Friday, December 27, 2013

Tenth Annual The Corsair 2013 Year End Pirate Awards

Another Year's End, dear readers (The Corsair sips, Auld Lang Synish, with a touch of romantic melancholy, a Chateauneuf du Pape 1999). For the tenth year and running -- has it really been that long? -- we present you with The Corsair Pirate Year End Awards (Part I; the rest, my dears, as the last days of December unfold ... stay with this blog). Every blogger/Tumblr worth their salt nowadays has year end awards and 'this thing of ours' is no goddam different. It's in the kool aid that we all drink from. 'Tis the season to be snarky, and all that jazz. So, without further ado, The Corsair presents The Pirates -- more credible than the Golden Globes, and able to leap tall Publicists in a single bound -- my 2013 year end awards. Basta!

Literary Mystery: Gore Vidal. Was Gore Vidal a pedophile? In these United States of Amnesia -- as Gore Vidal used to call it -- we love a good redemption story. Even Scarsdale doctor murderer Jean Harris got a second act. There are however, two crimes that are unpardonable: serial killing and pedophilia. This year even though Christopher Buckley destroyed his father's "secret 'Vidal Legal' file" on Gore Vidal (which is odd, considering Bill Buckley considered himself a libertarian), the rumor that it contained alleged proof that Vidal was a pedophile actually made it into the NY Times. Two members of Gore Vidal think that there might be merit to the allegations; many friends deny the claims. It might be noted -- at least Gore would want it to be noted -- that a literary critic at the Gray Lady was so enraged by the gay subject matter in The City and the Pillar that he banned reviews of his next five books. The mystery remains.

Why? The George Zimmerman celebration. Whether or not one agrees with the legal arguments for the acquittal, one thing is for certain: he wasn't a hero. Even if you believed that under Florida law he was not guilty of murdering an unarmed 18 year old named Trayvon Martin, he was not worthy of the valorization -- and there really is no other way to put it -- that he received from the opinion hosts on Fox News (and the fools who bid on his "art"). A heroes welcome was what the piggish swine-man received, and didn't deserve especially as we learn more about his deeply flawed character. Wonder why minorities and young people and suburban moms have so much trouble with the Republican party at the national level, hmm?

Political mood: Polarized. In the corner to my left, weighing in at 47 percent: The Tale of Two Cities! And in the corner to my right, weighing in at making over $500,000 a year: The libertarian zeitgeist. As the two parties moved further into their respective corners, the vital Center -- even in the United States Senate -- evaporated. The moderate Republican as well as the moderate Democrat (think Daniel Patrick Moynihan) is rapidly becoming an extinct creature. And ... that's not a good thing.

Image of the Year: The College of Cardinals went in an entirely different direction. Who could have forseen such a radical departure from the most conservative institution on the planet eart? Pope Francis, from Argentina, stood against the Libertarian wind of selfishness-as-a-virtue, showing that -- in the words of the wonderful Emma Snowden-Jones, goodness and kind acts still have value in this world. This image of him embracing a severely disfigured man is truly one for the ages.

Origin of the feces: In one of the most scatological of incidents in 2013, the Carnival Triumph -- ! -- the so-called cruise from hell, ended up stranding passengers on a five day excursion into what can only be properly construed as a hot port-o-potty. From the intrepid LA Times: "Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix said she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape .. 'People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands,' she said. Toilets stopped working and the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew had to urinate in sinks, she said, and eventually red plastic bags. She saw sewage dripping down walls. Sometimes people slipped on it, she said. Soon, the ship began to smell. 'It was like a hot port-o-potty,' Moyes said, and when the ship tilted, 'it would spill.' She scrawled a message in mascara on a sheet and held it aloft upon her return 'Triumph RIP: Rest in Pee.'" Charmed, I'm sure! Sounds positively delightful.

The Don Quixote Quixotic Move: tie to Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. Instead of waiting things out, these relatively youngish men -- in American politics, at least -- decided to throw caution to the wind and run for political office in 2013. As a result, the press in the media capitol of the world was merciless. We learned, quite frankly, a whole lot more about their danky sex lives that we really ever wanted to know. Both lost (of course). And, finally, one cannot help but wonder if they had waited, say, a half a decade or so, would anyone really have cared about their disgusting voodoo as much? Then again, neither Spitzer nor Weiner are known for -- how does one put this kindly? -- self-control (Averted Gaze).

Book of the Year: Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. We loved Donna Tartt's Secret History so much that it influenced our choice of Philosophy and the Classics as a college major in New England. Then, after a lackluster second novel, we wondered if she could live up to all the hype. Donna Tartt did. Tartt came back with The Goldfinch, the must-read of 2013. "Tartt’s title 'character' is not a fictional person but rather a 17th century Dutch trompe l’oeil painting of the same name," Victoria Zhuang of The Crimson writes. "Before the novel begins, readers are greeted in the title pages by a scaled-down color print of the 9x13” piece: a lone goldfinch, chained to part of a wall, quietly stands and returns the gaze of its viewer. Like this painting, which glows modestly but lacks the full fire of a large Old Masters tableau, the novel is impressive but not overwhelming in artistry." A gorgeous novel. We cannot wait to see what Donna Tartt does next.

Cinematic Trend of 2013: Existentialism. Robert Redford -- who probably did not have a "scrotal lift" -- and Sandra Bullock both turned in Oscarworthy performances, alone on the screen for the full length of their respective films, against harsh, forbidding landscapes. Are we living in a golden age of character development? Several new films are about to be released that focus, intensely, on single characters. Riddick, on the minimalist end of the character-development spectrum, was released few months ago. On the maximalist end of that same spectrum, Sandra Bullock performs in Gravity, Robert Redford performs in All is Lost and Mia Wasikowska performs in Tracks – all soon to be released. Riddick is driven by special effects and one-dimensional bravado; Gravity, All Is Lost and Tracks all take character-development, in its rawest forms to the outer limits. A schedule this top-heavy with these levels of character development is quite rare. If Bullock and Redford get nominations and the "king of all knickknacks" then what does this say for the future of films? It says, for one thing, that existentialism is on the rise.

