Monday, January 31, 2011

Picture Pages, Picture Pages ...

"The unironic beer is not worth drinking." (image via thecobrasnake)

Those who fail to learn from that special Facts of Life episode where the pimp tried to recruit Tootie are doomed to repeat it. (image via thecobrasnake)

Might we suggest a robust multivitamin and a protein-rich bowl of ox-tail soup? (image via thecobrasnake)

If Quentin Tarantino's vision could be summed up in a single image ... (image via thecobrasnake)

It isn't so much the creamy awesomeness of her look so much as the striking contrast it provides against the ass in the lemon jumpsuit standing next to her. (image via thecobrasnake)
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"As Tunisian President-for-Life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into ignominious exile two weeks ago, democrats around the world found hope in the notion that Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution would spread to Iran. The images of demonstrations from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis reminded Americans of the massive 2009 protests that gave rise to Iran's opposition Green Movement, and as pro-democracy movements inspired by Tunisia emerged in Egypt and Yemen, many observers saw a chance for Iran to be next. But looking closer, it's clear that Iranians -- from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on down to the Green Movement opposition -- view the Tunisia situation as vastly different from their own, and not one that's likely to spill over into a renewed push for democratic reform in their own country. Despite the examples of Ben Ali and Egypt's beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak, Iran's leaders are far from running scared. In fact, Tehran is taking a distinctly more triumphalist understanding of the roots and effects of the Tunisian protests than American commentators would expect from another authoritarian Middle Eastern government -- particularly from one facing its own challenges from opposition forces. In the week following Ben Ali's frantic flight to Saudi Arabia, reactions from Iranian officials and state-supported media were, as always, bold and self-assured. But this is no skin-deep grandstanding designed to force a positive spin on an unsettling example of political upheaval. Where Washington sees an anti-authoritarian uprising, Tehran describes a 1979-style rejection of a U.S.-supported secularist: Ahmadinejad referred to the Tunisian uprising as an expression of the people's will for an Islamic order, and the Iranian Majlis voted overwhelmingly to support the 'revolution.'" (ForeignPolicy)

"It was also reported that Charlie Sheen’s teeth are beginning to fall out because of his drugging, etc., according to the Daily Mail. I’m always reminded of the woman I knew in Los Angeles who worked the nightshift in the bedrooms and hotel rooms of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She told me – laughing – that Charlie Sheen was her easiest John. He never even so much as touched her. All she had to do was stand at the foot of the bed with nothing on and tell him how fabulous he was over and over again, while he lay there self-responding to the thrill of it all. Until he didn’t need to hear it anymore and she got her money and left. And you ask, is there a Society today?" (NYSocialDiary)

"Chelsea Clinton's husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is taking a break from his banking job to concentrate on being a ski bum. The investment banker is forgoing work at New York-based hedge fund G3 Capital to hit the slopes for a few months in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Sources told Page Six that Mezvinsky, now married into America's most ambitious political family, left his position right before the holidays and took off for Jackson Hole. We hear that he's been there through January and that his wife, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, plans on visiting him every few weeks." (PageSix)

"The White House expects Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to China, to resign his post this spring to explore a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, top Democrats said. GOP allies of Huntsman have already begun laying plans for a quick-start campaign should the former Utah governor decide to enter the ill-defined Republican field. While Huntsman has no direct involvement in it, a group of operatives that could eventually comprise his strategy team has set up an entity called 'Horizon PAC' to serve as a placeholder for his political apparatus. The PAC will be run by Susie Wiles, a Florida-based Republican strategist who recently managed the campaign of newly-inaugurated Gov. Rick Scott. Huntsman has avoided publicly discussing the possibility of a bid against the president who appointed him, but he’s sending signals that make clear he’s serious about a run now – not in 2016." (Politico)

"For one brief moment here at the 2011 Adult Video Awards in Las Vegas, America’s porn performers can forget about the Golden Decade of the Teen Wanker and remember when they were stars ... For a decade or so, to the porn industry, the Internet looked like the best thing ever invented—a distribution chute liberating it from the trench-coat ghetto of brown paper wrappers and seedy adult bookstores, an E-Z Pass to a vast untapped bedroom audience. If it was equally apparent that the web would prove as destabilizing as it has for other media, the money was so good that the industry could ignore the warning signs. Now the reckoning has arrived. The chief culprits in the eyes of the porn Establishment are the 'tube sites,' YouTube-like repositories of content that is often free, and often pirated. 'Tubes are going to destroy our industry,' says Sunny Leone, 29, an Indian-American knockout who is celebrating eight nominations this evening. 'Fans don’t understand that if they don’t pay for porn, we can’t make a living. They’ll have to watch crazy European porn.' Farther along the red carpet, as the porn parade navigates the throng of gawkers to enter the Pearl Theater, actor James Bartholet shouts to the onlookers, 'Buy your porn, don’t download it illegally!'" ( NYMag)

