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Monday, August 06, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"Of Africa’s 55 nations, I’ve always been the most curious about Liberia, on the southern curve of West Africa. First off, only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonized. Liberia’s history is in fact unique. The country was founded in 1820 by freed slaves from the United States. The capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe. Then, in true Jim Crow style, those freed slaves (called Americo-Liberians) took what they had learned from the master-slave plantation system in the U.S. and used it to dominate and suppress the local native population—97 percent of the country’s people. The locals were denied citizenship until 1904 and could not vote until 1963. The Americo-Liberians held power until a coup in 1980 led by Sargent Samuel Doe, a semi-literate member of the local Krahn tribe, dislodged them. The overthrown president was disemboweled and his 13 Cabinet members were tied to telephone poles on the beach and shot by drunken soldiers. Liberia began to unravel under Doe—wholesale corruption, ethnic violence, increasing poverty. Civil war broke out in 1989, the rebels led by Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian. He dislodged Doe, but the war continued until 1996, cooled down for a bit, and then blew up again in 1999, continuing to 2003 when Taylor went into exile. Of all the African conflicts in late 20th century, the Liberian civil wars stand as among the most macabre, gruesome, and sensational. President Doe was videotaped being tortured; his ears were cut off and he was told to eat them. He finally bled to death on the floor as his captors sat around drinking Budweiser. Child soldiers, some as young as nine, ruled the streets. Taylor called his recruits the “Small Boys Units.” They were fueled by cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana, and would at times fight dressed as women, wearing wedding dresses, wigs, shower caps, and Halloween masks." (Tom Freston/VanityFair)

"Yesterday a reader sent me an email correcting the name of Gore Vidal’s living partner, Howard Austen, who died in 2003. He said Howard’s last name was Auster, not Austen. I disputed that, although I’d seen the same spelling in the New York Times obituary of Vidal and assumed it was a typo. I had known Howard when I lived in Los Angeles as we had several mutual friends. He was always referred to as Howard Austen and introduced that way. However, said reader continued to dispute because in Gore Vidal’s second memoir, published in 2006, Howard’s last name was spelled AUSTER. This surprised me so I went back and looked at Gore’s first memoir, 'Palimpsest,' published in 1995. There, Howard’s last name was spelled AUSTEN. Investigating further on Google, I found the following the the Forward web site: Vidal recalled decades later to interviewer Amy Goodman on the public access TV show 'Democracy Now': Gore: [Howard] was turned down by every advertising agency — and he had graduated from NYU — because it was a Jewish name. Can you imagine? He was rejected because he was Jewish. And I said, 'Well, this is silly.' I said, 'Change the ‘R’ to an ‘N.’' So he became Howard Austen, which has caused a lot of confusion to biographers, but immediately he was hired at Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, a very good house. Amazing to think how recently all that was still in effect." (NYSocialDiary)



"Thucydides carefully structured his Peloponnesian War history as a cautionary tale about the moral decay that accompanies abuses of imperial power. “It is a general and necessary law of nature to rule whatever one can,” said the Athenians blandly to the denizens of Melos before slaughtering them. (The tiny island of Melos, a Spartan colony, had refused to join an alliance with Athens in 416 BC, so the civilized Athenians punished innocent civilians by killing all the men and selling the women and children into slavery.) Athens was a direct democracy, whereas Sparta was a militaristic oligarchy, yet it was Athens that abused her power once the great Pericles had died of the plague and was replaced by the demagogue and total hawk Cleon. Cleon, and after him Alcibiades, were the first neocons: greedy, eager to send great men such as Nicias to their death in Sicily (along with the Athenian fleet), and distasteful of compromise so long as others did the dying. Cleon had the opportunity to make peace in 424 BC, but he brashly broke off peace talks despite the pleadings of his great rival, the pious and cautious Nicias. Picture George W. Bush as Cleon (at least the Athenian had the decency to die in battle, unlike W.), Ron Paul as Nicias, and Alcibiades as Cheney, and you can look into a crystal ball for the next fifty years down the Middle East road. Mighty Uncle Sam, the lone superpower, is going Athenian in his arrogance as he plods on in the Middle East, compounding his catastrophic and criminal actions in Iraq by eyeing Iran and Syria as his next targets. What I don’t understand is how normally clear thinkers such as William Hague can play the role of the chorus, repeating ad nauseam Netanyahu’s ravings about existential threats to Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power." (Taki)


"'I think people in politics will find…similarities to people they know,' former Kerry-Edwards campaign finance director Bridget Siegel told VelvetRoper at a party Tuesday night for her debut novel, Domestic Affairs. A mixture of socialites and political heavyweights had gathered at the penthouse of Dream Downtown to celebrate the D.C. insider’s book, about a young woman who becomes the finance director for a handsome Southern governor with whom she ends up having an affair. Good thing it’s fiction, or else we might have another Rielle Hunter expose on our hands. As is, the leaking of the book’s contents has lead to some raised eyebrows. We had just finished asking the dark-haired beauty (who said D.C. is New York for ugly people?) if the book was a thinly-veiled biography of her time working with John Edwards. 'It’s a compilation of people, and of stories I’ve heard,' Ms. Siegel replied enigmatically. Domestic Affairs was published by the Weinstein Brothers book imprint, Weinstein Books, and it’s clear that this scintillating story could easily be adapted to a film. Unfortunately, the brothers were no-shows that evening, though other big names were scattered about: Gov. Mario Cuomo (who left early with his wife), fashion stylist Mary Alice Stephenson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Melissa Berkelhammer, producer Jane Rosenthal, Emma Snowden-Jones, jewelry queen Gabrielle Fialkoff, William J. Clinton Foundation’s Lee Dugger, and hotelier Sant Chatwal. So with all the big names around, we had to ask Ms. Siegel how Obama’s fundraising parties stacked up to previous candidates. 'I think Obama’s team is working really hard, round the clock,' she said. 'And it’s great that the fashion world getting involved (in fundraising), they’re a really important part of the buisness sector,' Ms. Siegel said. Ms. Berkelhammer had a different theory on why the Obama fundraisers in New York brought out the big names. 'I think some people pretend to be Democrats because the parties are better,' the social scenester confided." (Observer)



"It is now accepted political reality that Romney and the wildly successful Republican super-PACs will out-raise Obama, and outspend him on the airwaves. Despite that, the president was always expected to at the very least match his record-breaking 2008 numbers — enough to keep his unparalleled ground game humming along. That may be increasingly unlikely, reports the New York Times, after perusing the president's reelection finances. So far, the Obama campaign has spent over $400 million (a fifth of that went to advertising), with another $52 million on payroll and benefits. For the first time ever, the president and the Democrats have less money in the bank than Romney and the Republican National Committee.With monthly fund-raising totals consistently falling short of expectations, source close to the campaign told the Times that more and more campaign days are being set aside for extra fund-raisers, with Democratic super-PAC Priorities USA Action tapping Bill Clinton for help. Naturally, Democratic and campaign officials are quick to wave off talk of cash flow problems, arguing that the president's spend-early strategy is actually a winning one." (NYMag)


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