"Christ, I miss the cold war," grumbled the exasperated M, played by Judi Dench, in the last James Bond film Casino Royale. She's apparently not the only one. Russian Communists are attacking Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, co-star of the new film, Quantum of Solace, for palling around with 007, a known "enemy of the Soviet people":
"In the name of all communists we appeal to you, Olga Kurylenko, wanton daughter of unclean Ukraine and deserter of the Slavic world. The Soviet Union educated you, cared for you, and brought you up for free, but no one suspected that you would commit this act of intellectual and moral betrayal," the St. Petersburg-based KPLO group's statement read, going on to call James Bond "the killer of hundreds of Soviet people and their allies [...] Your peers are engaged in struggles against NATO and you lounge around on the Cote d'Azur. How could you desert your homeland in its moment of need? Do you really want Crimean girls to be raped by cruel and stupid American marines?"
I'm sure proletarians everywhere are glad they took this principled stand against a fictional character.
Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman's "well-placed sources" are telling him that Barack Obama might be thinking of an outside the box pick for ambassador to London... Oprah Winfrey.
Rachman acknowledges the idea sounds ridiculous, but there is a tradition of major campaign donors being rewarded with ambassadorships. I have to say, though, this would probably be a worse career move for Oprah than for Obama. If the world's most-powerful celebrity really wants to get involved in international diplomacy, there are probably more effective and enjoyable ways she can go about it on her own.
Rachman is one of the 10 foreign-policy experts FP enlisted to choose a "dream team" for the next U.S. president's cabinet. While all of the experts gave well-reasoned and thought-provoking choices, he seemed to have the most fun with the concept. Check out his pick for ambassador to Russia.
Think you can put together a better team than these out-of-touch political elites? Go for it. There's a write-in space, so feel free to nominate Oprah for any cabinet position you'd like.
About year and a half ago, Passport blogged about the opening of the $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, funded by -- you guessed it -- Oprah. The project was launched in celebrity fanfare, highlighting Oprah for the cultural and economic world power she has truly become.
Much to Ms. Winfrey's dismay, however, extravagant spending has been followed by spectacular scandal. A former head mistress from the school is suing the famous talk-show host for $250,000.
About this time last year, allegations of sexual abuse in the school surfaced (Oprah weeped when she heard). Virginia "Tiny" Makopo -- then a school employee -- was arrested for counts of abuse to which she pleaded not guilty. But Oprah was not quite done cleaning house. Nomvuyo Mzamane, the former head mistress, was accused of covering up the scandal. Now jobless and "depressed," Mzamane is sueing Oprah for defamation. She says she never knew the abuses were going on.
The price tag on the lawsuit is barely a drop in the bucket for the $2.5 billion celebrity, but Oprah should worry a lot more about that the tougher-to-quantify damage to her brand.
If global warming, weapons of mass destruction, or an asteroid eliminate human life on Earth, all will not be lost. Stephen Colbert's DNA will be there to save the human species.
Next month, a digitized copy of Colbert's DNA will be sent to the International Space Station as part of "Operation Immortality," a project of video game designer Richard Garriott. In the event that humans cease to exist, aliens can use the DNA to resurrect Homo sapiens.
Colbert, the satirist who was the winning write-in candidate in FP's "World's Top Public Intellectuals" poll, says he is now even closer to his "lifelong dream" of being the floating fetus at the end of the 1968 science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Madonna, lover of all types of attention, kicked off her world tour on Saturday. Guess we know how she'll be voting in November:
The BBC reported that the two-hour show took a political turn when, in a lead-in to a remixed version of "Like a Prayer," a video sequence showed flashing images of destruction followed by pictures of Hitler, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and then Senator John McCain. Senator Barack Obama popped up in another video interlude, but his montage included Gandhi, John Lennon and Al Gore. The tour arrives in North America on Oct. 4.
MR. BROKAW: Did you hear from a lot of people, including your own family members, about recommendations that they had or ideas that they might have had?