"President Obama is far from the first president attempting a tricky rhetorical pirouette with the dictator and his men in Cairo, who are under the impression that Americans need them more than they need us. As the Obama administration considers its approach to the turmoil in Egypt, it might be wise to heed lessons from the approach its predecessor took. The Bush administration’s experience was not exactly a shining moment in the cause of human freedom. George W. Bush prides himself on being the 'dissidents’ president'—a man who has stood courageously to expand the frontiers of freedom across the world. And indeed Bush—particularly early on in his administration—did undertake laudable efforts to aid the cause of dissidents and political prisoners, even taking opportunities to publicly call for their release. But by the end of the administration, his rhetoric had softened notably. And the speechwriters learned that there were limits to how far we would go in that effort. It was easy for U.S. presidents to bash regimes with which America did not have productive relationships—easy marks like Iran, Syria, and Cuba. But when it came to confronting dictatorships with which we shared common interests—China and Russia, for example—the language we used was more careful, our actions more forgiving. This was especially true in the Middle East, where Bush frequently castigated the human-rights abuses in Iran and Syria, but seldom shined a spotlight on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Egypt." (TheDailyBeast)

"In the spring of 2009, as the reëlection campaign of President Hamid Karzai was gathering momentum, a group of prominent Afghan businessmen met for breakfast at the presidential palace to see the candidate. Among them was Khalil Ferozi, the chief executive officer of Kabul Bank, a fast and freewheeling financial institution that had brought together some of the most colorful and politically well-connected Afghans in the country, including one of President Karzai’s own brothers. Ferozi, a banking novice, had a history that seemed lifted from a Saturday-afternoon adventure movie. In the late nineteen-nineties, working for the legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, Ferozi sold emeralds mined in the crags of the Panjshir Valley and used the hard currency to pay an obscure Russian company to print truckloads of Afghan currency. In this way, he helped underwrite Massoud’s movement. According to a Massoud associate, the commander became enraged when he discovered that Ferozi was helping to print currency for the Taliban as well. Before Ferozi could be hauled in—'Tie his hands, tie his legs, and bring him to me,' Massoud reportedly said—Massoud was killed, on September 9, 2001, by Al Qaeda assassins. Ferozi, who failed to respond to questions about the incident, went on to become Kabul’s most improbable banker and C.E.O. With a body like an oil drum, and a retinue of gunmen around him, he prowls the streets of Kabul looking less like a banker than like a footballer lost in a war zone. 'We’d like to contribute to the campaign,' Ferozi told President Karzai at the breakfast in 2009. 'What can we do?' The President pointed Ferozi in the direction his finance minister and campaign treasurer, Omar Zakhilwal. Two days later, Zakhilwal told me recently, two men identifying themselves as Kabul Bank employees appeared bearing a briefcase containing two hundred thousand dollars in cash. 'Two guys, one case,' he said." (NewYorker)
Further Thoughts on the Egyptian Uprising

On Mohamed El Baradei

Mohamed El Baradei's name was frequently mentioned on the talking heads shows this past Sunday. Some questions: Would El Baradei-- a Viennese resident and a Nobel Peace Prize winner -- be considered an organic fit in Egypt? Would the student intellectuals who spearheaded the uprising accept him? Would the less affluent, less well educated accept him? Would the Muslim Brotherhood -- financed by Iran -- work to dislodge El Bradei and discredit him were he to replace Mubarak as an interim President? And if that happened, what would its overall effect be on the War on Terror and the foreign policy objective of containing Iranian influence in the region?

Mubarak is a stalwart US ally in the "War on Terror" -- and even before then -- as a symbol of stability in the intellectual center of the Arab world. But is he an "ally" in the long run? Right-wing Ross Douhat writes in the NYTimes:

In “The Looming Tower,” his history of Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright raises the possibility that “America’s tragedy on September 11 was born in the prisons of Egypt.” By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalize and internationalize his country’s Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, and arguably the real brains behind Al Qaeda — out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad.

At the same time, Mubarak’s relationship with Washington has offered constant vindication for the jihadi worldview. Under his rule, Egypt received more American dollars than any country besides Israel. For many young Egyptians, restless amid political and economic stagnation, it’s been a short leap from hating their dictator to hating his patrons in the United States. One of the men who made this leap was an architecture student named Mohamed Atta, who was at the cockpit when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.

These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak’s potential overthrow, and the end to America’s decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime.

Realism versus Neoconservatism

The two most powerful ideas in American foreign policy have been battling it out for ideological supremacy on the Beltway since the turn of the millennium as disciples of the Jacksonian and Liberal Internationslist schools of thought watch idly by on the sidelines of power. The execrable Monica Crowley, on the McLaughlin Show, posited that the Egyptian uprising is the triumph of the Bush administration's neoconservatism. Does she have a point? Or is Crowley just being ridiculous, as per usual. And she is not alone.

The problems with Neoconservatism and unilateralism were evident most obviously in the second administration of President Bush the Younger. That extreme idealism grew out of an extreme reaction to the September 11th attacks and the attention deficit disorder of Bush the Younger, who always idealized a war leader like Churchill. The Churchill Bust as metaphor.

Realism, by contrast, is an even harder philosophy to stomach. There is something amoral and unacceptable about it to mature political thinkers -- particular American political thinkers -- in that it almost wholly lacks any ideological motivations and is rather all about power relations.

Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, the two earliest and best modernist philosophical communicators of this idea, both came from hugely unstable societies. The glory of Machiavelli's Florence was behind it when he served as a minor ambassador, forcing him to embrace -- and master -- the mechanics of "Machiavellianism." He had no choice; Machiavelli's philosophy emerged as the product of his social and political situation. Hobbes "Leviathan," written during the English Civil War, posited that the sate of nature is Bellum omnium contra omnes ("the war of all against all"). The teleological end of Realism is stability.

Further, Realism, vis-a-vis American foreign policy, is antithetical to the wants of the protesters in the Arab world. They of course also want "stability" -- who doesn't? who wants chaos? -- but they also make a convincing case about the hypocricy of American principles, which are inherently idealistic, and our cold, icy embrace of such an Old European philosophy. What gives?

Ah, George Washington -- how wise you were on the subject of "foreign entanglements."

Class and Egypt

The gap between rich and poor has been growing in recent years (over 5% GDP growth in the past few years). To what degree is class a factor -- which it surely is -- in the uprising? Class is always a major element in any revolution. Right now we are seeing students and the well-educated -- who happen to be unemployed -- at the vanguard of this uprising. Technology like social networks, not widely disseminated among average Egyptians, are communicating to the larger world inside perspectives of what is going on. But we have also heard reports of looting of antiquities and the homes of the wealthy class occurring.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Some Observations on the Political Scene


It is curious how much Presidents play off each other policywise. The thing that stands out most to me of Obama's Egypt approach is how much it differs from the one used by Bush the Younger. Obama's foreign policy -- decidedly Realist -- is entirely corrective of Younger's starry eyed idealistic neoconservatism in the Middle East. And it is corrective and mature: Obama knows that every Arab regime and ally -- Saudi Arabia immediately comes to mind -- is watching how the United States treats Mubarak in his Hour of the Wolf. How Obama treats Mubarak is how Obama will probably treat them at tyranny's end.


32 years Mubarak has been in power. Five Presidents have come and gone in the meanwhile. The prime sin of tyrants -- and they have many -- is that they cannot distinguish when their body begins and the body politic ends. "L'etat, c'est moi!" cried the Sun King, another era's Mubarak. First Tunisia, now Cairo -- I am beginning to wonder if we are not experiencing the end of African Dictator Chic.

One of my favorite stories is Oedipus Tyrannus, which Aristotle regarded as the ultimate tragedy of the classical era (Hamlet, one might argue, is its modern equivalent). Both deal with political succession, with tyranny. It is an idea that has been with human beings since the dawn of civilization. All serious people regard it as an unnatural, evil institution. And yet it persists.

But if Mubarak falls -- and it appears as if he might -- will more tyrants fall? Is this a indeed twilight of the Tyrants?

Al Jazeera

This is an Al Jazeera moment, not unlike what CNN experienced during the First Persian Gulf War. This time, however, CNN International -- my favorite station top watch international crises -- was hampered by Mubarak's crackdown on technology (you know you are at the outer limits of fucking political theater when a tyrant goes to war against technology itself).

Al Jazeera, of course, also a part of the story. And, yes, they have their prejudices -- Al Jazeera is decidedly on the side of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and of Hamas in the West Bank. So you should watch with a critical eye.

But I've been watching it -- and you should too.
Wikileaks on the US-Egypt Relationship

The US relationship with Egypt is full of contradictions and shared interests, according to the Wikileaks published diplomatic cables. Also: watch live coverage on Al Jazeera English
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Uber-blogger Arianna Huffington is a star at these gatherings and is always in great demand for her views on how to improve the state of the world. On Saturday, she was in such demand that she had to cut short her contribution to a panel discussion on U.S. politics. The reason: She had to catch her helicopter to Zurich. The creator of the Huffington Post website left her fellow panellists, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) , Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) and Harvard’s Kennedy School commentator David Gergen in midstream with a cheery wave. " (WSJ)

"The past few weeks have been bad ones for the old Arab order. It started with Egypt, once the dynamic, uncontested leader of the Arab world, whose foreign policy now often amounts to an appendix tacked onto American mediation in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A New Year’s Day bombing at a church in Alexandria has laid bare what most Egyptians already know: Years of stagnation have solved none of Egypt’s problems and may have created new ones — a Christian-Muslim divide, for one. Last week, Lebanon found itself on familiar ground. Yet another iteration of a six-year crisis over who will rule the country paralyzed an already feeble government. Lebanese were anxious but not distraught: During the crisis, they have spent more months without a functioning government than with one, and have survived. Sudan was on the brink of partition, as black Africans in the south were voting for independence from their Arab rulers in the north, with whom they have fought two of history’s bloodiest civil wars. Iraq is not quite the old order, but even there, the legions who follow the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr — marginalized, edgy and determined to inherit the country — poured into the streets of a sacred city to welcome back their leader, who soon made clear that he would be a force with which American allies in Iraq would have to reckon. Most recently and most spectacularly, Tunisia was swept up in protests over joblessness, corruption and too many years under one of the heaviest hands in the Arab world, forcing a dictator to flee and electrifying the Arab world." (NYTimes)

