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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"President Obama, sending another strong signal that he intends to make the White House more business-friendly, named a high-profile corporate executive on Friday as his chief outside economic adviser, continuing his efforts to show more focus on job creation and reclaim the political center. Here in the birthplace of General Electric, Mr. Obama introduced the new appointee, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, who will serve as chairman of his outside panel of economic advisers. Mr. Immelt succeeds Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, who is stepping down. The selection of Mr. Immelt, who was at Mr. Obama’s side during his trip to India last year, and again this week during the visit of President Hu Jintao of China, is the latest in a string of pro-business steps taken by the president. He has installed William M. Daley, a former JPMorgan Chase executive, as his chief of staff; is planning a major speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month; and just this week ordered federal agencies to review regulations with an eye toward eliminating some. Together, the moves amount to a carefully choreographed shift in strategy for the White House, both substantively and on the public relations front. Mr. Obama has started making the case that the United States has moved past economic crisis mode and is entering 'a new phase of our recovery,' which demands an emphasis on job creation." (NYTimes)


"Under the pseudonym 'Charlotte Shane,' a young prostitute chronicles her experiences on a blog entitled, 'Nightmare Brunette.' Her aim, she explains at Salon, in addition to needing a mental release, is to provide an unsimplified account of a real prostitute's life, for better or worse, because the stories that usually reach non-sex-working audiences are too often two-dimensional and extreme -- focused on a white, 'high-class' call girl finding happiness through her designer-label lifestyle, or drug-addicted and pimp-abused street prostitutes whose lives have been a series of degrading assaults.' But Shane is troubled by the large number of emails she has received from young female readers who are envious of her career. At Salon, she attempts to explain what draws girls to prostitution in the first place. She suggests that, even in our modern-day culture, we are immersed in the idea that only by being well-dressed, skinny, and pretty can a woman really be successful. 'They're educated, sensitive, observant, and they have the complex sentences and insightful wording to prove it,' writes Shane. 'But they are living in a world where a woman's worth is constantly equated with her sex appeal. Is it any wonder that many women might find it compelling to take that equation to its logical end?'" (NYRB)


"Who is Oprah Winfrey and what does she want? What does she want that she doesn’t already have? And what does she want for us that we don’t already have? None of these questions are new, but, with Winfrey having embarked on an extraordinary venture—starting a cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), that is meant to be entirely in her own image—they are worth asking. Of course, questions about Oprah Winfrey have always been interesting, and, in a way, it’s our questions about her that make her interesting, because no answer to any of them has ever seemed sufficient. For everything that we can think of that’s true about Winfrey, its opposite also seems to be true. Winfrey is all about truth—'personal truth,' in particular, as distinguished from external, verifiable truth—and yet, despite her twenty-five years on national TV and her many disclosures, which began, in the first year of her broadcasting career, with the announcement that she had been sexually abused as a child, and continued in subsequent years with revelations about her tastes, her personality, her houses, what she looks like without makeup, and what she likes to eat and drink (if she comes over to your place, be sure to serve her a Moscow Mule), she remains unknowable. Winfrey’s stock-in-trade is listening to people, embracing them, identifying with them. But there’s an aura of aloneness about her—and how could there not be? She’s the world’s—the world’s—first black female self-made billionaire." (TheNewYorker)


"Dictators do not usually die in bed. Successful retirement is always a problem for them, and not all solve it. It is a problem for everybody else when they leave. What’s to be done afterwards? The popular uprising that overturned the dictatorial Zein el-Abedine Ben Ali regime in Tunisia last week sent a thrill of hope through Arab populations, or at least to Arab democrats. But aside from the exceptional and complex case of Lebanon, Arab nations have since the demise of the Ottoman Empire mostly suffered from European quasi-empire, exploitative military and party dictatorships, and recently, hereditary family dictatorships, a reversion to absolute monarchy in secular guise. The dream of a united independent Arab nation to replace the Ottomans was destroyed by World War I peace settlements, which left the major Arab peoples in European mandates under the League of Nations. The deposed Tunisian president Ben Ali spent the first part of his career as a promising young army officer. This led him into intelligence and security, always a highway to success in the contemporary Arab world. He attended courses at Saint-Cyr in France and the American Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird in Maryland. His 1987 succession to the Tunisian presidency—in the 'medical coup' that occurred when Habib Bourguiba, the republic’s founder (in 1957) become president-for-life, was too enfeebled to carry on—was reportedly arranged collaboratively by Italian and Algerian intelligence. The French former colonial power and the CIA reportedly were not involved, although they took a proprietary interest in the regime that followed." (NyRB)


