Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 6th Annual Pirate Awards

The end of the Aughts ought to be celebrated with a certain solemnity. But this is not that place.

Six years this blogger has been on the beat. Six years of reality TV, media social mountaineers (myself being excepted) and enough online mayhem to stun a yak at 30 paces. Here are my awards for some of the most dubious (and sometimes noble)achievements of the year now ending, not with a bang but a whimper. Keep checking back on this page as I will be posting all week. Basta:

Heroes of the Year: The Iranian Students. It is the students, the intellectuals, risking life and limb and family for those related ideals of freedom and of justice. The Iranian students are fighting for their country, which has been hijacked by the military, hoping to reverse a rigged election. They face prison, rape, the batons of the bloodthirsty Basij and even, as in the case of Neda Agha Soltan, death.

The Green Movement is also providing leverage that President Obama needs to bring about a peaceful resolution to the nuclearization issue. The more vulnerable the Mullahs appear, the lower the price of oil, the less maneuvering room Ahmadinejad has in achieving his end goal of a nuclear Iran, an event that would throw the already combustible region into a weapons brinkmanship. And with ultra right wingnut Bibi Netanyahu at the helm of a nuclear Israel, who knows how that scenario might play itself out. The stronger the students movement, the stronger President Obama's hand. We applaud and acknowledge the grit and determination of the Green Movement before the negative forces of political repression.

Breakout Performance of the Year: Kerry Washington. Reviews for David Mamet's Race have been mixed. Some critics have loved it, others not so much. But the general consensus -- mine included -- is that the effervescent Kerry Washington, President Obama's most beautiful supporter on the campaign trail, shone in the role of Susan. Just ... just give her the Tony. And Kerry -- Call me?

Prick of the Year: Bernie Madoff. We'd award Madoff "Prick of the Year," but as Cindy Adams reported earlier this year, the Ponze scum's pricker -- ahem -- is, apparently, nothing to write home about (AKA, The Jude Law Problem). Honorable Mentions: Kanye West and Anthony "Crook Astor" Marshall.

Feud of the Year: Demi Moore Versus Perez Hilton. There were so many titanic media battles this year -- Leno versus Stern; Kate versus Jon; Palin versus Johnston's Johnson -- but for one day in September, an A-List Hollywood star took on an A-List blogger in the Twittersphere. There were no handlers, mediators or lawyers involved. Anything could have happened and one got the impression that history -- or, rather, herstory -- was being made. And it was good. Of which I wrote: "It speaks to the vast sea-change that the media landscape has undergone that these two outsize media personalities were going at it -- unmoderated by any outlet other than that Deus Otiosus, Twitter -- for all the world to read. It gathered steam quickly, it reached it's peak, then petered out, gradually, in rhetorical exhaustion. Is this the future of media fights? Are we in for more bareknuckled brawls like this in cyberspace?"

The Porn Star That Almost Made Good: Sasha Gray. It nearly happened, anyway. Americans -- and New Yorkers, particularly -- love a redemption story. And what could be more "redemptive" than a porn star actually becoming a film star (Sylvester Stallone excepted). When Sasha Gray was cast as a lead in a Steven Soderbergh film, the media went banannas. But then there was the ill-timed feud with Howard Stern, which might have been interesting and indeed actually empowering for porn stars everywhere had she taken up his challenge in his studio (for all the nude strippers that Stern has pelted over the years with cold cuts).

But Sasha didn't. Plus the film kind of fizzled, despite all that inital buzz that might have launched her into the Hollywood mesosphere if not the actual thermosphere of American celebrity. For a while there the prospect of a porn star going legit in Hollywood -- a region, we cannot fail to note, where all the powerful film directors have extensive porn libraries -- appeared to be a distinct possibility. Even Francis Ford Coppola in an earlier incarnation helming a number of softcore porn flicks. If only Sasha had crossed that thin line. It was kind of an intersting little thing that ultimately wasn't.

The Time To Retire Hef Award: Hef. Speaking of porn ... Hugh Hefner is a sort of pop cultural superhero to a certain type of louche Hollywood misogynist (and, of course, mansion regular Courtney Love). But Izabel St. James' Bunny Tales revealed how , no pun intended, the sausage is made. The former Playmate and Hefgirlfriend reveals, among other things, that Hef spits while he's talking ("Every time thereafter, when he started eating pizza and turned to her to speak, we would just burst out laughing"), that Hef was a goddam pharmaceutical trailblazer ("One year on his birthday when he received 'gift-wrapped goodie bag' from his doctor at his annual mansion birthday party -- one of the first prescriptions written for Viagra in Hollywood") and, finally, Hef likes to lube himself up ("hef would lie on his back in the middle of the bed, and as some of us were getting stoned or drinking Dom, he would cover himself with baby oil") OK Then!

More info on Hef than anyone, under any circumstance, ever needs to know.

