Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Howard Stern interviews Mike Tyson

Media-Whore D'oeuvres

"The civil war in Syria, one of the few lasting legacies of the Arab Spring, has been under way for more than two years. There has been substantial outside intervention in the war. The Iranians in particular, and the Russians to a lesser extent, have supported the Alawites under Bashar al Assad. The Saudis and some of the Gulf States have supported the Sunni insurgents in various ways. The Americans, Europeans and Israelis, however, have for the most part avoided involvement.
Last week the possibility of intervention increased. The Americans and Europeans have had no appetite for intervention after their experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. At the same time, they have not wanted to be in a position where intervention was simply ruled out. Therefore, they identified a redline that, if crossed, would force them to reconsider intervention: the use of chemical weapons. There were two reasons for this particular boundary. The first was that the United States and European states have a systemic aversion to the possession and usage of weapons of mass destruction in other countries. They see this ultimately as a threat to them, particularly if such weapons are in the hands of non-state users. But there was a more particular reason in Syria. No one thought that al Assad was reckless enough to use chemical weapons because they felt that his entire strategy depended on avoiding U.S. and European intervention, and that therefore he would never cross the redline. This was comforting to the Americans and Europeans because it allowed them to appear decisive while avoiding the risk of having to do anything. However, in recent weeks, first the United Kingdom and France and then Israel and the United States asserted that the al Assad regime had used chemical weapons. No one could point to an incidence of massive deaths in Syria, and the evidence of usage was vague enough that no one was required to act immediately. In Iraq, it turned out there was not a nuclear program or the clandestine chemical and biological weapons programs that intelligence had indicated. Had there been, the U.S. invasion might have had more international support, but it is doubtful it would have had a better outcome." (STRATFOR)

"When I was nineteen years old I was stunned to find myself back in New York. The only thing I was sure of was I did not want to live and work in this city, my birthplace. I had tried one year of that and it hadn’t appealed. Now I was back from backpacking around the world, on my own, for the previous six months. The idea was I would travel the earth and thereby discover my purpose, my calling. Nothing of the sort happened. I did experience an eye-popping quantity of stimuli but six months later I was back where I had begun, New York City. And then, by some sort of divine intervention I met Carmen D’Alessio, an energetic Peruvian sexpot public relations queen. Carmen is best known for being the spark plug behind the components of Studio 54. When I first met Carmen, pretty much on the spot she offered me a job as her assistant. On a lark, and without any visible alternatives, I took the post. Days were all about phoning her hundreds of contacts and inviting them to her parties, at Studio 54, it was an easy sell. Thus I learned everyone’s name, inadvertently even learning their telephone numbers by heart. Nights were all about escorting Carmen, in stretch limousines, along with her forever rotating entourage of hot young men. They truly adored her, and she ruled with a powerful bass laugh and thunderous commands, she was a worshipped general. We motored around the city, stopping in at every happening club, doormen opening ropes and ushering our posse in with personal greetings to Carmen, like she owned the city, and there we would hand out tickets to Studio 54, to anyone who caught Carmen’s fancy. We would work our way from club to club, seining effectively for the cutest catch. Eventually ending up at the great club Studio 54 itself." (Christina Oxenberg)

"Last night they were celebrating the 30th birthday of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. They honored songwriters Frank Loesser and Jule Styne, and if you don’t think you know their work, you’ve heard it so many times you probably even know a lot of the words and the music. Among the performers on the program were Nick Adams, Laura Benanti, Stephanie J. Block, Liz Callaway, Will Chase, Megan Hilty, Marilyn Maye, Rob McClure, Donna Murphy, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, Leslie Uggams, Max von Essen, Anthony Warlow and Betsy Wolfe. After the concert there was a black tie dinner dance at the Plaza. We’ll have a full report later this week. At the same hour, over at the Dance Times Square Ballroom on West 44th Street, they were celebrating the 114th anniversary of the great Duke Ellington." (NYSocialDiary)

"CNN chief Jeff Zucker was spotted arriving — and immediately leaving — the MSNBC party at the Italian Embassy in DC for the White House Correspondents Dinner. Spies saw Zucker, who is close friends with MSNBC president Phil Griffin, roll up to the event with his wife, Caryn, but the couple didn’t go inside, causing some onlookers to assume they were refused entry. But other sources insisted Zucker was greeted at the entrance by a group of acquaintances who hadn’t been invited to the party. When the guests couldn’t talk their way inside, the source explained, Zucker bolted instead of trying to get them in, missing Rachel Maddow bartending and the Roots performing for the crowd inside. While top journalists Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters skipped the dinner because of the movie star crowd, Anderson Cooper stayed behind in New York with his boyfriend Benjamin Maisani. The CNN anchor and Maisani, who owns East Village bar Eastern Bloc, were spotted at dinner with friends Saturday night at Rogue & Canon in the West Village. After their meal, the duo was spotted at rooftop bar Jimmy at The James Hotel, where they met up with friends, a few tables away from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who stopped by to celebrate a friend’s birthday." (PageSix)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nathan Fielder's Drug Prank

(image via Uroxx via Gawker)

Comedian Nathan Fielder had a brilliantly evil little idea. "Experiment: text your parents 'got 2 grams for $40' then right after 'Sorry ignore that txt. Not for you' Then tweet pic of their response,"is what he told his fans on Twitter. Above is a pic of one of the parents responses. More here
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"On the same day the New York Times Company reported yet another quarter in which advertising, both print and digital, was down, along with total revenue, it also announced its long-touted plan to turn things around. Yes, the top quality journalism we've come to expect and rely on is part of it — subscriptions and circulation revenue continue to outpace money made from advertising, an industry anomaly — but in addition to more a la carte digital subscription packages and expanded video production, there's also that dreaded corporate-speak: 'brand extensions.' As in, 'The planned areas of focus are games and e-commerce. An expansion of the company's conference business is also planned,' according to the 'New Strategy for Growth" announcement. Details are scarce so far — 'initiatives will begin to roll out in the fourth quarter of 2013 into 2014' — but we can extrapolate.
Games! Maybe not the first thing you think of when you think of the New York Times, but already a lucrative business. Premium crossword subscriptions are $20 annually for subscribers and $40 for word-nuts who don't want the paper. An Awl column on the economics of puzzles points to a 2010 interview with crossword boss Will Shortz, who put the number of crossword-only subscribers at 50,000, totaling $2 million a year." (NYMag)

"I went down to Michael’s (Wednesday, natch). I was meeting our No Holds Barred diarist Blair Sabol who is in town for a few days, and she invited her friend Ali MacGraw to join us. Ali was in town to go to last night’s opening of 'I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers' starring the One the Only Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. Michael’s was wall-to-wall. It turned out there were other California girls in the room (technically Ali MacGraw lives now in New Mexico but she still goes back and forth to Los Angeles as it’s only an hour and a half away by plane). Terry Allen Kramer, who is one of the producers of the Midler show, was lunching with Wendy Stark who came in from L.A. for the opening, and Alana Stewart aka Alana Hamilton, also in for the opening. At the table right next to them was another interesting group: Pat Kluge, Sharon Bush, Patty Raynes, Anne Hearst and Elizabeth de Kergolay. I don’t know if any of them were going to the opening last night." (NYSocialDiary)

