"In mid-September Chinese President Xi Jinping rounded out a 10-day tour of Central Asia that included state visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek. At each stop, the new president made hearty pledges of financial support and calls for further diplomatic, security and energy cooperation. In Turkmenistan, Xi inaugurated a natural gas field. In Kazakhstan, he agreed to invest $30 billion in energy and transportation projects. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, he made similar promises to increase investment and cooperation in the coming years.
Xi's tour can be examined as part of China's struggle to reduce its exposure to security risks and supply disruptions off its coast by developing new overland transport routes for goods, energy and other natural resources. China's eastern seaboard, and the maritime realm beyond it, have dominated Chinese political, economic and military planning in recent decades, and in many ways it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The coast will remain central to China's role in the global economy, facilitating the flow of Chinese goods to overseas markets, as well as the imports of seaborne energy and raw materials relied upon heavily by coastal provinces to feed their oversized manufacturing bases. In recent years, however, anxiety within the Chinese Communist Party over the security implications of the country's dependence on coastal trade has taken many forms. China's aggressive efforts to modernize its navy and expand energy, resource and infrastructure projects overseas are perhaps its most visible attempts to cope with the geopolitical implications of its economic and energy needs. Xi's tour, along with several other recent events, has highlighted China's enduring need to focus on westward development as well." (STRATFOR)
"If you want to enliven a parent-teachers evening in Washington, DC, raise the subject of Michelle Rhee, the city’s former schools chancellor. Most education officials toil in obscurity. Rhee is a national celebrity. Some see her as an unflinching champion of US education reform and a bold opponent of the powerful teachers’ unions. Others revile her as a mouthpiece of billionaire philanthropists and advocate of school privatisation. People tend to have strong views about Rhee.In 2008, when Rhee was in the midst of overhauling Washington’s classrooms, she was pictured on the cover of Time magazine holding a new broom – 'How to Fix America’s Schools', it said. Anyone who failed to grasp the symbolism was disabused two years later by Waiting for 'Superman', an award-winning documentary by Davis Guggenheim that depicted the rise of the US charter school movement – union-free, publicly-funded schools that select students by lottery. Many are also privately-funded. Rhee, who promoted the spread of charter schools in DC, was one of the movie’s stars. In one scene she offers to fire a public school principal on camera. She goes ahead and sacks the unfortunate woman. No shrinking violet is Rhee. I await her arrival in some trepidation. We are meeting at DC Coast, a well-heeled modern American restaurant in downtown Washington that was one of Rhee’s haunts before she moved to Sacramento, where her husband, Kevin Johnson, the former basketball star, is mayor. She also has a home in Nashville where her two children live with her former husband, Kevin Huffman, who is education commissioner of Tennessee – the same role Rhee played in DC. She spends much of her life flying between the two cities. I have taken a table upstairs away from the clamour of the main dining area. Rhee, who is 43, turns up precisely on time. Dressed in a smart blue and cream business suit, she shakes my hand briskly and sits down. I apologise for plonking my smartphone under her nose and mutter something banal about how the iPhone’s audio now rivals the best tape recorders. 'Samsung seems to be holding its own as well,' she replies." (FT)
"The New York Times reported last month on a 'squabble' going on in Newport over a proposed commercial building on the property of one of the city’s National Landmarks, the Breakers – the summer residence more than a century ago of Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family. All these decades later, the Breakers is now a major tourist destination. Last year more than 400,000 visited the 70-room, 65,000 square foot mansion set on thirteen and a half acres overlooking the Atlantic. Visitors see nothing but the architectural grandeur that history associates with the Vanderbilt name. The disapproval in the community of making any changes in the property has more to do with the 'romance' of the estate as imagined easily by its millions of visitors. In reality, the Breakers today is a relic of a time and a way of life more than a century ago that is gone with the wind. Today this great mansion is simply a commercial property, a private museum of sorts that more than anything else honors the architects and designers who created it to suit the wishes of a very rich client. Aside from the cultural value, its real value is what it does for the community in terms of commerce and taxes. So it could be said the Vanderbilts have actually been sharing the wealth for more than a half century. That most definitely was never the intention but ironically it became a noble one. It was a time of great prosperity for the very rich. It was a time when much of America was farmland or thereabouts, cars (still called “machines”) were made only for the wealthy, and there were few telephones or electricity for most Americans outside the cities. So these palaces which the Vanderbilts and their brethren built for themselves were architectural fantasies disguised as reality. The Breaker’s owner -- Cornelius Vanderbilt II, was the eldest of Maria and William Vanderbilt’s eight children, also the namesake and favorite grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt -- the first American transportation tycoon. Grandfather was a legendary tough number who made (and kept) several fortunes. When he died in 1877 he was the richest man in the world." (NYSocialDiary)
