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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"The story of how the Obama administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agencies tasked with implementing the Affordable Care Act got it so wrong is still unfolding. Much of the blame has to fall on an insular White House that didn’t want to hear about problems, and another chunk has to land on CMS, which instead of hiring a systems integrator, whose job it would have been to ensure that all the processes feeding into healthcare.gov worked together, kept that role for itself. As anyone who has worked with the federal government on such projects knows, it is utterly inept when it comes to technology. 'The government continues to struggle with how best to acquire the expertise to integrate technology,' says Stan Soloway, the C.E.O. of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors who work with the government. Soloway has a scary stat, which is that of the 80,000 information-technology workers in the federal government, for every one person under 30, there are 10 people over 50. That lack of expertise explains why in building healthcare.gov, the government turned to industry contractors; in particular, to CGI Federal, a subsidiary of CGI Group, a Canadian company. To those uninitiated in the dark art of government contracting, it seems scandalous that CGI, a company most Americans had never heard of, a company that is not located in Silicon Valley (where President Obama has plenty of Internet superstar friends who could have formed a dazzling brain trust to implement his signature legislation) but rather in Montreal, could be chosen as the lead contractor for the administration’s most important initiative. While right-wing news outlets have focused on the possible relationship between Toni Townes-Whitley, senior vice president for civilian-agency programs at CGI Federal, and Michelle Obama, both of whom were 1985 Princeton graduates, CGI’s selection is probably more an example of a dysfunctional system than it is a scandal. 'A lot of the companies in Silicon Valley don’t do business with the government at that level [the level required for federal contracting],' explains Soloway. 'It is very burdensome, and the rules make it very unattractive.' Indeed, government contractors have to meet a whole host of requirements contained in a foot-thick book, including cost accounting and excessive auditing, to prove that they are not profiting too much off the American taxpayer." (VanityFair)


"None of us knew whom 'Justine Sacco' was, before she tweeted the racism heard round the world, and so there is (or will be) the urge to step back from the text itself—the tweet in question—and talk about her. Who she is, and what she is doing, and how she will suffer, or what she meant, and all that. In fact, there is no #HasJustineLandedYet without imagining her, without picturing (and enjoying) the spectacle of this clueless racist on an 11 hour plane journey, obliviously floating through the friendly skies while the world seethes; the whole thing is only interesting because we know something she doesn’t, because of the suspense of waiting for the big reveal. And the more we make it about her—thereby transforming this event from which her absence was the crucial thing—the more we can only become sympathetic, or at least less cruel: if she’s a person, she’s a flawed person, yes, but she’s not the racist caricature she became in our imaginations. If she is more than the text of her tweet, then our reaction to the text of her tweet comes to feel wrong, cruel, excessive, ugly.And that’s fine! While she was still in #HasJustineLandedYet, she didn’t really exist. She was a joke. When she landed, she became a real person (to us). And there’s nothing particularly pretty about many thousands of people shaming and humiliating a single person, who they don’t know; whether or not the shame and humiliation is justified, it’s nevertheless unsettling to realize how irrelevant the facts of the matter actually turned out to be. She could be the worst person in the world, or she could be the sympathetic possible version of herself—since the material in question will only allow so much sympathy—but since her absence from the drama was the key thing, it really doesn’t matter at all. She, herself, is irrelevant, and so there’s an arbitrariness to the spectacle that is, I’ll say again, unsettling, if we can see ourselves in her shoes: your good intentions, who you really are, will not save you. The only thing that mattered, in the event, were the words she wrote in a tweet, which were judged, found guilty, and granted no appeal, all without any opportunity to face her accuser." (TheNewInquiry)


"Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom's origin story is murky. Were she and Deen dating? They were not. Was the tape stolen? It was not. Was this, as she told Dr. Phil, a private video made for her own enjoyment, to celebrate her young, nubile body and eroticism co-opted by pornographers looking to make a quick buck? Does that even make sense? Farrah was rumored to have been paid $100,000 before the tape was filmed (It's not unlikely that Deen's base rate was no higher than his standard, which, as of a year ago, was roughly $800 to $1000 a scene), plus a cut of the profits. It's still unknown whether she approached Vivid or they suggested the idea to her, though paparazzi photographers did spot Farrah and her father entering the company's San Fernando Valley offices a few times in the lead-up to the release.And what a release it was! Backdoor Teen Mom crashed the Vivid servers—it was downloaded more than 2 million times during the first six hours of its availability, crushing the record set by Kim Kardashian: Superstar (all of Vivid's 'celebrity' videos add the dubious 'superstar' designation to their titles), but by whom? Who wanted to watch a young mother be sodomized by a bona fide sex professional? Who wanted to see Farrah's breasts in all their immovable (seriously, they don't move) glory? Who wanted to watch her be pressed up against the wall, Deen's hands between her legs manipulating her until—oh, I can't even say it! Which brings us to the point, I suppose: Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom is the only piece of cultural detritus released in 2013 that really, truly shocked me, not because of the acts (while graphic, Farrah and James go through the standard hardcore script familiar to anyone with an Internet connection), but because of who it's really for, why it exists. It's not an arousal product. It's a public stoning." (TheAwl)


