service and sacrifice of those who bore the burden of waging that war. No doubt some committee will soon start lobbying for the construction of an Iraq War Memorial to be erected on the Mall in Washington. That effort deserves to succeed. My own view is that every American war, large or small, ought to be commemorated smack dab in the middle of the nation’s capital. Crowding every inch of the Mall with granite and marble war memorials—the bigger the better—just might help deflate the continuing American illusion that we are a peaceful people desirous of nothing except to be left alone. It might help us see ourselves as we really are. Yet the commemoration of the Iraq War ought to have a second component: American soldiers and American citizens are owed an accounting of exactly what this war was about. Who devised it? What was its actual purpose? What did it achieve and at what cost? Why did so much go so wrong for so long? Who should be held accountable? As the U.S. military misadventure in Iraq approaches its conclusion, loose ends abound." (WorldAffairsJournal)



"For decades, the United States has been promoting democracy as the best form of government, and most Americans cannot comprehend why other societies would fail to embrace liberal-democratic political institutions. Yet democracy imposes some difficult demands. Among others, it asks its leaders to risk defeat in elections or (perhaps even more boldly) to retire from office at the end of a limited term. As Seymour Martin Lipset observed, 'democratic norms require a willingness to accept political defeat: to leave office upon losing an election, to follow rules even when they work against one’s own interest.' This is not an easy thing to do in the best of circumstances—that is, when two centuries or so of practice have made it routine. In new democracies, it is even harder. In his memoirs, Vicente Fox, the first president of Mexico to be elected in a genuinely competitive contest, declared: The most important thing the president of a new democracy does is to leave. As Shakespeare writes of the Thane of Cawdor, 'nothing in his life so became him like the leaving of it.' So it is with a new democracy—the true test occurs not with the election of the peaceful revolutionary but when that leader has delivered enough results that he or she is able to pass the torch to another freely elected leader." (JournalofDemocracy)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"Twenty months of economic and political turmoil have American voters ready to reject Washington and anyone connected with it. And we have company: British voters couldn't wait to sweep Gordon Brown from 10 Downing Street. A recent poll in Le Parisien found that nearly 60% of respondents expressed 'no confidence' in French President Nikolas Sarkozy. A poll in the magazine Stern gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel 32% support, and just 17% said the government could solve Germany's problems. Watch news reports from Greece, and you won't need the volume on to know what citizens think of their leaders. Nor is this simply a 'Western' trend. Thousands of protesters in Thailand occupied entire neighborhoods of Bangkok for weeks to demand early elections. Crowds dispersed only after conflicts with soldiers killed more than 40 people. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's poll numbers make Gordon Brown look like Nelson Mandela. And then there's China. What do all these countries have in common? They're free-market democracies in various stages of economic trouble." (USAToday)



"I’ve been analyzing television programming for more than 20 years, and have seen many excellent pilots become weak series, and a few lackluster pilots become hits. We need to keep in mind that a pilot is a sales device to market the show to the networks and advertisers. They throw in everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes that too). There’s an old joke in the television industry about the Devil trying to persuade someone to go to Hell. He shows him a video that makes it look like heaven – beaches, beautiful women, perfect weather, golf courses everywhere, wonderful gourmet restaurants.... It looks so good, the guy jumps at the chance to go there. But once there, it’s HELL - worse than in his worst nightmares. When he asks the Devil what happened to all the great stuff from the video, he’s told, 'that was the pilot, this is the series.'" (BaselineIntelligence)



"When I first read the news about the nuclear deal that Brazil and Turkey reached last week with Iran, I flinched. My reflex reaction was: Third-World troublemakers rally to the side of evil-doer in the face of Western pressure. That was, of course, the wrong reflex. This was not China giving succor to Zimbabwe, or Venezuela recognizing Abkhazia. Brazil and Turkey are among the most solidly founded democracies and market economies in the developing world. Both are important U.S. allies, and mature actors in international fora. Their joint bid to break the impasse on Iran represents something more encouraging, more worrisome, and much more significant than any of Hugo Chávez's antics. The Obama administration appears to have had the same reaction I did: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly called her Turkish counterpart to warn him off the effort, and publicly predicted it would fail. The implicit message sounded like: Don't mess in our sandbox." (ForeignPolicy)



