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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to arm the Syrian opposition, raising the prospect of a widening conflict after the 'Friends of Syria' group met in Tunis yesterday to pressure President Bashar al-Assad to step down. The two Arab nations backed a plan to send weapons to rebels fighting the Syrian regime, a call echoed by prominent U.S. Republican lawmakers, while the Obama administration and officials from Morocco, Tunisia and Bahrain said they are against moves that would further militarize the conflict. That divide contrasted with the otherwise united front in condemning the violence unleashed by the Assad regime. Syrian forces killed 18 people today, including eight in Aleppo province, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement. Syrian forces broke up a protest of 4,000 people near Aleppo city, it said. Arming the opposition is 'an excellent idea,' Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on his way into a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 'because they have to protect themselves.' Clinton, Saud and officials from more than 70 countries attended the conference in Tunis, where they backed a decision to begin planning a joint Arab League-United Nations peacekeeping mission after Assad’s ouster." (Businessweek)


"The State Department has begun coordinating with Syria's neighbors to prepare for the handling of President Bashar al-Assad's extensive weapons of mass destruction if and when his regime collapses, The Cable has learned. This week, the State Department sent a diplomatic demarche to Syria's neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, warning them about the possibility of Syria's WMDs crossing their borders and offering U.S. government help in dealing with the problem, three Obama administration officials confirmed to The Cable. For concerned parties both inside and outside the U.S. government, the demarche signifies that the United States is increasingly developing plans to deal with the dangers of a post-Assad Syria -- while simultaneously highlighting the lack of planning for how to directly bring about Assad's downfall. Syria is believed to have a substantial chemical weapons program, which includes mustard gas and sophisticated nerve agents, such as sarin gas, as well as biological weapons. Syria has also refused IAEA requests to make available facilities that were part of its nuclear weapons program and may still be in operation. The State Department declined to provide access to any officials to discuss the private diplomatic communication on the record, such as the author of the demarche Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Tom Countryman. In a meeting with reporters earlier this year, Countryman expressed confidence that the United States knows where Syria's WMD stockpiles are, but warned that they could become a very serious security issue for Syria and the region going forward.
"We have ideas as to the quantity and we have ideas as to where they are,' Countryman said. 'We wish some of the neighbors of Syria to be on the lookout... When you get a change of regime in Syria, it matters what are the conditions -- chaotic or orderly.'" (FP)


"Until a few weeks ago, Harvey Weinstein had no idea who designed his tuxedos. 'A fashion blogger asked me at the Directors Guild awards,' he told me over breakfast recently. 'I had to look at the label. My wife [Georgina Chapman, designer and co-founder of the Marchesa fashion label] buys them for me ... They’re all laid out in the closet like when I was in school.' Weinstein clearly has more important things to think about than who makes his suits. The burly 59-year-old is, after all, the man who turned independent cinema into a thriving global business, launched the career of Quentin Tarantino, and last month was addressed as both 'God' and 'the Punisher' by Meryl Streep as she accepted a Golden Globe award. And yet a tuxedo, worn most weekends from January to March as he attends a succession of the awards ceremonies that can help turn a film into a commercial hit, is practically a uniform for Weinstein. So far this year, he has dressed up for the Baftas, Screen Actors Guild awards, Globes and all the other events that can seem like mere warm-ups for the main event: the Oscars. And yet a tuxedo, worn most weekends from January to March as he attends a succession of the awards ceremonies that can help turn a film into a commercial hit, is practically a uniform for Weinstein. So far this year, he has dressed up for the Baftas, Screen Actors Guild awards, Globes and all the other events that can seem like mere warm-ups for the main event: the Oscars.On Sunday, at the 84th Academy Awards, a tuxedo-clad Weinstein will once again walk the red carpet into the glitzy auditorium and find himself front and centre at Hollywood’s biggest night." (FT)


"Though he didn't take Seipel seriously at first, Putin gradually came to accept the idea of the film. The documentary itself is a departure from the official images we are all too familiar with. Instead, it offers a look behind the scenes of power and addresses the question of what exactly it is like to be Vladimir Putin. The scenes that Seipel compiles offer a clear answer: It's lonely. In one scene, Putin is shown practicing ice hockey alone at night in an empty arena. In another, he is at the pool in the morning, accompanied only by his black Labrador retriever Koni, who licks the prime minister's face. Then, there is Putin playing ice hockey at night, this time with a team made up of his bodyguards playing against Dmitry Medvedev's bodyguards, though without the Russian president. During a break, Putin is shown sitting by himself, looking old and exhausted. And there is Putin walking to a cabinet meeting -- also alone. Indeed, no matter where he is -- even on a manly hunting trip with friends in remote Siberia -- there is always something of a security buffer around him, leaving Putin to always sit by himself.The premier tries to portray himself as a fit 59-year-old, vigorous and manly, the virile opposite of his predecessor as president, the flabby drinker Boris Yeltsin. This is, after all, the deeper purpose of all the staged images of Putin hunting bears or fly-fishing we are so familiar with. But in Seipel's film, this no longer comes across as virile but, rather, as exhausting and joyless. Seipel presents an image of a man stubbornly fending off physical decline. This is especially obvious when the staged effort is a failure. For example, there is the scene in which a young woman knocks Putin on his back during a judo match at his old club in St. Petersburg. Putin is clearly unable to accept defeat, feeling instead compelled to avenge himself immediately by viciously throwing her onto the mat." (Der Spiegel)


