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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Media-Whore D'oeuvres



Syrian president Bashar al-Assad interviewed in Damascus on 19 January 2014.

"International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria's three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful. There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Ali Haidar, an old classmate of al Assad's from ophthalmology school and a long-standing member of Syria's loyal opposition, now serving somewhat fittingly as Syria's National Reconciliation Minister, captured the mood of the days leading up to the conference in saying 'Don't expect anything from Geneva II. Neither Geneva II, not Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state.' Widespread pessimism over a functional power-sharing agreement to end the fighting has led to dramatic speculation that Syria is doomed either to break into sectarian statelets or, as Haidar articulated, revert to the status quo, with the Alawites regaining full control and the Sunnis forced back into submission. Both scenarios are flawed. Just as international mediators will fail to produce a power-sharing agreement at this stage of the crisis, and just as Syria's ruling Alawite minority will face extraordinary difficulty in gluing the state back together, there is also no easy way to carve up Syria along sectarian lines. A closer inspection of the land reveals why." (STRATFOR)






"In her Beatlemania schoolgirl outfit — gray miniskirt, knee-highs and electric-blue suede shoes — Tavi Gevinson looks like any other fashion-obsessed teen as she wanders the crowded aisles of Los Angeles' American Rag Cie. 'I can't afford, like, anything here on my allowance,' the 17-year-old says, scanning the store's horizon for any gems she might have missed. She pulls out her iPhone and responds to a text. 'My dad, he'll be here in about half an hour to pick me up,' she says, heading toward a carousel rack of vintage-image postcards — 'the one thing I actually can afford! 'Gevinson is decisive as she plucks out certain moody postcards and quickly discards others. When the wobbly rack catches on the carpet and fails to turn, the petite Gevinson lifts the metal display and firmly plants it a few inches away, where it swirls freely. 'There' she says sweetly. 'I'll take these four.'  After paying, Gevinson tucks the cards away in her floral backpack. 'Now, what were we talking about again? 'One can forgive the high school senior for being a bit distracted. After flying in from Chicago, she was up late the night before finishing an essay. But the assignment wasn't for school. It was the editor's letter for Rookie, the online pop-culture magazine she started when she was 15; now she oversees a staff of about 80. There was also a photo shoot this morning, followed by a meeting with her agent and then another whirlwind shopping trip in Hollywood." (LATimes)





Death of a Vulgarian
"Al Goldstein, who made the front page of The New York Times when he died recently, was among the world’s most disgusting men. But he was hardly as repellent as Charles Saatchi and certainly without the coward’s bullying manner—against women, that is. Goldstein founded Screw magazine during the 1960s and pushed hardcore porn into the mainstream without the usual excuses of it being art disguised as porn. He apologized for nothing and took no prisoners and gave the finger to an outraged establishment who thought him rather vulgar, to say the least. I met him once, and it was on a baseball diamond. Back in the 70s there was a regular softball competition in New York’s Central Park among magazines—many of them, such as LIFE and Look, are now gone. I played third base for Esquire, and as luck would have it we drew Screw in the first round. Word had got around that Screw would provide oral sex right at home plate to anyone on either side who hit a home run ... The art world is full of rogues, cheats, thieves, and pirates, and in my book the heroic man who grabbed Nigella by the throat is all of these things, and he is most welcome to come and try to grab my little throat anytime. Al Goldstein certainly made the world a worse place, and perhaps that’s why he died broke and alone and miserable." (Taki)







John Loeb and Sharon Handler Loeb


"Last Wednesday night Sharon and Ambassador John Loeb hosted a dinner to celebrate the very popular exhibition of Ambassador Loeb's collection of paintings by Scandinavian artists from the early 19th to the early 20th century. 'Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough: Selections from the Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr.' traces the developments in Danish art from the early 19th through the early 20th centuries — a period that saw the emergence of a distinctive national approach to painting in Denmark where Ambassador Loeb served under the Reagan Administration. The exhibit has been extended through the end of the week including Saturday. Hours are 12 to 6 p.m. (Wednesday until 7). Admission is free. Scandinavia House is located at 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street." (NYSocialDiary)