"The collapse of the Miramax sale at Disney has become the supine elephant in the middle of Hollywood’s living room: The companies up on the bloc are not selling. Before falling apart finally this week, the bidding over Miramax inched up over a few weeks this spring. But the same cannot be said for MGM or Overture, two other movie companies that have been available for sale for months, with no discernible movement. 'A whole bunch of these deals are floating around, and they’re not being done,' said Harold Vogel, a veteran entertainment industry analyst. 'There is a sense of frustration.' MGM has now been in a state of suspended animation for months. Debt holders have voted continual extensions on loan repayments as they find themselves unable to bring themselves to sell the house where James Bond lives to Time-Warner for a mere $1.5 billion." (TheWrap)



"There were all kinds of things going on last night, that beautiful night. At La Grenouille in the private dining room upstairs, Francie Whittenberg gave a 'belated' birthday dinner for her pal Amy Fine Collins, topped off with an elegant turn of Cole Rumbough singing Cole Porter with Peter Duchin on the piano. You can almost hear the rattle of the taxis and the rumble of the subway trains, just thinking about take-me-back, and Cole Porter singing 'I Happen To Like New York ...' Mika Brzezinski, if you didn’t know – and even I the non-tv watcher knows – is a cohost on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. I’m still sleeping at that hour so I asked her what they talked about. Politics, the economy, etc. With Joe Scarborough. He was maybe going to show (never saw him). I told her, when I asked, that I never watched TV, that I’d got out of the habit for so long (because of work) that I never turn it on. She said she didn’t either. She just never turns her TV on. Probably because she’s either not home or reading or sleeping and looking after her family, and there’s no time left. Her book, All Things At Once, is about herself, a memoir in progress. I could tell from our brief meeting that she is very honest and forthright but right thinking too. I could tell she’s a sensible mother. She’s very easy to talk to and to like." (NYSocialDiary)



"The Duchess of Debt is not having a good week. Rupert Murdoch's U.K. gossip rag News of the World secretly taped Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, making some shady deals. In the tape, a reporter posing as a wealthy businessman appears to hand the Duchess $40,000 as a down payment on the more than $700,000 the Duchess charged for access to her former husband, Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Presumably, having the Duke's ear would be advantageous, since Prince Andrew is the U.K.'s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, meaning he has the dual role of encouraging foreign investment in Britain and helping British business flourish oversees. The News is quick to point out that Sarah Ferguson is 'falsely' claiming she can provide access to Prince Andrew. The tabloid tends to aggressively go after the royal family. Last year the paper caught Kate Middleton's uncle on camera providing an undercover reporter with drugs. In 2005 a reporter posed as a sheikh, tricking Princess Michael of Kent into making some less than flattering remarks about her family. (Sound like unethical journalism? Media writer Howard Kurtz thinks so, too.) The paper's techniques are not only criticized but also occasionally prosecuted. Last year the paper shelled out more than $1.5 million in out-of-court settlements to victims of phone hacking by private investigators apparently hired by Murdoch journalists." (VanityFair)



"In a few weeks, the cable networks will start rolling out their new summer scripted series, which will dominate the ratings charts. But until then the late spring belongs to sports. Sporting events took up two thirds of the top 15 spots among adults 18-49 on cable last week, the week ended May 23, according to Nielsen. That included five NBA playoff games on TNT and ESPN, which took up all top five spots, and two 'Inside the NBA Playoffs' postgame shows on TNT. But basketball isn't the only top sport right now. As always, wrestling on USA is a top-10 fixture, and among total viewers, Speed's NASCAR Sprint Cup race finished No. 11 for the week. Yet sports' cable domination is about to come to a close." (Medialifemagazine)



"Courtney Love was the queen of all stage mothers when daughter Frances Bean attended Stagedoor Manor theater camp in 2006. Mickey Rapkin's book 'Theater Geek' (due June 1 from Free Press) tracks three teen thespians during a summer at the Catskills camp. Love complained about Bean's role in the musical, 'Leader of the Pack.' 'She was in like, some tertiary chorus line. It really p - - - ed me off,' Love told Rapkin. Bean was also teased so much that Love had Drew Barrymore, Bean's godmother, call her at camp. 'I asked her to have them say over the PA system, Francis, you have a phone call from Drew Barrymore, so the kids would stop making fun of her,' Love related. She also once picked a fight with a hot dog vendor who refused to change a $100 bill. Rapkin reports Love threw her hands up in frustration and declared, 'Who do I gotta [bleep] around here to get a hot dog?'" (PageSix)