"The only North American dictator, FDR, died in the saddle cuddling his mistress in Warm Springs, GA. Greek dictators have also fared well. Pangalos, Plastiras, Metaxas died at home, George Papadopoulos in a prison hospital. Tony Blair and George Brown, two quasi-Scottish dictators, are walking around free giving speeches and making lotsa moolah. The Brits are very civilized, if a tad stupid. The Libyan dictator plans to pass his omnipotent powers to one of his sons. Qaddafi has been in power since September 1st, 1969, which must make his dictatorial rule one of the longest ever. The Libyans don’t seem to mind. They are a great people, a warrior race, the only ones the glorious Italian armies defeated back in the 30s. So admirable was the Italian victory over this Spartan-like race, some of Mussolini’s ministers took Libyan names for their titles. I am thinking of my childhood friend Giovanni Volpi, whose father was Il Duce’s finance minister, and who took the title Count Volpi of Misurata when Benito more or less ordered the king to grant him a handle. (Misurata is a Libyan city on the Mediterranean.) And do it goes. Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista lived out his days in Spain after Castro drove him out, but his eldest son, Reuben, had no such luck. He ended up in the same house as yours truly at boarding school." (Takimag)


"As happens with even the shyest and most self-effacing grandparents, the comedian Joan Rivers decided the distance separating her in New York from her daughter, Melissa, and grandson, Cooper, in Los Angeles was too great. So last summer she moved in with them, taking along copious luggage and an equally copious reality TV camera crew. This is the premise, anyway, of 'Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?' which has its premiere on Tuesday on the WE Network. See such things as Joan throwing out all her daughter’s living room furniture and redecorating without her permission, or videotaping her daughter in the shower to convince her that she should be involved with 'Girls Gone Wild.' Melissa, herself no naïf when it comes to camera values, does her part by hiring a voluptuous blond nanny whom her mother nicknames the Hunchfront of Notre Dame. Joan warns her daughter, who has a live-in boyfriend, of the dangers of having ravishing household help. 'Nannies should be ugly or gay,' Joan said. 'I had nannies, their knuckles were dragging on the stairs.' Melissa, for her part, gives her mother the smallest room in the five-bedroom house." (NYTimes/Style)

"Anyone who has spent any time in a crunchy college town or left-leaning community will appreciate Portlandia, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's comedic new love letter to the Northwest's mecca for the achingly politically correct, young and ambitionless. The sketch comedy show, which debuts on IFC this Friday and had its premiere party last night, includes sketches that feature Saturday Night Live star Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney guitarist/vocalist Brownstein poking fun at liberal enclave archetypes like lesbian bookstore owners, bike messengers and adults living in perpetual states of arrested development ... Among the premier's crowd, who sipped Oregon wines served by waiters in flannel shirts, we spotted PAPERTV contributor Molly Schiot, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer, Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office, Heather Graham and Kyle MacLachlan (who make appearances in the series), and most of Armisen's SNL coworkers including Sudeikis, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Bobby Moynihan, Abby Elliot, Nasim Pedrad, Vanessa Bayer and Lorne Michaels." (Papermag)


"I took seven things away from the speech today by John Vickers, the chairman of the Independent Banking Commission that has been asked by the chancellor to advise him on how to make the banking system safer and how to improve competition between banks. First, the commission has already concluded that the new international rules known as Basel lll to force banks to hold more capital and liquid resources, and lengthen the maturity of their debt, does not go far enough. He has signalled that the commission does not believe that for what are known as systemically important banks - huge banks such as Barclays, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland - the new 7% Basel minimum ratio of equity capital to assets (loans and investments) would adequately reduce the risk of taxpayers again bailing out big banks in future crises. This will trouble the likes of Barclays and RBS, because almost anything that the Commission does ultimately recommend to make them safer would reduce their profitability (at least in the short term)." (BBC)