Conspicuous Consumption Pirate: Robin Quivers. If The Howard Stern Show exhibited extreme conspicuous consumption on Sirius radio early in the year and the media wasn't there to hear it, did it happen. Of course it did -- and this blog was there to chronicle. The Howard Stern Show is deeply rooted in the idea of being for and by The Everymen. At least it was when they were on terrestrial radio at the beginning. They entertained the working class, the truck drivers and contractors with the soap operaish minutiae of their lives which, up until the big move, had been pretty much not unlike ours (excepting, of course, the $5.9 million Manhattan condo). They busted each others balls, like at any construction site, and occasionally a celebrity interview or a sex discussion would interrupt the mayhem. It was the very first "show about nothing." Then in 2006, Stern bought his co-star Robin Quivers a $91,000 Mercedes-benz SL-Class 5.0. There is also, we cannot fail to note, the touchy matter of Stern's $80 million a year salary and the previously mentioned move to satellite that has placed the show somewhat out of the financial reach of Average Joe Sixpack.

But the whole "Everyman" angle evaporated entirely like a glass of fizzy champagne left unattended when it was revealed that Robin ordered several bottles of $800 wine at a staff dinner. From

Howard said he had dinner with the crew over last weekend and allowed Robin to order the wine - only to find out she had ordered an $800 bottle: 'I looked at the bill and it took my breath away." Howard laughed that one would have been ok, but it took three bottles to serve the whole table, bringing the wine tab to over $2,400. Robin explained that she ordered a special wine for a special occasion ('You should've ordered yourself!'), adding: 'I don't even look at the price when I take you out. I pay.'

"Robin claimed she was going to pay Howard back for the cost of the wine: 'I'm going to give it to you and you're going to take it.' Howard insisted that he would never accept Robin's check, so Robin repeated: 'I don't care what you say. I'm paying for the bring this up is very rude. Don't take me to dinner ever again.'

Let them eat cake (but only if it's extra-rich).

Best Unintentional Comedy: Obsessed. What? Obsessed was not a comedy? It was a social X-ray? Really? A drama? Mamma says Wha-a? A commentary on "Race in America," you say? Mm-hmm? We thought -- forgive us, dear Lord -- that it was a drinking game. A Brobdinangian farce; a great, rollicking bonfire of our collective insanities. John Ridley in The Wrap summed up our feelings at this silly, harmless cinematic taffy thusly:

(B)y accident or design -- I'm guessing accident – 'Obsessed' carries the most social-political wallop entertainment's had to offer since the Obama and Clinton stand-ins got into a tussle on WWE. First, Elba and Knowles play a middle-class, happy-but-bored married couple who are feeling the stress of raising their first child ... And they just happen to be black. What? How'd all that get past the fake liberal studio execs who rarely if ever portray middle-class black families in lead roles in films? And the black man's got a white person working for him. And she's a she. And she's hot for the black man, all of which is a flip on a grip of social fears that have been pervasive on film going back to 'Birth of a Nation.' And to protect her family, the black wife of the black man -- SPOILER ALERT … unless you've seen the trailer -- kicks the crazy white woman's pale backside. That makes the film the biggest black woman's wish fulfillment revenge fantasy that doesn't star Tyler Perry in drag ever!

Charmed, I'm sure.

Survivor Pirate: Gore Vidal. All of his literary rivals have shuffled off the mortal coil. Buckley. Mailer. Capote. Nabokov. Even the category "literary celebrity" itself has receded into remote mists of History. And yet Gore Vidal persists, writing sharp essays on politics and culture in syntactically elegant prose in an educated voice. He is independently wealthy and elderly, so he writes fearlessly, speaking Truth to Power. And while we disagree with his conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor, we enjoy just about everything else he writes, particularly his essays on Empire, Ancient History and the American Presidency. We hope that he never desists.

Fashion Accessory of the Year: Boy Toys. Madonna, once again, is so very fashion forward. She has given us so much -- buff power arms, fake British accents, Latin American men -- and now: Manchildren. Levi Johnson, for example, is a manchildren. Dumb twentysomething man-meats was as essential to the go-getting woman of the Aughts as their Jimmy Choos. If the name Jesus Luz sounds forgettable that's because it is (or will be once Madonna stops fucking him). Madonna's hunting for young manflesh -- preferably Latin American -- launched a thousand web posts opn "Cougars." But it is the boytoy, in his glazed and honied man-haminess that is THE fashion accessory of the year.

Power Coupling of the Year: Naomi Campbell and Vladmir Doronin. His name sounds like the nemesis in a Rocky film or some fucking Schwarzenegger joint. And yet this oligarch appears to have met his match in the incendiary, servant-beating supermodel. He has, to his credit, lasted longer than most. Naomi is a bit of a maneater (Watch out, Vlad, she'll chew you up).