Digital Rumor of the Year: Nick Denton is "buying" Business Insider. There are some overlaps, particularly with Valleywag and some of Gawker's media content, but, no. How did this rumor even get started? There were never any facts. Apparently, Denton and the obscenely pink Henry Blodgett once sat down at Balthazar. Huh? This blogger has also gone to Balthazar with Nick Denton, but "rumors" of him "buying" The Corsair never materialized (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment). It must have been a slow day for the digeratti ... Methinks Blodgett and Denton were having a little fun at the expense of the gossipers.

Strangest Foreign policy Move: Navigating the Scylla of neoconservatism and the Charybdis of realism is ... Dennis Rodman. "The Worm" popped up in, of all places, the DMZ for, representing all instisutions, Vice. In one of the most surreal episodes of foreign policy, Rodman, an ex-of Madonna, palled with the Hermit regime's dictator over b-ball and instigated himself in complicated nuclear relations. 

The Instant: Marco Rubio does Poland Spring. Why did this go viral? Mainly it went viral because it ahows that the bloodlessness with regards to the poor notwithstanding, teabaggers are actually human beings that are possessed with the same hungers and bodily needs. Teabaggers are not cold, unfeeling mandroids, no matter how they vote on the floor of the US Senate!

Epic Rant of the Year: Kanye on Jimmy Kimmell. This intrepid blogger was once of the opinion that Kanye was the "better half" of Kimye. That might not be the case. the supposedly more media sophisticated of the KimYe collabo went off script in one of the most mesmerizing televised moments of 2013 in the Fall. Jimmy Kimmel, one of the more interesting television personalities of the year, was wise enough to sit back and shut the fuck up. Borborygmus was the ensuing yam-yam.

Tragedy of the Year: South Sudan. On the Occasion of their becoming an Independent nation I tweeted: "To the nation of South Sudan, a Republic, if you can keep it." Prognosis at present: Bleak. The youngest and poorest nation in the world might have to become in the coming year a Protectorate of the United Nations, like East Timor before it. It would seem that the racist Arab regime to the North is not the greatest enemy of South Sudan: it is the South Sudanese themselves. Truly sad. Runner Up: porn "star" Farah Abraham.

Comedy of the Year: Butt Naked. There is nothing remotely amusing about a warlord who recruits child soldiers and believes that bullets bounce off of his forces. Except, of course, when he calls himself "General Butt Naked." There is, politically speaking, a very thin line between coup attempt and slapstick comedy (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment).

Yours to Lose: Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton solidified her credibility in the one blank space left in her already formidable resume: the matter of foreign policy. Further, she showed, in working with the man who defeated her in a bitter primary, once and for all, that the Clintons now recognize that the party is bigger than the family. Hillary Clinton, clearly, is qualified and -- I would add -- deserves the Democrat nomination next time around. The only thing that stands between Hillary Clinton and the Presidency now is, perhaps, Hillary Clinton. The Presidency in 2014 is yours to lose -- or to gain.

Asshole of the Year: Bibi Netanyahu. Ally or alleged ally? They just don't get any more assholish than Bibi (several years ago the boorish PM actually-literally lectured the President publicly on the Middle East, in front of cameras). After essentially breaking the venerable tradition of never directly getting involved in another country's Presidential elections, Bibi all but campaigned for Mitt Romney. After getting his ass handed to him (Averted Gaze), Bibi had to make an immediate election night supplication to Obama in the form of a telephone call (if I had been a fly on the wall..). One might have thought that this, finally, would finally put to rest the intense dickishness and thorough disrespect that Bibi has shown Barack throughout his Presidency -- but no! Bibi has repeatedly given Barack Obama -- and, by virtue of that, the US -- the finger. Payback, unfortunately, may be a bitch. Undistinguished Runner-Ups: Charlie Gasparino, Tila Tequila, Vladimir Putin, Bob Woodward, the Koch Brothers, Martin Bashir and Harvey Levin.

Party of the Year: The Vanity Fair Oscar Party. The sheer unprotected starfuckery that goes on -- Oprah once declaring her love for Sidney Poitier, Scarlett Johannsen hooking up with Benicio -- it is, pound-for-pound, the best party around. "For all of the magnetic bodies that swirl around the Vanity Fair Oscar party—award winners, mega-producers, billionaires—there is one focal point of power in the room. It’s not the person toting the statuette for Best Picture (although Ben Affleck did cause a stir wherever he, wife Jennifer Garner, and Oscar turned up that night). And it’s not even Graydon Carter, the host of the weekend’s most exclusive event and Vanity Fair’s fearless leader," writes VF, in a rare moment of self-reflection "No—the locus of energy is a place, a specific spot exactly twenty paces from the front entrance of the Sunset Tower Hotel, just past the photo booth. It’s just far enough away from the pleading photographers and screaming fans outside, but not too far into the party that a person standing there could miss anyone important as he or she entered the room. It is, in short, where everyone wants to look."

Don't Let The Door Hit Ya Where The Good Lord Done Split Ya: Historians of the future may regard 2013 as the year that CBS' venerable property 60 Minutes finally jumped the shark. John Miller's 60 Minutes story on the NSA. We obviously need a national security infrastructure. How else are we to anticipate and erase threats to our security? But in this libertarian age, so many voices -- far left and far right -- are all but calling for the end of all espionage agencies. Thanks to wikileaks and Edward Snowden, the paranoiacs are winning the debate. Enter: 60 Minutes (Averted Gaze).