"Where to begin? This week at 55th and Fifth, the scene in the dining room provided whiplash-inducing people watching with a tasty mix of moguls on the menu (Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Finkelstein) with a side of social swans (Sharon Bush, Patricia Kluge, Terry Allen Kramer) ...Speaking of the power of celebrity, I was joined today by Charitybuzz CEO and founder Coppy Holzman who dazzled me with tales of his work with the famous and philanthropic. His company, which he founded in 2005, is currently the world’s largest online charity auction site and is the go-to partner for every famous person with a charity looking to raise serious money for their pet causes. It all started at a backyard fundraising party for The Clinton Library in Westport, Connecticut that Coppy attended where he met President Bill Clinton and Chevy Chase. 'Isn’t there a way for you to use your experience on the Internet to raise for the library?' the host of the party asked Coppy. On the spot, he came up with the idea of auctioning off a lunch with the former president. One year later, The Chevy Chase Earth Day Auction brought in $250,000 for the library, including $80,000 paid by one bidder to lunch with Clinton and Chase. Since then, Coppy has worked with Clinton on many different initiatives. 'There is no bigger celebrity in the world,' he says. The top dollar paid to spend the day with Hillary’s husband: $255,000 in an auction last year ... (at Table 18) Producer Beverly Camhe, whose documentary, In God We Trust, premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival and is generating major buzz. None other than Andrew Madoff slipped into the theater for the premiere and was, says a spy, 'very moved' by the film which purports that both he and his late brother Mark Madoff knew nothing of their father’s Ponzi scheme. Today, Beverly was with Jennifer Lee, Richard Pryor‘s wife." (Diane Clehane)

"A story posted last night by Politico's Dylan Byers characterizes Abramson as a woman on the verge of a newsroom breakdown. The culprit is her personality, but also, to be fair, the way that personality has manifested itself in a few decisions, none of which were particularly key decisions.Today, the story has readers charging sexist bias, thin sourcing, and a certain naivete about how the great big newsrooms work. I don't think any of these is really applicable to Byers' reporting, but this article does speak volumes about all three issues. (It also speaks to the particular place of Politico in the media ecosystem, and its exceptional appetite for windy indictments of the Times and Washington Post. But that's another story.) I was talking to a few friends about some of Abramson's predecessors." (CapitalNY)

"When we started to put together the paidContent Live conference, which we held in New York last week, one of the driving forces behind our selection of speakers was to find those who are doing interesting things — either in new or traditional media — so that we could try and figure out what the future of media is going to look like. As I said during my opening remarks, we may not have all (or any) of the answers, but we do have plenty of interesting questions, and that is a start ... At one point during the panel on monetization — which also included Richard Tofel from ProPublica, Raju Narisetti from News Corp. and Bob Bowman from Major League Baseball — Atlantic Media president Justin Smith said that his organization didn’t really have a single answer to the question of how to monetize content, because it was more or less trying everything it possibly could (which is one of the reasons why I have said Atlantic is one of the media companies worth watching) ... For the Atlantic, that means experimenting with sponsored content (despite its potential pitfalls, which were highlighted during the Scientology incident) as well as doing live events, and introducing a premium offering — which Smith wouldn’t provide much detail about but is supposedly coming soon." (Matthew Ingram)

"One afternoon in March, I walked through Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, stepping around shards of broken glass. Until last year, the modern concrete building with its Moorish-inspired screens and light-filled courtyard was a haven for scholars drawn by the city’s unparalleled collection of medieval manuscripts. Timbuktu was once the center of a vibrant trans-Saharan network, where traders swapped not only slaves, salt, gold, and silk, but also manuscripts—scientific, artistic, and religious masterworks written in striking calligraphy on crinkly linen-based paper. Passed down through generations of Timbuktu’s ancient families, they offer a tantalizing history of a moderate Islam, in which scholars argued for women’s rights and welcomed Christians and Jews. Ahmed Baba owned a number of Korans and prayer books decorated with intricate blue and gold-leaf geometric designs, but its collections also included secular works of astronomy, medicine, and poetry." (TNR)

"Nobody in Hollywood today is as cool for so many uncool reasons as J.J. Abrams. A film and TV producer, screenwriter, director, designer, editor, composer and all-around geek god, Abrams is the bespectacled creative titan behind projects most likely to have fans sleeping outside box-office windows in itchy space costumes ... In the meantime, Abrams has another to-do item: reboot Star Wars. He will direct Star Wars: Episode VII, the first in a new series of Star Wars films to come from Lucasfilm, which Disney bought from George Lucas last year for $4.05 billion. At first the Twitterverse cried out that it was too much for one mortal to oversee both galaxies, but the blowback ended fast. Having helmed Trek, Mission: Impossible III and TV sensations including Lost, Fringe, Revolution and Alias, Abrams is probably better suited than anyone to juggle both phaser and lightsaber. Jeffrey Jacob 'J.J.'Abrams was born June 27, 1966 in New York City but grew up on the glitzier side of Los Angeles, where both parents produced TV movies. At the age of 13, young J.J.—'Only my father’s mother called me Jeffrey,' he says—first operated a Super 8 camera and by the age of 16 earned the notice of Steven Spielberg, whose office asked Abrams to edit Super 8 movies Spielberg had made when he was a teenager. (Many years later they collaborated on an action adventure called Super 8.) Abrams sold his first script in college and later earned his cred writing Regarding Henry and Forever Young. Felicity made Abrams a TV giant, and the script for Armageddon made him rich; they also show an unusual range and a talent for crossing genres. Playboy Contributing Editor David Hochman, who last interviewed Fox News anchor Chris Wallace for the magazine, was the first journalist to sit down with Abrams in the aftermath of the Star Wars announcement." (Playboy)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why "The Media" is Liberal

This is pretty obvious, but wonderfully stated. Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic explains why many big city reporters lean somewhat left-of-center:

"On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Koch brothers -- yes, those Koch brothers, of dumping mad cash into elections fame -- are considering buying the Tribune network of newspapers in a bid to establish a pro-business conservative media chain
I say, good luck with that.
"There are several reasons regional newspapers are an awkward fit for anyone looking to counter-program what they see as liberal bias in the news media.
"The main reason is that all major U.S. newspapers are based in cities. Cities in America are in the main run by Democrats, because they are populated, by and large, with Democrats, and very often also surrounded by Democratic suburbs. And because cities are run by Democrats, and populated by not only by Democrats but, very often, by liberal, minority, and immigrant Democrats, they tend to have laws on the books that at least formally signal a desire to serve the interests of these voting groups -- their residents, let's call them
"Newspapers, which are businesses, are subject to the employment and other laws of the cities in which they are based. Because they are based in cities, and because cities are often at the forefront of progressive legislating, newspapers tend to work under employment laws and answer to regional communities that have distinctive views about what a just society looks like. Conservatives are right to call these views liberal, but it's just as important to recognize them as the product of representative democracy within defined urban spaces (see Richard Florida for more on what it is that causes cities to vote Democratic). Newspapers, like other businesses, have to follow the local laws -- such as those protecting out gay employees -- or risk getting sued. And, historically, they had to appeal to urban or urbanizing local residents if they wanted any subscribers."
Any yet Fox News -- a conservative cabler, an alternative to newspapers which are in decline -- is doing just fine.