"All eyes are on Hong Kong this week as Bonhams and Christie’s offer some £140 million of Chinese art and antiques, supplemented with expensive jewels, watches and wine, in a four-day jamboree that starts on Friday. Adding spice to the melting pot is ArtHK, a contemporary art fair that has attracted leading dealers from east and west, which takes place at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, under the same roof as Christie’s. For the auctions, the prognosis is sound. Hong Kong is the third-largest auction centre for Sotheby’s and Christie’s after London and New York. In April, Sotheby’s held its most successful sales ever in Hong Kong, which raised HK$2 billion (£178 million). Christie’s holds the record HK$2.4 billion set in May 2008, and is hoping for a recovery after last year’s slump to HK$1.1 billion. With its central geographical location, easy trading conditions and lack of import taxes and VAT, Hong Kong is a natural hub for the whole Asian market, and is viewed as a gateway to China. Since China entered the World Trade Organisation in 2000, its art market has grown at a staggering rate. Between 2004 and 2009, it rose by 200 per cent to some £2.1 billion per annum, overtaking even France." (Telegraph)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Henry Rollins On Gore Vidal



Henry Rollins, former frontman for the legendary California hardcore punk band Black Flag ("So you're gonna be institutionalized/ You'll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes"), interviewed Gore Vidal, perhaps the greatest essayist north of Michel de Montaigne, in an interesting experiment on IFC in the thick of the 2008 election. They are as opposite in every respect, and yet Vidal made a strong impression on the contrarian spoken-word artist. Rollins revisits that interview with The Sacramento Press:

An interview with Henry Rollins may seem like an intimating one -- not only because the punk rocker, actor and spoken word artist’s hulking frame, myriad of tattoos, steely brush cut and bristling stare leave him looking like a discharged drill sergeant ...

That affinity for worn and weathered work ethics helped him relate to the artists he interviewed on "The Henry Rollins Show." He tried to forgo the usual choreographed banter of most talk shows in favor of conversations about the nature of his guests’ art forms, and the tenacity it took to sustain their crafts. And none of those exchanges left a deeper impression than the one he shared with Gore Vidal.
“That was very intimidating. I worked on prep for that for weeks,” Rollins said of questioning the renowned author of "The City and The Pillar," which is now widely recognized as the landmark novel of the gay experience. “He blew my mind, like when (Vidal) was talking about John McCain being a prisoner of war, saying ‘He got caught, so how smart can he be?’”

Rollins said trying to reach that fearless level of frankness is another one of his major motivators.

“I was really taken aback when Gore said that (about McCain),” Rollins added about the interview, which was conducted before the historic 2008 election campaign. “But that’s something someone of that caliber can say because he’s spent 80 years earning where he is, a place where he can say those kinds of things that need to be said.”


Not unlike a Howard Stern with a little more intellectual heft. It is interesting but not particularly surprising that Gore Vidal -- a progressive, first Amendment patriot -- would make such a strong impression on someone from the young, angry and working class demographic. Surprisingly, Vidal never went far in electoral politics in America. Vidal lost a race for Congress in 1960 as a Democrat-Liberal in New York’s highly prized Republican 29th District(but got more votes than ticket-mate JFK did in the district). Vidal also came in second in the U.S. Senate Democrat primary in California in 1982 after Jerry Brown, ending his career in democratic politics. It is a great weakness that Democrats -- Stephensonians, in particular -- come off as overly egg-headed, thus automatically turning off the populist, rural working class voter. Democrats could learn much about truly connecting with those Americans from a tough, intelligent WW2 veteran like Gore Vidal.
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"History is a great teacher, but sometimes it packs a nasty sense of irony. A case in point: South African Prime Minister John Vorster's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in April 1976, where he laid a wreath to the victims of the German Reich he once extolled. It's bad enough that a former Nazi sympathizer was treated like an honored guest by the Jewish state. Even worse was the purpose behind Vorster's trip to Israel: to cement the extensive military relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime, a partnership that violated international law and illicitly provided the white-minority government with the weaponry and technology to help sustain its grip on power and its oppression of the black majority over two decades. Like many illicit love affairs, the back-door relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime was secret, duplicitous, thrilling for the parties involved -- and ultimately damaging to both. Each insisted at the time that theirs was just a minor flirtation, with few regrets or expressions of remorse. Inevitably it ended badly, tainting everyone it touched, including leaders of American Jewish organizations who shredded their credibility by endorsing and parroting the blatant falsehoods they were fed by Israeli officials. And it still hovers like a toxic cloud over Israel's international reputation, providing ammunition to those who use the comparison between Israel's 43-year military rule over Palestinians and the now-defunct system of white domination known as apartheid to seek to delegitimize the Jewish state." (ForeignPolicy)