Instead of offering a down-the-middle balanced look at intelligence post-Cold War in the terrorist age, they offer up for public consumption an infomercial. "The CBS newsmagazine was true north on the compass of TV journalism for me — proof that doing good journalism could also be good business in the world of commercial TV," As David Zuarick writes, more in sadness than in attack mode. "As is usually the case with loss of faith, it didn’t happen overnight. These days, everyone is ripping '60 Minutes' for the Lara Logan report on Benghazi that it had to retract in November, the infomercial-like report Charlie Rose did earlier this month with Jeff Bezos about his drone delivery plans for Amazon, and correspondent John Miller’s in-the-tank piece last week on the National Security Agency. In the case of the latter two, it wasn’t just that they were beneath the usual standards of '60 Minutes,' they were beneath the standards of shows like 'Access Hollywood' or 'Entertainment Tonight,' which will do anything to gain access to people they think viewers will tune in to see." 

our favorite man-freak

Favorite Freak: Olivier Zahm. There is something oddly endearing about Olivier Zahm. He is more charmingly oily than disgustingly filthy, he is more buttery escargot than inky squid. He is sort of like Terry Richardson but far, far less disturbing. There is a human component to Olivier. No one could ever imagine a skeev like Terry Richardson capable of falling in love, or even crying publicly over lost love. Olivier does, and his crie du Coeur is downright distinguished and essentially manly, albeit in a French sort-of-way. From NYMag"Even in the dead center of a Paris winter, when the sun hasn’t been out for hours, if not days,Olivier Zahm’s eyes are all but invisible beneath the Coke-bottle-thick prescription amber lenses of his Ray-Ban aviators. Seeing him in public without them would be like spotting a unicorn in the Jardin du Luxembourg.'I like the look,' he explains. 'I also have a problem with migraines. I’m sensitive to the light. But the world is much more beautiful in color.'Zahm is sitting at his desk in his office on Rue Thérèse, a few blocks from the Palais-Royal and just down the street from the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi, and their 6-week-old son,Balthus Billy. 'I’m not a baby fan,' he says, 'but when you have one, it is very joyful. I change diapers. It takes two minutes.'" If Olivier Zahm did not exist then we would have to invent him.

A Pregnant Pause: Prince. A Prince of what? A Prince of FREAK. Now I know why there are so few interviews with Prince. He sets ridiculous conditions and believes the ridiculous excuses he makes. Reporters cannot tape record Prince because Prince -- so impossibly narcissistic -- thinks reporters will "sell his voice." Who the fuck would be in the market for a tape recording of Prince? Also: Price frowns on reporters taking notes. So -- how the fuck is the interview supposed to get communicated to the public at large. Essentially, if you interview Prince -- like this reporter from Billboard does -- you have to recreate the fucking conversation in your head in the hotel room afterwards.
Finally, according to the awesome Alexis Tirado, Prince said, while humping the floor at a recent concert, "I just got my own self pregnant." Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

A Dangerous Game: Can you say along with me geopolitical clusterfuck? Saudi Arabia is playing an incredibly dangerous behind-the-scenes game in the Middle East. Because they no longer trust President Obama to safeguard their interests they are: a) in a de facto alliance with israel, Turkey and the Emirates against Iran, b) in a proxy war with Iran in Syria, and, c) are actually funding Al Quaeda elements in Syria even though one of Al Quaeda's main goals is the overthrow of those whoring, whisky-drinking infidels, the House of Saud. But .... they can't trust President Obama. As we are at present trying to figure out the Daffy Duck espionage methodology of the House of Saud, they are probably sipping 24-four year old single malt off the fake breasts of 24-year old Russian hookers. Go fucking figure.

Change. President Obama. I know it is fashionable to say, without any hint of irony, that Obama is no different than Clinton or Reagan or -- to take things to the nest level of ridiculousness -- say, George Washington. To wit: Obamacare, the Asia Pivot, the end of the Iraq war, the wind-down of the Afghanistan War and the historic engagement with Iran. Obama really is different, clearly, than the last four administrations. Also: look at how he behaves at his inaugurations. Further, note this from p6: "President Obama led a conga line, took part in a 'Gangnam Style' dance-off with Usher, and even did the electric slide at his celebrity-packed inauguration bash at the White House." Would George Washington dance off Gangham style with Usher? Quite the contrary: George Washington would order Usher whipped for lack of productivity on the plantation! Change we can believe in!

Best in TV: Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Masters of Sex and Boardwalk Empire. Each of these shows is a superlative example of good television after their own fashion. If this blogger had to pick one we'd probably go in for Breaking Bad, because the show is over. But there is also Boardwalk Empire, the sepia-toned historical drama that had an incredibly compelling narrative this season, and some of the most richly drawn and played characters on all of television. Runner Up: The melancholy conclusion of Treme.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac. For almost 30 years as Saudi Arabia’s regal messenger, lobbyist, and envoy, he told amazing stories about politicians and potentates, some of which, surprisingly, were true. Washington journalists loved him. Nobody had better access to more powerful people in higher places, or came with so much money, so quietly and massively distributed, to help out his friends. Over the years, Bandar arranged to lower global oil prices in the service of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both the Bushes. At the behest of the CIA’s Bill Casey, and behind the back of Congress, Bandar arranged for the Saudis to bankroll anti-Communist wars in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. He was thick with Dick Cheney, and he was so tight with the George H.W. Bush clan—the father, the mother, the sons, the daughters—that they just called him 'Bandar Bush.' Now, the prince is a spy, or, more precisely, the master spy of the Middle East. He is the point man for a vast Saudi program of covert action and conspicuous spending that helped overthrow the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and is attempting to forge a new “Army of Islam” in Syria. Without understanding the man and his mission, there’s no way, truly, to understand what’s happening in the world’s most troubled region right now. Bandar’s goal is to undermine Iranian power: strip away Tehran’s allies like Assad and Hezbollah; stop the Shiite mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons; roll back their regional designs; and push them out of office if there’s any way to do that. At the same time, he aims to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organization that pays lip service to democracy and is fundamentally anti-monarchy. The Bandar program makes for some interesting alliances. Never mind that there’s no peace treaty between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in these parts, as they say too often, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Bandar has become the de facto anti-Iran ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin 'Bibi'Netanyahu. They are 'curiously united,' says historian Robert Lacey, author of Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia. Bandar has always been inclined to defy conventions and bend rules. 'Bandar is a man with chutzpah,' says Lacey. In recent months, echoing Bibi, Bandar has let it be known that one of the biggest obstacles to his goals is U.S. President Barack Obama. And Bandar reportedly told European diplomats last month that Saudi Arabia would make a 'major shift' away from its longstanding alliance with the United States." (TheDailyBeast)