?uestionable Explanation of the Year: ?uestlove of The Roots. It is okay when you are in your 30s and you have a family to compromise -- a little bit -- one's artistic integrity. Unfortunately, ?uestlove of The Roots feels that his audience couldn't handle that much raw honesty, so he gave a convoluted answer to Paper magazine when they asked the question everyone was asking, namely -- Why the Jimmy Fallon show?:

Papermag: Who initiated the arrangement of The Roots becoming Jimmy's house band?

?uestlove: My former boss did -- I used to work for The Chappelle Show, and our music supervisor Neil Brennan dared Jimmy to hire us, knowing that we wouldn't accept it. And just to spite Neil, we took the gig.

Papermag: Was there a financial motivation?

?uestlove: No, but survival for us is bar none. That's job one: It's one thing when you are in your twenties and you don't have responsibilities, and you can live in your parent's house. Once you have those financial responsibilities, people to take care of, and a staff to pay, you think differently. It's freed up time with our families. And actually, The Roots have already conquered every possible medium except television. This is our last frontier.

Dubious at best, ?uest.

Skeeviest Move of the Year: Bloomberg's Millions. Surprisingly, VH1 is not the winner of this year's skeeviest move, rather it is the cynical way in which NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg tossed tens of millions of dollars at any media outlet willing to run his commercials. By election day New Yorkers were having dream of Bloomberg, so frequent and obnoxious were the ads in all forms of media. What did Bloomberg's people know -- the pundits asked -- that we didn't? They knew, of course, that New Yorkers loathed the way he overturned the popular will. They know that billionaires, not unlike alpha male chimpanzees, tend to have tyrannical personal natures(for further reference see: H Ross Perot). And they knew that African-Americans and Latino voters are the majority in the city. They also know that money, when sprinkled liberally, can win even the slimmest of margins in a close race against an underfinanced opponent.

What the fuck happened: CNN. This Thumotic decade began, spiritedly, under the general media proposition that CNN would dominate benevolently. International affairs were front-and-center and it was widely assumed that, world events playing to its strength, the House that Ted Built would do for the Second Persian Gulf War what it did for the first. Solid investigative reporting interspersed with video game graphics, and all that. Imagine our surprise when that didn't happen. Instead, the upstart Fox cleaned CNN's clock leading us to ask: What-the-fuck-happened? Seriously.

Your 15 Minutes Are Up: Paris Hilton. As the Aughts began, Paris Hilton was ubiquitous in her obnoxiousness; Borborygmous in her boobosity. An experimental creation of that significant cultural artifact Page Six, Paris -- no relation to that Homeric hero -- proceded, post haste, to ruin a perfectly fine film festival. And things went downhill from there. Our friend David Patrick Columbia in NYSocialDiary (image via JH/NYSD) wrote in the thick of Parismania, "There’s nothing wrong with Paris Hilton that a little public ignoring wouldn’t change overnight." Time, or his son Zeus, hearing our Homeric pleas answered our collective Orphic Hymns. Paris is now plying her trade overseas (a sort of reverse Dutchess of York maneuver), causing all manner of mayhem. But the clock on the Continent -- as it was here -- ticks anew, ending, fer realsies, at a quarter past Fameball. One can only assume that Hong Kong remains fixed in her reptilian gaze.

Person To Watch: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula's fast-rising Brazil artfully navigated the Scylla and Charybdis that is Chavez's leftish stranglehold over the continent as well as America's Latin American policy with some aplomb. At year's begining we wrote: "Brazil's President, the 'B' in the fast-rising BRIC economies, will not be taking up his standing invitation to Davos this year." By year's end Lula had the Olympics under his belt (beating out international icon, Barack Obama, by a whisker)

TV Show of the Year: (tie) Fareed Zakaria's GPS and The Good Wife. There are so many great shows on TV -- Dexter, True Blood, Glee, Mad Men -- but The Good Wife was the best drama and GPS was the best show on international affairs in this age of international affairs. We suffer, dear readers, from a new golden age of television. If we were forced at gunpoint to pick one, it would have to be the one suffused with Julia Marguiles' magnificent, almost overwhelming Mysterious Older Woman good looks.

Grossest Media Event: Quentin Tarantino's Foot Fetish. Keep it in your goddam shoes, you filthy bastard! Must we be forced to experience "Q.T.'s" disgusting foot fetish, easily the most recognizable celebrity sexual obsession outside of Charlie Sheen's That "experience" rankles. It annerves us to no end that Tarantino injects pedi-erotica into his overbaked Virginia ham of an oevre. It is so wrong. multiplicity of Caligulesque perversions? How long will The Lord of Hosts forsake us?

