Saturday, January 31, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is pictured. | AP Photo

"Mitt Romney decided last weekend that he would not run for president a third time in 2016. But even minutes before his Friday announcement, several of his former top aides were held in suspense, some as convinced he was in as others were adamant he was out. All week, the 2012 GOP nominee looked and sounded like a candidate. On a Sunday night conference call with advisers, Romney talked through the steps he was taking toward getting in. On a campaign-style trip to Mississippi, he stopped by a barbeque joint, gladhanding customers, before taking jabs at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during a speech at a state university. All the while, he and his wife Ann were praying as they came to terms with the choice to recede from the national political scene. There was no one moment or factor that changed the Republican’s mind, according to interviews with more than a dozen people who have been in touch with Romney since he announced to a group of donors early this month that he was seriously interested in a 2016 bid. It was, by all accounts, a gradual process.
A clear-eyed Romney approached the deliberations like the former Bain Capital executive he is, encouraged by the warm response he got on the campaign trail in 2014 but fully aware of the difficult path forward and the indignities that come with running for president. The return of jokes and columns about Romney putting his dog Seamus on the roof of a car during a decades-ago family vacation exasperated him, for example. In more candid moments of self-doubt, he worried that he might not wind up being the party’s best hope of beating Hillary Clinton – and thought about the stigma that would come with losing two national elections in a row. 'Today indicates a strong level of self-awareness,' said someone who has worked for Romney in a senior role. 'He did a gut check, and it just wasn’t there,' said another. 'It’s not like in 2012 where you have to run to save the country from these clowns,' a third person said, referring to the less-than-stellar GOP field four years ago. 'There are serious people in this race.' 'When you make the decision to run for president, you really have to want it with every fiber of your being,' added a fourth person, one of his closest confidantes. 'And Mitt thought it was time to let new leaders emerge from the field and carry the banner forward. It was a form of duty that he felt to his party.'" (Politico)

"There was a love fest going on inside the publicist Kari Feinstein’s Sundance Style Lounge. Like the dozens of gifting suites that popped up along Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival last week, this one was filled with freebies: leather boots, knitted hats, portable cellphone chargers and, perhaps most outlandishly, a three-night, all-expenses-paid trip to Aruba, valued at $10,000. Justine Ezarik struggled to take it all in. 'It’s always so weird: They’re like, ‘No, it’s O.K., you can keep it,’ and I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ ' she said, eyes bright and voice bubbly as she bounced from booth to booth. Ms. Ezarik, 30, is better known as iJustine, an Internet personality and avid gamer who has more than seven million fans across YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. (What made her famous: a 2007 video about her 300-page iPhone bill.) A tweet or hashtag from her could mean hundreds of new followers for a brand and — here’s where the love fest comes in — she’s happy to oblige. 'I love products, and I love sharing if I love something,' she said. 'Like, you can probably guarantee that it’s going to be posted, especially if I love it.' Imagine Jennifer Aniston saying that. For more than a decade, gifting suites have been a fixture at Sundance and other celebrity-filled events as a way for public relations firms and their clients to get brands in the hands of the famous. Celebrities have been known to walk away with tens of thousands of dollars of free stuff, from leather handbags to bottled water. Now these swag suites, formerly accessible to A-list Hollywood stars (and, sometimes, D-list reality show ones), actively court social media personalities and their followers. These Instagrammers, Viners, YouTubers, vloggers and bloggers appeal to brands by posting photos of their products, tagging them with the appropriate hashtags like #MooseOnTheLoose (for the Canadian clothing brand Moose Knuckles) and integrating the swag — to use a favorite word — in an 'authentic' way." (NYT)

John and Jana Scarpa with Mary and Mark Freitas

"The 2015 Policemen's Ball, the Palm Beach Police Foundation's annual fundraiser, met a million dollar milestone, breaking its previous fund raising records.  Secret Agent 007, aka James Bond, and a cast of heroes, villains and vixens recently descended on Mar-a-Lago, replete with signature Bond elements that were cleverly incorporated by event designer, Tom Mathieu, who set the scene for the gala that paid tribute to Palm Beach Police Department's men and women in blue and its civilian employees. Mary and Mark Freitas served as the Dinner Chairmen, and Annie and Michael Falk served as Honorary Chairmen, all for the second year.  More than 600 supporters, friends, police officers and employees from the Palm Beach Police Department, along with Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio and nearly all Palm Beach Town Council members, attended and were entertained by the  popular dance band, Soul Survivor." (NYSD)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

The new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, is not a stranger to the danger Iran poses to his country
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud looks on as he attends 12th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on February 6, 2013, in Cairo. (Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/Getty Images).

"Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2010, Saudi Arabia has been hedging. Actually, deferring is the word. The Saudis have deferred to American leadership in places like Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, though they have repeatedly been shocked by that leadership. They may not be willing to defer much longer. King Abdullah, now departed, had a long history with the United States. He was remembered as 'a dear friend and partner' of the first President Bush, who praised him and their alliance against Saddam’s Iraq in a statement released on Thursday. Abdullah had been Crown Prince and commander of the National Guard when the Kingdom made its crucial, history-altering decision to ask America for assistance during the first Gulf War. Deserts Shield and Storm followed, and the US-Saudi security partnership was soldiered into the emerging post-Cold War order. It was also an anti-Iran order, by implication or design. And the basic element of that Brave New Middle East was that America leads. The Saudis can pay, fuel, feed, and in some cases fight, but America leads.
The new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, is not a stranger to the danger Iran poses to his country. He became Defense Minister at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, during a particularly infelicitous half-decade to be involved in his country’s security issues. He’s also 79, with the reputation of a diplomat, so it may well be that his last lessons are less significant than his first ones, as governor of Riyadh. We should hope so. Because it’s not clear that he is willing to defer endlessly to American leadership; the last five years, surely, have made it very much not clear that deferring works. It hasn’t worked in Yemen, where the President just quit under the guns of a Shiite militia, and it certainly hasn’t worked in Egypt, Lebanon, or Syria. In fact, the only positive thing to say about the Syrian debacle is that no major Sunni state has thrown in with the radical Islamic opposition. Qatar flirted with them, in its coquettish, neutralist way, but nobody’s gone over whole hog. Which is fortunate, particularly since those states are locked into a mortal struggle with Iran and absolutely committed to Assad’s removal. One of the great strategic risks of Inherent Resolve, the campaign against ISIS, was that was Saudi Arabia and its partners would grow tired of the US prevaricating about Assad and Iran and take matters into their own hands." (Observer)