"This is a column I have put off for weeks, because it makes me sad to write it. And ultimately, it begs an answer, which I am not sure I have. But with the year ending, I can no longer avoid it. After decades of writing about television and media, this is the year that I have lost faith in two TV news institutions in which I have long believed: '60 Minutes' and CNN. Actually, it was more than believed in the case of '60 Minutes.' The CBS newsmagazine was true north on the compass of TV journalism for me — proof that doing good journalism could also be good business in the world of commercial TV. As is usually the case with loss of faith, it didn’t happen overnight. These days, everyone is ripping '60 Minutes' for the Lara Logan report on Benghazi that it had to retract in November, the infomercial-like report Charlie Rose did earlier this month with Jeff Bezos about his drone delivery plans for Amazon, and correspondent John Miller’s in-the-tank piece last week on the National Security Agency. In the case of the latter two, it wasn’t just that they were beneath the usual standards of '60 Minutes,' they were beneath the standards of shows like 'Access Hollywood' or 'Entertainment Tonight,' which will do anything to gain access to people they think viewers will tune in to see. At least, with the Hollywood shows they make no pretense of doing journalism. But the seeds of trading integrity for access were sown long before this year at '60 Minutes.' After decades of celebrating the newsmagazine, which I regularly described as the most successful show in the history of TV because of its long record of commercial and journalistic success, I started questioning it in 2008 shortly after the election of President Barack Obama." (David Zuwarik)

"Some economists dislike Christmas. They allege that it 'destroys value,' which is, in Econoland, the first and only sin. The economist Joel Waldfogel, author of Scroogenomics, goes so far as to contend that the winter holiday season is 'an orgy of value destruction.' Waldfogel’s main concern is that the value of gifts to their recipients is typically far lower than the money that was spent on them. He found that of the $65 billion spent on winter holiday gifts in 2009, about 20 percent was wasted, in the sense that the gifts were worth that much less to the recipient than they cost. And indeed, it is an inescapable fact of life that people who receive holiday gifts often don’t much like what they get. If you’ve ever been presented with a sweater that you would never wear in public or electronic equipment whose purpose escapes you, you will understand what Waldfogel is talking about.
In hard economic times, when both the government and ordinary people are trying desperately to save money, this is a sobering analysis. We don’t propose that Congress should try to solve the debt crisis by requiring people to give holiday season money to the Treasury Department rather than spending it on presents. But mis-giving does no good for anyone, and we have a few ideas about how to make it through the season a bit more easily. IT HAS PROBABLY already occurred to you that the economic analysis of gift-giving reflects an incomplete understanding of the purpose of gifts, which involve relationships, as well as commodities, and which provide value not only to the recipient but also to the giver. Gifts represent messages—'signals,' in social science parlance—from giver to recipient. The signals tend to differ for individual givers and receivers, which explains why there are no simple answers to standard holiday etiquette questions, such as whether it is OK to give cash. Cash is best for some relationships but highly inappropriate for others. If you give your nephew $75, he’ll probably be thrilled. If you give your boss $75, it’s just weird. Gifts also serve as investments in relationships. When interpreted this way, the destruction of value can be part of the very essence of gift-giving. If I give you a $50 gift card for Best Buy and you give me a $50 e-certificate for Amazon, economists would tolerate the exchange, since no destruction of wealth has occurred. However, very little investment has occurred, either. Suppose instead that I give you an expensive sweater that you find loathsome, and you give me a fancy travel case for which I have no use. True, each of us might think that the other has terrible taste. But we will certainly notice the effort and money that went into the purchase. In fact, destroying value in an exchange of overpriced gifts can increase the likelihood that our relationship will endure. If we weren’t committed to the relationship, why would we waste the money? The absurd tension associated with gift-giving begins early in life." (TNR)

"By now, virtually every film critic has offered up a top 10 list surveying the year in cinema. But what about the rest of the film industry? Countless distributors, programmers, publicists and other film professionals see hundreds of new movies each year. So Indiewire has made it a tradition to give them some space in this conversation. Here are some of the most influential indie film people working today weighing in with their favorites of the year. In addition to inviting them to provide their top 10 lists of film and TV, we also asked participants to share their new year resolutions as well as what they're anticipating in 2014." (IndieWIRE)

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"The story of how the Obama administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agencies tasked with implementing the Affordable Care Act got it so wrong is still unfolding. Much of the blame has to fall on an insular White House that didn’t want to hear about problems, and another chunk has to land on CMS, which instead of hiring a systems integrator, whose job it would have been to ensure that all the processes feeding into worked together, kept that role for itself. As anyone who has worked with the federal government on such projects knows, it is utterly inept when it comes to technology. 'The government continues to struggle with how best to acquire the expertise to integrate technology,' says Stan Soloway, the C.E.O. of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors who work with the government. Soloway has a scary stat, which is that of the 80,000 information-technology workers in the federal government, for every one person under 30, there are 10 people over 50. That lack of expertise explains why in building, the government turned to industry contractors; in particular, to CGI Federal, a subsidiary of CGI Group, a Canadian company. To those uninitiated in the dark art of government contracting, it seems scandalous that CGI, a company most Americans had never heard of, a company that is not located in Silicon Valley (where President Obama has plenty of Internet superstar friends who could have formed a dazzling brain trust to implement his signature legislation) but rather in Montreal, could be chosen as the lead contractor for the administration’s most important initiative. While right-wing news outlets have focused on the possible relationship between Toni Townes-Whitley, senior vice president for civilian-agency programs at CGI Federal, and Michelle Obama, both of whom were 1985 Princeton graduates, CGI’s selection is probably more an example of a dysfunctional system than it is a scandal. 'A lot of the companies in Silicon Valley don’t do business with the government at that level [the level required for federal contracting],' explains Soloway. 'It is very burdensome, and the rules make it very unattractive.' Indeed, government contractors have to meet a whole host of requirements contained in a foot-thick book, including cost accounting and excessive auditing, to prove that they are not profiting too much off the American taxpayer." (VanityFair)