Most Startling Event: Dakota Fanning's Precipitous Decline. Paralleling, if only vaguely, the decline of the West, the Decline of the Fanning proceeds in a similarly Spenglerian fashion. There is a whisper of twilight and end times in the schadenfreude surrounding Dakota's alarming demise. In March, I wrote: "The veering of Dakota Fanning's film career into increasingly edgy waters proceeds full steam ahead. Fanning, who has been parodied by SNL's Amy Poehler as being freakishly precocious for her age, was discovered by Steven Spielberg, who said in the Washington Post at the time: '(Dakota) has the perfect sort of otherworldly look about her, an enchanting young actress called upon ... to carry a great weight.'"

Just who is looking out for this little junebug's career? Fanning starred in "Hound Dog," which featured a controversial rape scene, that gathered buzz at Sundance but naught else much afterwards. Fanning, at the tender age of 15, is scheduled to play Cheri Currie in 'The Runaways,' the biopic of the '70s all-girl band starring 'Twilight' star Kristen Stewart playing Joan Jett. We expect, but are not looking forward to, the almost certainly forthcoming People-prescription drugs cover story (a small closing *cough* of feigned detachment).

Butterface of the Year: Bruce Jenner's Cranium. What happened, brother? One minute he was the epitome of 1970's manliness. Although, yes, Bruce always had a sort of hard, unyielding, severe butterface, but he embodied a sort of anaerobic masculine ideal in a decade where excercise generally consisted of athletic fucking and some robust disco dancing ("Hey, Baby, What's your sign"?). Now Bruce Jenner resembles -- no offense intended -- naught else but a middle aged caucasian lesbian. And there is nothing wrong with looking like or being a middle aged caucasian lesbian, except, of course, if you are a heterosexual man.

Idea of the Year: Smart Power. SecState Hillary, in her Senate confirmation hearings, unveiled this concept. All year it has been unveiled, to greatest effect in the negotiation of peace between Turkey and Armenia. Of "Smart Power" I wrote: "There are almost as many variations of Power nowadays as there are practitioners of that Dark Art. There is 'hard power,' 'soft power' and 'dark power.' Near as we can tell, 'smart power,' which was famously advocated by former Senator Hillary Clinton in her Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, is an amalgam of all the best aspects of hard and soft power -- i.e, military might and cultural influence."

Strangest Media Event: (tie) Governor Mark Sanford's Argentina Moment & Ron Jeremy At Fashion Week. It was strange that lowlife porn star Ron Jeremy was "at the tents" at this year's Fashion Week shows (Then again, pornish Jenna Jameson showed up in a previus year). Stranger still, however, was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's rambling explanation of his mysterious unreachability on the Appalachian Trail.

Political Comeback of the Year: Andrew Cuomo. We toyed with the idea of naming The Clintonians (tm), considering just how many of Bill Clinton's old posse ended up in the Obama administration -- particularly, alas, on the financial side of things. But Andrew Cuomo truly and fairly made the most waves, resurrecting himself from his previous political ashes. We wrote: " Eliot Spitzer (and, to a lesser degree Jerry Brown) made Attorneys General cool, vital, relevant just as the loathsome Rudy Giuliani, post-September 11th, made Mayors cool (then squandered his political capital in a quixotic run for President, la). Now, in the hour of the wolf, Attorneys General like Andrew Cuomo are holding the financial bad guys' feet to the fire and becoming the stuff heroic folklore in the American popular imagination. Cuomo's legendary anger -- in his messy divorce, in his clumsy exit from a Governor's race he had already clearly lost -- almost proved to be his thumotic downfall. Now, aimed at the big banker scumbags who have put the United States it is well served. If only he could be as hard against the real danger of Medicaid fraud, which, in the era of Obama's stimulus package, could approach Wagnerian dimensions."

We are not particularly fanboy of the idea of hereditary monarchy. Cuomo, however, a second generation pol, is showing himself to be the most qualified and the most able of the current contenders to reclaim his father's old seat at the head of the Empire State. He cannot be any worse than the last three occupants of that post who have been, we cannot fail to note, Unmitigated. Fucking. Disasters.

Part the Third, tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

... With Razzleberry Dressing

The blog will be back up starting Monday doing the annual year end Pirate awards (I cannot believe I've been doing these Pirates for 6 years) awarding raspberries to the dubious achievements in the politico-media-entertainment sphere. If I don't get the chance: have a Happy, Warm, Brilliant Holidays.
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Two years ago this month, the Bancroft family, majority owners of the Wall Street Journal since 1902 and proud guardians of its independence, sold their newspaper to Australian vulgarian Rupert Murdoch. It was a stunning turn of events whose significance is still coming into focus. At the time, of course, pundits from the far left to the far right decried the sale. Murdoch would Fox-ificate the Journal, they said. He would castrate its muckraking, Pulitzer-winning tradition of investigative reporting. He would undermine the intellectual credibility of its editorial page, its stature as the nation’s leading purveyor of conservative ideas. He would use the paper’s reputation to burnish his own legacy. To protect and promote his own octopus-like global business interests. To destroy the New York Times." (GQ)