"On July 3rd 2013, in a video published on YouTube that was almost immediately taken down, Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed emir of a Caucasus Emirate in the southwest of the Russian Federation, lifted the moratorium on military operations targeting civilians that he unilaterally declared several months ago. He also called on his troops to do everything possible to oppose and to prevent the proper execution of the Sochi Winter Games in February 2014. The Caucasian leader could not forego this ideal occasion to remind the world of the enduring struggle led first by the Chechens in their fight for independence (1994-2005) and then taken up by a very loose network of Islamist armed groups that thrived in the neighboring republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. What does this Caucasus Emirate represent today? And what can its fighters do?Russian federal security forces regularly launch operations to eliminate local or regional emirs throughout region. In Dagestan for instance, the 'republic' leader hardly ever survives for more than one year at a time. In Kabardino-Balkaria as well, the insurgency has been successively decapitated in 2010, in 2011 and in 2012, losing not only its leader but all of its deputies as well. In Chechnya, in January 2013, the Gakaev brothers, famous and well-respected warlords among the Chechen guerillas, were killed after six days of fighting. It is said that, almost out of ammunition, they asked their comrades to shoot them. The two brothers were the last of the reputed second-generation combatants who inherited the historical independence struggle, and who in 2013 were still in control of the most important insurgent groups in Chechnya. As for the Ingush, after losing Commandant Magas, their hero, in 2010, who has been imprisoned in Moscow, his successor, Emir Adam was killed in May 2013. The North-Caucasian guerillas, usually loosely structured, are now outright destabilized. To cope with these recurrent strategic losses, the armed groups have retreated to reorganize and recoup their tactical capacity." (GeopoliticalMonitor)


"Remember last year when the first Hunger Games movie came out, and fans of the book were up in arms that Rue was black? If you're part of a group that looks around and sees itself reflected back everywhere, guess what - that's privilege. Being white and having Santa reflected back at you as white for your whole life - that's privilege. Being a dude and assuming that a regenerating, shape-shifting Doctor can only ever be a dude - that's privilege. It doesn't reflect reality, it reflects one very limited - and limiting - version of  reality. That limited version is what leads to few women of color in Hollywood or on SNL; to token Smurfettes in a lineup of dudes and token girl sidekicks in cartoons; to onscreen sex servicing men to be greenlit but onscreen sex servicing women to be censored; to women excluded even from categories we wouldn't want to be in. There's more, of course, but the point is: Yes, Aisha Harris, there can be a Black Santa. And Emma Thompson would make a bitchin' Doctor. Related: 'Given our tendency to police people of colour from coast to coast, be it by banning them from school because of their hairstyles or shooting them dead when they come to our doors asking for help, all spaces in this country are arguably "white spaces". " (Rachel Sklar & Glynnis MacNichol)



"The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), a non-profit organization working to improve the living conditions for village children in Armenia, hosted its Tenth Annual Holiday Gala on Friday, December 13, 2013 at Cipriani 42nd Street. The event was a resounding success as more than 400 longtime friends and supporters gathered together for an unforgettable evening, and raised nearly $3 million to support COAF's community-led programs. Special guests in attendance included Michael Aram, Patricia Field, Kerry Butler, and Benjamin McKenzie. For the seventh year in a row, Emmy and Tony Award winning actress Andrea Martin entertained guests throughout the evening as the Master of Ceremonies. Of Armenian descent herself, Ms. Martin is a longtime advocate of COAF's work. She is best known for her work on Broadway and roles in the films Wag the Dog and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She received her second Tony Award this year for her role in the critically-acclaimed show Pippin." (NYSocialDiary)


"In late June, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra came within days of foreclosure on its concert hall, an imposing neoclassical structure that opened in 2006. Designed by a national architecture firm that specializes in faux-historical buildings, and costing $123.5 million, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, with its massive columns and impressive portico, was meant to give one of this country’s finest regional orchestras cultural and civic gravitas.1 But in March, leaders of the institution decided that they could no longer afford the interest rates on a letter of credit, and effectively threatened to default on their mortgage. A confidential agreement, brokered by wealthy symphony supporters, saved the orchestra from homelessness, but the situation remains bleak. In recent years, the Nashville Symphony has been running deficits of $10 to $20 million a year, and a contract with the musicians is about to expire. If recent history is any guide, negotiations will be complex and rancorous.It has been a dark few years for this country’s orchestras. In the past season, a bitter strike in San Francisco and a lockout in Minneapolis led to cascading cancellations, including of the San Francisco Symphony’s East Coast tour. Since the economic crisis of 2008, bankruptcies have afflicted orchestras around the country, leading to the closure of the Honolulu, Syracuse, and Albuquerque symphonies, and in April 2011 came the stunning news that one of the country’s 'Big Five,' the Philadelphia Orchestra, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some of those groups reorganized, or opened in new forms, and Philadelphia emerged from bankruptcy in July 2012 with a hiring freeze, ten fewer players, and a 15 percent pay cut for the remaining ones.No surprise, then, that many of the attendees at the recent annual meeting of the League of American Orchestras seemed in the grip of a strange mania, a mix of bitter gloom and hysterical optimism." (TNR)

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