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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"What should we do about Syria? By 'we,' I don't mean just the United States. Rather, I mean that wonderfully ambivalent phrase the 'international community,' and especially those states with a clear stake in the outcome (i.e., Syria's immediate neighbors, its Russian, Chinese, and Iranian allies, and its various adversaries, including the United States). Reading two pieces that appeared today helps clarify the basic dilemma. The first piece, by economist Paul Collier of Oxford, argues that the Assad regime is living on borrowed time, having 'crossed a red line' of international acceptance. He advocates ramping up the pressure by arming the opposition forces, in order to encourage Syrian army leaders and other Baath officials to defect. (The piece is in the Financial Times, and is firewalled on their site). A second piece by Asli Bali of UCLA and Aziz Rana of Cornell, warns of the perils of this approach. While highly critical of Assad, they emphasize the danger of prolonged civil war and point out that a significant number of Syrians still worry as much about internal instability and sectarian violence as they do about Assad's brutalities. Accordingly, Bani and Rana favor an inclusive diplomatic process that avoids isolating Assad completely, in order to head off a destructive civil war.  One could make a crude realist case for Collier's approach, if you believed that the strategic benefits of ousting Assad were worth the human costs to Syrian civilians. One might argue that toppling Assad would eliminate a key Iranian ally and deal a crippling blow to Hezbollah, thereby advancing broader U.S. interests in the region. In this optimistic scenario, grateful Syrians would seek friendly relations with their Western benefactors, including Washington. Notice that this view assumes that the transition is swift, that few civilians die in the fighting, and that forming a new government is fairly easy. But a sophisticated realist would be skeptical of a grand scheme like this." (ForeignPolicy)


"So here is the president of the United States, enjoying canapés and small talk at Daniel, chef Daniel Boulud’s gourmet restaurant just off Park Avenue, with the right touch of upscale-whorehouse decor and enough Alice Waters in the kitchen to make it the place where every Wall Street guy takes his wife on bonus night. The drill for tonight is two fund-raisers at Daniel, to be followed by an even more intimate sit-down dinner at Spike Lee’s house, before the motorcade heads uptown to the Apollo, in Harlem, where Barack Obama once lived in a ratty student apartment, less than 50 blocks but light-years away from the perfumed dining room where he is answering questions and posing for pictures and name-checking Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow. I get my chance to ask him the question of the moment, the question that everyone who has bought the album or spent $150 on a concert ticket wants answered. 'I have a question I want to ask you, Mr. President,' I venture, once I catch his attention.  'Sure,' the president says. 'Kanye or Jay-Z?'  The president smiles. 'Jay-Z,' he says, as if the answer should be obvious. When it comes to the most meaningful pop-cultural divide of the moment, the question of whether you prefer Kanye West or Jay-Z—the top two hip-hop artists in the world, who recently joined forces for a national mega-tour called Watch the Throne—Barack Obama is clearly a Jay-Z guy. Jay-Z is about control. Jay-Z is about success. He’s a natural-born leader. He is married to Beyoncé Knowles, the gorgeous, sugar-spun R&B star who recently joined with Michelle Obama in a public campaign against the epidemic of childhood obesity. Together, Jay and Beyoncé are worth something close to $1 billion. Jay-Z fills arenas and enunciates clearly—unlike Kanye West, who jumps onstage and interrupts during award ceremonies, cries on talk shows, and jets off to Rome to apprentice with the House of Fendi. Besides, the president’s smile says, we are at a fund-raiser in New York, which is Jay-Z’s hometown.  'Although I like Kanye,' Obama continues, with an easy smile." (TheAtlantic)


"Down at Michael’s it was the Wednesday melee. The Garden Room was entirely occupied by a private party given by the Getty Museum. In the front it was full up even more. The drill. Around the room: David Sanford of the WSJ; Richard Watson, Arnold Aronson, Doug Band, Judy Licht with Nancy Silverman; Peter Mckillop, Walter Sabo and Sandy Kenyon; Richard Ader; Alice Mayhew; Gerry Byrne, Annabelle Weston, in from L.A.; Nikki Haskell, Steve Greenberg, Larry Kramer; Toni Goodale; Sam Greene; Chris Meigher; Jonathan Murray; Donna Soloway; Gena Smith; Alexandra Scott; Tom Rogers, Joe Armstrong; Brad Karp; Steven Rubenstein; Hugh Freund; Eric Shawn; Herb Siegel and Frank Gifford; Shawn Anderson; Peggy Siegal; Stan Neve; and Jack Myers with Tim Spengler. Jack’s been gone missing lately because he’s writing a book. I was with Mary Horner, an old friend of mine whom I first met when I came to New York out of college back in the 60s." (NYSocialDiary)