"Arriving at the general reception (pretty standard, featuring a woman behind a high desk), I am quickly escorted to a more private reception area. It is an eye-boggling combination of deep burgundy velvet settees, leopard-print walls and assorted enormous paintings. These include an oil of the designers and their three labradors – one chocolate, one blond, one black – and the Italian pop artist Giuseppe Veneziano’s depiction of an enormous classical Madonna with the head of Madonna Ciccone and two putti – with the heads of Dolce and Gabbana – playing at her feet. It is, frankly, a little disconcerting. Still, Dante Ferretti couldn’t have made a better film set if he’d tried. As Dolce and Gabbana design, so do they live ... Dolce, 53, and Gabbana, 49, met in 1980 when both were assistants at a fashion atelier in Milan, and became Dolce & Gabbana in 1982. From the start, their inspiration was to tap into the romantic nostalgia people feel for the Dolce Vita clichés of Italy – Sophia Loren, pasta, Sicily – and to translate them, without irony but with great enthusiasm, into a modern aesthetic (one 2009 ad campaign featured Madonna in a kitchen cooking pasta). The clothes may have a complicated construction but their appeal is straightforward. Like many other Italian brands, they are, at least superficially, about sex ... The two designers have been together professionally for 30 years and they were also involved personally for 23 of those but broke up in 2005. They know it is tempting to try to make sense of their partnership, to say one is a tailor and one a dressmaker, or one a sketcher and one a draper." (FT)


"Back to camp for breakfast and then a blissful massage given by a therapist named Charity ... gotta love that name. Lunch brought a visit from Jackson (Jackson is his Christian name. His Masai name is Lekishon, meaning eternal life), a 24-year-old local Masai warrior who arrived dressed in traditional robes (called shukas which are large rectangular wool or cotton woven blankets, in tribal colors of reds and purples) and multi-colored beaded necklaces, belts and head gear, completed by a spear and sheathed knife at his side. I sat down with him and learned a great deal about contemporary life in his village. There are approximately 800,000 Masai living in Kenya and Tanzania, constituting one of the largest tribes in Africa. The Masai’s primary form of income is still derived from raising and herding cattle. Though cattle are no longer used as barter, a man’s wealth is measured by the head of cattle he owns. It was amazing for me to learn that many of the same traditions have carried forward for hundreds if not thousands of years. According to Jackson, cattle raiding from outside tribes still occurs, and one of the primary functions of a warrior is reclaiming stolen cattle and often meting out punishment in the form of death by poisoned arrow. 'The end' supposedly occurs within five minutes. Only the elders in the village are permitted to make the poison for the arrow tips. Perhaps I had a touch of heat stroke while listening to this saga from Jackson, but he solemnly told me that he has killed in the name of rescuing stolen cattle. Not sure if my leg was being pulled across the room. Certainly prompted me to think about corporate raiders in the US." (Nina Groscom/NYSocialDiary)


"Some 30 years ago, a Baltimore lawyer who published a newsletter about wine out of his suburban Maryland home became the most influential and powerful figure in the wine world. Influenced by Ralph Nader's consumer advocacy, Robert Parker wanted to make the previously arcane subject of French wine accessible to the American public. His hundred-point rating system seemed to unlock the mysteries of oenophilia for everyday drinkers, and his taste for bold, ripe wines eventually had a big influence on the way wine was made around the world. (Mr. Parker's palate is more nuanced than his detractors would have you believe, but that's another story.) The Wine Spectator, Mr. Parker's competition, promoted a vision of the wine universe that was remarkably similar: Big wine, big points. All successful revolutions breed their reactions, and while no single figure has arisen to challenge Mr. Parker's supremacy, the rise of the sommelier has been a significant countervailing force in the last decade. Sommeliers are the new celebrities of the restaurant world, and collectively they are increasingly influencing the way we think about wine and drink it.  This state of affairs would have been hard to predict back in the '70s, when the word sommelier denoted a scary guy in a tux with a heavy French accent and a silver ashtray on a chain around his neck, whose raison d'être was to make you overpay for a bottle of French wine while making you feel like a complete idiot in the process." (WSJ)

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