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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres




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"For as the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington once remarked, the genius of the American system lies less in its democracy per se than in its institutions. The federal and state system featuring 50 separate identities and bureaucracies, each with definitive land borders -- that nevertheless do not conflict with each other -- is unique in political history. And this is not to mention the thousands of counties and municipalities in America with their own sovereign jurisdictions. Many of the countries I have covered as a reporter in the troubled and war-torn developing world would be envious of such an original institutional arrangement for governing an entire continent. In fact, Huntington's observation can be expanded further: The genius of Western civilization in general is that of institutions. Sure, democracy is a basis for this; but democracy is, nevertheless, a separate factor. For enlightened dictatorships in Asia have built robust, meritocratic institutions whereas weak democracies in Africa have not. Institutions are such a mundane element of Western civilization that we tend to take them for granted. But as I've indicated, in many places I have worked and lived, that is not the case. Getting a permit or a simple document is not a matter of waiting in line for a few minutes, but of paying bribes and employing fixers. We take our running water and dependable electric current for granted, but those are amenities missing from many countries and regions because of the lack of competent institutions to manage such infrastructure. Having a friend or a relative working in the IRS is not going to save you from paying taxes, but such a situation is a rarity elsewhere. Successful institutions treat everyone equally and impersonally. This is not the case in Russia or Pakistan or Nigeria. Of course, Americans may complain about poor rail service and deteriorating infrastructure and bureaucracies, especially in inner cities, but it is important to realize that we are, nevertheless, complaining on the basis of a very high standard relative to much of the developing world." (Robert Kaplan)

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"Asia’s urban migration is bringing about an 'explosive transformation,' the Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid writes in 'How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,' 'the supportive, stifling, stabilizing bonds of extended relationships weakening and giving way, leaving in their wake insecurity, anxiety, productivity and potential.' The political potential of this transformation is immense across the region -- first underscored three decades ago by Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries, who built a loyal constituency out of the peasantry uprooted by Shah Reza Pahlavi’s grandiose attempts at double-quick urbanization. More recently, demographic shifts in Turkey brought to power, and then for a decade made nearly unassailable, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Telecoms billionaireThaksin Shinawatra made himself central to Thai politics by mobilizing Bangkok’s urban poor in conjunction with the previously unrepresented rural masses of northern Thailand. Urban areas, as I wrote in yesterday’s column, have more recently spurred the emergence of a new kind of charismatic politician -- Jakarta’s governor, Joko Widodo, in Indonesia and New Delhi’s new chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, in India -- whose unconventional backgrounds make them attractive to voters disillusioned with professional politicians. That popularity allows them to bypass old networks of patronage and vote-gathering based on caste, religion and region. Across Asia, the authority of older political, economic and military elites is being challenged, and often overthrown. Fresh social networks, NGO-style activism and refurbished media-friendly symbols -- such as the Gandhi cap worn by Kejriwal -- are defining an alternative way of doing politics. The urban working classes as well as members of the professional middle classes have managed to disrupt the balance of power among established politicians and power brokers and businessmen. But most accounts of this Asia-wide phenomenon, which hail the triumph of 'participatory democracy' or the advent of the 'common man' in a post-ideological age, avoid mentioning another 'potential' of this explosive transformation: explosive conflict, which a broad economic slowdown makes more rather than less likely. The revolt of the masses, for instance, has triggered a counterrevolt of the elites, which were always unlikely to go gently into the night. Middle-class anger over Thaksin’s remote-control dominance of Thai politics has paralyzed the country and damaged its economy. Erdogan, who once enjoyed near-Ottoman suzerainty over Turkey, confronts a coalition -- of the urban middle class and business, military and bureaucratic elites -- not dissimilar to the one that that drove Thaksin into exile." (BloombergOpinion)



"In the past few days, four more House members — three Democrats and one Republican — announced their retirements. Two of these members, Reps. Jim Moran (D, VA-8) and George Miller (D, CA-11), represent similarly safe Democratic seats (68% Obama). But the other two retirements should affect the competitiveness of their seats. Retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D, NY-21), whose seat covers most of New York’s North Country, became the first Democrat to represent the area in the House since 1852 when he won a 2009 special election thanks in part to a split in the Republican Party. Owens won two more close elections in 2010 and 2012, and he ran behind Obama by a couple points in 2012 (Obama got 52% here). As both parties sort out their fields,we’re moving this race to a Toss-upOn the other side of the country, the apparent retirement of Rep. Buck McKeon (R, CA-25) — reported late Wednesday by Politico — comes as no surprise. The legendary military appropriator has been a rumored retiree for months, to the point where two credible Republicans — former state Sen. Tony Strickland and state Sen. Steve Knight — had already announced their interest in running for the seat. Expect a tough battle between the two, and maybe others, to determine who advances from California’s jungle primary to reach the top-two battle in the general election. Strickland ran a credible but losing race against Rep. Julia Brownley (D, CA-26) in 2012. On the Democratic side, podiatrist Lee Rogers, who held McKeon to a somewhat unexpectedly close 55%-45% victory last cycle, is also running again. Now that the seat is open, we’re moving it from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. The district tilts Republican, but not by a ton — Romney won it 50%-48% in 2012." (Sabato)
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"Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is getting married to his partner of just over a year, actor Derrence Washington, on May 31 at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Save-the-date notices to guests went out this week. Denton proposed in May. Washington, who comes from Houston, and Denton, who hails from London, have been dating since late 2012. While Denton declined to reveal too much about his pending nuptials, the save-the-date note includes one fun fact — the media mogul’s middle name is Guido. Who knew?" (P6)