"None of us knew whom 'Justine Sacco' was, before she tweeted the racism heard round the world, and so there is (or will be) the urge to step back from the text itself—the tweet in question—and talk about her. Who she is, and what she is doing, and how she will suffer, or what she meant, and all that. In fact, there is no #HasJustineLandedYet without imagining her, without picturing (and enjoying) the spectacle of this clueless racist on an 11 hour plane journey, obliviously floating through the friendly skies while the world seethes; the whole thing is only interesting because we know something she doesn’t, because of the suspense of waiting for the big reveal. And the more we make it about her—thereby transforming this event from which her absence was the crucial thing—the more we can only become sympathetic, or at least less cruel: if she’s a person, she’s a flawed person, yes, but she’s not the racist caricature she became in our imaginations. If she is more than the text of her tweet, then our reaction to the text of her tweet comes to feel wrong, cruel, excessive, ugly.And that’s fine! While she was still in #HasJustineLandedYet, she didn’t really exist. She was a joke. When she landed, she became a real person (to us). And there’s nothing particularly pretty about many thousands of people shaming and humiliating a single person, who they don’t know; whether or not the shame and humiliation is justified, it’s nevertheless unsettling to realize how irrelevant the facts of the matter actually turned out to be. She could be the worst person in the world, or she could be the sympathetic possible version of herself—since the material in question will only allow so much sympathy—but since her absence from the drama was the key thing, it really doesn’t matter at all. She, herself, is irrelevant, and so there’s an arbitrariness to the spectacle that is, I’ll say again, unsettling, if we can see ourselves in her shoes: your good intentions, who you really are, will not save you. The only thing that mattered, in the event, were the words she wrote in a tweet, which were judged, found guilty, and granted no appeal, all without any opportunity to face her accuser." (TheNewInquiry)

"Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom's origin story is murky. Were she and Deen dating? They were not. Was the tape stolen? It was not. Was this, as she told Dr. Phil, a private video made for her own enjoyment, to celebrate her young, nubile body and eroticism co-opted by pornographers looking to make a quick buck? Does that even make sense? Farrah was rumored to have been paid $100,000 before the tape was filmed (It's not unlikely that Deen's base rate was no higher than his standard, which, as of a year ago, was roughly $800 to $1000 a scene), plus a cut of the profits. It's still unknown whether she approached Vivid or they suggested the idea to her, though paparazzi photographers did spot Farrah and her father entering the company's San Fernando Valley offices a few times in the lead-up to the release.And what a release it was! Backdoor Teen Mom crashed the Vivid servers—it was downloaded more than 2 million times during the first six hours of its availability, crushing the record set by Kim Kardashian: Superstar (all of Vivid's 'celebrity' videos add the dubious 'superstar' designation to their titles), but by whom? Who wanted to watch a young mother be sodomized by a bona fide sex professional? Who wanted to see Farrah's breasts in all their immovable (seriously, they don't move) glory? Who wanted to watch her be pressed up against the wall, Deen's hands between her legs manipulating her until—oh, I can't even say it! Which brings us to the point, I suppose: Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom is the only piece of cultural detritus released in 2013 that really, truly shocked me, not because of the acts (while graphic, Farrah and James go through the standard hardcore script familiar to anyone with an Internet connection), but because of who it's really for, why it exists. It's not an arousal product. It's a public stoning." (TheAwl)

"On July 3rd 2013, in a video published on YouTube that was almost immediately taken down, Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed emir of a Caucasus Emirate in the southwest of the Russian Federation, lifted the moratorium on military operations targeting civilians that he unilaterally declared several months ago. He also called on his troops to do everything possible to oppose and to prevent the proper execution of the Sochi Winter Games in February 2014. The Caucasian leader could not forego this ideal occasion to remind the world of the enduring struggle led first by the Chechens in their fight for independence (1994-2005) and then taken up by a very loose network of Islamist armed groups that thrived in the neighboring republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. What does this Caucasus Emirate represent today? And what can its fighters do?Russian federal security forces regularly launch operations to eliminate local or regional emirs throughout region. In Dagestan for instance, the 'republic' leader hardly ever survives for more than one year at a time. In Kabardino-Balkaria as well, the insurgency has been successively decapitated in 2010, in 2011 and in 2012, losing not only its leader but all of its deputies as well. In Chechnya, in January 2013, the Gakaev brothers, famous and well-respected warlords among the Chechen guerillas, were killed after six days of fighting. It is said that, almost out of ammunition, they asked their comrades to shoot them. The two brothers were the last of the reputed second-generation combatants who inherited the historical independence struggle, and who in 2013 were still in control of the most important insurgent groups in Chechnya. As for the Ingush, after losing Commandant Magas, their hero, in 2010, who has been imprisoned in Moscow, his successor, Emir Adam was killed in May 2013. The North-Caucasian guerillas, usually loosely structured, are now outright destabilized. To cope with these recurrent strategic losses, the armed groups have retreated to reorganize and recoup their tactical capacity." (GeopoliticalMonitor)

"Remember last year when the first Hunger Games movie came out, and fans of the book were up in arms that Rue was black? If you're part of a group that looks around and sees itself reflected back everywhere, guess what - that's privilege. Being white and having Santa reflected back at you as white for your whole life - that's privilege. Being a dude and assuming that a regenerating, shape-shifting Doctor can only ever be a dude - that's privilege. It doesn't reflect reality, it reflects one very limited - and limiting - version of  reality. That limited version is what leads to few women of color in Hollywood or on SNL; to token Smurfettes in a lineup of dudes and token girl sidekicks in cartoons; to onscreen sex servicing men to be greenlit but onscreen sex servicing women to be censored; to women excluded even from categories we wouldn't want to be in. There's more, of course, but the point is: Yes, Aisha Harris, there can be a Black Santa. And Emma Thompson would make a bitchin' Doctor. Related: 'Given our tendency to police people of colour from coast to coast, be it by banning them from school because of their hairstyles or shooting them dead when they come to our doors asking for help, all spaces in this country are arguably "white spaces". " (Rachel Sklar & Glynnis MacNichol)