"One success of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Programme became public in 1999, after agents trained by Mr Navarro noticed the curious non-verbal cues of a Russian diplomat. A probe led to the discovery of a bug at the State Department. Nearly all federal security agencies now study body language, says Mr Navarro. For example, since 2009 a Pentagon think-tank called the Office of Net Assessment has spent roughly $300,000 a year on interpreting the body language of foreign leaders, says Valerie Henderson, a spokeswoman. The Body Leads Project has subjected Osama bin Laden and a dozen leaders of potentially hostile nations to what it calls 'movement-pattern analysis'. It takes a good 20 hours to understand 30 minutes of video, says Martha Davis, a former consultant to an American defence contractor. It is not as simple as seeing that someone is fidgeting and concluding that he is lying. Rather, the trick is to spot statements that deserve extra scrutiny, such as a denial made while shaking one’s head a moment longer than usual, she says. Critics caution that movements can be rehearsed to mislead. But involuntary 'micro-expressions'—which may last no longer than 1/25th of a second—often reveal concealed emotions, says Paul Ekman of the Paul Ekman Group, a body-language consultancy in California. His clients include the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism division, intelligence agencies and special forces who may need, he says, to know whether the captured survivors of a firefight are telling the truth when interrogated. Each micro-expression’s meaning isn’t always clear, however. The face of a man about to detonate a suicide-belt resembles that of a man who fears he has left home with the stove on, Mr Ekman says." (Economist)

"Catching up; out on the other Coast, in LA last Thursday night our friends at Doyle New York hosted a launch party of their new Beverly Hills office at the Peninsula. Doyle’s Chairman and CEO Kathleen Doyle, and the firm’s new Director of California Operations Nan Summerfield, greeted more than 300 guests including Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity interior designers Mary McDonald, Nathan Turner, David Netto and Hutton Wilkinson. Also joining in the festivities were Kimm and Alessandro Uzielli, Diane Deshong, Lionel Ephraim, Jeffrey Herr, Greg Rivera, Andy Milonakis and contemporary artists Gregory Siff, Bert Rodriguez and David Cook." (NYSD)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

Burning vehicles near the village of Ghajar, on the Israeli border with Lebanon, after a missile attack on an Israeli military convoy by Hezbollah. Credit Maruf Khatib/Reuters

"Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven wounded in a missile attack Wednesday on a military convoy in a disputed area along the Lebanese border, Israel said, in the most serious flare-up in the area in years. Hezbollah claimed responsibility. The attack raised the risk of a further escalation between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that is one of Israel’s most tenacious enemies. The two sides lobbed rockets and artillery at each other for hours afterward. Hezbollah, which had vowed to avenge a deadly Israeli strike on its fighters earlier this month, said in a statement that its Quneitra Martyrs Brigade had carried out the missile strike at 11:35 a.m. The attack was the latest in a string of recent events along Israel’s northern frontiers that have sharply escalated tensions between Israel and Hezbollah after a prolonged period of relative calm since the last war between them in 2006. About an hour after the initial attack on the convoy, several mortar shells were fired at Israeli military positions in the border area and on Mount Hermon in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, without causing injury." (NYT)

David Koch, executive vice president of chemical technology for Koch Industries Inc. is pictured. | Getty

"The Koch brothers’ conservative network is still debating whether it will spend any of its massive $889 million budget in the Republican presidential primaries, but the prospect of choosing a GOP nominee loomed over the network’s just-concluded donor conference in the California desert. In an informal straw poll of some conference donors, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida came out ahead of four other would-be GOP presidential candidates who had been invited, according to an attendee familiar with the results. The poll was conducted by Frank Luntz, a veteran GOP pollster, during a break-out session of the conference, which wrapped up Tuesday after a long weekend of presentations and discussions at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — who received the least enthusiastic response from donors during a Sunday night forum of prospective candidates that also featured Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — finished last in Luntz’s poll, the source told POLITICO. The poll is by no means a definitive assessment of the feelings of the hundreds of wealthy business leaders who comprise the vaunted network created by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. But it does provide an early glimpse into the leanings of a pool of megadonors who are being hotly courted by the field of would-be candidates, and whose checkbooks could go a long way toward determining who emerges with the GOP nomination — regardless of whether the Koch network decides to formally back a candidate." (POLITICO)

