Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Last week, a coalition of predominantly Sunni Arab countries, primarily from the Arabian Peninsula and organized by Saudi Arabia, launched airstrikes in Yemen that have continued into this week. The airstrikes target Yemeni al-Houthis, a Shiite sect supported by Iran, and their Sunni partners, which include the majority of military forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. What made the strikes particularly interesting was what was lacking: U.S. aircraft. Although the United States provided intelligence and other support, it was a coalition of Arab states that launched the extended air campaign against the al-Houthis. Three things make this important. First, it shows the United States' new regional strategy in operation. Washington is moving away from the strategy it has followed since the early 2000s — of being the prime military force in regional conflicts — and is shifting the primary burden of fighting to regional powers while playing a secondary role. Second, after years of buying advanced weaponry, the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are capable of carrying out a fairly sophisticated campaign, at least in Yemen. The campaign began by suppressing enemy air defenses — the al-Houthis had acquired surface-to-air missiles from the Yemeni military — and moved on to attacking al-Houthi command-and-control systems. This means that while the regional powers have long been happy to shift the burden of combat to the United States, they are also able to assume the burden if the United States refuses to engage.Most important, the attacks on the al-Houthis shine the spotlight on a growing situation in the region: a war between the Sunnis and Shiites. In Iraq and Syria, a full-scale war is underway. A battle rages in Tikrit with the Sunni Islamic State and its allies on one side, and a complex combination of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, Shiite militias, Sunni Arab tribal groups and Sunni Kurdish forces on the other. In Syria, the battle is between the secular government of President Bashar al Assad — nevertheless dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect — and Sunni groups. However, Sunnis, Druze and Christians have sided with the regime as well. It is not reasonable to refer to the Syrian opposition as a coalition because there is significant internal hostility. Indeed, there is tension not only between the Shiites and Sunnis, but also within the Shiite and Sunni groups. In Yemen, a local power struggle among warring factions has been branded and elevated into a sectarian conflict for the benefit of the regional players. It is much more complex than simply a Shiite-Sunni war. At the same time, it cannot be understood without the Sunni-Shiite component." (STRATFOR)

"State-owned Russian gas firm Gazprom saw its net profits drop a hefty 70 percent last year, according to Russian Accounting Standards. As Bloomberg reports, that’s bad news for the company’s investors ... Gazprom bought shares in the now-defunct South Stream pipeline, and a large offshore gas project in the Barents Sea also went belly-up. All in all, 2014 was not a good year for the firm, and 2015 doesn’t look much better. A weak ruble isn’t helping Gazprom’s situation, either, and its investors are being treated to lower dividends as a result. So much is made about Europe’s dependence on Gazprom for natural gas, and that’s as true today as it was before these profit numbers were released. But what these data do show is that the Russian firm needs its European customers, and must be sweating bullets as Western policymakers work to find ways to diversify away from Gazprom. Moscow is making contingency plans with its huge new contracts with China, but it will take time to build the necessary pipelines to start eastward gas flows. And in the meantime, Gazprom looks set to continue to struggle." (TheAmericanInterest)

After the interview was done and the TV cameras were off, Adam lit up the joint. After a few puffs, he was asked to put it out and did.

"So, is the party on? Are we lighting up and liking it?  Well, not so fast Alice B. Toklas. Washington being Washington, it’s a little push-pull. The law doesn’t allow the sale or purchase of marijuana, only possession. Though if you have a medical marijuana card, you may buy buds, leaves, edibles and paraphernalia at the city’s dispensaries. The new measure is expected to reduce arrests, which historically have shown a stunning disparity between blacks and whites, with blacks many times more likely to be busted for possession. Still, according to available data, support for legalization was strongest in the wealthier neighborhoods and less enthusiastic in the poorer sections of the city. There’s no risk of the nation’s capital becoming Amsterdam or Aspen, because the residents like having it both ways: to vote liberal and appear cool but to live with a conservative, suburban “hush-hush.” Even though it's legal, it has a vibe of taboo. There has been one story after another in which residents are quoted as being private users, but for the record will not reveal any more than a first name and most likely a fake first name at that.The city wasn’t always this luddite. For better or worse, it followed most of the prevailing social trends of the last few decades. In the '70s, weed was out and about, a hostess might serve nicely rolled joints along with the cigarettes; in the '80s there were parties with silver trays or bowls of cocaine, mirrors lined with lines, while in the '90s the focus turned to condoms as everybody got safe and started to work out as the new drug of choice. Though a condom was never handed to me as a party favor, a condom boutique opened at the main commercial corner of Georgetown. Now that DC residents can legally own and grow marijuana will they go forward and embrace this freedom with some calm, even cool? The juncture was illustrated when DC marijuana activist Adam Eidinger appeared for an interview with me on The Q&A Café, which is taped at The George Town Club, once a hub of the ancients that is quietly but decidedly starting to hook up with younger, modern times. (Membership numbers are climbing). While we were on the air, Adam offered me a smoke, and a nicely rolled one at that. I turned him down because while it may be legal to possess weed it is not legal to smoke anything in a public place. And, also, I don’t smoke." (NYSD)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"A dozen Jewish House Democrats laid it out for deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes during a meeting in the Longworth House Office Building last week: Enough. They’re just as upset about what Benjamin Netanyahu said ruling out a two-state solution, but President Barack Obama didn’t need to keep reminding them and everyone else. Obama and his aides, they said, had to stop acting as if the Israeli prime minister’s comments are the only thing holding up a peace process that’s been abandoned for a year while not expressing a word of disappointment about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — and openly toying with allowing the Palestinians their provocative recognition bid at the United Nations. The swipes at Netanyahu felt vindictive, and gratuitous. The White House has worked to cool down the rhetoric and public tension. But it’s not letting go. When Netanyahu insisted during the congratulatory phone call Obama waited to make that he was already backtracking and they’d get past this, an unimpressed Obama responded by saying, sure, but you said what you said. He and his aides believe it’s now up to Netanyahu to repair a rift that they stress is only about the peace process, not the larger commitment to Israel. 'We’ve made our point. The message has clearly been received,' a White House official said. 'The next move is theirs, presumably after the new government has been formed.'" (Politico)