"The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), a non-profit organization working to improve the living conditions for village children in Armenia, hosted its Tenth Annual Holiday Gala on Friday, December 13, 2013 at Cipriani 42nd Street. The event was a resounding success as more than 400 longtime friends and supporters gathered together for an unforgettable evening, and raised nearly $3 million to support COAF's community-led programs. Special guests in attendance included Michael Aram, Patricia Field, Kerry Butler, and Benjamin McKenzie. For the seventh year in a row, Emmy and Tony Award winning actress Andrea Martin entertained guests throughout the evening as the Master of Ceremonies. Of Armenian descent herself, Ms. Martin is a longtime advocate of COAF's work. She is best known for her work on Broadway and roles in the films Wag the Dog and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She received her second Tony Award this year for her role in the critically-acclaimed show Pippin." (NYSocialDiary)

"In late June, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra came within days of foreclosure on its concert hall, an imposing neoclassical structure that opened in 2006. Designed by a national architecture firm that specializes in faux-historical buildings, and costing $123.5 million, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, with its massive columns and impressive portico, was meant to give one of this country’s finest regional orchestras cultural and civic gravitas.1 But in March, leaders of the institution decided that they could no longer afford the interest rates on a letter of credit, and effectively threatened to default on their mortgage. A confidential agreement, brokered by wealthy symphony supporters, saved the orchestra from homelessness, but the situation remains bleak. In recent years, the Nashville Symphony has been running deficits of $10 to $20 million a year, and a contract with the musicians is about to expire. If recent history is any guide, negotiations will be complex and rancorous.It has been a dark few years for this country’s orchestras. In the past season, a bitter strike in San Francisco and a lockout in Minneapolis led to cascading cancellations, including of the San Francisco Symphony’s East Coast tour. Since the economic crisis of 2008, bankruptcies have afflicted orchestras around the country, leading to the closure of the Honolulu, Syracuse, and Albuquerque symphonies, and in April 2011 came the stunning news that one of the country’s 'Big Five,' the Philadelphia Orchestra, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some of those groups reorganized, or opened in new forms, and Philadelphia emerged from bankruptcy in July 2012 with a hiring freeze, ten fewer players, and a 15 percent pay cut for the remaining ones.No surprise, then, that many of the attendees at the recent annual meeting of the League of American Orchestras seemed in the grip of a strange mania, a mix of bitter gloom and hysterical optimism." (TNR)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Last week, a study commissioned by the president concluded that the National Security Agency had reached too far into the private lives of Americans. The study, which came after a series of journalistic revelations exposing the agency’s surveillance practices, recommended numerous reforms that would curb the N.S.A.’s prerogatives. President Obama said he was 'open to many' of the suggestions. It was exactly the kind of news-making moment that '60 Minutes' — America’s leading purveyor of serious television news — has often been responsible for creating. For more than four decades, the program has exposed C.I.A. abuses, rogue military contractors and hundreds of corporate villains.  But where was '60 Minutes' on the N.S.A. story? The Sunday before the damning study, the program produced a segment that scanned as a friendly infomercial for the agency. Reported by John Miller, a CBS News reporter, the piece included extensive interviews with Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A.  In a scene that served as something of a metaphor for the whole segment, the producers negotiated access to the Black Chamber, a supersecret area where the nation’s top code breakers work. The door is briefly opened, we see a deserted office hall that looks like any other and then the door is closed. We get a look in, but we learn nothing. Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report — in which '60 Minutes' said it was fooled by an eyewitness who was apparently nothing of the kind — the N.S.A. segment raises the question of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its skepticism as well." (David Carr)

"A few weeks ago, I had a drink with my friend Justine Sacco and we talked about what makes for a good Tweet. Justine is an easy person to like — frank, funny, quick to laugh. To a reporter, she’s the kind of flack who’s all too rare, the kind who doesn’t stop being a person when she badges in for the day at work. Although a tough and forceful advocate for her employers, I could trust her not to waste my time or feed me a line, even when we found ourselves at cross purposes. While we’ve never hung out socially, I’ve always enjoyed the occasional lunch or drink we’d have to catch up. It was over such a drink a few weeks ago that the subject of Twitter came up. Although she’d been using the service for several years, Justine was still figuring out its nuances. One thing she’d noticed was that people seemed to like the Tweets that were just a little bit risque or outrageous. She mentioned a recent post about Jimmy Fallon seeming like a 'grateful lover,' which had gotten a strong response. I flashed back to this conversation on Friday after Justine set off an avalanche of fury — on Twitter, on Facebook and in the news media across the globe — by tweeting, 'Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!' In the many, many blog posts and social media threads that ensued, 'racist' was the word that was most frequently used to characterize this joke. That was not my reaction. I interpreted it as a self-deprecating joke about white guilt and Western privilege — about the sheepish feeling of being physically close to tragedy while remaining safe in an economic and cultural bubble. Others have told me they read it much the same way, even without knowing the author. “I think she was more mocking the aloofness white people can have on this issue, not celebrating that aloofness,' says one friend." (Jeff Bercovicci)

