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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Media-Whore D'oeuvres










"I first started to write about poverty in 2012 for The American Prospect, but I actually don’t describe my beat as 'poverty,' though that’s how other people classify it, including my editors at the magazine. I say I cover 'opportunity.' America is a country that still believes it’s full of opportunity, and my project is to assess that belief. We know now, of course, that upward mobility has stalled, and that the middle class has been leaking from the bottom like a sieve, so it’s a rich topic, and an increasing but still small number of writers is drawn to it.Since I began, I’ve published three big stories: on one of the poorest rural counties in Kentucky; on a hotel housing homeless families in suburban Denver; and on a five-year drop in the life expectancy of white women who do not graduate from high school, which I investigated by going to my home state of Arkansas. My goal was to spend enough time in each of those communities that I could first find the right questions to ask. I wanted to discover stories that would illustrate how each place was unique, and the various challenges those who lived there had to overcome. So, in Owsley County, Kentucky, a place where poverty seemed written into the landscape, I asked, 'How do you create opportunity here?' In Denver, I thought, 'How do people who were once middle class come to terms with the fact that they may never be again?' For the article about poorly educated white women dying young, I wondered, 'Why would hardship fall so heavily on these women, and where can I go to explain what their lives are like?' It takes weeks just to come up with the question, which is more time than most journalists are afforded to report and write an entire story.It’s important to me to avoid a trap I think many writers fall into, one that I’m never entirely sure I succeed in avoiding, in which the subjects of articles aren’t presented as real people but rather are offered up as illustrations of suffering. While the contours of life for low-income Americans are shaped by want and need, and it’s important to show what it means to go without in a country so full of plenty, the big problem is that I’m not sure what it accomplishes to write about their plight without also exploring the other parts of their lives. The most it can do is elicit pity from people already inclined to care—at worst, it draws only ridicule. Pity has its uses, but it also has its limits, especially in writing about a population already so misrepresented, ignored, and disempowered. Articles about poverty that are just a catalog of hard times are so prevalent that Dwight Macdonald, writing in The New Yorker in 1963, thought it was inherent to the exercise: 'There is a monotony about the injustices suffered by the poor that perhaps accounts for the lack of interest the rest of society shows in them. Everything seems to go wrong with them. They never win. It’s just boring.'" (Democracy)






Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to present state awards to paralympic atheletes in Sochi on March 17, 2014. (RIA Novosti/REUTERS)




"The fall of the Ukrainian government and its replacement with one that appears to be oriented toward the West represents a major defeat for the Russian Federation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia accepted the reality that the former Eastern European satellite states would be absorbed into the Western economic and political systems. Moscow claims to have been assured that former Soviet republics would be left as a neutral buffer zone and not absorbed. Washington and others have disputed that this was promised. In any case, it was rendered meaningless when the Baltic states were admitted to NATO and the European Union. The result was that NATO, which had been almost 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from St. Petersburg, was now less than approximately 160 kilometers away.  This left Belarus and Ukraine as buffers. Ukraine is about 480 kilometers from Moscow at its closest point. Were Belarus and Ukraine both admitted to NATO, the city of Smolensk, which had been deep inside the Soviet Union, would have become a border town. Russia has historically protected itself with its depth. It moved its borders as far west as possible, and that depth deterred adventurers -- or, as it did with Hitler and Napoleon, destroyed them. The loss of Ukraine as a buffer to the West leaves Russia without that depth and hostage to the intentions and capabilities of Europe and the United States. There are those in the West who dismiss Russia's fears as archaic. No one wishes to invade Russia, and no one can invade Russia. Such views appear sophisticated but are in fact simplistic. Intent means relatively little in terms of assessing threats. They can change very fast. So too can capabilities. The American performance in World War I and the German performance in the 1930s show how quickly threats and capabilities shift. In 1932, Germany was a shambles economically and militarily. By 1938, it was the dominant economic and military power on the European Peninsula. In 1941, it was at the gates of Moscow. In 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ran a sincere anti-war campaign in a country with hardly any army. In 1917, he deployed more than a million American soldiers to Europe. Russia's viewpoint is appropriately pessimistic. If Russia loses Belarus or Ukraine, it loses its strategic depth, which accounts for much of its ability to defend the Russian heartland. If the intention of the West is not hostile, then why is it so eager to see the regime in Ukraine transformed? It may be a profound love of liberal democracy, but from Moscow's perspective, Russia must assume more sinister motives.Quite apart from the question of invasion, which is obviously a distant one, Russia is concerned about the consequences of Ukraine's joining the West and the potential for contagion in parts of Russia itself." (STRATFOR)





