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Monday, January 24, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"From the left, right, and center, the verdict was nearly unanimous: Here was a speech that was truly presidential, and that therefore—despite being driven by no crass political motives—became part of a larger political story. Since the midterm elections, Obama and his lieutenants have been grappling with the implications of the self-described 'shellacking' inflicted by Republicans on the president and his party, and laboring to devise a recovery strategy for the next two years. One of their chief conclusions is that Obama must occupy a higher plane than he did in the last two, elevating himself above the posturing, petulance, and incessant bile-spewing that have come to bedevil Washington in this age of incessant acrimony and polarization. The lame-duck session in December—with the tax-cut compromise with Republicans as its centerpiece—presented Obama with his first opportunity to gain some altitude. The Tucson shootings offered another. And Tuesday night’s State of the Union address will extend him yet another. But positioning and rhetoric are only part of the broader project under way inside the White House, which amounts to a full-scale reboot of the Obama presidency. The most visible manifestations of this involve personnel: the installation of William Daley as chief of staff, the departures of Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, the return to the fold of Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe. Beneath the surface, however, substantial changes are afoot in every realm, from management structure and political strategy to communications, policy, and even the president’s conception of his own role—as he and his people try to navigate the newly Republicanized legislative landscape and gear up for what they now fretfully assume (after months of airily believing otherwise) will be a difficult reelection campaign." (John Heilmann)


"FOR a superpower, dealing with the fast rise of a rich, brash competitor has always been an iffy thing. Just ask the British, who a century ago were struggling to come to terms with the erosion of their status as the world’s No. 1 empire. It didn’t help that they were being upstaged by a former colony that had turned into an upstart sea-power with money, talent, and a knack for mangling a perfectly good language. Eventually they took the hit to the national ego from those Americans and discovered there were advantages to no longer playing the role of the indispensible power. Or ask Thucydides, the Athenian historian whose tome on the Peloponnesian War has ruined many a college freshman’s weekend. The line they had to remember for the test was his conclusion: 'What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.' So while no official would dare say so publicly as President Hu Jintao bounced from the White House to meetings with business leaders to factories in Chicago last week, his visit, from both sides’ points of view, was all about managing China’s rise and defusing the fears that it triggers. Both Mr. Hu and President Obama seemed desperate to avoid what Graham Allison of Harvard University has labeled 'the Thucydides Trap' — that deadly combination of calculation and emotion that, over the years, can turn healthy rivalry into antagonism or worse. " (David Sanger)


"While comedienne Chelsea Handler was expected to be at the side of rumored beau 50 Cent this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, she cuddled up to suave hotelier Andre Balazs on Saturday night instead. Handler and Balazs were spotted canoodling at the Florence + the Machine concert at the Bing Bar and perched on a banquette hip-to-hip at Tao at the Samsung Galaxy Lift. The two had their hands all over each other for hours. The canooding continued at an after-party, and then the pair popped up at Tao, where Handler already started to grow possessive over Balazs, giving sharp looks at other women who made pleasantries with them." (PageSix)



"'We have been made promises time and time again' said Deng Arop, the chief administrator of Sudan's contested Abyei region, referring to the many unimplemented international agreements on the status of this area straddling what may soon be the border between North and South Sudan. 'What options do the people of Abyei have left?' he asked me as he juggled incoming security updates on two cell phones. In the past two weeks, clashes north of Abyei have left 33 people dead. Several buses full of southern Sudanese returning to vote in the south's self-determination referendum have been attacked on the road from Khartoum to Abyei, leading to road closures, which have generated food and fuel shortages in the town of Abyei. Moreover, an annual migration of people and cattle that typically leads to clashes between nomadic herdsmen and the area's year-round residents recently began. Exacerbating these immediate tensions is the looming question of whether Abyei will belong to the north or the south in the likely event that Sudan splits in two. As southern Sudanese await the final referendum results, the people of Abyei find themselves in a precarious position." (ForeignAffairs)


"Many people inside the television industry are astonished that a cable network’s highest-rated host, whose forceful personality and liberal advocacy had lifted MSNBC from irrelevance to competitiveness and profitability, would be ushered out the door with no fanfare, no promoted farewell show and only a perfunctory thanks for his efforts. But underlying the decision, which one executive involved said was not a termination but a 'negotiated separation,' were years of behind-the-scenes tension, conflicts and near terminations. Mr. Griffin, along with Jeff Zucker, the head of NBC Universal, and Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, had long protected and defended Mr. Olbermann, even when insiders like the NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw publicly took Mr. Olbermann to task. Mr. Brokaw said Mr. Olbermann had 'gone too far' in campaign coverage that openly took Democratic positions. Inside the offices of MSNBC, staff members grew more restive about Mr. Olbermann’s temperament. Some days Mr. Olbermann threatened not to come to work at all and a substitute anchor had to be notified to be on standby." (NYTimes)


"Standing recently in New Haven’s small train station, I was approached by a stranger who thanked me for my service. His gratitude was clearly genuine—and I deeply appreciated it. During my years in uniform (particularly after 9/11), and even in the months since my retirement, I was routinely thanked for serving. For service members today, that experience is common—a thoughtful gesture that has done much to maintain the morale of a force that performs so bravely for our nation. Common—but thanking Americans for their service is not common enough. Nor can it be, because Americans performing critical, selfless service to our country are less common than they must be. We have let the concept of service become dangerously narrow, often associated only with the military. This allows most Americans to avoid the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation—and for each other. We expect and demand less of ourselves than we should. And now it is time to fix it." (Stanley McChrystal)



