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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"There was a moment—after he appealed for reason, blamed the Republicans, recited the numbers, invoked Ronald Reagan—that President Obama seemed filled with fervor. He was not going to be party to 'driving a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls,' or penalizing the 'working stiffs out there,' the people who “don’t have lobbyists. These are standard Democratic talking points, to be sure, but when you strip everything else away, when you try to locate the remnants of the audacity of hope, this is why Obama thinks he ran for president. As he announced the collapse of the debt negotiations Friday evening after House Speaker John Boehner pulled the plug, Obama appeared to offer an answer to those, many of them in his own party, who wonder: Does he have a breaking point? To some diehard Democrats, Obama always seems willing to meet the opposition more than halfway in the service of getting a deal done. He put their sacred programs, Medicare and Social Security, on the table without securing a Republican commitment to raise a dollar in taxes. His own partisans weren’t clear whether he had a line in the sand that he would refuse to cross. It’s not that the president is certain to prevail in this debilitating impasse. Both parties, as has been clear for some time, are headed for an ugly short-term fix to avoid a government default on August 2. Whatever promises they make about grand bargains, it’s all about dodging an economic bullet at this point." (Howie Kurtz)

"Mohammed Bouazizi's final act of hopelessness -- setting himself ablaze in front of a government building in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on Dec. 17, 2010 -- touched off a wave of civil unrest that toppled two governments, threatens to bring down at least three others, and has redefined the relationship between the ruler and the ruled across the Arab world. But the protests, which were spurred by rising food prices and unemployment, have bequeathed a cruel irony to their makers: A worsening of the very same conditions that sparked the Arab Spring. The economies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia are projected to shrink by a collective 0.5 percent this year, reversing 4.4 percent growth in 2010, according to a report published by the Institute of International Finance in May. In Yemen and Libya, which are still in turmoil, the numbers will likely be worse; and the growth forecast for the North African region as a whole has fallen from 4.5 percent in 2010 to less than 1 percent this year, according to the African Central Bank. Even among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, some of which enjoyed revolution-induced oil windfalls, the Arab Spring has produced economic losers. Bahrain, in particular -- which sent capital and bank employees scuttling when it violently quelled protests, killing at least five demonstrators, and declared a three-month state of emergency earlier this year -- could potentially forfeit its position as one of the region's financial hubs. As Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Foreign Policy, many of the international banks that were headquartered in Bahrain 'have just pulled up and gone. And they are probably not going to come back.' Capital flight has also hamstrung other Arab countries." (ForeignPolicy)
"Mariah Carey made her first public appearance at a New York club less than three months after giving birth to twins -- and seemed back to her divatastic ways, being fanned by a minion and ordering champagne to be delivered to her in the bathroom. The svelte-looking singer, who had her twins Moroccan Scott and Monroe on April 30, partied at Chelsea hot spot Juliet Supperclub until 2:30 a.m. yesterday morning with two female friends and without hubby Nick Cannon.  Spies said that a glowing Mariah 'looked fantastic' in a light brown strapless dress, sipped from a $1,600 bottle of Angel champagne, and happily chatted and posed for photos for fans, but still seemed to have retained a few of her famous diva ways ... "She spent a lot of the night dancing, and was nice to anyone who approached her. But the club was very crowded, so she asked if she could have 'a minute' of quiet time in the bathroom. The ladies' was cleared out, and Mariah ordered a $450 bottle of Perrier Jouet, and had a few glasses in the privacy of the bathroom before coming back out to join the masses.'" (PageSix)


"When (Elizabeth) Meyer was 21, she lost her father, an entertainment lawyer, to lymphoma. She took it upon herself to give him a fitting send-off. 'I planned it like an event. It was a success!' she says. The casket was hidden under a blanket of peonies; songs by the Stones and David Bowie were played, loudly. 'Someone said, ‘I want to dance,’ and my best friend, Ali ­Hilfiger'—Tommy’s daughter—'said, ‘Go ahead, then, dance!’' Afterward: lunch for 200 at Centolire. Meyer, realizing she was on to something, pitched her services to (Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel, on Madison Avenue a block east of the Met); Campbell bit. As a kind of orientation, the mortuary started her as a receptionist, a role that included collecting bodies from homes and morgues. 'The first time they asked me to do that, I was wearing suede Gucci loafers. I was kind of concerned about them,’ she says. 'Now I keep a pair of shoes here that never go back into my apartment.' Meyer’s mother was horrified to learn of her little fashionista’s career change. 'She thinks I’ve been fixated on death since my dad passed away,' says Meyer, who wears her father’s Rolex every day. For her part, Meyer finds the job cathartic, now that she’s gotten over her initial discomfort. 'It’s not glamorous, I can’t sugarcoat it. But I have high-powered executives telling me their fears and wants, and I’m honored they open up to me.' Those wants can be highly specific: For guitarist Les Paul’s memorial service, she was asked to secure a tour bus; for an exotic-car collector, she organized a cortège of Ferraris; for a prominent Latin American, she transformed a chapel into a tropical setting, complete with palm trees and a D.J. 'It reminded me of Bungalow 8,' Meyer recalls." (NYMag)