"On graduation, many members of America’s future elite will head for the law firms, banks and consultancies where starting salaries are highest. Lauren Rivera of Kellogg School of Management interviewed 120 people charged with hiring in these sectors for a forthcoming book. She found that though they did not set out to recruit students from wealthy backgrounds, the companies had a penchant for graduates who had been to well-known universities and played varsity sports (lacrosse correlates with success particularly well). The result was a graduate intake that included people with skin of every shade but rarely anyone with parents who worked blue-collar jobs. 'When we are asked to identify merit,' explains Ms Rivera, 'we tend to find people like ourselves.' Something similar has happened in corner offices of America’s biggest companies. As computing power has increased and clerical jobs have been automated, the distance between the shop floor and executive positions has increased. It was never common for people to start at the bottom and work their way to the top. Now it is close to impossible. Research by Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, and his colleagues has shown how in the second half of the 20th century a corporate elite where family networks and religion mattered most was replaced by one whose members required an MBA or similar qualification from a business school. This makes the managers better qualified. It also means they are the product of a serial filtering that has winnowed their numbers at school, college and work before they get their MBAs. More than 50 years ago Michael Young warned that the incipient meritocracy to which he had given a name could be as narrow and pernicious, in its way, as aristocracies of old." (TheEconomist)

Courtney Love reveals heroin use during pregnancy

"'KURT COBAIN: Montage of Heck' is the first family-authorized documentary about the life of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, taking audiences inside the mind of the talented and troubled musician. 'In 2007 got a call from Courtney [Love, his wife] who wanted a film that went beyond the music. The journey started there. But I made this for Frances [Bean Cobain, the couple’s daughter]. She gave me the keys to go and make the film,' director Brett Morgen told FOX411. 'If you come to the movie thinking that you are going to see the story of Nirvana, you are only going to be sorely disappointed. This is the Kurt Cobain story.' Bean, 22, served as executive producer on the film, offering up very personal Super 8 footage of her early months being raised by rock-star parents devoted to their daughter while struggling with drug addiction. At one point in the film, Love admits that she used heroin while pregnant. 'I used it once, then stopped,' Love said. 'I knew she would be fine.'" (PageSix)

Barbara at Swifty's after being presented her birthday cake, with Stephen Holden looking on.

"Nevertheless, early afternoon, I went to a luncheon that Lisa Schiff gave for our friend Barbara Carroll, the jazz pianist who turned 90 on Sunday. It was a complete surprise. Barbara thought she was having lunch with just Lisa, and because of the weather she wasn’t certain she’d be able to make it. There were eight of us including the birthday girl and her husband Mark Stroock and Stephen Holden, the music, theatre and film critic for the New York Times, Ann Dewey, Lisa Schiff’s sister; Marti Stevens, Joy Ingham, and Deborah Grace Winer, the artistic director of the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists program. The last to arrive was Barbara’s husband because he went along with the 'story' that Barbara was having a lunch with just Lisa, so he had to wait until she left the apartment before he could leave. Barbara and I have been friends for thirty years. We met through another Lisa – Lisa Drew – who was the editor on the book I wrote for Debbie Reynolds. Lisa had come out to California to work on editing the manuscript with me and Debbie. Barbara, coincidentally at the time was playing a gig at the old Westwood Marquis Hotel and Lisa and I went to see her. She was a girl from Worcester, Massachusetts, Barbara Carole Coopersmith who first came to New York in the late 1940s to pursue a career as a jazz pianist.  She’d begun her classical piano training at age eight but by the time she was in high school she wanted to be a jazz pianist. She attended the New England Conservatory.  As a kid her idols were Nat Cole, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. By the time she was fifteen she  formed her own trio which played at school dances, an enterprise that gave her enough money to study at the Conservatory." (NYSD)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, the 53-year-old half-brother of 67-year-old ruler Sheikh Khalifa, and the son of the country’s founder, has been de facto ruler for about five years.                      
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates,

"When the Saudi king was laid to rest on Friday, two aging Gulf leaders were notably absent from the funeral—the heads of the United Arab Emirates and the sultanate of Oman. With both men reported to be ailing, the prospect of their deaths could inject more instability into the Middle East at a time when Yemen—home to al Qaeda’s most dangerous offshoot—is in political upheaval and the extremist group Islamic State remains in control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. Amid the turmoil of the past few years, each Gulf country has been carving out its own distinct foreign-policy path.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said weren’t in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Friday for the funeral of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Both rulers are ill and have had surgery in the past year, as did Kuwait’s 85-year-old ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, according to government news agencies and local media reports. The U.A.E., Kuwait and Oman are all strong allies of the U.S. Oman has mediated in nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran. The U.A.E., alongside four other Arab countries, has helped the American-led international coalition carry out airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State targets in recent months. 'Succession issues in the region are being handled even more carefully than before because of the upheavals going on,' said Andrew Hammond, a Middle East policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. President Barack Obama ’s decision to fly to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to pay respects to the royal family—cutting short a visit to India—reflects global concerns about succession, Mr. Hammond added. In a bid to project stability, Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, on Friday appointed his 55-year-old nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince, putting him second in line to the throne. It was the first time that a grandson of the country’s founder—who had 36 sons—was added to the line of succession. The appointment has quieted speculation and concerns that choosing a successor from the royal family’s younger generation could usher in a power struggle between the grandsons of the founder." (WSJ)

Screenshot 2015-01-26 12.45.46
Economist Intelligence Unit, BBC

"It may seem ironic that Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's extreme right Front National, rooted for the extreme left Syriza in yesterday's Greek election and rejoiced at its landslide victory. Yet there's nothing unusual about it: Syriza, Front National and other European anti-establishment parties are partners in a political revolution that appears to be about to sweep the continent, giving back the original meaning to political terms such as 'left' and 'right' -- and helping Russian President Vladimir Putin in the process. For much of the post-World War II era, European nations have been ruled by two-party systems, in which a center-right and a center-left political force alternated at the helm. In France, it was the Gaullist center-right party (now known as the UMP) and the socialists, in Germany the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), in the U.K. the Conservative and Labor parties, in Spain the People's Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, and in Greece New Democracy and the socialist PASOK. As they fought their increasingly ritual political battles, they came to be almost identical in their policies -- at least as far as voters were concerned. Francois Hollande's socialist government is now so pro-business, its reform proposals are wholeheartedly backed by the national employers' association. Angela Merkel's CDU evidently feels quite comfortable in a coalition with SPD. When the Labor party last ruled in the U.K., it was almost indistinguishable politically from the Conservatives.  In these countries and throughout Europe, the convergence of centrist parties into a kind of colorless sludge has led to huge decreases in party membership" (Bloomberg)