"The Syria debate last fall offered the latest indication that U.S. foreign policy has entered uncharted political territory. The partisan lines in Congress were scrambled when lawmakers responded to President Obama’s request to authorize military force against Syria for using chemical weapons—a request that was withdrawn after Syria agreed to dismantle its arsenal. Strong public opposition to the proposed military action resonated in a polarized Congress that has become increasingly disengaged from national security, especially compared to the decade after 9/11. Had the Syria vote happened, President Obama probably would have lost it. But the vote’s likely outcome was less interesting than the varied responses his request provoked. The arguments that the Syria debate produced within Republican and Democratic camps indicated that the old battle lines in the politics of U.S. foreign policy are being redrawn. Labels like 'neoconservative' and 'liberal interventionist' have less political relevance as their camps have decreased in size and political clout.A big reason for this: The American public has grown more skeptical about U.S. engagement in the world. A recent Pew poll found 52 percent of Americans say the United States 'should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best that they can on their own,' with only 38 percent disagreeing. By contrast, at the height of the Cold War in 1964, only 20 percent agreed that the United States should mind its own business; 30 percent said the same in 2002 at the beginning of the war on terrorism. But progressives must resist the lure of simply focusing inward; instead we should lead the American public toward embracing the current wave of geopolitical change underway in order to guide and shape that transformation. We need to put forth a compelling moral and strategic argument for U.S. engagement in the world. America has an interest in advancing a rules-based international system that strengthens the global common good and supports basic human freedoms and rights. Doing so won’t be easy given the need to focus on our problems at home. But without stronger American leadership, the challenges percolating around the world—whether it’s Syria’s civil war, global economic instability, or the looming threat of climate change—might one day affect us as well." (Democracy)





"First we asked whether working women could 'Have It All,' then we told ourselves to 'Lean In.' Next, if Arianna Huffington has her way, American women will be working on our 'Third Metric,' a term she’s coined to describe 'the measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power.'Already the topic of Huffington-branded conferences and content, the Third Metric gets its clearest definition yet in Huffington’s forthcoming book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder (Crown Publishing, March 25). Not to be confused with the Fourth Instinct (her previous book about spiritual fulfillment), the Third Metric 'consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving,' which Huffington lays out using a mix of personal memoir, pop-sci aggregation, and literary and religious texts. 'It ended up being 55 pages of science, so that even the most avid skeptic will see that slowing down, meditation, and sleep have a real impact on everything we do,' Huffington told the Cut over the phone last week. 'I brought in literature and ancient wisdom so you can see how it is being validated by modern science.' After collapsing from exhaustion in 2007 (breaking a cheekbone on the way down), Huffington became evangelical about sleep, famous for hiding her BlackBerrys in the bathroom at night and installing nap machines at the Huffington Post. The health scare bolstered her long-standing interest in spirituality, mindfulness, and meditation. Like Lean In, Thrive is more self-help than manifesto, heavy on personal advice (gratitude lists, internet-blocking apps, meditation) and light on structural critique. But Huffington’s insistence that we are working too hard, ought to turn off our phones, and deserve a quick nap is still refreshing to read." (NYMag)









Stellan Skarsgard and Stacy Martin. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan)









"Let’s say you’re a young British model trying to break into the movies. You’re taking acting classes, reading scripts, going to auditions. Rarely would your first role be the lead in a four-hour psychosexual comedy, featuring copious amounts of copulation, set to the music of Rammstein and written by cinema’s leading provocateur, Lars von Trier. This unique fate has fallen on Stacy Martin. How does one prepare for a film wherein the main character is more often than not horizontal? Perhaps a Method technique, where some practice is required? 'It was definitely not Method, that’s for sure,' Ms. Martin said, laughing, before a screening of that film, Nymphomaniac, at the Museum of Modern Art. 'You have to just really believe in the project.' The newcomer has gained some attention with her revealing (literally, figuratively, etc.) performance, but not quite as much as her co-star (and silver screen bedfellow) Shia LaBeouf. The actor began what’s perhaps an attempt at performance art with a blow-up at the film’s international premiere, in Berlin, where he stormed out of a press conference and appeared on the red carpet wearing a paper bag on his head, on which he had written the words 'I am not famous anymore.' Ms. Martin didn’t comment about Mr. LaBeouf, who needless to say was absent that night, though fellow star Stellan Skarsgard said he agreed with James Franco’s begrudging endorsement of the antics published in The New York Times.It’s enough to make you forget that there’s a movie to see — except that the film is an outsized spectacle itself, a stream of hanky panky interwoven with hilarious deadpan pronouncements. Apparently, the act of fornication is akin to fly fishing, the Fibonacci sequence and the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. An exhaustive investigation into the possible aesthetic variety in the male appendage is a highlight, as is a contest for conquests on a train. Only the first half — Volume 1 — was screened. We’re looking forward to Volume 2." (Observer)





