"I have an appointment with Egypt’s most famous dentist. The waiting room is a smart hotel restaurant in central Cairo. Although Dr Alaa al-Aswany’s trade is pulling and polishing teeth, he has achieved international fame as a novelist. His first book, The Yacoubian Building, came out in 2002, was published in English in 2004 and made into a film in 2006. The novel is a brilliant portrayal of social, political and business life in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, viewed through the lives of the inhabitants of a single building. In the aftermath of the revolution that overthrew the Mubarak government earlier this year, the book’s focus on the social injustices and corruption of Egyptian society seems sharply prescient. Aswany’s international literary fame – added to the fact that he is fluent in English, French and Spanish – made him a much sought-after commentator during the Egyptian revolution ... We are meeting just a few minutes’ walk from Tahrir Square at the Four Seasons, one of Cairo’s smartest hotels. It is a place so posh that even the X-ray machine that scans all bags coming into the hotel for bombs is covered in faux walnut. The large dining room of Zitouni, a Lebanese restaurant, is all but empty. The Egyptian revolution has been good for freedom but bad for tourism. Just after 1pm, Aswany strides across the room. He is wearing an open-neck black shirt and a grey, pinstriped jacket. He has a broad, slightly pockmarked face and a heavy, boxer’s build. In fact, to my eyes, he bears a resemblance to Mubarak, a man he detests. As soon as he sits down, he lights up a cigarette – one of many that will be smoked that afternoon. The waiter comes over and we order a couple of locally produced Stella beers, while we consider what to eat." (FT)

"Last night The Observer hopped on a hot, sweaty subway and emerged in the hot, sweaty Lower East Side. We trudged, wiping the sweat from our brow, to the Vice Magazine Photo Show. Arriving at the door of the gallery, a mob of perspiring partiers was causing the doorman and bouncer much distress. 'Everybody back up!,' the seasoned bouncer would periodically yell, muttering under his breath about the overwhelmed Vice rep at the door. We got inside, hoping to escape the humidity, and found ourselves confronted with the feverish calidity of young drunken body-heat. We waded down the slim staircase, and pushed toward the bar where tattooed youths waited for their helping of free alcohol. The drinks were strong. A booth and speakers had been set up in the small downstairs space where DJ Vito Fun blasted Florence+The Machine, the Killers and the like. 'Racism is Gay!' his shirt read. Tipsy hipsters clapped to the music and danced, hand in sweaty hand. Girls in lace dresses dabbed at their foreheads in futile desperation while boys in T-shirts soaked through with sweat looked on." (Observer)

"Gordon S. Wood is more than an American historian. He is almost an American institution. Of all the many teachers and writers of history in this Republic, few are held in such high esteem. Part of his reputation rises from his productivity — a stream of books, monographs, articles, lectures and commentary. Now he has added 'The Idea of America' (along with a new edition of John Adams’s Revolutionary writings in two volumes for the Library of America series).  More important than his productivity is the quality of his work, and its broad appeal to readers of the right, left and center — a rare and happy combination. Specially striking is Wood’s rapport with the young. In the film 'Good Will Hunting,' Matt Damon and Ben Affleck centered a lively scene at a student hangout on an impassioned discussion of Wood’s work. The television sitcom 'It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia' made 'Gordon Wood' into an adjective, and used it as a synonym for serious scholarship in general. 'Wicked awesome,' one character said, 'all that Gordon Wood business!' Through it all, the man himself preserves a quiet modesty, and even a humility that is central to his work. He is respected not only for what he does but for who he is.  Wood’s latest book is a collection of 11 essays, along with an introduction and conclusion, that encompass his entire career. It reveals more of the author than any of his other work and creates the opportunity for an overall assessment of his achievement. Wood introduces himself with a familiar line from the poet Archilochus: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.' He celebrates the foxes who flourish in his field, and adds in his modest way, 'By contrast, as a historian I fear I am a simple hedgehog. . . . Nearly all of my publications have dealt with the American Revolution and its consequences.'" (NYTBookReview)
"A short Greek-American kid named Demetrius who lived on West 183rd Street in the late 1960s was by no means the first teenager to think of writing something in indelible ink on someone else’s property. He never considered himself an artist, and his illicit career of leaving his name and street number on hundreds, maybe thousands, of surfaces throughout the five boroughs of New York City ended after only a couple of years, when he put aside his Magic Marker and went off dutifully to college.  But the sheer ubiquity of his neatly written signature — TAKI 183 — and an article about him in The New York Times in the summer of 1971 combined to transform him into a kind of shadowy folk hero, inspiring hundreds of emulators and, by general agreement among urban historians, making him responsible for starting the modern graffiti movement. Viewed in some circles as an American art form on a par with jazz and Abstract Expressionism and in others as vandalism, pure and simple, the movement has gained momentum ever since and has spread around the world ... 'What does he look like?' a HarperCollins publicist had asked Mr. Gastman earlier in the afternoon, before the arrival of the near-mythical guest of honor.  'He looks like somebody’s dad,' Mr. Gastman replied. Indeed, Demetrius — who declines to provide his last name, still wary after all these years — is a dad, of two children now in college, who have only recently become aware of the extent of their father’s historical significance." (NYTimes)

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