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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

 
"Given that Woody Allen works in a closed creative eco­system (no musical or theatrical influences after 1960, no cinematic ones after 1970), it’s amazing how skilled he is in making his old ideas seem fresh, lively, even urgent. His new drama Blue ­Jasmine comes this close to being a wheeze. But he sells it beautifully. Allen has borrowed his setup (and theatrical attack) from A Streetcar Named Desire, which he brings into the present by making Blanche DuBois a younger Mrs. Bernie Madoff. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine (née Jeanette), once impossibly wealthy and ensconced in New York society, now broke and homeless — and forced to move in with her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in a cramped San Francisco apartment. When she’s not insulting Ginger’s dopey-prole boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine swallows anti-depressants and goes in and out of fugue states, babbling to anyone and no one while we’re whisked back in time to scenes of her life with her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), in Manhattan and the Hamptons. That Blanchett played Blanche onstage (under the direction of Liv Ullmann) less than five years ago is a mixed blessing. She knows this song too well — she must have had to labor to keep the southern cadences out of her speech. In her first scene, in which she holds forth in a plane (all the way to the luggage carousel) to an unfortunate fellow passenger, Blanchett seems too theatrical, too fluent. Wouldn’t it be better to have a less external actress — a Judy Davis type, with a filament of real hysteria? Maybe. But Blanchett does end up carrying scenes that would trip up a less polished performer. She’s wonderfully funny in her next, in which she punches in a cell-phone number while chattering away to a poor, accommodating cabbie and then turns and says without missing a beat, “Can I have some privacy, please?” Her alarmingly statuesque posture, the uptilt of her head, the precision with which she holds her designer purse: This is Blanchett playing a woman playing an urban sophisticate. The powerful perfection of Blanchett’s mask makes you believe it could have truly subsumed whatever person was once beneath. Did Jasmine know her husband was defrauding investors? She didn’t want to—not with shopping and yoga and Pilates and all those charity events. She looks like a golden statuette. She was never meant to live in the real world." (Vulture)
 
 
"Twenty-five years ago Wall Street, and much of America, was transfixed by a sweeping set of insider-trading investigations centered on the greatest financier of the age, junk-bond king Michael Milken, of Drexel Burnham Lambert. Day after day, week after week, month after month, stories of U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani’s relentless investigation dribbled out to the press. One by one, Giuliani picked off Milken’s minions, confronting them at their homes, handcuffing them at their offices, pulling them before secret grand juries, indicting a few, pressing for evidence that Milken had broken the law. It all took on an inexorable quality. In their hearts, most everyone knew that Milken was going down sooner or later—and he did, paying more than $1 billion in fines and spending 22 months in prison. He was banned for life from the securities industry, and his firm was dismantled.Twenty-five years later it’s all happening again. Once more a relentless U.S. attorney, this time 44-year-old Preet Bharara, has seemingly targeted the billionaire investor Steve Cohen, founder of SAC Capital Advisors, the $14 billion hedge fund based in Stamford, Connecticut. One by one, Bharara has picked off onetime SAC traders and analysts, confronting them at their homes, pulling them before grand juries, bringing criminal cases, and pressing them for evidence that Cohen has broken insider-trading laws. So far Cohen has not been charged with anything, but there is the same sense that Bharara, like Giuliani before him, has too much invested in all this to lose. 'If Steve Cohen gets off,” one hedge-fund manager observes, “he will be the O. J. Simpson of insider trading.'
In almost every way, though, today’s scandal surpasses the one that brought the Roaring 80s to an end. There have been more arrests, many more convictions; C.E.O.’s have fallen, lives and companies have been ruined, all in a campaign that has increasingly put one man in the government’s crosshairs: Steve Cohen, thought to be the most brilliant trader of his generation.Simply reading the headlines this spring, one could be forgiven for being a bit confused. In mid-March, after years of scoffing at every suggestion any of its traders might have done something untoward, SAC agreed to pay, without admitting guilt, the largest fine in the history of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a stunning $616 million, to settle charges of insider trading in only two trades. Some on Wall Street called it a victory for Cohen, who paid a pittance—for him—to make a messy situation go away. Others were not so sanguine, observing—correctly—that blood was finally in the water, that an S.E.C. fine did nothing to curtail the ongoing criminal investigation, which has already led to guilty pleas from and convictions of at least five onetime SAC employees." (VanityFair)
 