"Why is no one in the D.C. political class and media bubble talking about the Jeffrey Epstein affair? Well, it’s not true that they’re not talking about it at all; they’re just not (for the most part) talking about it honestly or asking the right questions. And the right questions are: Why is no one in the D.C. political class and media bubble talking about the Jeffrey Epstein affair? Well, it’s not true that they’re not talking about it at all; they’re just not (for the most part) talking about it honestly or asking the right questions. And the right questions are: Exactly how tight is the friendship between former President and potential future first gentleman Bill Clinton and Mr. Epstein, who owns a private island in Florida and is now accused of having sex with girls as young as 12 and procuring young girls for sex with other friends of his? What was Bill Clinton doing on the island with Mr. Epstein on multiple occasions and why did he fly overseas on Mr. Epstein’s plane at least 10 times?
What hardball PR  and legal tactics will Hillary Clinton’s campaign use to try to make this potential problem—which could potentially derail her planned presidential bid—disappear? Will those tactics work, or is Ms. Clinton’s campaign already dead, even if the exact time of the funeral is not yet known?  the Left-Wing Media Machine pretending that anyone who asks questions about the Epstein-Clinton connection is a paid stooge of the Right-Wing Media Machine? And why is the Right-Wing Media Machine, which would normally be gleefully talking about this or any sordid affair involving the Clintons, being unusually reserved in hyping the case? (Hint: Because some notable conservatives and prominent supporters of Israel — a constituency that used to reside solidly in the Democratic camp but which the GOP in recent years has been wooing, with some notable success— have been implicated in the Epstein scandal too). How did our political and media elites ever become so hopelessly corrupt?" (Observer)

Guests in the West Gallery.

"On Friday night I went with a friend to dinner at Sette Mezzo. As I was leaving, I happened to notice our current US Ambassador to Japan, The Honorable Caroline Kennedy, was immersed in animated conversation having dinner with a friend (or what looked like ...) a very pretty young woman, who I later learned was the ambassador’s daughter. The Ambassador happened to be doing the talking in that millisecond when I passed their table on my way out.The expression on her face as she spoke to this “friend” had a very personal kindness to it. I wasn’t certain if it were she – Mrs. Kennedy – at first. I don’t know her and have only seen her in public where she always seems poised and very serious. On this night it was quite different. Her conversation was gently animated as if she were speaking to a friend. I was seeing the mother. It was just a moment, one of those moments in the city where the humanity comes out and touches you; a reward. Another moment, quite different, but one which also leaves a pleasant afterthought: Last Thursday night at the Frick Collection, they were hosting their annual Young Fellows Ball, number sixteen. The theme of the evening was “A Dance at the Spanish Court,” and it was sponsored by Lanvin. The inspiration was the Frick’s special exhibition Coypel’s Don Quixote Tapestries: Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France, which is now on view. This is one of the very few formal evenings in New York which draws a high percentage of younger New Yorkers (20-, 30-somethings) who come out for such an occasion. The Frick’s administration has made this party what it is. They are successfully accomplishing two important matters to the museum. They are raising funds that provide an essential support for the Frick’s education program which serves New York City public schools in all five boroughs; and they are building a strong relationship with the younger set coming up in the city." (NYSD)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that its navy had evacuated 86 Arab and Western diplomats from the port city of Aden in southern Yemen, as a Saudi-led coalition conducted a third day of airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement. Separately, Saudi Arabia confirmed that an American helicopter had rescued two Saudi pilots who ejected from an F-15 fighter over waters south of Yemen. The official Saudi Press Agency said the pilots had ejected because of a 'technical fault' and were 'in good health.' The evacuation of the diplomats from Aden reflected the spreading chaos in Yemen as the Houthi-allied forces continued to advance, even under the pressure of the Saudi bombing. The breakdown of order has potentially grave consequences for the United States, because Yemen had been a central theater of the war with Al Qaeda, but the factional fighting has now forced the United States to withdraw its forces as well. Aden is Yemen’s second largest city and had been the provisional headquarters of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-backed Yemeni leader, since the Houthi forces overran the capital, Sana, in January. Mr. Hadi fled last month to Aden to make a last stand among his supporters in the south, but he, too, has now left Yemen, attending a meeting of Arab leaders on Saturday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.The Houthi movement, based in northwestern Yemen, follows a form of Shiite Islam and has received financial support from Iran, the region’s Shiite power and the chief rival to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi surge has alarmed the Saudis about the possibility of an Iranian-backed group digging in on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. But the Houthis have also struck an alliance with Yemen’s former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who retained significant support among the Yemeni military and security forces even after he was forced from power in 2012. Those forces have now fractured, and major factions have sided with Mr. Saleh and the Houthis against Mr. Hadi and his Saudi backers." (NYT)

Merkel and Tsipras at a news conference in Berlin, March 2015. (Hannibal Hanschke / Courtesy Reuters)