"When I'm at a restaurant with a sommelier I trust, I often ask him to pick something for me. Sommeliers are on the front lines, tasting every day, seeking out treasures, and they certainly know their own lists better than I do. Unlike my collector friends, who tend to search out the classics—the known commodities—the soms have their palates primed for what's new. They are looking for the next great region, the next great maker. Twice in the past month, two of my favorite soms have picked Cornas, a red wine made with Syrah grapes in France's northern Rhône. In both cases, I liked the wine very much. Moreover, I've recently heard several young winemakers express their admiration for Thierry Allemand, the rising star of Cornas. Is Cornas finally having its moment? Some 10 years ago I found myself clinging to the base of a vine in the Les Ruchets vineyard, high above the town of Cornas, and the serpentine Rhône River just beyond, trying to not to slide downhill. My luggage had been lost somewhere between New York and Marseilles, with the result that for the third day in a row I was wearing Gucci loafers, which didn't provide the best purchase on the steep, rocky hillside as I attempted to assist Jean-Luc Colombo and his crew harvesting Syrah grapes. I could well understand why many of these vineyards, too steep for a tractor, had been abandoned in the early part of the 20th century." (Jay McInerney)
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"The global elite, dining on Norwegian lobster and reindeer at the end of the World Economic Forum on Saturday, felt pretty chipper despite growing concerns about the inequality of the economic recovery. While they believe the global financial and euro zone debt crises are abating, the real world intruded with a different and much more acute crisis in Egypt that made their debates about inequality and food security less theoretical than anticipated. This year's four-day talkfest in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos was a fragmented affair. The issue expected to dominate discussion, the euro zone debt crisis, turned out to be a relatively damp squib, with a growing consensus among bankers and policymakers that a resolution of the issue may be near. If there was one common strand in Davos this year it was growing divisions -- whether between fast-growing emerging markets and sluggish developed world economies, or between rich and poor within countries. As residents in Cairo and Alexandria counted the cost of a further night of clashes between protesters and police on Saturday, politicians and business leaders urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to start a dialogue with his people. Egypt has, after all, been one of the darlings of African and Middle Eastern investors, and the world is stepping into unknown territory with the rapid spread of unrest from country to country, propelled by the Internet and mobile technology. 'The lesson from Egypt is clear: people will no longer accept oppression, particularly when oppression is married with rising food prices, a lack of employment and the destruction of hope for a young generation,' Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told Reuters. Yet the mood among 2,500 business leaders and policy-makers in Davos was still predominantly positive, albeit tempered with caution after the worst economic slump in 75 years." (Reuters)

"HELP WANTED: Exclusive Pennsylvania Avenue residence seeks highly motivated professional to fill job of social secretary. Qualified candidates must have a genuine commitment to hospitality, a passion for food and wine, an appetite for 22-hour workdays, and a willingness to stand outside in all temperatures with a clipboard. No prima donnas. Please do not inquire about other positions like press secretary (filled) or secretary of defense (he’s not gone yet). *Willing to consider male candidates. Well, why not? Maybe it’s time for the White House to tap a man for the job. Ever since the first White House social secretary, Isabella Hagner James, helped Edith Roosevelt arrange diplomatic receptions a century ago, the keeper of the guest list of the most important address in the country has been a woman. But now, Julianna Smoot, the Democratic fund-raiser who successfully navigated two relatively conflict-free state dinners and countless other holiday parties, diplomatic receptions and even an Easter Egg Roll, is leaving, after just 10 months on the job. Ms. Smoot, readers may recall, replaced the Chicago businesswoman Desirée Rogers, who was run out of Washington last year after a string of Beltway offenses that included letting reality TV wannabes into a state dinner, posing for Vogue and wearing haute couture with $100,000 earrings. (She wore a Comme des Garçons gown at the now-infamous Indian state dinner where she sat at a table like a guest instead of standing at the gate with a clipboard.)" (NYTimes)

"If there’s one thing the chief executive officers of beverage makers PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. can agree on, it is the enduring appeal of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. That is a common sentiment among business leaders in the corridors of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, which Clinton addressed yesterday just as he first did in office 11 years ago and on several occasions since departing office in 2001. 'When you sit down at the feet of Bill Clinton, he’s the one stop on all the issues,' Indra Nooyi CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest soft-drinks maker, told Bloomberg Television in Davos today. Coca-Cola counterpart, Muhtar Kent, last night praised the former president’s record on green energy and aiding Africa as he introduced him to guests at a private cocktail reception. The 2,500 participants at Davos may not be alone in being inspired by Clinton, 64. More than 4,000 miles away in Washington, President Barack Obama has responded to the Democrats’ recent loss of the House of Representatives by hiring or promoting former Clinton aides and making calls for bipartisanship just as Clinton did after a similar defeat in 1994." (Bloomberg)