"LAST Thursday, Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York Assembly for the past 20 years, was arrested and charged with mail and wire fraud, extortion and receiving bribes. According to Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who brought the charges, the once seemingly untouchable Mr. Silver took millions of dollars for legal work he did not do. In exchange, he used his official power to steer business to a law firm that specialized in getting tax breaks for real estate developers, and he directed state funds to a doctor who referred cases to another law firm that paid Mr. Silver fees. Albany is reeling, but fighting the kind of corruption that plagues not only New York State but the whole nation isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. As with the recent conviction of the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for receiving improper gifts and loans, a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system. Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy." (ZephyrTeachout)

Sen. Rand Paul Speaks To The Detroit Economic Club
Sen. Rand Paul speaks with the news media after delivering a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Dec. 6, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

"Foreign policy fissures were on full display among three likely GOP presidential hopefuls at the first unofficial forum of the 2016 cycle. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) took the stage late Sunday evening at the California winter meeting of Freedom Partners, a conservative, free-market group aligned with Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch.During the 90-minute debate-style panel, moderated by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, there was little difference between the trio on fiscal issues. But on questions of international relations, the senators’ disagreements were stark and often heated — underscoring the foreign policy experience the lawmakers, as opposed to the party’s governors, would bring to the 2016 conversation. Cruz and Rubio — both the sons of Cuban immigrants who fled the country’s oppressive regime — were steadfast in their opposition to President Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba. But Paul didn’t back away from his support for the steps, saying it would open up opportunities for trade, and even reiterated his opposition to sanctions against Iran. Cruz, who said his father was 'imprisoned and tortured” in the country, said Obama’s deal followed a pattern in which he 'consistently alienated and abandoned our friends and appeased our enemies.' He argued that normalizing relations would “result in billions more for the Castro regime' and make it less likely that Cuba would become a Democratic ally.
Rubio said the Cuba deal was poorly negotiated, many of the dissidents that Castro agreed to free having been either free already or rearrested since. Paul, meanwhile, argued that the 50-year embargo hasn’t worked and that the U.S. has relations with countless regimes that are similarly guilty of human rights violations. In an ironic twist, it’s Paul who has accused his Republican counterparts of 'isolationism' on the issue of Cuba — a charge usually leveled at the Kentucky senator and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Paul also split from Cruz and Rubio on Iran, where he said increasing sanctions would only lead the country to withdraw further from the international community and make it more likely that an international conflict would erupt. 'The place has been a mess for 1,000 years, you have to think about what the practical results will be of not negotiating,' he said.Rubio, meanwhile, thundered that current U.S. sanctions were doing nothing to curb Iran’s moves to enrich uranium and that at this pace, 'in five years we’re going to build the bomb for them.' 'Nothing should ever be off the table,' including the possibility of military strikes, Rubio said.
Cruz agreed, saying that Iran’s leadership was made up of 'radical Islamic nutcases' and that stopping 'the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism' required 'more stick and less carrot.' Rubio may have done the most to boost his presidential chances with his performance, even though it’s very early in the presidential testing game. The Florida senator must decide whether to run for reelection to his Senate seat or take a gamble in a growing White House field. " (TheHill)

"Last Thursday night at the Park Avenue Armory was the Opening Night Party of the Winter Antiques Show to benefit the East Side House Settlement. WAS, as some are now calling it, marks the beginning of the social season that will now extend until late May when people start preparing for summer (and many leaving the city whenever they can). The evening’s co-chairs were Lucinda Ballard, Arie Kopelman and Michael Lynch. Arie Kopelman, now retired President of Chanel US, has been at the center of producing this Opening Night for many years, and has been a hands-on contributor to its successes. The Opening Night Party Chair was Kathleen Tierney, Executive Vice President and COO of Chubb Personal Insurance. The East Side House Settlement was established 124 years ago in 1891 as a non-profit community service organization. The 'settlement houses,' of which there are several in the greater New York area, were all founded to assist newcomers (immigrants) and the poor in the neighborhoods. They are the glue to a cohesive community that moves and grows in every direction by leaps and bounds in the city called New York." (NYSD)

"David Wolkowsky’s annual party was the usual roaring success with the best of Key West from the artists and authors and poets to the elite conchs with streets named after them. And of course there are the ‘guests’ who have never received a cream colored embossed invitation in the handwritten matching envelope, but they crash the party each year. David notices everything. I, on the other hand, notice very little these days as I’m in the middle of swimming across the Atlantic Ocean, metaphorically speaking. Only two reasons are good enough for me to tear away from my current project, one being anytime David Wolkowsky calls, and the second being anytime Xperimento perform at the Green Parrot, the Ozymandias of watering holes. Another not on David’s party guest list is the new most popular personality in town. This personality has their own Facebook page and ‘friend requests’ are blowing up. This fresh personality can reliably be found outside the Green Parrot. To be precise, directly across the street. Because it is a bench, it is the bench outside the Court House Deli. This bench by day hosts coffee drinkers and newspaper readers and by night it hosts stringy strung-out hippies and snoozing drunks. Some nights it is host to me and pals with parrots, for chatting smoking drinking laughing. One local told me, 'I post on the Bench’s Facebook wall if I’m coming out, so it’s like a date!'" (Christina Oxenberg)

