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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"He was the minor dictator of a minor nation in North Africa that’s best known for exporting workers and courting low-rent tourists. But when Tunisia’s President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali fled his country on Friday after more than 23 years with a ruthless grip on power, the Arab world was swept by the kind of excitement that augurs epochal change. From Morocco to Egypt to Jordan and beyond, the news racing across the Internet and on cell phones hit these long-oppressed societies the way word of the fall of the Berlin Wall impacted the shaky dictatorships of the decrepit Soviet Empire in 1989. Indeed, Ben Ali and his wife had come to be known in their own country as 'the Ceaucescus,' a reference to the brutal couple who ruled Romania for decades, then faced summary execution when they fell. What was especially shocking to Arab regimes was the way Ben Ali’s overthrow began: a young fruit and vegetable vendor who had his cart confiscated by police in the town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire last month to protest against job shortages and low wages. As news of the self-immolation spread, so did riots. At first, the head of the military, Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar, refused to put his troops into the streets to stop the protests. Ben Ali replaced him. Then last weekend the soldiers began shooting in earnest. The death toll mounted. But the riots continued, moving from outlying cities into the heart of the capital. And at that point the military, it appears, decided to replace Ben Ali. A state of emergency and curfew have been declared and the ineffectual prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, has appeared on television to say he is running a self-described 'temporary' government. 'I feel like we are a giant step closer to our own liberation,' Egyptian human rights activist Hossam Bahgat told The Associated Press." (TheDailyBeast)

(photo by David Itzkoff)

"Diddy has performed all over the world, but when he took the stage last night at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, he was pretty far outside his usual comfort zone: Stand-up comedy is not exactly his forté. But that was the point. Getting Diddy on stage at the UCB — known for showcasing the talents of comedians like Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers, The Daily Show's Rob Corddry and 30 Rock's Scott Adsit — was the brainchild of frequent UCB performer Chris Gethard, who launched a 13-month Twitter campaign to lure Diddy onto The Chris Gethard Show. Oh, and he used the hashtag #diddygethard — a combination of both their names, but which of course spells out: Diddy get hard. 'I couldn’t understand it,' Diddy told the host about seeing all the tweets directed his way. 'The way I was pronouncing it... I didn’t know if it was a sexual thing. I kept seeing it retweeted. And I was like, What the fuck?' The night was billed as special but the gags were mostly tame, making fun of Diddy’s excesses, from his boastful hawking of Ciroc to his 'Making the Band' taskmaster persona." (RollingStone)


"TRY this at a dinner party in one of the hothouses of Ivy League aspiration — Cambridge, Scarsdale, Evanston, Marin County: Declare that the way Asian-American parents succeed in raising such successful children is by denying them play dates and sleepovers, and demanding that they bring home straight A’s. Note that you once told your own hyper-successful Asian-American daughter that she was 'garbage.' That you threatened to throw out your other daughter’s dollhouse and refused to let her go to the bathroom one evening until she mastered a difficult piano composition. That you threw the homemade birthday cards they gave you as 7- and 4-year-olds back in their faces, saying you expected more effort. Better yet, write a book about it. What kind of reaction might you get?  In the week since The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of the new book by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, under the headline 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,' Ms. Chua has received death threats, she says, and 'hundreds, hundreds' of e-mails. The excerpt generated more than 5,000 comments on the newspaper’s Web site, and countless blog entries referring in shorthand to 'that Tiger Mother.' Some argued that the parents of all those Asians among Harvard’s chosen few must be doing something right; many called Ms. Chua a 'monster' or 'nuts' — and a very savvy provocateur." (NyTimes)


"'All those who write about Alexander,' grumbled the Roman geographer Strabo, 'prefer the marvelous to the true.' Such a criticism was not entirely accurate even when he made it 2,000 years ago, and it is certainly not fair now. We live in an age of groundbreaking classical scholar ship, when historians of the ancient world have only to get the sniff of a myth to set about busting it. Yet Alexander, more even than Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, has stood insouciant proof against every attempt at revisionism. No amount of cheese-paring by classicists can dim the brilliance of his luster. He remains what he has ever been: the epitome of youthful, world-conquering, terrifying glamour. We are, perhaps, more squeamish about the collateral damage inflicted by his ascent to greatness, and less prone to celebrate it, than earlier ages. 'Is it not passing brave to be a king, and ride in triumph through Persepolis?' Christopher Marlowe demanded in 'Tamburlaine,' his blood-sodden drama about a megalomaniacal one-time shepherd who had swaggered and slaughtered his way to a vast Asiatic empire in the 14th century. In point of boring historical fact, the mention of Persepolis in his hero's vaunt is a serious anachronism. The city had been burnt to the ground long before the time of Tamburlaine, all the way back in 330 B.C. Marlowe, however, was a playwright, not a historian—and he could recognize a poetic truth when he saw one. The man responsible for destroying Persepolis had been none other than Alexander: the feat that broadcast his triumph more blazingly than all his many others, since the city had served, for almost two centuries, as the capital of Asia." (WSJ)