"Once an indie girl wonder, Sex and the City is now a purveyor of unbridled camp, this shameless franchise is hitting theaters this Friday ...Kim Cattrall continues to make women over 50 (and 40, and even 30) shake their heads in disbelief, and the golden beaded Naeem Khan gown, endowed with a very deep V-neck, was just as otherworldly. And what would a NYC premiere be without random red carpet cameos? Bo Derek perplexingly appeared in a white jersey pant, metallic sandals, and a wildly patterned long jacket. But Liza Minnelli's transparent gris jumpsuit, made of some sort of vinyl-y material, showed each seam of her strapless bra (we didn't dare look below the waist)." (Fashionweekdaily)



"Since the oil rig exploded, the White House has tried to project a posture that is unflappable and in command. But to those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama's clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there. 'Plug the damn hole,' Obama told them. The hole continues to spew, however, in quantities now thought to be three to five times the 5,000 barrels a day originally estimated. That the blowout came only weeks after Obama announced a plan to expand offshore drilling is an accident of timing that is inconvenient politically, but also a point on which the president has expressed dismay internally. In announcing and defending his drilling decision, he repeatedly stressed that the technology the oil industry uses is safe. But from the beginning of the crisis, the administration has run into a different reality when it comes to the risks of deep-water drilling." (Karen Tumulty/WasPo via Politico)



"Three memoirs have been published this year alone about contending with being inside the particle collider of (Norman) Mailer’s company and charisma, testaments ranging from the doting and domestic Mornings with Mailer, by Dwayne Raymond, Mailer’s cook and assistant at the house in Provincetown, to the glittery but trauma-racked A Ticket to the Circus, by Norris Church, Mailer's statuesque, pale-moon widow, to the score-settling Loving Mailer, by Carole Mallory, one of Mailer’s countless extra-curricular hotsies. Although diametrically opposite in tone and texture, the last two books bear the puncture marks of Mailer’s satyr horns." (James Wolcott/Vanity Fair)



"TrueSlant, the journalism site founded by Lewis Dvorkin, has been acquired by Forbes. We first reported on the sale talks last week. The company raised $3 million in August 2008 from Forbes and Fuse Capital; Dvorkin has also been consulting with Forbes for since April, so likely this is a very family-friendly acquisition, meaning low single digit millions at best, if that. Lot more details on the background of the site in our previous sale talks post. With this sale, Dvorkin will now lead all editorial areas at Forbes as Chief Product Officer effective June 1. He was, in a previous life, exec editor of the Forbes magazine from Dec 1996 to Apr 2000." (Rafat Ali/PaidContent)



"Last fall, the midtown media eatery Michael's launched a Twitter feed. Since then, every weekday the restaurant has sent out tweets-ranging from around a dozen to several dozen-listing the swells who are eating there. You go to Michael's to be seen. So with the media world about to rest a wee bit easier as we roll toward Memorial Day and Summer Fridays, we decided to go through the Twitter feed-which includes more than 3,000 tweets-to come up with a leader board for 2010 ...Michael McCarty, the restaurant's owner, said the tweeting duties go to the hostess or maitre d'. He also said there have been 'very rare' instances where people specifically requested not to be on the Twitter feed. 'You don't come to Michael's to hide,' he said." (Observer)



(image via NYSD)

"Yesterday afternoon a reporter from the New York Observer named John Koblin called to tell me they were doing a story on Michael’s and its clientele including a Twitter 'survey' on who went there most often, and how many times. I was surprised when I asked who went there the most, he replied: 'You.' Thirty-one times so far this year, said Mr. Koblin. Geez. He wanted to know why. One, a habit – I’ve been lunching there since 1997 when I was working for Judy Price at Avenue. She went there all the time. The appeal was obvious: it’s a restaurant with a big media and publishing clientele. The second most visits is Alice Mayhew, the editor at Simon & Schuster. Alice is Old School with a sharp eye for the contemporary market. When you see someone lunching with Alice, if you don’t recognize them you can assume they are very successful writers planning or pitching or discussing a new book. If you’re like me, you’re impressed. I retain the same romantic mental image of a writer that I did when I first read O’Hara and Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and later on with Trollope and Balzac. Alice Mayhew makes me think of all that." (NYSocialDiary)



