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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The ties that bind Qaddafi to some of the world's most repressive regimes and armed movements began in the 1980s, when he was regarded as one of the premier terrorist threats in the world. Flush with oil money, Qaddafi orchestrated a training campaign for those who became the most brutal warlords in much of Africa, a legacy that has left the region crippled and unstable today. Qaddafi's World Revolutionary Center (WRC) near Benghazi became, as scholar Stephen Ellis noted in his classic 2001 book The Mask of Anarchy, the 'Harvard and Yale of a whole generation of African revolutionaries,' many of them the continent's most notorious tyrants. There, recruits from different countries were hosted in camps in the desert and given training in weapons and intelligence techniques, with some doses of ideological training based on Qaddafi's Green Book. Courses lasted from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on the level of specialization and rank one had. In addition to the African contingents, Qaddafi's cadres trained the Sandinistas from Nicaragua, along with other Latin American revolutionary movements, and in the process developed an enduring relationship with Ortega. Later Qaddafi developed a close and ongoing relationship with the FARC, becoming acquainted with its leaders in meetings of revolutionary groups regularly hosted in Libya. At the WRC in the 1980s and 1990s, a select group of the students, drawn from the broader group of attendees, formed a fraternity of despots who provided mutual support in their bloody and ruthless campaigns for power and wealth. That durable network still wields considerable influence today through its alumni still in power, including Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso and Idriss Déby of Chad." (ForeignPolicy)


"Next year, China will start a leadership transition, which will give the country a new president in place of Hu Jintao, who is also the head of the party and the military, and a new premier to replace Wen Jiabao, who runs the day-to-day business of the government. In 2007, a key party meeting in effect chose the next leadership team, when Xi -Jinping (pronounced Shee Jin-ping) and Li Keqiang (pronounced Lee Ke-chiang) were both promoted to the country’s top body, the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee. Xi, now aged 57, became vice--president and 55-year-old Li one of four vice-premiers (the most senior, with responsibility for the economy, climate change, health and the environment), giving both five years to play understudy to their bosses. The names of the next leaders may already be pencilled in, but the easiest way for them to sabotage their promotion would be to start ­discussing bold ideas now. Instead, they have to spend five years in a form of political purdah, going out of their way to avoid controversial topics. As a result, little is known of their views about many of the big issues that China faces – how to keep the economic boom going, how to manage ties with the US and, perhaps most important of all, whether the Communist party should maintain its iron grip on the country’s political system. Politics in China is often expressed through coded gestures, rather than bold statements, which makes their visits to the family home of Hu Yaobang so symbolic. Were China’s next leaders behaving as dutiful party members, paying respect to a senior comrade in a system that values displays of loyalty, or are they secret liberal sympathisers who are waiting for the right moment to restart the debate about political reform that died in Tiananmen? There is always an element of wishful thinking to such discussions. For the past two decades, -western observers and governments have projected these questions on to leadership changes, in the hope of finding the new Chinese Gorbachev figure, one who has yet to appear." (FT)


"Tiziana Hardy never goes to the Century Club anymore. The midtown haunt of the powerful and prestigious has for a short 23 years welcomed women inside its clubhouse—the white marble Stanford White-designed landmark behind gates and guards on the corner of 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue—and yet Mrs. Hardy, a member, never steps through the door. Hugh Hardy, her husband, goes all the time. The celebrated architect and spunky octogenarian happens to be the president of the Century Association. He is also the reason his wife would rather stay away. 'It's his club,' Mrs. Hardy, also an architect, told The Observer over the phone, in her bright Italian accent. 'I have my own club, and I wouldn't ask him to come to my club. If there is music, I go, but I don't particularly go there to socialize because if I want to see friends, I see them at home.' Until 1989, not going to the Century Club would not have been a matter of choice for Ms. Hardy. Women were not allowed to join and could enter only in the company of members." (Observer)



"The lowest-priced single-family home on the market in Aspen is listed for $559,000. It's located in a trailer park. While most housing markets in the rest of the country continue to struggle with anemic demand and foreclosures—and sales at many other luxury ski resorts are still sluggish—Aspen has forged its own orbit. The average home price in this mountain town has increased over the past four years, to $6 million in 2010 from $5.4 million in 2006, according to multiple-listings data. The median price for single-family homes is now the highest in the country at $4.6 million, says San Francisco-based Altos Research, surpassing the Hamptons, Beverly Hills and Palm Beach. Sales of luxury Aspen estates—the sorts of over-the-top places with leather walls and outdoor heated infinity pools—have remained remarkably healthy, thanks in part to foreign buyers. Of the 25 real-estate transactions recorded by Pitkin County for the week of Jan. 19 to 25, five were buyers from abroad, including three Australians and people from Turkey and Hong Kong.  Last month, a home in the Maroon Creek neighborhood with an indoor heated swimming pool, basketball court and outdoor hot tub overlooking a waterfall sold for $13 million. The buyer was Russian Alexander Zanadvorov, the 40-year-old owner of Sedmoi Kontinent, a chain of supermarkets. With celebrity regulars like Lance Arstrong and Goldie Hawn, Aspen is an anointed stop on the international jet-set circuit, a place where the wealthy come to play and spend. Increasingly, they're putting down roots there." (WSJ)