"During the frantic final two days of negotiations at Copenhagen over the weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set a clever trap for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Having just announced that the United States would establish and contribute to a $100 billion international fund by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the challenge of climate change, Clinton added a nonnegotiable proviso: All other major nations would first be required to commit their emissions reduction to a binding agreement and submit these reductions to "transparent verification." This condition was publicly reaffirmed by Obama, who argued that any agreement without verification would be 'empty words on a page.' Everyone in the room knew that "all other major nations' primarily meant China. From the beginning, China has steadfastly refused to place its commitments within a binding framework or accept outside monitoring and verification of its progress toward any promised targets. But the eleventh-hour U.S. proposal immediately isolated China. The onus was now on Beijing to agree to standards of "transparent verification." If it did not, poorer countries standing to benefit from the fund would blame China for breaking the deal. Clinton's proposal had cunningly undermined Beijing's leadership over the developing bloc of countries." (ForeignPolicy)

"... But I’m digressing (no kidding). My point in telling this story is to get to this picture which I took of two of the guests as we were getting our coats off the rack out of the Meigher’s Albert Hadley decorated bedroom (I shudda taken a picture of the bedroom, right?). Taki Theodoracopulos and Chuck Pfeiffer. You may know the former as simply Taki, the international columnist of the rich, the chic, and the gadfly. Chuck on the other hand you may know because you’ve seen in him any number of films, sometimes playing himself and if you’re old enough you remember his image when he was the image of a famous cigarette ad. Or even younger when he played football for West Point. Or after his stint in Viet Nam. Taki is very outgoing while Chuck, who is just as personable, tends to be somewhat reserved, comparatively. They’ve been pals for a long time, sharing many mutual interests in and out of the high life. You can see it in this picture. Chuck is all American and Taki is what he likes to refer to as the Poor Little Greek Boy (he’s rich, having inherited from his rich father)." (NYSocialDiary)

"Zoe Saldana, Hollywood's new queen of science fiction, didn't need much of an introduction to the world of geekdom. Her nerdiness comes naturally. The actress – who plays Neytiri in James Cameron's 3-D blockbuster Avatar, and was Uhura in J.J. Abrams's Star Trek – says she's always been drawn to material with nerd appeal. 'For me, it's been like preaching to my choir, because I was considered what you would think of as a geek,' Saldana, 31, told PEOPLE at the Avatar premiere in Los Angeles last week. 'I loved stories that helped me escape, and those happened to be the stories that fall into the category of geekiness. So, therefore, I am a proud geek!'" (People)

"'I come from a very la-ti-da East Coast intellectual family—or so they think,' says Alexandra Wentworth, pouring a bit of cream into her Earl Grey tea. 'And there I was in L.A., measuring my self-worth by whether I could book a job on Beverly Hills 90210.' Ancient history. It’s been a big year for both Wentworth and her husband, George Stephanopoulos, who recently left ABC’s premiere Sunday-morning political show, This Week, to take over for Diane Sawyer on the network’s morning program. 'GMA is a completely different animal than This Week,' she says. 'And George does have that side. He’s incredibly warm and funny and engaging, but he just has never had to use that muscle in his job before ... I wasn’t aware of how A-list (my family was). Just like Tori Spelling didn’t know she was on Farrah Fawcett’s lap growing up. No, I take that back, she probably did. Yeah, I grew up in that world of power and politics in Washington, but when you grow up around it, you are completely unfazed by it. Still am. George and I had our first real dinner party during the Obama inauguration because during the Bush years no one went out after eight.'" (TheDailyBeast)

"Even as moguls shut down their Christmas lights in Bel-Air to head out to the yacht in St. Bart’s, a fever known as 3D is gripping Hollywood. The nationwide thumbs-up over 'Avatar' -- which just two weeks ago had the town on edge -- is now creating thumb-whiplash from insiders hitting the Blackberry with newfound 3D zeal. Director Ridley Scott is breathing down the neck of executives at Universal to get them to approve making a 3D version of his new $200 million epic, 'Robin Hood,' according to one person close to the project. A deal is in the works with Studio Canal, which owns the rights to 'Terminator 2,' to fast-track making the 3D version. Naturally, George Lucas is exploring a 3D version of 'Star Wars.'" (TheWrap)

"Four days before the fall of Kabul in November 2001, Osama bin Laden was still in town. The Al Qaeda leader’s movements before and after September 11 are difficult to trace precisely, but, just prior to the attacks, we know that he appeared in Kandahar and urged his followers to evacuate to safer locations in anticipation of U.S. retaliation. Then, on November 8, he was in Kabul, despite the fact that U.S. forces and their Afghan allies were closing in on the city. That morning, while eating a meal of meat and olives, he gave an interview to Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who was writing his biography. He defended the attacks on New York and Washington, saying, 'America and its allies are massacring us in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Iraq. The Muslims have the right to attack America in reprisal.' Six months later, when I met Mir in Pakistan, he told me that the Al Qaeda leader had, on that day, appeared to be in remarkably good spirits. Kabul fell on November 12, and bin Laden, along with other Al Qaeda leaders, fled to Jalalabad, a compact city in eastern Afghanistan surrounded by lush fruit groves. (He was quite familiar with the area, having maintained a compound in a Jalalabad suburb in the 1990s.)" (TNR)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Picture Pages, Picture Pages ...

