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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres






"More broadly, the United States would do well to tone down its sanctimony. Putin’s annexation of Crimea violated international law. But so did the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the NATO intervention to protect Kosovo, even if the latter was, to many, including me, a legitimate violation. Insisting that this is a new era because Moscow is bent on violating international law may indeed propel the world into a new era. But that would be a choice of our making, not Russia’s. Moreover, that choice would strengthen Putin and undercut the democratic movement in Russia. Just because members of the band Pussy Riot were imprisoned and Alexei Navalny was not elected mayor of Moscow and the size of protests against Putin’s government ebb and flow does not mean that this spirit has been crushed. On the contrary, these protests are like an aspen grove; fueled by social media, they spread in ways we cannot see until the next opportunity for their flowering emerges. Meanwhile, elevating Russia to global enemy No. 1 feeds the hard-liner narrative in Moscow just as it does in Iran. A better strategy would be to tone down the rhetoric and let Europe take the lead, while making clear that a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would be met with the strongest possible economic response. Ultimately, the absence of that invasion is the most striking event of the past month. The Soviet Union would have sent troops into Ukraine at the first sign a pro-Soviet government was in trouble. Indeed, as protests mounted on the Maidan in Kiev, the risk of direct Russian intervention was high; had Putin not sought to keep the world’s goodwill before and during the Sochi Olympics, all of Ukraine might already be back under Russia’s sway with a government willing to use whatever violence is necessary to suppress a pro-European opposition. Instead, a new Ukrainian government just signed an association agreement with the European Union. That is a Ukraine without Crimea, a dismemberment that should not be recognized by the international community. Meanwhile, however, the United States and the European Union should do everything possible to strengthen Ukraine’s government and hold it accountable for serving the interests of ordinary Ukrainians. We should not take those steps as a way of keeping Russia out, nor to prove that countries in 'our' camp fare better than countries in 'their camp.' Ukraine, Moldova, Transnistria, Georgia and others in Russia’s 'near abroad,' with which it shares deep historic ties, will flourish over the long term only if they have strong relationships with both Russia and the European Union, just as countries in Southeast Asia must have strong relationships with both China and the United States." (Ann Marie Slaughter)




"Indeed, Obama’s dismissal of Russia as a regional power makes his own leadership of the one superpower all the more embarrassing. For seven decades since the Japanese surrender, our role under 11 presidents had been as offshore balancer protecting smaller allies from potential regional hegemons. What are the allies thinking now? Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and other Pacific Rim friends are wondering where this America will be as China expands its reach and claims. The Gulf states are near panic as they see the United States playacting nuclear negotiations with Iran that, at best, will leave their mortal Shiite enemy just weeks away from the bomb.America never sought the role that history gave it after World War II to bear unbidden burdens 'to assure the survival and the success of liberty,' as movingly described by John Kennedy. We have an appropriate aversion to the stark fact that the alternative to U.S. leadership is either global chaos or dominance by the likes of China, Russia and Iran. But Obama doesn’t even seem to recognize this truth. In his major Brussels address Wednesday, the very day Russia seized the last Ukrainian naval vessel in Crimea, Obama made vague references to further measures should Russia march deeper into Ukraine, while still emphasizing the centrality of international law, international norms and international institutions such as the United Nations.Such fanciful thinking will leave our allies with two choices: bend a knee — or arm to the teeth. Either acquiesce to the regional bully or gird your loins, i.e., go nuclear. As surely will the Gulf states. As will, in time, Japan and South Korea." (Charles Krauthammer)




Author Michael Lewis speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Monday, March 15, 2010. Lewis's new book is "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine." Photographer: Jonathan Fickies *** Local Caption *** Michael Lewis


"Unless you worked in certain sectors of Wall Street, read a Businessweek Q&A last fall, or saw a short news item in the Times on January 14, you probably haven’t heard about the new book coming Monday by Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, The Big Short, and The Blind Side. It’s called Flash Boys, but its actual subject has been not just a mystery but something of a guessing game among journalists, publishers, and finance types. To close readers of Lewisania (and there are very many) it might have been fairly obvious that the book was about high-frequency trading — brokers gaining microsecond advantages on automated exchanges. (The topic was just confirmed via a CBS announcement that Lewis will appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday). But no one could be absolutely sure, because the book has been, through the entire run of its production cycle, a complete ghost.
Even a couple of friends thought he might only have started the book this past fall (which isn’t true but demonstrates both his stealth and his superhuman reputation). It wasn’t listed in publisher W.W. Norton’s catalog, and though it’ll appear this Sunday on 60 Minutes, today’s Amazon description still reads, blankly, 'Michael Lewis returns to the financial world with a new book that gives readers a ringside seat as the biggest story in years prepares to hit Wall Street.' But what story is that — the subject of Flash Boys, or Flash Boys itself?" (NYMag)
    
Tina Brown: an expensive luxury (Photo: David Howells)