"The Coalition of Radical Left, a Greek political party known by the acronym Syriza, took power in January 2015 with a simple, if ambitious idea: it would put an end to austerity in Greece. For years, Greece had cut back its spending in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in bailout loans from the so-called troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Now it would play a high-stakes game of chicken by launching new negotiations, betting that its largest creditor, Germany, would grant generous concessions to avoid the risk of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone. The negotiations turned out rather differently than Syriza expected: Germany refused to budge. And when Athens doubled down, Berlin clung to its position even more tightly. In February, Greece backed down on most of its demands and accepted a four-month extension of the bailout, something Syriza had said it would never do, in exchange for some more discretion in deciding which austerity reforms to implement. Meanwhile, Greece is set to face a new crisis this summer, when it is scheduled to repay its creditors some $7 billion—and it may run out of money well before then. Next week, the country plans to present its eurozone lenders with a list of proposed reforms, with the hope of unlocking more bailout funds. How did Syriza end up here? By focusing narrowly on Germany, Greece forgot about the interests of the other players involved. Simply put, Athens behaved in ways those actors found deeply threatening, which effectively united Europe against it. To repair the damage, Syriza has little choice but to change course, altering its message and adjusting its demands." (ForeignAffairs)

"Were he alive today to witness the ongoing struggles within France’s major political parties over not just their natures but also their names, Roland Barthes might ask us to think about our laundry. In a 1955 essay from his celebrated collection Mythologies, the French semiotician dwelled on the advertising campaigns of the powdered detergent Persil and the liquid Omo. One was portrayed as soft and gentle, the other as sharp and brutal, but both promised the same result: whiteness. Not at all surprising, Barthes concluded, since they were ultimately the same product, even made by the same corporation. There is certainly a Barthesian dash of Persil or Omo—take your pick—to France’s local elections, taking place in the country’s 96 départements, or administrative units, this weekend. Amid a surge of xenophobic sentiment not just in France but the rest of Europe, the French far-right and center-right parties have tried to soften their images—and names. But whether France, and the rest of the world, should be reassured by these efforts is less certain. The extreme right-wing National Front (FN) has again claimed the media spotlight, and it may well be that as goes a department, so goes the entire store. After the first round of voting last Sunday, France appeared to face a transformed political landscape. The FN, led by Marine Le Pen, built on the startling advances it had made in last year’s municipal and European Parliament elections. Her party tallied more than 25 percent of the vote—double the percentage it won in the last local elections, in 2011, and nearly 5 percentage points ahead of French President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS), which was eliminated from the vast majority of contests taking place this coming Sunday in the second round of voting. While she could not claim, as she had hoped, that the FN was “le premier parti de France”—the polls had forecasted the party winning as high as 30 percent of the vote—Le Pen was no doubt sincere when she declared that she was “very, very happy” with the results." (Politico)

"Treasured memories. The Lauren Bacall Collection goes under the auction hammer next Tuesday, March 31st at Bonham’s, the auction gallery at 580 Madison Avenue between 56th and 57th Street. The exhibition opens today, March 27th for viewing, and runs through Monday March 30. I haven’t seen it although I have seen the catalogue which features photographs of the rooms of her famous apartment in the Dakota where she lived for the past half century. I never knew Ms. Bacall, who was known as Betty to her devoted friends and colleagues. I’d seen her quite a few times around and about including at Zabar's on Saturdays and at benefits and screenings. I had a very brief experience with her when I was a kid and had a part time job working at the door at Sardi’s with Jimmy the maître’d. She had a nettlesome side that was democratic (anyone in her presence at the right moment could see it – or experience it). But that’s not really what I remember about her. I remember probably what you and everyone else remembers: that voice, that attitude, that personal stature and at times when she was younger, that chic. She was sheer talent." (NYSD)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"While the al-Houthi movement struggles to manage multiple regional challenges to its north, its rise to power in Yemen is a setback for Saudi Arabia on its southern flank. After the fall of the Yemeni government, Riyadh will have to capitalize on the al-Houthis' need for political and financial support to re-establish its influence in the country. But because Iran is trying to fill that support gap, too, Yemen has become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another ... While the Saudis would prefer not to have al-Houthi control of such a large piece of Yemen so close to their border, the situation seems to be the best outcome in a situation where all options are bad — as long as the al-Houthis do not start pushing northward ... The al-Houthis find themselves in a situation fairly similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both groups are the biggest force in their respective countries, but they exist within political and demographic conditions that keep them from running their countries alone. " (STRATFOR)

Houthi rebels at the site of a Saudi air strike near Sanaa airport on Thursday. Credit Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 


"Prices for crude oil rose about 4 percent on Thursday over concerns that the fighting in Yemen might affect the passage of tankers through the Bab el Mandeb strait, a narrow chokepoint between Yemen and Africa that is the entrance to the Red Sea. Along with Iraq, Libya and Syria, Yemen is the fourth Arab nation where an attempt to build a new democracy has been consumed by civil conflict, regional proxy wars and the expansion of extremist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
The Houthi leadership, which hails from northern Yemen, practices a variant of Shiite Islam, the religion of the Iranian theocracy. Saudi Arabia, the region’s Sunni Muslim power, is backing forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the capital, Sana, and has taken refuge among his supporters in the south. The Saudi Arabian-led military intervention immediately raised the threat that Iran might retaliate by increasing its own support for the Houthis with money and weapons — as Tehran has in the past — or with a more active military role, escalating the violence. But the struggle for Yemen is more than merely a sectarian conflict or a regional proxy war, in part because of the singular role of Ali Abudullah Saleh, the country’s former strongman ... In Lausanne, Switzerland, where he is meeting with Iran’s foreign minister to wrap up a nuclear accord, Secretary of State John Kerry held a conference call on Thursday to discuss the situation in Yemen with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Mr. Kerry 'commended the work of the coalition taking military action against the Houthis,' a State Department official said. The State Department later went out of its way to make public that the American support includes not only intelligence sharing and logistical help but also 'targeting assistance.' Four other Persian Gulf monarchies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined the Saudi operation, as well as the allied Arab kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco.
Egyptian state news media reported that Cairo was also providing undefined political and military support. The Egyptian government was consulting with Saudi Arabia about the possibility of providing naval or air support or ground troops as well, the state news media reported." (NYT)