When saying "Hi" to Snoop it is customary to specify whether or not it is spoken in salutation or in commentary as to his general state of Being. (image via the cobrasnake)

What's the difference between Tiger Woods and Santa? Santa stopped at three ho's. (image via the cobrasnake)

As always, when push comes to show -- words fail him. (image via thecobrasnake)

Wine before liquor, never sicker. (image via thecobrasnake)

Good Will Blunting. (image via thecobrasnake)

Three smirking reasons to be pessimistic about America's competition in the 21st century against China and India. (image via thecobrasnake)

"Tell me you didn't just say that George Eliot's Middlemarch is the best English novel and not Jane Austen's Emma!" (image via thecobrasnake)

"How can we lose when we're so sincere?" --Charlie Brown
Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"Nearly half a century ago, a New York neighborhood was condemned for its heedless indifference to a young woman’s cries as she was being murdered. Today, Kitty Genovese’s screams might draw people out of their apartments -- but only to capture her death on cellphone cameras and post it to YouTube. Brittany Murphy’s is only the latest name in a march of celebrities to die prematurely and publicly -- while the whole world watches but no one helps. For model Anna Nicole Smith, the end came following years of gluttonous consumption of prescribed sedatives and painkillers. Michael Jackson’s final curtain fell rather randomly after one of his requests for a powerful anesthetic that is normally only administered in hospitals prior to surgery. What these three have in common is not merely the lurid transparency of their afflictions and the apparent ease with which their deaths could be predicted." (TheWrap)

"A friend gave me a copy of Dominick Dunne’s new book, Too Much Money. The advance buzz on it has been so-so and even not-so although the critic in the New York Times liked it. So I opened it with a couple of thoughts. First of all, Dominick knew this was going to be his last book. He’d visited a famous psychic on one of his travels several years ago, and the psychic told him this book would be his last. He could have rationalized and thought to himself that he had now had a long career and might just retire. Except Dominick was very realistic about his life at that point. He was past his eightieth. He’d had a bout of prostate cancer which he’d pretty much licked, and then there was a new one. He liked his life. He was not an unhappy man. He was grateful for all the great success he’d had in the latter years of his life. Fame and fortune just the way he would have ordered it up in a Hollywood script. He’d lived long enough to know what a reward that was in and of itself. He also knew that at that age, he might be on his way out." (NYSocialDiary)

"Richard M. Nixon appeared on more Time magazine covers (48) than anyone, but Barack Obama -- with 24 covers after just his first year in office -- is on pace to triple Tricky Dick's total if he wins a second term. Only 16 people have appeared on 10 or more Time covers, and all are politicians, though only one, Saddam Hussein (12), was not American, Teqnolog reports. Ronald Reagan was second with 45, followed by Bill Clinton (33), George W. Bush (31) and Jimmy Carter (27). Hillary Clinton, with 16, has appeared on the most Time covers for a female and for a non-president." (NYPost)

"As for the mega-budget, (Guy Ritchie) continues, it did not make him nervous. It was simply a total joy after 10 years of doing independently financed movies, one of which (Revolver) took a long, long time to get distributed in the United States. 'I had deeper pockets and bigger support on this. So if I said, Can I have this scene tomorrow, previously there’d be a pause while you’d ask the line producer and there’d be a bit of biting something interesting under their fingernails going on and then you realized that had answered the question for you, which was no. You couldn’t have that. So obviously that wasn’t an issue this time and that was great.' Making Sherlock Holmes was also cathartic for Ritchie in another significant way—he started shooting the film just as his eight-year marriage to Madonna was ending. Did having so much going on his personal life at the time of the film shoot make things easier or harder? 'Easier,' he says, 'It was just sort of heads down, arms swinging' ... The whole thing is supposed to be ironic,' Ritchie says of the remake, which, although technically a romantic comedy, suggested that what a domineering woman really needs from her man is a good smack. 'It’s about a man that hits a woman, and at the same time, it was her. There were all sorts of irony. If you ask me, everything about it was rather interesting, but it was such a feral relationship between a man and woman and you just can’t get away with that in contemporary society.' His sublimated rage at Madonna notwithstanding, he is happy to defend her as a thespian. 'If you ask me, I think she’s all right. I think she’s perfectly good. I just don’t think people can get her persona out of the way.'" (TheDailyBeast)