MS. KENNEDY: My family is so shy, you know?
MR. BROKAW: Yes, I can imagine.
MS. KENNEDY: Of--yeah, I did, and we really...
MR. BROKAW: There were no cousins who said, "Put my name out there."
MS. KENNEDY: Yeah, put my name on, yeah. No, "I know you're doing this to put your name on," that kind of thing. Yeah. No, there was a--you know, we reached out, obviously, I heard from my family, and I trust their judgment a lot. And then, you know, we went around and talked to a number of colleagues, groups, people who care, women, lots of different kinds of people, and then, you know, I did get a lot of unsolicited suggestions, a lot of people nominated themselves. Not you, but others, so, you know, your name came up.
MR. BROKAW: My name came up? In a dismissive and derisive fashion, of course.
MS. KENNEDY: Yeah, right.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary is disappointed that Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, won't be attending this year's G-8 summit in Hokkaido.
I can't say I blame her. The supermodel-turned-singer has an album launch this coming Friday, and she'd rather prepare for it than sit around learning how to fold kimonos and sipping tea with the other G-8 wives.
Back in Europe, her album seems to be getting as much coverage as the summit itself. The British press is agog at the revelation that Mrs. Sarkozy has had 30 lovers, and the AFP reports that France's "gossip press" is "nearing fever pitch," and the album has gotten rave reviews thus far.
In case any French music critics are wondering how to handle the unusual task of critiquing their first lady's musical talents, Carla has a ready answer in "Ta Tienne" (Yours): "I am yours, if they diss me or damn me, I don't care a hoot."
Comedian Mike Myers's latest movie, The Love Guru, hits the big screen in the United States today. In the film, Myers plays Guru Pitka, a character who is raised at an ashram in India and then moves to the United States to serve as a New Age-ish life coach for a Canadian ice hockey player experiencing marital problems.
Some Hindus in the United States have complained that, based on what they've seen in the trailer, the movie lampoons their faith and reinforces misconceptions about their religion. The movie never mentions Hinduism, and Guru Pitka is supposed to be of a fictional faith. Critics, however, contend that considering he's coming from an ashram in India, wears Hindu saffron robes, and uses the term "guru," what other religion would viewers logically link him to?
It's true that in the United States, Hinduism -- one of the world's fastest growing religions and practiced by nearly 1 billion people -- has been largely and inaccurately portrayed as a bizarre, New Age-like religion. And The Love Guru will probably reinforce that image. As one Hindu leader told the Associated Press, "People are not very well-versed in Hinduism, so this might be their only exposure. They will have an image in their minds of stereotypes. They will think most of us are like that."
Upset Hindus should take solace, however, in the fact that this movie is a flop, mainly due to Myers's tired jokes and lame toilet humor. Reviews have been scathing, and the film received a pathetically low 15 percent on the tomatometer. Looks like The Love Guru generated some bad karma for itself.
On my way into work this morning, I spotted former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld walking past FP's offices on Massachusetts Avenue here in Washington. Accompanied by what looked like a Secret Service escort, Rumsfeld was looking hale and smiling, though he was carrying a cane. "Hello, Mr. Secretary, how are you?" I asked him. "I'm good," he responded. I couldn't ascertain where he was headed -- AEI and Johns Hopkins SAIS are good bets, though, and he might have been leaving the Carnegie Endowment or Brookings.
Sharon Stone is in big trouble with China.
Speaking last week at the Cannes film festival, the American actress made the following ill-advised remark to a Hong Kong TV station:
And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma -- when you're not nice -- that the bad things happen to you?
As you might imagine, Stone's riff wasn't viewed too kindly by Chinese netizens, who have added her to their growing pantheon of personae non grata and are organizing a boycott of Stone-related products. Theaters are dropping her movies, department stores are taking down her image, and cosmetics brand Christian Dior has been scrambling to distance itself from the actress, who since 2005 has been the face of one of its skin products. I think it's fair to say Stone is discovering that karma can be a real b*tch sometimes.