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

""Last week’s coverage of the events in Boston showed how much the networked press needs to better understand two things: silence and timing. The Internet makes it possible for people other than traditional journalists to express themselves, quickly, to potentially large audiences. But the ideal press should be about more than this. It should be about demonstrating robust answers to two inseparable questions: Why do you need to know something now? And why do you need to say something now? Both questions demand awareness of what not to say, and when not to say it — knowledge the networked press is only beginning to develop. The broadest definition of the networked press is a system that attends to, represents, circulates, and amplifies publicly meaningful perspectives. Last week in Boston, this system included: reporters at traditional, mainstream news organizations; Twitter and Facebook users circulating real-time information; government, transit, and law enforcement officers issuing updates and alerts; consumers of TV, radio, and police scanner streams; and Reddit and 4chan users who tried, and failed, to identify the bombers. At best, the networked press told people important, time-sensitive information; it fostered empathy and thoughtful action; and it helped to create a sophisticated public ready to prosecute this tragedy and prevent future ones. But, sadly, there were lots of moments when this system failed spectacularly..." (Niemanlab)

"I just read ‘Levels of Life’ by Julian Barnes, his latest, and I’m a fan, of sorts. However, long ago, Julian Barnes wrote a book called Staring at the Sun, about a woman and her ordinary life sliced up in cartoonishly large leaps of twenty year intervals. At the time I remember thinking it implausible, these spans leaping ahead in twenty year lumps. For a leap, that seemed improbably enormous. Ah, the myopia of youth! All these years later I clearly see the possibility of vast chunks of time sucked away into a blurry tear in Time’s fabric. And now here I am, so much older and I look back on my life, and I see when the trajectory for adventure truly began. Right before my 30s I entirely gave up on anything conventional, and I have been ‘on the road’, so to speak, ever since. My first divorce was so long ago I don’t remember much about that marriage, like the dude’s name, but what I do remember is that after seven years of marriage there came a time of critical mass. It was stay and breed and do the wife thing, or bail and toodle off to parts unknown. I took the latter course, I packed up the husband and sent him off to Italy. 'I’m right behind you,' I lied when I kicked him out of the Toyota truck at JFK. And that was the last time I saw him. Tomorrow I’m headed for New York City, for my party, to celebrate my new book. I have invited all and sundry from all stages of my life, finally mixing everyone altogether, like the end of a great day of work for a painter with his pallet smeared with bright oils.  Today I examine my choices, and my expectations, and with the benefit of so much time passing, I can critically assess. Most notably I will say it has gone fast. Cresting the precipice of middle age was not even noticeable. There was no peak of Everest moment, no instant where I stuck a flag into a mountain top and felt my goals in my grasp. Far from it. Rather, I feel I am in a holding pattern, a sort of long stalling idle, where all my goals are still just ahead, just around the next mythic corner. I’m looking forward to seeing my old friends, a little concerned to reveal my aged self. Will any of us recognize one another?" (Christina Oxenberg)

"Very busy day and night in New York. For starters, this was the calendar: At the Waldorf -- Women of Distinction Luncheon Fashion Show by Bergdorf’s and almost 900 women attending the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s benefit honoring Michelle Swarzman and Molly Roberts with ABC’s Cynthia McFadden mistress of ceremonies. Right after sundown, over at Le Cirque, broadcasting, my friend, broadcasting executive Bill O’Shaughnessy was feted for the '75th Anniversary 0f WO’s Natal Day'  a dinner dance hosted by Matthew, David, Kate O’Shaughnessy. Same time, downtown at the Bowery Hotel on the Bowery, Artists for Africa were hosting their Spring Gala benefit and honoring my friend Tom McGrath for his work and support of African philanthropies. At the same time up at the Altman Building on West 18th, The Horticultural Society of New York was honoring another friend, artist Hunt Slonem with the Award of Excellence at the New York Flower Show Dinner Dance. Black Tie." (NYSocialDiary)

"If you’re the nautical sort, you probably interpret the news as a flow. If you hunt and peck on the typewriter, your news feed might resemble a pointillistic painting. But if you love to break ideas down into their sequential components, keep your socks folded and sorted by color in a dresser, compose everything you write with an outliner and consider a pair of tweezers a blunt instrument, then you probably view the news through the schematic eyes of Hilary Sargent, the creative force behind the ChartGirl website. Since November, Sargent has been sorting and reordering the chaotic sewer of breaking news into lucid and logical text-and-graphics charts. When the top story was General David Petraeus’s affair with Paula Broadwell, Sargent straighten the 'endless story angles' with an annotated chart depicting the major players in the scandal ‑ from Jill Kelley to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), fromHarvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa ‑ and plotting the salient interconnections. Better than a New York Times write-through of all known facts about the scandal, ChartGirl collected the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns in concise and puckish fashion. (Connecting Broadwell with Michelle Obama with a line, Sargent asked, 'Who has better arms?') In early December, with John McAfee on the lam, Sargent extracted from the event the three dozen most important institutions, individuals and plot elements (e.g., a tampon, four poisoned dogs, Vice magazine, “bath salts”) and arranged them like wheel spokes around a McAfee head shot to bring coherence to the tumult. Later that month, Sargent applied her news-mapping skills to the awfulness of the Westboro Baptist Church and to Donald Trump‘s feuds with such celebrities as Rihanna, Carrie Prejean, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Neuharth and Stephen Colbert. Since then, she’s diagrammed the news behind the Bill Ackman vs. Carl Icahn battle, the highlights of the Gardner Museum heist, and, last week, press corps Boston Marathon bombings hits and misses. If you see the world through the eyes of a press critic ‑ and I pity you if you do ‑ Sargent’s work sometimes reads like A.J. Liebling turned graphics freak." (Jack Shafer)

"Logan Sachon: When did you first learn about your trust fund? Lori Palmer: I think it was always something my grandmother said to me at my birthday 'And I put some money in your trust fund.' Which meant nothing to me for a long time. I didn’t really know how much was in the account until I was in my mid-twenties. There is $100K. (Which makes me nervous to say. Mentioning the dollar amount freaks me out.) Kanye West’s 'Gold Digger' was really big at the time and I remember singing it to my then-boyfriend, because he was the gold digger. I now realize that it’s nowhere near that kind of money. " (TheAwl)

"Last week, as the social media frenzy surrounding the events in Boston reached a fever pitch, The Awl’s Choire Sicha posed the question, “Is Your Social Media Editor Destroying Your News Organization Today?” If you haven’t read it, it goes something like this: 'Journalists who sit on a computer all day Tweeting everything they see on Reddit and Twitter and TV are not doing ‘work.’ This doesn’t bring value to readers or news organizations. Or maybe it does, I don’t know.”
The reaction from Twitter’s informal cabal of social media editors and producers to this biting (yet not-exactly-mean-spirited) attack on their livelihoods was fairly nuanced, with responses ranging from full-hearted praise to “@choire has no idea what he’s talking about.' Maybe this ambivalence is owing to the somewhat unsure thesis of the post. Or maybe social media editors and producers (myself included) just love to see their work reflected back at them, even if the reflection is a little ugly. But while I enjoyed the post, if only because reading articles about 'social media’s response to Boston' was bit of a coping mechanism last week, I think Sicha started with the wrong question. Before we determine if your social media editor is destroying your news organization, we might want to ask ourselves, 'What is a social media editor?'" (Pandodaily)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chicago Sun-Times Sends Pizza To Boston Globe Newsroon