"Last night, Milk Studios did what it does best: hosted a sea of beautiful people for a cool photography show. Said show was for acclaimed Scottish fashion photographer Albert Watson, who mingled amid a crowd that featured an odd little mix of celebs including Olivia Munn, Ally Hilfiger, Rose Byrne and The Office creator Stephan Merchant. Watson's black and white prints looked amazing, but let's be real: when Macallan is hosting the open bar (help!) and DJs Chrissie Miller and Lesley Arfin are pumping heavenly gems like Britney Spears' "Circus," the only kind of art I'm concerned about is the art of standing up without falling over. Yes, I just wrote that. My bestie/photographer-in-tow, Angela Pham, captured plenty of said 'art' at the pink-haired and tattoo-heavy soirée, including familiar faces like the cheeky Michael Musto. Fave moment: a shit-faced "publicist" begging that I write about his client. Now, if only I could remember the client's name.... I owe you one, Macallan." (Papermag)


"Calvin (Klein), darling, you're embarrassing yourself. What's worse, you're embarrassing the whole community. You were never really that much of a gay hero in the first place. Remember when you suddenly had a wife because, as AIDS made it uncool to be gay, you took the wussy way out and closeted yourself so you could sell more T shirts and perfume? That was a hideous approach and I screamed my lungs out about it--but it was better than now! Now you've hooked up with that almost-21-year-old ex-porn star, Nick Gruber, and you're fawning over him as if this were real love and not a massive late-life crisis being acted out for the horrified masses. It's not going to work!" (Michael Musto)





"Most readers of this paper will think they know what to expect from a lunchtime chat with John Studzinski. Formerly a banker at Morgan Stanley and then at HSBC, now a senior managing director at Blackstone Group, the investment and advisory firm, he is a prominent figure in financial circles from New York to Beijing. So why, you may wonder, is it an arts editor who is meeting him for lunch at the Square, owner-chef Philip Howard’s Michelin two-star restaurant in London’s Mayfair? The answer is simple: there are many John Studzinskis. I have witnessed five or six of them, in occasional meetings over the 20-odd years since we first met (at a National Gallery dinner where he was co-host, since Morgan Stanley was sponsoring the exhibition). None of these Studzinskis is the über-banker: I’ve seen the vice-chairman of Human Rights Watch, the champion of homeless charity work in London, the art collector with an exquisite and historic London home, the leading light among London’s Catholics, the leather-jacketed arts socialite at a Tom Stoppard opening. And there must be yet more Studzinski incarnations, especially in New York, where he spends half his time." (FT)


"In May 2006, ThyssenKrupp announced that the Budd Detroit plant, built in 1919, would close by the end of the year. The plant mainly stamped out auto body parts, and, among other distinctions, had built and assembled the metal for the 1950s Ford (F) Thunderbird. For his book, Punching Out (Doubleday, published on Jan. 18), and from which the following is excerpted, writer Paul Clemens tracked the Budd closing and its aftermath. He spent more than a year talking to former workers and union members before the closing, watched the auction of the plant's massive equipment, and documented the disassembly of the massive press lines, which did the stamping. In this excerpt, he meets riggers, truckers, and scrap crews—the workers charged with taking apart American industry." (BusinessWeek)


"Andrew Lloyd Webber is several million dollars richer after a successful sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong of his French wine collection. The six-hour auction, which took place at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong on Saturday, pulled in 43.3 million Hong Kong dollars (US$5.6 million), including the 21% buyer’s premium. Sotheby’s reported that the room was filled to capacity and the bidding — online, over the phone and in the room — was 'spirited and jovial.' The top lot was a 1982 case of Château Pétrus (12 bottles) that went to an Asian buyer for US$77,564." (WSJ)

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