"(T)he Polish government recently announced that the United States would deploy a battery of Patriot missiles to Poland. The missiles arrived this week. When the United States canceled its land-based ballistic missile defense system under intense Russian pressure, the Obama administration appeared surprised at Poland’s intense displeasure with the decision. Washington responded by promising the Patriots instead, the technology the Poles had wanted all along. While the Patriot does not enhance America’s ability to protect itself against long-range ballistic missiles from, for example, Iran, it does give Poland some defense against shorter-ranged ballistic missiles and substantial defense against conventional air attack. Russia is the only country capable of such attacks on Poland with even the most distant potential interest in doing so, and at this point, this is truly an abstract threat. In removing a system that was really not a threat to Russian interests — U.S. ballistic missile defense at most can handle only a score of missiles, meaning it would have a negligible impact on the Russian nuclear deterrent — the United States ironically has installed a system that could affect Russia. Under the current circumstances, this is not really significant. While much is being made of having a few U.S. boots on the ground east of Germany within 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) of the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, a few hundred technicians and guards are simply not an offensive threat. Still, the Russians — with a long history of seeing improbable threats turning into very real ones — tend to take hypothetical limits on their power seriously. They also tend to take gestures seriously, knowing that gestures often germinate into strategic intent. The Russians obviously oppose this deployment, as the Patriots would allow Poland in league with NATO — and perhaps even by itself — to achieve local air superiority." (STRATFOR)



"As usual, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and Two and a Half Men took the top three spots in the syndication ratings. After reclaiming daytime supremacy for the week ending May 7 Oprah was back to being pushed aside by Judge Judy for the 8th time in 9 weeks when it came to the syndicated household ratings (4.7 vs. 4.5) for the week ending May 14th. Oprah was down 15% versus the same week one year ago, while Judge Judy was up 18%. Meanwhile though Maury was only 29th in household rating, he topped the talk shows with young women 18-34, beating Oprah. Maury has been #1 in that demo in 7 of the last 9 weeks (tied w/Oprah the weeks of 3/8/10 and 4/26/10)." (TVBytheNumbers)



"Shortly after the volcano in Iceland polluted the skies over Europe, and while the British Petroleum oil spill contaminated the Gulf of Mexico, Rand Paul dumped the intellectual equivalent of toxic pollution into the world of public discourse by claiming that it was wrong for the Civil Right Act of 1964 to outlaw segregation in private facilities. Had this come from former KKK leader David Duke it would not have been news, but it made headlines, coming as it did from the winner of the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, the son of libertarian cult hero Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and a tribune of the Tea Party movement. According to the younger Paul, 'the hard part about believing in freedom' is that while it was all right for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to outlaw racial discrimination by public entities, it was tyrannical for the federal government to require businesses like restaurants, hotels and stores to serve non-white customers. As a native of Texas, where white-only businesses were legal until the Civil Rights Act passed, where interracial marriage was illegal until the Supreme Court issued its holding in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and where private racial discrimination in housing was legal until President Johnson pushed through one of his personal obsessions, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, I can suggest a book that Rand Paul and like-minded libertarians really ought to read: John Howard Griffin's 'Black Like Me.'" (Michael Lind/Salon)



"Riots, debts and the creeping fear of a looming Lost Decade – no wonder there is pessimism in Europe. But what we are seeing is not just 'financial crisis, part two'; it is 'sustainable growth challenge, part one'. The difference has implications for policy. Get the diagnosis wrong and the wrong treatment will follow. The €750bn ($944bn, £652bn) package to defend the euro buys time. But it is not enough. So far, the world has focused on fiscal contraction and debt, but these are only half the story. The world and Europe also need a return to robust growth. Without it the fiscal adjustments will be more painful and the politics more unmanageable. In the 1980s, when Latin America was overwhelmed by huge debts, the work-out involved rollovers of bank loans, fiscal tightening, funding from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and policies to invigorate sustainable growth. Eventually, some debt was restructured. Some developed economies now face a similar problem: living beyond their means. But we face the added complication that weaknesses in parts of Europe can infect the European Union’s monetary, credit and even fiscal systems, with dangerous consequences. To avoid a decade-long work-out – with political and economic risks – the world needs stronger growth in developing and developed countries. We are seeing a shift towards a new multi-polar global economy, with better prospects in developing countries than in developed ones." (FT)