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Media-Whore D'oeuvres

"When seeking to place an attack like the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing into context, it is helpful to classify the actors responsible, if possible. Such a classification can help us understand how an attack fits into the analytical narrative of what is happening and what is likely to come. These classifications will consider factors such as ideology, state sponsorship and perhaps most important, the kind of operative involved. In a case where we are dealing with an apparent jihadist operative, before we can classify him or her we must first have a clear taxonomy of the jihadist movement. At Stratfor, we generally consider the jihadist movement to be divided into three basic elements: the al Qaeda core organization, the regional jihadist franchises, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and grassroots operatives who are radicalized, inspired and perhaps equipped by the other two tiers but who are not members of either. Within the three-tier jihadist movement there exist two distinct types of operatives. One of these is the professional terrorist operative, a person who is a member of the al Qaeda core or of one of the regional franchises. These individuals swear loyalty to the leader and then follow orders from the organization's hierarchy. Second, there are amateur operatives who never join a group and whose actions are not guided by the specific orders of a hierarchical group. They follow a bottom-up or grassroots organizational model rather than a hierarchical or top-down approach. There is a great deal of variety among professional terrorists, especially if we break them down according to the functions they perform within an organization, roles including that of planners, finance and logistics specialists, couriers, surveillance operatives, bombmakers, et cetera. There is also a great deal of variety within the ranks of grassroots operatives, although it is broken down more by their interaction with formal groups rather than their function. At one end of the grassroots spectrum are the lone wolf operatives, or phantom cells. These are individuals or small groups who become radicalized by jihadist ideology, but who do not have any contact with the organization. In theory, the lone wolf/phantom cell model is very secure from an operational security standpoint, but as we've discussed, it takes a very disciplined and driven individual to be a true lone wolf or phantom cell leader, and consequently, we see very few of them. At the other end of the grassroots spectrum are individuals who have had close interaction with a jihadist group but who never actually joined the organization." (STRATFOR)

"House Speaker John Boehner was spotted yesterday lunching with billionaire David Koch at the Four Seasons Restaurant. A spy said the pair were overheard 'talking about magazines.' Koch and his brother Charles are reportedly interested in bidding on eight Tribune Company newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times." (PageSix)

"Presidential hero stories have two archetypes. One is Lyndon Johnson arm-twisting. The Times today hauls out LBJ biographer Robert Dallek to contrast Johnson’s ruthless arm-twisting with Obama’s stand-offishness. Of course, LBJ enjoyed huge majorities in both houses, along with a majority-rule Senate. When Johnson’s majority shrank following the 1966 midterms, his domestic agenda shriveled away, too, despite his presumably undiminished grasp of arm-twisting and legendarily threatening body language. Obama faces a House controlled by far-right Republicans, and a Senate majority not sufficient to break what has become a routine supermajority requirement. And note that despite his national majority, Obama carried only 48 percent of House districts and 52 percent of the states, short of the threshold for passing laws in either chamber, which suggests that even a perfect effort to apply his popularity to any given issue is insufficient to pass a law. (National Review reporter Robert Costa points out that the sponsors of the background check law wanted Obama to stay in the background, which makes sense given the political geography.). The second archetype comes from the Aaron Sorkin myth, a phrase I used two years ago to mock Drew Westen, who seemed to pine for a Sorkin-esque president who would deliver soaring speeches that would change everything. Maureen Dowd took the myth to the next level in her Sunday column by not merely pining away for a Sorkin-esque hero, as Westen did, but actually citing a Sorkin film ... That’s the answer? Charts with the names of the pols they had to capture? I’m pretty sure the administration knew the names of the senators whose votes it needed. Would it really make a dramatic difference to store the information in chart form? You can’t just jot it down on a notepad?" (Jonathan Chait)

"The digital content wars are heating up, with Netflix reporting better-than-expected earnings on Monday. Netflix, along with other distributors, are changing the way they do business by becoming programmers. Original content is their ammunition in a war for consumers. The first quarter was a turning point in the original content battle: Netflix introduced its first original show, 'House of Cards,' as its stock moved more than 80 percent higher. And its first-quarter earnings report stressed that the original content strategy is paying off ... The big bet on original content isn't a one-quarter play: Netflix didn't launch 'House of Cards' to get a one-quarter bump in subscriber numbers. It is part of a long-term plan to convince subscribers that it has the kind of content, like HBO, that can't be missed.
'I think originals are very important for Netflix to get to the point that people forget about cancelling because they feel like there's always something unique and really interesting coming,' BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said. However, Netflix faces rising competition in the original—digital—content space. Amazon announced Monday that its 14 original pilots, which it posted online Friday, were the most-watched TV shows across Amazon Instant Video over the weekend." (CNBC)

"Many kind and thoughtful readers have written in to inquire about the health of my friend and Shih-tzu, Missy a/k/a Madame who evidently had a bout of gastroenteritis a couple of Sundays ago. After our (costly) visit to the vet, and without giving her any of her prescriptions, her conditioned turned around within hours. I think she’s a little like me: a visit to the doc is sometimes the cure, at least for the head. By evening she was taking little bits of freshly roasted chicken and finally I just chopped some up with rice and she wolfed it down, then looking up at me as if to say: 'Where’s the rest of it?' (with a wag of the tail). When she had her walks later that night, she pulled me down the avenue, as is her wont. When I told her of the NYSD interest in her, she wondered if it involved treats." (NYSocialDiary)

"Great-slash-terrible news: Max Baucus, Democratic senator from Montana and Senate Finance Committee chairman, will not seek reelection in 2014. Baucus, who just last week was one of the Democrats to join with Republicans in killing President Obama’s gun bill, is disliked by many members of his own party; as one of the leading architects of the Affordable Care Act, he is also disliked by many members of Republican party; and as a septuagenarian politician who’s had his job since 1978 and amassed, according to The New York Times, 'a sizable constellation of former aides working as tax lobbyists, representing blue-chip clients that include telecommunications businesses, oil companies, retailers and financial firms,' he is somewhat of an easy target for any potential Republican opponent who wants to paint him as out of touch with Montana. Adieu, adieu, thy plaintive anthem fades, etc. In line to replace Baucus, just maybe: bolo-tie-wearin’, establishment-hatin’, previous-Senatorial-race-losin’ ex-governor Brian Schweitzer. Note that Schweitzer flaunts his power in a much more fun way than simply cavorting with K Street acquaintances. As CBS News reported in 2011: 'Montana Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer has come up with a memorable way to veto bills coming out of his state’s Republican-led House and Senate: By ordering a cattle brand that says ‘VETO’ and then holding a public ceremony to use it on the G.O.P. legislation.'" ( VanityFair)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Like a lot of Americans, when I woke up on Friday morning and found out there was a manhunt in the Boston area for the remaining suspect in Monday’s bombing at the marathon, I turned on CNN. It’s a common impulse, although less common than it used to be. The news audience has been chopped up into ideological camps, and CNN’s middle way has been clobbered in the ratings. The legacy networks’ news divisions can still flex powerful muscles on big stories, and Twitter and other real-time social media sites have seduced a whole new cohort of news consumers.  But the biggest damage to CNN has been self-inflicted — never more so than in June, when in a rush to be first, it came running out of the Supreme Court saying that President Obama’s health care law had been overturned. It was a hugely embarrassing error. Still, when big news breaks, we instinctively look to CNN. We want CNN to be good, to be worthy of its moment. That impulse took a beating last week. On Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., the correspondent John King reported that a suspect had been arrested. It was a big scoop that turned out to be false. Mr. King, a good reporter in possession of a bad set of facts, was joined by The Associated Press, Fox News, The Boston Globe and others, but the stumble could not have come at a worse time for CNN. When viewers arrived in droves — the audience tripled to 1.05 million, from 365,000 the week before, according to Nielsen ratings supplied by Horizon Media — CNN failed in its core mission. It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel." (David Carr)