"When Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, stepped up to speak at a formal dinner in his honor this week at the State Department, he looked out at a room of familiar faces, a fact he quickly made clear. He referred to Madeleine K. Albright, seated beside him, as his 'mentor.' He called Secretary of State John Kerry, the host, 'a remarkable friend of Afghanistan.' He joked that retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, who sat one table over, rarely slept while commanding American forces in Afghanistan. 'I need glasses to see everybody,' he said. The ties that bound Mr. Ghani to many of the dinner guests on Tuesday reflected a little-noticed story in America’s longest war: After more than 13 years of nation-building in Afghanistan, much of the American national security establishment is intimately familiar with many of the nation’s most senior officials, Mr. Ghani foremost among them, and loath to see a hasty withdrawal lead to a repeat of what has happened in Iraq. Mr. Ghani and many of his advisers also know the United States well, and they decided to thank soldiers for their sacrifices, and taxpayers for the billions spent to aid Afghanistan in every speech Mr. Ghani gave in Washington, officials from both countries said. But American officials helped the Afghans choreograph some of the more poignant touches, such as inviting the widow of an American general killed in Kabul last year by an Afghan soldier to a speech Mr. Ghani delivered on Monday at the Pentagon, allowing the Afghan leader to thank her publicly for her family’s sacrifice. There was also behind-the-scenes lobbying, and not all of it came for free. Shortly after taking office in September, Mr. Ghani’s government hired the Podesta Group for $50,000 a month to lobby on behalf of Afghanistan and help with public relations, according to filings with the Justice Department. One of the founders of the firm is John D. Podesta, who served as counselor to Mr. Obama and represented the administration at Mr. Ghani’s inauguration. Mr. Podesta is no longer involved with the firm.
Mr. Podesta, in fact, was one of the 14 dinner guests on Tuesday to whom Mr. Ghani referred by name in his remarks. " (NYT)

By Brian Snyder/AFP/Pool/Getty Images.

"The site of the talks, the Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel, is famous for being the location of one other historic agreement, namely the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 between the Ottoman Empire and its World War I adversaries, which lead to the breakup of that empire and the creation of modern Turkey. It is perhaps the most opulent hotel so far chosen by the delegations as a site for negotiations, and recalls an era when men in top hats and tails, and not those in robes in turbans, gathered in its banquet rooms to decide the fate of the world. It was also blessed with auspicious spring-like weather that lifted the mood of negotiators and media representatives and even encouraged Kerry to go biking—in full racing gear—and to have relaxing tête-à-têtes with the Russian delegation on a terrace overlooking the lake. The sense of déjà vu—a different and nicer location but the same cast of characters, both in the delegations and in the media covering the talks—was acute. It was also a sense most would rather not repeat, but the signals—from both the Iranian team and the U.S.—over the first days were that, contrary to some expectations, no political agreement was likely to be forthcoming on Friday, the last day of the talks and New Year’s Eve for the Persians. Word circulating the Rivage was also that (SecState John) Kerry would return to Washington before the weekend, or maybe on the weekend, to fulfill obligations there. Zarif et al would return to Tehran to toast—non-alcoholically, of course—the year 1394, and all the delegations party to the talks; their foreign ministers would reconvene sometime in the following days, past the congressional deadline but before the administration’s, to hammer out a deal before April Fool’s Day. With the Iran nuclear talks redux, by now in their 18th month (previous talks, in fits and starts, have been ongoing for a dozen years), it seems that hope always springs eternal ... In background briefings and in off-the-cuff remarks, and even in public statements by officials, a general sense of relative optimism might have allowed a conclusion that most of the political issues have been resolved,, with the glaring exceptions of Iran’s nuclear R&D future (or more specifically the “D” part of R&D), and sanctions relief (or more specifically, the U.N. Security Council sanctions, which Iran insists, and Zarif reiterated in an interview with Ann Curry of NBC News in Montreux, must be removed immediately in the event there is a deal). Iranian reporters took a different signal that something good was about to happen: one reporter shouted a question at Zarif as he walked out of a meeting with Kerry on the eve of the last day. 'Shir ya…' Lion or . . . ? The Persian expression is 'Lion or fox?'—the reporter didn’t want to insult by even uttering the word “fox,” but Zarif knew what she meant. 'We’re always the lion,' he said, 'and on Nowruz, all Iranians will be lions."" (VanityFair)

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, in Congress after the Israeli premier’s address. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters 

