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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres
"It must drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crazy that scarcely anybody outside his immediate circle of advisors -- oh, and Mitt Romney -- understands the imperative for war against Iran. Israel's retired security chiefs uniformly consider a war unnecessary right now. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, agrees. A pollreleased this week found the Israeli public opposed to war by a solid 46 percent to 32 percent. As for the United States, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insists that 'the window is still open to try to work toward a diplomatic solution.' We know this drives Netanyahu crazy because the last few days have seen a frenzy of leaking and spinning by senior Israeli officials. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told an interviewer that the world must halt Iran's nuclear program within 'several weeks.' An unnamed 'decision maker' -- transparently Defense Secretary Ehud Barak -- told Ari Shavit of the Israeli daily Haaretzthat Israel cannot afford to wait for the United States to take action. And Shavit came up with another big scoop: A new U.S. intelligence report, he asserts, demonstrates conclusively that 'within about a year Iran will be capable of becoming a nuclear power.' It's unclear whether Netanyahu is trying to prepare domestic public opinion for an imminent Israeli strike on Iran, or hoping to bully U.S. President Barack Obama into making some sort of ironclad promise to launch airstrikes -- should Iran cross some stipulated red line or should diplomacy fail to deter the Iranians by a stipulated date. Netanyahu would plainly prefer an American attack, which would do far more damage to Iran's nuclear infrastructure than an Israeli one would, but he may have concluded (as Barak intimated) that Israel will have to act alone rather than risk American inaction. Yet Netanyahu has put Obama in the almost impossible position of having to reassure Israel that the United States will act if necessary -- thus reassuring American swing voters that he has Israel's back -- without binding himself to fight Israel's war on Israel's terms." (ForeignPolicy)

"With American and European sanctions spurring a currency crisis in Iran, officials say a growing number of Iranians are packing trucks with devalued rials and heading to the freewheeling currency market next door in American-occupied Afghanistan, to trade for dollars ... The Iranians are 'in essence using our own money, and they’re getting around what we’re trying to enforce,' one American official said ... Western and Afghan officials, as well as traders in Afghan money markets, said that a number of Iranians had started seeking to buy dollars and euros with their rials as American and European sanctions tightened over the past year. The purchases are part of efforts by wealthy and middle-class Iranians to protect their savings and business profits by moving them offshore. But with legitimate transfers out of Iran virtually impossible because of the sanctions, Iranians are instead converting their rials in Afghanistan, and then moving the money to banks in the Persian Gulf and beyond. 'The middle class is in a panic about what to do right now,' said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economist at Virginia Tech and an expert on Iran’s economy. More troublingly, in the eyes of Western officials, the Iranian government is seeking to bolster its reserves of dollars, euros and precious metals to stabilize its exchange rates and ensure that it can pay for imports. Iran had about $110 billion in foreign currency and precious metal reserves in 2011, and those are believed to be dwindling now. Afghan traders have proved more than willing to trade dollars for rials, usable as a currency in many parts of western Afghanistan, at advantageous exchange rates." (NYTimes)
"IN 1985, THE Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman was a member of the crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and thus became the first Saudi, the first Arab, and the first Muslim to travel into space. The trip took place during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The Prince, unsure how to fulfill this obligation while in orbit, decided to ask Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, for advice. But Sheikh bin Baz had previously issued a fatwa claiming that because the Earth was flat orbiting it was impossible. Contemporary Saudi Arabia butted against the country’s age-old ways. This is just one of the many contradictions that define modern Saudi Arabia, and which Karen Elliot House skillfully examines in her new book ...Today’s Saudi Arabia is actually the third incarnation of the Saudi State, which resulted from an alliance between the House of Saud—the political family that has ruled much of the Arabian Peninsula on and off for the past two and a half centuries—and the Wahhabi religious establishment—representing an austere form of Sunni Islam that arose in central Arabia with the Saudi dynasty. The First Saudi State was founded in the mid-eighteenth century in central Arabia and was then crushed by the Ottomans sixty years later. The Second Saudi State appeared later in the nineteenth century, but was torn apart by internal feuding and subsequently defeated by local rivals. Finally, in 1932, Abdul Aziz bin Al Saud—the head of Saudi family in his day—established the third and current Saudi state. Like its two predecessors, the early twentieth-century state was built upon the twin pillars of the Saudi political dynasty and the austere theology of Wahhabism. In the mid-twentieth century, a third pillar was added: oil." (TNR)


"'The only nice thing I remember about being a kid was my pigeons.' At school, Tyson was taunted by bullies who laughed at him for his high-pitched voice and his lisp, so he would arrive late to avoid them and run home as quickly as he could afterwards. The pigeons he was allowed to keep up on the rooftops became his life. 'I was fat and ugly. Kids teased me all the time. The only joy I had was pigeons.' Then, one day, one of the bullies, aged 15, came not for him, but for his birds. The attacker grabbed one of them, twisted its head off and sprayed its blood all over him. In a scene that could have come from a Hollywood movie, Tyson turned. The nine-year-old boy puffed out his chest, hit the bully, knocking him out, and never looked back. 'It felt great,' he remembers." (FT)