"The first sign I get that Charlie Rose has entered the room is when the suave maître d’ of Michael’s restaurant, a haunt of New York’s powerbrokers, rushes across to my table and declares, with a thrilled tone: 'He’s here!' I glance over, and see a tall figure by the door, wearing an understated, tweedy overcoat. Slowly, he makes his way towards me. It takes a very long time: as he passes each table, he reaches out, shakes hands, graciously receives compliments and exchanges pleasantries, as if on a royal progress ... Eventually, after navigating the packed room, Rose arrives at my table and casually chucks his coat on a chair with a supremely confident, easy air. 'It’s fine there,' he tells an overly solicitious waiter. Then he greets me with great bonhomie and southern charm; we have met each other a couple of times before, most recently when I appeared as a guest on his show two nights before, in a debate about America’s fiscal woes ... A waiter hovers and I ask for sparkling water. Rose breezily specifies that 'tap water is fine', and then glances vaguely at the menu. It is a couple of years since he suffered a heart scare but his face and physique could belong to a man of 50. Cheerfully, Rose explains to me that he makes it a priority to eat sensibly and exercise each day." (FT)

"Prince William and Kate are doing it old school. Save-the-date faxes have been sent out to the senior members of the royal family invited to the royal wedding. The guest list has yet to be finalized but King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece are said to have received the save-the-dates, and Prince Alexander and Princess Katherine of Serbia have RSVPed." (Maria Carraciola)

"The big news this weekend isn't just seeing whether domestic grosses are depressed on the post-blizzard East Coast, but also which movies receive Oscar bumps given that the Academy Award nominations were announced this past Tuesday. The King's Speech, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine (because of Michelle Williams' Best Actress nom), Rabbit Hole (due to Nicole Kidman's), and Winter's Bone, all expanded their runs as a result. True Grit, Black Swan, The Fighter, are still in the thick of their releases and held very well Friday, with only Golden Globe Best Drama winner The Social Network in limited release for a return engagement to improve on its $96M domestic cume. By mid-week, Fandango's top daily ticketseller was Producers Guild Awards winner The King's Speech even though The Weinstein Co released the film 9 weeks ago. The pic saw a healthy 76% increase in online ticket sales. (But attendance could really soar if The Weinstein Co succeeds in creating a PG-13 version to respond to exhibitors and educators who want the R-rated movie available to a bigger audience.) As for this weekend, studios expect that the East Coast's record snowfall will have "a substantial effect" on some markets to depress grosses. But after house-bound blizzard victims dig out, the majors expect a great football-less Sunday at the box office." (Deadline)

"The other slick, fun, and surprisingly sexy documentary on show at Sundance was Andrew Rossi’s inside look at The New York Times, which is playing in the U.S. doc competition. Rossi examines the Times media desk as it endures tectonic shifts in the news industry and deals with everyone’s favorite info anarchist/hacker pixie, Julian Assange. Adding an Entourage-like, Ari 'Fuck You' Gold feel to the mix is footage of David Carr, the Times’s cantankerously charming media reporter (and ex-addict, which Rossi doesn’t let you forget), who appears as a human symbol of the paper’s fight to stay alive in an online world. The most intriguing part of the documentary is watching the Page One meetings, where editors jockey for story position while Bill Keller chews it all over, furrowing his friendly, news-making Muppet eyebrows." (VanityFair)

"The notorious tea party-backing, climate change-denying Koch brothers are hosting their semiannual secret meeting of 200 rich and powerful people this year in Palm Springs. There they will plot global domination and compare yachts. And no tweeting allowed! Some liberal groups like are painting this summit at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Palm Springs in such a sinister light: 'An exclusive gathering of corporate billionaires who are meeting to plot strategy on how to dominate the 2012 elections,' says Common Cause. Yeah, it is a little suspicious that the meetings are being kept under wraps, with no media or public allowed—and the words 'secret,' 'billionaire' and 'meeting' always produce a certain chill when combined." (Gawker)

"Charlie Sheen's decision this afternoon to enter an undisclosed rehab facility has for now put an end to the troubled star's latest scandal, but it also raises questions about how long it took for anyone to accept responsibility for Sheen's actions, which have in the past put both his life and others' lives at risk. No stranger to generating headlines, Sheen's latest escapade involved a trip to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai following intense abdominal pain, what one woman who was there alleged was a suitcase full of cocaine, and a bevy of porn stars, all of which had the television industry awaiting the latest twist in this sordid story. For now, this story will end, as it often does, with an act of contrition, as Sheen enters a rehab facility. It is his second stint in the past year. 'Rehab is Hollywood's version of Catholic confession,' said one executive producer, speaking to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. 'Do whatever you want and the slate is wiped clean with rehab.'" (TheDailyBeast)

"About an hour later, I spoke with (Vikram) Pandit in a sparsely furnished hotel room. Citi’s leaders—from Walter Wriston, in the nineteen-seventies, to John Reed, in the nineteen-eighties, and Sanford Weill, in the late nineteen-nineties—have tended to be formidable and forbidding. Pandit affects a down-to-earth demeanor. He offered me a cup of coffee and insisted that I sit on a comfortable upholstered chair while he perched on a cheap plastic one. I asked him if he saw any irony in Citi being commended for asset building. His eyes widened slightly. 'Well,' he said, 'the award we are receiving is for fifteen years of work. It was work that was pioneered by Citi to get more financial inclusion. And it’s part of a broader reform effort we are involved in under the heading of responsible banking.' Since Pandit took over, this effort has involved selling or closing down some of Citi’s riskier trading businesses, including the hedge fund that he used to run; splitting off the company’s most foul-smelling assets into a separate entity, Citi Holdings; and cutting the pay of some senior executives. For 2009 and 2010, Pandit took an annual salary of one dollar and no bonus. (He didn’t, however, give back any of the money from the sale of his hedge fund.) 'This is an apprenticeship industry,' he said to me. 'People learn from the people above them, and they copy the actions of the people above them. If you start from the top by acting responsibly, people will see and learn.' Barely two years after Wall Street’s recklessness brought the global economy to the brink of collapse, the sight of a senior Wall Street figure talking about responsible finance may well strike you as suspicious." (TheNewYorker)