 
"Some version of this occurs almost everywhere Caroline Kennedy goes. A perfectly well-intentioned person she has never met approaches her to say that a relative is entering politics because of her father, John F. Kennedy. Or expresses sympathy for the loss of her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999, or her mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who succumbed to lymphoma in 1994. These interactions happen on the subway (the main way she gets around New York). They happen on Martha’s Vineyard (where she spends her summers). They happen at the ballet, at the movies, when she is on a book tour and when she’s visiting one of New York’s public schools, a cause she has been involved in for years. Ms. Kennedy is said to be patient and gracious during these encounters, as she deflects and gently parries, leaving the other person feeling as if he or she has had a significant conversation, even if almost nothing at all was really said. Sounds like perfect training for an ambassador. On Wednesday, the Obama administration nominated Ms. Kennedy, 55, as the next United States ambassador to Japan, which would give her the kind of formal public role many have long predicted for her (but that had seemed permanently derailed by the off-and-on-and-then-finally-off flirtation with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vacated Senate seat in 2009). As a longtime family friend, the director Mike Nichols, said, it’s a job for which Ms. Kennedy is ideally suited. After all, he said, 'In the course of her life, what has she learned if not diplomacy?'" (NYTimes)
 
 
 
"A few months ago, Eric Cantor was ready to bring his latest brainchild, the 'Helping Sick Americans Now' bill, to the House floor. The move was pure Cantor—a smarmy, ultrapartisan ploy. The bill proposed to eliminate funds the Obama administration needs to set up and run the health-care exchanges that are the central mechanism in the health-care law, but then Cantor’s bill would use those funds to help a handful of sick people get health insurance. There was no chance this, or anything like it, would be signed into law, as Obama obviously would not agree to tear down a program to insure millions of Americans in return for insuring a tiny fraction of that number. It was a message vote whose purpose was 'embarrassing Obamacare,' as one conservative activist gloated, by forcing Obama to deny immediate aide for the uninsured. As a soulless exercise in disingenuous spin, it was well conceived. It failed, however, because a crucial faction of ultraconservative House Republicans threatened to vote against it. The trouble was that Cantor’s bill purported to 'fix' Obamacare rather than eliminate it. 'Why the hell do we want to fix it?' complained conservative pundit Erick Erickson. 'We should want to repeal it.' Since they have already voted 37 times to repeal Obama­care, one might think that the House Republicans’ appraisal of the law’s general merits had been made sufficiently clear. But just the pretense of working to improve the law, even while actually crippling it, offended the right. In the face of unmoved conservative opposition, Cantor had to pull his pet bill from the floor. It wound up embarrassing the House Republicans, not Obama­care.Spectacles like this have turned into a regular feature of life in the Republican House. The party leadership draws up a bill that’s far too right-wing to ever become law, but it fails in the House because it isn’t right-wing enough. Sometimes, as with the attempts to repeal Obamacare, the failures don’t matter much, but in other instances the inability to pass legislation poses horrifying dangers. The chaos and dysfunction have set in so deeply that Washington now lurches from crisis to crisis, and once-dull, keep-the-lights-on rituals of government procedure are transformed into white-knuckle dramas that threaten national or even global catastrophe." (NYMag)
 
 
 
"All tan, tailoring, big red ties, hollered greetings and firm handshakes, Sir Peter Lampl cuts an unusual figure in the corduroy world of British education, the arena he entered 15 years ago to fill his busy retirement. The former private equity executive greets me with a hoot: “Chris! How you doin’?”
Mosimann’s, a private dining club in London’s Belgravia, seems an unlikely place for a discussion about the educational attainment of Britain’s poorest children but it is one of Sir Peter’s usual haunts. Joking with the staff, who drop by intermittently to say hello ('Good to see you!'; 'You’re always used to me paying. This makes a change ... '; 'Is that a tasting portion? Bring him the full one!'), the genial, chatty multimillionaire orders a spiced tomato juice. Deferring to his local knowledge, I copy him.
Sir Peter, 66, tells me he did not set out to become a fixture in the world of the great and good. 'I had no intention of doing this, you know. I was working on my golf game. I thought maybe I should do something on the side.' Yet the Sutton Trust, the charity he funded and founded in 1997, has shaped and guided the debate on social mobility in the UK. Britons tend to think of their country as less stratified than it once was. But research by the Sutton Trust in 2005 revealed that while class deference might have largely disappeared, poor children in Britain are more likely than ever to become poor adults – and this fact is now widely known and accepted." (FT)
 