You can see the video here:
You may have been wondering what Rudy Giuliani has been up to since the ignominious end of his presidential campaign. It turns out that "America's mayor" is getting back into urban politics...in Ukraine.
Giuliani was in Kiev on Tuesday, speaking with former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, who is running for mayor. Giuliani has signed on as an advisor to Klitschko's campaign. At yesterday's press conference he offered this advice:
"If Vitaly is elected mayor of Kiev, my first piece of advice for him would be to say ... no more corruption, corruption is over."
Klitschko is one of the front runners in a wild election that has drawn 79 candidates, but the ex-boxer known as Dr. Iron Fist has been mocked by his opponents for his perceived lack of intelligence and poor command of Ukrainian. (Like many Ukrainians, he grew up speaking Russian.) The former champ, who actually has a doctorate in physical education, seems to be longing for the simplicity of his sport:
"Sometimes I wish I could meet people inside the ring, where there are clear rules," said Klitschko, who has 34 career knockouts and literally towers over the political field at 6-foot-7 (2 meters). "But physical power decides nothing in politics."
Indeed, in addition to running for mayor Klitschko is training for a shot at retaking his title this summer, two goals that might seem contradictory.
But Giuliani seems confident in his new protege and sees parallels between Klitschko's rise and another slow-talking muscleman turned transformational leader, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kiev's squeegee-men better watch out.
It turns out that blatant racists aren't the only interesting appointments to Silvio Berlusconi's new cabinet. Last month, Berlusconi publicly mocked spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for hiring too many women, saying, “Zapatero has formed a government that is too pink, something that we cannot do in Italy because there is a prevalence of men in politics and it isn’t easy to find women who are qualified.”
Well it turns out that Berlusconi did manage to find a few, including his new equal opportunities minister Mara Carfagna, a former Miss Italy runner-up and topless model turned parliamentarian. The story is actually even more ridiculous since the two have a history. Berlusconi once told Carfagna at a banquet that he would marry her if he was single and reminded her of the medieval law letting estate lords deflower virgins on their wedding night. This, in turn, provoked a public letter-writing war between Berlusconi and his wife that played out in the pages of Italy's newspapers. Berlusconi has previously remarked that right-wing female politicians are more beautiful and the fact that his new environment minister was once named "Miss Parliament" is also probably not a coincidence.
The Berlusconi show is back in town, folks.
British comedian Eddie Izzard made a stop in Washington last week, and I got a chance to see his show at, ironically, the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall. (Ironic because Izzard is famous for doing shows in drag.)
Having seen Dress to Kill, his HBO special, I was psyched to hear some quality jokes about the European Union. Izzard is a big fan of EU integration, and he often weaves pro-EU commentary into his act. As he puts it in Dress to Kill, the EU is "the cutting edge of politics in an extraordinarily boring way." Or in 2006 for the Guardian, "The EU is like a huge rock festival: everyone has colour-coded passes and there are no wars." He even told Newsweek recently that he eventually wants to go into European politics on a platform of "logical governance." In his view, the stakes could not be higher:
We've got to make it work in Europe. People are very worried about sovereignty and the loss of sovereignty. I think the stakes are if we don't make the European Union work, then the world is screwed. End of story.
Instead of EU wisecracks, though, Izzard treated us to a long and extremely funny disquisition on Wikipedia, prehistory, and religion. In his encore, he did work in a quick plug for the European Space Agency, but that was about it.
Here's Ted Turner, the media mogul turned restaurateur whom serious people routinely label an "environmentalist," commenting on the impact of global warming by 2048:
Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals. Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable."
Come on, Ted. These kinds of comments are the reason many people don't take climate change seriously. (You can read more sober comments from Turner in an interview with FP here.)
(Hat tip: Mike Nizza)
I've sometimes wondered if Paris Hilton's airheadedness is just an act. If that's the case, she's a brilliant actress. Here's her comment during a visit to Johannesburg this past weekend:
I love Africa in general - South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries."