"Armando Iannucci’s new HBO series Veep, which premiered on Tuesday night at the Time Warner Center, looks like a winner—more Biden than Bentsen. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the shaky-cam comedy is to the West Wing what a bucket of Popeye’s is to a bowl of flax-dusted Brussels sprouts (less wholesome but considerably tastier). During the cocktail hour preceding the screening, the premise of the show gave us an excuse to ask everyone : Who is your favorite vice president? Fortunately, guests were in a festive and charitable mood. No doubt they were already anticipating the post-screening filet mignon awaiting them at Porter House. 'You know what? I’ve never been asked that before,' Fran Lebowitz replied when we tracked her down in a corner of the 10th-floor reception area. 'That’s a great question.' She thought a little. 'Well, there was Johnson, and he became the president. Which is why you can’t nominate someone like Sarah Palin.' Still, he wasn’t exactly her favorite. 'I believe it’s possible that I do not have a favorite vice president. And if you asked a president he might say the same thing.' Ms. Lebowitz was asked whether she’d been following the Republican primaries. 'I feel more like they’ve been following me,' she said. 'I see Santorum suspended his campaign today, so he doesn’t have to lose in his home state.' The Observer pointed out that Mr. Santorum was even unpopular in his home town. 'Well, that isn’t such a bad thing,' she replied. 'That’s why many of us came to New York!'" (Observer)


"On Scandal, the latest ABC series from Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice creator Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington stars as a Washington, D.C., 'fixer' who is feared just as much as she is revered for her scandal-navigating skills. Her fast-thinking character, Olivia Pope—who in last week’s pilot alone negotiated with Ukrainian-mob members just as easily as she convinced an employee to propose to his girlfriend—is based on real-life crisis-management expert Judy Smith, previously employed by Michael Vick, Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton scandal, and the family of Chandra Levy ... Vanity Fair: You’ve explored the medical and now the political arenas in television. Is there another field that you’d consider for a future show? Shonda Rhimes: Probably. I pretty much like any world that is competitive and moves really fast. There is something exciting to me about people who are playing at the top of their game, regardless of what that game is. I research different professions, and then I get a little bit obsessed with them. VF: Like what? Shonda Rhimes: I am obsessed with journalists, obsessed with them, and have been trying to figure out how to get that right. The very first pilot I wrote was about journalists. But I’m obsessed with lawyers too. There are a lot of things I’m obsessed with." (Vanity Fair)


" The head of Iran’s National Security Council Saeed Jalili suggested enigmatically Wednesday, April 11, that its representatives would present 'new initiatives' at the negotiations with six world powers starting in Istanbul next Saturday.  'We hope,' he said, 'that the powers will also enter talks with constructive approaches; the language of threat and pressure against the Iranian nation has never yielded results.' Although Jalili, who will lead the Iranian negotiating team, did not divulge the nature of the new initiatives, debkafile’s Iranian and intelligence sources have obtained their content: 1. Iran will continue to enrich low-grade 3.5 percent uranium but not consent to a cap on quantities; 2. The removal of enriched uranium outside Iran’s borders is not open to discussion and will not be permitted; 3. Iran is prepared for a deal whereby the six powers endorse Iran’s right to enrich as much high-grade 20-percent enriched uranium as it wishes according to a three-part fomula: a) A joint panel of the six powers and Iran will determine the amounts required to meet the needs of its reactor and the production of isotopes for medical research; b) Iran will sell the surfeit on the international market and become the world’s No. 1 exporter of 20-percent enriched uranium; c)Excess quantities over and above a) and b) will be downgraded by a reverse process from 20 to 3.5 percent. 4. Iran will reject demands to shut down the underground enrichment plant at Fordow, near Qom, but agree to signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol - which would permit IAEA inspectors to make spot checks at all suspect nuclear sites in Iran, including Fordow - with one proviso: The six powers must also require Israel to sign the NPT plus the Additional Protocol. If Israel doesn’t sign both parts of this treaty, neither will Iran endorse the AP. 5. The 'Israeli dossier' tops the tactical agenda set out by Iran’s top strategic team for the forthcoming nuclear negotiations Istanbul." (DEBKA)


"'We thought it'd be a good idea to do an all-guys table since New Yorkers for Children is a mostly female event. The plan was just to lure sexy women over, but I'm not quite sure how it's going, to be honest,' Euan Rellie told Style.com at the foundation's ninth annual spring benefit last night. 'This was a terrible idea—look at us, we're all still sitting here," joked one of his tablemates. 'We're going to need a few more glasses of wine before we go talk to any of the gorgeous women.' There were beauties aplenty in the ballroom on the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental, from the models Coco Rocha, Doutzen Kroes, and an almost unrecognizable platinum blonde Crystal Renn to the event chairs, many of whom were wearing gowns by the gala's presenting sponsor, designer CD Greene." (Style)

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