624 × 400 - go.hrw.com




"Africa is discovering a new spirit of optimism, reminiscent of the first decade of its post-colonial era. Despite inadequate infrastructure and at times even poorer governance, the continent has been attracting more and more interest from American and European investors, as well as Chinese, targeting such countries as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania, and Rwanda to name a few. Today, half of the world’s 30 fastest-growing countries are in Africa, which is quickly losing its image of hopelessness and despair. Unfortunately, economic growth, while significant, rarely benefits the impoverished majority, even amid scenes of bustling business taking place from Dakar to Nairobi, and statistics indicating an emerging African middle class of some 150 million – which could quickly rise to 300 million by 2015, barring any ‘black swan’ events.  Politically, there is optimism as almost all 55 African countries have some kind of constitution with an active civil society that is contributing to more democratic or pluralistic political engagement. The continent’s two longest lasting internal conflicts (Somalia and Congo) persist; even if at a lower intensity, while two newer ones (Mali, Central African Republic) continue unabated. However, considering that from 1998-2003, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbors left some three million dead, the 2,000 registered ‘military’ deaths recorded in 2013 suggests that 2014 could be one of Africa’s most peaceful in recent history." (GeopoliticalMonitor)




"A peacock pranced on the roof of Amshenski Dvor, a restaurant outside the town of Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast. A couple of friends, Yaraslau Zauharodni and Konstantsiya Leschenko, had joined me for a dinner of grilled meat and sweet Caucasian wine. Yaraslau is the chief of the hockey competition for the Winter Olympics. Konstantsiya works for the Olympics, too, in information technology. I had met them both in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, a few years before. Stagnant Belarus is not a place of upward mobility. My friends had new energy now, working for the Olympics. I had to confess a feeling of unease about what may lie in store for Sochi when the Winter Olympics begin, in February. The traffic may be terrible. The power may fail, as it has already done hundreds of times in the last year. There may not be enough snow. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay campaign may provoke street attacks, possibly riots. Islamic terrorists may do their worst. So much money has been siphoned into criminal and political enterprises during construction that some structures, badly designed and built, may themselves become a cause of disruption.
Yaraslau and Konstantsiya were having none of it—to me, it looked as if they had bought into the Olympic ideal of international brotherhood. They were wearing cheery blue 'Sochi 2014' Olympic gear. They were enjoying their surroundings. 'We like Sochi,' Konstantsiya said. 'In Soviet times, it was the place to go for a holiday.' Indeed it was, since choices were limited. Sochi had been a seaside resort since the days of the czars, and before the 1990s its sanatoriums were reserved for the Soviet elite. Yaraslau reminded me of an old saying, a proverb from the gambling world: 'If I had known what cards I was going to be dealt, I would be living in Sochi.' We laughed. Sochi is about as far south as one can get in Russia. The city lies on the eastern side of the Black Sea, in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains, and sprawls along the coast. I think of it as Russia’s Key West, a place apart, though without the carefree appeal. If Russia typically conjures images of birch forests and snowdrifts, Sochi is a place of warm water and palm trees. To be sure, some aspects of the city resemble the Russia of imagination. The city’s moldering landmark hotel, the hulking Zhemchuzhina, or Pearl, is a creaky rat’s warren of rooms done in unrenovated Soviet style. The city itself is easygoing and tolerant; rival ethnic groups from the region’s demographic mixed salad get along without conflict. Yet human perfection is not a concept that comes readily to mind in Sochi’s caf├ęs and hotels, which combine Moscow rates and the kind of service that does not inspire a return trip. In summer, the third-class cabins of overnight trains disgorge their human cargo, and bodies unsuited to skimpy Lycra crowd the beaches, which are made of stones." (VanityFair)

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