"The freeze is over! At least for buyers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. During a week in which last year’s crop (including Winter’s Bone, Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, and nearly all the nominated documentaries) earned a total of fourteen Oscar nominations, at least 21 films have sold at this year’s festival—the best record in years. The sluggish buying of 2010 turned into daily deals, with two of the biggest courtesy of the Weinsteins, who paid upward of $6 million for My Idiot Brother (with Paul Rudd) and $8 million for the dark comedy The Details (starring Tobey Maguire). The festival is known for breaking stars, and this year was no exception, with many appearing in more than one film: There were the requisite ingenues (particularly Elizabeth Olsen, younger sibling of those twins), and so many green feature filmmakers (thanks to festival founder Robert Redford’s insistence on new talent) that Fox Searchlight bought films by three—Mike Cahill, T. Sean Durkin, and Gavin Wiesen. Favored veterans returned, like writer-director Miranda July." (NYMag)

"This year is my 10th trudge up the 'Magic Mountain' to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. I'm not Dmitry Medvedev, Bill Gates, or Jamie Dimon -- all of whom were visible in the Congress Center corridors today -- but like them, if it wasn't worthwhile to be here, I wouldn't be. The critics who dismiss Davos as a waste of time are often those who were either not invited or not interested in making a contribution to anything beyond their own bottom line. But with the G-20 far less than the sum of its parts and the U.S.-China G-2 more a boxing match than lovers' embrace, Davos represents a fluid yet far more inclusive and flexible forum for global actors to meet and cooperate. This year at the WEF, there has been very little back-patting -- even by the Wall Street bankers whose profits are soaring again. Instead, the mood is cautious, yet not quite gloomy. In fact, Wall Street has little to do with the underlying story that Davos really captures today: the globalization of globalization. At a breakfast session on the future of the global economy on Thursday morning in the stately Belvédère Hotel that overlooks the village, there wasn't a single North American accent on the stage, but no one seemed to notice. Gao Xiqing, president of the China Investment Corporation; Juan Carlos Echeverry, Colombia's finance minister; and other figures from what used to be called the 'global south' were all busy pointing to the ways in which trade across emerging markets -- between Latin America and the Middle East, Africa and India, China and Latin America -- is growing at double-digit rates. Commodities, consumer products, and construction services are all crossing the oceans at record rates, just a couple of years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression." (PARAG KHANNA)

"That vision of Israel was in evidence at a dinner (New Republic editor Marty) Peretz held later that evening at a posh kosher restaurant. There was a filmmaker, a writer, the wife of a bureau chief and a philosopher. Peretz sat in the place of honor. When table talk splintered, he shouted, 'One conversation!' The banter was lively and civil except when someone pointed out that Lady Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, was dining nearby with Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister. 'She’s a fool,' said Peretz, who derided her efforts to persuade Israel to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. He arched his unruly white eyebrows. 'I once wrote that she was ugly. Some thought that was sexist.' The table spoke up. 'Marty, that is sexist.' Peretz grinned like a juvenile delinquent." (NYTimes)

Friday, January 28, 2011

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Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.  Al Jazeera has been widely hailed for helping enable the revolt in Tunisia with its galvanizing early reports, even as Western-aligned political factions in Lebanon and the West Bank attacked and burned the channel’s offices and vans this week, accusing it of incitement against them.  In many ways, it is Al Jazeera’s moment — not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago." (NYTimes)

"Perhaps the snow storm on the East Coast will make matters even better. Industry folks hoping to get back to New York City were stranded at Sundance. In fact, I chatted with one buyer who flew halfway to New York yesterday, only to return to Salt Lake City because of the big storm in NYC. He headed back to Park City last night to hang out at an impromptu IFC Films gathering at a Main St. pub. Buyers and sellers were buzzing at the bar last night, bolstered by the boost in sales that has reportedly seen more than two dozen deals according another Tweet. I’m not tracking pacts this year being that I’ve left the daily biz beat, but hanging out with industry folks last night the buzz about the buying was hard to ignore. IFC Films, Sony Classics and Magnolia have been the big buyers at fests in recent years, but now deals are coming from the big guys again. Fox Searchlight made a number of deals for indies that might have gone to a smaller company just last year, including 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' and 'Another Earth.' Paramount even got in on the action, quickly nabbing a Sundance movie. Meanwhile, Magnolia has been active, besting other buyers to get popular doc, 'Page One.' Last year’s breakthrough docs from Sundance were the Joan Rivers movie from IFC Films and Banksy’s 'Exit Through The Gift Shop,' which was self-released by seller John Sloss. This year it’s 'Page One' with rock star journo David Carr in the spotlight. The New York Observer has already branded him this year’s Sundance ingenue, handing him the mantle carried for a year by 'Winter’s Bone' star Jennifer Lawrence." (IndieWIRE)