There’s No Justice

"I had a short chat with BBC Radio concerning the actor Jack Nicholson, whom I knew slightly during the 70s and 80s. Alas, it had to do with age, his and mine, 77 and 78 respectively. No, the man on the other side of the telephone did not ask me anything embarrassing. All he wanted to know was: Do women still come on to an oldie, or are they, as Jack Nicholson claims, a thing of the past? Well, for starters, I do not believe that Nicholson is telling the truth, that he’s now alone and fears he will die alone because women have abandoned a sinking ship. He has a sense of decorum, and knows how ridiculous a man our age sounds when talking about women, especially younger women, something Jack and Taki have in common. Jack Nicholson has been chasing beautiful women all his life and will continue to do so up to the moment the man in the white suit pays him a visit. And that goes for me also, except that his fame and celebrity status give him an unfair advantage over the poor little unknown Greek boy ... And speaking of Hollywood, the number one producer in the world swept through Gstaad like a tsunami, and I took him up to the Eagle Club, where he was a great hit. Harvey Weinstein produces the only films that are watchable nowadays. No science fiction, no flesh-eating robots, no creatures from other planets that enter earthly bodies, none of that crap. He arrived with his very pretty and very well-mannered, fashion designer English wife; five children; and his mother-in-law, Caroline. Harvey previewed The Imitation Game for us, a wonderful movie that has both its stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, plus a host of others nominated for Oscars. I hope it wins for both best actor as well as director because it truly deserves it." (Taki)

"Moving day, so great to be back in that magnificent house."

"Some of the news of the week from Washington again had to do with France, but this time in a happier way. After being closed for a full two years for an extensive renovation, the French reopened the Tudor-style Kalorama mansion that has been home to the nation's ambassadors since the 1930s. A member of the staff posted a photo on Facebook with the message, 'Moving day, so great to be back in that magnificent house.' The repair work was principally behind the scenes and probably won't be apparent to visitors because it focused on issues of leaks, mold and asbestos. The redone public rooms may look familiar. The happiest about the reopening may be the new French Ambassador Gerard Araud, who when he landed here in September made it clear to anyone he met that he was eager to get the work done and lay claim to the fabled home. The city's many fans of France were eager, too. During the repair project the ambassador (Francois Delattre before Araud) was exiled to Foxhall Road and a McMansion that while spacious was very low on the chic scale. Entertaining went on as usual, it just wasn't quite the same. As part of the renovation, the ambassador got spiffed up digs, too. Many aren't aware that while ambassadors to Washington typically reside in elegant and huge mansions, the part that is privately theirs – sleeping quarters, bath, sitting room, basically – is often not among the grand formal rooms, and occasionally even in the attic. No different with the French residence, though now the ambassador's apartment has been refreshed and with a kitchen and some other amenities added." (NYSD)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"President George W. Bush held his hand and walked with him through a field of flowers at the ranch in Crawford, Texas. President Barack Obama, when he first met him, performed a courtly bow. For Saudi Arabia’s aged King Abdullah, whose death was announced in Riyadh early Friday morning, physical gestures of friendship and respect were important, so even American presidents indulged him. He was one of the most powerful men in the world, after all, and he was also one of the easiest to understand.  A former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh described Abdullah as 'in many ways a throwback to that desert warrior ethos where men stand by their word, they look each other straight in the eye, they are direct, and they apply a code of honor.' Abdullah’s daughter, Princess Adelah, once told me, 'My father doesn’t have two parallel identities. What you see as a monarch and a ruler is what you see as a father. He is very straightforward, very honest, he hates injustice, and he likes truth.'  But Abdullah was doomed to disappointment. The ambassador remembers that when they were together the king would ask rhetorically, 'Where are the men of honor left in the Middle East?'  And the answer, clearly, was 'none are to be found.'  In recent years Abdullah’s traditional values and attitudes became a source of huge frustration for him. People close to the 90-something king say events seemed to overwhelm him, baffle him, infuriate him. He believed he had made a peace offer to Israel that it could not refuse, and yet it had. He could not accept the news that those who carried out the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the 'miscreants' as he called them, were sons of Saudi Arabia. But they were. He had wanted to bring stability to the Middle East, and all he saw was growing chaos." (TheDailyBeast)