"Over an elegant dinner at his official residence Monday night, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, tried to reassure a group of congressional Democrats that the dramatic public break between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was nothing more than a passing disagreement. Every American president since Harry S. Truman has had differences with Israel, Mr. Dermer told the group, and they always work themselves out. Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, who initiated and organized the dinner, said,'What people need to do right now is read a little bit of history, take a deep breath and relax, because every administration has had moments of tension with Israel, and it’s always forgotten.' The gathering was part of a bid by Mr. Dermer, 43, the American-born former Republican operative who is so close to Mr. Netanyahu that he is often referred to as 'Bibi’s brain,' to smooth tensions that have flared up in recent weeks between the United States and Israel. But an apology tour it is not. If anything, Mr. Dermer is intensifying his efforts to thwart the nuclear deal with Iran that Mr. Obama is working hard to close within days ... The outreach comes as some administration officials and members of Congress have privately said Mr. Dermer’s standing has been so tarnished by recent events that he can no longer be effective in his post. Richard LeBaron, the former American ambassador to Kuwait and a former deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, said the speech episode was a mistake that had rendered Mr. Dermer 'damaged goods,' and 'practically persona non grata among senior policy makers' in the United States government. 'It was poor judgment, and it was poor judgment affecting the relationship with the most important country that has a partnership with Israel,' said Mr. LeBaron, adding that as a former ambassador, he would expect to have been sent home for a similar infraction. 'If he’s not gone within a month, it’s another indicator that Netanyahu is only out for political advantage and is not serious about repairing relations.' But Mr. Dermer has told friends that he has no intention of leaving, saying he is as determined as ever to do his job and that quitting would do nothing to bridge the divide between the two countries.Mr. Dermer did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article." (NYT)

Hollywood power players attend Brian Grazer’s book party

"A host of Hollywood moguls turned out to celebrate Brian Grazer’s new book based on curiosity.
The Imagine Entertainment co-founder and producer of 'A Beautiful Mind,' 'Empire' and '24' is releasing 'A Curious Mind,' about his meetings with interesting people. At an event hosted by Bob Iger, Jimmy Iovine and Bobby Kotick, Grazer was fêted by guests including Ari Emanuel, Les Moonves, Brad Grey, Jim Burke, Ron Meyer, Jim Wiatt, Brett Ratner and Steve Bing." (Emily Smith)

Keith Fox, Paul Kelterborn, and Christopher Tepper.

"Last night Beth DeWoody gave a reception at her Gracie Square apartment for guests to learn more about the proposed (and almost a-building) New York City AIDS Memorial that will be ready for public viewing by December of this year. It will be located in the heart of Greenwich Village.  The memorial is the brainchild of Paul Kelterborn and Christopher Tepper. The reception was called for 6 to 8. I got there at 7. Bill Rudin and Eric Rudin were there. The Rudin Family has had a big hand in this project. Beth spoke of those days in the 1980s when AIDS was devastating the population of men who were gay. Many of them were in their 20s and 30s. To this day, there are many who lament the tremendous creative talent that was lost. Christopher Tepper, who with Mr. Kelterborn, created the project told the guests how he is of the generation that followed who knew nothing about the catastrophe and how it happened. When he learned about it from reading, he realized that there needed to be a memorial to remind people. The two men put together an organization that could make this happen. They prevailed upon Keith Fox, who runs Phaidon Press to head the board. Fox told the guests that at that point there was no board.  Nevertheless, they’ve raised five million. They’re ready to go. They need another $500,000." (NYSD)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

The Social Climb. Guests scaled one of the garden's many magnificent staircases to reach the top of the Garden Mound where a reception preceded Vizcaya's 7th Annual Preservation Luncheon. Great fun! Planning is already underway for next year's Vizcaya Centennial, 1916-2016.

"On a beautiful summer day in March, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens welcomed its boldest fashion-forward supporters to the 7th Annual Preservation Luncheon, known informally as the Hat Luncheon. By noon, the event's heads had greeted 325 patrons for a champagne reception high atop the garden's shaded aerie before strolling through the Formal Gardens to a luncheon beneath a tent installed on the waterfront East Terrace overlooking the Barge and Biscayne Bay. Guests donned fascinators and fedoras, headbands and hatinators, panamas and pillboxes. Reflecting a refreshing multi-generational spectrum, the luncheon's supporters, whether Kiki, Cuca, Lili, Lulu, Lola, or Betty, represented Miami's stature as mega-hemispheric international destination. The popular gathering benefits the organization's notable ongoing preservation and conservation projects." (NYSD)

My Favorite Decade

"Flipping through some television garbage trying to induce sleep, I came upon an old western starring Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Malone and Rock Hudson. Once upon a time the above names would trigger common points of reference. A collective vocabulary signifying the Fifties, chrome tailfins, standard issue gray flannel suits, hats, and stifled alternative views. No longer. Common points of reference today are unrecognizable, at least for yours truly, still stuck on black and white movies, good manners, and correct dress. At one point, a young, beautiful girl tells a middle aged Kirk Douglas that she loves him. He dismisses it, telling her she’s just a girl who will one day find a young man who’s right for her. 'I’m not a girl,' she cries, 'I’m a woman who will wash your clothes and cook for you, and take care of you…' Just as well that only a kiss is exchanged because Kirk turns out to be her father, conveniently shot dead by Rock at the end of the movie. Phew, that was a close one. The beautiful youngster was Carol Linley, whom I once lunched with at Mark’s Club back in 1979. But that’s not the point of my story. It’s what she told Kirk in order to get him to change his mind about her: I’ll wash your clothes and so on. Oh for those good old days. Which brings me to how very different things were for all of us, but mainly for women, back in the Fifties. Mind you, I’m not Virginia Nicholson, the lady who wrote a book about the lost world of womanhood during the Fifties. Her excerpts in a daily newspaper hinted that the last thing a man wanted was a clever woman. In my long life I’ve read and heard a hell of a lot of rubbish, but this takes the cake." (Taki)

Bruce Willis Celebrates His 60th Birthday
Bruce Willis, Keith Richards and Patti Hansen at Willis’ 60th birthday bash.