"New York’s august Frick Collection could never be accused of pandering to the masses. But the enthusiastic public response to two recent Rembrandt shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which together attracted well over a half-million visitors, cannot have been lost on the organizers of 'Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections.' This exhilarating new show presents more than sixty drawings and prints from the Paris foundation established in 1947 by the renowned Dutch connoisseur and scholar Frits Lugt (1884–1970) and Jacoba Klever, his heiress wife, to preserve some 37,000 works on paper he had amassed since his teens, and exhibits them alongside the Frick’s own Rembrandt paintings and prints. In the intimate (if imposing) ambience of Henry Clay Frick’s former home, one feels the embracing personality of this most humane of Old Masters... These tightly focused displays have proved how much can be gained from looking at a limited number of objects in uncrowded, unhurried circumstances that enable the visual equivalent of a literary close reading. This luxury, nearly lost in the scrum of today’s hectic museum experience, seems no less extraordinary than the treasures on view here. The two stars of this show—Rembrandt’s oil-on-canvas Self-Portrait (1658) and his wash-drawing Interior with Saskia in Bed (c. 1640–1642)—are antithetical in size and medium but alike in their demonstration of his Shakespearean insight into the human condition. Both pieces address their subjects with an astonishing directness and empathy that make the four centuries since their creation seem like the passing of an hour." (NYRB)


"Sean Parker is late. He was due at Gramercy Tavern at 1pm and at 1.15pm his assistant calls to say he is on his way. By 1.25pm, there is still no sign of him and I sit wondering if he is going to arrive. He has cancelled lunch once already, complaining of a knee injury and he has a reputation in Silicon Valley for being unreliable and flaky. Parker is indulged because he has been a driving force in several pioneering internet companies, including Napster and Facebook (although he was ejected as president of Facebook for alleged bad behaviour) and has others up his sleeve. He is portrayed in The Social Network, the Facebook film, as a gifted but amoral playboy who charms his way to the side of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, and brutally ejects a rival. The devil has the best line in the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film. When Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, meets Zuckerberg at a New York restaurant, he floats across the room, orders food for everyone, spins enticing tales and leaves with the come-on aphorism: 'A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.' In real life, Parker’s Facebook stake is now worth $2bn. So it is hard, waiting for him at a 'very private banquette' (as Parker’s office has specified on the booking) at the Danny Meyer restaurant in lower Manhattan, to disentangle fact from fiction. Parker is having trouble with it himself since some parts of the script, for which Sorkin won an Oscar this week, ring true. He is indeed a bon viveur who wears designer suits and at the age of 31 has just spent $20m on a carriage house in nearby Greenwich Village." (FT)


"Remember when everyone agreed that what the American people wanted from Washington was, in John Boehner’s words, a 'relentless focus on creating jobs'? In the past few months the unemployment rate has barely budged, and yet lawmakers of both parties have jettisoned the jobs agenda in favor of an austerity program that will barely reduce the deficit but will almost certainly hurt employment. If the Republican proposal to trim $60 billion from the fiscal budget puts thousands out of work, well then, says Boehner, 'so be it.' This disconnect between the jobs crisis in the country and the blithe dismissal thereof in Washington is the most incomprehensible aspect of the political moment. But I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it. The first is 4.2. That’s the percentage of Americans with a four-year college degree who are unemployed. It’s less than half the official unemployment rate of 9 percent for the labor force as a whole and one-fourth the underemployment rate (which counts those who have given up looking for work or are working part time but want full-time work) of 16.1 percent. So while the overall economy continues to suffer through the worst labor market since the Great Depression, the elite centers of power have recovered. For those of us fortunate enough to have graduated from college—and to have escaped foreclosure or an underwater mortgage—normalcy has returned." (TheNation)


"The morning after I arrived in Liberia, in 2007, I watched a mob beat a man bloody in the street. He was a cell-phone snatcher, they told me. It was brutal, but understandable: a cell phone was the most valuable thing many Liberians owned, or at any rate the most easily snatchable, and after post-war purges the new police were young, scared, and seldom seen. At the time, Liberia was the only country in the world whose capital city had no municipal electricity. Yet most people I met seemed to have a cell phone. Where did they charge them? For many, the solution was charging stations: roadside stands run by small entrepreneurs fortunate enough to have generators. You’d drop off your cell, get a ticket in return, then come back in a few hours to claim it, fully powered. Mobile-phone technology is like fire: as soon as a society gets it, it can’t imagine life without it. In the current issue, Ken Auletta writes about the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim, whose former company, Celtel, brought the cell-phone boom to Africa, where the number of cell phones “has grown from fewer than four million in 1998 to more than four hundred million today—almost half the population of the continent.” Despite their expense, inconvenience, and even danger, they’ve proven invaluable in Liberia, a country entirely without landline service, where people need all the tools they can get to face the overwhelming task of rebuilding from nothing." (NewYorker)


"Back in 1998, Jan Lastocy was serving time for attempted embezzlement in a Michigan prison. Her job was working at a warehouse for a nearby men’s prison. She got along well with two of the corrections officers who supervised her, but she thought the third was creepy. 'He was always talking about how much power he had,' she said, 'how he liked being able to write someone a ticket just for looking at him funny.' Then, one day, he raped her. Jan wanted to tell someone, but the warden had made it clear that she would always believe an officer’s word over an inmate’s, and didn’t like 'troublemakers.' If Jan had gone to the officers she trusted, they would have had to repeat her story to the same warden. Jan was only a few months away from release to a halfway house. She was desperate to get out of prison, to return to her husband and children. So she kept quiet—and the officer raped her again, and again. There were plenty of secluded places in the huge warehouse, behind piles of crates or in the freezer. Three or four times a week he would assault her, from June all the way through December, and the whole time she was too terrified to report the attacks ... According to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the Department of Justice, there were only 7,444 official allegations of sexual abuse in detention in 2008, and of those, only 931 were substantiated. These are absurdly low figures. But perhaps more shocking is that even when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42 percent of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23 percent were arrested, and only 3 percent charged, indicted, or convicted. Fifteen percent were actually allowed to keep their jobs." (NYRB)

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