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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


" Tuesday night, April 10, after Damascus skipped the truce laid down in the UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan’s plan and escalated its attacks on the Syrian population, a change of tone was detected in the Obama administration. debkafile’s Washington sources report that, although President Barack Obama is still flat against broad US military intervention in Syria, administration circles feel America could no longer stay aloof from what is happening there. They are thinking in terms of limited military action to show Bashar Assad and the heads of his regime and army the first American red lines against his brutal crackdown. One plan under discussion is for a US air strike against an Assad regime and/or military target would be enough to dent morale in Damascus and demonstrate to his loyal troops and the Syrian opposition that the Syrian ruler is far from infallible.
This lesson might corner Assad into complying with Annan’s six-point peace plan, especially the ceasefire and withdrawal of armored troops from Syrian cities, which he ducked Tuesday. The pretext Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem offered Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for missing the deadline, our Moscow sources report, was that when the soldiers are pulled out of the cities, rebel forces will move into the evacuated areas; the anti-Assad uprising would flare up again at full strength across Syria. Moallem appealed to his host to persuade the Americans to continue to abstain from military action in Syria and defend the need for Syrian units to remain in the main cities, even against a complaint by Annan to the UN Security Council accusing Damascus of flouting an agreed plan. In consideration of this side play in Moscow, Annan was cautious in his comments to reporters on his visit to a Syrian refugee camp in southern Turkey, saying it was too soon to declare his plan a failure." (Debkafile)



"In (Bill) Maher’s world, business comes before pleasure, and his business is jokes—putting the ball in the hole, over and over. Last night I’d watched the taping of the third episode of Real Time, now in its tenth season, which featured the former congressman Mark Foley (he of the gay-instant-messaging-with-congressional-page scandal) as well as Martin Bashir of MSNBC and super-chef ­Mario Batali.'Tom DeLay—remember Tom DeLay?' asked Maher. 'He said Newt Gingrich is the most despicable human being … he has seen since shaving this morning.' ... Before we go out to a club in Pasadena for the night, Maher fires up his pot-­vaporizing machine again and fills another watermelon- size balloon for the road. He stuffs it into an oversize shopping bag and heads for the garage, where his driver awaits us in a dapper suit and tie. Doors closed, Audi purring, Maher settles into the plush leather seats with the bulging shopping bag in his lap. Then he turns to me, eyes two slits, and reconsiders: 'You’ve had enough, right?' We leave the weed in the garage. It’s probably a good idea: Bill Maher has to be onstage in an hour. Success has a way of making comedians less funny after a while. Jay Leno. Eddie Murphy. Jerry Seinfeld. What ever happened to Garry Shandling? Bill Maher’s shtick has never been revolutionary, but he’s been a consistent comedy machine for twenty years, cranking out sulfurous insults week after week, year after year, his facial expression of acid disapproval punctuating another fresh offense or oily one-liner as he pickles the day’s news in his own bitter brine. 'Newt Gingrich doesn’t like condoms ’cause they’re hard for a fat guy to put on in a car.'  But in one of the most absurd and ­comedy-rich elections in recent memory, Bill Maher finds himself, by luck and design, near the center of the action. If Jon Stewart was the go-to comedic filter of 2008, this may be Maher’s election. In a bit of high political theater and marketing chutzpah, he gave $1 million to the super-PAC supporting Barack Obama in February. But more important, his comedy has met its moment. Even as he courts the chattering class on HBO every week, he remains a prickly outsider, a kind of self-styled comedy asshole who will never truly be beloved but whose caustic wit slices through the cynicism and ignorance with a tidy precision that is both old-school and ready-made for the Internet." (NYMag)