"Kids used to ask each other: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? Now there’s a microphone in every tree and a loudspeaker on every branch, not to mention the video cameras, and we’ve entered the condition that David Foster Wallace called Total Noise: 'the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective.' This week was a watershed for Total Noise. When terrible things happen, people naturally reach out for information, which used to mean turning on the television. The rewards (and I use the word in its Pavlovian sense) can be visceral and immediate, if you want to see more bombs explode or towers fall, and plenty of us do. But others are learning not to do that. The Boston bombings, shootings, car chase, and manhunt found the ecosystem of information in a strange and unstable state: Twitter on the rise, cable TV in disarray, Internet vigilantes bleeding into the FBI’s staggeringly complex (and triumphant) crash program of forensic video analysis. If there ever was a dividing line between cyberspace and what we used to call the 'real world,' it vanished last week. Microblogging and social media intruded sharply upon the chain of events. The @CambridgePolice, having tweeted SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE reports through Thursday night and Friday morning, stopped tweeting in case the 19-year-old fugitive Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was glued to his cell phone like everyone else ('monitoring police response via social media'). And why wouldn’t he be? The Internet revealed his supposed Twitter name, which instantly acquired tens of thousands of new followers. Reddit users assembled a crowd-sourced map of the Thursday-night shootings and car­jacking. The @Boston_Police begged other tweeters to stop 'Broadcasting Tactical Positions of Homes Being Searched.' Someone instantly registered the domain name ­shouldIlivetweetthescanner.info in order to post a short message: 'NO. NO, NO and NO.'" (NYMag)

"Bill Clinton was honored at the GLAAD Media Awards for his gay rights advocacy as well as his endorsement for same-sex marriage on Saturday. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the former President credits his daughter for changing his mind. The former President said during his acceptance speech that his daughter 'has had a profound impact on the way I see the world. It's sort of humbling when you get to be my age when your child knows more than you do about everything.' 'Chelsea and her gay friends have modeled to me how we should all treat each other regardless of our sexual orientation or any other artificial difference that divides us,' said the honoree. 'Many of them come and join us every Thanksgiving for a meal. I have grown very attached to them.'" (PageSix)

"Last night I went down to the Four Seasons restaurant on East 52nd for the annual Through the Kitchen dinner which benefits the Cancer Research Institute Irvington Fellowship Program. Lauren Veronis started this Sunday night affair thirty-one years ago this year, and they’ve raised $8 million for this one program. The Institute concentrates on research in the field of immunology. Mrs. Veronis brings out a good crowd of many prominent New Yorkers. Mayor Bloomberg and Diana Taylor were among the guests. It is one of the few benefits that the mayor takes the time out to attend. And on Sunday night too. Police Commissioner Kelly was also there with his wife Veronica.A lot of the guests are friends, or no more than two degrees of separation from almost everyone in the room. It could be called the Lauren Veronis’ own private Linked-In. It also attracts friends of friends. The reason they can pull in several hundreds on a Sunday night is because of The Cause, of course, but also there’s a camaraderie in the room. And the food. That is Lauren Veronis’ ace. And in this beautiful, now landmarked classic restaurant of New York. They give you a chef’s apron as you enter the kitchen, big plate in hand. And before you it's ... a cornucopia." (NYSocialDiary)

"The ballet isn’t generally known as a place for great humor, but Woody Allen was a cutup at the Youth America Grand Prix Gala, spies said. The 'Annie Hall' director and wife Soon-Yi Previn were spotted there as guests at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center last week, along with David and Julia Koch, Wilbur and Hilary Ross, Debra Black and Karen LeFrak, who composed the score for a premiere of Marcelo Gomes’ dance piece 'Tous Les Jours.' When the well-heeled group filed in for dinner after the performance, Allen was seen desperately scanning the place cards at his table. 'I like it when Soon-Yi’s at the same table,' he explained to a guest, relieved to find she was seated nearby. When a party photographer asked to snap a pic, Allen quipped that he’s always happy to pose because, 'It keeps me from eating.' And when a guest exclaimed Allen hadn’t changed since they’d met 35 years before, the director put his hand on his heart, tapped his chest and concluded, 'No maturity.'” (PageSix)

"Next week, Comedy Central will host a five-day comedy festival that includes a lineup of legends like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner alongside popular young comics like Amy Schumer and the director Paul Feig.But there will be no smoky comedy clubs. No lone microphones and stools positioned on stage. No two-drink minimum.  The festival will take place almost entirely on Twitter, with comedians posting video snippets of routines and round tables and posting jokes using the hashtag #ComedyFest. The partnership between Comedy Central, a cable cannel owned by Viacom, and Twitter represents the evolving relationship between television and social media. Twitter is often incorporated into programming with viewers using the site as a second screen while watching live television. But slowly, Twitter is becoming an outlet on which to watch video. In January, Twitter introduced Vine, a video-sharing service that lets users post six-second clips — brevity that matches Twitter’s model of 140-character messages." (NYTimes)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

On Thursday night I attended the world premiere of The United States of Amnesia at the Tribeca Film Festival, a documentary on the life of Gore Vidal. In the audience was Jay Parini, Vidal's literary executor,  filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall and producer Burr Steers, Gore's nephew and a distant relation of Aaron Burr. The film -- which is beautifully shot -- begins with Gore, standing at his grave, narrating. Against the reality of impending death Gore, always somewhat dry and grave even at his wittiest, takes on his last, greatest role: that of godlike essayist, all-too-human. Gore narrated how he bought the grave, and it is noted that the grave is half-filled with his partner, Harold Austen, now deceased. For those who loved and admired Vidal, this is a beautifully shot but bittersweet way to begin such an endeavor. Kudos to the directors of photography: Derek Wiesenhahn, Joel Schwartzberg, Armando De’Ath. Job well done.

The film does't remain so maudelin throughout. The cinematography, as well as archived film from a memorable life and interviews with friends and sometimes foes, is beautifully done. The film features candid vérité footage of Vidal in his final years. The music -- particulary Couperin's Barricade Mysterieuse -- celebrates the life of an American outsider. But the visuals are incredible. The scene with Gore Vidal and Mikhail Gorbachev travelling the canals of Venice is priceless, as is the emotional -- a word I previously would not have used in the context of Gore Vidal -- scene when Vidal has to give up his majestic house with the astonishing view because of arthritis.

This documentary goes through the stuff Vidal fans are well aware of -- well born Gore's stormy relationship with his mother, Gore at Exeter, Gore in the Aleutian islands during WW2 (where arthritis first emerged), Gore the successful writer, Gore v Buckley, Gore as expat and, finally Gore, wise old American -- but it excels at humanizing Vidal and placing his political wisdom in context. Gore, being carted around in a wheelchair in his last years, never allowed himself to be depicted as so frail. And yet frailty, in old age, is a Truth -- and Gore Vidal never shied away from the Truth; but self-revelation is a bit alien to the great writer. His subjects have always been Life, Art and Politics -- but never his life, always the life of statesmen from various periods of history. Here he is the subject.