"I go to this swanky Beverly Hills party, and there is Steve Martin. An actor that I have never particularly cared for.  Anyway, to my surprise he appears to be paying attention to me. Every time I glance up, he is looking directly at me. This is the oddest thing, but it has happened once before, with a famous tennis player, so it is not entirely outlandish, I assure myself. At one point he sidles past me while I speak to someone. He moves by me very slowly; I do not look at him but can tell his eyes are glued to me. Later, I am on the phone with Matilda, and she tells me she knows this guys who sells Steve paintings. She’ll check this out. She calls me back with excellent news: Steve likes English-accented mousy, brainy brunets; I’m his type. Later still she tells me he is shy, that he never approaches girls. He was looking at me. He definitely was looking at me.Matilda says she is going to get me Steve for a husband, that we’re perfect for each other, and that she knows exactly how to pull this off. I say, ‘OK, but go slowly and keep me posted all the way. I have the power to veto any of your choices.’ She agrees. But she is a major con artist, so why do I believe her? I guess it suits me.
Time flies. I’m busy writing my novel, and even though I’ve told all my close friends that I think Steve Martin was looking at me at this party that I went to, it all gradually fades into the background.
Then one morning the phone rings; it’s Matilda. She tells me that she called Steve’s doorman and left Steve a message from me. I know she is kidding, and I am too cool to appear shocked by anything, so I laugh and say, ‘That would be funny.’ And she says, ‘You wouldn’t be mad at me?’ And I reply, ‘No, I would think it was funny, but don’t, whatever you do, don’t do it.’ An hour later the phone rings again. It’s a gentleman claiming to be Steve Martin." (Christina Oxenberg)

"One of Cher’s biggest hurdles early in her ­career was convincing audiences she wasn’t a man, because of her deep-throated delivery, a new book on the iconic singer reveals.The tome from British imprint Plexus also chronicles her relationships with men from ­David Geffen to Gregg Allman, and how, one night, Cher saved a male musician’s life with ­advice from her gynecologist.
Josiah Howard’s 'Cher: Strong Enough,' ­recounts that when the future superstar broke onto the scene as a teen with her older hubby and partner, Sonny Bono, misconceptions were so prevalent that she was a man, a secretary was hired to persuade fans otherwise. 'Just three months after they hit the big time, Sonny and Cher’s . . . secretary was charged with responding to each and every inquiry, even those from fans, to refute the rumor,' the book says. A letter dated Sept. 8, 1965, to a fan reads: 'Cher, we assure you, is a girl. She is 19 years old and happily married to Sonny (who is 25) [Bono was actually 30]. As for Cher’s singing voice being too low: I think you will find that a lot of great female singers have low voices . . . Tell your mom that Cher is just a very slim, very pretty girl with a low voice. I think if you listen closer, you will find a lot of feminine quality in her voice.' In 1974, after Cher had become a star and while she was dating Geffen, one night she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, the book details. At a party for the Average White Band, guests passed around a drug they thought was cocaine but turned out to be heroin. Drummer Robbie McIntosh died the following day from an overdose. However, Cher had abstained and saved band bassist Alan ­Gorrie’s life by bringing him home and 'following the advice of her gynecologist (her personal physician was unavailable) . . . induced vomiting, applied ice packs to his body and forcibly walked him around, preventing him from losing consciousness and lapsing into a coma.'" (PageSix)

"Then there were the refuse entrepreneurs. The man who used to show up across the avenue every Friday at 1 PM wasn’t there. A young woman (Hispanic) has taken over the station. I’m fascinated by these individuals, as you may have read before. They are taking the bull by the horns, and out there and doing what they have to do to get where they need to get. It used to be called 'doing what it takes.' This young woman is, as you can see, well and adequately, and even fashionably  dressed for this (or any other) task. I noticed her sitting on the doorstep of the apartment building with her shopping cart and her plastic bags. She was waiting. Ten minutes later, the black metal gate of the building next door banged open, and one of the super’s staff started tossing rubbish bags onto the sidewalk. When it was a bag of bottles or cans, he tossed them her way. She’s wearing gloves. She must be young — in her early twenties maybe — because she moves — and especially 'bends'— very quickly and with the automatic agility of youth. She went through each bag with a quickness that articulates focus, very fast, and saving each empty bag with many others in another bag. This went on for almost a half hour. I went back to my desk for ten minutes and when I returned to the window, she was gone. I was thinking about 'where' she was going with her acquisitions — just rubbish, by definition. I had planned go to down and give her a small contribution, in another words, a vote of confidence, but I missed the opportunity." (NYSocialDiary)

"Like 'Jingle Bells' and bad sweaters, 'dealing with family' is a time-honored holiday tradition. And since Christmas is in a couple days, chances are good that you are currently in the midst of that dealing, or at least you will be very soon. This year, though, we can all do more than deal with our family. We can be our best selves and have a drunken blast with them instead. I don't mean that your family holidays should resemble a bachelor party or a dinner thrown by Cher, but by getting drunk together — fun drunk, not sad, depressing drunk — laughter, camaraderie, and hang-over-induced movie marathons should squash out awkwardness, judgment, and boring stories about your uncle's most recent knee surgery. The goal isn't just to get your parents and your siblings sauced (don't just spike the eggnog); it's to wrest control away from your alcoholic aunt or your passive-aggressive grandfather and get everyone onboard with the party plans. They don't have to know the night will end with them taking part in a rousing, drunken rendition of Come All Ye Faithful (even though it will), but they're only going to get there if they start the day with a willingness to have a good time. Your job is merely to encourage that good time by making sure everyone has enough to drink. While every family is obviously different, and will require different levels of coercion, there are five foolproof tactics that will put you on the correct path." (NYMag)

