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Monday, January 10, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"Egyptians, notorious for their subversive political humor, are currently living through this scenario: Hosni Mubarak, their octogenarian president, is entering his fourth decade of rule, holding on to power and to life through sheer force of will. Egyptian jokers, who initially caricatured their uncharismatic leader as a greedy bumpkin, have spent the last 10 years nervously cracking wise about his tenacious grasp on the throne. Now, with the regime holding its breath as everyone waits for the ailing 82-year-old Mubarak to die, the economy suffering, and people feeling deeply pessimistic about the future, the humor is starting to feel a little old. A friend of mine has a favorite one-liner he likes to tell: 'What is the perfect day for Mubarak? A day when nothing happens.' Egypt's status-quo-oriented president doesn't like change, but his Groundhog Day fantasy weighs heavily on Egyptians. Mubarak has survived assassination attempts and complicated surgery. After he spent most of the spring of 2010 convalescing, everyone in Cairo from taxi drivers to politicians to foreign spies was convinced it was a matter of weeks. And yet he recovered, apparently with every intention of running for a sixth term in September. Egypt's prolific jesters, with their long tradition of poking fun at the powerful, might be running out of material. Making fun of oppressive authorities has been an essential part of Egyptian life since the pharaohs. One 4,600-year-old barb recorded on papyrus joked that the only way you could convince the king to fish would be to wrap naked girls in fishing nets. Under Roman rule, Egyptian advocates were banned from practicing law because of their habit of making wisecracks, which the dour Romans thought would undermine the seriousness of the courts." (ForeignPolicy)


"'The big American companies are really global,' said Robert Reich, former labor secretary for President Clinton. 'They can show big profits from foreign sales. G.M. is making more Buicks overseas than in the United States. There’s no special pop for the United States worker.' Key corporate sectors, too, have undergone a Darwinian pruning during the last three years. In the financial arena, a few hyperprofitable firms now stand where many more once stood. 'If you’re Goldman and Morgan Chase, and you once had to compete against Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, well, of course it’s easier now to show a profit,' said Daniel Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital L.L.C., an investment banking firm. 'If you have a modest reduction in expenses, and an industry consolidation at the same time, that translates into a massive increase in earnings.' Surviving corporate leaders drew sobering lessons from their near-death experience of 2008 and 2009, when brand-name corporations nearly ran short of the cash needed to meet payrolls. 'They found the financial system was nowhere near as safe as they thought — they no longer think they can borrow as quickly,' said Simon H. Johnson, an economics professor at M.I.T. and former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. 'So the amount of cash that they think they should have for precautionary purposes is way up.'" (NYTimes)


"President Obama is off to a good start in his handling of what the networks are now calling 'The Tragedy in Tucson.' The moment of silence he asked for on Monday at 11 a.m.—resonant for older Americans of the exact hour on November 11 each year that the World War I Armistice was once observed—is an appropriate expression of what we need right now: Less Noise. But silence will not be enough. This horrific event offers the president a chance to show leadership qualities that he’s inexplicably hidden away in some blind trust. The shootings and the resulting debate over the climate of incivility play to his strengths as a calm and rational leader. Just as Bill Clinton’s response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings helped him recover from his defeat in the 1994 midterms, so this episode may help Obama change—at least in the short term--the trajectory of American politics. Clinton did more than just speak movingly after Oklahoma City and pull the country together as griever-in-chief. He was able to use the event to discredit the militia movement and tamp down hate speech on talk radio enough that it wasn't much of a factor in his 1996 reelection. The Oklahoma City bombings were later seen by historians and Clinton-era officials as the turning point in his political comeback. Of course the viciousness of the attacks eventually resumed (especially after the Lewinsky scandal) but they weren’t as fierce again until the Obama years." (Jonathan Alter/TheDailyBeast)


"For many it will always be known simply as the 'antiques show,' but when the annual gathering of Washington’s most stellar young and old fogies occurred last week it was clear its reinvention was a good thing. There was the name change, from the 55-year-old 'Washington Antiques Show' to the streamlined 'Washington Winter Show.' But by taking 'antiques' out of the name it was as if the organizers also blew the dust off what had become a neglected treasure, like that heirloom in the back of the attic. The recognition of something new and better was apparent in the faces of the swarm of well-dressed patrons who showed up for opening night. In a comforting way for the old guard there were no radical changes. For example, no DJ, thank God, but jazzy standards from the Majestic Notes. And the signature crab cakes and Peking Duck rolls of Susan Gage Caterers had not been replaced by mashed potatoes in a martini glass. Phew. Then there was Hannah Cox, the event’s matriarch, greeting guests at the entrance. Nearby were the young co-chairs, Debbie Winsor and Kate Chartener." (Carol Joynt/WashingtonSocialDiary)



"Broadcasting & Cable today published a long interview with Disney/ABC TV Chief Anne Sweeney (subscription required), and here is what's interesting ... The 'one piece of talent' on the air whom she doesn't have currently and wants? Why, the Viscount Of Vapidity: "I was just thinking about Ryan Seacrest, but we just had him for New Year’s Eve. He’s a terrific talent. I think he is the hardest working person in television — I have never seen anyone so committed and do such a great job in every single venue. He produces Jamie Oliver for us, he does New Year’s Eve. He’s a great talent.' ... Jimmy Kimmel has 'made a tremendous amount of progress in 7 years' ... ABC can continue to operate the news division without a 24-hour cable component or merging its news operation. 'I think there are many different opportunities out there right now, not just for news but for entertainment as well. If you look at what ABC News did when we collaborated during the election with Facebook, that’s a very interesting distribution platform for news.'" (Deadline)


"The rumored cast of potential Democratic challengers to Obama in 2012 is quickly fading. Associates say that recently defeated Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold isn’t likely to take on the president in a Democratic primary, and others like ex-Democratic Party boss Howard Dean and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have publicly bowed out. That doesn’t mean a competitor won’t appear, but if it does, says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, it will be from somebody upset with Obama’s war policy. 'If the challenge is going to come,” he says, “I think it will come [over] Afghanistan.'" (WashingtonWhispers)


"They call Southern California's adult film industry 'the other Hollywood.' And much as their mainstream counterparts, porn stars, too, gather during awards season to hand out trophies to their best and brightest. Although you'll likely never see Meryl Streep nominated for best performance in a double penetration scene. As the XXX elite gathered in Las Vegas for tonight's AVN Awards ceremony—the Porno Oscars, if you will—I chatted with a few notable talents to get their favorite contenders in that 'other' race." (GreenCineDaily)

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