"Vince Gilligan, every week until his show's end, made a strong argument that television is stealing film's thunder as the greatest medium for storytellers. Our own Zachary Wigon argues that Breaking Bad achieved a level of narrative tension that no Hollywood film has yet been able to achieve. As Breaking Bad exited stage right, there was a lot of debate about how it will change the way filmmakers tells stories. Slate's Willa Paskin offered a fan's dissenting view of the end of Breaking Bad, saying, essentially, that the redemption of Walter White was "not quite so satisfying." A little dissent notwithstanding, the general consensus of Breaking Bad's finale was positive." (Ron Mwangaguhunga/Tribeca Film Festival)
"Five years ago, Barack Obama’s top brass agreed that Hillary Clinton was beatable. In 2013, many of those ex-advisers think she’s inevitable. Three of the president’s former political hands have all but declared publicly Clinton the Democratic nominee if she runs. It at times has been a cringe-inducing — even if unintended — diss to the man who was on the Democratic ticket with Obama less than a year ago, Joe Biden. Especially since the vice president has made clear he wants to be taken seriously as a potential 2016 candidate himself. In fact, most reporters, with an eye toward a news story and a love of the political horse race, treat Biden as a possible threat to Clinton. Their relationship is analyzed and Biden’s chances are not outright dismissed. If anything, Biden’s recent visit to Iowa was treated like a major event, an unofficial kickoff to a presidential cycle in which he may or may not be a candidate. But to listen to Obama’s top former aides, who have helped extend the Clinton aura of inevitability, Biden is standing on a rung much further down the ladder. A trio of one-time Obama advisers have effectively dissed Biden, early and often.If she runs in the primary, she’s the front-runner. Obviously the vice president is someone who will take a look at this. We have other governors and senators who will take a look at it. But I think, you know if she were to run, she would be an enormously strong candidate in the primary,' David Plouffe, one of Obama’s senior strategists on his 2008 campaign, recently remarked. 'I think that Hillary Clinton probably will be the candidate,” professed David Axelrod, Obama’s former White House senior adviser, in a July appearance on MSNBC. 'If she doesn’t run, I think Biden will run.'" (Politico)
"BY NOW THE MODEL is well established. You start with a large fortune made somewhere else, buy a vineyard in the hills overlooking the Napa Valley, hire a hotshot winemaker, an even hotter, preferably French-born, winemaking consultant, a star viticulturalist and, finally, a famous architect to build your winery. Wait for the vines to bear fruit and, fingers crossed, the big scores from the critics to roll in. Call these moguls-turned-vintners the sons of Harlan, in honor of Bill Harlan, the former real-estate entrepreneur who decided to create a California first growth after touring Bordeaux and Burgundy with Robert Mondavi in 1980. Some 30 years later, Harlan's voluptuous Cabernet-based Napa Valley red has become an iconic wine and inspired legions of imitators. Mr. Harlan's flesh-and-blood son, Will, at first resisted going into the wine business. After graduating from Duke, he worked for a telecom company in Colorado before starting up a price-comparison website for outdoor gear. But eventually he found himself drawn back to the family business, which must have been a relief to his father, who had conceived a 200-year plan for Harlan Estate even before Will was born in 1987. After returning to Napa, the younger Mr. Harlan began working with a winemaking team led by Cory Empting on a new project that's being unveiled today, a more affordable version of Harlanesque hedonism called the Mascot. The grapes come from the younger vines on Harlan Estate and from Bond, a label Bill Harlan created 12 years after founding his eponymous estate, to bottle wine from other sites that he judged to be of grand-cru quality." (Jay McInerney)
"When you're 15, this can feel a little uncomfortable. Teenagers want to fit in on one hand and be rebellious on the other. Drinking beer and smoking weed in the parking lot of my high school was not my idea of being rebellious, because that's what everybody did. And I never wanted to do what everybody did. I thought it was cooler to not shave my legs or under my arms. I mean, why did God give us hair there anyways? Why didn't guys have to shave there? Why was it accepted in Europe but not in America? No one could answer my questions in a satisfactory manner, so I pushed the envelope even further. I refused to wear makeup and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity. That didn't go very well. Most people thought I was strange. I didn't have many friends; I might not have had any friends. But it all turned out good in the end, because when you aren't popular and you don't have a social life, it gives you more time to focus on your future. And for me, that was going to New York to become a REAL artist. To be able to express myself in a city of nonconformists. To revel and shimmy and shake in a world and be surrounded by daring people. New York wasn't everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time. The tall buildings and the massive scale of New York took my breath away. The sizzling-hot sidewalks and the noise of the traffic and the electricity of the people rushing by me on the streets was a shock to my neurotransmitters. I felt like I had plugged into another universe. I felt like a warrior plunging my way through the crowds to survive. Blood pumping through my veins, I was poised for survival. I felt alive. But I was also scared shitless and freaked out by the smell of piss and vomit everywhere, especially in the entryway of my third-floor walk-up." (Madonna)