She's one of America's top exports, people.
In a likely response to the famous Björk incident, the Chinese government is exercising stricter control on performances by foreign musicians. The first victim?
Noted Tibetan separatist Jazz singer Harry Connick, Jr.
America's favorite adult-contemporary crooner showed up to do a show in Shanghai Sunday and had to change his planned set to match an old list someone had "mistakenly submitted" to the government for approval:
Authorities insisted he play the songs on that list, even though his band did not have the music for them.
"Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to give my fans in China the show I intended," Connick said in a statement.
So, Connick's band mostly stood around on stage while he played a mellow set on the piano.
YouTube also shows an odd exchange in which Connick asks the audience what that big, tall financial center in town is called and they all yell at him "Jin Mao!" It would be a little like Amy Winehouse coming to New York and asking what the big statue holding the torch is.
Mohammed Abbas of Reuters reports on the ever-expanding influence of Chuck Norris:
Norris' appeal is not restricted to U.S. troops either. At an Iraqi police graduation ceremony in Falluja, graduates called out for their "Chuck Norris" to pose with them for photos.
"Truthfully, I didn't know who he was. I asked the Americans, and they said he was a great fighter, and that's why they named me after him. They showed me a video, and it's true, he's a great fighter" said police trainer Mohammed Rasheed. With his handle-bar moustache, Rasheed has a vague resemblance to Norris.
Another police trainer said Chuck Norris was a role model for the police in Falluja, which until 2007 was an al Qaeda stronghold and the scene of fierce battles with security forces. "I've seen his videos, he's a hero. He saves the city, he protects women and children and he fights crime wherever it is. We should all be like Chuck Norris," Khaled Hussein said.
It's a sad, sad day for everyone out there with a heart of gold. Neil Young:
I think that the time when music could change the world is past," he told reporters. "I think it would be very naive to think that in this day and age."
"I think the world today is a different place, and that it's time for science and physics and spirituality to make a difference in this world and to try to save the planet. If we didn't do that, it would just feel like a bunch of old hippies up there saying what they thought — and who cares?"
Europe's top election-watchdog group may not have gotten the welcome it wanted from neighboring Russia, but Deep Purple—best known for its hit "Smoke on the Water"—is getting the presidential treatment. Gazprom, Russia's state-owned energy company, has invited the band to perform a concert celebrating Gazprom's 15th anniversary and the departure of company head Dmitri Medvedev.
Apparently Medvedev, Russia's president-to-be, says the '70s British rock group is his favorite band. And he's not the only Deep Purple fanboy among the Russian elite. Last year, Medvedev and 70 other Russian business and government leaders invited the band's former lead singer Joe Lynn Turner to Moscow for a secret concert during Turner's Russian tour.
The Moscow Times has reported that Putin is expected to make an appearance at the upcoming show, but it might not be his cup of tea:
Putin is known to enjoy patriotic Russian pop songs. It was not clear if the concert lineup would have anything to suit his tastes.
Rejoice, for Michael Eisner is the bearer of glad tidings. This morning on CNBC, the former Walt Disney chief said that major media companies and the Writers Guild of America had reached an agreement:
It's over," Eisner said. "They made the deal, they shook hands on the deal. It's going on Saturday to the writers in general."
Eisner, speaking live on CNBC's "Fast Money," seemed to hesitate initially about whether it was possible that the writers could still reject the agreement, but finally suggested the deal's acceptance was inevitable.
"A deal has been made, and they'll be back to work very soon," Eisner said, adding, "I know a deal's been made. I know it's over."
Woo hoo! Not sure what I'm most excited about: no longer having to resort to watching "The Real Housewives of Orange County," or welcoming back my beloved writers from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" or "The Colbert Report." Can't wait to see those zingers aimed at all the presidential candidates. That's the only thing that's been missing this campaign season.