Saudi Arabia's new king, Salman, shown in this Jan. 6 photo, is a veteran of the country's top leadership. (Uncredited/AP)
"When wayward Saudi princes misbehaved, they ended up in Salman’s private jail. During the 48 years he was governor of Riyadh, from 1963 to 2011, now-King Salman bin Abdul Aziz maintained a small jail on the grounds of his official palace, where he would lock up royals who ran afoul of the law. 'Who else was going to discipline a prince?' said Robert Lacey, a British author who has written extensively about the Saudi royal family. 'Salman has great authority within the family. He is beloved and feared. He is a tall, upright son of the desert.' Serious questions have been raised about the health and ability of King Salman, whose rule began upon the death of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Salman, 79, is widely believed to have significant health problems and to suffer from dementia.
'He can perform quite well for a few minutes, but then he gets muddled and goes off message,' said Simon Henderson, an authority on Saudi Arabia and succession issues at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy." (WashPo)
Entering the Park Avenue Armory last night, heading into the Winter Antiques Show in the Ward Thompson Drill Hall.
"Last night at the Park Avenue Armory was the Opening Night Party of the Winter Antiques Show to benefit the East Side House Settlement. The W-A-S as some are now calling it, marks the beginning of the social season that will now extend until late May when people start preparing for summer (and many leaving the city whenever they can). The Winter Antiques Show runs through the next two weekends ending on February 1st. This is the 61st year of the show which was launched in 1954 by the East Side House Settlement. It is always a very successful show, and that’s good because the opening night is critical to East Side House’s work in the South Bronx – which is one of the nation’s poorest Congressional Districts. The evening’s co-chairs were Lucinda Ballard, Arie Kopelman and Michael Lynch. Arie Kopelman, now retired President of Chanel US, has been at the center of producing this Opening Night for many years, and has been a hands on contributor to its successes. The Opening Night Party Chair was Kathleen Tierney, Executive Vice President and COO of Chubb Personal Insurance. The East Side House Settlement was established 124 years ago in 1891 as a non-profit community service organization. The “settlement houses,” of which there are several in the greater New York area, were all founded to assist newcomers (immigrants) and the poor in the neighborhoods. They are the glue to a cohesive community that moves and grows in every direction by leaps and bounds in the city called New York." (NYSD)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Although the crisis in Ukraine continues to focus attention on Russia's western border, Moscow is seeking to exploit a more lucrative prize along its vast northern frontage: the Arctic Circle. Melting ice has opened up new transit routes and revealed previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits. Facing a year of harsh economic constraints, securing exploitable energy reserves remains a top priority for Moscow. The planned militarization of the Arctic is already underway, and funding is secured through 2015 (the Ministry of Defense was the only Kremlin ministry not to be curtailed in the most recent budget.) With Russia aiming to consolidate its strength by the end of the year, surrounding countries are already reassessing their positions in the face of an overwhelming regional force. Russia's traditional view of the outside world is colored by a deep sense of insecurity and paranoia. This is best exemplified by the events in Ukraine, where the Kremlin acted to preserve its traditional geographic bulwark against the West. This pattern of protectionism is also apparent in Moscow's current understanding and approach to the situation in the Arctic. Of the eight countries of the Arctic Council, five are members of NATO, fueling Russia's suspicion that opposing forces are massing against it. Although friction with Kiev and the West has overshadowed Russia's military build-up in the Arctic, Moscow's long-term ambitions for the region are making other Arctic countries nervous, Norway in particular. Russia is interested in the Arctic for a number of reasons, though natural resources and pure geopolitical imperatives are the major driving forces behind Moscow's thinking. The Arctic contains an estimated 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil reserves, regarded by Moscow as important sources of foreign investment that are critical to the country's economic development. The Northern Sea Route from East Asia to Europe via the Arctic Ocean provides another economic opportunity for developing infrastructure in northern Russia. These resources and transit lanes, however, are also attractive to other Arctic countries, potentially turning the region into a political battleground. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea regulates ownership of the Arctic, allowing for exclusive economic zones stretching 200 miles from land and even further if undersea resources sit on a continental shelf. Inhospitable conditions made previous boundary disputes futile, so the Arctic interior remains open to territorial claims and disputes. The interest expressed by other countries feeds Russia's determination to make its role as a central Arctic nation clear by any means possible, including the use of military pressure." (STRAFOR)

"Israel Tuesday, Jan. 20, used Western and Arab media outlets for 'clarification' to Tehran of the purpose of its air strike over the Golan Sunday, asserting that Revolutionary Guards Gen. Mohammad 'Ali Allah Dadi and his staff of five were not known to be traveling in the Hizballah convoy and were not the target. 'We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence,’ a senior security official in Tel Aviv informed the media. 'We went on the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it as an enemy vehicle and took the shot,' he said, adding: “We saw this as a limited tactical operation.' This semi-apology, say DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources, was intended to tell Tehran that had Israeli intelligence identified the group of high-ranking Iranian officers in the Golan convoy, the air strike would have been called off. There was no reason why an intelligence mistake should cause a broad or even a limited military showdown between Iran and Israel, was the implied message. Asked if Israel was expecting Iranian or Hizballah retribution, the Israeli security source answered: 'A response is almost certain, but none of the parties is seeking escalation.' Sharp US intervention was almost certainly behind Israel’s embarrassing 'clarification.' The Obama administration feared the Golan air strike might snowball into a full-scale military confrontation with Iran and Hizballah settling their scores with Israel. The ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers would then be abruptly interrupted and possibly break down. Obama administration officials may well have informed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that, according to information reaching US intelligence, Iran and Hizballah were spoiling for revenge and all-out war might be impossible to hold back.
DEBKAfile’s military sources are far from sure that Tehran will accept Israel’s lame excuses for the death of a senior general. They might choose not to believe that the OC of Israel’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, until recently chief of military intelligence (AMAN) and well versed in the arenas shared by Israel, Iran and Hizballah, would have mistaken the figures traveling in the Golan convoy. All the same, in an effort to de-escalate the crisis, Israel has gone to the lengths of publicly owning up to a fiasco of its intelligence and a mistaken military operation.By this climb-down for Tehran’s benefit, the prime minister and defense minister are bound to be held to account at home for failing to provide back-up for Israel’s armed forces and intelligence." (DEBKA