"Eventually I got to Michael’s which was also mobbed and where I discovered I had a cancelled lunch but was saved by the company of HeadButler’s Jesse Kornbluth and Karen Collins (Mrs. Jesse).  At Table One in the bay, Joan Rivers was lunching with Matt Lauer and Annette Roque (Mrs. Lauer). Next to them and to us,Rikki Klieman (Mrs. Bill Bratton) was hosting Kathy Lacey and Shirley Lord who just returned from a cruise on the beautiful blue Danube (according to Strauss). Joan told us later she is not moving to Los Angeles (as I’ve read in various places). She would have sold her elegant duplex in one of the only Horace Trumbauer designed mansions in New York. Someone offered her $25 million and she thought: I’d be crazy not to take it. So she was going to. Except the offer fell through, and Joan’s happy to be in her digs. She found that apartment years ago when she was looking at another apartment across the street. Looking out the window she spotted an empty penthouse and asked the realtor about it. She was told it was emptied having been occupied by a woman for many years who finally died there in her 90s. Joan thought: good vibes. She bought it ... Across the aisle, Donna and Richard Soloway were lunching with Richard Johnson and Bill McCuddy; next door, Stan Shuman; next to him, Hearst Magazine president David Carey; Marie Claire’s Ann Fulenwider lunching with Diane Clehane; Estee Lauder marketing vp, Alexandra Trower; Klaus Biesenbach,director of MoMA’s PS1 in Queens; United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky; Star Jones withMarie Claire publisher Nancy Berger Cardone and her associate Brent Allen; Henry Schleiff of DiscoveryRandy Jones of Patriarch Partner with publc relations executive Dan Scheffey." (NYSocialDiary)

Photo: This past week has been all about the Literary Seminar, an annual event rather typical of Key West in that it fully lives up to the hype. The setting is the beautiful and historic San Carlos Institute on Duval Street and the guests are fabled types on the level of Joyce Carol Oats. The theme this year was mysteries and thrillers, and the atmosphere as always was all effervescent charm and wit and rollicking entertainment. Friday night I was lucky enough to scrounge a ticket to hear Carl Hiaasen. Just so happens I read all of Hiaasen’s many books when, years ago, trying to escape the harsh Hamptons winters and I revered him for tickling my cockles. The lecture was great fun as Hiaasen is an oiled entertainer and he held us all in his sway like a ballroom dancer and it was fabulous to be lead along from one hilarious anecdote to another.

As with every year the party of the year, marking the end of the Literary Seminar, is hosted by my friend David Wolkowsky, and I was doubly thrilled to learn Hiaasen was to be the guest of honor. The event was held at David’s downtown rooftop loft, used exclusively for parties, everyone milling half indoors and surrounded by glorious artifacts and half outdoors and in perfectly clement weather and under the glow of a full moon.

As is my way, l was the last guest to depart the soiree, and while I’m assured Hiaasen attended, I never so much as caught sight of the back of him. Instead, and unexpectedly, David made a special effort to introduce me to another of his legendary friends, the demigod Mr Jimmy Buffett. Buffett is evidently smooth and cool and politely remote, in his perfectly sleek minimalist flip-lops, possibly designed and hand stitched for him by IM Pei. Except I was tongue-tied, after all what do you say to someone whose oeuvres has literally forced you to run out of rooms with your fingers stuffed in your ears? Here was an opportunity to keep quiet.

Like witnessing the flare of a comet cross the night sky I observed David and Jimmy chattering excitedly. Eons ago David gave Jimmy his first gig, and the depths of their friendship was palpable. They grinned like schoolboys, a genuine and mutual adoration. And I realized I’ve seen many such compositions in framed photographs all around David’s many delicious domains. I’ve seen His Eminence in the company of the esteemed and notable. His friends truly love him.

Later, headed for my car and walking past Margaritaville and peering in on the worshipful fans, and knowing that if they only knew their hero was in breathing distance, well they’d probably hurl their gallons of suds.

Another great night in this heavenly tiny city paved with talent and energy, this place is the real thing.

