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Monday, January 03, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"While China is seizing the spotlight in East and Southeast Asia with its widening economic footprint and muscular diplomacy, it is also quietly making its presence felt on its western flank, once primarily Russia’s domain.  Chinese officials see Central Asia as a critical frontier for their nation’s energy security, trade expansion, ethnic stability and military defense. State enterprises have reached deep into the region with energy pipelines, railroads and highways, while the government has recently opened Confucius Institutes to teach Mandarin in capitals across Central Asia. Central Asia, says Gen. Liu Yazhou of the People’s Liberation Army, is 'the thickest piece of cake given to the modern Chinese by the heavens.' The five predominantly Muslim countries that won independence after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are once again arenas for superpower rivalry, much as the region was during the 19th century Great Game between Russia and Britain. This time the players are China, Russia and the United States, which uses Central Asia as a conduit for troops to Afghanistan." (NYTimes)


"... (O)ver the weekend, a friend of Mercedes and Sid Bass remonstrated me for writing about the Rumor about the Basses’ marriage transition. The 'untrue' Rumor as I printed it was that the couple was not going to be spending the year-end holidays together. The couple did spend the holidays together. What was different, if anything, was that some of the friends they have spent the holiday with in the past, did not join them. For whatever reason, it was not because they were breaking up, according to my source who is a loyal friend of the couple. Secondly, the couple also spent the New Year’s weekend together – with or without guests, I do not know – at their chalet in Aspen. So there. One of the factors behind the Rumor was Mr. Bass’ alleged disinterest in the opera where his wife, who is mad about opera, has become not only a major donor but sits on the board. Mister, however, is said to be one of those guys who’d rather be doing something else. Like staying home. There are a lot of people out there who can relate to that, as we know." (NYSocialDiary)


"When Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in a few weeks, pundits will expect him to express some humility and willingness to compromise in light of his party's November losses. And so he should. But he needn't acquiesce to conservatives, nor make theatrical shows of 'fighting' them. Instead, he needs to move from a strategy of overwhelming force (marshaling his congressional Democratic majority to pass health care legislation against a united GOP opposition) to one of subtle jiujitsu (negotiating a tax deal with Republicans that manages to deliver a rabbit-out-of-his-hat stimulus package). Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton spent most of their presidencies contending with divided government, yet still cleverly managed to move their agendas forward. So can Obama, if he can find the right words and ideas. To that end, the Washington Monthly asked a group of writers, scholars, and White House veterans for their advice about what Obama should say in his State of the Union. Many of them offered the kind of shrewd and surprising ideas that can turn unpromising political circumstances to the president's -- and the country's -- advantage." (WashingtonMonthly)



"Associate celebrity with the worship of graven images, and not only is it nothing new under the sun, it is the pretension to divinity that built the pyramids and destroyed both Sodom and Julius Caesar. The vanity of princes is an old story; so is the wish for kings and the gazing into the pool of Narcissus. The precious cargo that was Cleopatra, queen in Egypt, was carried on the Nile in a golden boat rowed with silver oars, its decks laden with the music of flutes and lyres, its sails worked by women dressed as nymphs and graces. The son et lumières presented by Louis XIV in the palace of Versailles and by Adolf Hitler in the stadium at Nuremberg prefigure the Colorado rock-star staging of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential nomination. Nor do the profile pictures on Facebook lack for timeworn precedent. During the three centuries between the death of Alexander and the birth of Christ, the cities of Asia Minor were littered with tributes to an exalted self. Wealthy individuals aspiring to apotheosis in bronze acquired first a prominent vantage point and then a prefabricated torso representative of a goddess or a general. A flattering hand fitted the custom-tailored head; as with the cover photographs for Vanity Fair, prices varied according to the power of the image to draw a crowd." (Lewis H. Lapham)


"Each of us has a blind spot, a hole in our vision where the light-gathering retina connects to the optic nerve. Politicians have other kinds of blind spots—pet projects, favored benefactors—and, in a bureaucracy as large as New York’s, they can breed trouble. Ed Koch started programs that were then used by Democratic Party bosses for patronage hires; 100,000 fraudulent welfare recipients took advantage of John Lindsay’s faith in the War on Poverty. As a partyless billionaire who pays for his own campaigns, Mayor Bloomberg has no obligations to doctrine or donors, but he has a different kind of failing—a failing that’s just enabled one of the largest scandals of his administration, with four consultants arrested for allegedly misappropriating almost $80 million from the CityTime program to digitize the municipal payroll. And in a way, the project fits an established Bloombergian pattern: ambitious restructuring efforts whose technocratic idealism gives way to old-fashioned unsupervised governmental inefficiency." (NYMag)


"Polls show that only one prominent figure in French public life could handily defeat sitting president Nicolas Sarkozy in his re-election bid in 2012. Fortunately for Sarkozy, that person is otherwise occupied, for now: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is busy running the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, D.C., where his term as managing director runs until late 2012 -- after the conclusion of the French vote. And it's an especially hectic time at the IMF. The organization has been called in to help keep a growing number of countries from going bankrupt, including Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Pakistan, and Ukraine. Strauss-Kahn is generally acknowledged to have done a commendable job throughout the crisis; whereas earlier IMF interventions routinely triggered protests, the most recent bailouts have been generally been embraced by the bailed-out countries. If Strauss-Kahn does indeed depart the IMF next year, whoever takes over won't only be responsible for overseeing the organization's active programs around the world -- he or she would also be responsible for managing the delicate negotiations over the political composition of the multilateral institution. Over the past year, emerging economies have expressed their intent to challenge Europe's dominance over the 24-member board that governs the IMF. Indeed, if the top slot is open next year, other countries may formally object to Europe's traditional, informal prerogative to name a replacement." (ForeignPolicy)


"This stunning display of blue-blood pride came about through a discussion of New York's cherished Hadley Marie Nagel, the most celebrated ingenue of the night and — it's safe to say — the presumed Girl Of The Year 2011. Miss Nagel has a family tree that includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence, but at this event, that sort of lineage wasn't unusual. The master of ceremonies was Mr. Ivan Obolensky, a direct descendant of John Jacob Astor through his mother and a Russian prince through his father. He's long been involved as an Honorary Chairman of the International Debutante Ball, which was first held in 1954. The press sheet described the event's creation story: 'Reminiscing about her own debut, Consuelo Vanderbilt, future wife of the Duke of Marlborough, recalled it took two weeks for her to get to England for her debut, then another seven or eight days of exhausting travel to Paris for another ball in her honor. 'Girls don’t realize what a wonderful opportunity they have to fly around the globe to attend each other’s parties.' That remark sparked Beatrice Dinsmore Joyce, a New York Socialite with a dramatic flair for parties and pageantry, to create the first international Debutante Ball as a charity.' In some ways, then, the International is forever destined to be an anachronism, a relic of the past." (Observer)


"Naomi Campbell's Russian billionaire boyfriend, Vladimir Doronin, spent Christmas with his wife, Ekaterina, his daughter, Katia, and his mother-in-law before he jetted off for New Year's with the supermodel. Sources tell us Doronin, who's not divorced from Katia despite his public relationship with Campbell, spent the week leading up to Christmas at the Beverly Hills Hotel with his family. Campbell then flew to LA, and she and Vlad headed off to Cabo, Mexico. A source said, 'Despite rumors of a wedding in 2011, he and his wife are nowhere near a divorce settlement." Reps for Doronin and Campbell couldn't be reached.'" (PageSix)

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