"As it does every year, the Cannes Film Festival developed gradual momentum over the course of the last two weeks. The main competition, though really only one part of the annual story, nabbed the spotlight with a culturally diverse selection deemed spotty before it even started. Once the program began, the question on the minds of many festival-goers increasingly became WWTBD: What Would Tim Burton Do? At the end of the day, jury president Burton and his international jurors of mystery made several agreeable decisions. Juliette Binoche, a best actress winner for Abbas Kiarostami’s 'Certified Copy,' maintains a balance of emotional delicacy and individualism in this talky romance, which IFC Films purchased for American distribution during the festival. Lee Chang-dong’s 'Poetry,' a spare and skillfully told story of how melancholy drives the creative process, took Best Screenplay. A small movie by virtue of its topic alone, 'Poetry' could use the boost a lot more than 'Biutiful,' the trite heartstrings-puller directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu that landed star Javier Bardem with one of the Best Actor awards (the other went to Elio Germano for 'La Nostra Vita,' which I did not see). Bardem is indeed the best thing about 'Biutiful,' so his win can be forgiven." (IndieWIRE)



"Howard (Stern) started the show talking about last night's 'LOST' series finale. Howard said he bailed out on it a couple of seasons ago. He felt that he was betrayed and misled for so long he had to get away from it. Howard said the show would end and there would be more questions. He had enough questions in his life. He said they had the finale last night and he's not sure why. He said he was talking to Gary (Dell'Abate) about it and Gary has no idea how to explain it. He said Gary wasn't sure what the hell was going on. He said it was confusing and no one knows what it all means. Howard asked what the black smoke was. Gary said that was evil. He said the black smoke took over John Locke and that happened all this season. Howard asked what the Dharma Initiative was. Gary said he had no idea ... Howard said he likes a good story but a show should make a pact with the writers and they should reward people at the end. He said they promised all along they were going to give answers. They never did ... He said that they broke the contract to the people when they made this 'LOST' show. Howard said ABC is to blame there. Jon (Hein) asked Howard if he liked the finale of the Sopranos. Howard said he did. Howard said he understood the characters in the show and if he was rubbed out or not doesn't matter. Howard said all of the character arcs were satisfied on that show. Howard said that 'LOST' didn't make any sense and they weren't able to explain it. Howard said everyone is a sucker and 'fuck you' to them. Howard said they need a TV bill of rights and Robin (Quivers) has inspired him to do that." (Marksfriggin)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Law & Order's Rene Balcer: "I Didn't Think Much Of Fred Thompson's Acting



Rene Balcer, Law & Order executive producer and head writer was on Brian Lehrer's WNYC show this afternoon. Pretty interesting stuff. Balcer left the original Law & Order for a while to work on Criminal Intent. Apparently, the powers that be at L&O wanted him back on the original but he refused to do so until they got rid of Fred Thompson. "I didn't think much of (Fred Thompson's) acting or the character," Balcer told Brian Lehrer. Thompson soon after left to run for President, clearing the way for Balcer to return. This won't endear Balcer to conservative critics who have attacked L & O for being "increasingly left."

Balcer also said that he not only elaborated in The New York Post, but also on at least one occasion from a French newspaper. "We pulled our (L&O) stories from the New York Post's of the world," he added. The big scoop he dropped though was that although Law & order's obit has been written, there may still be a chance for the show to live on on cable. "There are conversations taking place with cable ... we'll know (if Law & order may be back) by the end of this week."

TNT?
Zurawkik: Only 10% of CNNs Revs Come From Primetime U.S. Programming



(image via Francisco Caceres/TIME)

What is to be done about CNN? Media insiders have been debating this for months, offering their own solutions. The exodus of Campbell Brown -- and her candid memo -- will no doubt add to the media navel-gazing.

CNN doesn't quite cater to the right or the left like Fox News and MSNBC respectively. The absence of wingnuttiness is felt in the ratings. David Zurawkik, TV and media critic of The Baltimore Sun was on Howie Kurtz's Reliable Sources yesterday. He made an interesting point about CNN's bottom line. From CNN Transcripts:

Howie: "My first question, what do you think about the way she handled it?