"This past week has been all about the Literary Seminar, an annual event rather typical of Key West in that it fully lives up to the hype. The setting is the beautiful and historic San Carlos Institute on Duval Street and the guests are fabled types on the level of Joyce Carol Oats. The theme this year was mysteries and thrillers, and the atmosphere as always was all effervescent charm and wit and rollicking entertainment. Friday night I was lucky enough to scrounge a ticket to hear Carl Hiaasen. Just so happens I read all of Hiaasen’s many books when, years ago, trying to escape the harsh Hamptons winters and I revered him for tickling my cockles. The lecture was great fun as Hiaasen is an oiled entertainer and he held us all in his sway like a ballroom dancer and it was fabulous to be lead along from one hilarious anecdote to another. As with every year the party of the year, marking the end of the Literary Seminar, is hosted by my friend David Wolkowsky, and I was doubly thrilled to learn Hiaasen was to be the guest of honor. The event was held at David’s downtown rooftop loft, used exclusively for parties, everyone milling half indoors and surrounded by glorious artifacts and half outdoors and in perfectly clement weather and under the glow of a full moon. As is my way, l was the last guest to depart the soiree, and while I’m assured Hiaasen attended, I never so much as caught sight of the back of him. Instead, and unexpectedly, David made a special effort to introduce me to another of his legendary friends, the demigod Mr Jimmy Buffett. Buffett is evidently smooth and cool and politely remote, in his perfectly sleek minimalist flip-lops, possibly designed and hand stitched for him by IM Pei. Except I was tongue-tied, after all what do you say to someone whose oeuvres has literally forced you to run out of rooms with your fingers stuffed in your ears? Here was an opportunity to keep quiet." (Christina Oxenberg)

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"Now that Hurricane Chen seems to have passed over New York, it seems worth asking: What was that? The Chinese multimillionaire recycling magnate/philanthropist/self-promoter Chen Guangbiao managed to dominate the western media’s China news vertical for a full week, thanks to a series of hard-to-not-watch moves: an initialstatement that he wanted to buy the New York Times (if unsuccessful, he said he’d settle for the Wall Street Journal); a much-hyped trip to the U.S. to get treatment for two burn victims who might be political pawns; a bizarre press conference in which he trotted out the burn victims and sang the original song 'My Chinese Dream'; his brag that he’s 'good at working with Jews'; a planned bid to demolish the Bay Bridge; and finally the business card to end all business cards. He whiffed, of course—noTimes purchase, the California bid unlikely—but the real story was the American media’s reaction to Chen: mockery, fascination, and in no small part, fear. For Cassandras of American decline, the only thing scarier than their future Chinese overlords is evidence that the overlords might turn out to be Eastern versions of Donald Trump, only less respectable. In China, Chen Guangbiao is old news. For years, he has been turning philanthropy into theater. He first made a splash in 2008, when he mobilized 60 of his demolition machines and 120 workers to help rescue victims of the earthquake in Sichuan Province. (He says he personally carried 200 people to safety.) He later handed outred envelopes of money on the streets of Taiwan and traveled to Japan post-Fukushima to distribute rescue supplies. He has posed for pictures in a room made of money, sold 'canned air' in Beijing, smashed a Mercedes-Benz to support low-carbon transportation, promoted 'going green' by rocking a lime-colored suit, and taken out a half-page ad in the New York Times claiming the Diaoyu Islands for China. He also promised Bill Gates and Warren Buffett he’d give away all his money when he dies." (TNR)



"The 30th Sundance Film Festival lineup is so ridiculously stacked that we could probably make another list of its fifteen most intriguing titles — using completely different films than the ones you'll see below — and still have a pretty gangbusters selection. I mean, you've got the Poehler-Rudd rom-com parody They Came Together, David Cross's directorial debut Hits, the Coogan-Brydon sequel The Trip to Italy, Keira Knightley and Chloe Moretz in Laggies, Michael Fassbender wearing a papier-mâché mask in Frank ... and those are just a fraction of the anticipated films that we can pick out in advance, since half the fun of Sundance comes from the unexpected discoveries that you make while on the ground in Park City. To narrow down this list, then, we picked some of the movies that already have tons of buyer buzz or offer truly unconventional star turns; rest assured, your Vulture team will be covering all these titles and many more when the fest begins tomorrow night." (NYMag)

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"Madonna has been spotted hobbling in pain, on crutches, into her Upper East Side townhouse after a trip to the posh ski resort of Gstaad. Madge took a nasty fall on the slopes before she celebrated New Year’s at the glam villa of Valentino, along with her new boy toy Timor SteffensShe and Steffens partied aboard a yacht in his hometown of Rotterdam last week. Her rep told us, 'She bruised a bone in her foot from dancing in her high heels . . . she’ll be fine and off crutches in a week.'" (P6)

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