"The Sundance Television Festival this is not. That snarky, small-screen nickname is nonetheless being tossed around by some of the Hollywood attendees who are gathering here for the 31st Sundance Film Festival, which starts on Thursday. The reason: Like the rest of moviedom, the independent-film world is grappling with the incursion of television as a creative and financial force. Independent film used to define the cutting edge in entertainment, but the indie crowd has lately ceded ground to television, which is turning out risk-taking shows like Amazon’s 'Transparent,' created by a Sundance film alumna. A vast majority of the 123 movies that will play Sundance this year will end up finding an audience not in a theater but on a video-on-demand system. The shift leaves Sundance, longtime attendees say, on the edge of an identity crisis. The festival, fiercely proud of its heritage as America’s foremost showcase for independent cinema, is working to hold on to that identity. At the same time, it is tentatively embracing an art form, television, in which innovation and energy abound. In other words, it is trying to remain relevant. The signs of this push and pull are everywhere, starting with “Animals,” an independently produced and financed television series. The first two animated episodes, about lovelorn New York rats and gender-questioning pigeons, will make their debut at Sundance on Monday as a special event. Moreover, 'Animals' is hoping to use the festival to land a distributor — a first for a television series, Sundance staff members said. A TV show being shopped at Sundance? It is not as strange as it sounds, at a time when analysts estimate that digital and video-on-demand services are replacing art houses as the primary outlet for more than 90 percent of independent films. The most active Sundance buyers this year are expected to include distributors that tend to lean on video on demand, like IFC, Magnolia and Radius-TWC, the boutique division of the boutique Weinstein Company." (NYT)

"Major donors are ready to announce huge financial commitments to Hillary Clinton as soon as she announces a second run for the White House, according to Clinton allies and Democratic fundraisers.  The Clinton team wants to build excitement about her campaign launch, which is expected in March or April. The money blitz would be a show of Clinton’s strength meant to scare away potential primary rivals. 'The floodgates are going to open immediately, and there’s going to be a rush to get on the team,' said Don Peebles, the real estate mogul who served on President Obama's national finance committee. “There’s nobody in the Democratic Party who can match her. Not even close' 'It’s going to be like nothing you’ve seen,' added one top Democratic donor, who supported both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and plans to throw big support behind Clinton. 'The numbers will be astounding.' The wide consensus among Clinton insiders is that Dennis Cheng, who serves as the chief development officer at the Clinton Foundation and worked on her finance team in her 2008 campaign, would take on the role. Democratic fundraisers say big donors are more likely to get behind Clinton than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a favorite among progressives, who has attacked Wall Street interests that can be big players in Democratic politics. 'The bundler class is less likely to get behind her,' said one top Democratic fundraiser. 'The Hillary supporters that were there in 2008 will be there for her again,' one top fundraiser said. 'And most of the Obama supporters will be there as well because they're appreciative of what she did and what President Clinton did to support President Obama.' Clinton will, “do a good job of having strong out of the gate numbers,” the fundraiser predicted. 'Her campaign is going to blow through what they did in 2008.' One top donor pointed to several reasons for the confidence.Democrats reeling from the big loss they faced in the midterm elections are anxious to turn the tide. And there is excitement in parts of the donor class about electing the first woman president. 'It’s the kind of support I saw back in 2008 around Obama,' one fundraiser said. 
 Clinton is also busy considering who to have run the finances of her would-be campaign." (TheHill)

"In the Oct. 22, 2012, debate, Obama made breezy comments about how al-Qaida’s core leadership had been 'decimated,' but a somber Romney had it exactly right: 'It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.' It was a devastating exchange, in hindsight. And it was compounded by Obama’s glib claim that he had been right to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011: 'What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.' We can see now that Obama was wrong. He has been forced to rush thousands of troops back to Iraq to deal with a crisis that might have been avoided if wiser policies had been followed. Although Romney was correct about al-Qaida, he was wrong about Iran. He dismissed Obama’s strategy of engagement, said he wouldn’t need congressional authorization to strike Iran militarily, and warned of the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon: “We can’t afford to wait much longer, and we certainly can’t afford to wait through four more years of an Obama administration. By then it will be far too late.' That was too militaristic: By the last debate, Romney had softened his tone but still seemed to take his policy cues from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton also appears to be ready to run against elements of Obama’s foreign policy. Some White House officials chafed at this fratricide in her 2014 memoir, 'Hard Choices.' When I reviewed the book last year, I listed a series of issues where 'Clinton displayed good judgment as secretary of state and understood some important issues earlier than her boss, President Obama.' Among Clinton’s prescient moments was her early embrace in 2009 of what became the 'pivot' to Asia; her caution about dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in 2011; her support for arming the Syrian opposition in 2012 after the breakdown of U.N. mediation efforts; and her early warning in 2013 that trouble was ahead with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Needless to say, this laundry list of how Clinton got it right did not please the Obama White House. Finally, there’s the peculiar problem of Jeb Bush. If he gets the Republican nomination, he may have to run against the foreign policies of both Obama and his own brother, George W. Bush. Because Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 is now so widely judged to have been a mistake, it will be an early priority for his brother to assure the country that he wouldn’t be similarly reckless." (David Ignatius)

DPC, Joan Schenkar, and Christopher Walling at Michael's.