"Bruce Willis celebrated his 60th birthday in style in New York with his family and music legends Keith Richards and Tony Bennett. The “Die Hard” actor was toasted at elegant midtown restaurant Harlow at a private party thrown by his wife Emma Heming on Saturday. Stars celebrating Bruce’s birthday included the Rolling Stones rocker and wife Patti Hansen — who own a house next door to Willis on the Caribbean island resort of Parrot Cay — crooner Bennett, “Sopranos” star Steve Schirripa, Mary Louise Parker — who starred with Bruce in his 2010 movie “Red” — Bon Jovi keyboard player Dave Bryan and actress Carol Kane. Also there was Bruce’s family, including his mother Marlene Willis, his daughters Tallulah and Scout — his other daughter with Demi Moore, Rumer, is in LA practicing for “Dancing With the Stars” — Russian supermodel Irina Shayk, art collector Inga Rubenstein, film and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriter and director Barry Levinson, and “Real HousewifeKristen Taekman. Bruce was seen chatting with 88-year-old Bennett and 71-year-old rocker Richards before blowing out the candles on his cake and mugging up in a photo booth with fellow guests." (P6)

Michael Thomas and Linda Yellen at Le Veau d'Or Friday afternoon.

"Friday I went down to Le Veau d’Or on 60th between Lexington and Park to lunch with Michael Thomas and Linda Yellen, the screenwriter-producer-director. She’s now in the process of raising funds ($90,000) to finish a film she was making with Dennis Hopper when he died in 2010. Liz Smith wrote about it in her column two weeks ago. Conversation with Michael is always interesting because it covers a lot of territory  -- from politics and Wall Street to the worlds of art and music, of history, and even Hollywood. Back in the days when he was an investment banker he sat on the board of 20th Century-Fox and therefore is well-informed on the last days of Darryl  Zanuck the last real film mogul from the days when the Studios (which is now remembered as the Golden Days of Hollywood). Dennis Stanfill, an investment banker who had previously been an executive at the Los Angeles Times Company, became studio president. After that came Marvin Davis the Denver oilman who bought the studio and installed Sherry Lansing as the first woman studio president ever. And after that came the man who continues to own it today, Rupert Murdoch." (NYSD)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In Defense Of Fellini's Satyricon

That there is still controversy nearly fifty years later as to the genius or preposterousness of Fellini's Satyricon is testament to il maestro's enduring relevance. It is fashionable is some intellectual circles to dismiss Fellini's late works as victims of his artistic excesses. On that notion I would like to now call bullshit.

This blogger never thought he would have to defend Fredrico Fellini's magnum opus Satyricon from the slings and arrows of an outrageous Onion AV review, but there it is and here we are. Gore Vidal used to call the United States the United States of Amnesia because we often forget. Fellini was once considered a genius -- on the other end of the visual genius continuum of the introverted, painstaking craftsmanship of  Ingmar Bergman -- but no more. The Onion AV Club -- a respected institution -- said, in February, of Satyricon, "the movie that most aggressively embodies this aesthetic, for better and (much more often) worse, is 1969’s Fellini Satyricon, a nonstop parade of garish decadence that’s being released this week as part of the Criterion collection." What the fuck?

I could not disagree more. "Frequently marvelous to look at, the film is nevertheless something of a trial to endure, " the writer continues, absurdly. "It feels dispiritingly like the work of a director who was reading way too much of his own press."

Visually, every critic agrees that Fellini's Satyricon is an astonishing piece of film ass. Satyricon is like a sort of Victoria's Secret model of films -- delicious, ripe, sumptuous and more than a little intimidating. The Corsair would argue, beyond that established fact, that the film is one of the great masterpieces of Western civilization. "A free adaptation of the Petronius Classic" is how the film is billed at the outset. It is; but it also preserves the Menippian satire that is at the core of the fragments. I would argue that Petronius' Satyricon is actually the world's first bildungsroman, on the misadventures of a former Roman gladiator.

I mention "fragments" because the work -- Petronius' Satyricon -- has not been found complete. It is a fragment, survived from ancient times in incomplete longform. Fellini was so intrigued by the fact that this most interesting ancient text -- a protonovel -- had survived the millennia in pieces that he inserted his own genius into the missing elements, hence the science fiction/fantasy aspect of the film. Fellini's Satyricon is a conversation, across the millennia, between Petronius -- one of the most decadent, stylish bastards in the history of the world -- and Fredrico Fellini, the mad genius of wold cinema. That is how one should begin to approach the work, not, like the Onion AV critic, on the shallow basis of whether or not Fellini is being "overindulgent," or "visually excessive."

Two questions should impose themselves on the film critic ion reviewing this film. One: Why did Fellini approach the Satyricon? John Simon once famously asked: Why did Kubrick chose Barry Lyndon to direct and not, say, Vanity Fair or another more popular Thackeray novel. The answer lay in the personality of Stanley Kubrick; and the answer to that question lies in Fellini. Fellini's other subjects -- Casanova, the fantasy life of a movie star (8 1/2) -- involve ultimates, themes which allow for maximum visual pageantry, the Fellini hallmark. My guess would be that a fragmentary classical novel allows Fellini to assert his artistry into a conversation with an established ancient work. That was his challenge. The second question: Was Fellini ultimately successful? Obviously my answer to that is a resounding yes.