If there is a "bad boy of development studies," it's NYU economist Bill Easterly. When he spoke recently on a Davos panel with Bill Gates, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Paul Wolfowitz about the usefulness of foreign aid, moderator Fareed Zakaria gently poked fun at Easterly by calling him the "devil." He may not be the devil, but he's certainly the devil's advocate, constantly questioning whether traditional conceptions of foreign aid are actually helpful to poor countries. He's done it in the pages of FP, in "The Utopian Nightmare" a couple years ago, and more recently in "The Ideology of Development."
Now, Easterly is turning his contrarian guns on the United Nations, asking, "Are the Millennium Development Goals Unfair to Africa?" At a luncheon I attended today at Brookings, his answer was, unequivocally, yes. Virtually everyone agrees, he began, that by the time we hit the MDGs' deadline in 2015, Africa will have failed all of them. Africa will not have reduced its poverty rate by half; it will attain neither universal primary education nor gender equality in schools; child mortality will not be reduced by two thirds, and so on. Easterly then went down the list of goals, claiming they were all unfair and biased to begin with. Africans, he said, never had a chance of attaining them. His argument was pretty wonky—with lots of charts and graphs showing how the U.N. should be measuring rates of change and growth in Africa, rather than absolute figures, and how the MDGs were arbitrarily designed and made Africa look worse than it really is. I found it quite convincing. Eventually you'll be able to download a transcript here to judge for yourself, or you can download the original paper (pdf).
What Easterly said made sense, and yet I couldn't help thinking, "So what?" Easterly says the MDGs paint Africa unfairly. But does that really matter if more attention leads to more investment in Africa? And even if you think the MDGs are just another meaningless U.N. project, the fact that people pay attention to them must stand for something.
Easterly is famous for opposing much of the research of anti-poverty crusader Jeffrey Sachs (in his talk, he even joked that he's mandated to take potshots at Sachs at least once in each speech), and for being highly skeptical of the efforts of celebrities like Bono, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie. He thinks they give off a neocolonial air, the sense that Africa needs the West for salvation. Asked if all the attention brought by such celebrities was helping, Easterly said he didn't think so. Quite the opposite: He thought the kind of attention Africa gets because of celebrities, or because of failing the MDGs, does more harm than good because it reinforces stereotypes that Africa needs to be dependent on the West to be lifted out of poverty.
What do you think? Do celebrities help or hurt? Is the U.N. setting unfair, arbitrary goals? Share your thoughts at email@example.com.
The Guardian has quite the awkward typo/Freudian slip today in its write-up of Nicolas Sarkozy's marriage to Carla Bruni over the weekend.
Relieved officials from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party yesterday hoped the quick wedding and Bruni's new official status would stem his plummeting approval ratings. At 41%, they are his lowest ratings since his election - and owe much to his slowness to push through convincing economic reforms and his very pubic romance.
We'll leave it at that.
Thanks to eagle-eyed Passport reader RM for the tip.
Serbia may be a shrinking country, but international eyes are keeping a close watch on its presidential elections, scheduled for Feb. 3. This Sunday, voters will be asked to choose between pro-European candidate Boris Tadic and Russia-leaning candidate Tomislav Nikolic.
Much is at stake in the elections. The next president must navigate Serbia's path to EU accession and respond to a likely declaration of independence from Kosovo, Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province. William Montgomery, former U.S. ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, says about Sunday's election:
[It] will determine whether Serbia continues on a path (slowly or rapidly) towards integration into 'Europe' or alternatively, becomes a 'Belarus of the Balkans,' belligerently looking East instead of West and in some state of confrontation with the EU, the United States and its new 'neighbor,' Kosovo."
But with Serbian voters facing a choice between Europe and Russia, it is American icons that are getting all the attention. For over a month now, images of great U.S. presidents—George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and JFK—have appeared on Belgrade's billboards, along with quotes from presidential speeches, tweaked to support Kosovo as a part of Serbia. For instance, beside the face of George Washington appear the following words (in Cyrillic):
'The time is near at hand which must determine whether we are to be free men or slaves.' Kosovo is Serbia!”