"Since it was Wednesday, it was Michael’s for me, which was jammed as expected. I had lunch with two friends who were meeting each other for the first time as well as lunching at Michael’s for the first time: Joan Schenkar, author of biographies of Dolly Wilde ('Truly Wilde; The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s Unusual Niece' and 'The Talented Miss Highsmith' about author Patricia Highsmith who wrote 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'); and my other guest Christopher Walling, the jewelry designer who has salons here in New York and in Aspen. I introduced them because of a common interest they shared. Joan lives here and in Paris, and Christopher’s late mother was born in Paris as was he. During WWII, his mother had been arrested by the Nazis who accused her of being a British spy, and imprisoned her in Ravensbruck where she was near the end when the prisoners were freed. Christopher told us how he knew Janet Flanner who for years wrote a 'letter from Paris'  (which is the name of Joan’s new column) for the New Yorkerunder the nom de plume of Genet. Flanner told Christopher that she was present when the freed French women from Ravensbruck returned to Paris by train. There was a vast crowd out to greet them but there was utter silence in the Gare du Nord ('or Gare de l’Est') as the train arrived, and then, as the women began to disembark, the entire place broke out singing the 'Marsellaise.” Flanner, he told us, described the moment so realistically that he felt that he was absolutely there. His mother was on that train.A few tables away there was another interesting conversation going on which I was not privy to of course, but had to be interesting. And that was Charles Spencer, Earl SpencerPrincess Diana’s brother, who was lunching with reporter Diane Clehane and publicist Judith Twersky. Spencer as you may know has written a book called 'Killer of the King; The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I' and is in town publicizing it, which I mentioned on yesterday’s Diary. Lord Spencer is known to most of us because of his world famous sister, but in fact he is a prolific historian, a thoroughly modern British aristocrat, who manages the family estates and pursues his work as a writer/historian.  Surprisingly he lives part of the time at his home in London, at Althorp, the ancestral seat of the Spencers for the past 500 years, in Northamptonshire, and part of the time in Los Angeles in Pacific Palisades with his wife Karen, who is a native. It’s not really surprising in that LA has long been a popular spot to settle for the Brits. Many of them are drawn to it by the entertainment industry, but the climate and way of life quickly becomes irresistible." (NYSD)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Trailer: Deep Web

The Silk Road Servers from Trouper on Vimeo.

Media-Whore D'oeuvres

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"Davos is the spiritual home of homo economicus, where human behavior can generally be explained in terms of the perpetual war between greed and fear. That’s one reason why the World Economic Forum is such a hot ticket. If you’re a student of the men (and they’re overwhelmingly men) who control the world’s money and power, being in Davos can help you gauge just how nervous or covetous they seem. This year, my highly-unscientific first impression is that fear is very much on the ascendant. A lot of people seem to feel the need to explain to me, on an entirely unsolicited basis, just how powerful and important they are – much more so than in previous years. What that says to me is that they’re not on the lookout for new opportunities, in the way that they have been in previous years, so much as they’re trying to consolidate whatever gains they have made since the end of the financial crisis. Signs of fear are particularly noticeable in Switzerland, which recently felt forced to let its currency, the Swiss franc, appreciate by 20% — essentially, the central bank gave in to overwhelming pressure from the wall of international money which was looking to this small Alpine nation as a safe haven in a world of great uncertainty. To give you an idea of just how scared people are: if you place your money in the safety of five-year German bonds, or even ten-year Swiss bonds, then the yield you’re going to get on your money is negative. In other words, you can tie up your money for 10 years in Swiss francs, and be guaranteed to get back less than you first invested. Why would anybody do that? Because they’re worried that other places for their money are going to do even worse." (FelixSalmon)

"The World Economic Forum says it’s trying to encourage more of its members to bring women to Davos. Its members aren’t doing a great job. This year, only 17% of participants at the annual invitation-only conference are women. The gender imbalance underscores how women are often left out of discussions debating and shaping policy. WEF members have an incentive to bring women. Businesses at the highest level of membership get four tickets to Davos and can distribute them to top employees at the company’s discretion. If one of those tickets go to a woman who is an executive or board member, the company is rewarded with a fifth ticket. Saadia Zahidi, who heads the Gender Parity Programme at the WEF, says that more members are taking advantage of this opportunity in 2015 than five years ago. Still, the numbers aren’t budging. Last year, 15% of participants were women; the year before, 17%. WEF has told Quartz for the past two years that the gender disparity at Davos is a result of the current state of global leadership. This year is no different. Zahidi told Quartz, “Unfortunately, the gender ratio here in Davos is a reflection of global leadership as a whole.' Some invitees are asked to attend solely based on their job function, such as the president of Harvard University, who is currently Drew Faust, a woman."  (QZ)

Click to order "Killers of the King."

"I’ve been Mr. Stay-At-Home many of these cold/grey day and nights this month, except maybe to go out to dinner with a friend or friends. A lot of the New York social scene has been exported elsewhere – like, where it’s warm. I hear Palm Beach is jampacked with New Yorkers (and Euros and Brits and Canadians and Latin Americans). They just can’t keep their socks on. And they can’t stay home unless they’re giving a dinner party (also no socks). Or out in snowy Aspen which I hear has been quieter this year. This is just hearsay. Jack Nicholson musta stayed home. Or down in St. Barts where the yachts come a-callin’. However, that aspect of the social calendar may be just about over. My own calendar certainly is. Last night was an example. Over at Christie’s Lord Charles Spencer9th Earl Spencerhad a booksigning of his latest: 'Killers of the King; The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I.' The title sounds almost quaint considering the world these days. However, I don’t doubt that it is interesting because that world was interesting and actually led us to this world which is ... what? Fill in the blank. Lord Charles is famous to the world because of his sister, the late, still bereaved Diana the Princess of Wales. The Spencers have an illustrious lineage (which is one way of putting it) in European history. According to Wikipedia, they are direct descendents, 'albeit illegitimate,' of the House of Stuart (Charles I), by five direct lines. Through the Stuart line they can trace their ancestry to other royal houses including the Bourbons, the Medicis, the Wittlesbachs, the Hanovers, the Sforzas, the Hapburgs, and the houses of Howard and Boleyn through Mary Boleyn, who had been the mistress of Henry The EighthThey are also related to the Churchills through Henrietta, the second Duchess of Marlborough who married a Spencer (which is how the hyphenated names got together). It seems only natural that Lord Charles Spencer as a historian lives in a cornucopia of it. And all a drama, as we know." (NYSD)