ZURAWIK: I think she handled it very well. And I have a lot of respect for Campbell. I really do. So that's part of it. I think she handled it well, but there's another part of that, Howie.

You know, in the last year now -- this is just the first six months of 2009, the first six months, December to May of this year -- she lost about 38 percent of her audience, overall viewership. And about that much in terms of the key demographic of 25 to 54. That's a lot to lose.

Now, here, what CNN is doing in terms of trying to hold the line in terms of real journalism versus pure opinion, it's not just commendable, it's one of the most important stories I think you and I are covering right now in the history of TV news.

KURTZ: But, look, in recent years CNN has tried Connie Chung, Paula Zahn, Campbell Brown in that 8:00 p.m. Eastern slot, has not been winning the ratings war. Does CNN need stronger personalities? Is it a viable business strategy, when the other guys on the left and right are full of opinion and entertaining to watch, to try to stay in the middle?

ZURAWIK: You know, Jim Walton, the president of CNN International, says what's missing when folks report this story is context. And while I often disagree with news executives, I totally agree with him. CNN -- and, Howie, this isn't just from them. I've checked this out with lots of different media economists who have told me the same thing. CNN has a different business model. It's CNN International. Only 10 percent of their revenue comes from primetime U.S. programming. OK? They can afford not to have great ratings. Fox can't. Fox needs the big ratings they're having.


Interesting. If this is the case, maybe James Poniewozik's remedy for CNN might be the best idea. CNN was, during the 90s, the go-to network for heads of state. CNN came of age during the first Persian Gulf War during the so-called "New World Order." And Fareed Zakaria's GPS is still the smartest hour on television. On Poniewozik's recommendation:

What CNN needs, in other words, are hosts who draw authority not from being insiders or centrists but from challenging guests and calling things as they see them, even if it means braving accusations of bias. This is the strength of people like Fox's Shepard Smith, who's willing to step on conservative toes, and Jon Stewart, a liberal who has nonetheless flogged Obama. It's what CNN (and others) did after the Hurricane Katrina debacle in 2005.

CNN should focus not on both-handedness but on truth. It should let the chips fall where they may, not make sure that the chips, over time, aggregate around the middle. The slogan for my ideal CNN — or any news outlet — would be "The news: whether you like it or not."


But if, as David Zurawkik suggests, ratings are not quite as important as the CNN International brand, this may be just the answer.
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"I first glimpsed the depth of suppressed urban anger toward the Ethiopian government a few hundred paces into the annual 10-kilometer Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa in November 2008. An immensely popular fun-run organized by Ethiopia's most famous marathoner, it is one of the very few occasions when the government still allows citizens to gather en masse. And the runners took advantage; as we surged through the city's main artery in matching red race T-shirts, anti-government slogans began to rumble across the crowd around us. The chants rose in volume and intensity whenever we passed a bastion of federal power -- the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Court, the presidential compound. One recurring refrain combined a demand for the release of a popular political prisoner with a rhythmic, insistent, 'O-bam-a!' It had been just a few weeks since Barack Obama's election, an event that had inspired many in Addis to hope that change would come not just to the White House, but to its approach toward their country and eventually to their own government. On Sunday, May 23, Ethiopians will be out politicking again -- this time heading to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections. But few will harbor any illusions about the likelihood of voting in a change. In the 18 months since that race, there has been no meaningful revision in U.S. policy toward Ethiopia, and there is today even less reason to anticipate change in the country's leadership." (ForeignPolicy)



(image via list.co.uk)

"The message being passed around among the financial sites over the weekend, as well as email, was a link to Simon Schama’s piece on the editorial page of the WEEKEND FT with the headline: The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage. Mr. Schama is the well-known historian of the French Revolution, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, and other books, as well as a contributor to the FT, and a professor at Columbia. In the FT piece he demonstrates a variety of similarities between the situation in France in the late 18th century and the situation in the world now, more specifically the UK, Europe and the U.S. And how we behave in a crisis of such proportions. Any thoughts about such things as 'revolution' come out of a sense of un-ease in the world. The markets crashing a couple of years ago, along with Bernie Madoff and subprime mortgages, have made all of this sense of un-ease clearer to many in very basic ways. It has also had no effect on the thinking of feeling of many others who don’t even know to give it a thought. However, it is a matter that is currently insidious. From the standpoint of many of us, there is palpable concern that things aren’t 'getting better.'" (NYSocialDiary)