"About fifteen years ago I received a very polite letter from Belgium asking me to list three of the most pompous and self-important people in the UK. It came with a self-addressed return envelope and stamp. The writer was known as l’entarteur, a man who would approach the pompous and vainglorious and shove a pie in their face. He would never insult the victims nor use foul language—in fact, he always remained silent—and he assured me in his letter that he used only the finest ingredients and freshest milk in his pies. The first potential target who came to my mind was Edward Heath, but I immediately took his name off the list. Heath was too bloated, his face too red, and the last thing I wished was for him to have a stroke while covered in a lemon-meringue pie. L’entarteur agreed, and we started a lively correspondence. One of the candidates I submitted was not a Brit, but Algerian-born Frog Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom my Belgian buddy had already pelted with pies on at least three occasions. Four is a good round number, suggested yours truly. One month later at the airport in Nice Lévy got blasted by l’entarteur like never before. The pie was giant size, and the cream made him look like a Yeti while he fumbled around and screamed bloody murder. Then les gendarmes interfered and arrested my friend, who offered no resistance. One thing the onlookers noticed was that the fuzz had trouble making the arrest because they were laughing so hard." (Taki)

"It was one of those nights in Paris when a body was spoiled for choice. The first stops on the itinerary: drinks with Van Cleef & Arpels early in the evening, then a celebration of Gucci's remodeled store on the Rue Royale. Beauties galore turned out to support the Italian house's creative director, Frida Giannini: Diane Kruger, Jessica Alba, Laetitia Casta, Tali Lennox, and the stupendous Gemma Arterton, who wants all of you to watch her movie, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, because it is quite possibly the most powerful film no one has ever seen ...While Carine Roitfeld was hosting Giannini and co. at the Italian embassy, Ella Krasner and "cultural diplomacy festival organization" Liberatum were busy honoring a decade of Another Magazine. Le Stresa provided the backdrop, and as it's a restaurant with a lot of happy memories for a lot of people, the evening was awash with good vibes. Proof that Another's Jefferson Hack effortlessly straddles worlds could be found in a guest list that included Daphne Guinness, Rick Owens, Stephen Jones, Riccardo Tisci, Amanda Eliasch, and late arrival Marianne Faithfull. Even later came Kate Moss, delivered safely by Suzy Menkes after the Gucci dinner." (Style)

"Mary Erdoes has a good point about the World Economic Forum at Davos's rule about upping the number of females in attendance. Erdoes, Jamie Dimon's superstar head of JPMorgan's Asset Management team, is at Davos with the CEO and both spoke to CNBC about the economy and the rule about women at Davos this morning. The rule says that any company that buys 5 tickets has to buy one of them for a woman. So if you're JPMorgan and you buy 10 tickets, at least 2 people have to be women." (Businessinsider)

"Last night. I went down to Le Cirque to dine with Margo Howard who is in from Boston or Florida and doing something on GMA. Margo, the progeny of Eppie Lederer, known to the world as Ann Landers, has an advice column in It’s a chip off the old block and fun but interesting. Margo lives in Cambridge now, married to her third husband (her second was actor Ken Howard). She grew up in Chicago but came out this way to go to Brandeis. This is a kind of return to her old stomping ground. She’s also lived in Malibu, in Washington and in New York and she likes people, so she knows a lot of them. Her mother was like that. I saw her many times at dinner at Edie Goetz’s in Holmby Hills. I was surprised to learn how connected Eppie Lederer was. There is a 'strata' of this world I write about where the Degree of Separation is brief – one or two degrees. Truman Capote once estimated that there are about 5000 people who all know each other or knows someone who knows each other. And with not a few show business and other professional types added in. Most of these people are famous only to each other although fame is always intriguing and some people use their fame very shrewdly. Eppie Lederer was one of those, which is surprising considering the nature of her journalistic work which seemed 'light.'" (NYSocialDiary)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Cairo on the morning of January 25 felt like something of a ghost town. Few civilians were to be found on the streets, most stores were shuttered, and the typically heaving downtown was deserted. It was a national holiday, and in the central town square, named Tahrir, or Liberation, even cars were scarce, and parking spaces—always sparse—were in abundance. The only conspicuous presence was that of Egypt’s police and state security. Rows of their box-shaped olive-green trucks lined thoroughfares and narrow side-streets, in some cases blocking them off for miles. Beside them were battered cobalt blue trucks—the ones used to whisk away prisoners and detainees. Throughout the downtown area and in neighboring districts, police and informants (easily identified by their loitering presence, darting eyes, and frequent two-second phone calls) were gathered around the otherwise empty major arteries of the city. Hundreds of them. Many wore black cargo pants, bush jackets and clunky army boots. Many more were in plain clothes—standing on street corners, at calculated intervals on sidewalks, in building entrances, on bridges, and in the few cafes open on a day when almost everything was closed ... We stayed for a few minutes, watching the crowd gathering, spotting CNN’s Ben Wedeman and an entourage of foreign press. But tweets and text messages were coming through about escalating tensions in Shubra—a working class district in the center of the city known as a stronghold of the Coptic Christian community. The neighborhood was still reeling from the New Year’s eve attack on a church in Alexandria, to which it had close ties. My friend called another friend, Mohamed Waked, an anthropologist and seasoned activist. He would join us, along with his brother, Amr, an actor who appeared in the film Syriana." (NYRB)