A few more words about Fellini's Satyricon. It is one of the most visually astonishing films ever.  That much is not under debate. Even Fellini's harshest critics agree on that. A sort of sci-fi fantasy adaptation of an ancient Roman classic written by Petronius Arbiter, the arbiter elegantiae of Emperor Nero of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, one of the most decadent vocations in the history of the West. Petronius eventually opened his veins after a falling out with Nero, but then, in those pagan days, a stunning career usually ended in bloody, pagan death. Such was the cruelty of pre-Christian fate.

This film really has no disenable beginning or end. "The earth has not managed to swallow me into the abyss, nor has the sea engulfed me with its raging storms," rages Enclopius, the protagonist and the narrator, as much against the God of the West and the audience as against Ascyltus, his lover and best friend in the beginning. "I have fled from the law and escaped the arena. I've even stained my hands with blood, only to end up here, destitute, exiled from my country, abandoned! And who condemned me to be alone?"

Abandonado is the Italian word that rings out from beyond the subtitles. And it does so because the theme of this masterpiece is friendship and abandonment -- the sudden absence of friendship. It is also about the vast brutality of the cosmos. Star Wars -- a comparable science fiction movie with similar themes -- pales in comparison story-wise because it is childishly Manichian, of Good and Evil. Fellini's Satyricon is for grown ups in that it deals colorfully in the world of grays. Cruelty, embodied in the percussive pagan laughter that is heard in all quadrants throughout this film, is the pervasive mood. Fortuna, the Roman God often invoked by Niccolo Machiavelli, is also quite present in this film, invisible, propelling the action forward. Machiavellian smiles, gazes disturbingly turned against the viewer in a form of diabolic sneer, are also hallmarks of this film. The filmmaker appears to be calling attention to this visual spectacle, to his representation of the pagan pageant of human existence, not asking us to suspend our disbelief. Quite the contrary.

A word about Fellini's sonic pallete here. Fellini's Satyricon explores the outer limits of sound. Everything from bodily sounds -- farts, belches -- to mysterious flutes, to the bark of abandoned hounds in the distance as well as the roars of prehistoric reptiles and the endless rhythmic crashing of the sea all play a part. I have never, ever, experienced a film with more diverse sonic alchemy than Fellini's Satyricon. I suspect there isn't any film out there who can remotely compete in that arena with this film.

And what are we to make of Trimalchio's Feast? The Great Gatsby was almost called Trimalchio in East Egg. That was the original title that Fitzgerald had in mind, but begged off because it would have sounded to snobby. The meal -- roughly one third into the film -- is the greatest depiction of the vast gap between the tremendous wealth of Rome at the height of its Empire, and the poor plebians who made it possible for the rich to do what the fuck they wanted whenever they wanted. In fact, the entire film is about the cruelty of fate against the poor. Another Italian -- Machiavelli, and I'm greatly oversimplifying here -- argued that the art of statecraft is human action building a fortress against the whimsy of Fortune. One could argue, further, that the accumulation of wealth is a fortress against existential insecurity. Within the framework of that argument, it is the poor that are the most vulnerable to he cruelties of life. Enter: a visual bildungsroman by Fellini of the life of the born low in the bowels of the most decadent stages of the Roman empire.

The hero of the Satyricon, Encolpius, is a former gladiator -- of the underclass -- navigating the world at the mercy of the whimsy of Fortuna. Fellini's sumptuous, visual representation of the difference between the rich and the poor in an imperial society at the height of imperial burlesque has incredible resonance in this day and age. Alas: who reads Petronius nowadays? Who watches Fellini?

Certainly not the author of that stupid ass Onion AV review. Basta!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Museum of Sex: Launch Party For The Art of the Pimp

Last night at the Museum of Sex on fifth avenue there was a launch party for Dennis Hof's The Art of the Pimp. The scene was very interesting and sort of gritty in a cool way: NYC Club kid culture by way of the porn industry. It harkened back to a pre-Giulianiized New York.

Ron Jeremy, whom I had met earlier in the day at, of all places, Michaels, was there, posing. At one point Amanda Lepore took some pictures with Jeremy and -- lo and behold -- somehow her top came off and the porn star started playing with her nipples. Ron Jeremy, clearly having a good time, was later on was seen signing the breasts of enthusiastic women while sipping champagne.

I met the very attractive Alia Janine, hovering over a plate of cheese in the basement of the Museum of Sex. I wondered where the appetite came from as her figure was wholly without imperfection. Seeing that I was watching she said, sultrily, from across the table, "it's okay that I eat cheese. I'm from Wisconsin." Be still my heart.

I also got to talk to Cindy Sibilsky (see pic above, with Amanda Lepore), of InJoy Entertainment. She is trying to put together financing for a musical about Xaviera Hollander, the infamous Happy Hooker. Cindy had run up into an initial roadblock trying to get financing from the traditional Upper East Side uptight broadway producer crowd. But she was upbeat, and worked the party brilliantly. I have no doubt that in the next five years this show will be in New York and probably London as well.

From there I met Heidi Fleiss, who I had met earlier in the day at Michaels restaurant. She is working on a tell all, presumably for Regan Arts, which threw this event. Finally I got to talk to her about her passion -- birds. We talked of many things, but mainly her crusade to help people  think deeply about birds in captivity. Heidi made a good argument about how L.A. money is very good about defending dogs and cats -- the traditional pets -- but no one out there with a big name is speaking out for Macaws and parrots and other "exotic" long-lived, sensitive, intelligent birds that are held in captivity for years and sometimes decades. Heidi is now sober, incredibly honest about her troubles with the law (which I think were trumped up bullshit -- not a single "John" saw a day in jail) and very fun. I will definitely be keeping in touch.