Vidal was ahead of the curve on so many issues that it is difficult nowadays to see the political courage it took to, say, argue on behalf of gay rights in the 1950s and 1960s on television and in print. His first novel, which depicted gay sex got him essentially blacklisted by the New York Times. The philosopher Richard Rorty, in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity argued that there are two kinds of public intellectuals. One kind -- Marx, Burke, Dickens -- awaken us to great political Truths, they are communitarians. Another kind -- Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Nabokov and, I would argue Vidal -- pursue a goal of private perfection in Rorty's words. He sought and succeded in perfecting himself, of living a beautiful life.

Gore, of course, was an atheist, a sophisticated pagan. And so it is of no surprise that he ended up in Italy, off the Amalfi coast, in an ancient house overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Of Vidal's legendary house in Ravello, author Matt Frei writes:
Vidal's spectacular house La Rondinaia, the Swallow's Nest. Ravello, if you haven't been, is one of those truly unforgettable places. It is perched on top of a cliff high above the Amalfi coast. Richard Wagner came here to convalesce and compose parts of Parsifal. Henrik Ibsen came to convalesce and write A Doll's House. Gore Vidal came here to ruin his health and entertain his friends.
That seems just about right. As Sting -- who is, curiously, in this movie -- says, "it is only fitting that the Gods life on a mountain." No higher praise. It is one of the regrest of my life that I never attended a Gore Vidal party in Ravello. And yet I soldier on through life.

At the Q & A after the film I asked Nicholas Wrathall if it was difficult getting Christopher Hitchens -- my first writing mentor -- to talk about Vidal on film. Vidal had named Hitchens his literary heir years ago when they both wrote for Vanity Fair. Then, after 9/11, Hitchens ran with the neoconservatives, arguing for war in Iraq and attacked Vidal -- in the pages of VF -- as something of a conspiracy nut. Vidal rescinded his literary heir offer. Nicholas Wrathall told me that he didn't have a problem getting Hitchens to talk about Gore -- quite the contrary. He felt that Hitchens, towards the end of his life, wanted to make amends to Gore, become friends again and that he felf he was using him as something of a go-between. When Wrathall brought this up with Gore, he said, Gore shrugged. The friendship had been irrevocably broken. Both ended up dying without ever making up. Sad that such intellectual heavyweights who believed in so many of the same things could not come together once again before death.

But in death, to paraphrase Lucretius -- a favorite philosopher of Vidal -- all things become as one: matter.

See this documentary if you can. It is wonderful.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mount Gay Black Barrel Launch Event

This past Tuesday Mount Gay Barrel, in operation since 1703, launched the Black Barrel label at the Soho Grand. Spotted in the crowd: Gene Song of Remy-Cointreau; Campbell Rudder, Vice President of Marketing, Barbados Tourism; artist Hideki Takahashi; East Village Live blogger David Barish; Lily Hoagland, Executive Editor at Quest; Lauren Kinelski, PR magazger at Remy Countrau USA; Emily Venugopal and McArthur Joseph. The sophisticated media heavy crowd was treated to mixed drinks and well-matched hors d'oevres like lamb sliders and tuna tartare that paired well with such a fine, complex rum.

Matured in charred oak barrels, double distilled, Mount Gay Black barrel was the star of the evening. Master Blender Allen Smith has done a fantastic job, crafting an elegant, luxurious product made from sugar cane molasses from -- where else -- Barbados. To the taste spicy, woody notes notes; to the nose Mount Gay Black barrel comes across as sweet, with aromatic notes of caramel and vanilla. And it goes -- as I found out last night, serendipitously -- quite perfectly with a nice cigar. We have had, of late, big moments for vodka, gin -- every summer is always about the gin -- single malt and, most recently, tequila. Is this now rum's moment? Has Mount Gay found the perfect moment to introduce us to a luxurious rum every bit a competitor to other high end spirits? All involved, myself included, came away from the evening with a new respect for what rum, when done right, can do.

Jon Stewart Vs. CNN

Oh CNN, what were you thinking?
Media-Whore D'oeuvres

"As we discussed last week, the Democratic Party’s presidential field in 2016 hinges greatly on the decision of one person: Hillary Clinton. The Republican Party’s early primary picture is much more complicated, and the top-tier contenders are grouped much closer together at the starting gate.
To us, though, there is one name that stands out just a little bit more than the rest, even though he isn’t currently as public because he’s not appearing on seven Sunday TV chat shows almost simultaneously or running a landslide 2013 reelection race in his state. That person is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Walker’s rise reminds us of the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Darth Vader in the original Star Wars that, 'If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.' In Walker’s case, Democrats tried — and failed — to strike him down in a recall election last year. The recall was precipitated by the actions of Walker and his Republican allies in the Badger State legislature to weaken public sector unions. Not only did Walker survive, but this unscheduled political war elevated him to stardom amongst conservatives across the country. If Walker were to become the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats will have helped it happen.
The former Milwaukee County executive saw one of his potential liabilities disappear last month when a long “John Doe” investigation into some criminal activities in his county office concluded. While some aides close to Walker were convicted, he was not accused of any wrongdoing. Granted, the investigation will get a full airing in the national press if Walker runs, but it appears as though he has escaped without real damage and his road to reelection in 2014 looks fairly clear at the moment. For more on Walker, we suggest this excellent, recent summation of his national ambitions from Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Of course, it is possible that Walker is the second coming of Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and 2012 washout who was always more fascinating to the chattering classes than the voters. Yet Walker is already better known among national conservative activists, and he has both the combat medals awarded by the conservative elite and substantial right-leaning policy achievements as well. Republicans might want to consider a Midwestern candidate in 2016 because if current demographic trends continue, the Midwest could be the must-win area for Republican presidential candidates. It’s whiter than the nation as a whole. This matters because Republicans may not be able to do much better than their current 20% of the votes of non-white voters (all racial groups combined), and non-whites will probably make up about 30% of the presidential electorate next time. Therefore, the GOP nominee will need to squeeze even more votes out of the nation’s white presidential electorate, which will make up the other 70% or so of 2016’s voters. (Keep in mind that Romney won whites with a landslide 59% on his way to a losing 47% of the total vote.)" (Larry Sabato)

"Curry had spent 22 years, a majority of her professional life, in the hallways of the NBC headquarters. She knew 30 Rock’s shortcuts: the side door out of Studio 1A that allowed her to dart across 49th Street and avoid the tourists; and the exit that ensured she would bump into autograph seekers in the concourse ...  Many people dismiss morning television as fluff, but the morning hours are where the money is. While the Internet has upended the nightly news, and on-demand services like Netflix continue to disrupt prime time, the morning shows remain one place in the TV industry where the business model still really works, at least for now. Thanks to its five million daily viewers and four hours of irrepressible cheer, 'Today' earns NBC $500 million in annual revenue. By 2011, the year the network was acquired by Comcast, the show was effectively subsidizing the rest of the news division, including 'NBC Nightly News' and 'Meet the Press.' It was also propping up NBC’s sagging prime-time lineup by providing free promotional time for 'The Voice' or whatever crime drama the network was trying at 10 p.m. that week. 'Today' was able to do all this for a very specific reason: it was winning the ratings game. Being No. 1 in the morning matters not just in the amount that sales representatives can extract from advertisers — though 'Today' made an estimated $150 million more than its second-place rival, 'Good Morning America,' in 2011 — but also in reputation, in pride and in sheer television-industry pull. 'Today' had the upper hand in booking A-list celebrities. It had the clout to insist that a politician talk to Lauer before anyone else. NBC recruiters dangled face time on 'Today' when trying to hire a correspondent away from a rival network." (Brian Stelter)

"Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair’s editor and grand poobah presiding over VF’s Tuesday Tribeca Film Festival bash, joked about his role for the evening. 'I’ll be taking care of Bob [De Niro],' he explained as the party began. 'I’ll basically serve as his valet. I’ll fetch his drinks . . . make sure his bowl is filled and just stand behind him.' Fran Lebowitz arrived in a near-identical blazer to Carter’s and quipped, 'We should call each other because we have the same tailor . . . but his jacket is brighter.' Whoopi Goldberg, meanwhile, seemed genuinely unconcerned with who’ll take over for Joy Behar and Barbara Walters on 'The View' — as long as her paychecks clear. 'I’m not paying attention,' Goldberg insisted at the swank soiree on the State Supreme Court steps. 'It’s not my job to know, or suggest. They have people who do that. What I do is do my job, and that’s all I really give a [bleep] about . . . I just want to make sure my check doesn’t bounce.' Literary lothario Salman Rushdie, who’s been moving into film and TV, told us he doesn’t do Netflix: 'I’m a movie addict, but I like seeing films in a cinema . . . I’m very old-school. I have all the new toys, but I don’t use them.' Also among the moguls, movie stars and fashionistas: Christopher Walken, Ron Perelman, Les Moonves, Howard Stringer, Vivi Nevo, Tory Burch and Sienna Miller." (PageSix)

"Me, I was down at Michael’s once again to meet up with our No Holds Barred columnist Blair Sabol who drove up from Philadelphia for the day on business (and our lunch). The place was jumping and the light and the flowers and the great Michael’s art collection gave the day a lift. In the crowd, Media and PR abounding: Catherine Saxton was hosting Jamie Figg, Yue Sai Kan, David Hryck; in town from Shanghai (her other home); Scott Currie with Lynn Tesoro; Hollywood.com’s Bonnie Fuller, Carlos Lamadrid and Gerry Byrne presided over the big Table One with several guests; Veranda’s Dara Caponigro; Bizbash.com’s David Adler; WSJ’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein; Alexander Chemia; Jimmy Finkelstein with Randy Falco; Andrew Stein with James Toback and Bill Siegel; Rob Wiesenthal with Sir Howard Stringer; Quest’s Chris Meigher; author/journalist (columnist for the Guardian) Michael Wolff with Dave Calloway of USA Today; Leslie Stahl; Patrick Murphy; Eva Lorenzotti; John McEnroe with tv producer Jim Bell; Boaty Boatright with Jay Kantor; Jack Kliger; Peter Brown; David Kohl; Sharon Bush with Judy Cox; Steven Stolman; Jill Zarin (New York Houeswives); the FT’s fashion reporter/ columnist Vanessa Friedman – the very best in the business in my opinion; Hollywood mogul Ron Meyer; Tom Goodman; Barry Frey; Howard Berk, Jason Bernstein; and scores more just like ‘em." (NYSocialDiary)

"Since the late 1980s demise of the Guadalajara cartel, which controlled drug trade routes into the United States through most of Mexico, Mexican cartels have followed a trend of fracturing into more geographically compact, regional crime networks. This trend, which we are referring to as 'Balkanization,' has continued for more than two decades and has impacted all of the major cartel groups in Mexico. Indeed the Sinaloa Federation lost significant assets when the organizations run by Beltran Leyva and Ignacio Coronel split away from it. Los Zetas, currently the other most powerful cartel in Mexico, was formed when it split off from the Gulf cartel in 2010. Still these two organizations have fought hard to resist the trend of fracturing and have been able to grow despite being affected by it. This led to the polarized dynamic observed in 2011 when these two dominant Mexican cartels effectively split Mexican organized crime in two, with one group composed of Los Zetas and its allies and the other composed of the Sinaloa Federation and its allies.
This trend toward polarization has since been reversed, however, as Balkanization has led to rising regional challenges to both organizations since 2012. Most notable among these is the split between the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation. The Sinaloa Federation continues to struggle with regional crime groups for control in western Chihuahua state, northern Sinaloa state, Jalisco state and northern Sonora state. Similarly, Los Zetas saw several regional challengers in 2012. Two regional groups saw sharp increases in their operational capabilities during 2012 and through the first quarter of 2013. These were the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Knights Templar.
The Beltran Leyva Organization provides another example of the regionalization of Mexican organized crime. It has become an umbrella of autonomous, and in some cases conflicting, groups. Many of the groups that emerged from it control specific geographic areas and fight among each other largely in isolation from the conflict between Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation. Many of these successor crime groups, such as the Independent Cartel of Acapulco, Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos are currently fighting for their own geographic niches. As its name implies, the Independent Cartel of Acapulco mostly acts in Acapulco, while Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos mostly act in Morelos state. The ongoing fragmentation of Mexican cartels is not likely to reverse, at least not in the next few years." (STRATFOR)

"Last night while seated in the La Maestranza bullring of Seville to watch the great matador José Marí Manzanares dance with and dispatch six bulls, I was reminded why I became so fascinated by the spectacle we Anglo-Saxons incorrectly call bullfighting. (It is not a fight, it is a highly structured drama centering on a ritual sacrifice. Nor is it a sport. It is conceived as an art form, unique in having a risk of death for the practitioner, but reviewed between the ballet and theater in the newspapers and spoken of in terms of its aesthetics rather than its athletics.) My girlfriend, a recent convert but still possessed of strong doubts about the activity, asked what it was among the gold and gore that draws me back to the plaza de toros time and time again. I replied that it was the absolute reality of the corrida. As an art form, it represents man’s struggle with death and how it should be best faced, which is with a striking and elegant defiance. It represents a man standing alone on the sand with an animal intent on killing him. My first instructor in how to torear, the matador Juan José Padilla, almost joined their ranks two years ago when a bull removed his eye and a chunk of his skull. He was back in the ring five months later, sans depth perception, a triumphant return that I covered for GQ magazine." (Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Media-Whore D'oeuvres

"Even in the 1990s, the line between fame and obscurity was easy to find – this was before the advent of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, when you were generally famous for being an actor or a sports star, a politician or a pundit. There were many paths to renown, but they all involved networking, going through agents, and 'getting a big break.' You got your break, you became a public figure, then you gained fame. But the rules have been changing, and social media and the rise of smartphone culture have substantially altered how celebrities are treated and how people gain the vast platform of fame. The old rules don’t work. Starlets’ breakdowns aren’t concealed by publicists; they’re obsessively documented by gawkers and the stars themselves on the Internet. In the 90s, President Clinton got caught in a sex scandal due to audiotapes and DNA evidence. In 2011, Congressman Anthony Weiner’s ignominious 'Weinergate' embarrassment unfolded on Twitter.
But the lives of celebrities don’t just fall apart on the Internet – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can also catapult people to levels of fame they’d otherwise never reach. For instance, Justin Bieber is often called the first YouTube superstar, and accurately so: The teen dream got his start by posting videos, not by going through the teen idol machine (although he did that later, with Usher’s help). And Bieber’s devoted Beliebers are all the more ardent about their coiffed, swagged out pint-size R&B star because he’s such an active Twitter user. They have a direct entrance to his attention, even if he likely misses the vast majority of the tweets he receives just due to the sheer volume. Bieber jumped to the highest level of fame imaginable, and he’s not alone. Plenty of people have used social media to carve out niches for themselves just on the strength of their tweets or photos; for instance, Megan Amram is now a well-known television writer for Parks and Recreation, but she broke into screenwriting by way of Twitter. After graduating from Harvard in 2010, she started a Twitter account that was funny enough to get over 90,000 followers, which led to paid writing jobs. She now has almost 350,000 followers. Amram isn’t the only person to launch themselves into the entertainment industry through Twitter. Kelly Oxford was a housewife in Calgary, Alberta, who started a Twitter account in 2009. Her pithy account gained attention from people like Roger Ebert and Jimmy Fallon, and now she’s sold several pilots and recently authored a book (and made the move to L.A.). Without the Internet – and specifically, Twitter – she’d probably still be in Canada." (Digitaltrends)

