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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres






"Last week, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains. Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug. The United States was founded as a place where private affairs were intended to supersede public life. Public service was intended less as a profession than as a burden to be assumed as a matter of duty -- hence the word "service." There is a feeling that Americans ought to be more involved in public affairs, and people in other countries are frequently shocked by how little Americans know about international affairs or even their own politics. In many European countries, the state is at the center of many of the activities that shape private life, but that is less true in the United States. The American public is often most active in public affairs when resisting the state's attempts to increase its presence, as we saw with health care reform. When such matters appear settled, Americans tend to focus their energy on their private lives, pleasures and pains. Of course, there are times when Americans are aroused not only to public affairs but also to foreign affairs. That is shaped by the degree to which these events are seen as affecting Americans' own lives. There is nothing particularly American in this. People everywhere care more about things that affect them than things that don't. People in European or Middle Eastern countries, where another country is just a two-hour drive away, are going to be more aware of foreign affairs. Still, they will be most concerned about the things that affect them. The French or Israelis are aware of public and foreign affairs not because they are more sophisticated than Americans, but because the state is more important in their lives, and foreign countries are much nearer to their homes. If asked about events far away, I find they are as uninterested and uninformed as Americans. The United States' geography, obviously, shapes American thinking about the world. The European Peninsula is crowded with peoples and nation-states. In a matter of hours you can find yourself in a country with a different language and religion and a history of recent war with your own. Americans can travel thousands of miles using their own language, experiencing the same culture and rarely a memory of war. Northwestern Europe is packed with countries. The northeastern United States is packed with states. Passing from the Netherlands to Germany is a linguistic, cultural change with historical memories. Traveling from Connecticut to New York is not. When Europeans speak of their knowledge of international affairs, their definition of international is far more immediate than that of Americans. American interest is cyclical, heavily influenced by whether they are affected by what goes on. After 9/11, what happened in the Islamic world mattered a great deal. But even then, it went in cycles. The degree to which Americans are interested in Afghanistan -- even if American soldiers are still in harm's way -- is limited. The war's outcome is fairly clear, the impact on America seems somewhat negligible and the issues are arcane." (STRATFOR)


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"Chelsea Handler is one of the few Americans in the world who would take a trip to Africa and call the elephant camp she visited 'one of the lamest parts.' But, she says, as we sit down to lunch in an empty bar at the Four Seasons with her dogs (one is hers, one belongs to her travel companion who she frequently reminds me is a lesbian), the safari was a different story. 'I have never drunk more in my entire life than on that safari, because you are sitting in that car all day long,' she says. "You can't get out." (Because of the lions and other carnivorous wild animals roaming the environs. She has photos of lions eating a dead animal to prove it.)A waiter approaches and she orders margaritas for both of us. In an oversized tote bag swimming with loose paper, Handler somehow easily locates pages from her forthcoming book of travel essays, Uganda Be Kidding Me. She wants to show me photos from the trip of herself and her friends peeing off the sides of various modes of transit -- a Jeep here, a boat there.'I have 85 pictures of me peeing,' she says as she takes me through the photos. "This is me peeing off a boat, in Botswana peeing off a Jeep, my sister and my cousin peeing, Sue'-- who works with her -- 'peeing.' She laughs. 'It was crazy.' Handler is just as put together as she is crazy. The author of the memoir Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea's party girl persona suggests otherwise, but it's hardly a secret that she has to be wildly hard-working and smart to run a talk show on E!, Chelsea Lately, that attracts more women in the 18 to 34 demo than any of her competitors on network television. Four books, three of which flew to number one on the New York Times' Best Seller list, contribute to the legend. (Grand Central Publishing gave Handler her own imprint several years ago.) When she's performing stand-up or hosting her show, she's certainly putting on a bit of an act -- but only to a degree. She really does love to drink (we both have two strong margaritas before two in the afternoon the day we meet) " (Papermag)




"It was a sunny day, yesterday in New York. Cold, but ... it’s winter. Hard getting around in places, but it was a national holiday and so many offices were closed, as well as schools, so it was quieter. Another snowstorm is predicted at the time of this writing (midnight). People are complaining about it all the time now.  They’ve had enough. I, who was looking forward to lots of snow, and loved it when it came, have joined the aforementioned. Well, it’s another month until it’s official Spring, and we may not see a speck of it until then (or after). Although now I’m concentrating on the light. On December 21, it was dark at 4:45 PM. Now it’s light until almost six and in a little more than three weeks it’s Daylight Savings Time!! Looking forward. New York Fashion Week has come and gone (remember?) and now the social calendar is about to come to life again. One of the annual events now on the calendar is the PEN American Center Authors’ Evenings which are occurring in a number of private homes through March 11th. I counted a total of 32 of these dinners on the schedule. It’s a literary evening in that authors are guests of honor,  and they talk about his or her work with the guests. The list of authors is often distinguished and widely varied from Jonathan Ames and Daniel Bergner’s 'You Were Never Really Here; What Do Women Want?' to 'Lawrence In Arabia' by Scott Anderson to Billy Collins’ 'Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems' to Linda Fairstein’s latest mystery 'Death Angel,' to Jeffrey Toobin’s 'The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court' to James Salter’s 'All That Is' and two dozen more. It also a fundraising event for PEN American Center The ticket can run into the four figures." (NYSD)





"Recently, our nation’s financial chieftains have been feeling a little unloved. Venture capitalists are comparing the persecution of the rich to the plight of Jews at Kristallnacht, Wall Street titans are saying that they’re sick of being beaten up, and this week, a billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, proclaimed that 'the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.' Ross's statement seemed particularly odd, because two years ago, I met Ross at an event that might single-handedly explain why the rest of the country still hates financial tycoons – the annual black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called Kappa Beta Phi. 'Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas, Kappas from the Spring Street and Montgomery Street chapters, and worthless neophytes!' It was January 2012, and Ross, wearing a tuxedo and purple velvet moccasins embroidered with the fraternity’s Greek letters, was standing at the dais of the St. Regis Hotel ballroom, welcoming a crowd of two hundred wealthy and famous Wall Street figures to the Kappa Beta Phi dinner. Ross, the leader (or 'Grand Swipe') of the fraternity, was preparing to invite 21 new members — 'neophytes,' as the group called them — to join its exclusive ranks. Looking up at him from an elegant dinner of rack of lamb and foie gras were many of the most famous investors in the world, including executives from nearly every too-big-to-fail bank, private equity megafirm, and major hedge fund. AIG CEO Bob Benmosche was there, as were Wall Street superlawyer Marty Lipton and Alan 'Ace' Greenberg, the former chairman of Bear Stearns. And those were just the returning members. Among the neophytes were hedge fund billionaire and major Obama donor Marc Lasry and Joe Reece, a high-ranking dealmaker at Credit Suisse. [To see the full Kappa Beta Phi member list, click here.] All told, enough wealth and power was concentrated in the St. Regis that night that if you had dropped a bomb on the roof, global finance as we know it might have ceased to exist. During his introductory remarks, Ross spoke for several minutes about the legend of Kappa Beta Phi – how it had been started in 1929 by 'four C+ William and Mary students'; how its crest, depicting a 'macho right hand in a proper Savile Row suit and a Turnbull and Asser shirtsleeve,' was superior to that of its namesake Phi Beta Kappa (Ross called Phi Beta Kappa’s ruffled-sleeve logo a 'tacit confession of homosexuality'); and how the fraternity’s motto, 'Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus,' was Latin for 'While we live, we eat and drink.' On cue, the financiers shouted out in a thundering bellow: 'DUM VIVAMUS EDIMUS ET BIBERIMUS.'" (NYMag)

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