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Monday, March 04, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"When Secretary of State John Kerry was scrambling last week to prevent the leader of the Syrian opposition from boycotting a meeting with him in Rome — a snub that could have spoiled his maiden voyage as the nation’s chief diplomat — he leaned on an old Senate colleague to help him out: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. After Mr. Kerry extracted an agreement from the Syrian opposition leader, Moaz al-Khatib, to show up, Mr. Biden sealed the deal with a follow-up call. The vice president, who had met Mr. Khatib at a security conference in Munich, praised him for his courage, told him how important the meeting was and promised to stay in touch, according to the White House.  It was a classic example of how Mr. Biden has used personal relationships to amass influence in the Obama administration — a talent that current and former officials predicted would allow him to further expand his influence on foreign policy during President Obama’s second term.  Mr. Biden will shift to another part of the Middle East on Monday, when he will set the stage for Mr. Obama’s first presidential trip to Israel later this month, in a speech to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.  When Mr. Biden last spoke to the group in 2009, he warned them 'you’re not going to like this,' before laying out Mr. Obama’s demand, largely rebuffed, that Israel stop building Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This time, officials said, he will be more conciliatory, presaging a less confrontational approach during the president’s visit. 'Biden has great credibility with the pro-Israel community,' said Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren. 'He has always been able to speak candidly and openly with us, all the while making it clear that he stands foursquare with the president.'  Mr. Biden, officials said, used his ties on Capitol Hill to champion another unpopular cause: Chuck Hagel, also an old Senate friend." (NYTimes)


"We all know that tensions rise during those final weeks leading up to the Academy Awards as media outlets decide who’s worthy and who’s not. So this begs the question: with so much money and prestige at stake, is it possible for even major and reputable media outlets to voice any negativel opinions while Oscar campaigning is underway? Especially if they want Academy Award contenders to take out ads and sit for interviews and come to parties? Increasingly, no. It’s well known that The Hollywood Reporter and Variety cravenly promise Oscar hopefuls flattering coverage. But Vanity Fair? Granted, its year-round showbiz coverage has all the heft of a marshmallow. But its Deputy Editor Bruce Handy this Oscar season wrote for the magazine’s website one brief but hardly brutal column dissecting Jessica Chastain‘s body of work. This wasn’t some freelancer: this was the magazine’s #2 who dared to express mild criticism about the Best Actress Oscar nominee for Zero Dark Thirty. 'I’m surprised it’s being hailed as one of the year’s great performances, and that it has earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress,' Handy opined. 'It’s not the sort of flashy thing, like playing a transgendered murder victim or quadriplegic boxer, that the Academy normally rewards.' He included much praise but also said Chastain was an 'empty vessel‘ and 'recessive presence' who doesn’t 'quite hold your eye'. The piece posted on the VF website January 25th at a pivotal point in Oscar campaigning: just before final paper ballots went out and online voting began. Within a day, the analysis was gone. Not just gone from the VF website but really really really erased from the Internet at large. (Replaced by this sassy VF error message flaunting top editor Graydon Carter.) " (Deadline)


"Busy time at the height of the season — Emilia and Pepe Fanjul's dinner at their beautiful house on Wednesday, February 6: salad, roast lamb and a delicious chocolate dessert. The guests: Kate Ford, Frank Chopin, Margaretha and Eric Javits, Annette and Joe Allen, Mr. and Mrs. Hashem Khosrovani, Jill Fuller, Jim Mitchell, Mila and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Darlene and Jerry Jordan, Linda and Barry Donahue, Jackie Weld and Rod Drake, Gail and Harry Theodoracopulos ...Friday, February 8: Linda and Barry Donahue gave a big cocktail party at their big beautiful house that once belonged to Francie Young ... it was a book signing party for Robert L. Forbes and his new book of poetry, Beast Friends Forever!: Animal Lovers in Rhyme. It was also Grace Meigher’s birthday (hint: she was 39 last year). There were lots of the guests in black tie — many were going to the Red Cross Ball, others to Diana and Bill Wisters' dinner." (NYSocialDiary)


"Titans of finance and politics met for a very private lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant on Friday. Sen. John McCain, former AIG head Hank Greenberg, former Goldman Sachs chief John Whitehead and Henry Kissinger broke bread with money managers Evelyn de Rothschild and wife Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who wrote a much-talked-about newspaper op-ed piece last week on ending the 'carried interest' tax rate, which allows institutional investors to reap huge profits. The group of 16 huddled inside a private dining room, but heads in the restaurant’s Grill Room turned when all later paraded through on their way out. Spies told us McCain greeted many in the dining room, including Blackstone Group founders Stephen Schwarzman and Pete Peterson (who were at separate tables). While some speculated the gathering was a major powwow over financial reform, a McCain aide told us, 'Sen. McCain was in the city for meetings and enjoyed lunch with old friends and longtime supporters.'" (PageSix)



"Imagine being the HBO executive who hears this from one of the channel’s producing partners: 'We think there’s an opportunity for us to get into North Korea.' The executive was Michael Lombardo, and the partner was Vice Media, the Brooklyn media company with something of a daredevil streak. The conversation happened about a month ago, when production was well under way on “Vice,” a newsmagazine that will have its premiere on HBO on April 5.  The company’s bosses said they were planning a visit to the secretive country, centered on an exhibition basketball game with the flamboyant former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters. HBO decided to add what Mr. Lombardo said was 'a little bit' of extra financing, beyond what it had already agreed to pay for the newsmagazine. 'It felt like something that could be interesting for the show,' Mr. Lombardo, HBO’s president for programming, said last Friday as he recalled the meeting.
By Friday, the trip wasn’t just 'interesting,' it was international news. Kim Jong-un showed up for the exhibition game in Pyongyang the day before, making Mr. Rodman and Vice’s film crew the first Americans known to have met the North Korean ruler since he inherited power from his father in 2011.  On television and online, people were debating which group was benefiting more from the publicity, Vice or the North Korean leadership. At the State Department, reporters wanted to know why the United States government wasn’t visibly doing more to debrief Mr. Rodman about his interactions with Mr. Kim, the dictator whom he pronounced his 'friend.'" (Brian Stelter)
 
 
 
"In April 2003, British and U.S. researchers declared the Human Genome Project complete. This decade-long computational marathon marked the first time that anyone had mapped out the sequence of the more than 3 billion chemical building blocks that make up Human DNA. It was a pioneering breakthrough in computer science and biology. It was also an early 'Big Data' problem — a computational challenge that calls for a supercomputer, not an Oracle database, to solve. Welcome to the Big Data era. Today, processing power has advanced to the point where the Human Genome could be sequenced in a day. And with more and more of the world being digitized — everything from Google Street View images to our history of Facebook Likes — a lot of people are talking about Big Data these days. Enter Victor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier and their new book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. As the title indicates, Mayer-Schonberger, an Oxford professor and Cukier, an editor with The Economist, are excited by Big Data, but their book is more than simple sideline cheerleader. It’s a nuanced and remarkably readable account of the technological changes that have made the Big Data era possible, and a primer on many of the interesting things that are happening at the intersection of powerful computer processing, machine learning, and data analytics. They cover everything from Google’s thirst for new data to mine, to Steven Levitt’s data-driven analysis of match fixing in professional Sumo wrestling. We caught up with Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier on the telephone to discuss their new book, which launches tomorrow. We wanted to know if Big Data is really changing our brains — and they gave us a few answers. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation." (WIRED)

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