"Some years back, when I left Niamey, the capital of Niger, and headed north on a rutted, dirt track it was as if the country disappeared on me. There was no police, no sign of authority, nothing. Flash floods had left the road completely washed out in places, with the wheels of large trucks half-sunk in mud, drivers stuck for days on the side of the road. Here there were only Tuaregs, the 'blue men' as they were called, on account of the color of their dazzling robes and the blue vegetable dye ('nila') they smeared on their bodies. The Tuaregs, a pastoral Berber people, were lords of the Sahara; it's better to have a Tuareg with you than a GPS device, went the saying of U. S. Army Special Forces with whom I was embedded. My experience heading north from Timbuktu in Mali was even more extreme. Though it connotes the back of beyond, Timbuktu was actually a cosmopolitan locale -- complete with a museum of medieval Islamic manuscripts, a few decent restaurants and satellite dishes -- compared to where I was going. I was off to Araouane, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north from Timbuktu into the desert. Araouane was a name on a map, as though it were Cleveland or some place. But nobody in Timbuktu -- and certainly not in Bamako, the Malian capital very far away to the southwest -- knew anything about Araouane, and if anyone still lived there. It took 14 hours and numerous breakdowns in the fine sand to reach Araouane, a huddle of ruins on a cosmic emptiness where only women, children and old men lived -- the Tuareg men were out conducting raids and commerce on caravan routes throughout the desert. Here the Malian state did not exist. There is a geographical lesson here. Scan a map of the Sahara from the Atlantic Ocean to the Horn of Africa and you will see Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, countries that encompass this desert comparable in size to the United States. Then notice where the capitals of these countries are located: crouched far away to the south, inside the Sahelian plain, where they are demographic and environmental extensions of coastal West Africa -- and also where the local political elites whom the Europeans discovered are located ... European colonialists in drawing these boundaries decreed that the desert would be ruled not from a central point in the desert itself, as previous Berber cultures had done, but from a distant, coastal-oriented periphery in the Sahelian plain. This situation would make governance in the hinterlands difficult under the best of conditions. But in this part of Africa the conditions are the worst, since the level of institutional development and transportation links is abysmal, and it is mainly through roads and institutions that hinterlands are governed. There is little economic activity in the desert compelling governments to maintain more than a light footprint there. These aren't countries so much as city-states -- Nouakchott, Bamako, Niamey, Ndjamena -- with armies that try to keep some order in the far-flung, far less populated reaches. State armies never have ruled this desert; rather, they have maintained for much of the time a stable cease-fire with the Tuaregs there (often through integration of key Tuareg fighters into local military bases)." (STRATFOR)


"I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Nina Griscom whose African safari reports have graced these pages. For the first time ever, there were miscommunications between us (my fault), and they didn’t have a reservation, or a table (full up). Because I was too impatient to sit down Nina, instead of waiting she and I went a few doors down to Benoit (Ben-hwa — sorry, my French), L’Esprit Bistrot du Alain Ducasse in New York. I had two salads: the haricots verts and the beet salad. Nina had one. Excellent. This must have been the day for dear old France: walking Nina back to her apartment, waiting on the corner of 62nd and Madison for the light, diagonally across from Hermes, I noticed for the first time ever: the Napoleonic soldier on horseback carrying the Hermes banners. Last night the New Yorkers for Children held their annual Spring Dance at the Mandarin Oriental. This is a great charity and also one of the great events of the season — especially for the younger crowd (20- through 40-somethings) in today’s social New York. It’s also a major fashion evening, as the young women dress to kill — and they knock ‘em dead. It’s also a dance, as well as a fund-raiser with an awards ceremony. Everyone has a good time and they dance the night away. New Yorkers For Children (NYFC) was founded in 1996 by former Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services Nicholas Scoppetta, as the non-profit partner to Children’s Services. I think I went to their first benefit — a dinner at the Chelsea Piers. I was invited to that dinner by Beth DeWoody to 'see this new organization.' Oscar de la Renta was also one of the founders. Beth is now Secretary on the board. Susan Burden, who is also actively involved in the Carter Burden Center for the Aging, is Vice President, and its president is Commissioner Scoppetta." (NYSocialDiary)


"Bruce Springsteen’s marathon, highenergy gig at MSG had a celebrity crowd rocking — except for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was caught dozing by fans. Christie — an ardent Boss buff who’s said to have caught fellow New Jersey heavy-hitter Springsteen’s show more than 100 times — was seen snoozing by fellow fans in his MSG section. 'The governor was very active during the show,' said a spy. 'Bruce started talking about ‘supporting food banks in New York and New Jersey,’ and ‘how people have been hit hard,’ and Christie was riveted. Then Bruce performed ‘Rocky Ground,’ and Christie visibly started fading.' A picture sent from another fan shows the hardworking Republican, dressed in a casual blue shirt, resting his head on his hand, apparently taking a disco nap." (PageSix)


"On ABC, Katie Couric, who will launch a high-stakes daytime talk show in the fall, spent the first week of April reminding everyone of the sparkle and humor that made her a viewer favorite. She did a terrific job and looked like she was having a blast. Over on Today, Sarah Palin's April 3 appearance as guest host proved she was a good sport with self-deprecating humor and revealed her to be someone who hasn't forgotten what she learned years ago as a sportscaster in Anchorage. Meanwhile, the former Alaska governor no doubt is relishing the priceless free (and positive) publicity from the 'Lamestream media.'  But that's not what you're hearing from the press. The Couric/Palin matchup was blasted in one New York paper as though it were the Thrilla in Manila. Curry is being portrayed as down on the mat as the referee begins his 10 count. GMA co-host Robin Roberts' vacation was, I suspect, anything but restful, given the way she appeared to have been dissed by the hoopla over her off-week substitute. I've seen this play before, and I know how it ends. A generation ago, I was the 'fresh one' brought in to appear on a broadcast already sailing through rocky waters. In 1989, I was named news anchor and later co-host on Today, months after a devastating memo from co-host Bryant Gumbel had been made public. His highly critical assessment of the show and the people on it spared no one, except me and naturalist Jim Fowler's animals, and I was just an occasional fill-in on the program. I was promoted to the Today job only after indisputable ratings success on NBC News at Sunrise as well as a documentary that was the seventh-most-watched show on television the week it aired." (Deborah Norville/THR)