"How, after the events of the past year, can anyone believe that politics can or should be taken out of banking? To the contrary, recreating a financial services industry that serves an interest wider than the bankers requires more politics. The immediate cause of the ire in the City of London is the Treasury’s imposition of a 50 per cent supertax on bonuses of more than [US $40,000] (a figure, incidentally. higher than the average annual wage in Britain). Behind the rebellion, though, lies a deeper complaint. Hard as it is to believe, bankers seem to think politicians are interfering too much with the free play of market forces. Another way of putting this would be to say that now that governments have socialised all the losses, they should stand back to allow the banker to re-privatise the profits. In the case of RBS, the retort is obvious. Rescued from bankruptcy, Mr Hester’s bank is largely state-owned. More than four-fifths of the shares are owned by taxpayers; and a couple of hundred billion pounds of RBS assets are insured by the Treasury. The politicians, in other words, are representatives of the principal shareholders. And Mr Hester thinks there is too much 'politics' in the relationship?"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Corsair List: What do these notables have in common?

Brittney Murphy (RIP)
Courtney Love
Joaquim Phoenix
Casey Johnson
Mischa Barton
Pete Doherty
Paula Abdul
Lindsay Lohan
Bai Ling
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Media-Whore D'Oeuvres

"'This is like Lindsay Lohan dying,' a studio executive told me, reacting to the news Sunday afternoon that 32-year-old actress Brittany Murphy had been pronounced dead a few hours earlier at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 'It really doesn’t come, unfortunately, as a shock.' While Murphy, the star of Clueless, Don't Say a Word and, most memorably, 8 Mile, may have had a clean-cut image for most of her fans, inside the small world of Hollywood, the sentiment yesterday was unanimous: She was a mess." (TheDailyBeast)

"Friday night I had dinner with a friend, Elizabeth Powell, at the bar of Citronelle Restaurant. The snow had started to fall, sticking to the streets and sidewalks in a pretty blanket of white. In walked Mayor Adrian Fenty and his wife Michelle, with another couple. Blizzards are prime time for urban mayors. A storm poorly handled can seriously damage a career, especially for a mayor, like Fenty, who is up for re-election. But he was smiling, at ease, confident. Maybe it’s because the dinner was to celebrate his 39th birthday, snowstorm or no snowstorm. It seemed he was ready for what Mother Nature had in store." (WashingtonSocialDiary)

"On Dec. 20, 1989, nearly 30,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama and captured the country's military dictator, Gen. Manuel Noriega. The invasion lasted just over a month, and the U.S. military suffered just 23 casualties. Thomas Pickering was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the conflict, and a key advisor to President George H.W. Bush as the United States solidified its position in Central America and ushered in a new age of interventionism in the post-Cold War era. For Pickering, however, the conflict now has a different legacy: He believes that the invasion of Panama helped lead America into the Iraq war. The brief and relatively bloodless war in Panama convinced Americans that the use of force could easily solve their problems overseas -- and, what's more, that the United States could largely accomplish this on its own. The United States did not seek international approval before invading Panama, as it did before the first Gulf War. In a recent interview with Foreign Policy, Pickering noted that before the 1990 invasion of Iraq, '[W]e undertook quite a remarkable series of activities inside the Security Council,' including resolutions that imposed economic sanctions on the country and, after the war, the establishment of a peacekeeping force to protect the Kurds. Multilateralism came with costs, however." (ForeignPolicy)

"Naomi Campbell is suffering 'litigation exhaustion' and has pulled out of her latest court case, incurring an estimated (US $483,336) legal bill. The 39-year-old model discontinued her case against Vanessa Frisbee, a former personal assistant, whom she had accused of breaching confidentiality by selling a story about her in 2000 to the News of the World for (US $40,278). Miss Campbell has appeared in a number of court hearings over the past 10 years. She has run up convictions for assault and won a House of Lords privacy case against the Mirror in 2004 after photos of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting were published. But today Master Bowles, a High Court official hearing her confidentiality case, said that while he could understand the model's 'exhaustion with litigation' she must still pay 90 per cent of Miss Frisbee's legal costs." (Thisislondon)

"Catherine Zeta-Jones gave well-placed fans at her Broadway show, 'A Little Night Music,' a little something to remember by inadvertently flashing her boobs onstage. Zeta-Jones stars with Angela Lansbury in the revival. In one scene, her character is reunited with her long lost lover and opens her kimono to show him what he's been missing. But audience members on the left side of the orchestra the other day also got a spectacular view. One told us, 'I couldn't believe it. No wonder Michael Douglas looks so happy. The couple sitting next to me also saw it and poked each other.' Expect a rush for left-orchestra seats." (PageSix)