"“First of all, food is very important,' Marina Abramović states in a way that sounds so serious it almost seems as if she’s joking. We’re at the restaurant Park Avenue—which is, of course, all decked out for Winter now—and Abramović is giving us the low down on her latest master work, which is in the form of dessert: a 'collaboration intervention' with Park Avenue executive chef Kevin Lasko. Lasko and Abramović are the first to team up as a part of a four-season artist/chef collaboration at the bequest of Creative Time Consulting along with Park Avenue proprietor and bona fide Friend of the Arts, Michael Stillman. Artists Janine Antoni, Paul Ramirez Jonas and Michael Rakowitz will also get to team up with Lasko as the seasons change and the restaurant gets its quarterly makeover." (Vmagazine)


"Gossip Girl’s been off the air for almost six weeks now, but you wouldn’t know it from watching Blake Lively. In the last month and a half, Lively, fresh off her surprisingly convincing Boston accent in The Town, has become an 'official ambassador' for Chanel, canoodled with Ryan Gosling, had her name bandied about as a possible reason for the tragic Ryan Reynolds-ScarJo split, and been up for a part in a Taylor Lautner movie. With a co-starring role in a big superhero movie (The Green Lantern) coming up in June, is Lively on the verge of making it as a movie, not just a television, star? As a fashionista, not a Van der Woodsen? Can she make the jump from the small to the big screen? We asked industry insiders this, and also: If Blake Lively were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?" (NYMag)



"Sources tell me this was a rough Friday at the box office for two new major studio tentpoles opening on a long Martin Luther King 4-day holiday that overall is looking -25% down from last year's .." (Deadline)


"Diane Von Furstenberg still thanks the clueless guy who sat next to her on a flight to Pittsburgh one day in the 1970s. The gentleman, noticing her perusing a newspaper, asked the designer, 'Why does a pretty girl like you read The Wall Street Journal?' -- unaware that she was on the front page. She told Bloomberg BusinessWeek chairman Norman Pearlstine during a Q&A at the 92nd Street Y, 'And I looked at him and I thought, 'Jerk.' But I said nothing. I talked to him. I never told him, 'Here I am.' I didn't say anything. And it was one of the biggest satisfactions I've ever had in my life . . . But of course, every time I speak, I tell this story.'" (PageSix)


"Awards season may very well be in full swing, but an array of celebs and tastemakers gathered on Thursday night with a more altruistic mission in mind: to raise funds for Save the Children and Artists for Peace and Justice. Bulgari hosted the swanky fundraiser dinner and live auction, which drew the likes of Demi Moore, Milla Jovovich, Olivia Wilde, Gerald Butler, Adrien Brody, Sharon Osbourne, Malin Ackerman, Joely Fisher, Julianna Hough, and Chace Crawford to Ron Burkle’s sprawling Beverly Hills estate ... The stars in attendence may work hard, as evidenced by Ricky Martin's heart-pumping live performance, but they were all about playing hard as well. Jovovich and Osbourne playfully duked it out in the live auction while Kirsten Dunst and Paz Vega salsa danced." (Fashionweekdaily)



"There are house parties of the red cup variety, and then there are house parties that happen at Green Acres, investor and grocery store magnate Ron Burkle's Beverly Hills estate. Last night, the L.A. awards season kicked into gear with a Bulgari-hosted benefit held at the latter. 'Thank you so much for having us!' Kirsten Dunst cooed as Burkle greeted her in his expansive courtyard. The actress was just one of the many Hollywood power players who came to celebrate American Idol creator Simon Fuller and director Paul Haggis for their work with children's charities Save the Children and Artists for Peace and Justice, respectively. As any good house party goes, the liquor was flowing. 'We drink heavily,' said Olivia Wilde, as she recounted a recent humanitarian trip to Haiti where she worked inside schools with actor James Brolin. 'After school hours.' Milla Jovovich, meanwhile, got down to an after-dinner performance by Ricky Martin. So down, in fact, that she broke her chunky, multi-strand Chanel necklace while twirling on the dance floor with producer Ryan Kavanaugh. 'It's all good,' said the actress, who's preparing to present a Golden Globe at Sunday night's ceremony. 'My friend designs all this stuff. It could be worse.'" (Style)