"David Cameron has held secret talks with Sky TV owner Rupert Murdoch at No 10, raising fears the Tories are preparing a war on the BBC. The media baron sneaked in by a back door for a private meeting with the Prime Minister on Tuesday but neither Downing Street nor Mr Murdoch's News Corp would say why. Labour MPs fear Mr Cameron has agreed to pay him back for his newspapers' slavish support during the election campaign. The Tories have already agreed to two his key demands: abolishing the media regulator Ofcom and the BBC Trust." (TheMirror)



"Naomi Campbell lived up to her reputation as a party girl as she celebrated her 40th birthday in some style in the South of France at the weekend. Even her boyfriend, the Russian Vladimir Doronin described her as 'a wild woman' to the assembled guests at the exclusive Hotel du Cap in Cannes. And she didn't waste much time proving him right as she necked cocktails before taking to the dance floor with friends Jennifer Lopez and Mary J Blige. The day began quietly with a lunch in St Tropez's upmarket La Voile Rouge with Dononin, J-Lo and Marc Anthony, after which she squeezed in some shopping. Then it was back to the Hotel du Cap down the coast in Antibes to organised the party, the highlight of which was a 45-minute set by Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas. Guests included Topshop boss Sir Philip Green and his daughter Chloe, Eva Herzigova, Sarah Ferguson and Princess Beatrice and Grace Jones." (DailyMail)



"Seventy-million-dollar openings don’t come much more ogre-ish than this. DreamWorks Animation’s oft-renamed fourth – and final? – 'Shrek' movie opened to $71.3 million in U.S. and Canada, significantly underperforming on even its underwhelming tracking projections. Last week, a Wall Street analyst single-handedly cratered DreamWorks stock 4 percent when he suggested that the fourth 'Shrek' would open to between $80 million-$100 million. Released in 3D at more than half of its 4,359 locations, the Paramount-distributed movie – re-christened in late-April by DreamWorks marketing department as 'Shrek: The Final Chapter' – was well-received by movie-goers, garnering an 'A' grade from word-of-mouth tracker CinemaScore. But on a weekend in which it had the family audience pretty much all to itself – Rogue Pictures’ low-budget 'Saturday Night Live' spin-off 'MacGruber' was the only other wide release – 'Shrek 4' failed to deliver the huge audience size of previous franchise installments. ('Shrek the Third,' for example, opened to $121.6 million in May 2007.)" (TheWrap)



"For the last three years Turkey has been gripped by an extraordinary series of legal proceedings revolving around an alleged conspiracy to destabilize and eventually topple the country’s conservative-Islamist government. Prosecutors, supported by leading members of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), have accused a large number of military officers and their supposed civilian accomplices with membership in a secret network, dubbed the 'Ergenekon terror organization' after an ancient Turkish myth, and charged them with crimes ranging from murder and bombings to intimidation of religious minorities and coup plots. The cases have ensnared hundreds of current and retired military officers, journalists, academics, and lawyers—as well as a chief prosecutor and even a former mayor of Istanbul. Many are being kept in jail for months pending trial. While some of the trials have started, none has been concluded and there has yet to be a single conviction." (TNR)



(Andrew Saffir, Dree Hemingway, Daniel Benedict via DailyFrontRow)

"Day 10 - Evidently the indefatigable Harvey had one hour of sleep after his 5:00 a.m. meeting before heading to a meeting at 7:00 a.m.. We know this, as we had lunch with Harvey and Georgina Chapman before Harvey helicoptered off to his next meeting. Stefano Tonchi invited us to a Style Star party on the Croisette ... Day 11 - Our last night, and what a night: Naomi Campbell's birthday party. It is beyond. Best. Birthday. Ever. I only wish she and handsome boyfriend Vladimir Doronin would do this every year (are you listening, Vlad?). Grace Jones and the Black Eyed Peas performed, and everyone hit the dance floor until the wee, wee hours. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Mary J. Blige, Marc Jacobs and Lorenzo Martone, Andre Leon Talley, Hamish Bowles, Christy Turlington, Gerard Butler (swarmed by gorgeous females all night long, natch) and on and on." (Andrew Saffir
via TheDaily)