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Monday, April 04, 2011

Media Whore D'Oeuvres



"'The Afghan Drug Industry Mostly Benefits the Taliban.' Far from it. Today, Afghanistan essentially holds a monopoly on heroin exports to the Old World. The country accounts for more than 90 percent of global production; although drug markets evolve over time, Afghanistan's production costs are so much lower than its would-be competitors' that it is a safe bet to assume the country will be the leader for at least five or 10 more years. In the popular and American political imaginations, the Taliban are thought to be the big winners from this near monopoly, and there is some truth to this. The 'narcoterrorist' label is often misused, but the Taliban are the real deal. They really do use profits from the opium trade to finance terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets. Although the Taliban traffic only modest quantities entirely on their own, taxing other people's drug deals is an important source of revenue; no one knows how much the Taliban profit from the drug trade, but whether they do isn't up for serious debate. But just because the Taliban benefit from the heroin business doesn't mean the heroin business mostly benefits the Taliban. Consider the numbers (or at least the rough ones -- production figures fluctuate from year to year, conversion rates are crude estimates, and price data beyond the opium bazaars are sketchy). In a typical year, Afghan farmers sell about 7,000 tons of opium at $130 a kilogram to traffickers who convert that into 1,000 tons of heroin, worth perhaps $2,500 a kilogram in Afghanistan and $4,000 at wholesale in neighboring countries. That works out to roughly $900 million in annual revenues for the farmers, $1.6 billion for traffickers from operations within Afghanistan, and another $1.5 billion for those who smuggle heroin out of the country. (2010 was atypical; a poppy blight drove opium production down and prices up.) The Taliban's take is subject to debate, with responsible estimates varying from $70 million to $500 million -- but either way it's not a big slice of the pie. The Taliban take 2 to 12 percent of a $4 billion industry; farmers, traffickers, smugglers, and corrupt officials collectively earn much more. It is not clear why the Taliban have been so unsuccessful at translating their power and influence into a larger share of trafficker revenues, but one thing is clear: They have nowhere to go but up." (ForeignPolicy)


"Still chilly almost cold in New York with New Yorkers now eagerly anticipating warmer weather. Sunny, partly cloudy weekend with rain in the late night forecast. Although, fortunately for us, and contrary to the poetic words of Oscar Hammerstein II, March did not 'go out like a lion.' This past Saturday night Elena Ford hosted a Surprise birthday party for her mother Charlotte Ford in the private dining room at La Grenouille. The invitation went out more than a month ago, and blared the 'Surprise' on it. I found it hard to believe someone wouldn’t accidentally give it away since there are four grandchildren and several close friends who easily could have accidentally let the cat out of the bag. Elena, however, covered all bases. She and her mother and her mother’s sister Anne Ford, plus the four grandchildren just came back from a week’s stay in Costa Rica (where it was very hot). They flew back directly to New York (Elena lives in Detroit) which gave them the excuse to stay over a night (and be here). Saturday noon, Charlotte’s lifelong friend Diana Feldman gave a 'luncheon' for her at Serafina which was the 'cover' for a party with friends ... Sister Anne, who is a year or two younger, sometimes jokes about the trail of famous boyfriends who came to squire Charlotte (including Frank Sinatra) when they were very young. Her first marriage to the Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, father of Elena, was a highly publicized international affair." (NYSocialDiary)

"Just when China's glitterati were beginning to think they'd seen it all, a bold bash on the outskirts of Shanghai opened their eyes to a whole new fashion-as-art world. The stunning Red Ball thrown by Diane von Furstenbergs DVF label Thursday night began, for most, with a road trip to a gritty former pipe factory on the fringes of the city, ending in a sprawling industrial compound with graffiti on the walls. The journey to Chinese artist Zhang Huan's vast studio simply heightened the Alice-in-Wonderland effect. Contrasting with its brick walls and corrugated-iron roof, the interior of the one-time warehouse had metamorphosed into a sumptuous fantasy of gigantic Buddhas and thumping music and delicately painted Chinese paper lanterns outlining the 'DVF' logo. Everything was highlighted by veering crimson trajectories of hundreds of laser-pointers wielded manually by male attendants wearing feathered Venetian-style masks. There were luxuriant furs draped over plunging backless gowns (DVF’s red-lacquered invitations advised 'dress warmly' since Shanghai nights can still chill, and Hong Kong socialite Pearl Lam handed out fur wraps to several women in her entourage before heading to the party). There was Hollywood celebrity Jessica Alba, in an elegant black sheath that sparkled as she moved. There were Chinese beauties stepping gingerly in their red-soled Louboutin heels. There was Christian Louboutin himself, in a bright red jacket. His luxury-shoe brand is starting to design with Asian women's feet—generally smaller but wider than those of their Caucasian counterparts—in mind, and plans to open its first store in China this year. Recession in the West has pushed many high-end luxury brands to seek new markets in developing nations (though a pair of Louboutins, costing at least $2,000, would eat up the take-home pay that many Chinese receive in a year)" (TheDailyBeast)


"Malcolm Gladwell, who posited you have to spend 10,000 hours at your craft to be world class. (Charlie) Sheen spent next to nothing. He sucked. You're no longer at the mercy of the critics, you're at the mercy of the public. An audience member is no longer passive, he can render an opinion not only via catcalls and boos, he can text and tweet and blog and those who care can follow along right at home, as I did. And what unfolded in Detroit was more than a mess. It was an utter disaster. Charlie Sheen made the mistake of thinking the audience was on his side. This is what happens when you descend from your showbiz perch, step out of the television and enter the realm of the people, you find out we're all equal. And that if you don't give a great presentation, we tear you down from your peak. What happens now? Cancellation I assume. It's the only way out. To play to ever fewer people and even less attention would just be disheartening. Chuck Lorre and CBS may not have been able to crush Charlie, but he was no match for the proletariat." (Bob Lefsetz)

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