"Hilton Kramer, who died on March 27 at the age of 84, was a much more complicated man than is sometimes acknowledged. He was both a neoconservative cultural warrior who liked nothing better than plunging into a noisy, nasty battle and an exacting aesthete for whom life would have been impossible without the sustenance of art and literature. I certainly saw both sides of Hilton during the decade that I wrote for The New Criterion, beginning in the mid-1980s. When we went out for lunch in a little French restaurant in the West Fifties that Hilton admired for its tarnished savoir-faire, I think I recognized, behind his masklike self-confidence, traces of the young man from Massachusetts who had embraced intellectual and bohemian Manhattan with a lover’s ardor. And when I read his craziest polemics—there were times when he seemed to believe that The New York Times and The New York Review of Books were responsible for everything that was wrong with American culture—I knew that behind the fire and brimstone there was the pain of a brokenhearted lover, who despite his irrepressibly upbeat demeanor could not bear what Warholism had done to the world of artists and writers where he had always felt most at home. He was right about Warholism. He was right about political correctness. He was right about other things. The trouble was that the fight took on a life of its own, until the warrior in Hilton nearly crushed the aesthete. Hilton’s almost two decades at The New York Times—the paper which he would so gleefully attack in later years—made him into a cultural figure with a reach that went way beyond the art world. Without his Times credentials, it is hardly possible that he would have had the standing needed to launch The New Criterion in 1982." (TNR)

Katie Lee and Finola

"Guests checking into the Tribeca Grand Hotel last night must have wondered why the place was swarming with dogs. As a tie-in with the Cinema Society screening of Darling Companion, a movie about a family searching for their lost dog, the North Shore Animal League sent a bunch of adoptable, irresistible puppies, the source of much cooing at the after-party. Dianne Wiest, who in the film traipses through the mountains of Colorado helping to search for the missing dog, told Vanity Fair about her own Cairn terrier’s adventure one Independence Day after it took off, terror-stricken due to the booming fireworks. 'We were in Garrison when she escaped. And she ended up at the assistant governor’s house, way down the highway,' Wiest said. 'I mean, she was on her way back to New York. She wanted to go home.'  Kevin Kline’s menagerie includes two African tortoises, a cockatiel, a rescue dog, and tropical fish. After playing the husband facing his wife’s wrath after losing the dog in the movie, Kline sensibly declined to tell tales about his own. 'You know if I say anything bad about the dog, my wife will be furious,' he told us. 'He’s perfect.' Katie Lee described her pug, Finola: 'She is the snobbiest dog on the planet, and I really believe that she’s like a reincarnated woman that used to live on the Upper East Side and wear Chanel and smoke cigarettes, and was very mean and bitchy to her staff.' How, exactly, does a dog act snobbishly? 'She sits on the back of the couch; she looks at me in judgment all the time,' Lee explained, laughing." (Style)



"I’ve tried to write the first sentence of this post about a hundred times now and it’s proving very difficult; it turns out money matters are incredibly hard to talk about. I think we found a taboo, you guys! Imagine: even here, in this adult-diapered medium, there’s a last bastion of self-revelation that’s untouched. I’m just stalling now basically. Okay, (deep breath) here goes. In 2008 I got a book advance of $200,000, of which my agent took 15% and the IRS took approximately one-fourth. Still, that’s a lot of money, even paid out in quarters over the course of several years, and for a few months after I got that initial check—for the first time in my adult life—I mistakenly assumed that I didn’t have to keep track of how much money I was spending. Because surely this good fortune was the beginning of more good fortune to come! There would be foreign rights sales, audio rights sales, fat old-school magazine payments for first serial rights when the book came out, maybe a film or TV option — not to mention all the paid teaching and speaking opportunities that having written the kind of book that a publisher would pay a six-figure advance for would undoubtedly bring my way. And then, too, there would be another payment of the same amount or more money for another book, a book I couldn’t quite imagine and hadn’t even started writing, but would definitely be able to write in a year or less after the first book came out because what was I, lazy? No, I was quick, quick like a blogger! Without whining or belaboring, I will just say briefly that precisely zero of these rosy fantasies came to fruition." (Emily Gould)

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