Hollywood stars have been sucked into the Kosovo debate, too. Last week, Serbian news outlets claimed that George Clooney, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Sean Connery all stood in opposition to an independent Kosovo, even crediting Gere with poignant statements such as this:
There must be something in that Kosovo, if they will fight for it so hard."
The Hollywood stars have denied making such claims, but the occasionally sensationalist Serbian newspaper Blic claims to know better: Just as Serbia has a been a pawn of Western powers, Clooney too has succumbed to international pressure, denying his statement against independence for Kosovo only after "the UN exerted pressure on the actor."
Donatella Versace (sister of the late Gianni) says that, thanks to the success of Putinomics, Russian women aren't as tacky as they used to be:
A few weeks ago when I returned to Russia for the first time in a decade, I found it much changed. The arrival of more brands has transformed the retail landscape. When people have choice, they can decide what they like. Back in the Nineties there was little choice but now women can shop here in the same way that they can in Milan or London or Paris, and that has, of course, altered the way they dress.
But what really struck me was the way in which this choice is now being exercised. Gone is the tendency towards ostentation and “bling”. Instead, today’s Russian women are in search of something more sophisticated. At a cocktail party I held at my Moscow store, I was greeted by many extremely well-dressed customers; but two stood out. They had a great freshness and confidence, and were dressed in a modern and understated way. It turned out that they were the granddaughters of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Of course, grandpa Gorby prefers Louis Vuitton:
The Writers Guild of America strike has been going on for nine long weeks and one day now, and so far there's no end in sight. True, David Letterman has been back on the air for a few days with writers, and Jay Leno without. And fake news stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were back on last night, with mixed results. (My verdict? Stewart: meh. Colbert: in fine form.) But this Sunday's Golden Globes awards show ceremony has been reduced to a news conference, and despite the premieres of several mid-season TV shows, fresh content is quickly running out.
The Writers Guild has created a series of ads called "Speechless" as part of their campaign to get their plight noticed. In the first spot, we see a depiction of what might happen if the strike continued indefinitely. What if the writers' jobs were sent to India?
...know that the luxury brand that made it is probably flunking the ethics test.
So says "Deeper Luxury," (pdf) a new World Wildlife Federation (WWF) report grading the social and environmental performance of the world's top 10 luxury brands. From safety in the workplace to reducing emissions and protecting human rights (a.k.a. steering clear of sweatshops), the social quality of the big 10 is decidedly unluxe.
Both Bulgari, the famed Italian jewelry and handbag line, and American leather goods brand Tod's get fat "F"s for their performance. L'Oreal, Hermes, and LVMH — the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, with Fendi, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy under its umbrella — all muster only average scores of C+.
The report may be just potent enough to hold fashion's notoriously short attention span for more than a minute or two. But beyond that, I'm skeptical. The middle classes in India and China will explode in the next few decades, and these brands will have more than enough new customers who probably won't give two shakes about the life and death of the snake that made their bag.
But if appealing to the do-gooder side of consumers doesn't work, the WWF has an alternate plan: Guilt the celebrities. The report has a whole chapter pointing out that famous faces shilling diamond-encrusted, environmentally unfriendly watches are the same faces campaigning against climate change and AIDS. It even gets personal:
[A]ctress Sienna Miller campaigns against climate change through her associationwith Global Cool. She also endorses Tods, which came bottom of our index of ESG perfomance. Tods may represent a liability to Sienna Miller’s reputation.
As if dating Jude Law didn't already do that.
Fridays can be a slog. But tomorrow promises to be an especially tough day for Maria Carolina, one of Chile's most famous prostitutes. She has auctioned off "27 hours of love" to benefit the country's annual Teletón (TV telethon) campaign for disabled children. Carolina, who typically charges about $300 per 90 minutes, says customers jumped at the chance to do it all for the kids. All available time slots have been booked. One customer, so moved by the cause, even paid up front.