At there end of the evening, as the bar was closed and dishes were being removed from tables I spotted Ron Jeremy by the coat line. Someone pointed out to him that Judith began -- of Regan Arts -- is the publisher of huff's memoir and threw the party. Jeremy shouted out "Are there any more events this week?" Judith walked by and pretended not to hear.

Also out and about at the launch: Cindy Sibilsky, Cazwell, Michelle L. Ruiz, Anthony Cumia (of Opie and Anthony) and the lovely Kryssie Summers.

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 21:  U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu view an Israeli technology exhibition at the Israel Museum on March 21, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel.  This is President Obama's first visit as president to the region, and his itinerary includes meetings with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  (Photo by Debbie Hill-Pool/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Debbie Hill-Pool/Getty Images

"It is strange that an election that merely extended the status quo would be historically transformative, but that may be the case with Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumph in Israel. The catalytic event is not so much Netanyahu’s victory but his racist pre-election rants against Arab voting (which was, historically, a point of Zionist pride) and, even more so, his categorical rejection of any two-state solution during his tenure. A fundamental alteration of the American alliance with Israel may be inevitable. There are signs it is already underway.
Obviously, Republicans have responded to Netanyahu’s triumph with unadulterated joy. The political success of a right-wing government tightly allied with their party gives them a vicarious victory over Obama, against whom they have raged ineffectually in the U.S. The more telling response is the equal outpouring of joy and relief from the anti-Israel left. 'Netanyahu’s Win Is Good for Palestine,' writes Yousef Munayyer in a New York Times op-ed today. As Munayyer has written more explicitly elsewhere, he believes in the 'one-state solution' that would eliminate Israel altogether as a Jewish homeland. Likewise, the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah exults in Netanyahu’s reelection, which forestalled the possibility of a moderate Israeli government that 'would have attempted to draw Palestinians back into 'negotiations' over what would at most be a ghetto-like bantustan designed to legitimize Israel’s theft of vast tracts of land, its annexation of Jerusalem and its abrogation of the rights of Palestinian refugees.' Partition is Abunimah’s greatest fear. Maintaining singular control of the territory will allow its eventual Arab majority to dominate it." (NYMag)

Dennis Hof, Diane Clehane, and Heidi Fleiss at Michael's.

"It was Wednesday; I went to Michael’s. I was having lunch with Ron Mwangaguhunga who publishes the daily blog The Corsair.  There was a lot of activity in the room on arrival. Frank DiGiacomo of the Hollywood Reporter is doing a big piece – an oral history on Michael’s. He was there with photographers and cameramen. It turned out to be a good day to follow this story because today’s Guest List had some fascinating touches to it. For example, beginning with: At table one was a guy named Dennis Hof, who owns something called The Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas and is also the star of the HBO documentary “Cathouse.” You know all about it already, no? Actually I didn’t but everyone else in the room seemed to. Table one, incidentally is in the bay at the head of the front room, so everyone can get a good look when passing by. Many a famed face has sat that table. Many of those most particularly recognizable of the rich, the chic and the shameless, too ... In the room with all this going on was Mickey Ateyeh and Julie Greiner, Exec VP of Macy’s; Peter Brown and Mike HoltzmanDavid Sanford of the WSJ and his partner Lewis Stein; Jonathan Capehart of the Washington PostJudy Licht Della Femina at the table right behind her husband’s, with Lisa Birnbach; and across from them was Bob Friedman and guest.  Paul Wilmot was lunching with WWD editor Jim FallonGlenn HorowitzJoan Gelman with Lynn Goldberg, Greg Lawrence (Jackie O biographer); Denise LeFrak Colicchio with her sister Francine LeFrak (Sane Sky Jewelry), and a friend; Jack Myers with Sue Fennessy and Bob Flood; Arthur Shorin of Tops Sporting; Leonard Shulman; Barry Frey with Maury Rogoff; Todd Joyce; Noble Smithy, Aerin Brown; Cynthia Lewis; Shelly Palmer; Rebecca Belldegrun in from Los Angeles; and a couple who were in town from Sydney, Australia, Mr. and Mrs. Peter von Fritz.   Mr. Fritz came to the table to introduce himself and to tell me that his wife read the NYSD every day in Sydney, and that he was with her. Immediately I asked to meet her, a very nice woman whose reservation was in the name of Baroness von Fritz. She did indeed look like one’s imagination of a modern baroness; very attractive, smartly dressed, gracious and poised. She told me she’d found the NYSD quite some time ago and has been reading it ever since. Then I told her a little bit about the room and the day and the special guests. I think she enjoyed the verbal tour." (NYSD)


"In every life there are pivotal moments, “Sliding Doors”situations, where things would be very different if another path had been taken. your life could have been very different if another path had been taken. I’ve had several of these, but the first one happened when I was very little in Leeds, EnglandMy father was getting his PhD at the university there, and my mother was teaching locally. My sister and I were both born there, and we lived in a quintessential Yorkshire home — dark, coal-stained stone; long, thin windows; and a door my mother painted bright red. It was a good time for our family. My mother would push me in a pram to the to fish and chips shop on the corner — now called the Fishermans Wife — every time she didn’t want to cook or do dishes (read: every other day), and by all accounts we were a happy little family. Then my dad’s thesis was accepted and he got his degree, along with two job offers: one from the University of Leeds … and another from Riyadh University in Saudi Arabia." (Paula Froelich)