"Silda Spitzer is privately telling friends she plans to divorce her hooker-loving husband, Eliot Spitzer, Page Six can exclusively reveal. Multiple sources tell us long-suffering Silda — who, he last night admitted, will not be joining him on the campaign trail — 'has had enough' and plans to start divorce proceedings after his run for New York City comptroller is over. One source tells us, 'Silda is telling her female friends that she is done with him. She will file for divorce after the [Nov. 5] election.'  A second source told The Post’s Sally Goldenberg, 'Silda is saying she is going to wait until this is all over. She has been telling friends, ‘This is too hard. This is too rough.’ 'Page Six exclusively revealed in May that the Spitzers were living apart, with Eliot staying at 800 Fifth Ave. — less than 20 blocks from the home he shared with Silda at 985 Fifth. While his rep has insisted they are 'still a couple,' Eliot last night admitted Silda will not be seen at his side, reports The Post’s Beth DeFalco. Spitzer said, at a Bronx campaign stop, 'I think it’s fair to say I’m running for office. No other member of my family is running for office. And I think the public is going to judge me, not who else is with me or not with me. She’s got a career. There are other things I think the public appreciates — I’m out here fighting every day for them.'" (PageSix)


"The first time I went out for the 'Drivers Test' with my learner’s permit, I encountered what it’s like to be on the road with a lot of people who don’t watch out, and even people who are 'watching' something else, i.e., their cell phones, while driving. Anxiety entered the picture. I was re-entering the brave new world via the automobile. Yesterday was graduation. My friend, neighbor and NYSD 'Art Set' columnist Charlie Scheips drove me up to Yonkers to a quiet four lane (with island) strip, where the test begins, on the edge of the city near the Cross County Parkway. There were four cars waiting for the two officials giving the tests. I got in the drivers seat of the car, we drove up the road. It was a local neighborhood of single family houses, slightly hilly, little traffic. He instructed me to take a right. I did. Down another road to a light. Red. I waited. Some other cars passed. I was instructed to take a left. I did. Another stop sign. Okay, now a right. Down another road where he told me to stop and make a three point U-turn. I did. Back up the road. Another stop sign. Parallel park the car behind a car. Not a problem. Then back to the corner; a left, a left, and presto, it’s over. Ten minutes." (NYSocialDiary)


"THUN, SWITZERLAND—'Mokuso!' All 200 of us who are already on our knees and sitting on our heels in the Japanese 'seiza' position remain dead silent at the command. No loud breathing, no movement whatsoever, just “mizu no kokoro,” a calm mind, like the surface of undisturbed water. “Kaimoku,” the next command, signals the end of inner contemplation, followed by 'Shomen ni rei,' where we all touch our foreheads to the ground, saluting the father of karate. 'Sensei ni rei' is the last command uttered by the senior karateka, who happens to be me, saluting the instructors. Then it’s time for “'suki no kokoro,' a mind like the moon, which refers to the need to be constantly aware of the opponent’s movements, just as moonlight shines equally on everything within its range.
'In my 48 years of practicing karate I don’t think I’ve had a more satisfying week ... After four days of training we give the last salute and applaud the two instructors. We’re drained but happy and content. My only thoughts involve how much longer I can do stuff like this. I drive Richard, his wife (a great yoga instructor), and Steve back up the mountains of Gstaad, which give off an opalescent glow as we arrive late in the afternoon, with rainbow-like colors appearing in the setting sun. I open up some good wine and proceed to get pleasantly tipsy." (Taki)

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