"When a Golden Girl gets this close to nine decades on earth, the occasion demands a blowout fête. Last night, Betty White rang in her 89th birthday at Le Cirque surrounded by the cream of the comedy crop, costars from her hit TV Land series, Hot in Cleveland, and myriad friends and fans waxing poetic about the plucky comedienne. 'Betty is very salty,' said Jane Leeves, current costar and former Fraiser actress. 'She always has the crew in stitches, so we often need a good half hour for each take because everyone is laughing!' Guests including Valerie Bertinelli, Judah Friedlander and George Segal tucked into platters of scallop-studded ceviche and mushroom risotto as they watched a video of birthday wishes from Betty superfans like Tina Fey and Taylor Swift. Chelsea Handler and Kathy Griffen did a shout-out to 'the naughtiest bitch we know,' and Justin Bieber lead the crowd in singing 'Happy Birthday' from the screen as the vid’s finale ... Arianna Huffington came to toast “the irreverent and quick on the money” White and chatted candidly about yesterday’s scandal over her disobedient Blackberry on a plane ... The new media editrix won’t be making it to the shows in New York, Milan or Paris this year. 'I’ll be in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, unfortunately.' Hopefully she’ll keep her devices off in transit." (FashionweekDaily)


"'What's the definition of a mine? A hole in the ground with a liar on top.'  The most famous aphorism about the mining business is usually credited -- possibly apocryphally -- to Mark Twain, who before assuming the mantle of America's great literary wit was just another mining speculator gone bust. But generations of fleeced investors since Twain's day would nod angrily in agreement -- losing a fortune on too-good-to-be-true mining deals is a tradition as old as mining itself. So it goes with rare-earth elements, a group of materials used in the manufacture of various high-tech applications and the object of the latest subterranean fad. Since a border dispute between China and Japan pushed rare earths into the headlines last fall, prices for some of the elements have shot up to an incredible 1,000 percent of what they were just three years ago -- and as in Twain's day, there is no shortage of smooth-talking suits who will tell investors this is only the beginning. I should know: For a few months, I was one of the suckers." (ForeignPolicy)



"Friday night I invited Duane Hampton and Raul Suarez to dine at '21.' Duane you’ve read about here and many other places, and recently because of the book she published last autumn on her late husband interior designer Mark Hampton’s career; and their daughter Alexa who also recently published a book on her interior design work. Raul is an old friend. He’s an international art dealer and consultant for contemporary art at Sotheby’s. Neither knew each other, which meant it would be interesting one way or another. However, they’re both very congenial personalities. They got on like a house-a-fire; no surprise. The subject that came up, and mobilized the conversation for the entire evening, god knows how, was Proust. The restaurant was packed, incidentally. It’s one of those places that’s authentically New York fable. Now in its 90th year, if you can believe it – it started out as Jack (Kriendler) and Charlie’s (Berns) '21' club." (NYSocialDiary)


"Bob Dylan's life is short on concrete facts and figures, very much by design, but the experts seem to agree on this one: The man born Robert Zimmerman arrived in NYC on January 24, 1961, exactly a half-century ago. He immediately started showing up at the Village's Cafe Wha? (that's him on the left with Karen Dalton and Fred Neil, in a pic dated just a few weeks later, February 6) and lying about having arrived in town via freight train." (VillageVoice)



"Just another Thursday with Saffir! Last night, The Cinema Society hosted a screening of No Strings Attached at the Tribeca Grand Hotel presented by DKNY Jeans, DeLeón Tequila and amNewYork. Cast members Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, and Abby Elliott joined Demi Moore, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Gabourey Sidibe, Howard and Beth Stern, Fred Armisen, Olivia Palermo, Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer, Hilary Rhoda, Kelly Bensimon, and Kelsey Grammer for the romcom sit-in. And who can forget fashion's crème de la crème? Rachel Roy, Olivier Theyskens, Nicole Miller, Charlotte Ronson, and Tamara Mellon took a much-needed breather from countless fashion week préparation to support friend and co-sponsor Donna Karan. Grabbing buckets of popcorn and hand fulls of M&Ms, guests took their seats while Ashton Kutcher, in a black DKNY suit, gushed about his noticeably absent on-screen love Natalie Portman. 'I'm not the star of this film--Natalie Portman is,' revealed Kutcher. 'She's an absolute rock star! This is her movie I just get to be in it with her.'" (Fashionweekdaily)


"If there is a signature sequence that defines a movie directed by Sabu, it's the never-ending chase that pretty much consumes the entire 82 minutes of his 1996 debut, Non-Stop (aka Dangan Runner). Tomorowo Taguchi, rock singer and star of the all-time Japanese cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is Yasuda, an everyman as inept as he is desperate. His plans to pull a bank heist go haywire, since everything always goes haywire a few minutes into a Sabu plot. But they go haywire in really nutty, unpredictable ways. In this case, the would-be bandit stops by a convenience store to shoplift a gauze mask for putative use as a disguise. As we see in a fantasy staging of the robbery, it makes a lousy and absurd choice. And Yasuda isn't even much of a petty thief: A quartet of schoolgirls observes his actions amid giggles: 'It's so embarrassing,' one says. And when the long-haired clerk Aizawa (fellow rock musician Diamond Yukai) confronts him, the dope clumsily fires off a shot from a handgun. For a single heartbeat of a frozen moment, this hapless loser is vaguely in control. But then he quickly loses his grip. The clerk grabs the pistol and Yasuda hurtles out the door, running for his life." (Greencine)

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