"Very warm for the third week of December in New York, ten minutes after midnight, the day before the Winter Solstice. The weatherman says this next of the woods is going to get even warmer before the weekend’s out. That’s okay; I’ve even got the terrace door open as I write. However, I’m still hoping for a White Christmas (implying the jolly Ho Ho Ho! returning to our lives for no matter how brief a moment.)  This is a moment when New Yorkers are sharing cocktails dinners with friends and neighbors in each others’ houses and apartments and restaurants. For the NYSD, we’re in the catching up mode. For example, last Monday night at Stella 34 Trattoria at Macy’s, overlooking the Empire State Building spire, there was a roast and toast staged by the culinary and philanthropic communities joining the Citymeals-on-Wheels gang along with the just plain foodies to ... celebrate Gael Greene on her 80th birthday. 'I don’t know how this happened so quickly,” said the 'Insatiable Critic,' which was her moniker for forty years in New York magazine before they up and fired her, and she moved her critiques to 'One evening I was forty and disco-dancing and all men were 26, and then the next ... this frightening big number!' As she was speaking, two towering chocolate birthday cakes, each marked '40,' were being rolled out into the room. No one in the felt frightened, probably even the birthday girl herself. Gael Greene is one of the most prolific and productive writers of her generation here in New York. She’s written seven books, including two best-selling (erotic ) novels, plus a memoir, not to mention her hundreds and hundreds of 'Insatiable…' columns and other articles. She started her journalism career at the New York Post in 1957 when it was the fiefdom of Dorothy (Dolly) Schiff, a forward thinking progressive woman who let her sentiments be known in the press. Greene’s memoir, 'Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess,' documents the 40 year revolution in dining that she was documenting weekly in New York Magazine, the hottest weekly New York magazine of the era. Writing as the anonymous critic she could raise the hackles and flatten the soufflés of even the iciest of restaurateurs with her words." (NySocialDiary)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Has Barack Obama turned into George W. Bush? This terrible fate, desperately hoped for since the outset of Obama’s presidency by the Bush administration veterans as a kind of vindication fantasy, has become a new conventional wisdom. It has been floated, with varying levels of certainty, by Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza, Bill McInturff, Ron Fournier, and Politico. It is certainly true that Obama’s approval ratings have fallen to Bush-2005 levels. It’s also entirely possible they’ll fall further still: The administration’s panicky preparations for January suggest the first month of actual Obamacare coverage may be just as chaotic and unpopular as the onset of Medicare Part D. Yet the Bush comparisons state, or imply, broader forces at work than mere sagging approval ratings. They suggest a presidency that has hit a new inflection point beyond which its credibility is severed and its agenda broken. And that conclusion falls apart because it completely misses how power works in the Obama era. If you measure the power of Obama’s presidency as the ability to move his agenda through Congress, his presidency has been dead since Republicans took control of the House in January 2011. If you measure it by his ability to use his popularity to force the opposing party to cooperate, it has literally been dead from the outset. In Obama’s first few weeks, with approval ratings in the seventies, he could not persuade a single House Republican to support a fiscal response to the most dire economic emergency in 80 years. Bush’s power worked very differently. He enjoyed control of Congress for most of his first term and the first two years of his second. What’s more, his opposition party genuinely feared being seen as obstructionist. Substantial minorities of Democrats decided to vote for elements of Bush’s agenda on the calculation that being seen as bipartisan, and winning narrow concessions, made more political sense than opposing Bush. A dozen Democratic senators voted for the Bush tax cuts, and another seven abstained. Democrats supported the porky energy bill, and could have blocked Medicare Part D through a filibuster but decided not to. Republicans like to blame Hurricane Katrina for fundamentally breaking Bush’s presidency. It’s a handy rationalization both for Bush loyalists, who can blame his failure on a single freak event, and for conservatives, who can avoid implicating conservative ideology. (NYMag)

" This Christmas our thoughts need to be with our fellow Christians who are being threatened in the biblical lands. No ifs or buts about it, they are being told to either join the Sunni-led opposition to Assad and renounce Christianity or die. After decades of protection by a secular-leaning dictatorship, the Saudi-financed jihadists are giving ultimatums for a very dark future for Christians. There already has been Christian cleansing in Syria, especially in Homs, where 90 percent of the Christians have fled the city for Assad-controlled areas near the Lebanese border.In Iraq things are not much better. Cities such as Mosul and Tikrit, which is near Saddam’s hometown, were once vital centers of Christianity. No longer. Iraq’s Christian population, estimated to have been 1.5 million, has fallen by half. Thank you George W. Bush, a great Christian thinker, at least in Texas. In Egypt, there are at least seven million Christian Copts who are now treated as third-class citizens and mostly confined to squalid quarters. Things have improved in Egypt since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood gang, but rest assured that if the Salafists have their say, and they still do with the military in power, the Christians are doomed in the long run." (Taki)

"Wednesday, it was Michael’s. For those who can’t stay away, it was a big day. It was also the last Michael’s Wednesday this year. Next Wednesday is Christmas and the following is New Year’s. And then we make resolutions and start all over again. I was lunching with Rikki Klieman, who is known to the world for her frequent appearances first on Court TV, and now on CBS This Morning as a legal analyst. She is also well known in New York and Los Angeles as the wife of Bill Bratton, the newly appointed Police Commissioner under incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mr. Bratton has previously served as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department; once before in New York (1994-96) and Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 2002 to 2009. The Klieman-Brattons married in 1999. They’ve had a social profile in New York since day one. We’ve been in the same room together numerous times although I’d never had a real conversation with them.I say that only because they’ve always been a 'couple' in my perception – versus a single (Mr. Big and the Little Woman, etc.). It occurred to me as I was writing this that that “perception” of mine, of them, is probably the result of a very dynamic duo. Because what I learned at lunch is how full both their lives are with their own personal responsibilities and objectives.Because Rikki Klieman is nothing if not dynamic. We’d known each other on a 'hi' basis for some time, but never to have a conversation. Several weeks ago we were seated next to each other at a dinner at Shirley Lord’s. That led to this lunch. This is one of the wonders of New York – the constant connecting.She’s a fascinating lady. Forthright, upfront; a girl from Chicago. Born into very modest circumstances, she went to Northwestern where she majored in theatre, then to law school at Boston University, then on to an appointment as assistant DA for Middlesex County (Mass.); then joining a law firm in Boston, then starting her own private practice. I could just see her in the courtroom; no kidding." (NYSocialDiary) "Mariah Carey belted out her hit songs for Angolan despot José Eduardo dos Santos and his family last weekend for more than $1 million — even though she apologized in 2008 for performing for Moammar Khadafy’s family, a human-rights watchdog says. A smiling Carey posed for a picture with the Southern African dictator, his daughter and his wife.'I am happy to be here in this room, and I am honored to share this show with the president of Angola,' the pop singer said at the gala, according to the Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting and promoting human-rights globally. The foundation blasted her for taking payment from a 'tyrant.' 'Mariah Carey can’t seem to get enough dictator cash,' the group’s president, Thor Halvorssen, said." (PageSix)