"But what makes (Tina Brown's) career 'extraordinary' isn't just the fact that it was so meteoric, but that she managed to go from one job to another while the magazines she edited – particularly the ones she set up herself – lost money. And I don't just mean a bit of money. As I say in the Spectator, 'I would conservatively estimate she’s lost her backers a quarter of a billion dollars.' How did I arrive at this colossal sum? When it comes to the first three magazines she edited – Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker – it's impossible to say with certainty how much money they lost under her stewardship since they're privately owned by the Newhouse family and the companies that publish them have never issued public accounts. So let's exclude Tatler and Vanity Fair for the time being. We'll come back to them. According to this article for the New York Times, the New Yorker lost $30 million in 1993, the first full year Tina was in charge, $17 million in 1995, $14 million in 1996 and $11 million in 1998. It doesn't record the losses for 1994 and 1997, but if you factor in that it lost an average of $18 million a year in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998, and assume that it lost that amount in 1994 and 1997, the estimated total losses during Tina's reign were $108 million. Next, let's look at Talk, the magazine Tina launched with great fanfare in 1999. According to this article in the New York Times, by the time it folded in 2002 it had lost its backers (Hearst Magazines and Miramax) $27 million a year each. So that's a total of $54 million over the course of its (roughly) two year life. And that's a conservative estimate. This article in the New York Post puts the figure at $80 million, but I'm going to go with the more modest of the two. Finally, there's The Daily Beast, which Tina founded in 2008. According to this article by Michael Wolff in the current issue of GQ, the Daily Beast lost a total of $100 million during Brown's five year reign. If we add up those losses, we get a grand total of $264 million." (Toby Young)




"Television Without Pity announced yesterday that the website would be closing up shop on April 4, with the forums going dark in May. The news was met with sorrow and hand-wringing from the TV devout, who were not just saddened that new recaps would cease — which I could tolerate; there are lots of good recaps out there on the web — but more distressed that the archive of old recaps would no longer be easily available. It feels like a heartless, shortsighted move by NBCUniversal, but even if TWoP itself disappears, there's no way its long reach ever will. TWoP helped create contemporary TV culture as we know it. A brief history: Sarah D. Bunting and Tara Ariano (both of whom contribute to Vulture) started a Dawson's Creek dissection site in the mid-'90s; that eventually became Mighty Big TV, which became Television Without Pity in 2002. The site focused on long (often several thousand words), detailed, humorous recaps, plus forums intense enough that show creators were known to swing by from time to time. In 2007, Bravo Media bought the site, and then a year later the founders left, though TWoP forged on. Part of what made TWoP so impressive in its early years was the breadth of shows it covered. In the olden days of the internet, it was relatively easy to find fan sites for specific shows — I remember obsessively reading about Melrose Place back when half of the internet was personal homepages with 'Welcome to Kevin's Melrose Place Site!' slowly scrolling across the top, with dancing wizard GIFs and a MIDI rendition of 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' But TWoP covered high- and lowbrow shows, reality and scripted, all in the same place: Come for a 7th Heaven recap, and stay for Sports Night, NYPD Blue, Alias, and Survivor.TWoP certainly popularized the recap concept — which is now utterly pervasive across entertainment-based and general-interest sites — but it also introduced a new vein of what TV coverage entails. At one side of the spectrum is obsessive, effusive fan coverage, and at the other is formal, detached criticism. There's a place for both of these things in the universe, of course, because man is meant to live in balance. What TWoP did is insist that television criticism could be both arch and informed, that you could watch a lot of Roswell, you could care about Roswell, and you could still think Roswell is dumb garbage. Prestige shows like West Wing or The Sopranos don't get a pass just for being fancy — even a recap praising a fabulous episode still had jokey nicknames for people, or wry labels for various TV clichés. Many of the recaps are incredibly funny, but there are plenty that had serious ideas about storytelling or costuming or characters' gender politics, too." (NYMag)




"Except for the hovering of helicopters overhead carrying great slabs of rock or timber, the constant whirring of cranes and cement mixers, and the roar of trucks, the building site that Gstaad becomes the moment the last billionaire departs for places closer to sea level takes on a dreamlike visual vignette of an alpine village. So faint is my memory of the village I first came to love back in the 1950s, I sometimes close my eyes and try to envision it, but it’s a losing game. In fact it’s a Blanche Dubois-like delusion of past grandeur, of the lights and laughter and the loves of teenage days. Let’s face it: Only suckers look back, so I must be the greatest sucker of them all. I simply cannot accept that even here, in peaceful Switzerland, the developers have triumphed. Build big and build expensive is their motto, and there are people out there who will pay anything to be part of—what? If I knew, I’d tell you. Gstaad was a small farming community until the 1920s, when some rich sporting types began tying boards on their boots and sliding down the surrounding mountains. The season was short, the chalets belonged to locals, and the sporting elite lived in hotels and inns. The Palace was THE place to be seen and to stay. A lot of Americans discovered the place during the war once they had bailed out from their crippled bombers, having steered them over neutral Switzerland. After the war, in typical can-do Yankee fashion, they built chalets that were a bit less Spartan than the local ones and enjoyed a healthy and fun life that got you four Swiss francs to a single dollar, the Palace at the time offering rooms that were as low as three dollars per night.'Woodrow Wilson was a phony, but a small phony compared to Tony Blair.' So far, so good. Yours truly arrived in 1956 with a thousand dollars that was supposed to last me for three months and suddenly found myself a rich man. I moved into the Palace for the next thirty years. The dollar sank and with it went many American friends of mine who sold their chalets and moved back to whence they came full of good memories. They were replaced rather quickly with types that would rather sell their sisters into prostitution than fly a bomber over Germany during the war. Children are known to retreat into a fantasy world especially if they’re unhappy, but I had a happy childhood and a very lucky life yet find myself repeatedly retreating into the fantasy world I once inhabited…things such as the moonlight parties at the Eagle club, the drunken dancing until dawn at the Palace, and the riotous drenching of stiff types at the Olden. The latter place closed earlier than usual because the owner, one Bernie Ecclestone, loves money more than I love Jessica Raine. He makes less profit during the off-season; hence the closure. (Anyway, the once wonderful Olden has now jerked up its prices so much that only camel drivers turned oil tycoons can still afford it.)" (Taki)

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