"Adam Dell has gone to court to fight Padma Lakshmi for custody of their 11- month-old baby, Krishna, with sources claiming he now gets just seven hours with his daughter a week. Dell, 41, brother of billionaire Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell, last night filed a suit in Manhattan Supreme Court asking for full custody of Krishna, born last Feb. 20. Venture capitalist Dell is frustrated the 'Top Chef' host, 40, has allegedly failed to respond to his pleas for more time with Krishna. His lawyer, Bill Zabel, confirmed the filing and told us in a statement: 'Adam Dell, above all else, wants to have an active and substantial role in the upbringing of his daughter with Padma Lakshmi. Unfortunately, Ms. Lakshmi has severely limited his time with their daughter and has refused to negotiate a reasonable co-parenting agreement. Mr. Dell has tried his best to avoid going to court, but Ms. Lakshmi has given him no other choice at this time.'" (PageSix)

"On July 17, 2009, the American Ambassador in Tunisia, Robert F. Godec, dined at the beachfront mansion of Mohamed Sakher El Materi, a member of the country’s ruling family. The home displayed Roman columns, frescoes, and a stone lion’s head spouting water into an infinity pool. A live caged tiger on the grounds 'consumes four chickens a day,' Godec noted, in a secret cable to Washington. His host’s pet reminded him 'of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.' WikiLeaks published Godec’s report early last December, alongside other acid accounts from the U.S. Embassy about the abuse of power in the court of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the leader of Tunisia for more than two decades. 'Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants,' Godec wrote. 'Corruption . . . is the problem everyone knows about, but no one can publicly acknowledge.'" (The NewYorker)

"With the release of Mark Wahlberg's The Fighter, a little redheaded boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, named Micky Ward has returned from the backs of our minds, has surfaced out of our memory banks. Back in 2004, I played exactly three holes of golf with Ward and Arturo Gatti, the two lionhearts having become great friends and golfing buddies after their trilogy of epic, brutal fights, culminating with a punishing ten-rounder that retired Ward on June 7, 2003. The night before our golf date, we'd gone out for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Vero Beach, Florida, where Gatti had set up his latest fight camp. Ward had flown in for a visit. They were great company, funny and profane and monstrous. They shoveled back pasta and laughed while they catalogued the scars they had given each other. 'I call it my Micky Ward lump,' Gatti said, lifting his shirt to reveal the knot of tissue just under his rib cage that was a souvenir from his first fight with Ward. There aren't many men who can punch another man hard enough to make a cyst." (Esquire)

"Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, did not take kindly to Vanity Fair’s report yesterday that he allegedly tried to link the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi with an end to former prisoners in Scottish jails being able to sue his government for damages because they had been forced to 'slop out'—to use buckets in their cells instead of toilets. These lawsuits—which the U.K. government did indeed agree to limit some months after Mr. Salmond spoke to U.K. justice secretary Jack Straw—had already cost many millions of pounds. American reaction was more supportive. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who last year led an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee into al-Megrahi’s release, called the Vanity Fair article a 'blockbuster,' adding: 'The Scottish government’s repeated denials, even when confronted by specific and compelling evidence, get more ludicrous by the day. It is time that they and the other governments involved adopt the recommendations laid out in our Senate report, launch independent investigations into the matter and put the wheels in motion to return al-Megrahi to prison.' Our reporting about the slopping-out linkage was derived from interviews with a senior U.K. official who had direct knowledge of phone conversations between Messrs. Straw and Salmond." (Vanity Fair)

"It’s day two at Sundance and we have another round of films that OWN should be all over, as they were all fronted by strong female performances. Most importantly, I was FINALLY able to screen the films of V Magazine’s 'Discovery' talents (featured in the Spring Preview Issue 69, currently on stands) and they made us proud! Elizabeth Olsen has inherited this year’s ‘it girl’ status, a crown bestowed upon cover girl Gabby Sidibe, Jennifer Lawrence and Carey Mulligan in recent years, while Ezra Miller stole the spotlight from a starry cast that featured Ellen Barkin, Kate Bosworth, and Demi Moore." (Vmagazine)

"An emergency fund is the answer to the euro's missing element, said billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros in a interview Wednesday on CNBC television from Davos, Switzerland. What had been the missing ingredient to the euro's success was a common Treasury, Soros said, which is the role the emergency fund essentially has come to play. Now the unsolved issue remains a 'two-speed' Europe, where the economic development of its nations is occurring at very different speeds, he said. In the U.S., Soros said once the Federal Reserve ends its quantitative easing program, interest rates will rise and should choke off the nation's path toward recovery. The U.S. municipal bond market has come under strain recently as investors question state and local governments' financial health. 'I would be very careful with muni bonds,' Soros said. As for his own involvement in the markets, Soros said he has retired and is no longer investing.." (WSJ)