"Does the Republican Party have any ideas? The query may have a familiar ring. Five years ago, the question of substance was demanded incessantly of the Democrats. Indeed, in one of those intellectual fads that periodically sweep through Washington, the political class became obsessed with the notion that conservatives had unambiguously won what everybody was calling 'the war of ideas.' The notion was everywhere. The right gloated. ('Conservative thought,' boasted right-wing foundation maven James Piereson, 'has seized the initiative in the world of ideas.') Republicans scolded the opposition. (President Bush chastised Democrats in Congress: '[I]f they have no ideas or policies except obstruction, they should step aside and let others lead.') And Democrats internalized the accusation. ('It makes me realize,' observed labor leader Andrew Stern in 2005, 'how vibrant the Republicans are in creating twenty-first-century ideas, and how sad it is that we’re defending sixty-year-old ideas.'" (TNR)

"When word hit the Internet not long ago that Rashida Jones, the co-star of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, was creating her own comic book series—a spy thriller called Frenemy of the State, co-written with Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, that will be published in early 2010 by Oni Press—the response was a resounding 'Yes, please.' Actually, as sometimes happens when attractive women mix with comic fandom, things got a little creepy. Bloggers didn’t hesitate to use terms like 'geek chubby' when describing their excitement. And as one online commentator noted, 'Rashida Jones is so hot, and the fact that she made a comic makes her much hotter.' Jones isn’t the first actress to try her hand at comic book authorship—Jenna Jameson and Rosario Dawson both created their own graphic novels, Shadow Hunter and Occult Crimes Taskforce, respectively—but something about Jones’s comic ambitions seems especially surprising. After all, this is the daughter of Quincy Jones and the Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton. This is the woman who played the woman who cock-blocked Pam on The Office." (VanityFair)

"A dozen years after scoring the biggest blockbuster of all-time, James Cameron returned to his comfortable spot at number one with his most expensive film to date, the sci-fi epic Avatar, which grossed more than every other film in the marketplace combined. On the other hand, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker failed to charm audiences with their new date movie Did You Hear About the Morgans? which limped into fourth place with a weak opening. A massive blizzard rocked the east coast dumping up to two feet of snow in some areas causing movie theaters to see drastic cuts in attendance. Studios will now fight hard to capture lost business in the days ahead as most holdovers witnessed hefty declines ... Sandra Bullock scored another milestone as her runaway hit The Blind Side became the only film of 2009 to spend five consecutive weeks in the top three. The uplifting football pic slipped just 33% to an estimated $10M and lifted the incredible cume to $164.7M. Warner Bros. looks likely to surpass $200M with this one. Liam Neeson's Taken was the only other film this year to spend five weeks in the top three, although they were not consecutive." (Boxofficeguru)

"There was good news and bad news for guests at Chandelier Creative and Commonwealth Utilities' annual holiday blowout. Le bon? The bash could be entered in the Holiday Party Hall of Fame. But it was a bummer that most guests didn't actually work for the company. Alas! Founder Richard Christiansen thought really big when planning the second annual affair. The invite was bigger than most newborns, the eye-popping Christmas tree stood at about fifteen feet, and the Chandelier Pop Choir (think a four hour-long episode of Glee) dominated the space. And then this! "We have to greet to the Sexy Santa,' quipped Daphne Guinness. 'We can't leave without him.' Well, you get the point. Happy faces like Francisco Costa, Amanda Setton, Stefano Tonchi, Jessica White, Julie Henderson, and Peter Som happily greeted the Santa (a trainer at Christiansen's gym) and munched on popcorn from a huge display, hot dogs from a giant street stand, cupcakes, and lots of champagne. Lorenzo Martone held court by the silent auction that was raising money for the New Museum. His own poolside photograph drew the most bids last night for the second straight year. 'Last year's best-selling picture was of Barack and Michelle Obama," he recalled." (Fashionweekdaily)

"Historically, at least in America, people who seek to thrive in the theatre, publishing, finance, media, or even the gossip columns, make their way to Manhattan. Once here, the climb begins, and it’s tougher than any mountain in Nepal. As E.B. White, the great .. chronicler wrote, 'all it takes is a willingness to be lucky.' But first one must get through the velvet rope. I was kept out until 1978, when Clay Felker, the man who discovered Tom Wolfe, and countless others, decided it was time for the poor little Greek boy to stand up and be counted. I flew from London to New York and went to work almost immediately. He spiked the first piece but then I struck it rich with a story about William Paley, the rich all-powerful head of CBS, and the prominent women trying to land him after his wife, the legendary Babe Cushing Mortimer Paley, had died. I described him as a man so old he was considered middle-aged even in Palm Beach, and gave the women names of various fish, blow fish, the barracuda, shark, etc. Clay was over the moon and called me at five in the morning offering me a job." (Takimag)