"Rachel Lambert 'Bunny' Mellon, the widow of philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon, died early yesterday morning at her 4,000 acre horse farm Oak Spring Farms in Upperville, Virginia. She would have been 104 on August 9th.  Mrs. Mellon, who had been in declining health, died peacefully with members of her family present.  Americans first heard about Bunny Mellon as a national figure in the 1960s when she had been involved with Jackie Kennedy in the re-decoration of the White House during the Kennedy Administration, and then later when after the assassination of President Kennedy, she completed a design for the Rose Garden under the auspices of Lady Bird Johnson. It was especially her friendship with Mrs. Kennedy that brought her to the attention of the general public. Her friendship between the Kennedys and the Mellons had already been established before, and after the President’s death, she was known to be a generous and caring friend to Mrs. Kennedy and her children. She was born Rachel Lowe Lambert in Princeton, New Jersey on August 9, 2010, the eldest child of Rachel Parkhill Lowe (who gave her daughter the lifelong nickname of Bunny) and Gerard Barnes Lambert. Her grandfather Jordan Lambert invented Listerine which her father marketed as an antidote to 'halitosis,' after which he founded Warner-Lambert Pharmaceuticals. He later became president of Gillette Safety Razor Company which made several common American household products, including the razor blades, the mouthwash and also Dentyne chewing gum. The company was eventually merged into Pfizer chemicals. Mrs. Mellon’s first husband, Stacy B. Lloyd Jr., with whom she had two children – a son Stacy III and a daughter Eliza -- was a Philadelphia socialite who served in the OSS during the Second World War. The Lloyds were good friends of Paul Mellon, the billionaire heir of his father, Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s Andrew W. Mellon, and his wife Mary Conover Mellon. When the first Mrs. Mellon died from an asthma attack in 1948, Bunny Lloyd divorced her husband and married Paul Mellon." (NYSD)










The Puppy looks awfully Banksy, no?










"So, there I was in Kabul, at the Darul Aman Palace – the former home of Afghan King Amanullah Khan – which has been ravaged by thirty years of war. I was allowed inside as one of the guys I was with knew the guards (always helpful to have friends in high and low places!) and as I was wandering around, saw the most amazing graffiti art… which looked like something out of the Banksy playbook. I was assured it was just an homage – but… you never know." (Paula Froelich)












"Late last fall, at the start of the dry season in the new country called South Sudan, a soldier of fortune named Pierre Booyse led a de-mining team westward from the capital city, Juba, intending to spend weeks unarmed in the remote and dangerous bush. Booyse, 49, is an easygoing Afrikaner and ordnance expert who was once the youngest colonel in the South African Army. He has a full gray beard that makes him look quite unlike a military man. After leaving the army he opened a bedding store in Cape Town, where he became the leading Sealy Posturepedic dealer, then opened a sports bar too, before selling both businesses in order to salvage his marriage and provide a better environment for his young daughter. The daughter flourished, the marriage did not. Booyse returned to the work he knew best, and took the first of his private military jobs, traveling to post-Qaddafi Libya to spend six months surveying the munitions depots there, particularly for surface-to-air missiles. It was dangerous work in a chaotic place, as was the next contract, which took him into the conflict zones of eastern Congo. From there he came here to South Sudan to do minefield mapping and battlefield-ordnance disposal for G4S, a far-flung security company engaged by the local United Nations mission to handle these tasks. G4S is based near London and is traded on the stock exchange there. Though it remains generally unknown to the public, it has operations in 120 countries and more than 620,000 employees. In recent years it has become the third-largest private employer in the world, after Walmart and the Taiwanese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn. The fact that such a huge private entity is a security company is a symptom of our times. Most G4S employees are lowly guards, but a growing number are military specialists dispatched by the company into what are delicately known as 'complex environments' to take on jobs that national armies lack the skill or the will to do. Booyse, for one, did not dwell on the larger meaning. For him, the company amounted to a few expatriates in the Juba headquarters compound, a six-month contract at $10,000 a month, and some tangible fieldwork to be done. He felt he was getting too old to be living in tents and mucking around in the dirt, but he liked G4S and believed, however wearily, in the job. As he set out for the west, his team consisted of seven men—four de-miners, a driver, a community-liaison officer, and a medic. The medic was a Zimbabwean. All the others were soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the S.P.L.A., now seconded to G4S, which paid them well by local standards—about $250 a month. At their disposal they had two old Land Cruisers, one of them configured as an ambulance with a stretcher in the back." (VanityFair)

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