Prostitution is more or less legal in the predominantly Catholic country, but not everyone is happy with Carolina's erotic form of philanthropy. Teletón host Mario Kreutzberger (at right getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) — better known as Don Francisco, the gregarious host of Univision's "Sabado Gigante" — has said that Carolina's efforts are outside his moral boundaries, though he stopped short of saying that the money would be turned down. After all, as Carolina was quick to retort, "There are people who are going to be donating money that's a lot more questionable than mine." She's probably right about that.
Sometime, just showing up isn't good enough, even for Tony Blair. The charismatic former British prime minister failed to woo Chinese journalists at a speaking engagement Thursday in Guangdong province in southern China. Since leaving his post, Blair has gone on the lecture circuit, charging a whopping $500,000 for this latest speech. But a Chinese newspaper complained that Blair had said "nothing new" and used the occasion to criticize officials in China for wasting taxpayer money:
The China Youth daily, which is affiliated to the Communist party's youth league, said Mr Blair was forthcoming with pleasantries and clichés without offering any insight.
"Like reports made by some local officials, there was nothing new in his views ... so was the speech worth the large sums of money paid out by local officials and businesses?" it questioned.
Blair may not yet be able to match the $1.5 million-per-hour fee Donald Trump charges for engagements at The Learning Annex, but Trump must say something interesting if people pay almost $500 a ticket to listen to him.
One of the tried and true techniques of opinion journalism is to find a public figure or thing (e.g. apple picking) that everyone loves and utterly skewer it. Nobody is better at this than FP contributor Christopher Hitchens, who has made a career out of swimming against the conventional wisdom.
Take, for example, this passage from page 200 of Hitch's recent book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:
The Dalai Lama, for example, is entirely and easily recognizable to a secularist. In exactly the same way as a medieval princeling, he makes the claim not just that Tibet should be independent of Chinese hegemony – a “perfectly good” demand, if I may render it into everyday English – but that he himself is a hereditary king appointed by heaven itself. How convenient! Dissenting sects within his faith are persecuted; his one-man rule in an Indian enclave is absolute; he makes absurd pronouncements about sex and diet and, when on his trips to Hollywood fund-raisers, anoints major donors like Steven Seagal and Richard Gere as holy.
Interesting!!!, as former Slate editor Michael Kinsley, a past master of the contrarian take himself, might have put it. Almost everybody loves the Dalai Lama, who symbolizes for many the virtues of peace, wisdom, and resistance to oppression. Attacking him jars people out of their comfort zones; it's a sure way to get noticed. And in this instance, I think Hitch makes some good points. Why does this man, of all people, deserve a Congressional Gold Medal?
It's easy to take the contrarian strategy too far, though. Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is right, both logically and morally. Herewith, 10 arguments I never want to see:
Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they have used satellite images provided by the U.S. Government to confirm massive human rights abuses in eastern Burma:
A new analysis of high-resolution satellite images -- completed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- pinpoints evidence consistent with village destruction, forced relocations, and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma where eye-witnesses have reported human rights violations.
The research by AAAS, offers clear physical evidence to corroborate on-the-ground accounts of specific instances of destruction. It is believed to be the first demonstration of satellite image analysis to document human rights violations in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," [project director Lars] Bromley reported. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border. All of this was very consistent with reporting by multiple human rights groups on the ground in Burma."
But forget the dry science talk, Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone, who has just returned from filming the latest Rambo sequel along the Thailand-Burma border, has hinted that his crew may have captured some of the atrocities on film. Stallone called Burma "a hellhole beyond your wildest dreams" and says he is now struggling with the question of whether he ought to be "making a documentary or a Rambo movie."
I witnessed the aftermath - survivors with legs cut off and all kinds of land mine injuries, maggot-infested wounds and ears cut off. We saw many elephants with blown off legs. We hear about Vietnam and Cambodia and this was more horrific.... This is full scale genocide. It would be a whitewashing not to show what's over there. I think there is a story that needs to be told."
Maybe Burma just found its Brangelina.
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