"The Golden Globes party scene heated up last night, with a raucous dinner at the West Hollywood Mexican joint Gardens of Taxco, hosted by T magazine. Tucked away in one corner, Parks and Recreation co-stars Rashida Jones and Aziz Ansari sat with Alexa Chung and Juliette Lewis, while Somewhere's Stephen Dorff caught up with tablemate Stephen Moyer of True Blood. The California trip was a quick visit for T's newly appointed editor in chief Sally Singer. 'Since I'm going to the men's shows, I'll actually be watching the Golden Globes from Milan in the middle of the night from my hotel room.'" (Style)


"Florence is just cooling down after the whirlwind second edition of Luisa Via Roma’s FIRENZE4EVER, this month’s one-of-a-kind extravaganza organised for fashion bloggers from every corner of the globe. The visionary event, which caused quite a stir in the worlds of fashion and online marketing in last year’s first edition, has continued the precedent and has certainly achieved its goal of bringing the magic of the virtual into reality. The multibrand fashion empire is among Italy’s and Europe’s most innovative and forward-thinking retailers, and has tapped into the extraordinary creativity in the independent voices of bloggers. And just like last time around, the best and the brightest were handpicked from an impressive number of countries, from the likes of China and the USA to Sweden, Brazil, Australia, France, Japan, Italy and several others." (2DM)


"The United States is not bent on containing China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday, but the Obama administration is cultivating other allies across Asia to help it manage Beijing’s increasingly bold projection of military and economic power. In a closely watched address delivered four days before President Hu Jintao’s scheduled state visit to Washington, Mrs. Clinton sought to balance tensions over China’s military buildup and disagreements over North Korea with the administration’s desire to work with Beijing on issues like climate change. 'Distrust lingers on both sides,' she said in her speech at the State Department. Mrs. Clinton said that while the United States-China relationship was critically important, 'there is no such thing as a G-2,' the phrase popularized by analysts who argue that Washington and Beijing, widely seen as the economic superpowers of today and tomorrow, should steer the world. She also delivered a polite criticism of China’s human rights record that was more detailed than she had previously offered as secretary of state, citing the persecution of the pro-democracy group Charter 08 and the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, the political activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but whose family was blocked from attending the prize ceremony in Norway last month. 'The longer China represses freedoms,' she said, 'the longer that Nobel Prize winners’ empty chairs in Oslo will remain a symbol of a great nation’s unrealized potential and unfulfilled promise.'" (NYT)


"THE euro zone’s strategy for tackling its sovereign-debt crisis is failing. A makeshift scheme was put in place in May to help countries that cannot otherwise borrow at tolerable interest rates. That lowered but did not remove the risk that a country may default for want of short-term funds. But the bond market’s nerves have been shredded again by the likelihood that from 2013, when a permanent bail-out mechanism is due to be in place, it will be easier to restructure an insolvent country’s debts. More worrying still for private investors, this seems set to give official creditors preference over others. As a result, bail-outs are making private investors less rather than more keen to hold a troubled country’s bonds. As old debts are refinanced and new deficits funded by the European rescue pot and the IMF, the share of such a country’s debt held by official sources will steadily rise. That will leave a shrinking pool of private investors to bear losses if debts are restructured. And the smaller that pool becomes, the larger the loss that each investor will have to accept. Bond purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB) aimed at stabilising markets have further diminished the stock in private hands. This perverse dynamic argues for a restructuring of insolvent countries’ debts sooner rather than later. But when is a debt burden too heavy to be borne?" (TheEconomist)


"On an overcast morning last December at the Four Seasons Jakarta, nearly two-dozen dignitaries arrived at the outlying steel gates. Security agents, armed with M-16 rifles, moved diligently along the sides of the assembled cars checking for explosives via a curved mirror. Waved on, the visitors ascended the driveway then walked to a basement room. The setting chosen to announce one of Indonesia’s biggest ever resource deals resembled a home counties conference centre: sliding walls, beige patterned carpet and a prefabricated bouquet of roses sitting on a makeshift desk next to the projector. Only the air conditioner whirring overhead, battling 34°C heat outside, gave a clue as to the tropical location. Like his surroundings, the blue-suited speaker – who described his family business as 'banking and wine' – kept a low profile, gliding in without greeting, the only indication of his presence a discreet sign in the lobby directing invitees to the Vallar presentation. The journalists – clustered around white-clothed tables, their chairs draped with creme-coloured organza in what resembled wedding preparations – took out pens and notebooks. Nathaniel Rothschild, 39, and the future Baron Rothschild, laid out his plans to create one of the world’s biggest coal producers from Vallar, a £707m 'cash-shell' he had founded six months earlier. In so doing, he hopes to make his mark on the considerable family name. Twenty-four hours later, Rothschild stepped off his jet to inspect Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), the world’s largest thermal coal-producing mine. Accompanying him were the FT, his closest adviser and a recent friend: a fund manager with a metal ear stud and an Elvis-style quiff. 'We met at a party in Wiltshire,' he said by way of explanation." (FT)

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