"China appears to be growing frustrated with North Korea's behavior, perhaps to the point of changing its long-standing support for Pyongyang. As North Korea's largest economic sponsor, Beijing has provided the North Korean regime with crucial aid for years and offered it diplomatic protection against the United States and other powers. To outsiders, China's alliance with North Korea seems like a Cold War relic with little reason for persisting into the 21st century. However, Beijing's continued support for Pyongyang is not rooted in shared ideology or past cooperation nearly as much as in China's own security calculations. Perhaps nothing sums up the modern relationship more effectively than the oft repeated comment that the two countries are 'as close as lips and teeth.' Far from a statement of intense friendship, the completion of that Chinese aphorism -- "When the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold" -- highlights China's interest in propping up the North Korean regime. North Korea serves as a buffer state for China's northeast, and though Pyongyang can exploit that need, the North Korean leadership harbors no illusion that China is truly interested in the survival of any particular North Korean regime so long as Beijing can keep its buffer. Whether China is seriously considering a change in relations with North Korea, ties between the two countries are shaped as much by geography and history as they are by choice. The Korean Peninsula abuts China's northeast, along Manchuria. The Yalu River separates North Korea from China, and the area on the western edge of the border functions as a gateway between the two countries along an otherwise largely mountainous border. The geography of the Korean Peninsula, as seen several times in the past, offers little resistance to rapid military maneuvers from north to south or vice versa. At times, this border area was a troublesome spot for Chinese empires, which had to contend with various invaders and growing Korean military strength. At other times, the peninsula served as a conduit for Chinese culture to Japan -- and intermittently as the main highway for military confrontation between China and Japan. During the 19th century and the expansion of European and American activity in Asia, if foreign countries had dominated Korea, it would have further undermined China's already faltering national security. And during the Cold War, North Korea provided a strategic buffer against U.S. forces in Japan and South Korea, a role it still plays today." (STRATFOR)

"The humiliations don’t stop for Merv Adelson, whose Lorimar was a top TV production company with 'Dallas.' Adelson, 83, shuffled into LA court yesterday in sneakers and khakis to battle ex-wife Thea, 50, a lawyer and mother of their two daughters who’s owed nearly $1 million in child support, reports The Post’s Richard Johnson. Adelson, who was also once married to Barbara Walters, went bankrupt in 2003, the year Thea filed for divorce. She got the house in Malibu while he lives in a Santa Monica studio. Adelson told Vanity Fair the one thing he misses is his jet. He unwisely let four years go by before asking the court to reduce his monthly child support payments from $20,000 to $2,137. 'Thea’s asking for bigger payments on arrears,' Adelson’s lawyer Robert L. Schibel said. 'She’s asking for 100 percent of what he has coming in.' Adelson has a small income from courtside Lakers tickets and a consulting gig with Time Warner, which bought Lorimar. The next court date is May 16." (PageSix)

"This being the season, last night’s social calendar was in full throttle. The National Dance Institute held a Gala at the Best Buy Theatre where they honored Mandy Patinkin and Robert D. Krinsky. Honorary chairs for the evening were: Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, George Soros. The theme was Celebrating The Big EasyDown at Capitale, Symphony Space held its Spring Swing & Access to the Arts Awards. Co-chairs for the evening were Amy Wilson and David Falnnery and BD Wong. They honored Steven M. Alden, Louise Hirschfeld and Lewis B. Cullman, Isaiah Sheffer and Luis Ubinas. The Spring Swing was hosted by Tamara Tunie and Gregory Generet, and featured performances by Eisa Davis, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Kate Levin, Sonia Manzano, S. Epatha Merkerson, James Naughton, Leonard Nimoy, Arturo O’Farrill, D.A. Pennebaker, Kt Sullivan, Dan Zanes, as well as Ms. Wilson and Mr. Wong. I went over to the Mandarin Oriental where the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) was hosting its annual benefit Dinner where they honored William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company, and Ford Motor Company with the Distinguished Leadership Award, and Quinn Bradlee, Founder and CEO of www.friendsofquinn.com." (NYSocialDiary)

"Even in the annals of over-the-top celebrity weddings, Sean Parker's planned nuptials may take the cake. The Facebook Inc. billionaire who also co-founded Napster is dropping nearly $10 million on a fairy-tale wedding in Big Sur that includes a whimsical fantasy world featuring faux ruins, waterfalls, bridges and a gated cottage, a person familiar with the plans said. Just the stone dance floor in the woods surrounding the Ventana Inn & Spa will set the 34-year-old back $350,000, according to the website TMZ. The plants and flowers will cost $1 million. After a two-year engagement, Parker is marrying Alexandra Lenas, a singer and songwriter with whom he has a 2-month-old daughter, Winter Victoria. Parker's June wedding will be in stark contrast to that of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who married longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan in a simple ceremony in their Palo Alto backyard in May 2012 in front of 100 guests who dined on food catered by the couple's favorite local restaurants. Parker's guests will stay at the Ventana Inn and will dress in custom outfits designed by Ngila Dickson, the Academy Award-winning costume designer from 'The Lord of the Rings.'" (LATimes)

"I always thought it was somewhat bizarre that John Paulson, the hedge-fund billionaire and imaginary IM pal of Jessica Pressler, was heavily invested in gold. Gold, unlike the credit default swaps on mortgage-backed securities that made Paulson his billions, isn't a thinking man's investment. Betting on gold requires no counterintuitive analysis, no Paolo Pellegrini whispering insights in your ear. It's a fairly obvious reactionary play for doomsday preppers and Fed-haters, and has been since Paulson began piling into it in 2009. What's weirder is that Paulson, who is temperate (if conservative) in his personal politics, isn't simply betting on gold as a speculator. That, at least, would be an understandable move. (Rough investment thesis: There are a lot of gold bugs in the world, and the Fed's quantitative easing efforts will likely create more, driving up the price of gold and making me rich[er].) No, Paulson seems to be a true believer, who really does think that the Fed's expansionary monetary policy will create massive inflation and debase the dollar. 'What's the only asset that will hold value? It's got to be gold,' Paulson said back in 2009, as reported in Greg Zuckerman's book The Greatest Trade Ever. Either way, dude is taking it on the chin. Bloomberg reports that Paulson has lost $1.5 billion — that's billion, with a B — since the start of the year by betting on gold, including a $1 billion loss in the last week alone, as gold prices have suffered their biggest crash in 30 years." (NYMag)