"There isn’t much in common between the scandals of Jonah Lehrer (he has admitted to making up Bob Dylan quotes in his best-selling book, Imagine) and of Fareed Zakaria (he or someone working for him lifted a few not particularly memorable paragraphs about gun control from a New Yorker piece by Jill Lepore, gave them a shampoo and haircut, and sent them into the world via Time and CNN.com as his handiwork). If either of these men found themselves in a confessional in the Church of the Holier Than Thou, the priest would slap Zakaria with five Hail Marys but order up an exorcism for Lehrer. Zakaria must pray fast, since Time and CNN reinstated him after a brief suspension.The two journalists do share one trait, however: they are not so much journalists as brands. One is tempted to write 'self-styled public intellectuals,' but that would be a cheap shot. Lehrer and Zakaria are creations (oh, all right, willing creations) of the Pundit Works LLC, whose flaming smokestacks can be spotted just off the New Jersey Turnpike near Hackensack. P.W. LLC exists to satisfy the cravings of the book-TV-magazine-lecture monster. This monster is not a mean monster, but he is a hungry one whose stomach growls sound like loud tweets. The news shows on TV love journalists whose credibility is rooted in print, the book industry loves journalists who can appear on TV, the print world loves journalists who can appear on TV and write books, the lecture circuit loves speakers who are journalists who appear on TV and . . . well, you get the point. Lucky for H. L. Mencken that all he had to do was write, edit, and drink. He never could have gotten up early enough for Morning Joe. Print and Web journalists who are multi-taskers but are not yet big enough to be their own brands say that being on TV helps them in their main jobs, since sources are more likely to return their calls if they have seen them on cable news." (VanityFair)


 
"Isabella Rossellini, model, actress, film-maker, daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, and a woman who has lived most of her life in the public eye, does not like being observed ... Her dislike of the red carpet came up because, although the 60-year-old Rossellini says “basically, I am retired”, as anyone who has looked at a glossy magazine recently knows, she is the autumn/winter face of the jeweller Bulgari. She is sporting a Bulgari watch on her wrist when we meet, the only suggestion that the woman in the simple T-shirt and trouser suit might have a more glamorous alter ego than she initially displays. She has also just starred in two films on release – Late Bloomers (2011) directed by Julie Gavras, the daughter of Costa Gavras, in which she and William Hurt play a couple coming to terms with old(ish) age; and Keyhole, by the Canadian director Guy Maddin, where she plays Jason Patric’s dead (but still vital) wife. She was also involved in hosting a fundraising gala in New York for Venetian Heritage, a charity that aims to restore Venetian art and architecture and to help shore up the city’s land (Rossellini’s father was half-Venetian, though she grew up in Rome).The gala included a play directed by Guido Torlonia about the life of the Italian film director Luchino Visconti, narrated by Richard Gere and Tilda Swinton, and a sit-down dinner. Rossellini had to make a brief speech and do whatever promotional activities she could stomach. None of which really adds up to the sort of thing most of us associate with being 'retired'." (FT)
"Opening Ceremony was founded on an Olympics concept—the nations of the world battle it out on its racks for fashion domination—and named for same. And in an Olympic year, the store's gurus, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, with its in-house editor, Rory Satran, launched their own magazine. Its theme was just about a forgone conclusion. What else? Sport: sportswear, sports memories, and sports stars—though, as it turns out, none of the Olympic hopefuls pictured inside actually competed in London. 'We have three amazing athletes, and none of them made it,' Satran said with a laugh. 'That's what you get for putting a magazine to bed before the Olympics.' (Bruce Weber, Jessica Craig-Martin, Poppy de Villeneuve, and Theo Wenner are among the debut issue's contributors.) At the launch dinner for the new magazine at Silkstone, the private event space run by the Fat Radish's Ben Towill and Phil Winser, Satran remembered her first tentative steps into the OC universe, back when she was still a Paris-based editor at Self Service. 'I literally showed Carol and Humberto this binder of ideas I had in the middle of a nightclub," she said. "The band was playing; we were in the smoking corner.' Magazine wonks unite? 'I think we're all nerdy in the same way,' she agreed. Nerdy, maybe; life of the party, also. The crowds came to cheer the magazine out of the gate and take a few swings at the basketball-shaped piñata while they were there. Erstwhile OC collaborator Chloë Sevigny was on hand, topless in a pair of Kenzo overalls." (Style)
"IF you were invited by Cornelia Guest for lunch and didn’t know better, you might dress up for it. But that would be as silly as worrying about being late to Templeton, the 15-acre estate in Old Westbury, N.Y., where she lives with a menagerie, a small staff, some Warhols and many boldface memories. The only daughter of the late Winston and C. Z. Guest, once dubbed the original 'celebutante,' Ms. Guest likes to answer the door herself (which she leaves wide open) in bare feet, hillbilly style. 'Let’s bring Madonna some yummies,' she trilled from the garden the other day. She was in little pink shorts and a white T-shirt with toenails red as tomatoes, as she dug up some carrots for her pet donkey. In addition to Madonna (named for the religious figure, not the pop star), her menagerie at the slightly overgrown estate features an African tortoise named Socrates and eight dogs including a Chihuahua she rescued from a Dumpster in Beverly Hills, Calif., and an enormous, sometimes smelly Newfoundland that shares her bed.She doesn’t own horses anymore. Like her equestrian-obsessed mother, they are now gone. It’s been almost 10 years since the death of C. Z. Guest, and her daughter, now 48 and single, seems to be coming out from her shadow. She quit the local country club because its restrictive policies did not work for her.  She stopped riding and raising horses. And now she’s selling the home where her mother gave formal dinner parties with Yves Saint Laurent, Rudolf Nureyev, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (her godparents), Nancy Reagan and other social stalwarts.  On top of that, she’s running, heaven forbid, a catering business." (NYTimes)

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